Saturday, March 26, 2022

Springtime!

Image by Jeon Sang-O from Pixabay

Spring is officially here! The vernal equinox was this past week and now we have more daylight than night. It is amazing how fast the days have become long, extending natural light well into the evening hours. One of my favorite things about Minnesota are the long summer evenings with light on the horizon until nearly 10 pm

Naturally, the season change, here in Minnesota, was greeted with sub-freezing temperatures. It is also quite blustery out with a stiff north wind with what is perhaps winter's last hurrah. However, it is more likely the penultimate or antepenultimate hurrah. Snow in May has happened in recent memory. 

With the weather fluctuating between nice and friggin' freezin' we dance between getting outdoors and hunkering down. The earlier week witnessed temperatures in the 60s F. Comfortable enough for a jog around my favorite little lake (sub-20 minutes for two miles!) in shorts and a light jacket. It was a little cooler a couple evenings ago so I got my steps in shorts, light jacket, hats and gloves; a sort of workout clothing mullet (please refrain from contemplating too much where the party is). Today, I'll likely be back to full gym. 

The bottom line is, things are going pretty well. In terms of weight loss, I'm still sitting on that darn plateau. Doing the basic things from Noom, maintaining has been pretty easy to achieve. My main challenges lately, aside from the weather, has been the cesspool of non-Covid viruses that are now getting caught up and back into our systems. One of these knocked me on my butt last weekend and the fatigue persisted well into the week. Ultimately, there's little to be done in these situations. It takes a little more willpower to stay on target, but sometimes you just need to rest.

There have been other stressors as well. March is a challenging month in a number of ways. Firstly, I usually have an "oh crap" moment where I stand to lose significant PTO from work at the end of the month. This is due to how PTO is distributed, i.e. on my March 2nd anniversary date as a full dump, and when the fiscal year rollover occurs, i.e. March 31 where I need to be under a certain number of hours. This gets compounded as I don't really use a whole lot of PTO in general, leading to some stress about taking PTO. Fortunately, I'm typically granted special dispensation, but would rather the problem just resolve itself once and for all. 

Secondly, there are a fair number of March-ish birthdays in my family, mine included (the 30th). Thus, there's a bit of scheduling that isn't typically there along with added calories from the celebrations. Still, I enjoy celebrating my favorite people and this becomes more of a mental exercise in "I am okay". Not every day can be for my creature of habit self, working late and putzing on projects, etc. 

Thirdly, is it just me or does it take longer than it used to for adjusting to daylight savings?  I'm one of those who is glad to be "locking the clock". Perhaps it's the correlation with being sick this time around, but I went from getting up early and being to work before required to now just feeling like a slacker and sleeping in. I'm sure my circadian rhythms will get back in phase with my normal/preferred schedule again, still it's tiring.

Lastly, with all that going on there is also a sense of change going on in the world. We're all following the Russian shit-show and hopefully it will end soon. There's also plenty going on locally and personally. Without saying too much, I'm being considered for a very promising opportunity. This flies in the face of my deciding to be centered and content a couple months ago, however, I did not pursue this opportunity. A colleague approached me directly and thought I would be a good fit. There's a lot of stress and uncertainty here. The opportunity would pull me away from my magnetic materials background, but would be a step in the direction of a leadership position. I would learn to work and develop some really cool new stuff in a larger organization. The opportunity to partake technically/scientifically would still be there, but would be in a much different context. It's both exciting and scary. 

I have been in my current position for 13 years and while I have a lot of ideas on "growing the business" the work environment makes that goal near impossible. Depending on what happens I'll elaborate more on this later. 

Ultimately, the most immediate challenge is to temper my wandering thoughts of "what if" and "what should I do" as well as my scheduling stress and my stress about being sick and taking PTO. In writing this sentence it's clicking that the scheduling, the anxiety of future events is really triggering for me. I go into the future anticipating conflict, conflict that really isn't there and doesn't (usually) materialize. This has me now wondering how can I better engage with the future and maintain a good, centered in the present, attitude (is attitude the right word for this?). 

It's hard to do right now. Really hard. My brain just doesn't seem to want to center at the moment. Perhaps that's okay and just being mindful of my state will be enough to reign me back in. Things are pretty good overall, I know this. It's probably just finding a couple of little things to work on (gratitude, breathing, etc.) and I'll snap back into place.


Monday, February 21, 2022

Montana Report Card

The first lift up.

This is going to be a quick one. I took my kids skiing in Montana a little over a week ago. It was a fun trip. The snow was great (at least for a Minnesota skier) and we left the rockies on Sunday sore, but ready for our next outing. 

As with my recent flurry of trips, it's a good opportunity to reflect on the food and activity choices. So here's another report card:

Item Score
(1 to 4 with 4 = best)
Notes
Water Intake 2 I made sure to drink morning and evening glasses of water. I also bought a case of sparkling water. Intake in normal conditions was likely adequate, but the activity, high altitude and dry air had me feeling dehydrated.
Alcohol
Consumption
3 This was limited to beers at dinner. 
Steps/Activity 4 Two full days of skiing and a decent chunk of time wandering mammoth hot springs. This was well covered
Positive Attitude 4 Hell yeah!
Mindfulness/Food Choices 2.5 My choices were decent enough. I was actually surprised at the lack of fruits/veggies. Even the grocery store seemed scant. The hotel's "continental breakfast" only had super green bananas as well. Fortunately, I had some roasted buffalo cauliflower the first dinner and my aunt made a great meal with asparagus. Some choices were also "on vacation" choices, with pizza, burgers, nachos, etc. but I did make sure there was a take home box ready to roll. This helps limit gorging and (especially with pizza) incentivizes a treat (of leftover pizza) later.

Ultimately, there were definite goods and some slight areas for improvement. What might have been tougher was our returning Sunday was "Superbowl Sunday". This included a party at my sister's house with a huge spread. Being tired from the trip and the sight of all the good food made the Monday weigh-in a bit more gut wrenching. Still, such occasions are infrequent. They can also be a reminder to get back on the healthy habits wagon. I'm now back to surfing my plateau and looking for ways to refine and keep progressing.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Battling on in the Winter




I've been using this blog to keep on with my fitness journey quite a bit. I've been writing less frequently as habits are being instilled. Still, it's good to check up and it might be getting time to pivot on to other things that this journey is enabling. 

First off, a quick check in though. Since the holidays, I've been maintaining my weight fairly well. The added level of consciousness from daily weigh-ins along with having some good baseline habits is making this task easier. In rambling on with a friend this week, as well as some past discussions with others, being able to maintain in challenging times like winter is a victory in and of itself. I'll take it.

When the weather warms and heading outside becomes more comfortable, work can continue on the "next level" goals. That's not to say I can't and shouldn't take advantage of some extra walking or cardio time when I can. Nor does it mean I shouldn't keep working on better eating habits, but the main thing I'm learning about myself is that things need to be easy and accessible for me to take advantage.

The "keep it easy" mantra is something I'm noticing in a lot of areas for me. It's necessary to simplify things down in energy, time and space to have prolonged success. If I want to play music/guitar regularly, the instruments need to be within reach in my main living area. If I want to stay on top of growing my startup business, the "tools of the trade", i.e. my 3D printers and shipping peripherals need to be not tucked away in the bowels of my basement. If I want to work out regularly, the gym needs to be nearby and readily accessible. The grocery store routine needs to follow a basic pattern where I know what I'm getting; there's no point in putting too much effort in vain, ecclectic meal plans to be fancy or un-boring. 

I need the practicality of things that get the job done, everything else is wasted energy. Energy that I'd much rather put towards house projects, making things and being useful beyond my baseline routines. I'm even finding in writing that I use a lot of wavery, inefficient words; talking "around" things as Minnesotans can often do. Indeed, I'm on the prowl for efficiency improvements everywhere. For the writing, I'm not meaning I should minimize feel and content. I know at least one person who is so obsessed with terse "active voice" that everything feels like you're reading from a bulleted list. That's extremely inhuman and boring, and results in something no one wants to read. The real magic is to get rid of the "sort of/kind of"s and more concisely say what I mean.

 Digressing, good weather makes activity easier. It creates freedom to go places and helps add perspective.  As with many creatures, winter becomes a dormant time; so it is (to some extent) for those of us trying to improve. Still, progress we must, even if it's a bit slower. I'm finding it a good time for reinforcing the good habits and challenging myself to keep going. The "next level" is out there and I'm sure it will appear at the right time.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

While I love the song, I have to admit that getting the daily 10k steps leaves much to be desired in winter walking. Before delving into my recent walking challenges, I do have to make a very real brag. With the help of Noom, and may some luck, I was able to maintain my weight through the holidays! I consider this a sizeable victory, as it is tough for anyone to do. 

That said, the colder winter weather and Covid weariness has made for some challenges to the habits that ran smoothly in fairer weather; particularly for getting in those precious steps not to mention my overall activity level.  I was fairly gung-ho at the start of the cold. My smart goal of at least 5,000 steps during the workday and filling in the rest at the gym in the evening was working well. 

Then the real cold came along with the snow and ice. In one particular moment of feeling invincible, I went out for a walk and within 500 steps had a nice slip and bruise on the right side of my rear end to show for it. Fortunately, I fell "well" and saved hitting my head or breaking an ankle. While the goals are important, it's important to not get injured so as to prevent hitting future goals. 

Thus, I've been checking conditions and working on getting a good chunk of the work steps in the building. We do have sort of a "rat's maze" loop around the building that nets ~200 steps per lap. I'm able to take these strolls when waiting on experiments or even heating my lunch. Establishing this as a habit is a little more of a challenge compared to my 2,000 step, good weather, walk. Longer strolls only require starting out on once or twice a day, whereas a lap around the building needs to be initiated 10x more often. 

I also feel weird walking past the same offices and having the same people looking at me two or three times in a roll. Still, I'm doing what needs to be done to stay on track. There has also been a time or two where I get waylaid and end up not walking or my thoughts wander, and my lunch ends up staying in the microwave a lot longer than I originally intend.

I have explored a couple of other options. The first of these is mall walking. Yes, the same mall walking that the older folks do in their sweats before the stores open. I did try this once. It served the purpose, but also felt awkward to be there without capitalistic purpose (it's starting to sound as though I need to "get over it"). 

I've also looked into getting better outdoor traction in the way of metal studded slipovers for my shoes/boots to give some traction. I'm actually intrigued by this option but haven't made the purchase yet. 

Lastly, it might be worthwhile to try and get some of the 5k steps before work, by way of just walking on the treadmill at the gym. This may sound odd as I could just get all the steps after work at the gym. The problem with after work is that it eats into a lot of time I could spend working out or taking care of other obligations. My patience for the evening treadmill is capped at around 2 miles (~4,000 steps), but I've recently had to get as many as 4 miles. Again, the distance isn't the problem, it's the time involved.

Ultimately, a balance will be found, but for right now it is taking a little more effort to hit this lynchpin goal. Despite this, it is critical to keep trying. Maintenance can be a big win in the winter. Spring will eventually arrive, and a reprieve granted.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Thanksgiving Report Card

Image by Oberholster Venita from Pixabay

And just like that, Thanksgiving 2021 is a shrinking speck in the rear-view mirror. I'm grateful for having written my previous post as it helped keep me mindful during the feast. Still, there was a mix of good things and areas of improvement. Thus, similar to my travel report card, I came up with one for social/holiday eating scenarios (again I used this handy table generator website) so here we go:

Item Score
(1 to 4 with 4 = best)
Notes
Water Intake 4 I conscientiously chose water throughout the celebration
Alcohol
Consumption
4 No alcoholic beverages were consumed
Appetizer
Grazing
3 I started strong, but found myself making a couple more passes than necessary once the desserts came out
Meal/plate 2 Considering it was Thanksgiving, I think I did okay. I took modest portions of most foods, but did go back for some seconds on the favorites.
Finding distractions
from food
4 This was fairly easy at my sister's house as they have a pool table in their basement and an area for watching football, etc. separate from the "spread"
Steps/Activity 1 It was a cold day and I had food prep to do so didn't get the activity I would have liked
Positive Attitude 3 I think so!?!?
Mindfulness 4 While there were a few choices that could have been better, overall, I was aware of my eating and deliberate in most of my actions.
Next day recovery 3 Admittedly did a little bit of fasting until the afternoon just having water and coffee. I hit the gym in the afternoon and got all my steps, most via light jogging. Lastly, followed by going to a movie (popcorn was had).

So it appears to not have been too bad of an outing. In fact, activity level aside I'm calling it a success considering it was Thanksgiving. I think the water intake and the ability to stay in a different area of the house from the food, particularly the appetizers, really helped. 

 Weighing in this morning also showed that I'm right back where I was before the feast. Now there's something to be grateful for!


Thursday, November 25, 2021

Holiday Food for Thought


One of the big challenges in staying healthy, particularly for those of us who struggle with eating, is when the outside world "pivots" on us after we've established good habits under a certain set of conditions. By this I mean anything from a prolonged change in the weather to an injury or medical condition that might keep us from getting our steps.

I started Noom in May. Living in Minnesota I've had the "fair weather" treatment up to now, literally. The days throughout the summer are long. Going for a run or walk at 8:30pm still has plenty of natural light and there's plenty of warmth for generating a good sweat. Also, in doing the math for me, there are fewer celebratory occasions and close-quartered social eating situations during those months.

Enter the winter plunge. The days have gotten significantly shorter with twilight around 5pm. It's mostly dark when I get out of bed and mostly dark when I head home from work. The temperature hovers around freezing. Both the darkness and cold add to mental "inertia" to venturing out for a walk or a run and can lead to more sedentary times and lower overall calorie burn.

Since Halloween, festive foods have also been in ample supply. Multiple work days have people bringing in treats, likely their way of getting them out of their houses. Bakery items seem to taste better in the cooler weather with a hot coffee. Likewise, coffee seems to taste better with peppermint mocha or pumpkin spice creamer.  

Additionally, at least in the case of my family, there's a whirlwind of get togethers, birthdays and the obvious holidays all with ample caloric cheer. There's no blame to be passed here, but I have the wherewithal to know that I overindulge in social situations featuring a "spread".

Thus, there's an activity slowdown and a consumption increase, i.e., weight to be gained! While I try not to despair, the reduced vitamin D production (less sun) could also amplify downtrodden feelings. I am largely writing this as an acknowledgement of the situation and immediate challenges. So, what can be done? This seems like a hill of opportunity for working on forming stronger habits that can overcome the cold weather, plan building for navigating the pies, candies and cookie trays of the season and even finding some perspective.

Sticking to the basics will be the most important. As far as celebratory feasting goes, the social situations are still just a couple of instances per week. This leaves most of the week for the things that work AND some mindful preparation. One thing I attempted at a recent gathering was to control what was available to me. I brought both a veggie tray and a fruit tray. Now the outcome was not as magical as I had hoped, there was a taco dip that was just too tempting. Still, there was some effort made now just to work on the "while there" piece. 

I'm not sure how it is for others, but I really do struggle when there's food out. There's even a feeling of mental anguish trying to resist taking another chip or cheese slice. I don't know what its source is inside me. I hate it and I am filled with profound envy of those who can just "take or leave" food. It would almost feel better to not even get to that tempted state of craving. All I can imagine is it's that feeling the alcoholic or drug addict gets. Resistance is tried, but resistance is often futile. Once indulging, there's a mindlessness that goes with the consumption, an escape as the craving is satiated. Unchecked, however, satisfaction is only obtained when the misery of fullness exceeds the pleasure of the eating.

This really seems to be brain chemistry at work. The "I need" is beyond a thought, it's more primal than that. Some receptors somewhere need a connection/stimulation. If only there was more of an "as needed" supplement that could stifle the craving. Maybe there is, but I'm going to be a lazy writer and not really look. Also, I have a number of the tools to help already in place and the willingness to work with them. 

Some ideas might be to:

  • Save on the Calorie budget throughout the rest of the day, eating modestly; saving the bulk of the intake for the meal and pie.
  • Drink plenty of water and hit any veggie/low Calorie density foods hard thereby creating some fullness with good stuff (green foods for your Noomers)
  • Bring or find other activities to help keep away any appetizers prior to dinner as well as after
  • Mindfully sit with the urges and wait for them to pass. Maybe even mention/talk about them (note: select your talking partner carefully and avoid social pressure to eat or shaming about why you can't just "take or leave" food)
  • Silly random thought: Maybe wear something slightly tighter, leading to a little pre-emptive discomfort/fullness sensation?
  • Slow down the eating pace, letting your brain's "full" indicator better keep pace with your consumption
  • Shorten your stay with your family. Sure, you love them, but they also love you and want you to be healthy and happy. If having to step away from the event sooner than later helps in that, they'll ultimately understand. They'll also get to "call dibs" on more of the left overs, a win-win of sorts
Ultimately, be kind to yourself and realize that each holiday is just a day. Perhaps we agree to mindfully indulge and keep on our path for the days surrounding the holidays. Beyond that, let's navigate the winter as best we can as well. Let's stay mindful and keep working towards that long range goal of feeling good and staying healthy. Deal?