Friday, September 21, 2012

What I Didn't Know I Didn't Know About Fitness and Food

So, a handful of people already know this but for the last 27 days Kevin and I have been diligently working out, making smarter, healthier, informed food choices and just... well, trying hard to live healthier.  We decided to get ourselves an early Christmas present to each other and that present is this machine here.  This is the bowflex classic home gym, and it's probably the coolest machine I've ever used.  We bought it as an early Christmas present because it was on sale, plus there was a free shipping deal and those two factors combined made it nearly impossible to pass up.

I've been thinking about this for a week or so now and I thought I'd share some things I've learned in the last 27 days about food, recipes, working out, getting older, and trail mix.  Stay tuned, you might be surprised.

I'll start with the general observations first.  Please keep in mind I'm no expert on nutrition OR fitness, these are just things I'm learning along the way.

•  You're never too old to get off your butt and start working on getting into shape.  Granted, there may be legit physical restrictions for some folks but the majority of us don't have anything but a chip bowl full of excuses for not getting off the couch and working out.  My father-in-law has been one of my biggest inspirations for finally taking the fitness plunge.  He's nearly 70 years old and could outrun, out-bike, out-elliptical me any day of the week.  He still plays hockey, he still rides several miles EACH day on his bike, and I figured "if he can do it, I can do it!".  When I was young I was athletic, in shape and very competitive, and I'm itching to get back there now.

• That whole 6-8 glasses of water each day thing?  It's great if you can handle it but if you're like me and have (ahem) a microscopic bladder, it's not so great.  Never feel pressured to strictly follow that but DO drink lots of water every single day.  Your body wants it, and the more you drink the more you want.  Now, if you ever want to come out of the bathroom, just tone it down a little.

• Workout clothes make a difference.  Now, I don't know about men, but ladies, let me tell you right up front that a comfortable pair of shorts & tank top waiting to be put on every morning before you work out, actually does help motivate you.  Put your Sweat Uniform on, grab your shoes and pull your hair back the same as you would if you were going to a gym.  Sure, you can work out in your pajamas but it's kind of a psychological thing to actually prepare and get dressed for your workout.

• Music matters.  Well, your mileage may vary but for me, a silent room with nothing but the sound of the machines is actually quite boring.  However, if I put in a cd or turn on the radio, the time flies by much faster and I'm not actually watching the clock to see if I'm close to my goal for the morning yet.  I like the classic rock station but sometimes they play music I totally hate (like 80's stuff) so it makes me hoof it harder on the elliptical to get through that song.

• It's not a diet, it's a lifestyle change.  It's been said a million times that the reason diets don't work is because they leave you hungry, miserable and really dying for that bowl of chips or piece of cake.  And, it's true.  If you do things right, there's nothing saying you can't still have stuff like that - you just have to learn how and when.  I'm pretty sure most people don't realize that. (more on this in a minute).

• Myth or Fact you'll gain weight at the beginning of a new workout?  Well, it's fact, sort of, and only for some people.  What happens is, essentially, your muscles go into a sort of shock at what you're doing to them and your brain sends a message that says "fear not, we'll save you!" and you'll start retaining fluid as a sort of protection for your muscles.  However, this is only temporary and you should begin to see the scales change after the first 2-3 weeks, as your body realizes what you're doing and your brain says "oh, well in that case, carry on soldier!"

• The "why" is different for everyone, but don't fool yourself.  Kev and I joined a fitness site where they have discussion forums and I've been a little surprised to see how many people (women, mostly) start a workout/diet plan to impress the husband or boyfriend or because the husband or boyfriend is a creep and makes insulting cracks about their weight. First, those men need to grow some tact and secondly those women are doing it for the wrong reasons.  If you're not doing it because you've decided it's the best thing for you, you're fooling yourself and it likely won't last.  Kev's reasons are similar to mine and for us both it's pretty simple: God gave us 1 body and we need to do our best to take care of it.  Both of us have a long way to go but we've started and we're hoping in time we'll get where we can both say "yes, I'm as healthy as possible".

• Before you begin a new workout routine (if you're currently not doing any physical fitness activity at all), take "before" pics.  Front, side and rear view - plus measurements & weight. Kev and I did this and we weigh-in every Monday and take our measurements.  The weight loss has been much higher for him than for me, but we've both lost inches and it's a great way to chart our progress and encourage us to keep at it.  We'll be updating pics once a month to see for ourselves the visual progress that you can't really see from looking in a mirror.

• Some studies have been done recently (I heard this on the radio from a fitness expert dude so I don't have a source quote to share) that suggest muscle fatigue during a strenuous workout is in fact only partly physical, and also partly psychological. In other words, you tell yourself you're too tired to keep going and once you do that, your muscles respond in kind.  If, on the other hand you tell yourself "I can do this" you may be inclined to feel a sudden second-wind of sorts and push on a little further.  Always the skeptic, I found this a little hokey so the next time I worked out I tested the theory by telling myself "I CAN do this".  Much to my surprise, I did do it and went longer on the elliptical than I ever had before.  So, it works.  Just be careful not to overdo any workout.

• Eating healthy doesn't mean twigs and sawdust.  My friend James (who's WAY older than me, and in way better shape physically, and another of my inspirations) has often been teased by mutual friends of eating sticks and hay, or sawdust, or whatever.  He changed his eating habits a while back and eats stuff like Kashi cereals so that's where the teasing comes in.  Truth be told, Kashi cereals are pretty darn yummy and way better for you than most of the other types of cereals out there.  The thing is, with the kinds of food choices we have at the grocery store there are a flazillion alternatives that we can choose to incorporate yummy, nutritional food that doesn't leave you hungry or full of useless calories.  The trick is to read labels.

• Seat realistic goals and you'll see REAL results.  Don't say "I want to lose 40 pounds" or "I'm going to workout for an hour every day". For most people that's a set-up for discouragement and often failure when they don't reach those goals as fast as they think they can (or want to).  Instead, aim for 1 pound a week or cardio workouts 3 days a week for 15, 20 or 30 minutes.  Start slow and work your way into a habit first (habit of eating healthy and habit of working out) and once you're into the habit, you can adjust things from there.

• Find a site like this and use it. This is the site that Kevin and I joined and we both really like it.  You can set your goals, enter your current weight, update your weight and goals as things change, enter in a food & exercise diary every day and all of that helps you really see where you're at.  How much sodium or protein do you need to have every day to stay under your limit to reach your goal?  You probably have no idea, and neither did I until I started using this site.  Now I can't verify that it's an exact science or anything but it sure gives you a really good idea on where to start, and how to adjust your own diet every day.

• Food, beautiful, tasty food.  Contrary to popular opinion, food is NOT your enemy.  What is your enemy is your own ignorance of what kinds of foods are wrong or bad, how much of them would be bad, and what time of day you eat certain types of foods.  God made food taste good for a reason: so we can ENJOY it! Educating yourself on your own nutritional needs (like using that site I linked to up there) helps you make much smarter food choices.

• RECIPES!  Our oldest daughter turned us on a couple of weeks ago to Punchfork, which lead us to skinnytaste and other fantastic sites.  We've tried several recipes we've found there and so far every single one of them have been crazy delicious AND healthy! Go there. Love them. Eat well. You're welcome.

Well, that's about all I have.  Oh, except for the trail mix.  You may or may not know this but I think most folks just naturally assume since it's all natural it's good and healthy. Right?  Well, here's a perfect example of what I was just talking about.  Trail mix is actually good for you but in extreme moderation.  We bought some yummy stuff called Harvest Blend that has all sorts of nuts and dried fruits and it truly is delicious.  However, a single serving is 1/3 cup and in that serving are 200 calories.  If we had eaten that as a snack the way we used to eat stuff like trail mix - just pour some into a bowl and grab handfuls and nibble on it - we'd each likely eat well over a cup of it and that's 600-800 calories. To put that in perspective, that's almost twice as much as in a slice of commercially prepared cheesecake.  Granted, the "good" stuff in the trail mix far outweighs the bad stuff in the cheesecake but if you're watching your daily calorie count, you have to be smart about portions - even if it is "good for you".

Again, I'm no expert on any of this, but I sure hope this has been some benefit to someone.