I Am That Girl Now

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Geekery is fun.

Thanks to being able to bask in the example of other runners and crazy weight-lifting gals, both live (in the case of the running only, granted) and blogwise ::blows kisses at you lovely women::, I've put myself back into slow-improvement mode, determined to start catching up. Hooray for positive role models! I've suddenly got people to emulate and goals in mind beyond "slog through this damn routine again".

When it comes to running, I want to go faster in the 5K-- or at least be able to hang on to that 28:44 without dying from it next time-- and to start building up my distance abilities at some point. (Must ponder how; my running time in the mornings is limited to about 40 minutes.) Weight-wise, I have taken the first step into a larger world: I co-opted my Hub's set of real dumbbells, the kind with plates that you take off and put on. (Sad to say, before this I was just using my wee 5-lb foam-covered girly weights.) I'm determined to move as many exercises onto the 7.5-lb weights as possible this week, and to up the number of sets I do for ab work. If I'm gonna do this, then dammit, I'm gonna stop farting around on it and get some improvement.

For all of this, I built a spreadsheet! Okay, technically I had the spreadsheet built a few weeks ago, and I've been tweaking it a little every once in a while, but this morning I gave it a full makeover. Now I'm not only tracking how many sets I do of each exercise, but how many reps in each set and how much weight. Still tracking distance for the runs; I need to do a little work on adding a column calculating my average pace, but I've got an idea for that. Then I set up an Average section for each exercise.

I've already noticed that I have a distinct slacker pattern on Thursdays. My runs on Thursdays apparently always suck. Mental note: stay aware of this and get the hell over myself on Thursday mornings.

Anyway. Raaaawr! I'm feeling ambitious.

Food-wise, I discovered yesterday that pretty much the only thing keeping my inner Cartman in check was a lack of available funds and the fact that I would have had to go somewhere in order to get the food. When I stupidly lifted my Never Go Into The Employee Kitchen rule yesterday afternoon (a combination of "hey, it's the Day Off" and "hey, I was already in here for the free lunch"... very very stupid), I ended up heading back there on every occasion I could think of yesterday afternoon and eating a LOT of leftover crap.

Stupid. It was my choice, and I made it because the food was free, because it was there on a limited-time basis, because I could justify it via the Day Off, and because I apparently miss the freedom of just cutting loose and running mad. Oh, my God, was I stuffed and ill by the time we went home.

(The new rule: the doorway to the employee kitchen is a mystical gateway that I cannot access alone. Only when I am taken there for meetings or employee gatherings may I enter; otherwise I am barred and forbidden. So just because I've been there once doesn't mean I get to go back. Oy.)

Did that mean I called off the fun for the evening? Nope. We just didn't go out to eat. Apparently my Hub had loaded up on free food himself, so neither of us were hungry. However, once I no longer felt sick, we had a little dinner, and then we decided to go buy some drink mixers (diet soda for me, regular for El Hubbo). It was later than we realized and the little shop around the corner was closed, so we ended up walking all the way down to the grocery store.

Where we promptly purchased soda, a frozen pizza, two pints of Ben & Jerry's, and a bag of those buffalo-wing-flavored pretzel chunks. Definitely cheaper than going out to eat, but... oy. I drank R&DDPs (rum and diet Dr Pepper), ate most of my pint of ice cream, a piece of pizza, and a bunch of the pretzel chunks.

Woke up this morning and thought "Okay, the only way yesterday will improve my lot in life is if I learn lessons from it. Right now the lesson learned is how to deal with the morning after." I went out and grabbed a roll of tape and swathed the pretzel bag and "my" pint of ice cream in tape. I suspect that half the reason I run mad with these things is that I don't get to save them for myself for next week-- what I don't eat, my Hub will. So if I preserve them for myself in such a way that I can't access it during the week between... theoretically, that'll relax that part of my brain. We'll see.

I ate breakfast. I've pretty much eaten nothing since. My body is still stunned and wondering what the hell I did to it yesterday.

On the up side, had a hell of a good run. I'm still not up to busting out 10-minute miles on a regular day, but I figured out a pattern-- kick up the speed by quite a lot in the last minute of every 5-minute chunk, then drop the speed back down for the next four minutes... except that the "slower" speed is faster than the last 4 minutes' worth of "slow". It tricks my mind into believing that I'm going slower than I am, rather than letting me whine about "oh, it's too fast, I can't keep this up for five minutes, go back to the last setting". My mind is a tricky thing; it seems determined to fool me into thinking that I'm more pitiful than I really am. I have to sneak past my own laziness.

I think I can, though. I'm pretty sure I can.

In other news, it looks like my next big project will be getting my work life together. I'm on a slow crawl to get my shit together, both in terms of my lifestyle and of my resume (not to mention my mental approach to work), to move on to a better-paying job. Slowly, slowly putting together a plan to deal with transportation, with education, with how this would affect us in terms of no longer working at the same company, yadda yadda yadda. There are a million things I want to be comfortable with before I start looking. It's going, though.

Cut for length-- click to read more.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Whoa. Good thing today was the Day Off.

As my Hub would say: "Six words: Free. Lunch. On. The. Company. Nickle."


Oh my. I'm stuffed now. Must relocate my good sense to do battle with the Inner Cartman, who thinks that now would be a good time to go buy cookies since we're clearly off-track anyway because of that giant lunch...

Cut for length-- click to read more.

Conversations with my Inner Cartman.

For yet another week, I've hit the exact same spot on the ol' scale: 125.5. Wow. This never happens. I'm used to fluctuation; hitting the same number week after week is just bizarre.

I nearly crashed and burned yesterday and it was all my own fault. First of all, I hadn't slept well, or long enough. Then I started wondering yesterday afternoon what I should do for my "free day"-- where we should go for dinner. The problem here is that when we're busily paying off credit cards (go DOWN, stupid balance, go DOWN), as we are now, we need to eat cheap if we go out-- and most cheap stuff, I find, is no longer agreeable to my palate. Limp, soggy, greasy, tasteless pizza. Dry, brittle pastry. Greasy noodles. Blah fries. Dry meats with nasty sauce on top. Everything out there seems oversalted, overgreased, underflavored, and generally nasty... which makes the stuff we make at home seem heavenly by comparison. Apparently our plan to make healthy food more appealing than the bad stuff has succeeded beyond my wildest dreams.

(My Hub currently has some lean pork chops brining. If you don't brine your pork, you totally should; the modern American hog is so lean that it has a tendency to dry out when cooked. Brining sucks more moisture into the cellular structure and adds bonus flavor without added calories-- and that means you won't feel the need for added calorie-laden shit on top. We learned this from watching Good Eats. If you don't watch Good Eats, you should, because Alton Brown is the dorky geek god of cooking shows.)

Anyway, in an effort to seek out something I'd actually want to splurge on, I spent far too much time yesterday afternoon investigating quality restaurants with prix fixe menus or deals that you can get before such-and-such time. Sadly, this coincided with both a) me being ravenously hungry and b) my Hub being too tired to make dinner. We got home, and there was a long delay, and then he fell asleep watching TV, and I thought "well, fuck this, I'll make something" and ventured into the kitchen.

And then the fun began.

I was starving. I was tired. I was resentful that I had to make dinner when I was starving and tired.

I grabbed leftovers out of the refrigerator to combine with new stuff. I developed a plan: brown up the leftover ground turkey, chop up the leftover pork tenderloin and throw that in, too (there was only about a serving of each left), steam the pound of asparagus, chop up some scallions and half a Granny Smith apple, throw it all in a pan with the leftover whole wheat pasta, and after heating it all, put it in two bowls and sprinkle on some crumbled gorgonzola. Voila, dinner.

For the record: in spite of being a recipe I pulled completely out of my ass, this was a DAMN FINE recipe. It worked very well and we both loved it. (Next time perhaps a small amount of olive oil or some other kind of binder to pull it all together, but really? it was DAMN FINE.) I have, after all this time, managed to learn how to cook, to do so on the fly, using in-house ingredients, and to do so in a healthy and tasty manner. Took two years, but I seem to have some idea of what I'm doing now.

However. I was ravenous. I was tired. And I kept picking at the leftover pasta because, dudes, I was HUNGRAAAAAY. Before I knew it, there was only one serving left. Son of a bitch, I had to make MORE. Which meant that the whole thing took longer, which meant that I kept picking at the chopped-up pork tenderloin and steamed asparagus and crumbled gorgonzola. So by the time I finally served dinner (to my Hub's rave reviews, hooray!), I'd already eaten a whole serving's worth of the stuff and then I ate dinner, too. I didn't dare go back into the kitchen, so when I realized I hadn't gotten my water to drink with my meal-- well, too bad, no water.

Yippee skippy, I gave myself heartburn. I spent the rest of the night fending off my Inner Cartman's insistance that we were close enough to the Day Off to go ahead and keep eating. It went something like this:

Cartman: You know, tomorrow is our Day Off. Tomorrow is practically the same thing as today, just starting early.

Me: It is not. Besides, we have to weigh in tomorrow morning, and I don't want it to be skewed because I'm still trying to see if this Day Off phenomenon is okay or if it's going to start fucking things up.

Cartman: It's probably already skewed because of that double-dose of dinner. Might as well get some popcorn. Or peanut butter. Or put the peanut butter ON the popcorn! Or go get ice cream!

Me: Shut up, Cartman.

(Yes, it's terribly insane for me to be having this conversation with myself, but it really does put the I Want Everything, Totally Extremist Crazy-Ass MoFo id into perspective when I call it Cartman. Besides, that means that I get to say "Shut up, Cartman" in the Kyle voice, and that's fun.)

I compensated by giving myself slack on my other goals for the night-- no, I didn't drink that water, no, I didn't brush my teeth after dinner, no, I didn't write a thank-you card, no, I didn't write for five minutes. I curled up under a blanket and fell asleep. Then I got up and changed into my pajamas and my Hub tucked me into bed and that was it for the night.

Got up this morning, weighed in, still at goal. And welcome to the Day Off!

The problem with the Day Off is that I just don't do things by halves. So when I woke up this morning, there was all sorts of chatter coming from the Inner Cartman about what glorious things could be done with this window of opportunity.

Cartman: We could get one of those muffins for breakfast. And a Starbucks mocha latte. Or McDonald's!

Me: We're not getting McDonald's, that shit is nasty.

Cartman: Okay, but the muffin, right? Something sweet. We could wait until we're at work, and then go to the lobby and get a muffin. Or one of those brownies from the cafeteria! Or, hey, okay, this would be great-- seriously, we should go to the drugstore, like we used to, and get a carton of Ben & Jerry's, because it totally wasn't fair that we always have to share 'em with the Hub. We totally deserve our own. Or chips! We haven't had Doritos in AGES!

Me: I don't like Doritos anymore, dumbass.

Cartman: Right, that's cool, the Ben & Jerry's would be good. Just take it back to the office and we could close the door and eat the whole thing. Sweeeeeet. Or candy! One of those bags of candy, remember, we used to do that--

Me: I don't have the money for this. We're on a budget.

Cartman: That's cool, smaller scale is cool. You got change, right? And there's like two buck's worth of change left over from doing laundry. You know how much vending-machine candy we could get with that?

Me: Okay, fine, I will put the change in my bag. Now shut the hell up, there's nothing we can do until work anyway.

My legs, by the way, are tired. Three days in a row of running, a lot of walking, and all of it with me trying to walk properly for a change... then add on quads-and-hamstrings strength training and yoga this morning, and they're not necessarily sore, but boy, are my legs tired of working. That's another bit of danger, right there: I get tired of my usual stuff, and I start feeling entitled to treats.

Got to work.


Me: I know we're hungry, but we're hungry every day. Look, we're gonna eat the apple first, okay?

Cartman: Fine, but then candy.

Me: Actually, I think I'm going to go get some water.

Cartman: Okay, but then CANDY.

Me: We'll drink the water first. And hey, while we're doing that, I think we should check in on everyone's blogs.

Cartman: Yeah, but...

Me: Just a minute, seriously. Oh, hell, the pedometer didn't even get to 3,000 steps this morning. We gotta catch up. How about we hold off on the candy until after we get past 5K, hmm? It'll be like a reward. Besides, we're not really hungry anymore because of the apple and the water.

Cartman: But we have the change! The vending machine is right there! Come on, dammit, we deserve it! It's the Day Off! CANDAAAAAAAAYYY!

Me: You know, I'm remembering now that you were like this the day that the Hub stayed home from work, and I decided not to listen to you and I did just fine. And since we're not hungry anymore, and we've got the water and the steppin' going, and reading people's blogs and all... I'm kind of feeling in a groove here. I don't really feel like the candy thing now, okay?


Me: Fuck off, okay? I've got some work to do.

So. So far, so good. Back in a groove. I may or may not have a candy bar this afternoon. At this rate, probably not. That's cool. Dinner will be interesting, and that's good. I am going to RELAX, dammit, and get some work done, and stop obsessing on food and talking to myself.

Cut for length-- click to read more.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Must tone down the missionary zeal.

I've been drinking too much water. It's turned into something I automatically do in order to relieve the constant back-of-the-throat sinus drainage from allergies-- grab a gulp of water. The medicine makes me feel a bit dry, too, so there's more water. Before I know it I've gone through almost 100 ounces in a day, 80 ounces at the office alone, and folks? That's just too much water. I know this because my bladder told me so, four times last night.

I was so pumped from the run last night that I didn't go to bed at 9:30. Which is theoretically okay, since I said I'd just shoot for getting to bed early three nights a week... but the thing is, I needed it, and should have. My brain shut off around 9:45 and bedtime-- actual sleeping bedtime, which didn't coincide with getting-into-bed time for various reasons-- didn't happen until around 11 PM. And then there was all the getting up to pee, so I really didn't sleep a lot.

I've been smashingly reminded this morning of just why I a) started this blog and b) went out into the world o' other runners. Because when I get excited about something, I want to share. And when I share to my other friends, I get nothing back. The blank "okay, whatever" stare, or the brief, bland encouragement before swiftly moving on to other matters that they actually want to talk about, or a downright uncomfortable reaction. I'm trying to tap an empty well; why do I keep doing that? Why even mention this stuff?

It frustrates me. It frustrates me a lot. It makes me feel oddly rejected even though I know that it's not about me, it's just-- for lack of a better way to put it-- I've suddenly gotten enthusiastic about a different fandom that they don't understand. I guess I'm just in a period of mourning now, mourning that I don't get to have my old tried-and-true companions along for the ride on this one, too, that I won't get to pick their brains and bounce ideas off them, that (as usual per: the things I mourn) I have to get used to a whole new thing. In this case, that means new people. Including you guys-- whom I am so grateful for now, I can't tell you. ::hugs everyone::

I guess it's just baffling me. Because there's so much that they match up with me on-- same politics, a lot of the same TV enthusiasms, a lot of the same taste in books and computer geekiness, and a lot of them are even doing the healthy-eating thing so we can talk shop about that. It seems that it never occurred to me, deep down, that I'd end up having this big thing that I couldn't share about. Every time I think I'm out of denial about that, something happens to make me realize that I'd drifted back into my optimistic default-setting and no, get over it, they still don't care and will only comment to be polite. Sigh.

Part of it may be that missionary-type zeal that people get when they're involved in something that's changed their life and that they feel could have great benefits for their friends and family and whatnot. Reminder to self: missionary zeal is highly annoying because life-changing involvements are something that each person must choose for themselves, without being pushed. I don't mean to lean that way, but when I was bitching about this in my head earlier the words "but they SHOULD care about it!" popped up, which bodes ill for what kind of attitude I was showing. Depending on the audience, an enthusiastic preacher could either be preachin' to the choir, standing on the street corner with a bottle of olive oil, incomprehensible sign, and a bullhorn to babble into (I have indeed seen this, and he's my favorite random Chicago street preacher by far), or something between the two extremes. I'm nervous that I may have ventured into bullhorn territory. Oops.

So, okay. I'll keep it here. They get most of me, but my health & fitness quest will remain with you guys. I'll manage to stop pouting over it eventually.

Cut for length-- click to read more.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Fun run was FUN!

I have to admit, I didn't feel like going. I dragged ass on the way home from work, and all I could think was "dammit, I did yoga and strength training this morning and I've got 16,000 steps on my pedometer; why am I doing this for fun?"

Once in the apartment, I got into my running clothes, which actually helped a lot-- the same way that I feel more official if I'm wearing a suit and pantyhose and heels. Ate a really light dinner. Hugged my Hub, who had informed me that if I didn't go willingly he would march me over there himself (he knows me well; I always do fine once I'm started, but new things freak me out). Marched myself out the door and walked to Lincoln Square.

I was shy and scared and hung out in the background. Ended up with four other women doing the three-mile run; fell into conversation with the slowest, who, it turned out, hadn't run this far before EVER-- but was training for a triathalon. All of those women were, actually. Most of them had done them before. Oh, and one was a trainer for the others.

A moment, if you please, for the mental whiplash of this experience. Within five minutes I went from being the only person I knew in Chicago who ran... to being part of a group of runners in which I was the only one not training for a freakin' triathalon. Holy crap.

Slow run by my standards, with a few stops to walk for the sake of my friend the new runner. Lots of chatter. Some random training from the trainer (for free, in my case, woo!) on how your gait works best-- arm movement, footfall, all sorts of stuff. Very cool.

At that pace, I could've ran twice as far, I think. It was great weather for it, and I was having a fantastic time, talking and running outside not because I was in a race, not trying to work hard, just chatting while doing something that's not particularly hard... seriously, it was the exact same social atmosphere as a game of cards. Just on foot, and without beer and snacks, and without cards. Heh.

FANTASTIC. I ended up chatting afterward with a woman who runs marathons; she was amazed that nobody I know in town runs, while I was amazed that nearly everyone she knows runs. And yet-- no questions asked.

Even weirder, my first-time-running-this-far buddy, L., said that she expected from looking at me that I was one of those naturally athletic skinny women who could speed along without apparent effort. At this point I think my brain exploded. Me? Egad. Apparently I'll fit in with this a lot better than I thought.

I'm going back next week. Just try and stop me. Oh my God, this was GREAT. If this is how this is going to work, I'll end up running twice as far by the end of the summer. I could actually end up being able to run a 10K! Hell, even better, it looks like my crazy plan is going to work-- I already feel ten times more normal. I'm not the only person who does this. It's one thing to know it in theory, or to read people's blogs where they're tracking their fitness, but in person, IN PERSON, it's just a whole new thing.

So pumped. Must shower. I stink.

Cut for length-- click to read more.

For those of you wondering, I run the Gold Star meter through Quitmeter.com, with some tweaking of the .html code they gave me to post it with. Things that vary from person to person are posted in red. If you want to use the code and need help, give me a yell.

[IMG BORDER="0" SRC="http://www.quitmeter.com/graph.php?Year=2003&Month=10&Day=21&Time=10%3A30%3A00am&Zone=12&Template=ELAPSED+since+I+started+living+healthy.&backgroundcolor=%23CAFAFB&textcolor=%23000000&fontsize=12&fontname=n022003l.pfb&wrapcolumn=0&antialias=16&alignment=left&Transparent="]

Cut for length-- click to read more.

Gold stars

I think I must have grasped the kindergarden version of motivational tracking and never managed to progress past it, because I am tickled pink by my new personal chore chart. I check off whether or not I brushed my teeth after each meal, whether or not I drink water with each meal (a new addition, since I forget for lunch and supper), whether I wash my face before I go to bed (I know, I know), and my bedtime. I added another two columns this morning, to track thank-you cards written (zero, so far) and minutes spent working on my I-have-to-write-this-someday novel every evening. My goal for the day: 1 thank-you card, 5 minutes of writing. Baby steps, ya know.

Tonight I'm going to further motivate myself by building in some totals, so that I can watch the numbers go up. I'm a firm believer in the idea that while intensity varies from day to day, every day that passes is a victory because it's one more day as This Girl. I track that number, actually-- you may notice I've moved my tracker up to the top of the page. It's my big number. It's the one that counts more than anything else. It's the one that always goes up as long as I get back up in the morning and try. Hey, time is on my side. There's my gold star, right where I can see it: 74 weeks, 4 days.

So I'll build in some totals for my new goals. Totals remind me that it's not about what I did yesterday, or what I did this week-- it's about the grand scheme of things. It's about how much I've done that I wouldn't have otherwise done, about what I've accomplished, one day after another, inch by inch, step by step.
Fuck the weight. I know those numbers; I know where I'm trying to keep them. I can't focus on keeping at 125, though, because a lack of motion fails to interest my brain. My brain wants action, motion, momentum. My brain aches to see numbers move. I suspect that half the reason that I habitually fall off the wagon at 125 (and take days to get back on... well, at least it's not weeks anymore) is because once the numbers stop moving, they cease to interest me. My focus needs to be elsewhere.

The reason that gauging success by cumulative totals works for me, I think, is because there's no down side. There's no failure, only days in which less happened than normal. I'm not punished by seeing numbers change in a "bad" direction, so I never have to overcome some kind of shame. Every scrap of work is still progress. I never have to feel like I've lost ground. As methods go for ways to get yourself in a "lifestyle" mindset, this one rules.

I'm going to have to figure out some kind of graph to measure my progress on how fast I run, because I tend to try to improve the numbers entirely too quickly. This means that I go through three or four runs where I'm busting ass, pushing the speed a little further every time because I want to see improvment-- and then, of course, the wheels fall off my wagon because I will have pushed my expectations past what I'm capable of keeping up over the long run. I inevitably end up with a morning where I wake up and it's hell just to get myself on that treadmill, because I can't face working that hard, and so it's back to basics, just get on and walk. I always have to build myself back up to a decent level again.

Anyone wondering why I have such an obsession with the concept of baby steps? Yeah. It's because I am a raving lunatic who takes an idea and runs it into the ground, over and over and over again. I lack an innate concept of moderation: I have to learn it anew on every single damn subject. This sucks. I've concluded that it's just the way my brain works (at least for now... if I ever track down the control panel for that section of my brain, y'all will be the first to know), and until any fix comes in for it, I'll just have to take that into account and build habits and tweak my life and whatnot to hold these runaway tendencies in check.

The hardest part is holding it to baby steps. It's so very, very hard to give myself a gold star for doing five minutes of writing when I have this idea in my head that I should be doing HOURS of writing. (At least an hour. I'd be willing to go down to ten minutes, come on, that's at least double digits!) But since right now I'm doing nothing at all, and since my brain's "but I'm too tiiiiiired!" response kicks in at the 10-minute level, the goal has to be five minutes. If that doesn't work tonight, the new goal will be two minutes. Hell, if going down to the "tonight, you will get a gold star for merely opening up the Word file and staring at it" level is what it takes to get me inching up, then that is what it takes. And I will content myself with that, because I don't want to have to gear myself up every night to do this huge thing, I want to have a habit that will give me results over time. Accumulation will outdo bursts of activity every time, and habit will get me there.

I know it'll work. I just have to do it tonight. And tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that.

Cut for length-- click to read more.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Warning: behavior mods can be addictive

Last night was such a good idea, all around, and I'm proud of it.

It turns out that my Hub is not as dead broke as he thought he was, and to celebrate this fact (and deal with our twinned exhaustion), he bought us dinner. Mine was two rolls of mediocre sushi that we picked up on the way to the El; his was a calzone, as per usual. I made myself a wacky-ass dessert-- fried banana (next time, broiled banana, as frying it without oil means that it fuses to the pan and must be scraped off), topped with homemade peanut-butter sauce.

I ate dessert first, for no particular reason other than I wanted to make it immediately and see if it worked, and then I wanted to eat it before it got cold. It wasn't bad, by the way; I could have used half the peanut sauce, easy, because the banana gets mushy and sweet enough on its own. I ate the mediocre sushi second, put down the chopsticks, got up and went immediately to brush my teeth, signaling the end of my food for the evening. Done.

I poked around on the internet for a while, but eventually the aching white noise of exhaustion overtook me and I curled up on the couch under a blanket, only vaguely listening to the TV in the background. I think I ended up sleeping for two hours, one of those hammer-hit sleeps where I come up for air every twenty minutes or so go think "Guh..." and register the existance of the universe for a moment before I go under again. Around 9:30 PM, I came up for air, noticed the time, kissed my Hub good night and stumbled off to bed. He came in a moment later and did a sweet little ritual of tucking me in and making sure all the alarms were set (I'm certain that, if it had occurred to him, he would have checked under the bed for monsters, too-- he's cute that way), and then he went to finish watching his show before he came to bed.

I created an Excel file to check off my accomplishments, as geeky as that is. I'm actually sitting here and plotting out ways to change the file, and other quick tasks that I could add to it. My one rule that I'm applying is that in this file, everything has to be Things I'm Doing For Myself, because I find that those are the things I get around to last. I can't believe I'm in the position of having to train myself to take care of my own needs, but there you go.

There are some things in life that make me operate better, like regular maintenance does for a car. Eating right; drinking enough water; brushing my teeth; getting regular exercise; getting enough sleep; getting some writing done; getting some introspection time; getting some attention from my boy. If I get these things, I am primed to operate at top efficiency, and anything that messes with me is pretty much by definition beyond my control.

The biggest thing has to be sleep. That's number one, now. If I don't get enough sleep, then I'm too tired to be bothered doing everything else. When I thought about it, the one big reason that I got stuff done in the morning and no other time of the day is because by the time I get home from work, I have no more oomph-- I get grumpy, I put things off, I decide it's not important, anyway. And then I get stressed because I never get anything done, and because I'm so tired and so much is placed on my little shoulders and blah blah pitycakes. End result: nothing gets accomplished and, more often than not, I have yet another reason to go put random placebo-food in my mouth rather than admit that my sleep deficit has fucked me over.

I'm really good at getting stuff done in the mornings, which I suspect is because when I skimp on sleep, my body uses up all the energy on being awake for the first twelve hours and then trails off after that. Mornings are booked solid, though-- I mean, literally, I can't think of a minute in there that isn't busy. Any further projects, self-improvement, and behavior mods will require evening time, and evening time with any energy attached requires more sleep. If I can't manage eight hours of sleep every night, I'll just have to start with three nights a week. It's an improvement.

And you know, I really do want more self-improvement. I want to start taking baby steps toward making my evenings productive in a personal way. Most of all, though, I can't resist another round of behavior mods, because, as Maggie said once, it's just the gamer in me coming out. I'm this way about everything that I get involved in; I just want to fix, and tweak, and level up, and find the right combination of moves that will get me the result I want. It's the same mentality, with the added, intoxicating bonus that the results I get are mine in real life. For a woman who spent most of her teens and early twenties feeling completely out of control of her own life, the discovery that I can reshape myself is amazing. It's like I found this set of magical tools and now I just can't... stop... playing!

I love it. I do. I love that this process has helped me develop a very clear sense of my core self versus the orbital parts-- the things that I can change without affecting who I am. That division isn't where I thought it was, and a lot of things that I thought I was powerless over, or that were too valuable to my sense of self to change... well, they've gotten changed or pitched. I can make myself into whatever I want to be, I can learn to like-- and even prefer-- things that I never liked before, I can teach myself new habits that I'd always assumed were something you either got in childhood or never got at all.

Some of my friends find this obsessive behavior-modding to be very weird. I spend a lot of time checking out the inside of my own head and tinkering with it, like a mechanic tinkering with a car, and they find that to be very weird, too. I just think it's fun, and exhilarating in a way-- I mean, this is some serious power. It's hard to get interested in a video game anymore the way that my own head interests me; sad, but true, I have too many games on my shelf that I've only half-finished.

Re-shaping my body comes in a close third to behavior-modding and head-shrinking; I mean, DUDE, today I half-knelt to pick a piece of paper off the ground and my calves stretched to let me do it, stretched at least an inch further than they could just a month ago! I walk like a normal person now, instead of up on my toes-- I did that, I worked out what muscles had to do different things and where the balance should be and what muscles needed to be stronger and which tendons needed to be more flexible, and I worked to build that flexibility and that strength and I watched other people walk and I built my own gait, dammit. I did that. I lost 60 pounds (and it is 60; I re-lost the 10 that came back in the 3-month chocolate disaster and only fluctuate up and down about 3 pounds' worth these days); I built up my stamina and speed so that I could run 5K in less than 30 minutes; I did yoga three times a week for a solid year to become more flexible than I've been in my entire life. (Now I just gotta catch up on building muscle, and it'll all be good. The Meg Trifecta.)

By those standards, I firmly believe that I will be able to change, diminish, and darn near banish my stupid binge-eating disorder. I CAN. It'll always be lurking, but I have the tools, I have the talent, I'm gonna change the way I deal with things and build a ton of new habits and lock that sucker in a cage so tight that if it ever breaks out you'll KNOW I'm having a bad day.

::thumps fist on desk:: So it is written, so let it be done. Might take years and years, but hey, time passes either way, right?

Cut for length-- click to read more.

Monday, April 25, 2005

New goals.

Okay, weekend over. Brooding over. New game plan.

1. Three days out of every five-day work week, I must be in bed by 9:30 PM.

2. Brush teeth after each meal.
  • Breakfast: that means before strength training-- and since strength training must begin by 5:45 AM in order to be done by 6 or 6:05 (which is as late as I can hustle my buns onto the treadmill or yoga mat and still get done in time to shower and get ready for work properly).

  • Lunch: immediately upon returning to my office, pick up toothbrush and toothpaste and head to the bathroom. Do not pass Go, do not put ass in chair. Grab. Go. Brush.

  • Supper: I don't care if there might be popcorn later. Post-dinner snacks are something to be negotiated on a case-by-case basis; they are not part of dinner and are not to be dealt with as such in the tooth-brushing rulebook. Once the plate is clear, I am to put the plate down, give the Hub a food-scented smooch, and go. brush. the. damn. teeth.

3. Make Excel sheet to track these things, because (yes, I am a geek) Excel sheets have kept me rolling on the 20-minutes-of-strength-training-every-morning thing, so I see no reason that this wouldn't work here, too.

In other news, I kept getting bowled over by my inner Cartman this weekend and it's pissing me off. I'm tired of settling for food, honestly. Fucking placebo. If I want time to myself, or attention, or control, or respect, or cuddling, or a neck rub, or a nap, or to have my opinion heard, then dammit, I deserve to get what I want. I shouldn't think so little of myself that I settle for food (particularly since the food in question, every single time, wasn't even of good enough quality to merit a comparison with what I really wanted).

I always find my inner Cartman explaining that I deserve to have these foods. My inner Cartman is a big fat liar-- I deserve better than those foods. I've been settling for a cheap substitute, falling for a bait-and-switch, and out of what? Fear? Laziness? Low self-esteem? This is it, I think, this is the thing at the heart of this stupid eating disorder of mine: being able to diagnose what I really want or need, and being able to act to get those things that will truly satisfy me.

It's dealing with other people that's my downfall, I think. I need to learn basic life skills that my parents-- passive-aggressive types, both of them-- never taught me. How to ask for things. How to stand up for myself. How to respect my own needs, where time and attention are concerned, so that I can likewise respect my needs where nutrition and exercise are concerned. I am not going to be supplied these things automatically, because the first person in charge of me is me and everyone else assumes that I can take care of those things for myself.

I need a plan to learn these things. I gotta think about this.

Cut for length-- click to read more.

At least I'm not nauseous anymore

The good news: official chip-timed results are up on the race website. 28:44. #798 out of 1406 participants, #278 out of 687 women, 82nd out of 168 in my division (which appears to be females between 25 and 30 years old). So I'm pretty well average. My pace, they tell me, was 9:15. Not bad.

Also good: it turns out that when you log miles at the all-girls fun run at the local runner's shop, week after week, you're working toward free gear. After 50 miles I get a short sleeve Nike Chicks Dri-Fit shirt. Dude.

The bad news: Oh, my God, I'm so sore. My legs are screaming. I'm fairly chipper about that, as such things go; battle scars are made to be flaunted, and all that. Problem is, I woke up with a headache, a stiff neck, and nausea. Between all that, the DOMS, and the are you shitting me? Monday already? but I had to get up early both days this weekend and I never got a minute to myself! resentment settling in, exercise this morning was rough. It's just not a good sign when I start sniveling and whimpering in the middle of the Salutation to the Sun. Bad yoga day. Very bad.

I'm so tired. How I'm going to get through today, I don't know.

Yesterday I had to get groceries before we did laundry, so I walked out to the store (we have no car) and lugged the groceries home. My Hub called me on my cell phone when I was just getting out the door-- he had been taking a nap when I left, since he insists on staying up until all hours of the morning even when he knows he'll have to get up early the next day-- and I was so stressed out and miserable that I snapped at him and then damn near cried on the phone. Next thing I knew, he walked out to meet me halfway home and take the grocery bags from me (oh, my sweet boy), got me home, gathered me up on his lap and let me cry all over him, and then rubbed my back. I felt better after that, but we still had to go do laundry (a huge, horrible amount of laundry). Aaaargh.

The same thing happens every time I seriously book my weekends like that: I get stressed and angry. My Hub has gotten to the point where he can predict an impending breakdown just based on my feeding patterns (which really ought to say something to me about my lack of instant success in fixing my eat-to-fix-stress reaction-- my inner Cartman ran the show this weekend), and on Sunday morning he was predicting a big explosion. Which, pretty much, was what happened with the post-grocery weepfest.

I hate being overbooked. Really, Sunday itself wasn't so bad, it was mostly just a reaction from Saturday and pure hateful resentment that I hadn't had two days to deal with the various things that we have to do on the weekend... plus the race. Saturday, I got up at 5:20 AM and exercised and then went through the long process of rousing my Hub out of bed and getting him moving, and then we helped our darling friend move, and then we came back so that my Hub could take a nap (really, if my husband could get it into his head that he really needs to go to bed earlier in order to get enough sleep before the alarm goes off, life would be drastically simpler), and then we ran off across town to go to another friend's party, which my Hub promised we "wouldn't stay that long" at...

And really, things were okay up until that point. Nothing had really happened that I hadn't already scheduled into my little mental planner. I was tired, but there was the promise of a nap in the near future, and so I just had to ride out the next few hours and it would all be okay.

Except that then my Hub invited another friend, also in attendance at the party, back to our place. And so, instead of having a quiet evening to ourselves in which I could pass out and not have to use my poor tired brain to be sociable, I got four extra hours of Friend Time. This went on, literally, until I fell asleep-- I tried very hard to stay awake but the body needs what the body needs, and I passed out while sitting on the couch. I'm not a good host, really. This alerted my Hub and our friend that oh, possibly it was time for social hour to end. (Gee, really? Did I mention that I have a race that starts at eight in the damn morning?)

Add in the fact that having our friend over meant ordering out for food, rather than cooking, which means that now my Hub is stone broke for the week, which means that now all the incidental household expenses fall to me until Friday, and... yeah. Pretty much, that's where the wheels came off my mental health wagon.

I think I need to learn two lessons from this. First of all, when the weekend is already jam-packed, I am never to assume that I will be "okay" with adding just one more thing. It never works. Never. Ever.

Secondly, I still have to work on this stupid assumption I have that it is somehow more important, even when exhausted and already put-upon, to go the extra mile for our friends. I can't. Some days-- many days-- I just can't. And what happens every time is that I say "sure" and then I resent the hell out of it, but feel like I can't go back on my word and so I suffer through it and then I'm completely fucked. It happens every damn time and I just have to learn to say no. "No, we can't have people over, I'm in desperate need of down-time before the race in the morning." Period. What is wrong with me that I can't learn to do that?

You know what else? I can track that nightmare from Sunday morning straight back to dealing with our friends at that party. They figured out I was tired, and I explained why I was tired, and from some people (including, bless them, the hosts of the shindig) that garnered a certain amount of respect. Not so from others, one of whom cracked wise in a snarky voice, "Well, why don't you just dance around for a while? You said you take dance breaks to stay awake at work, so just do that." Another found this amusing and added "Yes... DANCE FOR US!"

I felt instantly deflated and diminished from that. Yeah, it's a dumb trick that I do at work: when the afternoon sleepies hit, I shut the door and dance around like a maniac to get my blood up. I told people about this because it struck me as a good solution (and because certain friends who claim they have no time for exercise needed an example of what could be done). I feel pretty vulnerable when I share my dumb tricks with my friends, since they're all older than I am and (in spite of the fact that they don't think they do this) they tend to treat me like a kid. So having this one bandied about like that when I was already tired and not really up to defending myself... well, it made me feel small, like they were holding my ideas up for ridicule.

In both of the things that really bothered me this weekend, I seem to suffer from not instantly knowing how to react. I can never tell if I'm overreacting or not, and I never want to overreact out loud if I can help it, so generally I just let these things pass. Then, of course, I take it out on myself by jacking up my frustration levels and making myself crazy. Sigh.

Now, I have to figure out how to keep myself awake. I can't fall asleep at my desk... and yet I've been on the verge of doing just that, all morning. God help me, I'll probably have to bounce around to try to get my blood moving.

Cut for length-- click to read more.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Quads, meet DOMS. DOMS, meet my quads.

Okay, I love my darling friend who moved in with his BF yesterday, and I owe him so much that I'd move his stuff anywhere on my back, but oh how I wish he hadn't got the keys to the new place until next week. Because going up and down two flights of stairs on one end of the move, then up and down THREE flights of stairs on the other end (and, because I was kind of showing off, running up and down those flights of stairs when the stuff I was hauling wasn't too heavy), the day before a 5K when I was trying out-- as much as I could-- my new stride configuration? This was not smart.

Oh, my quads. Oh, my aching quads. Oh, my aching other muscles in my legs which I do not know the names of. I had a frightening moment when I was stretching before the race when one of the funny muscles up near the very tops of my legs sort of buckled on me-- a "oh no, we're not leaning over that way today, no thank you" moment. They seem okay nonetheless.

I've decided something. Yesterday I was the only girl helping on the move and so I was the one hauling the little things, even though none of the guys ever see the inside of a gym. And you know... dammit, I'm tired of that. I'm tired of not having a strong enough grip and enough upper body strength to be the moving-day equal of an average gymless guy. I'm getting faster and more flexible; now it's time to really start looking into how to get strong.

I don't think I can afford an actual gym membership. Okay, let me rephrase that: I can't afford my dream gym membership, in which I would get access to the amazing unbelievable gorgeous phenomenal gym that's directly next door to our office building. Or rather, I could, if I pinched, afford membership there, but there are a lot of summer things that are coming up that I want to do-- kayaking, swimming, more races, and possibly some martial arts classes. Can't afford that and the fantastic gym. Dammit. Maybe this winter, since (thank God) it's a month-to-month membership, and that would mean I could try some climbing classes and other random cool things to keep me interested during the long dark cold months.

In the meantime, though, that means that any strength training I do is gonna be on my own, at home. Oh boy. Here's hoping that actually keeping track of my sets and which dumbbells I'm using will help. Here's also hoping that I will not be laughed off the internet for not knowing what the hell I'm going. (Seriously, I'm not being a dumbass on purpose; any guidance would be deeply appreciated.)

I got hit with another wave of "oh GOD I wish I had running buddies" today during the race. Because, damn, I was bored. No music (the reason I am considering an iPod Shuffle is because right now I've got nothin' at all), no buddy, and I'm well acquainted with the route; I was reduced to listening to the two women nearest to me chatting about equity rates. My brain gets tired a lot faster than my body does, I've noticed; while my body can keep chugging away, my brain gets tired of doing the same ol', same ol', and starts to make up fake aches and pains and exhaustion just to entertain itself. Distraction will be key for the next race; if I can get myself a badassed soundtrack for the race, I might well get up to an eight-minute mile. (One out of three, maybe. For starters.)

I went into that race in a bad way, though. I woke up this morning in the middle of a nightmare in which I was wrong about everything and continually shamed in front of everyone else. Not a good dream-hangover to have when it's race time; I always feel vaguely like a poser when I'm waiting to run, like I'm inches away from being exposed as a fake, like the second I start moving I'll turn back into a pumpkin-- or, rather, back into the fat unathletic girl who never ran a step in her life. That girl isn't far under the surface, then; hell, I think the reason I run these races is for that moment, so I can summon her up, grab her shoulders, force her to look at what's happening, and say See? This is what we are now, this is what we do-- we run, we race, so will you please catch up and get with the program and join me in the present? Will you please stop making me feel fat and ashamed and inferior? Dammit, look at this! Look at what we can do!

It doesn't take, but it does make the spectre fade for a while. Buys me a little time. I keep thinking that maybe one of these times it'll be enough, and I'll be able to relax-- to just be the new me without worrying all the time about the whole thing unravelling. It won't happen, I know, but I can't help trying anyway.

Gotta find a race for May.

Cut for length-- click to read more.

Results from this morning's 5K:

29:10. Actually, I think it might be almost a minute less, because
there was a huge bottleneck at the starting line as everyone tried to go through at the same time. We'll see tomorrow-- I was wearing one of those nifty tracking chips.

But DUDE. My last 5K, my fastest yet, had me at just about 30 minutes. My fastest pace: 10-minute miles. I was cranking out 9-minute miles this time. NINE MINUTE MILES! Oh, this is the beginning of great things. I wore myself right the hell out, but this is a full 10 minutes less than my first 5K last summer. Hot damn!

Alrighty. I had said a while back that if I got my time under 30 minutes for a 5K, I would splurge and get myself something nice. I'm thinking about an iPod Shuffle... except that I'd also sort of like some sort of training doohickey, some sort of spiffy toy that would help me train. I just don't know what would be best. Hell, I don't know what's out there. Runners: any ideas?

Cut for length-- click to read more.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Rock and roll, baby

Last night was Night Off. We ate pizza and ice cream and drank rum. Awesome. More about that momentarily.

Right now I just want to say ROAAAAAAAR! We're heading over to help a friend move in with his boyfriend (YAY YAY YAY for young love) in a minute-- and since we knew that was coming up early, I went ahead and got up at 5:20 AM like usual.

Girls, I am totally badass this morning.

Today starts the second week of my new deal-- that I spend the twenty minutes between breakfast and official exercise (the jog or the 50 minutes of yoga) doing three or four sets of three or four different strength-training exercises. Abs every day, since I can (and God knows I need all the ab help I can get), and today, shoulders. It's not a lot, but I gotta start somewhere.

Last week I wore myself out on just three sets of one shoulder exercise and could barely get in one set of the other three. This week I roared through 'em all.

Went to the treadmill, put in my Alias DVD, ran ran ran. Not quite the 10-minute mile pace that I want (and that I did on my last 5K-- how, I'll never know), but a lot closer than Thursday and faster than last week. I was all on fire. Thank God my Hub didn't wake up when I started talking to myself, because it was all macho talk-- "Oh yeah, I AM that good, OH YEAH."

I always have really good workouts the day after I give myself a freebie meal. Huh. Possibly I'm skimping on fuel. I have to admit that I'm giving serious thought to checking out the Body For Life plan; I'm in a mood to try something new and what the hell, 12 weeks? I can do 12 weeks. I'd have to run it past my Hub, though, since he's head chef of Casa de Veres. Hrm. Should hit the library.

Speaking of food, here's some stuff I discovered last night.

1) Even being "bad", I just don't want sugary soda anymore. Iced tea or diet drinks or good old H2O for me. How 'bout that?

2) I still don't want chips.

3) We ordered too much food and couldn't finish it. Well, we could have, but we felt full and recognized that going further would have been a bad idea.

4) I deeply want ice cream. More specifically, I want peanut butter cup ice cream. Hell, who am I kidding: I want peanut butter cups! Oh, my old nemesis, we meet again.

5) I ate ice cream. Then I stopped, and while the chain of more-more-more food reeled out in my mind, I sawed through the chain and didn't bother getting popcorn. You know, by my standards, that's a hell of a thing. I was eating bad but I broke the chain that led to a binge. And I listened to my stomach with the pizza earlier! Hell of a thing.

6) I have re-named the Brat, after realizing that the voice in my head sounds and thinks (and, when thwarted, whines and howls) a great deal like Cartman from South Park. Now I call it Cartman, so that I can think, "Shut up, Cartman!" in the Kyle voice. This is just amusing enough to work.

I am kicking ass today. ROAAAAAAR!

Cut for length-- click to read more.

Friday, April 22, 2005

'Til Death Do Us Part

Notes before we begin:

1) This one is pretty damn long. Sorry about that, but it's a subject dear to my heart and one that I hadn't actually seen covered anywhere else, so I had a lot to say.

2) I was inspired to write this by Ms. Ralph, who's going through a rough time of it right now. I hope this helps in some small way, sweetie.

I was really good at losing weight. I was really, really good at it. I had sixty pounds to lose, and by some stroke of luck and metabolism and by a lot of hard work and dedication, I lost ten pounds every month for the first five months. (This is, shall we say, abnormal.) The good part was that I lost fifty pounds really fast. The bad part was that I lost fifty pounds really fast, and not only assumed that the last ten would come off just as fast, but felt entitled to it. I mean, hell, I was working really really hard. I pinched those calories so hard they screamed. I worked out every morning. I turned up my nose at temptations. And virtue is always rewarded, right?


Looking back now, I think that five months' worth of having virtue automatically rewarded was the worst possible thing that could've happened to me. For one thing, it got me into a really strict, Puritanical mindset that my dour ancestors would have applauded (quietly, of course, since I suspect they didn't DO outbursts of enthusiasm) and that was pretty much the sum total of what I knew worked. When hard work is rewarded, I always start thinking that the answer for everything must be to work harder, and if that doesn't work... well, if that doesn't work, then I get lost, adrift, scared, confused, and feel utterly betrayed by the world.

Needless to say, that's what happened. The last ten pounds went slow. From what I've heard, this is normal; the more you've lost, the more worried your body gets that something is going drastically wrong. Red alerts going off everywhere. Warning! Warning! Abnormal fluctuations in weight, sir! I'm guessing that after fifty pounds of unfettered reduction in which one of my little body-workers was asleep at the switch, someone finally noticed and utter panic resulted. My body balked at changing any further, digging in and having to be dragged like a dog that's finally noticed that hey, we're not going to the park, this is the vet!

When the progress slowed down, of course, I redoubled my efforts. More work! Harder work! Stricter limits! More exercise! Control! It took three months to finally scrape my way under 125. In those three months, I worked so hard that I was in knots all the time. I was so strict with myself that my friends started worrying that I was about to become anorexic. I snapped at people a lot. I became highly judgemental of other people where weight-loss and exercise were concerned, and had to stop visiting my regular forums because I honestly didn't understand these other women anymore. Clearly, they just weren't Working Hard Enough. I had the answer. Nobody else did.

To add to the fun, I wanted to get to 120. I remembered being that weight. I idealized it, idolized it, heard it calling my name. And I was so close. SO CLOSE. I just had to work a little harder, that's all...

You squeeze something hard enough and surprising things inevitably pop out. For me, the first thing to pop out, brash and big and ugly, was my binge eating. I hadn't seen it since I'd gone on WeightWatchers; I thought I was cured. Not so much. Starting to deal with that (which is an entire post in itself, and will show up eventually) was all I could handle that summer; trying to accept it, trying to get a handle on it, work around it. I had to try to figure out what was at the root of the problem and start to deal with that, at the same time that I was trying to learn to fend off the binges.

And, well, then there was a nightmare of a national election (I so don't want to talk about it) and holiday season set in, and I fell headfirst into a candy bowl for three months and gained 10 pounds. I got out of that one, but-- well, remember how hard it had been to lose those 10 pounds in the first place? Yeah. Same story.

I was pissed. I mean both in January, when I climbed out of the candy bowl, and back in July. Hell, when I finally thought about it, it turned out that one of the biggest reasons for why I'd gone back to binging in the first place was that I was utterly out-of-my-mind furious at the universe. I had done what I was supposed to, I had worked harder than hard at things that I didn't like, and I felt that I had been promised results. I felt that I deserved better. I mean, for God's sake, I was exercising every morning, I was eating right (well, in the times before and after the Candy Bowl Era), and it was the same old story on the scale. What the hell? I just wanted this to be over with. I wanted to be normal. I didn't want to spend every day thinking about this. I wanted to be one of those thin bitches that I saw at restaurants, eating giant plates of food because their crazy pumped metabolisms burn it right off. I was doing all the work but for some reason my promised thin-bitch metabolism hadn't arrived and I still gained weight if I screwed up. And let's add on an eating disorder! Because I need more fun! I mean, this is JUST NOT FAIR!

I'd like to say that I had a lightbulb moment, complete with little ::ping!:: noise, where that enraged despair went away and I suddenly understood things. Sadly, no. It just slowly drained away, one day after another, like grief, and at the end of this I wasn't on a diet anymore. I was building a new lifestyle.

I know, I know. I was told. I even said the words myself: "This is a lifestyle." Come to find out, what my mouth said and my brain understood and accepted were two very different things. I had been looking forward to Maintenance, the Promised Land, flowing with extra calories, where I would get to eat a lot more, and worry a lot less, and life would be beautiful all the time. I would be able to live like a normal person. Using my now-surely ingrained knowledge of portion sizes and healthy foods, I would be able to stop thinking about this stuff. I would be able to eat anything, as long as I ate the bad stuff less often and in smaller portions. As an added bonus, that thin-bitch metabolism that I'd been dreaming of would finally arrive and I'd turn into one of those women who end up having to eat twice as much as they do On Plan because otherwise, wow, they just keep losing weight! Oh, it would be amazing. I was really, really looking forward to it.

As it turns out, reality is much different. As it turns out, not only is maintenance different for everybody, but much of the time it's just exactly like dieting: eat healthy, exercise, drink water, weigh yourself once a week. This is not the land of milk and honey I was told of. That thin-bitch metabolism I was expecting? What nobody mentioned is that it's a lot harder to come by if you've lost a lot of weight; it may be impossible. What I got instead was a slooooow creep upward. (A year and a half into this thing, and I think I may have gained the ability to burn an extra 100 calories every day. Joy.) The ingrained ability to gauge portion size never materialized, either.

Worst of all was that in dealing with oh my God, I have to live like this forever, I was suddenly having to deal with a lot of other things that I'd put off. Like how I was using food on social occasions. Like the problems with our eating arrangements at home. Like the fact that I'm so passive-aggressive that I will eat far, far too much on social occasions where I'm feeling trapped and stepped on, rather than, you know, speaking up; this is the classic "punching myself in the face because I'm really mad at you" response. Like the fact that a lot of what I thought was who I am, and couldn't be removed without doing damage to my personality-- well, a lot of that is interchangable with healthier likes, dislikes, habits, and so forth. (Although once I figured that out, the process of doing it... well, hell, that's the story of this whole blog, isn't it?)

Nobody told me that stuff was coming, you know? Not one person. They had sold me on a future that didn't exist, where I could continue on as a sort of Pre-Weight-Loss Meg (Now With Exercise And Mostly Healthy Diet!), and instead I was going to have to become a whole new Meg, Meg v2.0-- and I would have to keep working on the upkeep for v2.0 for life.

Wow, but coming to terms with that hurt. It was this overwhelming, bewildered, betrayed sense of What, you're kidding, you mean there's more to learn? But I just got done learning how to feed myself and I just got used to exercising! I worked really, really, really hard on that! For a long time! Don't I get any credit? I thought there'd be a reward at the end of this thing, not more of the same! Son of a bitch!

It's like the stages of mourning-- there's denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. I mourned the hell out of that mythical Maintenance. From July to March, about. All in all, that was about nine months. Unbelievable: it took me eight months to lose the weight in the first place, and nine months to get used to the idea that I was going to have to keep living like this forever to keep the weight off. 'Til death do us part.

This, folks, is what I believe to be the answer to the eternal question of why most of the people who lose weight either a) get hung up close to goal and give up completely, b) scrape their way to goal and then implode, gaining back all the weight and then some, or c) get to goal, hang on for a while, and then implode. It's that Diet-To-Lifestyle Adjustment Phase. Nobody warns you about it, nobody talks about it; it hits like a tidal wave and you either power through it, or hang on for dear life until it subsides, or you get swept away. And while it's happening, it feels like there's not going to be an end to it and that this is how it's gonna be forever, this grim, thankless daily task, and all you want to do is quit completely so you can get some relief.

The good news is, like any kind of period of grieving and/or adjustment, it does end. It took a long time for me, but, like everything else, it depends on your personality and circumstances. It took me nine months, but I got used to it, got the hang of it, and got over it, mostly out of sheer dogged determination that I wasn't going to be a statistic after all this damn work. I learned to count the days since I started living healthy, and hold that number as more important than what was on the scale or how much weight I can lift or how many reps I can do or how fast or far I can run. I learned how to change and then... I learned how to keep on changing.

And that, folks, is the way my diet became the first phase of a total personal overhaul, instead of just being this one thing I had to fix.

I think the problem is that when people say the word "lifestyle" in reference to a specific diet of any kind, that's inherently limiting. It makes it sound like you will be trapped in WeightWatchers, or the South Beach Diet, or Atkins, or whatever plan you are following, for the rest of your life. I don't know about you, but that idea gives me hives.

What people should mean when they say "lifestyle" is the general concept of living healthy. The only commandment on the Maintenance stone tablet is this: Thou Shalt Intake Around The Same Number Of Calories As Thou Dost Burn, Or Else Thine Ass Shall Expand Again. Everything else is flexible. The more stuff you try out, the more you'll entertain yourself and the more options you'll have. Humankind these days has a short attention span, so if you accept that and go with it, you'll be okay.

I'm signed up for a swimming class this summer, and I'm going to start (next week! I swear!) running regularly with a group. I'm talking my Hub into taking martial arts classes together. I plan to change my morning yoga DVD to another one in a few weeks, and eventually to (gasp!) see if there are actual classes around that I could take. I have belly-dancing exercise DVDs on my Amazon wish list.

I play with my calorie intake-- right now I've given myself a "free day" every week, the way they do on the Body For Life plan, and we'll see how that goes. (Not bad so far; as of this morning, I've weighed the same for three weeks, with some obvious fluctuation from the one big-ass meal.) I'm subscribing to Cooking Light and I've got three different healthy-cooking/weight-loss shows on my TiVo Wish List. I go through phases of cooking healthy food from different cultures. I collect cookbooks. I collect kitchen toys that make food prep more entertaining. I collect new tastes in vegetables and fruits and spices and herbs. (Yes, picky eaters, it is possible.) I revamp recipes. I play around and often end up with Just So Damn Wrong food that I can't tell my friends about.

I want to keep this interesting. Keep learning. Keep changing. Keep my interest up. For life. One damn day at a time.

Cut for length-- click to read more.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Peanut BUTTER (and other food adventures)

I may have mentioned (three or four times) the Just So Damn Wrong PB&J Noodles.

Further experiments occurred tonight.

I meant to wait until I had a chance to go buy dried strawberries from Trader Joe's. Or at least, you know, raisins (for which I merely have to go to the corner store). Instead, I got impatient and tried again tonight.

I think I did better with the yam noodles, although I still need to figure out just how long to frizzle them in a pan. Possibly the fact that I didn't add oil (considering that the yam noodles are calorie-free, this makes no sense, but habit is a strange thing) contributed to my lack of plans with this.

However, the sauce? Better'n Peanut Butter is born to make sauce, folks. Two tablespoons of B'nPB, nuked with a little water (about a tablespoon, I think), whisked together with a fork... yo, this is the best idea I've ever had. Perfection. I tossed the noodles with it and was well pleased. 100 calories, total. I really can't wait to have dried fruit on hand; I may never have a regular PB&J sandwich again. By comparison, it's nowhere near as filling-- this is warm, and it takes longer to eat because of the fork factor, and mmm. Peanutty.

Yes, I am insane. Look, I didn't put jelly on it this time, okay? Count your blessings!

Cut for length-- click to read more.

Ignorance Is Bliss

There is a woman whose office is just down the hall from mine who has a giant-sized bowl of candy in her office. At least, she used to. I'm not sure about this anymore because I haven't looked into her office for more than three months now. On the one occasion when I was forced to go looking for her, I actually averted my eyes while I hollered a question from across the hallway.

Lest you think I've gone insane, let me explain. It's the candy. Even when I was being good, my first year on WeightWatchers, I always glanced into her office to see what was there. The bowl is huge, it's in a direct line of sight, and she keeps it full of the kind of single-serving miniature candy bars and M&M bags and whatnot that kids get at Halloween. It is generally understood that those who come to her office get candy.

I'm really not proud of this next part.

For about three months last year, I would sneak into her office when she wasn't there (sadly, there is very little traffic on this end of the floor) and grabbing huge handfuls of candy. Petty thievery: the mark of a binge eater in crazed mode. When my Hub didn't come to the office I'd have a chance to buy my own bags of chocolate miniatures (and inevitably eat the whole bag by the end of the day), but those days were far and few between and in the meantime, I'd resort to making raids on this woman's candy bowl in the morning before she got to work. It rapidly progressed to the point where it wasn't just mornings; I'd keep an eye out for when she went to the bathroom or left for lunch, and pounce the moment she left. Day after day after day.

I can't even begin to explain what the hell I was thinking. I tried to control myself-- every day, I came to work swearing to myself that I wouldn't do it again, not today, and every time I grabbed another handful of candy I swore that this was it for the day, I was done, seriously. And yet I kept going back. The candy sucked me in-- just knowing it was there weakened me, shrivelled my puny willpower like Kryptonite.

I stole candy. Stole it. By my calculations, I think I ate at least $30 worth of candy over those months; I wouldn't have dreamed of walking in and lifting the money from her pocketbook, but candy? Candy, for some reason, I felt entitled to. I never asked for it, because I was The Girl Who Lost Weight-- I'd gone down 60 pounds and everyone in the office knew it and assumed things about me because of it. I couldn't lose face like that. At the same time, I was consumed with fear of being found out-- I mean, oh my God, the humiliation.

I didn't tell anybody about this. This is the first time I've really admitted it; I sort of edged around the story a few weeks back when I was trying to impress upon my Hub just how out-of-control this binging thing could get, and that was as close as I could get. This was my little secret, all those months. Hell, some days it was my reason to come to work in the morning.

Three months of eating candy like that every day will cause a girl to gain some weight-- in my case, ten pounds. Granted, it wasn't just that; I was binging at home, eating rubbish at restaurants, and I had other sources for free crap at the office because every day someone would bring in one of those huge tins of flavored popcorn or candy or cake or cookies and they'd leave them in the kitchen. I was still acting like I was trying to stay on course, eating healthy in front of other people and all, but underneath it all I was losing my mind. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's; one huge crap-athon at Meg's House of Eatin'.

I finally said THAT'S IT, ENOUGH on the second day I wore a pedometer. The first day, I clocked in fewer than 3,000 steps-- since your goal is supposed to be 10,000, I almost died from shock. I started taking the long way around the office when I went to the bathroom, just to add steps; I started getting my water from across the office instead of just down the hall in the kitchen.

That's when it hit me: I could skip the kitchen entirely. I could stop walking past it, and never use it, and then I'd never know if someone had brought free food. They say that knowing is half the battle, but in my case not knowing was key. It worked brilliantly, but the added walking meant that I was going past the Office Of Candy every twenty minutes or so, and my stupid habit-driven head turned every single time to look inside. I didn't go in, but I knew that it was just a matter of time before I'd crack again.

So I took special note of a plant that's on the opposite wall from this woman's office, and every time I walked down the hall I would forcibly turn my head to look at the plant. Every time. Over and over and over again. Because you see, if I don't look in, I don't see the candy. If I don't see the candy, I can't confirm its existance. If I can't confirm its existance, it might not be there. And if it might not be there, I don't have to think about it.

I haven't looked in that office since. Not once. I think I slipped a few times and turned in that direction but remembered in time and shut my eyes before I saw anything. I mean, honestly, that was such an awful period in my life that I just can't take the chance of it happening again.

I feel a little stupid about the fact that I have to do things like this-- that I have to teach myself ridiculous habits in order to keep from losing control. But the thing is, when I'm in a manic binging stage I don't have the extra time and energy to delve into my psyche to try to actually fix the problems properly; at times like that, I'm just trying frantically to STOP. Staunch the bleeding first, then you can sew the wound up, and then it can start to heal.

In the meantime, while I do the work of rebuilding how my brain works, little habits like this are what hold my world together. Not going to the kitchen. Not looking in that office. Drinking my water. Exercising in the morning. Bringing a healthy snack to work. Eating a healthy breakfast. Packing a healthy lunch. Getting 10,000 steps on the pedometer every day. Walking across the Loop on our way to and from work. I screw up so much, so often, but I can chant a list of little victories in my head to comfort myself and keeping myself from despairing, just by rattling off those little habits. The wounds still tear open from time to time, but I think-- I hope-- I'm starting to heal.

Cut for length-- click to read more.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Saw, saw, saw

I was doing so good. SO good. I was even going to go to the Fun Run tonight and meet up with other female runners. And then the weather changed dramatically, and I had to come home in windy, 40-degree weather with no jacket. One thing they don't warn you about is that losing a big layer of fat means that you're sensitive as hell to cold (at least, it is for me), and I hate the cold to begin with.

When we got home, I wasn't hungry. I ate immediately anyway, because I was freezing, because I was miserable, and because my Hub didn't have food planned (since we'd figured I was going to be running at 6:30) so it was immediately into leftover pasta for me. And then some roasted papaya, and corn on the cob (without toppings, at least-- I like it plain), and then three of the sugar-free/fat-free chocolate biscotti I bought yesterday.

I have been sitting on the couch like my life depended on it for the past twenty minutes, concentrating on one single image: imagining the chain of food, past and future, for the evening, and then imagining sawing through the damn thing so that I'm no longer being tugged toward the kitchen.

I am so embarrassed at how easy it is to totally lose my mind. WOW. It's not so much that I wasn't aware of what I was doing as that I was able to block out actually caring about it. Hell, I was happy. Puttering around, finding new things to put into my mouth, part of my brain chattering pleasantly about the situation: it's not like this has been a perfect week anyway, so this won't make much difference; the rest of the biscotti would be nice, and some popcorn, and cheese, and oooh, some peanut butter, maybe make a sandwich...

Happy. Content. That's the amazing thing there: I was having a lovely time. I was letting go, and relaxing, and agreeing with everything the Spoiled Brat in my head was saying (and the Brat is so pleasant to deal with when the Brat is getting her way)... and that's when I recognized the pattern, and it was like I woke up.

There was an immediate painful spike in my emotions, as if the Brat was howling Nooooooooo!!!-- but I backed away, miserable because oh, I wanted this so much (oh, it would be nice, oh, I was looking forward to it, oh oh oh), but I backed away. And sat down on the couch. And added the tally to my food log. And admitted that it meant I was done eating for the day. And then proceeded to sit there, mourning the binge that didn't quite happen.

As I told my Hub when he came in and I was sad and headachy and angry, I was mad because I wanted to binge, and I was mad because I didn't get to. I curled up with my head on his stomach and he stroked my hair and it got better.

Here's the good thing: that's the earliest I've ever recognized the pattern in action and snapped out of it. Yesterday I caught the Brat planning a day off because the Brat uses similar phrases every time, and today was the same, only a different set of phrases: "go ahead and eat the rest of the package", "already messed up so I might as well", "this sort of thing didn't hurt last week, so"... It's the emotions that threw me. Somehow I never quite grasped that I was so contented during a binge; that it's such a lovely state to be caught up in and so painful to tear my way out of it. No wonder I usually just go along with it; the Brat is so pleased when she's getting her way and gets even more upset than usual when she's so close and then doesn't get it after all.

Here's the other good thing: going through the emotional detox period and out the other side. I made it. Part of that time was pure danger time, too-- my Hub was in the other room, leaving me unfettered access to the kitchen. I've done it once, now. (And, thanks to this blog, documented the process.) Hopefully that means I'll be able to do it again.

Also, that's twice in two days that I recognized what was happening and shut it down. Progress, maybe. I hope.

Cut for length-- click to read more.

Experiments in Satisfying Treats

I've done some reading on how to properly prepare yam noodles, and I've purchased some Better'n Peanut Butter from Trader Joe's (the first time I've dared to have it in the apartment in months). If I'd been thinking, I would've picked up some dried strawberries, too, but I forgot.

Oh yes. I'm going to make the Just So Damn Wrong PB&J Noodles again. No jelly this time-- that got melty and wrong-- but I think that some dried fruit, chopped into bits, would hit that part of the palate nicely. Since my traditional love for PB&J sandwiches tends toward strawberry preserves, I long to try this with dried strawberries, but for the purposes of this experiment I think a small amount of raisins will do.

My problem with sweet treats and with old loves like PB&Js is that there's just not enough there there. I require foods to be one of two things: either a) satisfying and hearty, so that I can eat a small portion and feel satisfied, or b) they're low enough in calories and fat that I can eat a giant bowl full. These sorts of things are generally the sorts of things you find on the WeightWatchers' Core Program or the South Beach Diet: whole grains, vegetables, lean meats, 0-cal liquids. Things that take a long time to eat (mostly because the fiber content means you have to actively chew them and they won't fall apart in your mouth, but in some cases, like soup, this is more due to temperature); things that have a fairly low caloric density; things that fill you up and take a long time to digest. Cookies, alas, have few of these qualities.

Often, the answer people turn to in their quest to be able to indulge is to try to find the perfect diet version. Some things (like Glenny's Soy Crisps and VitaMuffins) do the job admirably while adding in nutrients and bulk; my main argument there becomes the "oh dear God I cannot afford to buy these regularly" factor. And, I have to admit, it's still not enough; I eat with my eyes and I eat with my time, and I want something to look big enough to be filling and to take enough time to feel like I've done something, here.

A friend of mine has an obsession with creating close-to-calorie-free food. Which is, in its way, a lovely idea, but it still misses the consumption-time, digestion-time, and bulk factors. I'm okay with having calories in my food as long as they're put to a good cause, and having some oomph, something to bite down on and chew on-- that's important to me. Otherwise, it's just like eating flavored air.

For lack of satisfying alternatives, I have turned to my kitchen. My theory is this: if I can identify the things that I like about a dish, then I can re-create this in a healthier manner, something I can chew on and thus keep the flavor in my mouth for a while, something that my stomach takes a while to mull over. I want the flavor, but I want substance, too.

You may not have been with me on the PB&J Noodles-- trust me, you're not alone; my sister and my Hub think I've gone mad-- but often, my goofy experiments turn into family favorites. So far, the two biggest successes have been stealing the flavors of buffalo wings and spinach/artichoke dip; here, I'll show you the process I went through for those.

We do a "baked potato" salad-- which has nothing to do with baked potatoes except for the toppings: chopped scallions, bacon bits, part-skim cheddar cheese, and a dressing made of fat-free plain yogurt (subbing in for the sour cream). We also have a "buffalo" salad, with a dressing made from fat-free plain yogurt whisked with plenty of Frank's Red Hot sauce, some crumbles of blue cheese, and chopped celery. They're weird, but they work; my Hub is terribly fond of them.

Speaking of buffalo...

Before embarking on Meg v2.0, I had a deep and abiding love for buffalo wings and when I discovered buffalo chicken sandwiches-- most of which were breaded-- I adored them, too. Looking back, I realized that what I loved most about those things wasn't the chicken or the breading or the grease or the fried crispiness, it was the buffalo sauce-- the tang of the tabasco/vinegar/garlic blend that just sang to me.

I also had a love for butter-drenched popcorn-- the way the salt stuck to it, the variation in texture in the spots where the popcorn shrivelled from moisture, the intense flavor experience. I had, for the past year, been trying to make do with spritzing my popcorn with I Can't Believe It's Not Butter spray (and trying desperately to control myself, since past a certain point it's no good for me) or, when I became wary of the chemicals in ICBINB, olive oil from my Misto. Either way, the results were just not what I wanted.

Last month, these two issues collided when a friend introduced me to some kind of buffalo-wing-flavored pretzel chunks. They were glorious. They were addictive. They were also insanely high in calories and fat, and caused my entire brain to short-circuit. This sent me in search of a replacement, ASAP, before either myself or my Hub (who also adored them) went out and bought them.

My first try, which involved pouring Frank's Red Hot sauce into a spritz bottle and spritzing, did not do. It also broke the bottle; apparently Frank's is full of particulate matter that does not do well for spritz utility. On my second try, I tried just dashing Frank's over the popcorn-- again, not quite what I was going for, since even mixing the popcorn around meant I was getting pretty uneven results. On my third try, I dashed Frank's into the bowl before I put the popcorn in-- and dusted it with salt and garlic powder, too, for good measure. Then I put the popcorn into the bowl, dashed Frank's over the top, and stirred carefully. GOLDEN. Brilliant. Perfect. It could have been made in a restaurant.

My Hub was pretty wary of my buffalo popcorn concoction. I offered some to him on a number of occasions and he waved it away, saying it wasn't his thing. This state of affairs lasted until this past weekend when we developed a plan to make popcorn and watch a movie one evening. This usually meant separate popcorn-- popped over the stove for him (a friend gave us one of those poppers that you crank to stir, and my Hub loves it), homemade microwave popcorn for me. The plan hit a snag very quickly because we had only enough popcorn for one batch.

My Hub took a bullet for the team and valiantly sacrificed his preference. I offered to do something besides the buffalo popcorn this time through, but he insisted that I not make any changes for him. I went ahead and made my popcorn, and he tried it. That's when his eyebrows shot up and he said, "Hey. HEY. Why haven't you made this for me before? This is excellent!"

Voila, we no longer have an issue regarding those evil buffalo-flavored pretzels. Add in the fact that we are, at heart, cheap bastards who dislike shelling out coin for what we can get at home, and I sense we won't be buying out any time soon.

Spinach-artichoke dip is a mystery to me. On the one hand, spinach and artichokes are glorious together; they do well as pizza toppings (a spinach/artichoke pizza on whole-wheat crust with part-skim mozzarella and parmesan shredded on top is a thing of beauty), and on pasta, and as part of salads. They're both fantastically good for you, as long as you don't buy the artichokes that've been marinated in oil. Put them in a dip, though, and things go all to hell.

I can't tell you the number of WeightWatchers board messages I've seen that essentially read "Oh God, I thought the dip was okay because it was made with spinach and artichokes but then I got home and it turns out it's horrible!" Yes, grasshopper, that's because there is also a whopping amount of cheese in there, plus (often) mayonnaise or sour cream or both. And if you're eating it at a restaurant, the odds are good that none of those ingredients were of the low-fat or fat-free varieties. This stuff is horrible for you, and then whatever chips you use to eat it are no walk in the park, either. Add in the fact that it's a strangely addictive taste and that, as a dip, there's not half the chewing experience there should be, and there won't be any question of just eating a few bites-- universally, it ends up being a Must Eat It All, Then Scrape The Bottom Of The Container For The Last Few Globs experience.

The idea for how to recondition this one was a surprise because it came out of trying to recondition something entirely different. My Hub and I had discovered parsnips this past winter, suspiciously using them in recipes and then discovering that hey, we liked 'em. One night while craving pasta sauce but unwilling to commit the calories to pasta (even whole wheat, which is now our pasta of choice), I had the crazy idea to shred up a parsnip and steam the shreds into limpness. I used my Hub's stock pasta sauce, which is high on spicy flavors, and... holy crap, it actually worked. The flavors went well together. I made the same dish for my Hub a few days later, and he likewise approved. He then started brainstorming on more ways to use this vegetable, and one of the surprising ones he popped up with was "...like spinach artichoke dip".

A few weeks later, the Food Network's Calorie Commando had a show involving a low-cal version of spinach artichoke dip. We added four shredded-up artichokes to the mix and baked it as a cassarole, and dear lord, it's fantastic. We've been eating the leftovers all week. If you don't mind parsnips, I highly recommend it.

I have some ideas for a chocolate crumble, of sorts, that would involve bulgur wheat and cocoa powder (which is fat-free) and Splenda, and egg whites utilized somehow as a binder. I have yet to work out the logistics of it, but it would be chewy, and chocolatey, and be in bits smaller than an average bite but large enough to still suggest "one-bite chunk". Undoubtedly when I manage to get this experiment licked, you'll hear about it here.

Yes, this is all weird and wacky stuff, and it might not work for you-- but something else might. My point is, get in your kitchen. Figure out what you like about those treats, and how you could take those tastes and make them into a different kind of treat-- one that you chew, and savor, and take your time with as a matter of course, on that fills you up and that your stomach takes time to digest. It can be done. It just takes a willingness to be try.

Cut for length-- click to read more.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Strong. Strong. Arrrrrgh.

As mentioned earlier, I am tired. I am sore. I am hormonal. I am not trying to make up for that, and my goal for the day is to avoid doing anything to try to "fix" those things, because let's face it, I can compensate for these things for a while, I can't make them go away. I have eaten my dinner and brushed my teeth (really, I ought to make a daily post clocking in my post-food tooth-brushing), and now I am sitting on the couch with my laptop. There will be no more journeys into the kitchen tonight, and I plan to go to bed at 9 PM.

My husband is making brownies. That's fine with me. As long as I don't have to set foot in the kitchen, this is entirely cool with me.

I have had a bad day, and it's still going, but it's almost done. I just need to make some phone calls and then I can go to bed. That is good.

Cut for length-- click to read more.

Meg's Guide to Building a New Habit

(Yes, I've said most of this stuff before, but now it's getting a whole post of its own.)

Many people make lifestyle changes-- beginning a diet or exercise program, in this case-- powered by a strong, immediate, focused drive. This new thing is fantastic! Why didn't I do it before? So simple! I can do this forever! I can do anything! Climb mountains! Leap over buildings! Fly to the moon! Goodbye to the old ways forever!

Before you know it, though, you're out of gas and the idea of having to engage in your new lifestyle irritates and exhausts you. Oh, hell, not again. This sucks. It's not fair that I have to do this and [fill in the blank] doesn't. I shouldn't have to do this today because I'm too tired/too sick/too hormonal/too achy/too stressed/too busy/too bothered. I'm tired of waiting for results; clearly this doesn't work. The hell with it.

People generally conclude from these sorts of short-term journeys that they lack willpower, that they're doomed to fail, that this stuff is just too hard. It gives them an overexaggerated idea of the difficulty and magnitude of the new activity, and gives them a diminished concept of their own abilities. It's a depressing phenomenon, to try and to fail; when it happens over and over and over again, the person's concept of their abilities hits bottom and they believe the task is impossible for them.

Like I went on about (at length) in my last post, what many people think of as "motivation" is better termed "impulse"-- it's strong, it doesn't depend greatly on thought, and it's immediate. It kicks ass while you're caught up in it, but it isn't meant for long-term propulsion; you get a certain distance and then run out of fuel. For lack of a better term (and because once upon a time, I was a Star Trek geek), let's call it the Impulse Drive.

The Impulse Drive is fueled like a rocket-- a short-term, high-energy push that's designed to fight inertia, to power your movement while you get the kinks worked out of your long-term power source, the Force Of Habit. Failing to engage the Force Of Habit will mean that once your Impulse Drive is out of gas, you will fall back to earth. You might manage to stay airborne out of sheer willpower, but it's a grim existance, it's nearly impossible to improve upon, and it's notoriously fragile-- when a catastrophe hits (or even threatens) and distracts you, there go go crashing down.

So how do you do it? Well, I have a few pointers. As with everything, your milage may vary.

First of all, accept the fact that you're not going to get very far on the Impulse Drive alone. I know, I know; it feels fantastic, it's exhilarating, and it certainly seems like it'll last forever. Work with me. Have a back-up plan in place, just in place. No harm in it, right?

Next, plan to get the most out of your Impulse Drive as you can. Everyone's fuel tank holds a different amount, so there's really no telling when yours will cut out... so ration carefully, just in case. By this I mean DON'T OVERLOAD YOURSELF. Don't make huge, drastic changes. You'll have a longer burst of initial enthusiasm if you start with one small, achievable change and then build on your success by adding another small, achievable change. (Also, that often will make it so that your Impulse Drive will re-charge in time for the new thing. Which is awesome.)

Take the huge change you want to make, and break it up into action segments. "Eat healthier" isn't one action, it's a million of them, and when you try to do them all at once you risk serious overload. Break it down.

For instance, let's use my favorite example of how to start exercising. Exercising consists of a lot of things besides the actual exercise portion; besides that, there's time committment, clothing change, transportation, sometimes a financial committment, stretching, and putting in the effort to study up on your exercise of choice. Not to mention the fact that you're going to need to start exercise at a much gentler level than you hope to achieve.

You start with what you can handle. If all that you can handle right now is waking up five minutes earlier so that you can put your exercise togs on and stretch for a few minutes before it's time to get on with your regular morning routine, then for God's sake, do it. Yes, I realize it's not a full-blown routine, but it's a foot in the door. Do this every day for a week and then push the alarm clock backwards two more minutes; with those two minutes, march or jog in place. (Please note: this is also a good way to train the I Need Your Attention folks in your life, such as significant others and children. Set the rules for how they behave while it is your exercise time; if they can behave for five minutes the first week, they can behave for six minutes the next week.) Eventually you'll have developed enough time to have a full exercise routine.

If you have to drive to a gym to exercise, then pack up your gear and drive there every day. Even if you can't bring yourself to get out, you're still banishing the "soooo much extra effort to go to the gym" issue that will, believe me, lurk in your brain.

As you add on layers, this gives you a new option-- dropping back a layer when you're in a mood, or too tired, or too pressed for time, or any one of the various reasons that will inevitably come up for not engaging in your new habit. If you're at Level 3, you can indulge yourself by dropping back to Level 2 on this occasion. Both sides win, and the basic habit survives intact.

You may have noticed a theme creeping into that last bit, regarding repetition, and yup, that's the next tip. People learn habits much faster if those new habits are linked to another regularly-occurring thing, and the new habit is done every time that regularly-occurring thing happens. Pavlov, people. This is not new science. What you are doing is spending the Impulse Drive energy at your disposal on mindfully, deliberately, wearing down a new rut in your brain. That way when you're out of IM energy, when you're not thinking, when you're just coasting on habit, the way that the habit goes is to push you right down that new rut.

Repeat, repeat, repeat. I know that many people do the thing where they only exercise three or four times a week, and if they can do that, and keep it up, that's cool. Me, I know myself well enough to realize that I needed a completely Pavlovian response-- morning = exercise. So far I don't have any daily routines in the evening that can possibly stack up to the magic of waking up, because the glorious thing about waking up is that there is no way I will ever not do that in the morning, except for when I die (and one assumes that I'll let myself off the hook for that one).

I've been told that it takes 21 days to form a new habit. I personally think it's more like 21 instances of if X occurs then Y. It may be a bullshit number, but I see it more like a goal-- the point at which I can add a new layer to my new activity.

These days, I'm trying to teach myself to brush my teeth after every meal. I need to buckle down and get hardcore about that for the next three weeks, I think; then we'll see some progress.

Cut for length-- click to read more.