jeudi 26 décembre 2013

Habits of Highly Effective ... Dieters

This is the time of year where guilt and ambition battle it out for supremacy in the coming year. Or, at least the first couple of weeks of January.
Yes, the top New Year's resolution year after year is losing weight. We get a good start, and then life gets in the way. I've been there. A couple of years ago I lost a significant amount of weight. Like everyone else who's been there, it wasn't the first time I had some success losing the weight I wanted (as a former smoker, I also also "quit" many, many times before I actually did quit). But, so far, so good.
At the risk of sounding preachy, I learned a few things in the year I went from 235 pounds to 155, on Weight Watchers. I'm 20 pounds off my goal weight, but this is the first time in my life that I haven't put it all back on (and then some) in the two years since I stopped dieting.
I think that's because, this time, I picked up some good habits.
So, for whatever it is worth, here are a few simple rules I still live by:
1) Travel to the dangerous food. Stay home to go to the gym.
I must confess, I have an advantage over most dieters because I've been a vegan for six years, so I already don't eat a lot of the things that are classic temptations. But the things I can eat without taking a breath include some pretty fatty things: chips, peanuts, pasta, beer. One of the great things about Weight Watchers is that every food has a computed value, so every food is "legal." That means you can indulge -- and are encouraged to as a way of making the diet easier to stick with long term. But one of the great strategies is going out to indulge, so you never have a reason to keep "bad" food in the house. With exercise, it is the same principal in reverse: I do all my formal workout stuff at home, with minimal equipment -- a bicycle trainer, a 30-pound body bar for in-the-saddle weight training, some free weights -- because traveling to a gym means that I won't. I am also fortunate to own a treadmill, acquired 20 years ago during one of my phony self-improvement periods and retained only because these things lose 99% of their value the second they leave the showroom and almost cannot even be thrown away. Oh, the irony ...
2) It's not how you binge. It's how you recover.
Many diets are focus only on effective but short-term strategies to lose weight, which you are then on your own to keep off. About 12 years ago when I was as overweight when I started my last diet program my doctor (who was the definition of rotund) advised me to get on the Atkins diet. It worked fabulously, and I eventually developed a very active lifestyle. I abandoned the diet in 2005 when it stopped working for me (completely changing course from a diet comprised almost entirely of meat and dairy to going vegan) and shortly thereafter gave up on the exercise thing. But with any dieting there is something to be learned from cardio training: It isn't that you get tired, it's how quickly you recover. The eating analogy is starting right over when you have overdone it -- not next Monday, or next month or next year.
3) Do what you can, but don't mistake discomfort for pain.
The U.S. Marines say that pain is weakness leaving the body. Trainers have drilled into me that you need to work as hard as you can without being in pain — and that discomfort isn't pain. Effortlessly fit friends have taught me that if you can't run as far as you want, walking part of the way is the thing do to. The point is to always move forward, and not to let two polar opposite excuses -- doing too little isn't worth it, and doing too much hurts -- get in the way.
4) Obsessively weigh yourself, unless you shouldn't.
The best advice you will usually get is that you shouldn't weigh yourself every day. One of the core rituals of Weight Watchers is a weekly weigh-in. The semi-public nature of this (only you and the intake person knows the number) is one of the single most motivating aspects of the program. But one's weight fluctuates due to forces not entire in one's control, especially for women. Some people would find it discouraging to see evidence of little or no progress on a daily basis — like most sanctioned diets, WW is designed to help you shed about a pound a week. Watching yourself lose one pound over seven days as you're "depriving" yourself can be like watching paint dry, and equally discouraging. But weighing yourself several times a day can be a great way to understand how your body reacts to things -- how much you put on after having a big salad, how much you loose after spinning for 30 minutes, how much you lose from when you go to bed to the moment you wake up, how much the water in your hair adds before you blow-dry your hair (even what a haircut buys you :). Like any data, these numbers are indifferent. If you can be as indifferent, getting that data is a huge motivator. If you can't, then keep it to regular intervals — which might as well be on the morning of that day every week you'd like to take a little break from the regimen.
5) Everything is a game
WW gives you trinkets, and makes you check in. Get it? Exercise is boring, but anything can be made into a game. This works for me, and it's minimalist: I have a playlist of songs, some fast, some slow. It doesn't matter. On my bike+trainer, I spin for one song, sit up and do reps with a body bar for another — various curls, crunches, presses; anything, mixed up, so different parts of the upper body are working while you are still pedaling. I wear a headband over my eyes so I can't look at a clock (see: watching paint dry). If I am having an off day, I listen to my body and cut it down. Or I ...
6) Employ the 2% Solution
It's easy when you are hovering at that pain/discomfort point to simply stop. But you don't have to. Dialing back just a little works wonders. I first learned of this technique during a boot camp class during a time when I actually had a gym membership.The instructor would have us do something ridiculously strenuous for an insane amount of time, and then in between we'd jog or do jumping jacks — and she called this our rest/recovery period in what was essentially interval training.

So, rest/recovery isn't doing nothing. It's doing less. But how much less?

Why, 2% less, of course. I made up that number — make up any number you like. Ease back instead of stopping during an intense moment in your workout. Drop your cadence by 10 or 5 or 20 and listen carefully to your body as it recovers while you are still working out. You will feel the energy coming back, and the discomfort receding, when you make only minor adjustments.

Do you have any tricks or words of wisdom or inspiration to get and stay healthy?
Published in a slightly different form on my personal blog on June 12, 2012.

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