Why Not Try It for One Month?

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Earlier this year, I was talking to someone I had just met and it came up that I had recently lost over 20 pounds. The guy was really excited when he heard this and asked the inevitable question: “How did you do it?” I told him the same thing that I told all of you in this blog post: the foundation was quitting drinking alcohol as my New Year’s resolution.  He didn’t miss a beat before giving me a wide grin and saying: “No, thanks. I don’t need to lose weight that bad.” (In my opinion, he certainly did.)

I have gotten similar responses from more than a few other people. Every time, it saddens me. I was able to lose 20 pounds in a little over three months after quitting drinking. And I want other people who express an interest in losing weight to try it. What does it say about someone if they’re not even willing to consider quitting drinking for 90 days? Perhaps it indicates that these are precisely the people who should be putting alcohol on hiatus.

Don’t get me wrong. I know there are as many ways to lose 20 pounds as there are people who need to lose the weight. But my own experience makes me wish there were more willingness to – just temporarily — change this one thing. It’s true that you have to do a few other things to make real progress. However, quitting alcohol is one of the best starts you can make.

Months ago, I described the many reasons why I felt that cutting out alcohol was the best way for me to kick-start my dieting process in this post. It was, by far, the easiest time I had losing weight. Sometimes I still don’t believe it’s true. However, every time I step on the scale, I see that I have really lost over 20 pounds this year.

It’s not just me. There are also plenty of others who say the same thing. A blogger on a similar journey to my own shares these insights gained from giving up alcohol to lose weight. Also check out this article, this one, and this one from Livestrong. Not to mention these thoughts from a woman who lost 100 pounds and says that giving up alcohol was the most important step for her. It’s no coincidence that the South Beach Diet, one of the most popular and effective diets for more than a decade, bans all alcohol in Phase 1.

If you don’t want to lose weight, ignore this advice. However, if you are one of those people who envies me for having returned to my ideal weight or knows deep down that you would feel much happier and be much healthier if you lost a little weight, try it. Quit drinking for just one month and let me know how it goes.

My sixth month without alcohol is drawing to a close and I certainly wouldn’t trade what I’ve experienced along the way for one sip of anything.

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Will I Drink Again? (cont.)

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My blog post last week generated a lot of comments both in the blogosphere and in real life. It seems my friends are as split as my own mind is on the subject of whether I should drink again when my New Year’s resolution is over.

It seems like those who think I should not drink again are the most adamant. Folks on this side of the ledger point to how much I’ve accomplished in six short months and ask why I would even consider drinking again. A few of these people pointed to the dramatic difference in my physical appearance from the weight loss and another pointed me to my own words in last week’s blog, the part about liking who I am now.

When I was explaining to one of my mother’s good friends how it would be nice to have the option of celebrating special occasions with alcohol, she responded, “Why would you do that? Once you do it for one special occasion, you’ll find a way to make every occasion special.”

A family member even went so far as to imply that it would be a major mistake to go back to drinking alcohol. His words really stuck with me and also got me to thinking that I have really opened a can of worms by asking for feedback on the matter.

Luckily, there are at least an equal number of people lined up on the other side. Another family member suggests that setting boundaries for executing a plan at moderate alcohol consumption would be a great New Year’s resolution for me in 2015. And, certainly my husband and many of my close friends look forward to a day when I will be re-joining them for wine-paired dinners and the like.

It occurs to me now that, whatever I decide, I am certain to disappoint some faction of my followers, many of whom are friends and family. My plan for handling that is to distract them with an even more challenging, more interesting, and more polarizing New Year’s resolution in 2015.

To amuse myself in the interim, I searched for articles by other people who had resolutions similar to mine. I found a former self-described “party girl” who made it through her year and decided not to drink again. Read about her here. Then, there’s this British woman who took her alcohol detox too far and became a recluse and lost most of her friends. She started drinking again. Read an article about her here. And, there’s a sporty guy who quit alcohol for a year to lose weight. He drank after the year was up and then quit again. You can read about him here.

Ultimately, whether or not to drink again is a decision I will make on my own. That said, I love pondering the diverse opinions generated along the way. Please continue to post your views and comments.

Will I Drink Again?

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By far, the question I get most often these days is: “Do you think you will drink again?” This is an interesting progression in people’s reaction to my resolution not to drink alcohol this year. In the beginning, it was: “Do you miss it?” (I answered that question in an early blog post which you can read here.)

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(Above: Me having my last drink, a nice glass of champagne last New Year’s Eve. Was this my last alcoholic beverage, ever?)

Initially, I assumed that I would start drinking again when New Year’s rolled around again. In my mind, I was very clear that I was giving up drinking for one full year and I would start again on January 1, 2015. In fact, I even considered contacting a few different champagne companies to see if any of them would consider sponsoring my New Year’s Eve party.

Now that I have already achieved both my weight loss goal and my marathon PR in just short five months, the question of “will I drink again?” is one that I have started to give a lot more thought. Nearly halfway through my “dry year,” I’m honestly still not sure. There are some pretty good reasons on both sides of the ledger.

3 Reasons to Drink Again:

1. I’ve earned it. I’ve lost more than 30 pounds from my highest point and now weigh my ideal weight for my body frame. Read about how I gained and lost 30 pounds here. Not drinking enabled my weight loss and my weight loss helped my marathon training and propelled me to my fastest marathon time. After all this hard work, haven’t I earned the right to drink wine again (in moderation, at least)?

2. I miss it. Like when I wrote about it earlier this year, there are still times when I miss drinking alcohol. I miss it the most when my husband, Bruce, and I got out for a nice dinner. Great food gets enhanced when it’s accompanied by a great glass of wine. One of the lowest points in this process thus far was when Bruce went to a wine and food-paired dinner without me. I also really crave a beer after a long run or road race. Simply put, there are times when an NA just doesn’t cut it.

3. I’m not an alcoholic. There were times in the past when I was disappointed in myself for drinking too much. And a few occasions when I crossed a line in my consumption. Having alcoholism in my family has always made me hypersensitive to how much I was drinking, and also caused me to worry that I might become an alcoholic. Back in January, I did some research and now feel confident that I am not an alcoholic, nor was I an alcohol abuser. (That post is here.)  

3 Reasons Not to Drink Again:

1. Why go back? This is probably the strongest argument not to drink again, and is one that was raised by my friend, Rose, in response to a very early blog post. A teetotaler herself, Rose asked: “Are you thinking of quitting for good? I mean, after you succeed in losing the weight, and you will, and running so hard that you get your PR, why go back to it?” Considering what not drinking has already enabled me to achieve, why would I go back?

2. I like who I am now. This is really just a continuation of the first reason above. In addition to achieving the goals I set for myself, not drinking has also enabled me to sleep better, given me clearer thinking, and made me a happier person. I just gave up one thing, it was relatively easy to do, and I have gained so much in the bargain. It was a fair trade, wasn’t it?  

3. Moderation is not my strong suit. I seem to have only two speeds: 100 miles per hour and full stop. Luckily, it’s also true that that when I commit to something, I go all in and don’t mess around. (This doesn’t mean that I am always successful.) Suffice it to say that moderation isn’t easy for me. This was why I gave up drinking in the first place, because just cutting back had seemed impossible.

All of the above said, although I am still mulling it over, I’m leaning toward giving moderation a try in 2015.  I think it would be really nice to celebrate all of my 2014 achievements with a glass of kick-ass champagne on New Year’s Eve. And, there’s still plenty of time for me to look for sponsors. Of course, there’s also more than six months for my thinking to evolve even further.

What are your thoughts and predictions about whether or not I should or will drink again when 2015 rolls around?

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.

From the Mailbag 2

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How’s It Going? And, By the Way, What’s a Blog?
The other day, my neighbor asked me: “How’s it going, now that you’re a quarter of the way through?” He was, of course, asking about my resolution not to drink alcohol this year. “Aren’t you following my blog?” I asked in return. “What’s a blog?” he replied.

If you knew my neighbor, you wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear that he didn’t know what a blog was.  After all, his pickup truck is vintage 1980s.  What was surprising, however, was that I had trouble coherently and succinctly summing up how I feel about my resolution thus far. What stumped me is that I didn’t have any expectations going into this. I had made the decision to do it on extremely short notice and just jumped in head first with the resolution and the blog, all at once.

After not making sense for a few seconds, I went into the details about my weight loss so far, my running goals, and so on.  My neighbor interrupted and offered: “So, it’s been positive?” I had no hesitation, saying: “Yes. Yes. Absolutely. It’s very positive. I’m at the point where I’m not sure I will drink again when 2015 rolls around.”

Wow. I didn’t see that coming. Did you?  So, for the curious who’ve asked, here are some other Q’s and A’s related to this project:

How Much Was the Weight Loss From Not Drinking vs. Other Reasons?
The first 8 pounds I lost was solely from not drinking. In the beginning, I purposefully did not want to change anything else, including my diet or exercise routine. Without a purposeful diet, I would not have lost any additional weight.

I lost another 8 pounds (and counting) by sticking maniacally to a daily calorie goal that I track in an app called MyFitnessPal. My daily goal of 1,200 calories allows me to lose 1-1.5 pounds per week.  I input everything I eat into the app. When I exercise, I also input that into that app and earn more calories for that day. If I eat too much, I exercise more.  It’s that simple.  Despite the simplicity, it can be very difficult to be completely honest with yourself about how much you have eaten. But if you honestly use the app every day, it will work.

Not drinking is the single-most important factor in my weight loss, for several reasons. Taking those empty calories off the table has made a tremendous difference. In the past, one glass of wine could lead to another glass and that could lead to eating things I didn’t need to eat. Also, I am now able to exercise at night, something I never could have done after drinking wine at dinner.

What Are the Unexpected Benefits From Not Drinking?
This is a great question.  From a general health standpoint, what I noticed within days is that I was getting better quality sleep and was sleeping through the night much more often than before.  Over time, I also started to feel more mentally alert and more confident. Because not drinking has led to losing weight and allowed more time for reading and writing, I also feel happier and more balanced.

Have You Experienced Clearer Thinking?
Yes. Definitely. It is particularly acute when I am around other people who are drinking. It’s a strange sensation of being very present and keenly aware of what is going on.

What’s Up With that Ideal Weight Calculator?
In my last post, I talked about so-called “ideal weight” and used this calculator to confirm that my weight loss goal was realistic. I received feedback from several guys, all of whom felt the calculator was off for them and seem to be reporting unrealistically low weights. One of them even said it reported his weight from 8th grade as ideal! A few of these guys are very muscular. Therefore, I’d like to recommend that they focus on percentage of body fat, rather than weight. Here’s info from Livestrong about that and here’s a body fat calculator.

Also, I want to caution that research indicates women tend to under-estimate their ideal weight, while men tend to over-estimate it.

Regular followers of my blog may recall that my first “From the Mailbag” post answered several other questions back in late February, including “why did you really start this blog?” Check it out if you haven’t already.

And, please keep the questions coming. I promise to answer each and every one.

Boston Strong

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It was almost exactly a year ago that I heard the first live reports of the Boston Marathon bombing on the radio, while I was driving to a business meeting. Tears immediately welled up in my eyes, when I thought of marathon runners so close to the finish line being cut down in their tracks, unable to finish. And, in watching the televised coverage, I remember relating to the 78 year-old runner who was helped across the finish line right after the bomb went off. I think any runner would say that finishing the race would be a higher personal priority at that moment than worrying about your own injuries. Within 24 hours of the bombing, I knew that I was going to try my best to make it to Boston this year. 

Unfortunately, Plan A of trying to qualify for Boston — or “BQ” as we runners call it — based on my marathon running time didn’t pan out. Although I ran several half marathons and trained quite heavily, it was pretty apparent by late summer that I simply wasn’t capable of running a marathon in less than three hours and 55 minutes. Although I continued training, I also put a lot of effort into Plan B, which was to get to the Boston Marathon with a charity racing team. 

Due to the overwhelming response to the bombing from runners around the world, I wasn’t able to make it onto the charity team I selected either. It was devastating to get an email from the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge that read: “We sincerely regret that we are not able to provide you a Boston ’14 marathon entry.  As much as we would like to accept every applicant, that is simply not possible due to truly overwhelming demand.  Thank you for your patience and understanding throughout this unprecedented situation.”

Why am I telling you this story? Because, I just revived my dream of running the Boston Marathon. Here’s how it happened.

Two months ago, I revealed my two tag-along New Year’s resolutions of losing 20 pounds and running my fastest marathon — called a “PR” for “personal record.” I decided to focus on my diet over the months of February and March, in hopes of losing 15 pounds by that time. The weight loss was expected to help me run faster, when I started by marathon training in April.

When I shared my Quarterly Report post earlier this week on Facebook, something in it caught the eye of my good friend, Lisa.  I should probably explain that Lisa is a REAL marathon runner. She’s in the midst of running her third set of marathons in all 50 states. What Lisa noticed is that I ran my first long-distance race of the season at a 9-minute per mile pace, which is a full minute and a half faster than my pace during my first race last year.  Since Lisa and I already had plans to run the Around the Lake Marathon on my birthday in late July, she suggested that I tweak my goal. Now, with Lisa’s encouragement, instead of just trying to PR at that race, we’re both going to try to BQ!

My best marathon time was at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in Phoenix, back in January, 2006. I ran that in just over four-and-a-half hours.  As I mentioned above, my BQ time is less than four hours. That means I have to cut a half hour off my best time to qualify for Boston.

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(My official race photo when I got my PR at the P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in Phoenix, in January, 2006.)

I’ve started using the Hal Higdon Marathon Intermediate 2 Training Program which is an 18 week program that starts out with a 10-miler on the weekly Sunday long run. It also features three training runs of 20 miles prior to the marathon and strong Saturday runs to achieve a little fatigue during the weekly long runs.  This is more aggressive than the Hal Higdon training plans that I have used in the past. Looking at the races in my area, I adapted Hal’s plan by fitting in some competitive distance runs before my BQ try on July 25th.

It’s my hope that more serious training, combined with my weight loss and increase in overall fitness from not drinking, is going to make a real difference in my marathon performance. This is not going to be easy. But, I’m game to give it one heck of a try.

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(My modification of the “Hal Higdon Intermediate 2 Marathon Training Plan” with race schedule.)