Ok, Ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration.  I just finished my 3rd straight week with little exercise, but for a different reason this time.  I did, however, get back to the gym.  The following morning I woke up sick, and have been dealing with that ever since.  Fortunately, I was able to yet again make solid progress towards my goal, losing 2.2 pounds, but gaining 0.3% body fat (192.2 pounds and 22.3% body fat).  Let’s break it down:

Injury Update:

So far…so good.  The pain is all but gone, and the range of motion is mostly restored – maybe 95%, I’d guess.  I had some initial doubt when it would still give me much pain while sleeping, but that has gone away with time.  I often fall asleep on one or another side, so it’s nice to have that other option again.  I did some of the workouts that my doctor provided me, but also gave it plenty of rest.  My first time back at the gym, on Tuesday night, I faced my adversary.  Just as my doctor instructed, I took my previous weight level and dropped that in half.  Then I gently and slowly pressed the bars together, feeling no pain or discomfort.  I did a complete set and felt fine, so I decided to do a full lifting routine.  I cut the weight on all of the upper body machines, although not quite 50% on all of them.  I made sure to be conscious of not over-extending my shoulders, and I was deliberate and slow on each machine.  I plan on continuing to do strength training leading up to my February vacation, so that I can hopefully be confident while swimming and wrestling crocodiles.

Diet:

I’m excited to present my first calorie graph from Myfitnesspal.com:

Calorie Graph

(Please disregard the earlier data from December – I was testing entries on those dates)

It’s so cool to be able to graph my calorie intake over time.  As promised, I’ve been diligently recording every single thing I eat, since Jan. 1, 2011.  I will continue to do so through the month of January, and post similar graphs each week.

So what can we learn from this graph?  Well, first off, can you tell which day was my cheat day? 😉 FYI, my daily calorie goal, in order to lose 1 pound/week without any additional calories burned exercising, is 1840 calories.  According to the graph, I’ve had 5 days over, and 4 days under my goal in 2011.  Not exactly stellar results, but not a complete failure either.  I got lucky this week when my mom brought me some homemade chicken noodle and vegetable beef soup, both of which were delicious and diet-friendly.  I also ate relatively light dinners at home.  My cheat day, Friday, included going out for both lunch and dinner, and consuming alcohol with both of those meals.  My Sunday also included alcohol, as I watched football and drank bloody marys all day, and I don’t regret it for a second.  But it is better to only have one cheat day/week, especially if that cheat day wipes out much of the good work you had previously done.  I will need to be smart about this for the future.

The Benefits of Tracking Your Calories:

I’m already seeing a difference in my food decision making, and it is largely thanks to calorie counting.  When I began this weight loss challenge, I started the diet portion very nonchalant.  I knew that I ate too much (duh, how else did I get fat?), so I thought I’d be able to just cut back a bit on what I was eating and see results.  Maybe I did, but I didn’t see much of a trend.  I just kind of figured that I couldn’t possibly be eating too much, and I was now exercising, so I must be just burning off those pounds.  It’s not that I didn’t have any success, but I didn’t have the consistent success I was looking for.  After asking reddit for their advice, the few responses all pointed me towards tracking my calories.  I was wary at first – how am I ever going to find the time to write all of this stuff down?  How will I deal with things that aren’t in their database?  Was I even ready to face it?  But I decided to swallow my pride, and give it a shot.

The first meal I entered was an eye opener, to say the least.  I had a work lunch at Maggiano’s, and I ordered a pretty standard meal: caeser salad, Baked Ziti with Sausage, and a glass of wine.  I also had a couple of pieces of bread.  I casually searched (and easily found) the items in Myfitnesspal, plugged them into my daily diary, and clicked “home”.  Turns out I had just eaten more than enough calories for the entire day. And double the sodium.  I was taken aback.  Was I really eating this much?  How was I not even bigger than I am now if I was routinely consuming more than enough calories for the day during a single meal?  I resolved right then to track my calories so I could get a better idea of how much I was eating.  To be safe and not suicidal though, I decided to wait until after the holidays, and began the experiment on Jan. 1.

To be frank, it is embarrassing, humbling, enlightening, depressing, rewarding, and worthwhile to track how many calories are entering and exiting your body daily.  You will think about EVERY piece of food you put in your mouth, and think double about how many empty calories you want to consume.  For example, if you can only consume 1840 calories/day, would you rather have 3 cups of coffee, 4 beers, and some cheese and crackers; or granola & soy milk, a large salad, fruit and nuts as a snack, and a dinner of roast chicken, rice, and steamed vegetables?  I know, I know – some of you would love the coffee/beer combo.  I do too, from time to time.  But over the long run, you’ll see and understand how much eating affects your mood and behavior.  No matter how much you love your morning coffee, I am sure your mood is better if you opt for a healthy breakfast instead.  No matter how much you love 3-4 beers while winding down a long day, you’ll feel infinitely better if you substitute 2 of those beers for some greens, vegetables, and fruit.  I’m not advocating cutting out alcohol, coffee, or sweets.  Rather, if you only have so many calories you can consume in a day, you’ll naturally make smarter choices if you have to face them.  Often our food choices are impulsive, emotional, and quick – this forces you to at least look at them afterwards (if not reconsider in the moment), and make some value judgements about your diet.  And that is an important part – it is your diet.  You can shape it how you wish.  Counting your calories and examining your food choices bring conscious choice into your diet, rather than traditional short-sighted decision making.

Exercise:

Man, it felt great to get back to the gym.  I was excited driving there, even though I could feel a little tickle in my throat telling my I may be getting sick.  Unfortunately, there is this little phenomenon in America called the New Year’s Resolution.  If you’re unfamiliar, Americans make a resolution every January 1st for something they’d like to change in their lives, and they usually give it up by the end of January.  It’s good-hearted, but rarely effective.  I’ve had mixed (read: poor) results with New Year’s Resolutions, but I’m still down with them – what’s wrong with at least trying to improve your life?  Isn’t progress progress, even if it never reaches perfection?

Why did I call this phenomenon unfortunate then?  For regular gym folks, it means that January is the most difficult month to exercise in.  Memberships at gyms spike after the New Year, with young and old alike trying to shed the pounds and get in shape.  I considered delaying the start of this blog until January 1st myself, as a sort of symbolic start date.  In the end, however, I decided that I might as well get on with it – I was only getting fatter.  I also worried that if I tried to start when the gym was busy and crowded, I might get discouraged.  Starting my challenge during the holidays meant that gym attendance would be low, and I could get a head start.

Tuesday I returned to the gym following my injury absence, and yes, it was busy.  I was able to grab a bike and get warmed up, stretch, but then couldn’t find an open elliptical machine.  I decided then that I should face my fears and tackle the pectoral machine that had stung me, as I discussed above.  After the upper-body strength training segment, I snagged an elliptical and got busy.  Unfortunately, I started to feel light headed (probably from the oncoming sickness), so I quit after 18 minutes.  Still, I had worked up a sweat and raised my heart rate, so all was not lost.  I headed home, woke up sick, and didn’t return to the gym again.

While I was happy to return to the gym, I was disappointed that I couldn’t return.  Not much more can go wrong for me to stay out of the gym next week, knock on wood.  (No, seriously, go knock on wood right now, help me out here)

Looking Forward:

The injury is mostly recovered, the sickness is mostly cured, the calories are being counted – what else do I really need?  I should be able to have a good week, working out at least 3 times.  I also plan on stopping by a grocery store tomorrow night after work, so that I will have plenty of healthy food for the entire week.  Can’t wait to break the 190 barrier – I don’t remember the last time I saw anything in the 180s!

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