Vive La Différence!

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As I reported last week, having resumed the option to drink wine at dinner has decreased the likelihood that I have time or motivation to exercise in the evening.  Since one of my key goals this year is to maintain my weight loss, this presents a real challenge that I’m committed to solving. Recall that not drinking was the main contributor to my losing over 20 pounds last year, as detailed in this post from last April.

For me, not drinking resulted in three positive weight-loss benefits: (1) It directly eliminated a few hundred empty calories each day from my diet, (2) It kept me more focused on what and how much I was eating, and (3) It freed up my evenings, making it very easy to exercise at night.

These past several weeks I’ve been tinkering with my routine, trying to find a formula that allows me to enjoy food and wine with my husband, further my marathon training, and maintain my weight. My concerns that adding alcohol back into the mix could reverse the positive results I achieved last year are well-founded. I’ve noticed more than once that just a few days of complacency result in some extra pounds.

Initially, I drank wine most evenings at dinner and changed my weekday routine by getting up early in the morning to run. I really thought this was going to be the right solution for me. After all, in the old days, they used to say that morning was the best time for a workout, because it let you get it out of the way quickly and set you up for a better, more energized rest of the day. This is still recommended by a lot of fitness bloggers and medical experts, including in this article and this one . I’ve been pretty good at following through with this routine change, happily getting up between 5 o’clock and 5:30 to hit the treadmill before work.

Although a strong 5-mile morning workout puts me in a great mood, unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to help me shed those pesky two pounds. Further routine tinkering has revealed that the evening workouts are much more effective for me.

And, it’s not just about whether I have wine at dinner. In fact, my results appear almost equally as good whether I make time to exercise before dinner (even with wine) or whether I skip wine at dinner and exercise later in the evening. It turns out that my routine and results testing confirm a new “discovery” in the exercise and weight loss industry: everyone is different and you have to figure out what’s best for you. Some great articles about this trend include this one on WebMD and this one from the American Heart Association.

What does this all mean for me? As I begin to step up my marathon training for the season, I’m planning to skip wine most Mondays through Thursdays, so that I can bank an extra hour of sleep in the morning and increase the likelihood that I’ll workout in the evening. On the weekends, I’m going to push out my workouts to the afternoon, closer to the time when I’ll be enjoying all of that great food and wine.

The Middle Miles

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Last weekend came and went and I never found the time to write a blog post. It’s true that we were extremely busy with social obligations (more about that later). However, that was only part of it. The bigger issue was that I wasn’t inspired enough by a topic to start writing anything down. Since that has rarely happened since I started this blog, I did a little soul searching to figure out the problem. The problem is that my resolution has hit, to quote one of my old running partners, “the middle miles.”

Although I entered the weekend having successfully completed 7 months of my year-long New Year’s resolution not to drink alcohol, I was feeling down and uninspired. Not only did I have lingering disappointment about my marathon run on July 25th, I was also having trouble with my weight maintenance.

When I say “having trouble” what I really mean is that I temporarily stopped watching what I eat and also haven’t been consistent with recording things in my MyFitnessPal food journal. Who can blame me for the latter? It would have been really demoralizing to record everything I ate at the barbecue at the lake on Saturday afternoon. I started out with chips and guacamole, moved on to chips and hummus, and then had some brie and crackers. A few hours later, I nearly filled my plate with an array of lunch offerings, including a hot dog. Before I left the party, I even went back up to the buffet to get two chocolate chip cookies. Unfortunately, the day didn’t end there. We went to a different party that evening and I proceeded to eat different things in a similar fashion, including two cupcakes for dessert. I didn’t need MyFitnessPal to tell me that my 8-mile run that morning couldn’t even put a dent in what I had eaten over the course of the day and evening.

Sunday morning, I forced myself to step on the scale to confirm that I had crossed back over my dreaded weight threshold of 140 pounds. Although it’s a bit of a bummer, like the proverbial middle miles of a long run that I referred to earlier, this set-back is completely normal and only temporary.

In long-distance running, it’s natural to have a break in concentration and to slow during the middle miles. That’s because the mental and physical freshness you had at the start are long gone, but there is still too much distance yet to cover for you to start tasting the finish line. Your mind and body can play tricks on you that negatively impact your overall performance. In running, you mitigate this through your training plan in the months and weeks before the race and through your pacing on race day.

The middle miles of my resolution are even easier to solve. I just have to go back to what made me successful and set a few new reasonable goals. The fact is that I have gone 7 months without a drink and, during that time, have attained my weight-loss goal and have achieved my marathon PR time. These accomplishments are still valid and it will not take very much additional focus to lose a few of those pounds that have crept back on.

Here’s my simple plan to get back on track:

  1. Re-commit to using MyFitnessPal to record what I eat and how much I exercise every day.
  2. Reduce my daily calorie target by about 250 calories a day, since I am (temporarily) no longer in maintenance mode.
  3. Target getting back down to 135 pounds by the end of August.

Notice that I didn’t say stop eating chocolate chip cookies and cupcakes! Hopefully I won’t eat too many of them. However, if I do, it just means that I have to lace up my running shoes and get in an extra workout.

Semi Annual Report

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We’re exactly half-way through 2014. This means that I am also half-way through my New Year’s resolution not to drink alcohol. What an amazing 6 months it’s been. I’m a few pounds below the weight I was striving for, after losing more than 20 pounds this year and exactly 30 pounds overall. I also achieved my lifetime PR (fastest) marathon time already and still have two more on the schedule. And, most importantly, I cannot remember feeling happier, more centered, or more confident.

Since this is a major landmark, I finally put some effort into “before and after” photos.  Below is a photo that Bruce took of me yesterday, before we left the house for a wedding. Right next to it is a photo taken when I was 20 pounds heavier last Thanksgiving. 

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What I particularly like about the before photo is the ever-present glass of wine. I can see a big difference in my face in the two photos and, upon looking more closely, also in my arms and stomach. For those just tuning in, you can find out more about how I lost twenty pounds here and thirty pounds here.

Since I’ve been exercising a lot, I was able to lose the weight without cutting out anything specific except for the alcohol. Although I kept close track of my calorie in-take in order to lose the weight, I wasn’t following a low-carb or a low-fat diet. I ate pretty much what I wanted, but controlled calories through portion size and, if that failed, I exercised more.

Speaking of exercise, I have a dramatic set of “before and after” photos of me running.  In the first one, I am running a relay race in August last year and I look terribly heavy at 155 pounds. It’s difficult for me to look at this photo and believe that it’s really me. The second photo was taken during a marathon in Phoenix in 2006, when I weighed about 145 pounds. The third photo is from about a month ago at the Vermont City Marathon at my current weight.  

 

 

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Just imagine how much more work it was for my legs, my heart, and every other part of my body to run 26.2 miles carrying 20 additional pounds.

Over the past month, I’ve grown accustomed to my return to a smaller size. Luckily, I had a few boxes of really nice summer clothes from when we lived in Arizona tucked away in the attic. These things had made the move with us 7 years ago, but never saw the light of day since, until now. I filled up those boxes and more with things from my closet that are now just too baggy to deal with. I also have a pretty good sized pile of other clothes that I plan to take to a tailor sometime soon.

Even though I’m still working through my closet to find out what still fits and what doesn’t and what’s salvageable and what isn’t, it’s no longer stressful to think about what I’m going to wear. That’s because I feel great.

Analyzing how I feel about myself now, it’s not easy to pinpoint the most important cause. Is it because I’m not drinking? Is it because I have lost so much weight? Is it the buzz I get from running? Or, to quote my friend Camille, is it all of it? Luckily, I have 6 more months to figure that out and also to decide what to do next.

 

How I Gained Then Lost 30 Pounds

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Believe it or not, I gained 30 pounds through the years, beginning when I lived in Scottsdale, Arizona in the early 2000s up until when I stepped on the scale here in my Vermont home on January 1, 2013.

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(Above: My driver’s license at age 16. I recall deducting 5 pounds from my actual weight when I filled in the form. Nearly 30 years later, I’m an inch taller and weigh the same).

This is exactly how it went down (or, should I say, up?):

The first 10 pounds were the result of my thyroid slowing down, due to the radiation treatment I received in early 2002 to combat a hyper-thyroidal condition caused by Graves’ Disease.  Although it is an interesting and somewhat scary story, I won’t bore you with the details of how it temporarily affected my life. What’s pertinent here is that, after enjoying most of my life below this weight, I didn’t get below 145 pounds again until earlier this year.

The next 10 pounds were much more enjoyable to gain. I attribute them to a combination of my husband’s excellent cooking and my love of drinking wine along with all of that great food. I guess that, without the thyroid condition, I probably still would have gained at least 10 pounds through the second half of my ‘30s as a result of discovering the joys of great food and good wine. And, to be honest, I loved every minute of it!

The last 10 pounds somehow got tacked on seasonally one winter, a few years after we moved back to Vermont, in 2007.  I started putting on a few pounds at the tail end of each running season in the late fall, and continued adding them straight through the holidays, from a combination of going out to eat more, not resisting the plethora of holiday snacks in the office and at parties, and a seasonal curtailing of my commitment to exercise. As you might have guessed, weight gain during the holiday season is common, although studies about it vary.

Most of these last 10 pounds I could lose pretty easily when I put in the effort, usually as a New Year’s Resolution. And I did so a few times. At one point in 2012, I had lost 15 pounds, only to gain it all back later in the year. Over the course of 2013, I lost 10 pounds early on, but ended up down seven pounds at year-end, mainly from a modest commitment to exercise and by not pigging-out over the holidays. 

That’s a condensed version of how I found myself weighing 158 pounds when New Year’s 2014 rolled around. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that I decided to give up alcohol for the year and also to leverage this resolution to lose 20 additional pounds and to achieve my fastest marathon running time.

In a blog post in late April, I announced that I had lost the 20 pounds and attributed my success to four things: (1) Quitting drinking, (2) Telling the world about it, (3) Approaching it like a marathon, and (4) Using an app to track everything.

My marathon training schedule required me to step up my exercise regime beyond what I had done in the past. And I worked very, very hard on not “blowing it” during my training by over-compensating or over-rewarding myself; I described these strategies here. It paid off! During May, I lost 3 additional pounds.

I simply cannot believe that I have now lost all 30 pounds that I had gained these last dozen years. My new challenge is to maintain my weight at 135 pounds. In fact, I am adding a new goal to the mix: Keeping the 30 pounds off over the next year, so that I can join the National Weight Control Registry.  

I Am Sisyphus (Again)

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Last week, I reported the good news that I had already lost 20 pounds and returned to my goal weight of 138 pounds.  Sadly, I can already tell that weight maintenance is going to be a battle. And, unfortunately, it looks like one that may last the rest of my life. That 20th and final pound has been lost, gained, and re-claimed four times and it’s only been a few weeks. Huffington Post says I need to get used to this, because “weight maintenance is actually the state of gaining and losing small amounts of weight over and over again.”

This reminds me of the Myth of Sisyphus, about which I wrote this poem in 1997:

And I was Sisyphus again today,
Elated at the top,
Only to fall down under the rock’s
Crushing weight.
Yet I know I will be happy again tomorrow,
Only to slip back down again,
Still happy afterward, as I approach the crest.
Mankind and I, we are so simple in
Both our pleasures and our defeats.

To be successful, the Mayo Clinic suggests that “weight maintenance requires daily exercise, a healthy menu, a long-term commitment, and constant vigilance.” Wait a minute. This sounds suspiciously like dieting. They also say not to worry, because it will get easier after two to 5 years of keeping the weight off. When they said “a long-term commitment,” they weren’t kidding. It’s clear that I’m going to need as many strategies to maintain my weight as I did to lose it the first place.

My first strategy is to continue using the MyFitnessPal app every day. As I have explained in the past, this is my version of keeping a food and exercise journal. According to WebMB, I should be able to maintain my weight while consuming 2,000 calories a day.  This is significantly more than the 1,200 calorie diet I’ve been on. I just can’t bring myself to program this into my settings, so I’m starting with 1,500 and will adjust later, as needed.

My second strategy is to remain committed to exercise. This should be the easy part for me, since I am still training for marathons and have always been active. This article in Women’s Health Magazine suggests that exercise is the single most important factor in keeping weight off. The stat came from The National Weight Control Registry which tracks people who successfully maintained weight loss of 30 pounds or more. It turns out that 90% of these people exercise an average of one hour per day.

This study using data from the Registry confirms that my first two strategies are important to maintaining my weight and also suggests two others. These are monitoring my weight regularly and having a low-fat diet. We have a digital scale in our master bathroom and I use it almost every day, making the weight monitoring no problem. Focusing on lowering fat is another matter. I lost the weight by counting calories and exercising. The only significant diet change I made was cutting out alcohol. Generally speaking, I ate essentially whatever I wanted in lower quantities or I exercised more to burn it off. I’m going to mull over the low-fat focus a bit more…

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(Above: My brother helped pace my half marathon run in Middlebury, VT on May 4, enabling me to finish well under a 9 minute-per-mile pace.) 

What is going to be critical to maintaining my weight is to be vigilant on race weekends. Take this past weekend for example:  I ran a half marathon faster than my goal, in 1 hour and 56 minutes. My average pace of 8:51 per mile is under my marathon pace needed to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I even ranked in the upper 20% of all female runners in their 40s, my “group.” That’s the great news. The bad news is that it’s two days after the race and I’ve gained three pounds. 

Evidently this is common, especially for women, when training for marathons.  A few of the many online articles about this can be found here, here, and here. The main causes of the weight gain include overestimating energy needs, feeling you deserve to eat what you want, and not being active enough outside of the actual training. Originally, I was thinking of not using my app during race weekends as a reward. I’m scratching that idea to make sure I keep the 20 pounds off. If I’m destined to be Sisyphus, I should at least make rolling that stone up the hill easier on myself.

How I Lost 20 Pounds

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Month four of my resolution not to drink alcohol has come to an end.  I’m both surprised and proud to report that I have lost 20 pounds and have returned to what I consider to be my “ideal weight.”

Image (My weight loss is most obvious in my face. Above, at 155 pounds. Below, at 138 pounds.)

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More often than not over the past 12 years, my New Year’s resolution was to lose 20 pounds. In all those times, I didn’t even come close, not even during the years when I tried really, really hard. As I mentioned in my blog last week, we all know that trying is not enough on its own. In this blog post, I try my best to answer the inevitable question of “How did I Do It?”

I attribute my successful weight loss this year to these four things:

  1. Quitting drinking
  2. Telling the world about it
  3. Approaching it like a marathon
  4. Using an app to track everything

Quitting Drinking

Not drinking is the single-most important factor in my weight loss.  As I’ve said before, the first 8 pounds I lost was solely due to not drinking. Everyone knows that alcohol has calories. When I was drinking two glasses of wine a night, I was adding approximately 350 calories to my daily calorie intake. This online article has a wealth of information about wine and calories.  It’s hard to stick to a diet of 1,200 calories-a-day if you consume 29% in the form of a liquid with no nutritional value. Studies have also shown that you eat 20% more when you are drinking while you are eating. This recent article talks about that and many more negative effectives of alcohol on weight. In addition to these reasons above, I am now also able to exercise at night, something I never could have done after drinking wine at dinner.

Telling the World

As I mentioned in my inaugural blog post in late December, I improved my chances of sticking to my resolution because I told other people about it and wrote it down. That’s the point of this blog – I’ve made myself accountable not only to my close friends and family, but also to anyone who stumbles across this blog. As of this writing, I have 132 followers and that number increases every week. I don’t think I would have been able to stick to my resolution to quit drinking without the blog. Also, having the blog forces me to think through many issues and ideas associated with drinking, dieting, and exercising. All of this keeps me trying harder and staying more focused. After all, I have to report something interesting back to the blogosphere.

Marathon Approach

I’m aware that it’s a cliché to say that something “is a marathon and not a sprint.” However, since I actually run marathons, I think it’s okay for me to use this phrase.  Also, it’s true. I am approaching my weight loss and fitness goals like I approach a marathon, both literally and figuratively. Literally, I am actually training for a marathon, and that means I exercise six days every single week, culminating in both a strenuous race pace run every Saturday and a long run every Sunday. Figuratively, I have chunked out my goals into smaller goals and am taking a long view.  I am not following a fad diet or eating different things than I normally would in order to lose weight quickly. With the one exception of cutting out alcohol, I am eating pretty much as I did before. However, when I realize I need to change my diet in order to be more successful at losing weight, I change one thing at a time, so that the change is gradual.

To me, a marathon approach also means that it’s okay to screw up. During a marathon, you’re going to have slow miles and fast miles. The slow miles are not bits of failure, they are just a part of the process. The goal for the marathon runner is the average pace run over the full distance. There can be many points of exhaustion along the way, so even walking is okay. A successful diet is much the same.

Using A Fitness App

Once the easy weight from quitting drinking was gone, it was all about my commitment to use the app. I have a daily goal of 1,200 calories that I track using a free fitness Web application called MyFitnessPal. I lost between 1-1.5 pounds per week without fail by inputting everything I ate into the app. When I exercised, I also input that into that app and earned more calories for that day. If I ate too much, I exercised more.  It was that simple; but it was not magic.  It takes focus and commitment to leverage this tool in order to lose weight.

The thread that pulls through all of these contributors to my success in losing 20 pounds — quitting drinking, telling the world, having a marathon approach, and using a fitness app – is commitment. In the end, that’s the most important thing.

Ideal Weight?

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People are starting to notice that I’ve lost weight. Judging by their reactions, the first 10 pounds disappeared without much fanfare, but it was the next five that seemed more apparent to everyone, including me. That’s pretty much how the process went too:  10 pounds were relatively easy to lose and the last five took much more commitment and focus.  And I have five more to go.

One of my friends who hadn’t seen me in a while said the other day: “Wow! You look great! Don’t lose anymore.” Although that’s a positive reaction and one that I was initially happy to hear. The “don’t lose anymore” bit has been stuck in my craw. I’ll tell you why.

I think I am a pretty good judge of my own weight and that my goal of losing 20 pounds is realistic and healthy. When I topped out at 165 pounds, I was clearly overweight. And, when I began this year at 158 pounds, it was evident that I still had quite a bit of weight to lose.  Photos confirm this, as did the many tight or impossible-to-wear clothes in my closet.

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(Above: Me with Karl Roemer, my high school soccer coach, last summer. I weighed 155 pounds at the time.)

My whole life, I’ve heard things like “You have those soccer legs” or “You have a big frame and carry weight well” and the like. Actually, I don’t have a big frame.  I have a medium to small frame, something I just confirmed by consulting several websites. The first suggested that I take my fingers on my right hand and wrap them around my left wrist. Since I can go all the way around and then some that indicates a small to medium frame.  This other website claims that the best way is to actually measure your wrist. My wrist is 6.25 inches around, also indicating that I have a small to medium frame. 

I’m talking about my body frame, because that is one of the key inputs that helps to establish “ideal weight.” Reflecting back on my weight through the years, I consider 135 pounds to be ideal.  And, as you know, my goal this year is to weigh 138. Because of my friend’s comment, I took some time to confirm that my goal is reasonable.

After my sophomore year of college, I went on a serious diet for the first time, in order to lose what I had gained resulting from the combination of a serious soccer injury and typical college drinking. Before that diet, I weighed about 160 pounds. I lost the weight and swore I would never weigh over 140 pounds again.  I kept that promise until things went a little wacky after being treated for a serious thyroid disease about 12 years ago.

Fast forwarding to today, I now weigh 143. Losing 5 additional pounds would put me at my goal of 138. Even though I know through experience that it is a good weight for me, I did research on “my ideal weight.” That’s how I found this nifty Ideal Weight Calculator.  

Self-described this way: “The Ideal Weight Calculator computes the ideal body weight as well as a healthy body weight range based on height, gender, and age. People have pursued an ideal weight formula for centuries, and hundreds of formulas and tables have been created. However, there is still no definite answer regarding the ‘best’ weight for a person. However, the results obtained by most formulas are very good. The Ideal Weight Calculator provides the results of all the popular formulas for comparison purposes.”

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(Above: My results using the “Ideal Weight Calculator”)

When I plug in my age, gender and height, these four methods of determining ideal weight come up with a very small range of between 134 and 138 pounds. And, very interestingly, this other website uses a database of survey responses to indicate an ideal weight. Halls, M.D. believes that ”almost all ‘ideal body weight’ websites use obsolete formulas or tables created in 1979 or earlier” and that his page tells “what people just like you think about their ideal weight.” Guess what? People just like me evidently think their ideal weight is 136, which happens to be right in between the range indicated by all of those “obsolete formulas.”

At any rate, I’m pleased that this exercise confirmed what I already knew to be true. Not only is my goal of weighing 138 pounds realistic, it is very close to my ideal weight. It may not be easy to lose these last 5 pounds, but at least I’m not crazy or unhealthy for trying.

Pushing Past the Plateau

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The connections between drinking or not drinking alcohol and gaining or losing weight are obvious and well-documented.  As I previously stated, one of my motivations in pledging to not drink for a solid year was to drop a few stubborn pounds.  Thus far, not drinking has helped me to lose eight pounds with relative ease. Yet, for the past month, I’ve been going up and down in a range of two-three pounds, at the same “weight plateau” that has irked me since before my 40th birthday.  Having given up so much this time, I am determined to break through and, once and for all, return to my goal weight. This raises two questions with me: Why am I at a plateau? And how do I push past it?

The Mayo Clinic does a great job of describing this plateau. It happens when your metabolism slows as your body gets used to the new level of reduced calorie intake, something they refer to as a “new equilibrium.”  Unfortunately, there’s really only one way to push past it, according to the Mayo folks: “To lose more weight, you need to increase activity or decrease the calories you eat. Using the same approach that worked initially may maintain your weight loss, but it won’t lead to more weight loss.” Translation: losing 12 more pounds is going to be hard work. 

Luckily, there is by far more helpful advice on this topic than for any other I have researched for this blog. Let’s check in with Jillian Michaels, weight loss and fitness guru, and the star of the “Biggest Loser.” She thinks the plateau is a myth, so I need to honestly ask myself a few questions. First, am I keeping track of my daily calories? Yes. I’ve been using MyFitnessPal to track everything I eat, as well as all of my exercise. Secondly, am I trying to lose vanity pounds? To answer this question, I need to understand how much of my body is actually fat.

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Previously, I calculated my Body Mass Index (BMI). For my height of five feet, seven inches, a “healthy” BMI is between 18.5 and 25. Checking my current BMI at my weight plateau of 150 pounds, I see I’m in that range, with a BMI of 23.5. However, after reading more about BMI, including this NPR article with 10 reasons why BMI is bogus, I understand that BMI was developed over 100 years ago and is a straight formula based only on height and weight.  It doesn’t really take into account anything important – such as gender, age, or musculature.

Sadly, this means I had to take out my tape measure so that I could estimate my actual body fat. I used this calculator from the U.S. Navy. I took three measurements: my waist at the narrowest point (29 inches), my hips at the widest point (39 inches), and my neck at the narrowest point (13 inches).  This estimates my body fat at 27%. I know that is too high. According to this chart, it’s in the middle of the “average” category for women. I don’t want to be average. I want to break into the top end of the “fitness” category, which is between 21% and 24%. Some of you will, no doubt, debate this. However, my answer to Jillian’s second question is, no, I am not trying to lose vanity pounds.

Given that, I need some solid strategies to lose 12 more pounds to get to my goal weight of 138. Among several other suggestions out there, WebMD has 10 tips for moving beyond the plateau, as do About.com and ActiveBeat.com. I don’t know about you, but 10 things seems like a lot to keep track of. The solution to this, as with all things, is to create a spreadsheet. I tracked the tips from these three sources and found they contained a total of 22 different tips. I was able to scratch off a bunch of these, because I am already doing nine of these things, and, frankly, another five of them just seemed lame.

My analysis left me with eight things to focus on, five of which are diet-related and three about exercise. On the food side, I need to beware of calorie creep, celebratory calories, and restaurant overeating, and try to manage my hunger with low-fat protein and by eating more fruits & veggies. This seems like solid dieting advice. At the same time, I need to add in more exercise, particularly by trying to be more active during the day and by adding strength training.

Like I said, this is going to be hard work. Wish me luck!

Lose Weight, Run Faster

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As you can imagine, taking alcohol off the table is a good first step for both my diet and training goals. I’m encouraged that I lost 6 pounds so quickly and also that I felt great on my 6 mile run earlier today. In this post, I focus on two questions. Exactly how does alcohol impact diet and exercise? And, given my two ambitious goals, where do I start?

This article is a great summary of the detrimental effects consuming alcohol can have to your body and diet. In a nut shell, the human body has trouble processing alcohol, because it contains a bunch of calories with no nutritional value. This can slow your metabolism and contribute to weight gain, not to mention the direct effects of consuming all of those empty calories.

Alcohol also has several negative impacts on athletic performance, such as causing dehydration and reducing performance through lowered glucose production.  This summary article provides more detail on this, as does this one from the Guardian, and this one from Runner’s World; the latter focusing on impacts to running performance. The best one-stop-shop on the range of negative impacts alcohol has on the athlete is this amazing brochure from Princeton, produced by the NCAA.

Given all of this, I’m really happy I don’t have to worry about how drinking wine is going to affect my diet and my marathon training this year. It took just a few additional minutes of research and a lot of common sense to realize that I should lose the weight first and then concentrate on my training.

Exercising certainly can help you to lose weight. But, the reverse is also true. I noticed as I trained for multiple long distance races through the years that it’s a real pain to lug the extra pounds around, literally and figuratively. I also found that when I’m seriously training for half and whole marathons, I tend not to lose weight, because I eat more, both from being hungrier and from feeling I’ve earned it.

Making more progress on losing weight will surely lead to faster running times, and hopefully that marathon PR in July. How much faster should I expect to be? According to Runner’s World, if I lose 10 pounds, I should be able to shave 20 seconds off of my per-mile pace. Other blogs and articles, like Active.com and Livestrong.com, also echo this view. This means I could see an automatic 30 second reduction in my pace, if I lose 15 of my 20 pounds prior to the start of my running season. (I’ll worry about the final 5 pounds later in the year.)

With these multiple inputs and outputs, how am I going to keep it all straight to make sure I actually lose weight? That’s easy. I’m going to use MyFitnessPal to track my calorie consumption and stick to a specific daily calorie target determined by my goals and inputs when I created my account. As I exercise, I also log that into the daily diary and it will allow me to consume more calories.  It’s easy to use and completely free. I use the mobile app version and do most of my tracking on my iPhone. There are a ton of great features, including a prediction when you complete your daily log of what you will weigh in 5 weeks, “if every day were like today.” This is motivational both on good days and bad.

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This month and in March, when push comes to shove, I commit to focusing on my diet first and my training regime second. Hopefully, I’ll get within 5 pounds of my ideal weight by April Fools’ Day, allowing me plenty of time to crank up my training schedule for the race season. If all goes according to plan, I’ll be aided by a 30 second reduction in my average pace from the weight loss alone.

Laying the Foundation

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Now that I have breezed into February without incident and it seems clear that my drinking ban is going to stick, it’s time for me to start focusing on some of the reasons why I began this social experiment in the first place. This month, I want to lay the foundation for achieving two goals, both of which were top contenders for my New Year’s resolution originally and, in my mind, are part of the package.

My theory from the outset was that eliminating alcohol will enable me to finally achieve two important personal goals that I have been thinking about for a while. They are: losing 20 pounds and running a marathon in personal record (PR) time. In this post, I’ll give background on these goals, and in future articles, I will explain my plan for and progress toward achieving them. I have also already thought of several related and interesting research topics that I will explore, as well.

Let’s start with losing weight. No, I don’t think I’m fat. And, yes, if I were destined to remain at my current weight, I would have a happy, healthy, and productive life. However, I used to be much thinner and, with my continued commitment to exercise, I should have a shot at getting back to my “ideal” weight.

I’m not comfortable giving you the exact numbers. But, I will confess that on January 1, 2012, I stepped on the scale at a personal high weight which was 35 pounds higher than my lowest adult weight. The good news is that I’ve already made progress. After going down and then all the way back up again over the course of 2012, I managed to drop seven pounds in 2013. And, I already reported that I’ve lost another six pounds so far this year. For those of you who are having trouble with the math, this means I am down 13 pounds from my highest weight.

My first challenge is deciding on where to set the marker on counting down the 20 pounds. I plugged “what is my ideal weight” into Google and got the most amazingly helpful information from Self, a magazine to which I am often subscribed. The two questions asked by the trusty Ideal Weight Calculator were my gender and my height. I am female and I am 5-feet 7-inches tall. The results?

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Thanks, Self. I already weigh somewhere in this 40 pound range (whew!) and I still remember the one day in my life when I weighed 118 pounds. I was in 8th grade and it was the most dreaded day of the school year, when all the girls had to lineup in alphabetical order to file into the nurse’s office two at a time to get on the scale. I vividly recall the nurse writing what seemed like a very large number onto a little slip of paper that she handed to me: “118.” I assure you, this weight is not remotely plausible or desirable for me as an adult.

Since I’m too lazy to do any measurements to figure out my body mass index, I’m just going to pick the stretch goal of losing 20 pounds this year. It’s near the middle of the range, it’s a weight I would feel very accomplished to achieve again, and it’s about what I weighed in 1999, when I started training for my first marathon. I have 14 pounds to go.

Speaking of marathons, the first one I ran was the Vermont City Marathon in Burlington, in 2000, with my sister-in-law Moira. We crossed the finish line holding hands, with a time of four hours 41 minutes and 41 seconds. I swore I would never run another one. That feeling lasted about five years, and then, in 2006, I attempted Rock-n-Roll Phoenix. At that time, I was a very active member of the Arizona Road Racers, and I had recently achieved my PR half marathon time of one hour 55′ 55″. That’s fast for a recreational runner at my age and level. I was a bit disappointed with my subsequent marathon time of four hours 31′ 10″. Little did I know then that it would remain my PR today.

I’ve only run three marathons since: the Air Force Marathon in 2012, which I ran in about four hours and 45 minutes with a hip injury; Vermont City 2013, which I treated as a training run since it was so early in the season; and the 20th running of the Philadelphia Marathon this past November, which kicked my butt at about mile 18 and took me a few minutes longer than did Air Force the prior year.

I’m already signed up for the Around the Lake Marathon for my birthday and my goal is to do that in under four hours and 30 minutes — a PR! I am filling in my race calendar with a handful of other marathons and half marathons, kicking off my race season with the Run for the Border Half Marathon in late March. Speaking of which, it’s time for me to take advantage of the break in the cold weather and get in a training run right now.