Ker-PLUNK!

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Published on: April 30, 2009

This is going to sound strange:  recently, I’ve had two separate discussions (debates? arguments?) with two separate people on the oddest of topics – my body fat percentage.  Yes, this is what passes as lunch conversation here at work. I told of how I was currently measuring it — my Tanita scale (which – admittedly – is not necessarily accurate) and using body measurements and 3 different calculations that I averaged to derive body fat percentage (this is an example of one such method). They were all in the same ballpark, so I figured that it was about right.

“Not so fast!” these two people intoned (not at the same time, but that would have been pretty freaky cool seeing as how the conversations happened days apart).  They both looked at me and couldn’t fathom how the number could be hitting around 30%.  I laughed at them good-naturedly, knowing that a very fashionable, drapey t-shirt frequently hides the worst of my body fat sins.  *I* knew that 30% was completely possible.  I mean, really – all you have to do is ask all my friends at Culvers what their opinions are and I bet you find people who will side with me on this issue.

But in the name of science and fairness (and something new to write about), I thought it was time to get a real body fat test done.  You know, the gold standard:  the dunk tank.

Now, if you’ve been coming here awhile, you know that water is not my friend.  From my first triathlon where I found that hyperventilation and swimming don’t mix (surprising, no?)  to this season where having said that I’m not seriously racing apparently means that I don’t ever need to climb in the pool, I’ve had a troubled relationship with the element that’s supposed to be my strong suit (I *AM* a Pisces, you know).

So, the idea of having to submerge myself to get an accurate body fat test result wasn’t really my cup o’ tea, but the price was right and the challenge had been made and I couldn’t back down.  I called and made the appointment at UIC’s Human Performance Lab (which, for whatever it’s worth, made me feel slightly rat-like).  The appointment came with lots of rules: no fruit/vegetables/fiber for 24 hours before the test, no eating at all for 4 hours before the test, and come in wearing the skimpiest, tightest, sleaziest bathing suit you own (I’m paraphrasing that last rule, but that’s exactly what they meant).  The idea is that any air that’s either in you (stomach/intestines) or trapped on you (in your bathing suit) is read as additional – and erroneous – body fat.  And, lord knows, we wouldn’t want THAT!

Twenty-four hours before starting, I nixed the fruits and vegetables and all things healthy from my diet.  Let me just say – that was harder than I thought it would be!  Many, many good foods have fiber in them, as it turns out.  I survived on a mostly-dairy diet… plain yogurt, eggs, cheese.  It was a very mono-colored diet.  Blah.  Ice cream would have been included in this diet if only I weren’t doing the whole, crazy no sugar thing right now… what a waste of a good excuse to eat ice cream, you know?

On the day, I arrived on the campus of UIC a little nervous about what was going to happen. I knew the basics of the procedure, but no real details to fill in the gaps of my knowledge, and the not knowing was making me a little edgy. My hydrostatic weighing tour guide for the day was a personal trainer named Vito.  With his understated brand of humor, he immediately put me at ease, assuring me that “hardly ever does anyone panic and drown when we do this”.

Ooooookay.

After putting my not-so-skimpy, not-so-sleazy one-piece bathing suit on (hey! – I’m a triathlete – it’s all I own), I met Vito in the weighing room.  The tank was about 4’x4′ square and perhaps 6′ deep (just guess-timating here).  It didn’t look terribly foreboding (little did I know!).  Vito took some measurements (height/weight) and calibrated the machine, and then in I went!

I took a seat in the water on some PVC tubing, my head just above water, and Vito explained the procedure for the test:  first, exhale ALL the air in your lungs, either above or below water. Then, put your head completely underwater.  As you start to float a bit, anchor yourself to the PVC tubing with your hands — though, he cautioned me against keeping a death grip on the tubing, since that would skew results — and NOT in my favor.  And then, Vito would watch for air bubbles, and as soon as they stopped, you had to stay there for 4 seconds until being told that it was okay to pick your head up.

Okay, so this is the picture:  no air in your lungs.  Breath held.  Head underwater.  At this point, these will be the LONGEST FOUR SECONDS of your life.  Trust me on this.  Try it now, just on dry land.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait….

Breathe out.  All the way.  Hold it now!  4…….   3…….  2………………………….   1…………………………

See?  Not too comfortable, was it?  Add water to the mix, and it was completely, utterly unnerving the first time through.

In fact, along with the instructions Vito also made it absolutely clear that at any point if I was uncomfortable underwater, that I should pick my head up.  During the first test, I came to the end of my rope, wondering why the hell he was leaving me in there to drown and picked my head up – luckily at the same exact time, he also shouted that I was done with that round of testing.  As I pulled my head out of the water and gasped for air, I managed to suck in about half the tank.  And then after the coughing fit, and then calming myself down, it was off to go through more trials.

The way the test works is that body fat is measured by the displacement of the water.  Any air — in your lungs or even trapped by your swimsuit — will cause more water to be displaced, and therefore your body fat will read higher.  Because expelling all of your air is not necessarily something you either get right the first time, or are able to consistently repeat, the test is done a minimum of 3 times and results averaged.  After that, if your results are consistent, you might go another round or two.  If not, you test until the results are consistent or you cry uncle.

After the first miserable go-round at it, I was really nervous about having to do this a dozen times before getting sound results – wouldn’t that be just my luck?  But – on this day – luck was with me.  Even though Vito wasn’t sure I was expelling all my breath, at least I did it exactly the same way 4 times in a row — and very little variance meant that I was done!

I shakily climbed out of the tank as Vito started printing out reports.  He asked if I wanted to see the results right then, or if he should keep me in suspense until I dried off, changed and met him back in his office.  Not anticipating stellar results, I decided to wait – and plus, I had no desire to have a conversation while sopping wet and shivering, with that dunk tank kind of laughing at me in the background.

Back in Vito’s office, the time came for the big reveal.  He decided to play with me a bit, asking me what I thought the number was going to be.  I explained how my Tanita and other methods routinely put me at about 30%, but that I was willing to think that perhaps that might not be too accurate and perhaps it might be as low as maybe 27%.

He had been starting to hand the papers over to me as I was talking, and when I said that, he stopped, pulled his hand back and remarked, “Really?  You thought that high??”  as if I were a body fat idiot (which – apparently – I am).  It was here that I got my first indication that perhaps, just maybe, possibly, other people had been right.

And what you’ve been waiting for (and have read this far down to find, presumably!) — drum roll, please…

The result:  21.2%.

I think the Tanita company owes me some of my self-esteem back for totally lying to me for the past 2 years.  Can you sue for something like that?  On the other hand, it’s gratifying to see how much body fat I must have burned holding my breath for that long…!

Photographic evidence!

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Published on: April 25, 2009

Well, it’s progress report time again!

Since mid-December 2008 when I started tracking until April 25, 2009…

Pounds lost: 9.6 pounds
Inches lost: 6 inches
Average BF%: 29.97% down to 28.16%*
BMI: 25.78 down to 24.13 (not that I put a whole lot of stock into BMI)
Pounds of fat: 45.0 down to 39.6 pounds
* used body measurements to calculate BF%.  Three different calculation methods used and then averaged.

So – progress!

And I’ve been taking pictures each month, and am feeling just brave and plucky enough today to share some with the whole wide interwebs world…

These are snapshots in December:

Yikes!
Yikes!

Pudgy, out of shape, and absolutely screaming “we eat too much ice cream!”.

And now – just 4 months (and countless hours in the gym and doing cardio) later:

Getting there...
Getting there...

What I like about these shots?  Progress.  Certainly I’m not done (though I’m happy that the saddle bags that I’ve had hanging off my butt cheeks are close to gone!), but it does wonders for my state of mind to know that all this work is having an impact.

I remember taking those first set of pictures and just being so disappointed that I had let myself get that bad – it was only a year or so earlier than I had been in the best shape of my life.  And more than anything, I wanted to – for once! – make a plan and stick to it.  Taking the photographs has probably been one of the best motivators in terms of helping me commit to the plan.  Nothing like undeniable proof that I needed to do something – FAST.

And – so it continues.  I feel like eliminating most sugar from my diet has had a positive impact — the past two weeks have definitely seen noticeable improvements — and I’ll continue this past the 30 days, most likely.  I also think that the weight training has been absolutely key in this process as well.  With summer and softball and other activities, it’ll be harder to fit in, but I’m not willing to let it slide and possibly take steps backwards.

It was good timing for this – just today I’ve been totally craving my beloved Diet Pepsi.  And pizza.  And, if I’m doing all that, a little ice cream to top it off.  But – I’ll be good now – I mean, I’ve posted pictures and everything.  Gotta be accoutable, right?

Sugarless: halfway through!

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Published on: April 21, 2009

(just in case you’ve lost the train of thought on my recent blog posts, I started 30 days of No Sugar challenge to test out a few theories and see if maybe, just maybe, I could kick my Lean Bod project into high gear)

Over halfway through my little no-sugar experiment.  Hard to believe!  At the beginning of this, it seemed like a very long, painful road, but it’s funny how often pre-conceived notions can be entirely wrong.

I really thought this would be a difficult thing, but surprisingly enough, it hasn’t been too awful.  It’s not like I’ve been a totally cranky, un-be-aroundble (it’s a word, really!) person throughout all this (or – if I have, it isn’t related to the lack of sugar in my diet).  And even the skeptic in me has to admit that the sugar cravings have not really been too much of a problem.

Wait.  What?  No cravings, you say?

It’s true!  From almost the beginning, I haven’t really had any drive-me-crazy cravings for the sugar.  Sure, there was The Pie incident from Easter, but other than that, it just really hasn’t been an issue.  I haven’t knowingly cheated, and haven’t started making some exceptions that I thought I might (like, honey being okay or even eating a protein bar or some other snack before working out).

What’s been the key to this?

First – I really go out of my way to keep myself from being in situations where I have no choice but to eat crap.  The bad stuff is out of my house, and so far I’ve been really good about staying stocked with fresh fruit to snack on.

Second - the fresh fruit has been a godsend!  Grapes are now my most favorite-ist fruit ever. They’re portable, don’t require slicing or dicing, and are so sweet that they puts most candy to shame.

Third – I told everybody that I was doing this (and I mean EVERYBODY… if you gave me 5 minutes of your time, I would have snuck this into the conversation).  Without anyone being the wiser for it, you all became my built-in support staff.  My accountability.  My No-Sugar Police.

And the results?  They’re just starting to come in, actually.  It took about a week, but now I’m feeling better, dropping a few pounds and generally feeling like this is starting to kick in and make some changes.

I know it’s only halfway done – and only 15 days at that – but so far, so good.  What will be the hardest part is keeping up with the grocery shopping and making sure my cupboards are full so I always have a healthy choice available to me.

(Because who KNOWS what might happen if I were to run out of grapes…!!)

The Easter Bunny jumped me…

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Published on: April 14, 2009

… but not in a good way.

He sucker-punched me a little bit, but that was all, lucky for me.

I had decided to go into the Easter festivities avoiding sugar – to stay true to the plan.  And I was good until I spotted what my Mom made for the dessert:  it was The Pie.

The Pie.  Words can barely describe it.

It shows up once every couple of years and let me tell ya, it’s a thing of beauty.  A flaky crust that holds a very light, delicate sweet cream cheese base upon which are perched a few dozen large, whole, fresh strawberries. Take all that and top with a drizzle of chocolate.  It may not sound like much, but oh my – my mouth is watering just describing it.  If we hadn’t inhaled it so quickly, I would have taken a picture to give you a better idea of The Pie. But WHOOSH! it was gone in a heartbeat.

And – yes – I had a piece.  How could I not?  If nothing else, not having a slice would have been an insult to the cook, right?

But – the upside – I avoided all the candy, and didn’t have any other dessert.  So, the damage? One slice of The Pie.  I’ll consider that a victory. Of sorts, at least.

And – like someone wise told me (I’ve mentioned in previous posts all my smarter-than-me friends before, right?), that’s what sweets should be:  treats that are truly appreciated and savored, not just something shoved into your mouth for no good reason.

And that’s what this was.  Something special.  And MAN did I enjoy every bite!  (I mostly stopped myself from licking the plate clean)

(mostly)

Uh, Houston? We have a problem…

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Published on: April 10, 2009

(WARNING!  Girly-talk ahead… proceed at your own risk!!…)

So, for the first time all week, I’m sitting here and am having a hard time getting my mind off the chocolate protein bar that’s in my desk drawer.  Or the Werther’s hard candy sitting in the jar at the end of my desk (don’t ask – I didn’t put it there!).  Or the various yummies that are calling me from the vending machine.

I think this is Laura vs. PMS… and PMS just might be winning…

No.  NO!  I will not let hormones win.  PMS will normally make me a little cranky, but moreover, the hunger and cravings that come along with it are usually like a siren’s call:  unable to be ignored.  In the past, I’ve usually just thought, “Oh well – nothing I can do about it” and proceeded to inhale everything in sight, including a good amount of chocolate/sweets/bad-for-you stuff that I wouldn’t normally even touch.

This week the PMS hasn’t been as bad as usual with the cravings and such.  Yes, I’ve been hungry, but being able to “blame” it on the No Sugar Challenge has made it easier, somehow.  In fact, perhaps I started today too overly confident about my luck in avoiding the dreaded sugar cravings…  and it’s come around to bite me in my water-retaining butt.

I’ve been good so far.  Kept my hand out of the candy jar, so to speak.  And the people that I’ve told about this are all like, “oh, just have something… a little bit won’t hurt… you deserve to splurge a bit…”.  But the fact of the matter is that I *don’t* feel like I deserve to splurge, or that a little bit o’ something just might steamroll into sliding back into old habits.

I’ve said it before:  I’m very black and white when it comes to habits – moderation and me don’t get along all that well.  Because a “little bit” always turns into “a little bit more” and then “well, I already cheated, so…”. And then WHOOSH! I’m back where I started.  Sad, but true.

Also, I kind of figure that if I’m only doing this for 30 days, then I should do it RIGHT for 30 days.  Which is why I’m still on the fence about Easter.  Using it as a cheat day seems like, well, cheating.  But then I rationalize:  perhaps not a “cheat” day, but rather an “exception” day.  It *is* a holiday, you know.  An out-of-the-ordinary event.  Nothing I’ll run into on a regular basis, and, really, what’s the harm?  Won’t I feel better if I indulge a little?

And that’s the $1,000,000 question:  will I feel better if I give in?

When I put it like that, it’s harder to rationalize eating sweets.  But, we’ll see how this plays out.

Tupperware, tupperware everywhere!

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Published on: April 9, 2009

So, it’s day 4 of this little experiment, and… so far, so good.  Amazingly, I don’t find myself craving sugar all that much yet.  Sure, I have to avoid the coffee cakes and donuts that are ubiquitously around the office, but that isn’t the most difficult thing in the world.  And I’ve pretty well cleaned out my house so that the suagry, good stuff that remains doesn’t belong to me.

One thing that I’ve realized about being all healthy and sugar-free:  it takes a LOT of tupperware to make this happen!  After you spend all that time cutting and chopping and otherwise preparing the whole, healthy food, it has to go SOMEWHERE.  And while I could bag some of it, I feel a little guilty using plastic bags when I could be taking advantage of reusable containers.

In the span of not even a week, I’ve gone through almost all of my tupperware.  And not only that, but what about the dishwasher?  This thing that I run MAYBE once a week (but more usually once every 1.5 to 2 weeks), is busting at the seams with all the plastic inside.  Might I have to (*GASP*) …wash tupperware by hand???  Oh my, what has the world come to?

It’s safe to say that while I’m still working out some of the kinks in my new routine, that overall this little adventure is going well.  I’m not sure that I feel any real benefits yet, but I have dropped a little bit of weight and – if nothing else – can feel all self-righteous about not eating sweets.

Of course, Easter is coming up… the holiday of Peeps and jelly beans and Cadbury creme eggs (ohmygodtodiefor!).  Sunday will be quite the test, that’s for sure.  I was contemplating the idea of a cheat day, seeing as how it’s a national holiday and all, but haven’t really decided yet.  Overall, giving up the candy would be good for me, and hey – it’s only one day – but having it all out in the open like that.  Yup, quite the challenge.  I’ll let y’all know how that goes…

And so it begins…

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Published on: April 7, 2009

I’ve survived my first sugarless day!  And just as important – everyone around me survived my first sugarless day!

It actually wasn’t too difficult.  Or, not as bad as I thought it might be, at least.  I didn’t have an overwhelming urge to stab a co-worker because they were eating donuts right in front of me (the nerve!) – so I think that can be called a victory in anyone’s book.  Yes?

Seriously – I didn’t expect the first day to be so bad.  It’s all new, I’m very aware of everything I’m eating, I’m still being good and all that.  No really sugar cravings, per se, though I can see a few things that are going to be difficult:

  • It’s only the second day, and I already need to think about stopping at the store because I’m running out of fruit and vegetables.  It’s hard to keep the kitchen stocked with fresh stuff, especially since I’m going through it at an alarming rate.
  • And all those fruits and vegetables?  Well, I love ‘em.  No problems there.  But I’m finding that they don’t really stick with me all that well.  I’m going to have to toss something more substantial into the diet, I think.  In my past life (read: last week), I would have had some sort of bar (fiber bar, protein bar, candy bar (just kidding!)) and that would have calmed my stomach down.  Now, I need to find something filling but not sugary, which is going to require a little more creativity and forethought on my part.
  • I’m finding that of all things, though, what I miss the most is gum and hard candy.  And that’s not as much about the “sweet” as it is a way to kind of clean my palette after I’ve eaten.  I’m going to try putting some lemon in my water, see if that makes a difference.  You know, after I get to the grocery store again to buy it…

So… onward and upward (or downward, as weight may go…).  Bring Day #2 on!  I’m ready for it.

How sweet it isn’t!

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Published on: April 4, 2009

As many of you realized a long time ago, I think I’ve gone a bit mad.  Off the deep end.  Not all the lights are on.  And all that.  This time, though – there’s proof:  I’m giving up sugar.

Yup – I’m sweet enough as it is, so no need to sweeten me up even more, right?

I’ve been on a mission since December to lose weight and lean up, and the past few months have had me at a relative stand-still.  I’m seeing gains in strength (mostly due to my awesome personal trainer), and inches are (very) slowly going away, but overall progress just isn’t what I want it to be.

So, I thought:  let’s shake it up.  Do something drastic to get my body’s attention.  And so the No Sugar Adventure was born.  I first mentioned it as a possibility on my virtual triathlon home and it was met with a mixed response — there were a lot of very supportive responses (and more people than I thought who came out and said that they had done it and had great results) and a few responses like I would have made (“WHAT?! That’s just CRAZY talk!!”).  But overall, the feeling was generally positive – most thought that it would be just the kick in the pants that my diet would need.

So, I somehow managed to drag a triathlon friend into the mix so I’d have someone to whine to, and starting Monday we’re both going sugar free.  In some ways I’m going to be pretty strict about the parameters of this little challenge… of course, none of the obvious sweet stuff.  Also, no artificial sweeteners (good-bye, my lovely Diet Pepsi… it is you I’ll miss the most…).  Any food that has any form of sugar as one of the top 3 ingredients is also out.  I may also toss a no alcohol edict into it as well, though I haven’t completely decided about that yet (and also – this would not be all that difficult for me).  I also don’t think I’m going to allow myself a “cheat day” once a week.  I find I’m an all-or-nothing kind of person… moderation doesn’t suit me especially well.

What I will allow:  all sorts of fruit – not giving up this!  And this is in no way a no/low carb diet — with the training I do, I think it’s counter-productive to eliminate carbs from my meal plan.  Also, I will allow sugar in the form of gels/blocks/energy drinks but only in conjunction with training (and no, that rigorous walk from my desk to the bathroom cannot be termed “a workout”).

I’ve been thinking ahead to what the biggest challenge is going to be — as I reviewed my diet, I found that on a routine basis, I didn’t have a whole lot of sugary foods (aside, perhaps, from my diet pepsi addiction). Still – there are things that will be difficult.  I supplement my diet with all sorts of bars — fiber bars, protein bars, meal replacement bars… you get the idea.  Mostly it’s a relationship of convenience.  When I need a mid-morning snack, it’s just so easy to pick a bar from my stash at work and gobble it up.  Now I’ll need to do more planning since a lot of those convenience foods will be off-limits.

Another possible challenge isn’t necessarily mine, but rather the people around me who will have to deal with me, god help them!  Not only will they have to hear me constantly saying, “no, thank you – but I gave up sugar and can’t have any of your kindly-offered evil” but will also have to deal with my moods as I break the sugar addiction.  If we all make it through this unscathed, I’ll consider just that a miracle.

A lot of people have asked me why I’m doing this (though, usually, it’s more of a, “Why in the name of all that is sweet and good would you want to do this??!?”) and I’ve got three main, over-riding goals:  the first is to make such a drastic switch in my nutrition that my body has no choice but to let go of some of the weight it’s so desperately hanging on to.  The second is to consume more whole foods and much less processed crap.  And the third is to see if people who have gone before me are right — that once you give up the sugar, the cravings for it all but go away.  We shall see – I’ll remain a skeptic on that until I experience it for myself.

As I mentioned, I’m not starting this until Monday.  So, what does one do while biding their time before giving up all sugar?  Take every advantage of a sugar-filled life, of course!  My well-thought out plan is to eat SO MUCH crap and junk food over the next two days that I hit Monday morning with the biggest sugar hangover ever.  EVER.  That way, I’ll spend my first day of this plan totally not even wanting any sugar.  I mean, how brilliant is that strategy?

But seriously, in a very weird way, I’m looking forward to this change of lifestyle.  I’m ready for something new, ready to take on something that’ll be a little more difficult.  And I’m telling everyone that I come across about what I’m doing, so that there’s a better chance I’ll be held accountable!  I’m less likely to be surreptiously plugging coins into the vending machine if I know that one of my co-workers might catch me and turn me in to the No Sugar Police (they exist, don’t they?).

I understand that I’ll only get as much out of this as I put into it.  If I cheat, the only person I’m hurting is myself.  Sneaking candy – whether anyone knows or not – does not earn gold stars.  And the plan is to report in here a couple times a week with at least a short note to let you know how I’m faring – what’s easy, what’s not so easy, and who I want to kill so I can get through them to the homemade cookies that someone brought in to the office.  So – ya’ll have something to look forward to now, right?

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