Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Biggest Loser -- Lent Edition

Blessed Lent to you all. Guest post here, from Mr. Mary Alice.

The topic is losing weight and getting healthier in the six weeks before Easter and beyond. I know there are some of you out there who are struggling to get started on a path to better health. I'm here to tell you that you're not alone. I've lost over 60 pounds in the last year. I want to share some things that worked for me, and I hope you'll get started and get healthy with me!

1. Look in the mirror and decide it's time. I'll spare you the details, but basically I saw a doctor and got scared straight. I realized I was eating myself to death. I made a decision -- a PROMISE to myself -- that I'd make a real, disciplined effort to fix my health.

If it would help you, I'd suggest you see your doctor, too, just to get a baseline sense of where your body is (blood tests, blood pressure, resting heart rate, etc.). Plus, before you start the sort of exercise I suggest below, it's not a bad idea to see a physician. BUT DON'T USE NOT SEEING THE DOCTOR AS AN EXCUSE NOT TO START.

2. Change what you eat, but do NOT go on a diet. This sounds strange, I know, but it has been a critical part of what I have done to not think of myself as "on a diet." Instead, I thought of myself as "living my entire life a different way," and what I was eating was just a part of that lifestyle change.

3. Don't eat food that is bad for you. Especially in the first six months of "living your entire life a different way", you've just got to stop eating bad stuff. Doughnuts = bad. Doritos = bad. Virtually anything that comes out of a can = bad (exception: tuna). Any drink that has more than 0 calories -- bad (exception: skim milk). I know many of these things taste good, but the taste is simply not worth the speed bumps these foods are putting on your road to better health. I promise, once you're running 10-15 miles a week, you can eat ice cream and drink beer again, but for the first six months or so, do yourself a favor and don't work against your goals.

***FOOD TIP*** Buy bananas in bulk and stuff your face with them. Have a banana with breakfast and lunch every day for a month. They give you tons of energy, they feel like dessert because they're so sweet, and they fill you up so you won't be hungry between meals. Basically, every time you open your mouth to eat something, you have to ask yourself, "Is this going to help me get healthy or is this going to get in my way?"

4. Exercise: the journey starts with one step. Ten months ago, I hated to exercise. Well, I can't really say that I hated to exercise because I never exercised, but I just knew I'd hate it. I started very easily, going out at lunchtime and walking in midtown Manhattan, 15 minutes in one direction and then 15 minutes back. By the time I got back to my office, I was out of breath. Then, I started walking to and from Penn Station every day. After about 4 weeks of this, I joined a gym.

5. The Gym: become a regular. Oh, man, my first day at the gym was a disaster. I didn't have a lock, so stuffed my suit in my gym bag and carried around with me. I could barely figure out how to work the treadmill. It was like I had a bulls eye on my back. My workout for the day was a weak 20-minute walk on the treadmill. I was winded, but I barely felt like I deserved the shower I took. But I survived, and I went back the second day, and so on.

Now, I know what you're thinking: "I don't have time for the gym." Sorry, I can't buy this one. I spend 3 hours and 20 minutes commuting on a train to NYC each day, I work at an extraordinarily demanding law firm, and I still take an hour 3-4 times most weeks to get to the gym. Find your sneakers and MAKE EXERCISE A PART OF YOUR ROUTINE.

6. Exercise: set attainable goals. Let's face it, you're out of shape. You're a long way from running 45 minutes on a treadmill, so get it out of your head. First, make it your goal to get to the gym. Second, walk for 30 minutes for a couple times a week for 2 weeks before you try anything more strenuous. Third, try the elliptical and get your heart rate to about 130-140 for 30 minutes. Do this for 4 weeks. You'll find over those 4 weeks that you have to work harder and harder to get your heart rate to 140 -- this means that your body's cardiovascular system is getting more efficient. Just last week, it took me to resistance level 15 (and a fast speed) on the elliptical to get to a heart rate of 140; it used to be that level 1 at only a moderate speed would get me to 145 and sweating bullets.

7. Use training programs. It's amazing how motivated you can be when you have a set plan. Here are a few that worked for me:

(a) the hundred pushups program (an amazing program that will get you from 0 to 100 consecutive pushups in just 6 weeks);

(b) the two hundred situps program (the cousin of the hundred pushups program, this will get you from 0 to 200 consecutive pushups in just 6 weeks);

(c) this couch-to-5K program will get you started in running; and

(d) this half-marathon program got me in great shape to run the Philly Half-Marathon last November.

8. Weigh yourself often. If you're eating better, drinking lots of water and working out for 30 minutes 3-4 times a week, you should be losing about 2 pounds a week. Make sure that you are. The reason why I say you should weigh yourself often is that any given weight reading is subject to variability for water retention and things you've eaten. I find that if I eat salty things, my weight is unusually high for a day or two (water retention, I think) because of it.

Weigh yourself naked, as soon as you get out of bed in the morning, then again as soon as you get out of the shower. Do this every day, and use the same scale. Write the numbers down or commit them to memory. In any event, your weight should be basically going down at a pace of about 2-3 pounds a week.

9. Tell your spouse and loved ones what you're doing. It helps immeasurably to have other people supporting you. Once your spouse knows that you're trying to eat better, you'll be amazed at the salads that show up for dinner. Goodbye, Mac-and-Cheese. Hello, grilled chicken and string beans! If you have kids, ask your friends and family to babysit for an hour so you can take walk or a run.

10. Keep your clothes tailored. Your clothes are going to get big on you in a matter of weeks. Wait until they really look ridiculously baggy (2 months or so) but then get them tailored or buy new clothes. You want your clothes to be snug and/or fit you well, so that you're not psychologically thinking "I can eat this doughnut, because my pants are so loose on me." I went from a size 42+ waist to a size 34. This morning, I put on a "slim fit" dress shirt for the first time ever!

Corollary to this rule -- keep one whole outfit of big clothes and try it on from time to time to see the progress you've made and to scare yourself from getting that big again. (I have a size 48R suit that really scares the crap out of me when I put it on now. "Was I really this big? Why didn't anyone tell me?" Answer: they did.)

Good luck! Again, a Blessed Lent, and here's to a slimmer you in the upcoming Easter Season!



Right Said Red said...

Thank you for this very practical and inspiring post. I pray for all those making these important steps to improve their health!

B and C said...

Thank you for the added motivation. I "gave up" being unhealthy for Lent (actually as a Christmas gift to myself, but I am halfway to my goal - so a solid Lent Season will finish it off) and wanted to say "ditto" to Mr. Mary Alice's approach to weight loss/getting healthy. I started the the "Couch to 5K" program and am now running 2 miles 3x/week after being completely inactive. I have also made modest modifications to my eating (smaller portions more frequently, no soda, no doritos, etc) and have noticed a significant increase in my energy level, confidence, and stronger nails/healthier hair.

I wanted to add one more thing to the list of recommended steps: prayer. Offering up a workout to St. Raphael the Archangel (or another saint) and smiling during the workout always makes me feel more motivated.

Bonus: A healthier lifestyle has meant more "real" time with my hubby as we go on walks and cook healthy meals together.

PS - Thanks for the great blog, I love following it and being inspired to be a better Christian, wife, friend, and human being.

Kat said...

Awesome, Mr. MA, thanks so much for this post!

Just one caution: To those who tend towards being a bit OCD, please be careful with the scale. Weigh yourself if you feel that you need to, but please try not to be compulsive about it. Perhaps you could enlist the help of your husband or wife if you find that you're starting to obsess over the numbers. We will never have a scale in our house because I know that I would use it too often - that's just me, and I know it from my past experiences. If you think that you may fall into this category, I would encourage you to maybe only use the scale at the gym, or on a less frequent basis - you'll be able to tell if you're losing weight! You'll feel healthier, your clothes will fit differently, etc.

Mr. MA, I am very glad to see that you don't consider yourself on a diet, and it sounds like you don't obsess over counting calories, another dangerous habit! Sure, it's good to read the nutrition label on the box as well as the ingredients label, but it's not a good idea to start adding up calories in your head if you're at all prone to obsessing over numbers.

Again, great post, and thanks for your example, Mr. MA!

AWOL Mommy said...

Firstly - Mr. MA, this is rad. You are a model for so many.

Secondly -- I need to hear from MA on this one. I need a healthy admonishment from her because I think I have a really hard time allowing my husband to fit this in. I feel that I am so jealous with his free time that it is difficult for me to sacrifice precious at-home-time to enable him to get the workouts in he needs. I mean, the man works from 0800 to 1900 every day. We have even resorted to joining him at the dining facility for a greasy lunch to get family time in. This is such an internal struggle for me, because I know that he could use this time to improve his health, but what about seeing his son before he goes to sleep at night? Can you guys address how MA is so wonderful and puts up with this? I have precisely four less children and I am not willing to sacrifice the Daddy time.

Mummy Bear said...

Hello! I'm reading this as my husband is at the gym at spin class. I'm with Awol Mommy. It was really hard to "let" him go tonight because we only had 10 minutes to catch up on the day before he left. I'm so proud of the way he is getting back in shape but I need to remember to encourage this more! Way to go Mr. MA! I'll show your post to my husband when he gets home.

Juris Mater said...

Mr. MA, this is great. I think it's helpful coming from a man, too. We women are so emotional about our eating, it's so complicated. I really appreciate reading your clear, balanced, common sense plan to better health.

I shed all my accumulated baby pounds quickly this summer/fall, and a BIG key for me was tons of fresh vegetables added into every dish I prepared and tons of water. I can't not eat when I'm hungry, so veggies are great for their combination of fiber and water which is filling and also makes me feel so healthy and clean so I don't crave garbage food. And a HUGE drink of water after every bite seems to give my body a more realistic idea of how full I'm becoming.

Enough talk about food, we still have to get through the rest of a fast day here : ) Hahaha. Is fasting while taking care of young wild kids challenging or what?

Mary Alice said...

Okay, so I am going to be really frank about how I deal with my husband taking time to go to the gym: apply any of these that work for your situation.

1) the kids and I will have more quality time with him in the future if he is healthier

2) the time the kids and I have with him in the present is so much better because he is healthier and less stressed

3) all people need outlets for stress, especially young men with really hard jobs, large families and a family planning method that requires stretches of abstaining. I would much prefer he deal with his stress by running than any other alternative, especially drugs, alcohol, or sleeping with other women, all of which are often the relaxation of choice by men in the New York corporate world. Sorry to be harsh, but it is what it is.

4) any one who knows my husband knows that, while I complain about him with some frequency, he is about as awesome as a person can be. He rocks at time management, he just does not waste time, so to begrudge him this time would be unfair. He knows to the second when he has to leave our house to be walking on to the train platform when the train pulls up, so that he doesn't waste any of his 'breakfast with the kids' time waiting on the train platform. He spends his saturday mornings making amazing breakfasts for all of us, he buys all of our milk and often does the grocery shopping, he picks up after himself, he makes time in his busy day to take many phone calls from me, often involving whining, and he never complains about anything, ever. So, when he wanted to do something for himself that would have so many benefits for all of us as well, I was thrilled.

5) He doesn't get home in time to see the kids anyway, so whether he gets home at 9 or 10 is up to him and how he is feeling that day. He works hard, but he is not a workaholic, so I know that he is home as soon as he can be every night.

So, I have never said no when he has planned to go running or work out, even long runs on the weekends. He also holds down the fort while I get out to exercise, which is no small task around here. Since I started postpartum running, I know what a difference it makes to my mental health, so I hope to be even more supportive of him in the future.

Lastly, it just has to be said that push ups are hot.

None the less, the other night he called home at 7 pm, my most fried time of the day, and said that he was on his way to the gym, and I'm told I gave him a bit of attitude. Nobody's perfect!

JesusThroughMary said...

Referring to the post above this one, you'd be surprised what priests know about parenting. I know my pastor, at least, would have just such a situation (or worse) in mind when making that comment. Kids don't make their parents holy by being clean, cute and polite.

Maria said...

Thanks for the inspiration! My husband and I started Weight Watchers about six weeks ago in an effort to build a healthy lifestyle and avoid the heart disease in both of our families. We are using Lent as a time to start fitting in some exercise into our lives, so this post came at a great time for us.

One commenter cautioned about counting calories. I think that this can be a problem for controlling or OCD inclined individuals, but for many of us, it is really, really important to have some quantification of exactly how much food we are consuming. By keeping track of our food intake through WW points, our eyes were really opened to the sheer amount of calories my husband and I were taking in each day, whether it was good or bad foods. Also, my husband really likes having a set amount of points each day because he can occassionly have a "bad" food without going off the reservation. He'll just have to be hungrier the rest of the day since he used his points on the treat. This method really helps him perservere in the changes we are making. Once our eating changes have become true habits, I'm sure we'll be able to drop our point counting, but for right now it is truly helpful.

Courtney said...

Great post. I am going to pass it on to my husband. Kat, as someone with OCD and a history of an eating disorder, I appreciate your thoughts on the scale/weighing, as well as counting calories. I am sure some people don't have an issue obsessing with these things. I guess it just comes down to knowing yourself and what works for you. MA, thanks for your honest response on how you handle letting your husband workout. I always want my husband to, but also feel some resentment at times. But, overall, I realize your reasons above make so much sense and I think they will help me in the future.

Mary Alice said...

I make a promise to myself before I get on the scale that if the number is not low I am not going to be defeated and give up, and unless I feel up to that promise I just will not get on the scale, there are too many minor fluctuations.

Also, for me, focusing on just making healthy choices rather than on moving the scale has made a big difference for me, since I have been pregnant or nursing for almost all of the past 8 years, my poor body has been through alot of drastic ups and downs and the numbers on the scale have become almost irrelevant. I have four pairs of jeans, maternity, first trimester and first two months postpartum, regular and slim. I usually get pregnant again before I get to the slim ones! I can tell you almost exactly what I weigh just by trying on these jeans!

B-Mama said...

MA, love the jeans measure. Don't we all have those skinny pants that allow us to dream a little? Just as Mr. MA keeps around his big suit, I hang on to the skinny pants as well (keeping a healthy attitude throughout, of course!)

Mr. MA, you are such an inspiration--not only for your weight loss, but also for your concerted effort toward changing your lifestyle. While going on a "diet" can be exciting and invigorating, one knows its nature is temporary. Kudos to you for realizing that change had to be permanent to be worth it.

I'm glad I was able to be there for your first half-marathon! What an awesome accomplishment!!

Un Corazon in Tampa said...

Stark Household rules for food....

1. No cake no candy cookies. NO CHIPS OR POPCORN. They are not allowed in the house.
2. No soda unless it is company usually a TOR friar...or close friends. DRINK PERRIER. WATER.





I am 45. I look 10 years younger.