Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Reality check: Original plan not working

The idea came from a positive, well-intentioned place. I’ve always been the type of person who acts on impulse, who really hates to have to monitor anything too closely — my checkbook, the calories I’m consuming, whether I’m due for an oil change ... you know, all the important things that require monitoring?
So, after a year last year of writing down everything I ate and analyzing it, I was looking for a simpler way to live that would promote a healthy heart, a healthy weight and support my running habit.
I had been running since the beginning of February, and really just concentrating on that and not worrying about how I ate. I started to think the way I have advised NUMEROUS readers not to: “Well, if I’m exercising this rigorously, then I needn’t worry about having two hamburgers instead of just one.”
I re-learned a couple of months in that is just foolish. I had to remind myself that a half-hour run burns a little more than 400 calories. A second burger? Wipes out the deficit. So as I’m snacking away in addition, even on healthy foods likes nuts and fruits, the weight started to come back on.
That’s when “My Just Do It Summer” was born. I still didn’t want to have to go back to writing down every calorie. I mean, it sucks to live that way! It really does! Right? So I decided to give the all-natural food eating a try.
Pretty much everyone I know who invests in the organic, all-natural lifestyle looks healthy and amazing. So I figured that the food would be better fuel for my running and make me feel better. And when you’re eating whole grains, doesn’t every commercial also let you know that you’ll lose weight?
Didn’t work. And so like almost every good theory that has been tested, adjustments have had to be made.
I’ve laid out some of my results so far, and at the end, I’ve included a few changes that I’ve already incorporated and results I’ve seen from that. Hopefully, the new path — albeit an annoying one — will have better end results.

Many people think of a natural food diet as consisting of whole grains, proteins, fruits and veggies and other healthy stuff. And it does! It also allows for full-fat cheeses, butter, olive oil and fatty meats, among other things, and it doesn’t account at all for portion sizes.
What I was eating always looked so healthy. Before I didn’t usually eat breakfast, but I was frequently having a couple of slices of whole grain toast with strawberry jam and maybe some butter. Right there, that was 360 calories. You have a couple of eggs with that? It’s 480.
An 80/20 burger on a whole grain bun with cheddar cheese and sweet potato fries? 650 calories.
Nuts for a snack in the afternoon? 250 calories.
That’s up to 1,380 calories all before dinner.
Long story short, I wasn’t losing weight. I wasn’t gaining much, but even a little bit is a concern when you’ve worked so hard to lose it.

A number of variables contributed to the fact that running while eating “natural” hasn’t been any easier than when I didn’t worry as much about sugar, white flour and preservatives (etc.).
For one, as I mentioned above, I was putting on weight rather than taking it off. I have mentioned numerous times that running isn’t about fatness, it’s about conditioning. And that’s very much true. Unless you are significantly overweight or have injuries, pretty much anyone can run. You just have to build stamina.
But running is so much easier when you’re slimmer. There’s less impact on the knees and hips and your legs don’t fatigue so easily. So the added energy I may have had from my healthier diet was offset by the weight.
Plus (and I hadn’t considered this variable), the weather has been problematic. I’m heat-sensitive, anyway, so with an early humid summer setting in, I’m finding it increasingly difficult and rare to have “a good run,” meaning one where you feel like you could keep going and going. In fact, I’ve decreased mileage, and I haven’t been going more than three times a week.
It’s also possible that the kinds of calories you consume — whether quality or empty — don’t have an impact on energy when it comes to running. Natural foods may well be making my body happier — meaning organ function, cholesterol, etc. — but it’s possible a person doesn’t consciously feel the affects of that in regard to exercise and everyday activity.
Like I said, this diet was an experiment to see if those side effects would occur. I didn’t say I believed they would or would not. And all I’m saying now is that I haven’t noticed a change.

What I was most surprised by was the array of food choices. I worried there wouldn’t be enough to choose from and that label-reading would be a huge drag.
But natural foods are everywhere. There are plenty of bread choices in every story — even whole grain hot-dog buns! Easy to prepare canned veggies often work. You can find soups, salads, sandwiches, meats, cheeses, pastas, grains — pretty much anything you’re craving, except for many snacky items, can be found in a natural, non-preservative form.
So I have no complaints about variety.

Given the weight increase, I needed to incorporate calorie-restriction back into the program. I had to start monitoring portions and choosing not only natural foods, but lean ones.
So even though an 80-20 burger is allowed, I go for the 93/7. Even though French toast can be on the menu, I use berries instead of syrup and only take one piece.
I’ve signed back onto, and since June 1st I’ve been keeping track of everything once again. I’m still opting for natural foods whenever possible, because I do think that less processed foods are better for the body, even if I can’t feel the effects.
I’ve also cut out beverages that are highly caloric, such as fruit juices. They’re obviously very good for a person, but it’s excess calories I don’t need.
I’ve also brought back diet pop. I know that’s a no-no with a natural diet, but when counting calories, it feels like a “treat” (which is so sad.) My whole family actually loves to go get “fountain pops” from Kwik Trip. That’s our idea of a fun morning errand. Haha.

Weight loss. In 20 days, I’ve already dropped a few pounds. I’ve noticed that it already feels better on the legs when running.
But I also noticed, due to the smaller number of calories being consumed, that I’m really lacking energy some days. It’s hard to run without those energy stores. So I’ve been trying hard to strike a balance, but it seems like one helpful diet element provides a negative in some other way. I’m struggling, to be honest, to decide what’s more important and what adjustments to make.

So I’m continuing with the new plan to make good food choices but also to keep track of the calories. It’s just how it has to be, even though I wish it wasn’t.
I’m reminded of what my personal trainer told me the first couple of weeks we worked together in January 2011. I was shocked when she said that even she will always have to write down what she eats because being thin and healthy doesn’t come easily or naturally to her either.
I need to remember that.
I’m also going to keep opting for good, quality foods whenever possible. And I’m going to keep posting recipes for those foods at
Hopefully I’ll have better results with this new approach. I’ll be sure and tell you all about it.

Monday, June 18, 2012

I concede: The backyard pool was a great idea

I was the final holdout. Discussion had been going on for days: my sister wanted a backyard pool. She wanted one bad. And her landlord probably would not let her plop one down in the middle of the yard. So she turned to me.

Five years ago I made the impulsive decision to put up a 10-footer in the backyard. It was glorious! ...for a couple of weeks. Then it got dirty. The cover didn't stay on very well, and bugs and debris found their way in. It felt like I was cleaning it all the time. We also got bored with it. So after probably 10 uses, I sold it on Craigslist for about what I paid for it. Maybe a little less. But it became the example all of my friends and family and pulled out over the years to question my judgment. "Remember the pool, Amanda? Remember how you were so sure that was a good idea? Well, this is just like that pool, Amanda."

I didn't want a repeater of that 10-footer. So I kept saying no. No pool. I put my foot down.

Then there was an ad in Aldi's circular a couple of weeks ago for a $22 rectangular pool that was about 18 inches deep and 8 feet across. Perfect! We each could take an end to lay in, maybe put a little table in the center for our drinks. Perfection.

I proposed this to Tina (my sis) and after many attempts to up the ante to a larger, deeper pool, she agreed on the compromise.

Trouble was, Aldi sold out. Tina used this to open up negotiations again. And she finally convinced me that, if she were to pay for the entire pool, then I was merely allowing her a few feet of space to use in my backyard. No skin off my back, right?

The first pool she bought was too small. I was shocked she even bought it. We couldn't even sit in a pool that size together. So she took it back and got a 10-foot pool that was waist high. But after we measured, we found that it wouldn't fit well in the level spot in the yard. So, as the tail of "The Three Bears" goes, the third pool she bought was JUUUUST right. An 8-foot circular pool, comes to about mid-thigh in depth. The perfect size to fit four people sitting without floaty chairs, but could fit really only one person with a floaty. Tina didn't think this was particularly ideal, but I'm thinking it's just about perfect. Plus, it filled up relatively quickly, so I'm not panicked about my water bill.

Now, granted, I've only gone "swimming" in it twice. But I must say ... Tina was right about this one. We needed a backyard pool this year. Floating around in that thing is heaven on Earth. About the only thing that got me through this morning's miserable, humid run was knowing I could splash around in the pool when I got home. Aside from a nasty sunburn, I have no complaints so far.

Of course, having been up for about four days, it's still a clean pool. Hopefully, we'll keep it that way. Or you might see a listing on Craigslist for an 8-foot pool complete with filter and chlorine cartridge -- and we'll even throw in the floaties!! -- soon enough.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The plight of the heat-sensitive runner

There's a scene in "Interview with the Vampire" when a little female vampire, played by a very young Kirsten Dunst, and another lady vampire are locked in a prison cell with an open roof, embracing each other and screaming as the sun slowly rises and burns them alive. This is pretty much an accurate portrait of my sister and I in summer.

I blame my mom. When she was 20 and six months preggers with me, she went on a road trip to Florida with my dad where she got the worst sunburn of her life. My theory is that I got cooked in her tummy like a little baked potato, rendering me utterly defenseless against a hot and humid summer day.

One side effect of my heat-sensitivity is fainting. Yep, folks, I am a fainter. How cool am I ...
Three of the most embarrassing examples:
1. Fourth grade. No air conditioning in the building. Muggy. Girls bathroom stall, flanked by two peers in adjoining stalls and 10 others waiting in line for their turn. As I locked the stall, I knew it was coming on. The window started to close. (I have two varieties of fainting: the instant total blackout; and "the window," when my vision goes black around the periphery, slowing closing until I pass out.) I hit the floor, my legs sticking under the stall door into my friend Donna's personal space. I wake up to my teacher outside the door. "Amanda? Are you all right?" Thank god my pants were still on.

2. Balcony. Catholic Church. Fifth grade. Uncomfortable dress. No air conditioning. Ceiling fans slowly -- very slowly -- turning far, far above. Stuffy. People singing hymns all around. The window started to close. As I leaned forward into my mom's hymnal, she said, "Amanda!" sort of in disbelief, but also concern. Her tone somehow snapped me out of it. Didn't faint. But people were staring. Got me out of communion, though.

3. Boyfriend's house. Hot as hell in his basement room. Like, 85 degrees. I get up to use the bathroom, which for some reason was about 15 degrees cooler. The temperature difference hit my overheated head like a hammer. No window. Just a blackout. The next thing I remember is my boyfriend knocking at the door asking if I was OK. "That was quite a crash," he said. I came to laying halfway inside the shower stall, a goose egg on my head and a black bruise beginning to form on my knee.

Long story short, folks, I shut down in heat. I feel like I can't breathe. I whine a lot. Even walking from the car to an air-conditioned building feels completely oppressive. Feels like it takes a million years to get to the door.

Which brings us to this morning. 72 degrees at 7:30 a.m. Sun barely rising above the trees. But the humidity was 60 percent. Dewpoint 57 degrees. Beyond my threshold. Just BEYOND it.

But, I thought, if I can't get a run in at 7:30 in the morning, then when can I? When will it be any cooler than this? So I had to go.

I felt like I was wearing a suit of armor. I couldn't breathe good. After 10 minutes I was walking. Then at 15 minutes, I walked again. Then at 20, more walking. It was a horrid 37 minutes.

After a cool shower, I didn't quite get "the window," but there were some black speckles in my vision. And now I have my "heat headache." It's a dull ache in my forehead after I've been "exposed" to the summer elements that are beyond my coping ability.

So, I ask you, what is a heat-sensitive runner to do in summer? It's only June 8! What will happen to me in August? I'm still a toddler runner. I've only been running four months, and that streak has been broken up by a knee injury and an illness, both of which had me benched for a couple of weeks apiece. I'm still learning. Even on cool days, I'm new enough that it's a toss up whether the run will go well or not. So needless to say, the added weather variable is messing with my head.

Any other runners out there who wither in sunlight? What do you folks do in summer? I'm wondering if I will just have to accept a running/walking regiment for the bulk of the season.

1. Renting an air-conditioned space suit.
2. Renting an oxygen tank, like for scuba diving, and dragging it along behind me in a red wagon.
3. Winning the lottery and building a massive indoor track with walls that change scenery.

Other ideas?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Things my dog thinks when she runs

... a sequel to what I think about when I run.

After the last disaster of a run when I brought my dog along with me, I said, "Never again!" But as with most mistakes I've made in my life, I forget the consequences and am ever doomed to repeat them.

After "Sunday Morning" and three cups of coffee, I was ready to go. So was Squishy, it seemed. So we headed off into the humid, sunless morning along my normal route to Tourtellotte.

Here is the progression of my dog's thought pattern there and back. (As far as I can tell, anyway. I don't speak dog.)

Minute 2: Jeez, my owner is really slow. I'd better pull her along so she feels like she's actually accomplishing something. Lazy human.

Minute 5: Squirrel! (Owner yanked onto a lawn, trying to stay on her feet and correct my course.)

Minute 6: Hang on a minute. I want to sniff this tree, for like, 30 seconds. ... Hey, quit pulling my leash! I'll be done when I'm done!

Minute 7: This looks like a good place to do my bidness. ... Oh, well gee, I'm so sorry you had to stop jogging at your very slow pace, owner, so that I can relieve myself. It's the least you can do, considering I've been doing more than half the work this whole time. ... Now pick it up and carry it with you. You don't want these homeowners to think I'm THAT kind of dog, do you?

Minutes 10, 10.5, 11 and 11.5: Woah, these are new trees. I've never sniffed these trees. These would be excellent trees to mark. Whoever this St. Bernard, chow and ... dalmation! Wow, a dalmation! ... Anyway, whoever they are, if they come back, they should know that these are my trees now.

Minute 12: Squirrel! (See the minute 5 parenthetical.)

Minute 14: Squirrel! (Above.)

Minute 17: Well, I mean, I guess she's not that slow. Why does she still want to run? Where is she running to? Walks are so much more pleasant. Stupid human.

Minute 22: Is that rain? Are we pretty far from home and it's raining? This tree would be a good place to hide under and refuse to move from.

Minute 25: Well I never! Reducing my leash lead to, what, two feet? Is she really going to drag me all the way home? In the rain?

Minute 30: I'm tired. I'm tired. I'm tired. It's raining. I'm tired.

Minute 33: Did she really just call me that? Is she really that irritated when I'm the one suffering here?

Minute 35: Oh, home. Thank god. Water. Water. Water. ... At least she's learned her lesson. I'm sure tomorrow morning, when she puts on those pink running shoes, we'll just go for a walk. That must be what she meant when she said, "You are the absolute worst, and I will never, ever take you running again. Ruiner of fitness! Selfish, lazy dog! THE WORST!"
But then, I don't speak human.