Sunday, October 27, 2013

Measure something

All or nothing is my most natural sort of thinking. Years ago a counselor asked me "what's in between black and white?" I answered, "pukey grey, and I HATE grey!" She replied, "Actually if you're talking about light, every color in the rainbow exists between black and white." I was stunned, and it certainly changed my ideas about being somewhere in the middle.

What does this have to do with measuring something? Well, I've gone years without ever weighing myself (because I just didn't want to know) interspersed with periods of time where I obsessively weighed myself (like multiple times per day) and made myself crazy. Not surprisingly, there's a healthy balance that lies between these two extremes.

If you're not looking to change physically, then you can get away with never measuring. But for those looking to be in better shape, how will you know what direction you're going if you never check to see where you are?

I think it's best to measure two types of things: a performance measure and a body composition measure. Performance measures are fun, like "Do 20 pushups" or "Run a mile in under 9 minutes." I really think these types of goals help to keep our youthful "I can do that!" spark alive. Choose a goal that pulls you forward out of your comfort zone, but not one that you think you can never meet. My performance goal right now is 100,000 steps per week, as tracked by my Fitbit. It's a gentle sort of goal, because right now I need to be gentle with myself. In the past I've done "Run 1000 miles in a year." That's a fun one (assuming you like to run). It works out to about 20 miles per week, with 2 weeks off. What's hard about this goal is that you can't let yourself get behind. I did that one the year I was 37 and the year I was 47. I also did a 1,000 lunge walks a day one year, and lasted 3 months. (I think I wrote about that --- gotta check the blog archives.)

On to body composition measures. Weight is an easy one to measure but it's kinda bullshit, because it's heavily influenced by how much water you're holding, and says nothing about the source of the weight (fat vs. muscle). Also lots of people have scale freak-outs, with magic numbers of what they should weigh that they've pulled out of their asses. (My perfect weight? 123 pounds. Isn't that a nice number? Of course, right now I weigh 141, and I'm thinking I'd look rather drawn and in need of a sandwich with almost 20 pounds gone from my medium sized athletic frame.) If you're going to track weight, I'd suggest weighing once a week, first thing in the morning, and finding a place to write it down so you can see trends.

Good lord this is a lot of words! Congratulations to anyone who is still reading. The good stuff is up next, so your time will not have been wasted.

For a while I measured my waist to see how I was doing. Again, it's easy to measure, and it provides input on if you're moving closer to or further away from what you want. I've also used a pair of pants. In fact, for one solid year my goal was to fit into size 4 Ann Taylor pants. So I would go into the store about once a month, try on a pair to see if I was getting closer, and buy nothing. Yes, I did finally fit into their size 4 and it was super satisfying to buy a pair when I did. But it would be easier to use a pair of pants you already own. :)

The measurement I like the best these days is called InBody. It's a scale with food pads and hand handles (is that redundant?) that use biometric impedance to measure % body fat. Measurements are complete after about 45 seconds of standing on the scale, and you get a printout that has more info than you could possibly want (I mean that in a good way) about your body. Downside? The machine is about $5000 (I checked!). But for local Rocklin/Roseville people, here's some good news: Tru Fitness, a gym in West Roseville, will do an InBody assessment on you for $19. Any time you want one. And (drum roll, please!) if you want to try out Tru Fitness (I love this gym!) for 6 weeks, and get the InBody scan at the start and the end of that time, you can do that right now for $49. They're doing a holiday fitness challenge that starts November 15 and ends December 27. A portion of all participants entry fees are used for prizes, and in order to win a prize, you just have to not gain weight during that time period. The more you lose, the bigger the prize!

Lest this reads like an advert for Tru Fitness, I'm in no way affiliated with them, except as a member who loves the Les Mills classes.

And lest this read like an advert for the Lift habit tracking app, Lift is a great way to track your progress on performance goals. :)

Now get out there and measure something!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Paying attention

I was thinking about health and fitness advice. There are a million books (I own most of them) and a zillion magazines (I own them all) with instructions on how to get and stay in shape. Diet advice. Exercise advice. Nutrient timing advice. And they can't all be wrong, can they? And they can't all be right, right?

So here's the best fitness advice I can give you: pay attention. To what? To your own body.

When we're young we think we're going to feel great forever. One of my teen friends has told me that she's never worried about being hit while walking in a parking lot, because if she does get hit, she'll get a lot of money. As a 50-something with lots of issues cropping up, I beg her to reconsider. Here's the analogy that works best for me:

Your body is like a car. So let's say you get a new car. Cool, right? Here's the catch: it's the only car you're ever going to be able to have. Ever. So what you do to this car over the course of your lifetime matters, because you can't trade it in for a new one.

So given that we have this one body, it makes sense to pay attention to it. And treat it with care. There have been entire decades when they only thing I noticed about my body was the number it gave when I was on the scale and whether my skinny jeans fit. Now that I'm older I'm getting better at really paying attention. So I now know what works for me and what doesn't work for me. (Well, I know a little about that.) This is why there are so many diet and exercise books, people. Because one size does not fit all.

So in sorting through all the conflicting information out there, it's best to look at the least common denominator, because chances are health advice that appears virtually everywhere is probably good information. From what I've read, these things are universally true:

  • Eating lots of vegetables is good.
  • Cooking your own food is good.
  • Wearing sunscreen is good.
  • Moving your body enough to break a sweat and breathe hard is good.
I know there's a study somewhere that refutes my claims. But generally speaking you'll live better if you follow these rules. Actually, I'd rather call them "guidelines" as that's a gentler way to see them.

Because I've paid attention, there are some other things that seem to work for me:
  • Eating lots of protein and fat makes my waist smaller.
  • So do avoiding gluten.
  • Caffeine helps me to pay attention.
  • Taking an anti-depressant daily helps stabilize my mood and keep me from free-falling into the depression abyss.
These are not true for everyone, but they work for this girl. So I'm gonna keep doing them. And if they stop working, I'll know sooner rather than later, because I'm paying attention.

What's tricky about this is if you feel overweight and out of shape. The times I've felt like this, I was also way out of touch with my body, because I didn't want to look. And I'm not suggesting eating while naked in front of a mirror (there was a diet that actually promoted this!), but really checking in with the reality of what's going on with your body. Because that's a great place to start -- with what is.