Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Walk or run?

This morning the alarm clock went off way too early. Well, too early after a second insomniac night. But I knew this was my one chance today to run. If I hadn't signed up for a sprint triathlon next week I surely would have went back to bed or found a different activity I could do later in the day. But I like to run alone and not at the track...which means this was my only moment to squeeze in a run so I don't collapse next Saturday. So I hauled my tired, achy booty out of bed, laced up my shoes and headed out the door.

Note to self: if I ever make the goal of getting up early every day, I must first have the goal of going to bed before midnight.

My entire run I listed out all the arguments for running...and for walking. Do I really HAVE to run to be healthy?

Every weekend my facebook feed is filled with pictures of friends finishing 5K's, 10 K's, mudruns, half marathons, marathons, and triathlons. Has it always been like this? Nope. According to the organization "Running USA" (, participation in running events from the 5K on up has increased 80% since 2000. That doesn't mean that 80% of us are running, it means that we have moved from approximately 8.5 million in 2000 to approximately 15.5 million in 2012. Still a small percentage of total population, but it's not just my imagination that more people are running. Women in particular are increasing running participation, especially in the half marathon. All that to say, based on what other people are doing running feels like something I SHOULD be doing. And even when I run, I feel like I SHOULD be running farther (I've already come to terms with the fact that I won't be any faster, so no guilt there).

Second note to self: Running USA keeps track of what half marathon races have the fastest median finish times...and the slowest. If I ever plan on picking a half marathon, I shall pick a slow one.

But is running necessary if my goal is increased overall health? Not necessarily.

The argument for running
  • I can get the same amount of "work" done in less time. I can run for 35 minutes or walk for 55. 
  • There is a sense of accomplishment in doing an activity that growing up I never believed I could actually do.
  • I have met and developed a bond with some really great people through running, even if they are all much faster than me.
  • If I want to run in a road race or mud run with some friends or for a charity, I need to include running in my weekly exercise. As in if I want to run, I need to keep running.
  • The more demand I'm able to put on my cardiovascular system through vigorous exercise, the more benefit to my cardiovascular health (as in I have a hard time consistently keeping my heart rate high enough to count as moderate-vigorous exercise when walking).
  • Post-run I generally feel awesome.
The benefits of walking over running
  • I CAN get similar cardiovascular and energy expenditure benefit, it will just take me more time. But if I also figure that post-run I also have to shower whereas walking mostly does not require de-stinking myself, maybe the time argument is a wash. Hmmm...
  • Almost always I look forward to walking. I can put on my music, listen to a podcast or book, or chat it up with a friend and enjoy the time. Some days running is fun, and some days running...
  • I like to have some social exercise sessions, and I can almost always find a friend to walk with. No matter their pace, most people are willing to go for a walk. Fewer people run, and if they do they are generally much, much faster than me.
  • My need for special clothing decreases with walking. With running I'm always having to worry about the status of my shoes, which undergarments are best for keeping the sisters happy, wicking fabric, visors, workout bottoms that prevent chafing...all that to say a running wardrobe can be high maintenance. Walking just requires a decent pair of shoes. The number of considerations for clothing greatly decreases, and I can generally stay in my everyday clothes.
  • My knees hurt less, which make me active the rest of the day. One of my overall goals is to include more daily activity through walking or biking the kids to school, etc whenever possible. If my body is hurting from exercise I'm much more likely to just grab the car keys.
  • I don't think I look too strange when I walk. When I run...

So running or walking? Either.

Don't let the thought that if you aren't running you aren't healthy keep you from being more active and improving your health. Just move. Grab a friend. Move. And to my running friends, keep blowing up my facebook feed with your active pursuits. I'll be cheering you on, I may just not cross the same finish line.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Start One

I had a moment of sadness this weekend: too many of my pants are too tight. My arthritic knees are becoming symptomatic again (i.e. my knees feel like they are 80). Despite cool temperatures I had my worst run in forever on Sunday. I started feeling just "blah" even though I've been really active. While I love the freedom of not relying on the scale for validity, I've also been developing some unhealthy eating patterns that regardless of weight can lead to negative health consequences down the road. My knees tell me that right away. Down the road it can lead to increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. So while still trying to maintain a relationship with food that doesn't involve guilt, punishment, or deprivation I also need to make some habit changes.

Do I try to completely revamp my life with one major holy grail master plan? Or do I take the snails pace and make one or two small changes at a time? This question has been tickling my brain for the last several days so I spent some time today geeking out over research on how to make lasting habit change. I by no means exhausted the current research, but I will share my thoughts with you based on the research and my own past experience.

So which is better? Major overhaul or small changes? Answer: depends. The why of the change plays a major role. For example, if NOT making a certain change will lead to immediate or certain harm there is much motivation to make the change permanent. If you suddenly develop a nut allergy it would behoove you to immediately rid your house of any possible dispensers of anaphylaxis...or stock up on epi-pens. But if your why is more vague or non-life threatening (i.e. my pants no longer fit) you will get more long term traction if you make small, incremental changes and then build on them. If healthy living was just about knowledge we'd all be a lot healthier. We generally KNOW we should eat fewer oreos and more broccoli, but it's our behavior patterns that are non-compliant. If you make one change and are successful it increases your belief that you can make more positive changes. Sometimes when we try to make a huge healthy life overhaul we get discouraged within days. Even trying to make "15 small changes" at once means a big lifestyle change. And often that is completely overwhelming.

The other problem we run into when trying to make major changes is we get bogged down in trying to find THE PLAN. What rules are right? Should I be eating paleo? Vegan? Vegetarian? Mediterranean? Hostess diet? Should I be running or walking? Is interval training or long duration better? And suddenly there are so many choices and we are unable to actually make a decision on what to try. We get bogged down in the details. I've caught myself several times spending hours and hours researching which exercises I should be doing, when in truth if I was just doing anything for that same amount of time I'd be healthier.

So this week I decided to start taking the turtle's approach. In the past when I've realized my eating and exercise habits were out of whack I'd make major crazy changes. I'd clear out the pantry of anything "unhealthy". And the minute I'd start banning so many foods I'd crave them all the more. I can drive by McD's everyday and never give it a second look until I decide to never eat fast food, then the the golden arches become a beacon of light. I'd create a workout plan that is more appropriate for a college athlete trying to increase performance than a mom trying to be healthy. And within two days my arthritic knees are unable to let me sit in a chair without major pain...which overall makes me more sedentary than if I just try to add movement throughout my day.

Back to the turtle's approach: Start One. Start One healthy habit a week. One. That's it. Not one AND another and another and another. That's been my approach in the past: "I'll drink 10 glasses of water a day...AND I'll cut out sweets...AND I'll get up at 5 am and exercise for an hour...AND..." By noon on Monday I'm tired, hungry, and heading to the bathroom every 5 minutes. The change will last maybe until Tuesday. Maybe. So I'll start with one.

And if I'm successful with my healthy habit, and it feels like I'm going to maintain that habit with ease I'll Start One more habit. If I struggled I'll give myself another week or two.

My Start One habit for this week: no eating sweet treats (meaning candy bars, cookies, cake, ice cream, etc.). I'm not eliminating all sugar, just those things I was snacking on waaay too often and they were becoming part of my everyday (every hour??) menu instead of the occasional treat.

What about you? I'd love to hear your approach to habit change.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

My breakup

"I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts." -John Locke

What I was saying and what I was doing were in complete contrast. On one hand I was saying that the scale and other similar measures didn't matter. That my character was not to be judged by any number. But my actions told a different story. Each morning I would step on the scale to be judged: good or bad. I would get out a tape measure weekly to see if the jury would convict or exonerate me. I based my self worth on how my smallest jeans fit.

My actions were displaying my true thoughts.

The scale was an idol. The tape measure a ruler. The jeans a shrine. All shouting that my size was the most important thing about me, no matter what my words were saying.

The first principle of Intuitive Eating is to reject the dieting mentality. To really grasp once and for all that "dieting" doesn't work. Usually "dieting" results in weight gain in the long run. We are often able to "white knuckle" it through bouts of restrictive eating only to find ourselves in situations of uncontrollable binging after...which is a mix of biology (our ancestors didn't want to starve) and psychology (tell me I can't have something and I want it even more). Or we find ourselves at the other end of the spectrum where we are truly afraid to eat.

Part of letting go of the dieting mentality is getting rid of the false measurements of success. If I really believed the scale didn't determine my worth, why did I step on it everyday to determine my mood? So in March I packed away the scale. I also packed away diet books (seriously, with at best a 5% success rate, why had I wasted money on these??) and clothes that would fit "if I just lost five pounds." It was scary. I was afraid without those measures I would surely pack on 100 pounds within a few months.

But I asked myself, in the next five years if I could eat nutritiously, exercise for mental and physical health, and have a healthy relationship with food but the scale remained the same or (gasp) even went up, would it be worth it? And what was I risking? I was already struggling to keep off the weight I had lost. If I tried this grand experiment of ditching the scale (and the dieting mentality) and it was horrible, I could always buy another book.

Almost four months after packing away the scale I can honestly say it's been one of the most freeing things I've done. My day is no longer determined by the scale. I don't just say my self worth isn't determined by a number on the scale, I follow through. The scale is packed away in the deep catacombs of my basement, and I plan to leave it there...unless I dig it out to throw it out our second story window.

Monday, July 8, 2013

What is intuitive eating?

"Ready, set..."
"Just jump in..."
"Ready 1-2-3..."
"Just jump in, you'll be fine..."

Similar phrases have been uttered from my mouth over and over and over again this summer as our six year old is trying to learn to swim. She is a logical thinker who likes to know the exact outcome of any move along with possible ways it could go wrong. And for a six year old with a tendency to worry, learning to jump in the pool leaves lots of unknowns. So she hesitates. And hesitates. And hesitates. Slowly she's gotten her courage. Slowly she's been brave enough to put her face in the water. Brave enough to jump.

I've felt a lot like her lately with my writing. I'm afraid that my words won't be well received. I'm afraid that I'll make some big proclamation about a goal or a plan only to see it all crumble a month later. So I hesitate. And hesitate. Slowly I'm remembering, I write for me. The joy is in the writing. If others actually read, all the better. If others actually enjoy the words, I am beyond blessed. But that's just icing on the cake.


Wait, where was I?

Ah, yes. I've always been cautious about writing about a specific nutrition plan, aside from our trials with eating only whole foods. I'm afraid that I'll promote something that a month later I realize isn't the greatest plan. But I've also been wanting to share more about "Intuitive Eating." I'm going to stop hesitating. I'm going to write. I'm going to share from my experience about the book* and the ideas that have changed how I view food.

What is intuitive eating?
In my words, it's learning to listen to your internal cues for hunger and fullness. Eat when you're hungry, stop when you are full. Most of human history people have done this (that is, when food was actually available). Yet largely due to the marketing of foods, foods that are designed to eat beyond fullness, and chronic dieting, we've completely lost touch with hunger. We either constantly eat and never really feel hungry or restrict our eating to the point where we ignore our hunger. We eat out of habit. We eat out of emotion. We restrict out of guilt. Often times our hunger and fullness cues are so blunted by ignoring them we have no idea when we are hungry or full. Intuitive eating is learning to listen to those cues and can be helpful both for those who chronically restrict food to the point of ill health to those who constantly overeat for a variety of reasons.

It's no small coincidence that we as a society are dealing with both overeating and under-eating. Even those at a "normal" weight often cycle between times of restricting ("dieting") and times of overeating, often after a diet or before gearing up for the next one. Been there? I have. It's an unhealthy merry-go-round and I wanted off. I was regaining weight and had started looking for the next plan...the one that would hopefully be the holy grail of all things skinny. But I also knew the statistics that no matter the plan, people fell off more often than they were able to stay on. Chronic dieting is the biggest predictor of weight GAIN (yes) and also is more likely to lead someone to a clinical eating disorder. Why would I continue to engage in something (dieting) that had a better chance of doing harm than achieving a healthy outcome?  So I looked around and found the few intuitive eaters I knew. Saw how they never obsessed over food. They stayed a natural healthy weight for them. I wanted that. No obsession. Health.

So in March I bellyflopped into principle #1: "Banishing the dieting mentality."

*Information about intuitive eating can be found in the book "Intuitive Eating, 3rd Ed" by Evelyn Tribole & Elyse Resch. I can't recommend the book enough.