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.

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So Close, I Can Taste It

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Just before I left the office last night, a rush of emotion came over me when I realized that today would be New Year’s Eve and 2014 would soon be a distant memory. Envisioning myself at midnight tonight, I became determined to have a bottle of Dom Perignon to celebrate the successful conclusion of my dry year. Surely, if ever there would be a time to enjoy a bottle of what is widely considered one of the world’s best champagnes, the anniversary of a full year without alcohol would be it.

So, I did a bit of online searching, made several phone calls, and managed to track down the only bottle of Dom Perignon within a 20-mile radius. Luckily, I was able to reserve it and pick it up along my commute home. It turns out that the bottle is from 2003 and is in a gorgeous commemorative box, bringing, perhaps, a bit more value to the $175 price tag that I paid for the bottle. Yes, I know that it’s sort of crazy to spend that much money on one bottle of consumable liquid. However, I deserve it, don’t I?

Dom Perignon

(I was happy to find this bottle of “Dom” on short notice.)

It might be hard for someone to believe me when I say that having this special bottle to celebrate with tonight actually has nothing to do with wanting to drink alcohol again.  Recently, I very happily celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, and my step-daughter’s engagement party and never once thought that these milestone family gatherings would have been enhanced one iota by my drinking alcohol along with everyone else.

The best way to describe my desire to make tonight a once-in-a-lifetime celebration is to say that I am proud of myself. I can’t believe I did it. I launched my resolution and my blog exactly one year ago today, and went from enjoying a few glasses of wine every night and being a fixture at local wine-and-food-paired dinners to going an entire year without drinking alcohol.

Along the way, I lost well over 20 pounds, cut 23 minutes off my best marathon time, and, more importantly, learned a lot about the power of alcohol in our society and about myself. As added bonuses, I took an unforgettable trip to Laos to celebrate my journey and started writing regularly about my parents’ nearly four decades in the Vermont inn-keeping business.

Tonight, I’ll observe the end of a truly incredible 2014 and the promise of the New Year with family and friends over a bottle of something extra special. What happens after that is anyone’s guess. You can be sure, however, that I’ll let you know in future blog posts. Thanks for following – and, Happy 2015!

No Good Reason

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I woke up early the other day thinking about my blog and tried to come up with one good reason why I haven’t posted anything lately. (Can you believe I wrote my last post about this survey of American alcohol consumption habits six weeks ago?) It turns out there isn’t a good reason. All the things that might have caused me to put it aside—like being so close to the end of my resolution that it just seems too boring to acknowledge again; or that winter meant the end of my running season and also the need for training updates; or even the fact I just started a new job, but still had to finish up a few things for my old one—just add up to pure and simple procrastination.

It certainly wasn’t due to a lack of material. Believe it or not, the blog folder on my computer has a file for each of the five weeks I missed. The week of November 16th, I conducted several interviews and started and re-started a piece for the “Vermont Inn-trigue” thread of this blog about the inn’s most loyal guests, a group of hunters who’ve stayed at the inn each and every hunting season for the past 37 years. I interviewed the leader of this group, Tony, multiple times, heard many of his jokes and stories, and took a look at the scrapbook of his group’s many memorable times at the inn.

Tony has stayed at the Combes Family Inn each and every year over its 37 years of operation.

Tony has stayed at the Combes Family Inn each and every year during its 37 years of operation.

Just a few of the snapshot from decades of visits to Vermont and the Combes Family Inn.

Just a few snapshots from the mementos complied over decades of visits to Vermont and the Combes Family Inn.

Tony saw this flyer in 1968 and decided it would be fun to scare up a group to go hunting in Vermont. The farm became the Combes Family Inn in 1978.

Tony saw this flyer in 1968 and decided it would be fun to scare up a group to go hunting in Vermont. The farm became the Combes Family Inn in 1978.

My first interview with the group was over dinner. When one of them asked “What’s for dinner?” my dad replied, “We’re not changing the menu unless you guys change your jokes.”

“You have a better chance of getting hit by lightning,” Tony replied. That evening, with the barbs and jibes getting lobbied back and forth, was not all that different from my first such dinner with them, when I was just 10 years old.

The night before the hunters left, we all watched the Patriots game and I had a chance to ask Tony if it surprised him that he’s been coming to the inn for 37 years in a row. “No it doesn’t,” he answered. “We’re comfortable coming here. When we leave, we’re already looking forward to coming again the next year. God willing, we’ll be coming for many more years.”

Before I knew it, the hunters were gone and I never turned that great material into a coherent article. The following week, I wondered if I should be concerned about my high levels of caffeine consumption. I vowed to research the pros and cons of caffeine and explain why people who stop drinking alcohol often become chronic coffee drinkers. This post would have been like my article about Crystal Light back in January. I found several articles about caffeine consumption, including this general overview, this one about the role coffee may play in helping people abstain from drinking alcohol, and this one citing 10 reasons to quit drinking coffee. I didn’t get very far in my research. However, I did resolve to figure out eventually which was worse, alcohol consumption or caffeine consumption. I’ll let you know when I figure that out.

Several other blog topics presented themselves in late November and early December. I briefly considered breaking with my usual M.O. by writing a political piece about the disheartening state of race relations in our country. Although I quickly ruled that out, I will share one comment that I left on Facebook that sums up my feelings about what transpired in Ferguson: “Mike Brown’s fate was sealed the moment Officer Wilson saw him him as a crazed demon that needed to be killed, rather than a troubled teen who needed to be saved.”

Two weeks ago, I almost opted to write about the end of the federal grant that I was directing and my thoughts about how that experience was personally fulfilling and even life-changing. If you get a chance, flip through “Vermont’s Digital Stories,” the final report for the project. I’m proud of the team’s work to improve lives in Vermont’s flood-damaged communities and remain very grateful to have had a meaningful opportunity to give back to others, after my own speedy recovery from Tropical Storm Irene.

Finally, last week, a friend of mine told me that she had heard an interesting radio segment about the different norms and perceptions for alcohol consumption in various countries. The point was that Americans have the lowest national tolerance (so to speak) for alcohol consumption and consume far less alcohol than most other nations. The differences are particularly acute between the U.S. and Europe, especially Italy and France. With such an interesting and relevant topic, I was certain my blog drought was going to be over. Alas, I couldn’t locate the radio piece my friend had heard. And, although I found a lot of articles about similar topics—such as this one, this one, and this one—the weekend came and went without a post.

So, now you’re all caught up on what I’ve been thinking about the past six weeks. Have a very happy holiday season—I promise to write again very soon. There’s no good reason not to.

A Year’s A Long Time

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I’ve learned a lot these past 10 months as I embraced, resisted, and—all the while—kept my New Year’s resolution not to drink alcohol for one year. If I learned only one thing it’s that a year can seem like a very long time. Sure, it’s 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days, 8,760 hours, 525,600 minutes, and 31,536,000 seconds. More than that, though, it offers a heck of a lot of time in which to change one’s mind. It’s no wonder that, according to one survey, only 8% of people succeed in keeping their resolutions.

No, I’m not thinking of stopping now! I know that, with two months still to go, it might seem a bit premature to have this conversation. It’s just that I’ve been thinking a lot this week about how long a year is and I decided it would be a good blog topic. Besides, (knock on wood) there’s zero chance that I’m going to take a sip of alcohol between now and midnight on New Year’s Eve. So I might as well write about it, while my thoughts are fresh.

The best part about a year being such a long time is that it gives plenty of time to make great personal progress, which in my case included losing 23 pounds and cutting 23 minutes off of my fastest marathon time. It’s also more than long enough to change not only your habits, but also to evolve your personal thinking and perceptions. Even though I have decided that I will drink alcohol again, I’ll never think about it the same way again. Before my dry year, I never fully appreciated how pervasive alcohol is in our society or how damaging it can be. Many of our conventions revolve around alcohol, despite 30% of American adults not drinking at all and another 30% only drinking one alcoholic beverage a week.

Now that I proved I could do it, reached my goal weight, stepped up my running game, and developed this new appreciation for life, I’m basically ready for the year to be over. That’s one of the reasons why I started to think that a year is a long time. The other is that I’ve been giving a lot of thought to whether or not I will commit to another difficult and/or life-changing resolution for next year.

The one I’ve been tossing around all year has been a resolution not to purchase any material objects. With all the time I’ve spent thinking about it and floating it by other people, today was the first time that I Googled it to see if someone else has done it. Of course someone has.  I found this guy, who had a life-altering experience not buying any consumer durables or clothes for several months and made it about six months, before he broke down and bought a new computer (after spilling coffee all over his old one). I also found this family with two young children that stuck to their resolution not to buy anything new for a whole year (they allowed themselves to buy used clothes and other items). There’s even a Wiki article on “How to buy nothing.”

I have two more months to mull it over. I’m just not sure I have it in me to go from one extreme resolution right into another. Maybe 2015 will be a year of just savoring what I achieved in 2014 and enjoying the wonderful life that I have. Or maybe it will be the year that I qualify for the Boston marathon, publish a memoir, and reconnect with a dozen old friends from college. I’m interested to know your thoughts as we approach 2015.

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.