Mindful Eating with MyFitnessPal

For my last post, I discussed how I developed mindful spending skills through my upbringing. This mindfulness did not translate, and actually at times interfered, with a mindfulness about food. Sometimes we ate just to extract value. To this day, my parents favorite type of restaurants are buffets. I also ate, and still do to an extent, for many other reasons other than hunger. Some I find to be perfectly acceptable, such as eating to celebrate. Others I find to be less justifiable, such as munching to break up the monotony of the day.

I am a grazer. While this means I have been able to avoid the pitfall of buffets and usually always leave a restaurant with a box, I am also constantly nibbling, usually when I pass by a kitchen or office snack table en route to a different task. I truly have no idea how many calories I usually consume a day, and I have always been resistant to the idea of tracking what I eat.

The term “self-monitoring” makes me feel like I am oppressing myself, enacting a more efficient type of discipline than the those exerted on us through institutional spaces.  Yes, I have read a lot of theory on social power, particularly the work of Michel Foucault. It makes me want to avoid any sort of “tracking,” especially when it is tied to a networked program, such as MyFitnessPal.

However, I am putting my paranoia aside for 30 days and giving this food journaling/calorie counting approach a try. Two of my co-workers have already lost 10 pounds through this process. I am a bit more skeptical, which means I may already be dooming myself to fail.

Today was my first day. I am hungry, but I am unsure if I want to max out and eat my remaining 214 calorie allotment. Overall, I did consume more sodium and fat than my app thinks I should. I could have eaten more protein and carbohydrates. Maybe I can squeeze in one more snack…

Moving on, but still moving

Over the weekend I took a stumble down the stairs. What would have potentially laid me up or sent me to the emergency room a month ago only left me with a small scrape on my elbow. Why? Because due to some new core muscles and a daily focus on balance, agility, and strength, I can now take a fall like a stunt woman. Hollywood here I come.

Joking aside, I would classify my 30-day P90x challenge as a success. While I may not be ready to send in my before and after shots, I am seeing new muscles and shapes when I look in the mirror. I almost understand the celebrity trend to take a post-gym selfie. Almost. Maybe after a few more months of training, I will be ready to break the Internet.

The biggest benefit for me, though, is not aesthetic appeal. It is the promise of a more active future. My father has already had two back surgeries, and my mother is scheduled to have her second knee replacement later this year. I fully understand the high cost of not taking care of one’s body. Since I have begun working out sensibly, I have not wrenched my back or had issues with my hip. My left hip has a tendency to roll up due to past injuries and smooth ball joints. On a bad day, one leg will be an inch shorter than the other. This does not happen if I have strong muscles keeping all my parts properly aligned. I no longer fear walking on uneven terrain or hopping on the trampoline with my children.

Though my free 30-day Beachbody on Demand trial has ended, I will not stop working out. I will just be exploring cheaper options (i.e. free) through Youtube. Today, I completed level one of Jillian Michael’s 30-day shred program. I thought it was a well put together 30-minute workout, which contained a better variety of cardio and strength training than I found in most of the P90X3 workouts. It was like a less insane version of Insanity. I highly recommend it.

You can’t have your cake and burn it too

Today’s morning P90X workout was the full body equivalent of an ugly cry. Yesterday was a day of excess, more specifically daughter’s fifth birthday. One of my jobs as a parent is to orchestrate celebrations and participate in them. I do not want to be the person to turn down cake and ice cream. When one person refuses to ingest forkfuls of frosting, it diminishes the joy of others’ gluttony by reminding them that frosting is an unhealthy addictive substance made with animal fat and cups of powdered sugar. Quit ruining the party with your health nut rhetoric and practices!

Now, I am no stranger to the joys of junk food. However, I have been making more healthy choices since I began my own version of the Beachbody challenge. My chocolate chips have been replaced with cocoa nibs. I have replaced one of my cups of coffee with green tea. What is of endless fascination to me is how quickly the body adjusts to a new dietary reality. Yesterday’s cake tasted like heaven on the tongue, as the dissolving sugar sent a glowing beacon of bliss to my brain. Later though, as the cake and restaurant fare churned in my stomach, it was all I could do not to vomit. Apparently, I can now get food hangovers.

Today the party continues at my mother’s house. There were be more cake, ice cream, and plenty of Easter treats. Do I say no and experience the negative backlash? Why is there so much social pressure to ingest items that are bad for us?

The Ripple Effects of a New Habit

The hardest part of any 30-day challenge is when the shiny newness fades, but it has yet to become an ingrained habit. This morning, I stood stiff and achy before Tony Horton, who led me through a gruesome regimen called “The Warrior.” Through the elevator push ups, leaping squats, and v-shaped Pilates formations, I was reminded how weak I am. As I panted through my 30-second break, pulling deep drinks from my water bottle, the journey ahead of me seemed overwhelming.

Even after the gratifying moment of completion, as I enjoyed the warm glow of endorphin release, I wondered if I could really commit to these gruesome morning workouts long term. Then I looked into the other room and saw my children doing their own workout video they found on the iPad. And I remembered everything I read in my research about the contagious nature of moods, diets, and habits. Rarely have I felt like I accomplished so much before 8 a.m.

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My workouts have had additional ripple effects. Most notably, I am more aware of the type of food I put into my body. I crave clean, healthy foods. It seems almost criminal to ingest fast food after a sweat-inducing workout. Honestly, I need every advantage to make it through a full 30-minute P90x video.

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Hell’s Kettlebells

The seed for my latest experiment began when I read Tim Ferris’ book, the 4-Hour Body. In this tome, Kettlebell swings are touted as the penultimate bang-for-your-buck workout. Ferris claims that these one movement will sculpt your body in small amount of time (10-20 minutes a week). This past semester, one of my 30-day challengers gave this workout rave reviews, saying how (much like Ferris) minute for minute it was the most efficient and effective workout she had tried. Enter New Year’s.

As I have learned in my research on willpower, motivation, and habits, how you frame an activity is key. In order to make this fun, I have been comparing different Youtube videos to try out Kettlebells this past week. Always practical, I began first with a ten-minute workout by a hot young, thing named Amy (you know the trainer types, all ponytail, teeth, and abs). It was not easy, but I made it through. My main complaint was the lack of a warm up and cool down. I Youtubed stretching exercises in an effort to stave off muscle tightness. Instead, I injured neck, as I am the type of person who can do a “halo swing” around their head with a large weight and then pull a muscle turning my head to the side.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tiC0zylTB0w

Despite my cool down efforts, my leg muscles intensely felt the aftereffects. I have never before experienced pain going down steps, up yes, but never down. It impressed me. Running or using the elliptical machine did not leave such lingering effects.

Three days later, I tackled the 25-minute version by the same instructor. This included a minute warm up and cool down plus some cardio and floor exercises. The only turn off – burpees. Remember how I said how important it is frame activities positively? This is not possible for me when it comes to burpees. Sorry, no. I’ll drink some water and march in place until they are over.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-NUXOn1H1o

What really appears to deliver the pain from Amy is the many lunge moves she incorporates. When I was in physical therapy to stave off sciatic pain, one of the main exercises I received was lunges. So in addition to the kettlebell swing, which is always a key part of these workouts, I am getting the additionally muscle work necessary to maintain healthy hip alignment.

Three days appears to be my recovery time so far. Today I tackled my third workout by Fitness Blender. In terms of entertainment value, Fitness Blender lacks the upbeat trainer. Instead, you have a voice over while a robotic-like woman goes through the moves. I had to turn on some music in order to keep myself motivated throughout the sequence. Their kettlebell workout is eight moves that you repeat over the course of three rounds. While it shared some of the same moves as the previous workout, I felt it emphasized arm strength and squatting a bit more. I also did more swinging with this video, completing a total of 60 full two-handed swings.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6pDMOIlPLFE

 

So far, the only noticeable physical difference (aside from muscle aches) is a spike in my appetite. Me make muscle, me hungry. Yes, somewhere deep inside me lives Cookie Monster. I fear I will lose nothing but gain much density.

Day 10 – Finding My Meditation Style

Finding a meditation that suits your personality is certainly key. The other night I tested out one of Deepak Chopra’s guided meditations on Youtube. My reasoning was, if he is good enough for Oprah, he is good enough for me. I tried one geared for stressful moments. He opened with asking the listener to smile everywhere, even in “your genitalia.” This made the adolescent inside me really smile, which was stress-relieving. However, after that moment, I spent the rest of the meditation smirking and not being one with the universe.

The same part of me that is inclined to smirk is the same part that found it difficult to participate in the chanting portion of the guided meditation. Deepak began by asking listeners to repeat the words “abundance, existence, and joy.” The English professor in me rebelled against the abstractness. What does those words even mean?! Then, perhaps to show me I am not nearly as smart as I think am, he asked me to say the words in Sanskrit. Even though I was alone in the room, I was embarrassed by my mangled enunciations.

Tonight I tried a guided meditation for stress posted on Health.com: http://www.health.com/health/video/0,,20912167,00.html. Instead of being asked to smile everywhere and chant “existence and joy” in Sanskrit, the meditation asked me to clench different muscle groups as I inhaled and relax them as I exhaled. After going from feet to face, I felt better. Yes, there still was chanting involved. But instead of chanting abstract nouns or muttering mangled Sanskrit, I was asked to mentally say “one” when I exhaled. The purpose of this was to bring the attention to the breath. Once that was established, the “one” was dropped.

This second meditation worked so much better for me. In a way, it is depressing that I find muscle clenching and relaxing more satisfying than Sanskrit chants. Maybe one day I will be mature and cultured enough for Deepak, but I am not holding my breath (exhale). Sorry Oprah!

Day 21 – Gluten-Free Challenge Check In

I have now completed three weeks completely gluten-free. So far, I do not feel any miraculous change. My stomach is still sensitive. I am not thinking more sharply nor am I less moody. Perhaps the only change is that I am a bit more energetic. However, I can easily attribute this to the change of season. It’s hard to keep all the other variables in my life the same. For instance, since my children’s school let out for summer, I have not made it to the gym. I have, though, been generally more physically active: bouncing on the trampoline, swimming in the pool, and taking care of household messes both indoors and out.

Still, while I do not think I will remain gluten-free after my thirty days are up, I think I will remain more gluten conscious. One of the greatest benefits from doing this challenge has been a sense of mindfulness about what I eat. Usually, I just finish my children’s food or grab a handful of whatever is in the cupboards without any thought. Without the ability to eat pasta or crackers, this practice became much more difficult.

Despite my mindfulness, I did not lose any weight. My body has remained at a state of homeostasis for so long, through new exercise regimens, holiday binges, and seasonal changes, that I would fear a terminal disease if I began to lose weight. I also found a way to replace the calories from the foods I cut. The first five days of my challenge I ate an entire pound of almonds! This wouldn’t have been so bad if most of those almonds weren’t followed by a dark chocolate chaser.

It’s important to note that a gluten-free diet is not necessarily low-carb diet. My bunless burgers sometimes came with French fries on the side. After I finish this challenge, I plan to engage in a different healthy eating plan, which will include less carbohydrates and processed foods in general.

Defining and Inspiring 30-day Challenges

Today, I am inviting you into my classroom. Our goal is to create a life experiment to potentially form a new habit. For inspiration, I played two different TED talks in class. The first, “Try something new for 30 day” by Matt Cutts, is essentially a three-minute commercial on why people should embark on a 30-day challenge. For the second video, I gave my class the choice of two A.J. Jacobs talks, one about his year living Biblically and one about his quest to live as healthily as possible. Both illustrate a writer who sets out on a quest for knowledge by asking one key question, what if?

A.J. Jacobs’ work is a great model for the famous Ken Macrorie assignment, the I-Search essay, which is essentially a research narrative told in the first person. The added bonus is of course the reality TV-esque component, where we get to read about A.J. taking all advice to the extreme. It’s the print version of Morgan Spurlock’s 30 days. I also find his work more every-man, than the less accessible, but still highly entertaining life experiment guru Tim Ferriss.

If anyone wants to follow along at home, we are reading an excerpt from My Life as an Experiment, “The Unitasker.” Here A.J. Jacobs seriously pursues the concept of mindfulness, a big buzz word in our multitasking digital age.