Thursday, July 24, 2008

Long time no talk to!

Hello all,

(and by "all" I know I'm addressing a readership of about 6 people-- Hi Denise!!)

It's been a long time since my last post, and I wanted to address the reasons why. Primarily, it's because back in December, I got a job at a high-profile research institute, the kind where I have co-workers named "Ambassador" and "Admiral", and where blogging from work is not likely to result in upward mobility.

And partly it was because I wasn't tech-savvy enough to make Blogger do what I wanted it to, like tag my posts with some labels I could later use to categorize them. So I briefly opened a Typepad account, vented some steam over there, and never returned. Just as well-- while everyone's entitled to my opinion, no one really wants to hear my bad attitude. And though today is another one of those days where I've fallen victim to a Bad Case of Ass, I've now figured out how to use the label function, so all is not lost (and anyway, I have sangria).

And partly it was because other bloggers were already doing it so much better (not the sangria, the commentary). But during the last 6 months, while I've been reading other blogs and not writing my own, I've learned a few things. Hopefully these observations will enable me to make my posts a little more interesting and a little more frequent. The best ones post a few times a day to keep people reading; I can't really do that, because of work, but I do hope to post a few times a week. Anyone who's still reading, keep me honest.

Thanks for checking in, and I'll see you on the flip side.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Weighting Game

One might reasonably assume that, having gotten off to a decent start in January, I would have kept the momentum going and lost a fair amount of weight by now. One would be half right. I fell off the wagon sometime shortly after the last post, quit walking, and the next time I weighed myself, I discovered that I was at an all-time high of 167 lbs. This was not good.

So I some research and then I did the math and discovered that if I didn't get ahold of myself, right that minute, I would likely continue to gain a pound every ten days, world without end, life without health, ayyy-men.

I furthermore discovered the great con of the game, which is that if you want to lose weight, you have to eat fewer calories than you expend, not just less than you're eating already. Let me explain.

Suppose that you have been eating about 2000 calories per day, and on that diet, you've been gaining a pound per week. You decide to scale back your eating to 1800 calories per day-- the equivalent of three moderate meals, or three small meals and two small snacks. Since you've always been a fairly hearty eater, you feel fairly virtuous about skipping the buffet, cutting your portion sizes, and carefully monitoring your snacks. After a month of this, you get back on the scale to congratulate yourself on your progress-- and find, to your horror, that not only have you not lost weight as you expected, you have actually gained two pounds on your new regimen. (It is "regimen", by the way, not "regime.") Disgusted, you toss your scale in the trash and dive headfirst into a bag of kettle chips.

So, what happened? Simply put, you didn't make the numbers. A pound of fat equals 3500 calories, so if you had been gaining a pound a week, that means you were eating about 500 calories per day too many (3500 cals/7 days= 500 cals/day). By cutting out 200 calories per day, you slowed down your gain from one pound per week to one pound per two weeks, but you didn't stop it entirely. To stop gaining entirely, you would need to cut your calorie intake down to the level of only what you are using (or alternately, increase your output to match the amount you're eating). And to lose weight, you need to eat even less than that (or exercise even more than that).

It gets worse, too. If you consistently eat less than you need, eventually your metabolism will slow down to a snail's pace and you'll stop losing. And exercise doesn't burn nearly as many calories as most beginners think-- walking an entire mile in 20 minute with no hills is worth about 100 calories. On the other hand, if you take up marathon running, you may find that you're burning muscle as well as fat.

So I decided to employ a little strategy. And before I tell you what it is, please understand that I'm not a doctor and I didn't consult one before starting my fitness regimen-- so this is me sharing my story, not giving you medical advice. If you do what I did and it doesn't work for you, or if you get hurt trying, I'm not responsible and you don't get to sue me. OK? Thanks. That being said, my strategy was to work in combination.

First, I went online and determined my basal metabolic rate. This is, theoretically, the amount of calories I burn just by existing, such as when I'm asleep. For my age, height, weight, and sex, that turned out to be 1500 calories. This is also an estimate-- a doctor who measured it directly rather than calculating from a chart might have given me a different number. But I tried three different programs, and they all gave me similar numbers, so I went with 1500. This was the amount of calories I planned to eat in an average day. I figured that going below 1500 would trigger a metabolic slowdown, which I really didn't want. Then I went shopping for healthy foods and snacks, and stocked up my fridge.

Next, I decided to add a combination of aerobic exercise and resistance training; the aerobics to burn calories and the resistance to build muscle. And I state again that I didn't consult a doctor or a trainer for this part either; I was pretty familiar with most of the equiment already, and I figured I had enough common sense not to overdo it (if you have any doubts in either area, for the love of God consult somebody; your gym should have trainers on staff and that's what they're there for). I didn't want to bulk up, but I did want to challenge my muscles a bit so that A) my system would know I was using them and not try to burn them along with the fat, and B) the increase in muscle mass would help to burn a few more calories. I aimed for 200 calories on the treadmill-- not excessive in my case, since I could walk 2-3 miles easily-- and a circuit of 3 arms, 3 legs, and one or more "middles" on the resistance machines.

I also made sure I had the structure for success. I aimed for 3 gym visits and scheduled them for Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings. That way I wouldn't be tempted to justify blowing them off on the grounds that "I can always make it up on Thursday." I started measuring stuff I made at home, and building a list of "safe" foods that tasted good, were filling, and didn't put too much strain on the system. And I started looking up stuff that I ate away from home. There were some nasty surprises there-- who knew that a cup of Hot & Sour soup was 150 calories at one restaurant, and 400 at another? But there were some good ones too. A 6-inch turkey sub with the works from Subway is only 280 calories, if you skip the cheese and mayo (and I hate mayo anyway), and a bowl of veggie chili from Hard Times is-- get this-- 130!! Which leaves room for a few indulgences in an average week, such as the impromptu office party I didn't plan for, the day I ran out of time and got a bagel for breakfast, or the day I just couldn't stomach another bowl of veggie chili and just had to have the Texas-style chicken tenders dinner with french fries and creamy dressing. Yes, that was Good Friday, and no, I don't feel guilty in the least. It was yummy.

Speaking only for myself, it seems to be working. My clothes have loosened a tad, and my scale is no longer under suspicion of libel. From a starting weight of 167, I went a couple of weeks without weighing, then started my fitness plan. First week: 160. Following weeks, in order: 161.5, 161.5, 158.5. At this point I feel comfortable calling it a continuing downward trend. Which is just in time for the wedding I have to attend in two weeks (odds look good for fitting into the dresses I could fit into last year), and more or less on track for a more bathing-suit-worthy physique by summer.

Futher updates will follow as I get them-- and thanks to those who've offered encouragement.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

A moment of success

After two weeks of more conscious eating (I can't really call it a diet), I have actually seen results. I got on the scale this afternoon, and I had lost 2 1/2 pounds-- from 166 to 163.5.

I've spent the last week eating groceries and home-cooked food. Kashi GoLean cereal with whole milk has replaced bagels and cream cheese. McDonald's is off the menu, and hummus and whole-wheat pita have become my new default snack food. I've radically cut my alcohol consumption, down to about 1 drink per week, and I've been averaging 6 miles of walking per week-- usually as 2 miles X 3 days.

The thing about walking is, if I'm walking just to be walking, I won't do it. But if I have somewhere to be-- which is pretty much daily-- I don't mind the walk at all, unless I'm not feeling well or the weather is bad. And since I live about a mile from everything I might need, it works out pretty well.

Over the next week, I'm going to keep watching my eating, and see if I can get in a little more exercise. They say that 1-2 lbs a week is a healthy rate of weight loss, so with 16 weeks until my birthday, that's somewhere between 146 (which is what I weighed for years before I got a desk job) and 131 (which would make me jump up and down and scream like a lottery winner). I have this fantasy about getting a hot little sport suit for my beach trip this summer, instead of looking like a pregnant purple grape. Sorry for the TMI.

So anyway, that's progress for the week-- I don't know if anyone's actually reading this, but if you are, thanks for keeping me honest.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Progress Report

So, a week ago, I found out exactly how overweight I was, ran screaming from the room, and discovered that this did not, in fact, count as exercise. Not even if I hurdled the baby gate.

However, I did get real exercise three times last week: walked home from the Metro twice, which was about 40 min. of cardio, and up to the mall once, for about 30 min. of cardio. It's more exercise than I've had in a while, and it didn't drop my numbers one bit. However again, it did seem to keep them from going up, given the several indiscretions of last week, one of which involved an entire foot-long sub and another of which involved a McD's breakfast... so maybe all is not really lost.

After the first week, I can also confirm that the biggest hurdle is not, in fact, the baby gate. It's preparation. Preparation is what makes the difference between eating breakfast at home and at the bagel bakery, or worse yet, at McD's. Preparation is also what makes the difference between packing a few ginger snaps or an apple for those emergency moments, and having those emergency moments turn into nausea and a headache and a $14 binge at the salad bar. Not that there's anything wrong with salad. And, unfortunately, preparation is exactly what I need most when I have the least time and the least money to effect it. No wonder desperation is a cycle.

So, this past weekend, I went to the grocery store and stocked up on essentials. Fresh fruit and veggies, cheeses, good cereal, etc. About $65 worth, which comes out to less than $10 a day, but was still a strain on my tiny little budget. God, will I be SO glad when I start getting regular, full-sized paychecks again... So far, though, it seems to be working. I did end up bageling again this morning, but I've had two fruits, 5 carbs, one meat, and one dairy so far. If I can get a salad and a cup of yogurt in there, I'll be golden. If not... there's always tomorrow.

Note to self: next time, remember the ginger snaps.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

True Confessions, 2008

Time to fess up: I am still fat and unhealthy. In fact, I am-- as of this writing-- almost 10 lbs more fat and unhealthy than I was when first wrote about this back in April. I have no excuses, and no explanations other than the obvious, which is that I'm apparently taking in more calories than I'm expending.

It's not surprising. The last few weeks have been somewhat stressful-- like 3 rounds of job interviewing which occurred before, during, and after my graduate exams, and a trip out of town which was bracketed by a close friend's funeral on one end and a PhD admissions interview on the other. At holiday time. So of course I defaulted to the run late--> no time to cook--> eat cheap junk--> gain weight mode. Yeah, I can hear the plaintive music now... over the speakers in the Hellevator. Note to self: that stirring sensation in the heart is NOT a good thing.

So today I decided to do something about it: I went to the grocery store and bought food. This was a big step, as I hadn't been grocery shopping since before exam week, which started on the 11th of December. Also because I had to walk both ways, since our neighborhood has no bus service on weekends. Slogging up the hills with a bag of groceries over each shoulder was definitely instructive-- because when I got home, I weighed myself, and then I weighed the bags.

Before I tell you the result, let me tell you what was in the bags: 2 bottles of wine, 5 lbs of potatoes, 1 bag of small potatoes, one whole chicken, 1 lb of stew meat, two cloves of garlic, a box of tea, a box of high-fiber cereal, a pound of butternut squash, a box of mushrooms (I think I forgot the carrots), a 2-lb bag of sugar, and a 2-lb bag of onions. (Don't worry, I have a whole freezer full of veggies to go along with it). Total weight= 37 lbs. Distance walked= about a mile with groceries (plus the mile up to the store without them).

My total weight: 166 lbs.

Perspective shot: Get two canvas grocery bags, and in each one, put two gallons of milk and two pounds of produce. Try to lift it. That's the amount I carried home. And it's almost exactly the amount of overweight I'm carrying around, groceries or not. And here I thought that seeing my mom in the hospital was a wakeup call.

Eight months ago, when I first outed my lousy health in full view of my reading audience, I was determined to do something about it... but that determination didn't survive the daily grind, let alone the drama that followed (you know, getting laid off right before school started, trying to cope with grad school and a temp job, etc.). Now the worst is over, and the stakes are higher. I cannot, CAN NOT, afford to go through life at 160 lbs plus; not only is it a completely unhealthy weight for me, but the unhealthiness goes against my basic principles. It's time to stop changing the station in the Hellevator and do something about the problem.

Today's walk was a good start. Other walks will follow. So will time at the gym, as I'm once again working in reasonable proximity to the place where I signed up. And though I haven't been the most regular blogger in the 'sphere, I'll try to check in once a week and make my progress known.

Your thoughts, prayers, and encouragement are appreciated.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Albus Dumbledore Is Gay-- So What?

News flash for those who haven't heard: J.K. Rowling, author of the beloved Harry Potter series, has declared that Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore is gay. Reactions from her vast audience all seemed to start with an intial expression of shock, followed by either groans of dismay or applause as deemed appropriate. Letters and e-mails have begun pouring in, on both sides of the subject. The announcement made CNN and many major newspapers. You get the picture. It's big, and it's controversial.

I admit that my own initial reaction fell somewhere in the "shock and dismay" category. Not so much because I think there's anything wrong with being gay, but because of the politicization which is likely to follow, and what that's likely to do to the story. Did you ever have an English teacher assign one of your old favorites as a class reading, then ruin it for you utterly by making the class spend hours on what it all meant? That's it exactly.

According to the news reports, it's already started. Melissa Anelli, webmaster of Harry Potter fansite The Leaky Cauldron, was quoted in as saying, "By dubbing someone so respected, so talented and so kind, as someone who just happens to be also homosexual, she's [Rowling is]reinforcing the idea that a person's gayness is not something of which they should be ashamed." With all due respect for Ms. Anelli, the statement is technically true, but possibly beside the point. It goes like this: if homosexuality is somewhat normal, then there's no need to keep pointing it out.

Which is, I dare to suggest, why Rowling didn't hit us over the head with it. For the purposes of the story, Albus Dumbledore's sexual orientation is no more of an issue than Lee Jordan's dark skin, the Weasley family's poverty, or Harry Potter's glasses. In that context, it's no more remarkable to show a gay man as being magnificent, wise, and kind than it is to show an orphan boy as being generous, brave, and resourceful-- or to show another gay man as being unrepentantly evil, for that matter. Do the math: if Dumbledore was romantically involved with dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald, then by logical extension, Grindelwald was also involved with Dumbledore. And yes, you could split hairs all day over whether they actually "did anything" (Rowling doesn't say) or whether Dumbledore's love was unrequited (unlikely, as the two young men were supposedly inseparable)-- but if you do, you miss the whole point. Albus Dumbledore was the man he was because he consistently chose to act for the greater good, not because of (or in spite of) his sexual orientation.

Unfortunately, some of the same people who see no shame in homosexuality will also see no shame in reducing a beautiful and complex story to that one issue in order to prove their point. And that would be an absolute tragedy. Yes, Dumbledore is gay. And Lee Jordan is black. And Ron Weasley is dirt-poor. And Harry Potter wears glasses, and Mad-Eye Moody is missing an eye and a limb, and Hermione's parents aren't wizards, and Luna Lovegood is a complete flake, and Professor McGonagall is surprisingly normal, and Neville Longbottom spends half the series as a terrified screwup, and--oh, who gives a damn. They live, they love, they grow, they kick bad guy butt. Enjoy the story.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Oh, for the love of...

This is a topic that probably should have been #11 on the "Help me out here... Part 1" post, but I forgot it. And I was just going to leave it alone, until one of my switchboard sisters here at Global Expertise specifically asked me to add it. Hey, if it'll add 33% to my readership...

And I'm switching back to the hammer, because this particular connection doesn't seem to be lighting up a few of our dimmer bulbs, and I figured a little percussive maintenance might help to fix the problem. Or at least make a few of us feel better.

Here's the take-home from today's lesson: we can't make them talk to you.

We can transfer you to their extension, we can provide an alternate number IF there is one in the directory, and we can give you their e-mail address, but we can't make them talk to you.

We also can't tell you whether or not they're in prior to transferring you. This is partly because they are all adults, and don't need to come to us for a hall pass before they go to the potty. And partly because we are a GLOBAL company, so if they did all have to come to us first, there would be so many people streaming in our door that we wouldn't have any time to answer the phone (see "recruiting").

We also can't run paper messages over to their office, for three reasons. One is because, by the time we get there, you will have run out of patience (or someone more important will have called you) and you will have hung up. Trust me on this one. And the other two reasons are because A) if we did that we would spend so much time away from our desks that the only way we could answer our own messages would be by e-mail (see "recruiting") and B) it would generate a truly obnoxious amount of paper (see "global warming").

If we transfer you and it goes directly to voice mail, that is not a mistake on our part. It was a deliberate setup on their part. When you jump directly back to us to complain about the voice mail, we will be glad to transfer you to someone else, IF you have their name, but we can't make them talk to you.

Corollaries: We can't make them check their voice mail, send a return fax, or answer their e-mail, either.

We apologize for the inconvenience. Sheesh.