Sunday, May 22, 2016

Five Pounds shy of a One-Pack

I think I'm about 5 pounds above my ideal weight.  5 pounds shy of a "1-pack".  I'm not hoping for a 6-pack.  That takes a different kind of exercise plan than walking in circles around my kitchen just before bed until my Fitbit reaches 10,000 steps.  But a 1-pack would be nice.

One thing that has helped me keep the weight off for the last 3 months, besides the scare I had from my February blood test results, has been my new habit of weighing myself every day.  A few months ago, I read about research that shows the benefits of weighing yourself every day.  Here's a link to an article describing the research:  "Daily Weight May Help Manage Your Weight.  In essence, as long as someone doesn't have an obsessive dieting issue, it seems to help almost anyone to have daily feedback on their weight.

I've found over time that, as long as I weigh myself at the same time each day, my weight rarely changes by more than 1 pound from one day to the next . . .  unless I've been bad.  If I have bread and desert and a sweet cocktail, I might be up 2 pounds from the weight I've maintained for weeks.  Just one day and I'm up 2 pounds!  This motivates me to get my act together.  This is "bad news" that I'm better off hearing ASAP. As long as I weigh myself daily, the problem never gets bad enough for me to need more than 1 day to fix it.  This wouldn't be so easy if I waited a week, gained 5 pounds, and got discouraged.

Over time, I can imagine that I might drop a little below my current weight.  Then my standards will change and I'll expect to be a little lighter than I am today.  Eventually, nothing shy of a 1-pack will do!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Thank God it's diabetes!

Being pre-diabetic would not have been enough.  I've been pre-diabetic before.  It's like having fairly high blood pressure, fairly high cholesterol, or being overweight but not obese.  Concerning but not very motivating.  There's no chance that I'm getting off the couch because I'm "borderline" diabetic.

But the numbers from my blood draw in February weren't "borderline".  My doctor told me that a glucose level of 135 is solidly diabetic.  My triglycerides and cholesterol were off the charts too.  Doctor said, "Most doctors would put you on medications right now, but how about a 3 month lifestyle challenge?  Change your eating habits and exercise.  Then 3 months from today, on May 6th, 2016, we'll draw more blood.  After we analyze the results, we'll decide how much medication you will need."

I agreed.  I was weirdly excited about the bad health news.  I'd tried and failed so often to motivate myself to make a lasting change in my eating habits.  This time, I knew things would be different.  I really don't want to give myself insulin shots.  I want to be around helping my family rather forcing them to help me.  I was excited because I was sure that--at worst--I'd lose weight.  At best, I'd also improve my blood test results and would learn both intellectually and emotionally the connection between what I do and the numbers that I get back from the lab.

It wasn't hard at all, given my fear of full fledged diabetes, to immediately swear off starches, crackers, chips, sweets, pasta, and bread.  I didn't restrict fruits or veggies or cheese.  I didn't ban red meat. There is no life without bacon.  But I ate a lot more chicken and fish and less steak, pork and eggs.  I didn't become an exercise freak, but 95% of the time I made sure I got 10,000 steps on my Fitbit, even if I had to do dozens of laps around the island in the kitchen just before going to bed.  My diet and my exercise allowed me to lose 12 pounds and gave me hope that I'd get good news after my May 6th blood draw.

D-day was today, May 16th.  The blood test results were back.  I went to my doctor's office to talk about the results.  I tried to lower my expectations.  "If nothing else--if my results are bad and I still need statins and insulin--it's got to be good that I lost 12 pounds.  Maybe I can have lower doses for my new meds!"

Fortunately, my doctor had good news.  My glucose level had dropped from 135 in February to 99 in May!  That isn't even pre-diabetic!  Triglycerides dropped from 250 to 120!  No new meds and my doctor said something I never expected to come out of her mouth:  "Keep doing what you've been doing."

So tonight I'm blog-bragging, celebrating, and having (just one) high glucose cocktail!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Ask and you shall . . .

If I had to summarize in just a few words the classic book on networking, Never Eat Alone, by Keith Ferrazzi, I would say, "Offer help and ask for help."  Both are hard to do for many people, including me.  I often limit the help I offer others because I don't want to miss my own commitments and priorities.  I also limit how often I ask for help because asking for help sometimes feels like I'm trying to get others to do my work.  It feels like I'm being lazy or taking a shortcut.

But my reluctance disappears when dealing with family.  My best "networking" successes have involved my kids.  I can think of three good networking successes involving my oldest son, Mackenzie, including one that happened this week.

  1. When Mackenzie was in high school, he thought he wanted to become a college football scout for the NFL.  I wanted him to find out more about potential careers in sports.  By reaching out to friends, I was able to get him a conference call with a scout for the Buffalo Bills, a conference call with the former Director of Football Operations for the Cincinnati Bengals, and almost got him conference calls with a sports radio announcer at WLW with ESPN commentator Michael Wilbon.
  2. When Mackenzie was looking for a summer internship after his freshman year in college, I wrote to several people in City Hall and got him an interview that led to an internship with Vice Mayor David Mann.
  3. And, three days ago, after Mackenzie decided to apply for the Criminal Law Internship Program (CLIP) in Washington D.C., I contacted every lawyer I know asking for opinions about the program.  One of my friends put me in touch with two attorneys who had several years of experience with the CLIP program.  One of these former CLIP attorneys lives just 3 blocks away from me!  I'm looking forward to finding out the plusses and minuses of this program and passing this on to Mackenzie.  
If only I could learn to be as brazen about asking for help for other things as I am about asking for help for my son!  As long as I'm generous to others in return, my hunch is that the power of networking would live up to all the hype.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Don't be good. Be "good for . . .".

So why did I treat myself to cheesecake the other day after I used the treadmill?  I consumed twice as many calories in that cheesecake as I had burned off on the machine.  The book The Willpower Instinct, by Kelly McGonigal, makes it clear that we often give ourselves "license to sin" after we perceive ourselves to have done good.  She cites many studies in which test subjects were far more likely to lie or cheat or indulge themselves after they do something they perceive as good behavior.

Does this mean I'm doomed?  If I make good choices about exercise, about diet, about helping my family or my community, will I necessarily follow these good choices with bad ones that cancel out whatever I've accomplished?

Not necessarily.  McGonigal says that the key is to stop moralizing your actions.  Get on the treadmill, but stop kidding yourself that you are being "good".  A treadmill is not a path to sainthood.

Most of our daily decisions are neither sinful nor heroic.  They are just either harmful or beneficial.  We choose between a donut and a salad more often than we choose between stealing and charity.  For almost every good choice you make, instead of  thinking that you are "doing good", reflect on what your behavior is "good for".  Think about the benefits to your health, you happiness, your loved ones, society, the environment, or whatever.  This keeps your attention on your goals and values.  It engages and strengthens your prefrontal cortex--the part of your brain that reasons, plans, sets goals, and tracks progress against those goals.

If, instead, you focus on the morality of your good choices, you turn all your attention toward your internal battle between good and evil.  When you think of exercise as being "good", you are emphasizing that part of you would rather sit on the couch and eat cookies.  When you commend yourself for having just one or two drinks in an evening, you are implying that part of you wanted to polish off a six-pack.  When you pat yourself on the back for eating a salad, you are implying that part of you wanted to eat Twinkies.  Your attention turns to your worst impulses and your struggles to overcome those impulses.  Putting all this attention on inner conflict almost guarantees that, after the "good" in you has a small success, you will feel compelled to give the "bad" in you a chance to even the score.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Cheesecake and the Treadmill

Why did I have to start reading a book on willpower now?  Why now?

So I'm reading and blogging about the book The Willpower Instinct, by Kelly McGonigal, and I'm feeling pretty psyched about how I'm suddenly going to eat right, drink in moderation, and exercise like an Olympian.  I just started a business trip in Georgia today.  I use Google Maps to find the fitness room of a hotel I've stayed at 100 times.  I spend 20 minutes on the treadmill, lift a few weights, and I'm feeling unstoppable.  I have dinner and then the waitress says, "Nobody's ordered dessert tonight.  You can't let that happen to me!  You've got to get the chocolate lava cake, the key lime pie, or the cheesecake!"  I order the cheesecake.

Delicious.  But then I go to my room and open The Willpower Instinct,  I'm just starting the chapter "License to Sin".  It's all about how, when we do something we think is good, we give ourselves permission to be bad.  Oops.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Will-power and Won't-power

In her book The Willpower Instinct, Kelly McGonigal describes three aspects of willpower:  willpower, won'tpower, and wantpower.  Willpower involves motivation to DO something, such as get off the couch and exercise.  Won'tpower is the motivation to NOT DO something, such as not having another drink or a cookie.  Wantpower is the motivation to move toward long term goals.  I like McGonigal's threefold view of willpower because it seems that the strategies needed to motivate myself are totally different depending on whether I'm trying to resist ice cream, get on a treadmill, or develop a long term savings plan.

Early in the book, McGonigal describes research relating willpower and meditation.  Studies show that even relatively new meditators gain measurable improvements in attention, self control, self awareness, and even increased gray matter in areas of the brain related to self awareness and self control.  Why?  McGonigal thinks it is because meditation exercises both willpower and won'tpower.

She describes what happens if you sit cross legged and try to focus on your breathing.  Your mind wanders, and you bring it back to the breath.  Wanders again and again and again, dozens of times in a 20 minute session.  Each time you notice this, you redirect your attention to your breath.  You have now exercised willpower several dozen times in 20 minutes.  Being "bad" at meditation might even make it a more effective practice for building willpower.  Meditation also builds won'tpower.  This doesn't work as well if you try to meditate in an Easy Boy recliner.  But if you try to sit still, cross legged, back straight, and head held high, you will probably feel many urges to scratch, fidget, stiffen up, or slouch.  If you resist all these urges and maintain a relaxed, erect posture, the you exercise your won'tpower.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Getting a Gratitude Attitude

Psychologists agree that, if you want to be happier in life, it helps to cultivate a feeling of gratitude. For example, see this video regarding Sony Lyubormirsky's research into the impact on happiness of writing in gratitude journals: Lyubormirsky on You Tube.  One of the surprising things about this research is that writing down what you are grateful for has a much bigger impact on happiness for most people if you only do it once per week versus the group that did it 3 times per week or the control group that didn't do it at all.  Why?  The professor concludes that if you do it too often, it becomes a chore.  You don't feel energized.  

Imagine if there was another way to cultivate gratitude, a method that you could use every day and always feel deep emotional appreciation for the blessings you are counting.  How to do this?  One option is to apply the methods of the ancient Stoics--the Greek and Roman philosophers whose philosophy thrived between 350 BC and 200 AD (Stoicism-Wikipedia).   I recently read "A Guide to the Good Life (the Ancient Art of Stoic Joy)", by William Irvine.  The author is a professor at Wright State University who is convinced that many of the practices of the Stoics can be applied to modern life.  He feels that the common view of Stoics as serious and unemotional is wrong and that they actually had practical advice on how to cultivate deep appreciation every day for what you have.  In other words, the Stoics developed methods to cultivate a gratitude attitude.

Their key method for this is now described as "negative visualization".  Here is a link describing it: negative visualization.  The idea is to recognize that you never know when you could lose something around you that you cherish.  There are no guarantees that your dog will be here tomorrow, or your house, or your family, or your job, or the nice weather outside, or your health, or your life.  The idea isn't to dwell on these thoughts morbidly, just to quickly acknowledge the fact that these things are not necessarily permanent.  This sounds depressing, but the result--according to the Stoics--is great joy.  A few minutes a day of this practice, applied to a few things around you, can cause you to take nothing for granted.  You cherish what could perish, and when you recognize the reality of change and impermanence, you are more likely to care deeply about what you already have.