Monday, November 28, 2011

Keeping the Holiday Weight Off (worthless advice)

'Tis the season for holiday parties. This Friday I have my office party, this Saturday is a Mom's Night In, complete with sewing and wine, next Thursday is Charlie's holiday show, and next Saturday is another Mom's Night Wine Tasting. All that plus a cookie swap the following Monday. And that's just the first two weeks of the month! The news outlets like to take advantage of the season and draw extra attention to their health and wellness sections, which invariably include tips on how to keep from enjoying the yummy food that goes along with the holiday season. Waaaaaaaay back in 2008 I posted my own thoughts on the issue, and since I still think they're relevant I'm going to repost it for you. Not like any of you have seen it before, back then I had a whopping three followers. Oh wait, still do :)

Here goes!

Every year I read the same articles that tell you how to avoid gaining weight during this festive season. Every year I read the same couple of tips that just stare out at me as being completely unrealistic. I'm going to share my favorites with you. You're so lucky!

1. Avoid Temptation

Avoid constantly putting yourself in situations that tempt you. For example, don’t walk through the break room at work 10 times a day when you know it's filled with holiday treats and candies. Spend a few minutes in the morning packing a healthy snack (like almonds, a piece of fruit or a yogurt) so you'll have a healthy weight-loss alternative.

And don't place treats on your kitchen counter to stare you in the face or take four desserts off the buffet vowing to take only one bite of each. Remember, EAT before you meet. Have this small meal before you go to any parties: a hardboiled egg, apple, and a thirst quencher (water, seltzer, diet soda, tea).

This is a great idea in theory, but who the hell can actually do this in practice? In reality you know that the almonds, fruit, and yogurt are going to be left to languish in the back of the workroom refrigerator in favor of cookies and other such niceties. As for the second tip, if you eat that small meal before the party you're inevitably going to end up eating the equivalent of two meals by the time all is said and done. So what if you had a hardboiled egg? Are you still going to be passing up chocolate? May as well skip the calories in the egg and apple altogether and just have chocolate for dinner instead.

2. Liquid calories count

Holidays are notorious for tempting us with drinks we wouldn't normally consume. Alcohol offers no nutrients — just empty calories, and we often forget to count them. Eggnog coffee drinks with whipped cream, hot toddies, spiced rum, these drinks can have as many calories as a personal pan pizza! Limit your consumption and order sparkling water with a splash of cranberry juice instead. It'll look festive and save calories. If you want to go for the alcohol, alternate alcoholic drinks with diet-friendly, calorie-free sparkling water.

This is all true, but what they're forgetting here is that "sparkling water with a splash of cranberry juice" isn't going to help us deal with those difficult people in our lives that come out of the woodwork around the holiday season. It also won't help you handle hosting a holiday with grace, or ensure that you're relaxed enough to keep you from grinding your teeth down to nothing while you clench your jaw to avoid saying something in the heat of a discussion that you might regret later (Why yes, of course I believe that women should know their place and stay inside the home. Why no, I don't believe that men and women are intellectual equals). Please understand that I'm not in any way shape or form saying that alcohol is necessary to make it through the holiday season, just that it can go a long way in maintaining quality family relations.

3. Save it for something special

Indulge only in new, interesting foods; have one taste of each. Avoid feeling deprived and distracted by food all evening long — allow yourself one dessert or holiday truffle per event. When you’re done, destroy the plate. If you've had enough to eat but others are still picking, dump salt over any food you have left.

Sure, I'll just have one bite of chocolate. Like I said above, I would just make that the whole meal. That's my personal issue though, instead of giving up on the dessert part I just won't eat any "real food" to make up for it. I do that during work potluck lunches pretty regularly. Who needs chili, soup, or appetizers? Pass the dessert, please.

I do like the salt idea, but I suffer from "leftovers guilt" and can't bear to throw away food. This is why at any given time you will find a random collection of neatly packed tupperware containers stacked in our fridge. What's in there right now? Leftover calzone filling? Check. Leftover corn tortilla strips? Check. A tea bag that I can reuse because the flavor is so strong? Check. Half of a green pepper that I know I have little intention of actually finishing? Check.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Weekly Fitness Feature - Oh, The Places You'll Go!

My husband has a different fitness philosophy than I do. He couldn't care less about working out in order to look good - he says that's not what it's all about. He's probably right, but I'm (wo)man enough to admit that looking decent in what I'm wearing makes up about 30 50% of my health and fitness goals. His main concern is all about what he's able to actually DO.

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He wants to be able to just pick up whenever he wants and go hiking in the mountains, or rafting down a river, or biking down a mountain. All of which we did last week. (Wow, was it really only last week?!) He also likes to mop the floor with the younger guys on the paintball field. I think that probably accounts for a good 75% of his motivation - not looking like the "old man" around the college-age kids out there.

After our big vacation, I'm starting to see his point. Everything that we were able to do and enjoy would have been made more difficult, if not impossible, had we not been exercising regularly. The hiking took some serious stamina and cardiovascular fitness. Even though we weren't exactly sprinting through the woods, the constant pushing onward and upward and the higher elevations were tiring on the lungs and heart. The running I've done was definitely helpful, since my legs were already conditioned for keeping me moving for hours at a time.

The rafting trip required a surprising amount of physical exertion. I was really shocked at how sore my core muscles were after the morning trip down the river, but I guess it makes sense when you think about needing to keep your abdominal and back muscles engaged nearly 100% of the time just to remain upright in the boat. Add in the bending and leaning for the paddle strokes, and you've got yourself an ab workout that would even make Tony Horton (P90X creator and exercise guru) proud. Each paddle was a crunch.

Even when we weren't actively seeking adventure and excitement (Wow, I can't even type that without thinking to myself "Adventure? Excitement? A Jedi craves not these things."), we were constantly on the move. We covered miles every evening, walking through Vail and Lionsgate. Sure, maybe some of those miles were treks to the gelato shop or to the bar, but hey, after days full of activity, we deserved it. All the more reason to indulge in a variety of local beers and handmade sweets - carbohydrates for recovery :)

The whole time, I just thought about how lucky we were that we were able to take a mini vacation at all, but, moreso, how lucky we were that we were actually able to enjoy it in the form of some amazing physical activities. Had we been out of shape, I'm sure the trip wouldn't have been nearly as fantastic.

How else would I have been able to take in such magnificent views?

Well, I guess I could have just rode hopped in the gondola, but that wouldn't have been as rewarding, now, would it?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

About Health and Fitness - What's Your Goal?

Disclaimer: I am an expert on nothing. I'm not a health and fitness guru. I don't have a background in exercise science or nutrition or anything health related - I'm a sociologist who enjoys exercising and eating real food. People have asked me about various exercise programs and other health-related topics, and I like to hear myself talk, so this is just me, speaking from my own experiences.

Deciding to live a healthy lifestyle isn't just about waking up one morning and saying "Ok! Today is the day that I'm going to start being healthy!" Sure, there's a certain component of self-awareness that's necessary for the journey to even begin, but you're not going to get very far unless you set some (manageable) goals for yourself. Changing aspects of your lifestyle is a very hard thing to do. People are habitual creatures - we become stuck in our ways and like our routines. Human nature, itself, creates an obstacle to making significant changes in our lives. This is why so many well-intentioned New Year's diet and exercise programs fail miserably. In fact, a study conducted by the University of Minnesota showed that about 80 percent of people who make New Year's resolutions will fall off the wagon by Valentine’s Day. I'm sure we've all been there before.

So, rather than just making a vague declaration that your new mantra will be "Health and Wellness," think about what you really want to accomplish. Setting up a few very specific goals and coming up with a plan to reach those goals might make it more likely that you will be successful. There's plenty of evidence to back that up in the social psychology literature (Locke's "Theory of Goal Setting and Task Performance" is one of the big ones - guess that psychology class I took on motivation didn't go to waste, after all).

Much of the research of Locke and his peeps has been taken over to the business world, but that doesn't mean that it's irrelevant for personal goals, as well. In their discussions, they lay out five characteristics of effective goal setting - Clarity, Challenge, Commitment, Feedback, and Task Complexity.

Clarity - your goals should be clearly defined. Rather than saying "I want to be healthy!" or "I want to lose weight!" say, "I want to lower my cholesterol to under 200" or "I want to be able to run for a mile without stopping" or "I want to lose 25 pounds by July 1."

Challenge - your goals should be reasonably obtainable, but still somewhat challenging. This sets you up for a bigger sense of accomplishment when you reach those goals and will also help to build confidence. For example, when I decided that I wanted to run a marathon, I broke it up into smaller goals along the way. My first goal was to reach 10 miles, then to run 1/2 marathon, then 15 miles, then 20, and then the whole distance. Each goal required me to put forth a good deal of effort, but wasn't so huge that they were insurmountable. I felt like a superstar every time I passed a goal distance.

Commitment - you need to make a commitment to your goals. You need to be in it with all of your heart and soul, ready and willing to make changes to meet your objectives, and ready to follow through.

Feedback - it's important to know how you're progressing toward your goal. If your goal is weight loss, weekly weigh-ins might help to keep you on tract. If your goal is fitness, monthly fit tests or challenges will help you to know how much strength or cardio endurance you've gained. Can you run a mile faster this month than you did last month? Can you do more push-ups this week than you did last week?

Task Complexity - I'll admit that when I studied these concepts in undergrad, I had a hard time telling this one apart from the "Challenge" criteria. I still do, but we'll give it a shot, anyway. You need to set a realistic timeline for meeting your goals, and make sure that you have the resources available to help you get there. This is where the good old cliche of "it's a marathon, not a sprint" comes into play. Make sure you're giving yourself enough time - it's unrealistic (and unhealthy, in most cases) to expect to drop 25 pounds in a month. You don't want to end up overwhelmed and discouraged, so take things as slowly as you need to.

So there you have it - Locke's framework for setting healthy goals. Of course, someone came along later with a fancy goal-setting acronym (SMART), but I prefer the social psychologists :)

What are you hoping to accomplish?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Those Jeans

When someone says "Those jeans make your butt look small," does that imply that most other jeans make your butt look big? Or that they think you normally have a large buttal area, but the pants you currently have on minimizes it?

Just sayin'

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Ah, Winter

I go through this cycle every year - even before I was a runner, whose sport required exercising out in the elements. I get so excited when spring comes, because that means that the short and cold winter days are coming to an end and summer is right around the corner. Then summer comes, and I enjoy the first few weeks of upper 70s/low 80s temperatures... and then all of a sudden it's 95 degrees with 90% humidity and I'm all WTFFFFF?? It's tooooooo hot!! I want to sit in the air conditioned house and watch X-Files reruns alllllllllll day. But I don't, and C and I go sweat along with Tony Horton in our basement. I get up ass-early on Saturdays for my long training runs. Really early - I leave my house by 5:00 so that I can be home and showered before the oppressive humidity settles in. I resign myself to the Dreadmill in the steamy evenings. And I curse the summer and it's sun and heat and dampness, and say that I can't wait for the weather to turn cooler.

Then Fall comes around and it's such a cool, dry relief. I enjoy being outside and running without feeling like my lungs are going to implode. The basement temperature is perfect for evening workouts. The Dreadmill stands alone and lonely. All is right with the world. The leaves start to change color and provide a beautiful backdrop for early morning runs. Here in Cincinnati, that lasts maybe two weeks, and then one morning you wake up and *BAM* it's 27 degrees, and I'm all WTFFFFFF? It's tooooooooo cold!! I want to curl up on the couch with a blanket and hot chocolate and watch football all day. But I don't. There are few things worse than dragging yourself out of your nice and toasty bed to put on running pants and force yourself out into the cold, cold world.

How many days until spring?

Monday, November 7, 2011

You may be right... I may be crazy.

But it just may be the marathon I'm looking for!

We took a fantastic trip to Colorado last June, a few weeks out from the Flying Pig, when I was newly into that I-want-to-run-marathons-EVERYWHERE stage. The whitewater rafting outing included a 90 minute van ride through the small towns of the Colorado Mountains, complete with random mustached tour guide and kayak expert shouting out fun facts from his position half-asleep under the back seat. Yes, under. He was an interesting cat. One of the towns we passed through was called Leadville, which happens to be the highest incorporated city in the US. He told us some of the town's history, about how it was once the second most populated city in the state, but is now home to fewer than 3,000 people. It was a big gold mining town, and then the mining turned to Lead once the gold boom ended, hence "Leadville." My brain was still somewhat fuzzy at this point, since it wasn't even 6:00 in the morning yet, but then he started telling us about the Leadville Race Series, and I perked right up when I heard the word "marathon."

It turns out that there's a whole circuit of Leadville Races - a 100 Mile Bike Ride, 2 UltraMarathons (100 and 50 Miles), and a Marathon and a Half. It's not often you see a marathon in the "short race" part of a series. The slogan on the Leadville Ultra page is fitting - "Any Idiot Can Run a Marathon!" I'm lucky to be one of those idiots.

So yes, it's "only" a marathon. This isn't just any marathon, though. "The Leadville Trail Marathon is one of the most challenging marathons in the world as it combines beautiful and rugged terrain with extreme altitude changes, including the highest elevation of 13,185 feet."

You read that right - 13,185 feet, at Mosquito Pass. 26.2 miles out-and-back of rugged mountain trail. You can't even really call it a "race," since first-place finish times come in just under the 4-hour mark and there's an 8.5 hour course limit.

WHY would I want to put myself through that kind of punishment? First of all, every race recap I've seen puts it at the top of the list in terms of amazing experiences - I've seen nothing but great things about the trail, the community, and the organization. Second of all, views like this:

(photo courtesy of, since I obviously haven't been there, yet)

I thought about it and thought about it and thought about it some more - did some research on flat-landers running in high altitudes, considered how much harder I'd have to train on the big hills in Cincinnati to even have a prayer of making it up the mountain, worried over the fact that I've never done a trail run of any length, let alone marathon distance, talked to a few local running peeps who promptly declared me crazy, and then... signed up. Not only did I sign up, but I convinced the husband to sign up to run it with me. I think he's just as excited as I am. He's going to train for (and run) the Pig with me just to get the distance under his belt, and then we're going to head for Leadville with a sub-8-hour goal :)

So there you have it, my next great adventure. June 30 is right around the corner!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

30 Days of Thanks

Over on my other blog, I'm doing an exercise called the 30 Days of Thanks. Naturally, some of them ended up being running related :)

Today I am thankful that I have strong and healthy legs that let me run far. Not super fast, but definitely far. 10 months ago I was completely intimidated by the box on the Flying Pig Training Group plan that called for 10 miles on a cold Saturday in January. 2 full and 3 half marathons later, my weeks just don't feel complete without a weekend 10.

Nothing wakes up the soul like an early solo run on a crisp fall morning. Add a post-run breakfast at Green Dog Cafe with bacon, biscuits, and coffee, and you've got a very happy Bean.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Tosh.0 Marathon

This has been around for a few months now, but I keep forgetting to blog about it. I'm relatively new to the Tosh.0 party. In fact, this clip is the first Tosh media I've ever watched. Now I'm totally hooked. I just can't get enough Daniel Tosh - he's actually cracked the top 5 on my List. Yum. I haven't decided who, exactly that knocks off, but that's a post for another day, anyway :)

I don't think I could possibly pick a favorite part, but "That's not a wall you're hitting it's your body telling you you are about to die" is certainly a front-runner!

I hate the treadmill, but I kind of wish I was there.