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A Rough Patch, Old Habits, and Spring is Here

Posted May 20 2009 9:12am

Writing this entry, I hear myself promising that this won’t be one of those “where have I been?” posts; that said, I realize that some explanation might be in order, so apparently I am ignoring the voices again (it’s a joke Mom, a joke! :) ).

For writers, and particularly blog writers, there are a million theories on the rights and wrongs of keeping readers engaged. Some insist that you should post very short pieces several times a day; others insist that it’s maybe 3 times a week is plenty, and possibly better, if the quality reflects the time that’s been taken.

Regardless, there is one thing that is nearly universally agreed upon among successful blog writers: Posting regularly is the key to keeping readers engaged. In particular, if you post several times a week on average, you should never, ever, just disappear from your site for a couple of months with little or no explanation.

Guess which cardinal sin I’ve committed.

However, the flip side is the break that I’ve taken from Almost Fit will hopefully stimulate a flurry of new articles, and has led to a few moments of fitness clarity (I hope). Time will tell.

State of the Almost Fit Nation

First and foremost, my weight for the most part has remained stable for the last few months, which is relatively positive, though hardly what I would consider great news. And to the point, my general level of fitness has definitely declined. This is especially true in the cardio department, where I find myself these days having to catch my breath at the top of a long flight of stairs. Not bent over gasping, but winded to be sure.

Since starting my current employment contract back in the fall, overall I gained an average of 2 lbs each month over the first 4 months, but I’ve not really gained much more in the last 3 months. Honestly this doesn’t come as much of a surprise for the following reasons:

- Old habits are still my worst enemy. I work in the software industry by day. As many folks know, one of the “perks” of working in software is in exchange for long hours they often provide things like free drinks ranging from flavored water and soda to fresh brewed coffee. While I work at home for the most part, I have spent a few weeks over time in the office, drinking my share and then some of free coffee, juice (though I try to cut it with sparkling water - usually), and the occasional really awful food choice from the vending machine, particularly late at night. I hate to admit this, but there has been more than one or two sodas mixed into the vat of things I know I need to avoid in the provided kitchen.

What is my obsession with “Free” all about? For whatever reason, when I see “free” anything my brain wants it. Whether it is a pile of junky freebies at a game conference or a soda at no charge, my brain automatically says, “why yes I will take one, thank you! (heh, heh, heh, SUCKER!)”, as if getting garbage for free makes it valuable. This old habit must end.

- Old habits, part 2 -Coffee. While I think that coffee in moderation is generally OK (though I am increasingly skeptical of even that - but I’ll save that for another post), I have let coffee get the better of me which costs me in a multitude of ways.

First, the sheer caloric intake of multiple mugs of coffee with cream is clearly not in my best interest on any level. I do not use chemical substitutes or low fat milk for a variety of reasons that are sprinkled all over this site. Instead I use the real stuff - the idea being that it needs to be in moderation. One cup of coffee with a little cream is fine. But when you cross over into multiple cups throughout the day, the benefits are completely reversed.

Second, I have gotten into the habit of once a week going to a local coffee house here to clear my head, get my week organized in my mind, and more often than not indulge in a froofy caffeinated sugary coffee drink. This is an old habit that I thought I had beaten cleanly, but it slithered it’s way back in when I let my guard down.

Third, I have reached a familiar point in my history with caffeine: I have built up a huge tolerance through overindulgence, which means I have to take in a lot more to get any energy effect - which translates to pretty much drinking as much coffee as I can get throughout the day. This for me leads to things like significant insomnia, irritability, depression/mood swings, late night eating, overall lack of energy, limited focus, and the list goes on. The sad thing is I know all of this, but I’ve allowed it back into my habits over time. I’ve got to fix this, and have begun  do so. More on that in a coming post on coffee.

[UPDATE: only one cup today and going strong. Hi headache. Hi sleepytime afternoon.]

- Burning the candle at both ends: My friends and family will tell you that in general I am a pretty busy guy. Between my first priority of family, second priority of a job that keeps the lights on, and a million other projects after that, I am chronically overestimating what I can do in any given day. When I started my business last year, I felt overwhelmed, and there was a reason: I sat down and created folders for the concurrent projects that I was pursuing, and to my amazement, I had 12 full time projects all in the air, slowly moving forward. This didn’t include things like art and music, which I also pursue. And none of which were paying much. Sounds like a great business plan, eh?

So where does all the time come from? As I said, my family is my priority, with my day job closely behind. That leaves all of those “wasted” hours sleeping of course, which could be used for so many other things. So late nights and early mornings have led to significant sleep deprivation, which caught up with me in a big way over the last month. Not to mention, lack of sleep has been pegged as a contributor to all kinds of health problems from obesity to premature death (!). I’m fixing this too.

- Lack of regular exercise. Big surprise here. However, this may be changing fairly soon (gotta’ try, once again. That’s the best I can do.). Weather is better; but more importantly, I’m considering either joining a gym or possibly finding a personal trainer. I’m still in the decision phase, but I’ve never been closer to making that leap.

What I have learned this year more than ever is seasonal depression really hits me hard in the “I don’t want to exercise/I don’t care how I look or feel” department. With summer on its way, that should be less of a factor, but I’m hoping to start building good habits now while the weather is good, to head off the seasonal darkness that will hit later this year. In other words, learn from my mistakes, and try not to repeat them.

- Lack of regular consumption of vegetables. This was really my first winter experience eating seasonally, and I have to admit that I really did underestimate how hard it would be.

Since very little grows in our garden in the Pacific Northwest winter months, I’ve reverted to eating more carbs, nuts, and so forth - things that are particularly dangerous for someone of my body chemistry. I failed to return to the habit of cruising the grocery store more regularly looking for in-season organic produce, and this really has hurt me this year so far.

- Unexpected family challenges: This particular item is more about my extended family, but had a direct impact on my recent fitness progress. In order to circumvent the rain and cold of early spring, we purchased a treadmill last month, and have set up a very simple workout area here at home. However, after using the space twice, we had an extended family member come to stay with us as a result of a family crisis. And you guessed it - they occupied the workout room. Thus, I let that obstacle get in my way and fell out of the habit before it even took hold.

That has resolved itself as of last week, so I think I should be able to get back on track.

Getting the help you need

Through the last six months of new challenges, I think it’s clear that making these changes on my own is a little bit more than I can manage. I need help.

Fortunately, I feel as though I have a good foundation of knowledge that will prevent me from being sucked into crazy diet programs or extreme fitness regimes that are not sustainable over the long haul - plans for which I would have been much more susceptible in the past.

On the food front, I am continuing of course with eating real food in moderation, however I have decided that I want to adjust my dietary balance a bit further away from carbohydrates for a while. And I think I’ve found the assistance I need through a fellow blogger who is a proponent of a program based on whole foods, that I think I can get into. I’ll also be writing more about this over the coming weeks.

While I don’t endorse “low carb” diets per se as a sustainable means of permanent weight loss, I do know that for many of us, reducing carbs in favor of vegetables and healthy proteins is something that really works in the weight loss battle - it always has. My biggest objection to “low carb” diets was always the suggestion that eating chemical substitutes and industrial meat products was the way to go - I believe that is a deadly mistake, and one I won’t make again.

So, in my mind the two areas I need help with are:

- Exercise, via a trainer, gym, or running group (or combination of those three)

- Dietary ideas on healthful, whole food alternatives that lean toward fresh vegetables and healthful proteins/fats.

Sounds simple enough, right? I hope so. I am ready to feel better. Are you?

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