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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

"Discipline in remembering what you want"*

 I'm still pondering the teachings in The Places That Scare You (TPTSY).  Although I have been avoiding it for a few weeks now because it has become apparent to me that at some point the rubber has to hit the road.  You can navel gaze all you want but at some point you have to put the Tim Tams down and make a salad, in short, you need to exert some discipline.

TPTSY has an interesting thing to say about the discipline of following Buddist principles - "[it] is not that they are commandments but that they challenge our habitual reactions."  It also talks about the need for patience, to let things evolve at their own speed, and the need for enthusiasm which emerges when we let go of goals. 

So what I'm planning to do, is to finalise a meal plan and stick to it. But rather than stick to it in an obsessive I've-got-to-do-this-or-the-world-will-come-to-an-end sort of way, stick to it in an lets-just-see-what-happens-if-I-do-this sort of way. At lest until my next blood test which is about five weeks away.

Will post my meal plan when ready.

*The internet tells me that the above quote is by David Campbell, the founder of Saks Fifth Avenue. Whoever he was, he has an extraordinary ability to get to the point.

Monday, October 3, 2011

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear

I have always taken the above statement to mean something along the lines of - if you do enough meditating, at some point, a small, bald-headed and wrinkled Tibetan monk (think Yoda without the pointy ears, oh and not green) will appear in your life and let you in on all the secrets of the universe. Or, at the very least, you would find a decent yoga teacher (still have not found someone to replace you Heather).

In the past few days, I've been thinking maybe it isn't even as obvious as a decent yoga teacher, perhaps, the teacher may be technology and the lessons delivered in sound bites.

Despite the optimisim of my last post, I found another hurdle that had to be jumped.  While the logic of "keep your eyes on the prize" is undeniable, I found myself thinking "so what?".  I had lost faith in the outcome.  I didn't really believe that eating right would improve my life in any meaningful way.

Then I watched a Louis Theroux documentary on Crystal Meth.  I found myself wondering why people would throw their lives away to take a drug and then I realised I was doing the same thing, I was just more fortunate in that eating Tim Tams doesn't lead to a life of crime.

The thing that really struck me though, was one simple sentence.  Louis was talking to a couple who had been using Crystal Meth for 25 years.  They primarily financed their use by being dealers themselves.  The woman said she would like to stop using it, the man wasn't concerned either way.  He told Louis that no-one could guarantee that his life would be better if he didn't use Crystal Meth.  Louis gave him a very intelligent response, he simply asked "was your life better during times when you weren't using?"  The guy thought about it for a second or so and said "Well yes, yes it was better".

So I asked myself whether I felt better when I ate better, when I cut out caffeine, wheat and sugar and I had to admit "Well yes, yes I did feel better".  In fact, when I did my Paleo challenge back in March, I not only felt better, people commented on how well I looked and assumed I had started working out (I hadn't, other than a few token push-ups and sit-ups every morning, I did no exercise at all).

So, on 25th Sep 2011, after waking up the second day in a row with a hangover, I decided to have a healthy day, and I made it through without reaching for a cup of tea or any bread (not that I didn't spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about it).  And I made it through the next day, and the next day and going to bed on the Tuesday night I felt better than I had in weeks.  Since then, I've buckled a few times on the bread and the chocolate, but, other than for a sip of coke, have stayed off the caffeine in spite of having a cold and knowing it would give me a temporary boost - the key word being temporary, followed by not being able to sleep, followed by feeling worse the next day (know your enemy).

Having had a few slips, the temptation is to throw your hands in the air and say "well that proves it, I will never be able to do this", but I know that is just a cop out. Not even elite athletes eat perfectly all the time.  The problem of what to do with imperfection is a thorny one, but I will try to address it in my next post.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Know your enemy

The main hurdle for me in trying to eat healthily is the feeling that I am always missing out.  Intellectually, we all know the benefits of eating well, but this is not enough, particularly if, rather than making you feel worse, sugary and fatty foods actually (temporarily) boost your mood.

Again, The Places That Scare You ('TPTSY') explains that this is normal - it is human nature to mistake dissatisfaction for happiness.  I was struggling with how to overcome this when I read Chapter 4 of TPTSY, which covers the benefits of meditation.  One of the benefits is "clear seeing" (or dare I suggest - "seeing clearly") - we begin to see bad habits as restrictions.

When I read this I realised that I shouldn't regard Tim Tams as standard benefits that everyone else in the world gets to enjoy (because of course when you are thinking this way you conveniently ignore diabetics, the third world, kidnapped children in the Ivory Coast forced to harvest cacao from sunrise to setset, etc), instead they are barriers to my true enjoyment of life. Since then I have found it far easier to say no.  For example, I said no to a Tim Tam just three hours ago and didn't feel deprived.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Out of control

Several months ago, I was talking to one of the fit people at work, you know the type - get up at 5:00am to go on a lazy 50km bike ride before work.  I asked him how he maintained his discipline when it came to eating. His answer "suck it up, princess".

I knew he was right, so it has been somewhat disconcerting to me to find myself wholly unable to apply this principle to my Get Fit and Healthy Project (GFH Project).  At first I would tell myself "Tomorrow I will eat right", but it just seems beyond me.  I don't think I have eaten so badly, ingested as much sugar and caffeine nor exercised or slept as little as I have in the past six weeks. It seems that immediately I started my official GFH Project, I started acting in the completely opposite way.

Given this behaviour, I have been heartened by a chapter called "Heightened Neurosis" in The Places That Scare You by Pema Chodron.  This chapter explains that this behavour is NORMAL.  It even sets out the categories of neurosis, all of which I related to:

  1. Feelings of not measuring up - for example, feeling that you will never be able to stick to a diet and exercise program, which is how I have been feeling for six weeks.
  2. Feeling superior - this is how I felt back in March when I was a caveman for a month (only eating animal protein, fruit and vegetables).  I felt like I was on the right path and it was only a matter of time before I would be glowing with effortless good health.  Of course, after the month was over, despite assurances from numerous websites and even though I felt great, I just went back to my old habits.
  3. Avoiding another issue - by making the problem about what I am eating, I am avoiding acknowledging that the real issue is my Graves Disease, that nobody knows why it occurs, that even if I eat perfectly and exercise every day, I still might not recover.

To overcome heightened neurosis, the book advises "ongoing patience and kindness toward this inevitable process", accepting yourself and thinking of it "as a sign that old habits are being liberated". By practicing "compassionate inquiry into out moods, our emotions and our thoughts", we develop understanding (the Sun - refer last post) and over time we stop acting against ourselves.

It seems to be working, albeit slowly.  So far I have stopped drinking beer because while I like beer, it most definitely doesn't like me.  I've also only had one cup of tea with breakfast, instead of two.  It's not exactly "suck it up, princess", but at least I seem to be heading in the right direction again.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

He who fails to plan, is planning to fail . . .

and, I would argue, that same applies to she's. By the way, aparently that title of this post is a quote by Churchill.

So I've been on this official Get Fit and Healthy Project for a month now, and it occurs to me that I have achieved very little.  In fact, I can't quite pin point my last chocolate or caffeine free day, if anything I'm beginning to feel that I'm firmly on a downward spiral.

However, I have been reading a couple of books lately, that are making me think that, rather than my standard Dr Phil "sometimes you've just got to white-knuckled it" strategy, a radical change of approach is in order. Which brings me to another quote by Churchill "Those who plan do better than those who do not plan even though they rarely stick to their plan". I think its because if you take the time to make a plan, you become more committed to the goal and you can measure your progress and refine your plan until it works. At least, that's what I'm telling myself.

Back to the books, the first one was lent to me by a friend who thought it might do me some good.  It's called The Creative Life: 7 Keys to your inner genius by Eric Butterworth.  Overall, I found the book a bit over the top in that new agey sort of way.  But there was one idea I quite liked.

The book is structured around the 7 days of creation (dare I say) myth from the Bible.  Day Four is "Let There Be Two Great Lights" refering to the creation of the sun and the moon.  Butterworth suggests that we think of the sun as representing Understanding (knowledge, ideas and the like), while the moon represents Will - not the "will of gritted teeth" (doesn't that expression just capture the concept perfectly) but a willingness to go with the flow.

The two concepts compliment and reflect each other. If you throughly understand something, but don't actually do anything, you get no where.  Conversely, if you set your mind to something and say "this time I will lose weight", you become emotional and stubborn and also get no where.

After reading this I realised that when I started this project it was all Will based - I will eat right, I will exercise everyday, etc, but there was no understanding of what was motivating my current eating and lack of exercise. In my defence, I think everyone does this.  Something triggers the motivation, (in my case the threat of losing a body part) and we say with anger and determination "I will do it this time!".  But we don't understand how we got to where we are, so how can we hope to get to where we want to go?

The second book is a not-so-old favourite The Places That Scare You by Pema Chodron, but I'll discuss that next time.

Monday, August 8, 2011

They're not weaknesses, they are development opportunities

Well, there was no spectacular crash this week, but the scales seem firmly of the view that spreading the same amount of "treats" out over the week is no better than eating them all at once (surprise, surprise).

Stuck fully to my diet Monday, Tuesday and Sunday.
Walked to work on Monday, and half-way on Tuesday.

Areas for Development
  1. Need to keep up the walking - walk at lunch time if I don't manage to walk to work
  2. Going to bed on time - although beginning to think my thyroid medication is working too well at the moment as the last few days I've had trouble staying awake 
  3. Avoid comfort eating - I've never really seen myself as a comfort eater, but this week I have been eating just because I've been feeling fed up (also think this is related to the thyroid medication)
  4. Need to become more discriminating about accepting food - for example, was on a plane on Thursday and accepted a biscuit, which I later found out contained 300 calories.  Regardless of the amount of calories, I shouldn't be eating biscuits (particularly as I am philosophically opposed to them - seriously, cakes & chocolate yes, but biscuits? I'm sorry, I just don't really understand the point of them)

Monday, August 1, 2011

There's no such thing as failure, there are only results

OK, I might as well just get the horror story out the way up front:

Scene: Family function - 1 year old birthday party / weekend away
Result: 12 "treats", 2,853 calories over the day, 190g carbs
and that was just the Saturday.

The extraordinary thing is, I did actually hold myself back - not necessarily a great deal, but I did actually turn food down, eg I didn't eat any potato chips, or any of the large cupcakes (as opposed to the small cupcakes of which I ate only one).  What this means is that in the past I would have eaten even more. 

On the Sunday, I tried to tell myself it wasn't a treat day, so no leftover cake for me.  I managed to get through morning tea by waiting ten minutes for a cup cake, by which time, I didn't feel like one anymore.  However, at lunch, I dived into the chocolate ripple cake like there was no tomorrow.

Coincidentally, I have been reading a book on influence (Influence: The Psychology of Persuastion by Robert B. Cialdini) which I think touches on part of the problem with these types of situations for dieters - we (humans) have an automatic emotional reaction to scarcity which makes you want the scarce item far more than you would if it was widely available and this reaction actually prevents you thinking rationally.  Note, the book doesn't talk about dieting, this is just my extrapolation given I read the chapter the day after I ate 2.4 times my usual calorie intake.

To counteract the emotional reaction to scarcity, the book recommends:
  • recognising the feeling as a standard reaction to a scarce item and a warning sign to proceed with caution
  • realising that it is your desire for the food that has changed not the food itself (the book discusses an experiment in which people, who were made to believe that a set of cookies were scarce, rated their desire to have the cookies as higher, but did not rate the taste any better than people who were just given the cookies without any suggestion that they were scarce)
  • considering what it is that you want from the item - I think part of the reason I have trouble resisting temptation at family functions is that food offers not just a pleasant taste, but a shared experience and rapport building, which can be useful when you can't remember the names of half the people there but feel that you should because you (only) see them a couple of times a year at similar family functions.


Stuck to my diet fully Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.
Said no to a free muffin on Friday
Actual did some exercise on Sunday

Areas for Development

... are many and varied.
Need to get the exercise happening
Did not get to bed on time other than on Saturday night (mainly as a result of three glasses of red wine)
Over did the treats on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday was out of control and Sunday (not a treat day).

Refinement of strategies going forward

  • lights out at 10:30pm no matter what (this week have come up with a wonderful array of excuses, all of which lead me to being up too late and not getting up the next morning, thereby having a flow-on effect of not getting my morning walk)
  • get up when the alarm goes off (I am not a morning person, but history has proven to me that this is the only strategy that works)
  • when going to a business lunch with a set menu, only eat half the desert (I know I don't have the willpower to eat no dessert, so this is a stepping stone to building up my willpower)
  • when going to a business lunch without a set menu, don't knowingly order a dish that comes with food I shouldn't eat (Friday I ordered duck with rice, thinking "well, I just won't eat the rice", however that was the sum total of the dish - duck and rice, I was starving, so I ate the rice)
  • develop a strategy for dealing with family functions - I'm thinking something along the lines of bring a dish with me, eg a fruit platter, and go in armed with alternative strategies for "working the room" other than "ooh, these cup cakes are nice".

Monday, July 25, 2011

Starting Statistics

Today is the big day - Day 1 of my Get Fit and Healthy Project.

Here are my starting stats:

Weight: 65.1 kg
Body Fat: 32.6% (according to more than one website this makes me obese)
Waist: 74 cm (although took this measurement after dinner so may vary with food eaten)
Thigh: 62 cm

Here goes.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

New Project - Getting Fit and Healthy

I seem to have done all I can on the decluttering front.  That’s not to say my apartment is perfect, but I think the real problem now is that I live in an apartment designed for two people, but we are now three people.

I’ve been tossing up whether or not to make getting fit and healthy my new blog project.  I feel in part that I am setting myself up for failure.  Firstly, there are so many get fit / lose weight blogs that peter out.  Secondly, there are so many really good blogs that will remain fair better reading (eg A Neurotic Glamour Girl's Weight Watches Experience and Fitness Adventures and Being Primal), but in the end I thought, “well, if nothing else, it might keep my honest”.

My main goal is to keep my thyroid (hence the “and healthy”).  I have been on medication for about a year and my thyroid hormones have just gone back into the normal range.  If I can be weaned off the medication by the end of the year and keep in the normal range then I should be set.

My secondary goal is to get down to 60 kg, because there has to be a fun pay off to all the self discipline required.

I’m basing my strategy on the guidelines on paleo diet principles from Mark's Daily Apple, here it is:

  • I will base my diet on fruit and vegetables, animal protein, raw nuts 
  • 50 - 100g carbohydrates a day
  • 44g of protein a day
  • 3 treats a week, each no more than 70g carbohydrates (actually this is from Being Primal: how-to-cheat-and-still-lose-weight-part-2)
  • walk to work every morning (unless I have to go in early)
  • 2 “Lift Heavy Things” sessions a week (this is five exercises in the Primal Blueprint Fitness E-Book, which you get when you subscribe to Mark's Daily Apple)
  • Sprint session on Sundays (also from Primal Blueprint Fitness E-Book)
  • Lights out at 10:30 pm unless I'm out (I'm never out, I have a toddler)
  • I will track my eating on
All starting tomorrow 25 July 2011 – so I will post my starting stats then.