Enjoying the journey (aka, look mom – no hands!)

25 09 2016

I learned to ride my bike with no hands, today.  I also braved an overpass descent with no brakes.  I consider these significant accomplishments, given that I’m the complete opposite of an adrenaline junkie (rather, more a lay on the couch with my head in a book junkie).

Even better, I achieved the no hands skill badge while coming up on my favorite part of the ride – the span of bridge high above a winding stream in what feels like the middle of nowhere (but is actually pretty close to smack dab downtown).

2016-09-02-10-01-20While taking a water break and looking down at the stream, I realized something – I was out there enjoying the journey.  That’s another significant accomplishment.  Because, as a child, pretty much the only way I could be coerced onto a bike was with the inclusion of an ice cream stop on the route.  In addition to being the opposite of an adrenaline junkie, I was also the opposite of an athletic child.

That’s not to say I didn’t try – I did – gymnastics, volleyball, basketball, tennis lessons, miles of swimming laps, mastering a jumping front dive and a standing back dive (HUGE for me!).  Pretty much anything my mom (a YMCA swimming teacher) could sign me up for at the Y, I was in. I just sucked at sports.  My heart was never in it, and I didn’t have the reflexes.  I had a doctor’s note for the grade school president’s fitness test (bad knees).

So, it was probably a shock when, choosing classes for college, I signed up for Air Force ROTC.  I know the cadre looked at me and gave each other the “wtf” look.  But, of the 55 freshmen that showed up for the first day of training, only 6 made it all the way to commissioning.  I was one of them.  In those four years, I ran, I jumped, I completed obstacle courses and learned to repel, I maxed out my sit up points on the fitness test… I even completed a sprint triathalon.

And then I graduated, and was stationed in North Dakota.  It’s cold in North Dakota.  And when it’s not cold?  Mosquitos.  Seriously, never have I encountered so many mosquitos.  So, no more running, no jumping, I didn’t even touch a bike for well over a decade.  Probably two.  And, we know how that ends… about double my military weight.  Not only did I gain a husband and two children in North Dakota – I gained a whole other me of weight.  Yah.  Nice.

So, I learned to ride my bike with no hands today.  And I looked out over the stream from the top of the bridge.  And, during the whole 23 miles, I absolutely LOVED feeling strong and skilled and balanced.  And, not once did I think about stopping for ice cream.

My weight has been plateaued since July, but on that bridge I realized – I really don’t care.  I’ll get there, in due time.  People often ask me if I feel different without the weight (I’m down 85lb now from my highest point).  Of course I feel different physically, but mentally, not so much different – more like I’m recovering who I used to be.  That ROTC gal has always been inside of me, and she’s always been pretty bad ass.  But even she couldn’t ride a bike with no hands.


The second 25 pounds

21 12 2015

In April of 2009 I started seeing spots. I bought an electronic home blood pressure cuff and came in at 190/110.  I called the doctor.  They got me in right away.  My weight was the highest I had ever seen on the scale.  My blood sugar was high.  I was a mess.  Over the next year, the doctors ramped up the meds and got me a sleep test and CPAP for apnea.

A year later, my medical stats were improving – but still not great.  I was teaching 2/3 time (each) at three different schools.  My feet were so swollen that I could only wear wide width plastic Crocs. I was miserable, but too tired and stressed to do much about it.

In 2012 I finally made serious efforts to increase my fitness level. I was diagnosed with anemia which helped – knowing there was a medical reason for my exhaustion.  I went down to one full-time job, working online, and quit the classroom jobs.  I had surgery on a fibroid to correct the anemia. I spent a month in Florida walking the beach and reflecting. I started meditating. By the fall of 2014 I was down 25 pounds from my highest weight, I could fit in normal width shoes, and my stress levels had vastly improved.

Until the fall of 2015.  When all of the numbers started to go up again.  And, my doctor gave me the sad face again.  And I realized, it’s time.

I had historically been opposed to calorie counting for two reasons (1) I have an advanced degree in physiology and I know that a calorie is more than a calorie – it’s beyond simple thermodynamics and (2) I am extremely competitive with myself and I’d landed myself in the hospital twice in my 20’s with eating disorder crazy-diet related problems.

But, I didn’t know what else to try – so, I downloaded a calorie counting app (Lose It), and bought a Fitbit Charge HR and Aria scale.  I read a couple of excellent books – Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss and Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink. I read up on BMR and the dangers and limitations of very low-calorie diets, and set my calories consumed to 100 above my BMR, which – given my weight – gave me an extensive calorie cushion between my burned and consumed calories.  Still, the first few weeks were discouraging.  I hovered within five pounds – up and down.  But, I was in it for the long haul so I kept going.  A month in, I researched sugar and salt recommendations.  My graduate work was in renal salt regulation so I knew that with functional kidneys, salt wasn’t a major player.  I was wrong – or, maybe my kidneys weren’t as functional as I thought.  Once I set and started adhering to salt and sugar goals, my body finally started kicking off pounds.  And, my salt and sugar goals weren’t even aggressive – they were 1.5 times the RDA.

In time, my taste buds started to change.  Concentrated sugar started to give me a headache and a crash. Food started tasting all around more flavorful.  This wasn’t always good.  I stopped eating much salad because I couldn’t stand the bitterness of the spinach and broccoli – things that had never bothered me in the past. Turkey sandwiches on wheat bread with mustard became my new standard.  Pears, which had always been a favorite, became almost too sweet. Cinnamon-Raisin English muffins became more appealing than brownies.  It didn’t happen overnight, I noticed the change gradually, over a few weeks. A cup of no-sugar-added cocoa became more than enough to calm the chocolate cravings. Food tasted good, but I pretty much stopped craving anything particular.  I was getting enough real, natural, food and plenty of variety, and my body stopped obsessing over whatever it had been obsessing over at the cellular and neurotransmitter level for so many years.  My cells were okay with what I was doing so they started to play along.

When it comes to counting calories, there are a wide range of pro and con opinions – even experts don’t always agree.  But, the general consensus is that food packaging counts, and whole natural packages (apples) are always better than processed packages (apple juice). What counting calories does best is increase awareness.  Day 1 of counting calories I realized the tortilla wrap I used to make my lunch was 210 calories whereas two slices of wheat bread totaled 120.  No more tortillas. A pumpkin donut was 220 calories – fine – but nearly my whole RDA of sugar – not fine. I realized that some things I love – homemade chicken tacos – were both filling and low calorie and I could eat the2015-12-21 08.07.37m as often as I wanted without breaking the calorie bank.  I learned that the more I walked and moved, the more I could eat.  It was mostly common sense – but I had never really thought of it before.

The second 25 pounds took 11 weeks.  I’m now 50 pounds down from my highest weight, and I still have a long road ahead.  There will be plateaus.  There will be setbacks.  But, this is the long haul.  I’m hoping to be back to my college/military weight before I turn 50.  That’s two years out, so it’s a reasonable goal.  Still, even if I don’t make it all the way there – anything I do is better than doing nothing.

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