Sunday, January 1, 2012

Twenty twelve (or two thousand twelve) efforts

I'm sensing a lot of resolve in the air so far this year (which, for some reason has prompted a lot of discussion over the pronunciation of the year -- is it twenty twelve or two thousand and twelve?). On blogs and facebook and twitter, a lot of people are going on the record with their goals, which mostly have to do with getting healthier in one way or another.

Nobody asked, but I'm going to offer you all a bit of advice. I'm not an expert, but I have, in the past few years, lost a bunch of weight (in 2009) and kept it off (since then). I've also become a regular exerciser after spending years struggling for the motivation to get up and moving.

I've got two helpful hints for you, one for exercise and one for food. In both cases, I've got good news and bad news. I'll give you the good news first: it's not as hard as it seems. You're probably psyching yourself out quite a bit. I spent most of my adult life fighting sloth and gluttony, but once I figured out a way of beating them back, it did eventually feel easy.

Unfortunately, the bad news is that there isn't a shortcut, a magic pill, or some new technology that will let you avoid the inevitable. You have to move more and consume less. And as my daughter retweeted today, "you will never change your life until you change something that you do daily." The only trick is to find a way to do it without it feeling like it's a sacrifice.

So here's how I did it. First, I tackled the exercise beast. After many years of failed resolutions, I finally conquered this one pretty simply: I attached it to something I like to do every day, which in my case is the shower. And all I did was make myself a simple rule: no sweat, no shower.

The two things are forever linked for me now. Working out is part of my toilette, as they say in France. If I want to take a shower, and I do, every day, I have to break a sweat first. It's been years, and I've only missed days when trapped by travels or injury. Seven days a week. If I don't do it, I miss it. And I'm not some sort of exercise freak -- really I'm not! I like to laze about in front of the computer as much as the next guy.

The activities vary -- walking, biking, running, weights, jumprope, treadmill, elliptical -- as does the duration of my workout (anywhere from 20 minutes to a few hours if I take a particularly long hike). The amazing thing, though, is how addictive it all is. You know how some people claim that regular exercise can help with mental health problems like depression? Well, that's no bullshit. I spent years plagued with anxiety, and for quite a few years, regularly needed pharmaceuticals to get through the rough spots. But since I started doing 20 minutes or more of cardio a day, I've gone totally off all meds.

Perhaps a key to my success is that I work out at home. Having to go to the Y or the gym would be a deal breaker for me. Travel to and from takes way too much time. If I work out at home, I'm only out 20 or 30 minutes, but having to go somewhere to exercise would take as much as an hour or more, if you count time commuting, parking, etc. Also, I usually work out toward the end of the day, after finishing work. It's nice to wash the day away, get cleaned up and pour myself a small glass of wine while I start dinner. Ahhh... (hence TPOTDWTW, which is a family acronym for The Part of the Day with the Wine).

Which brings us to the food. Here's the thing. Michael Pollan summarized it well: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." There are a lot of food-like substances out there, but just because they exist does not mean that you should eat them. If you work at eating just real food, I guarantee, the weight will come off with little effort, no matter how much of it you eat.

This doesn't have to be an overnight transformation. Just keep your eye out for acceptable substitutions for the processed food you've become accustomed to eating. Microwave some popcorn in a paper bag instead of eating chips and dip. Fruit instead of a candy bar. Steel cut oats instead of a mcmuffin for breakfast. Beans instead of beef. A really yummy balsamic vinegar instead of ranch dressing.

I'll admit, I like to play with food, so making my own meals is not a big hardship for me. But in the few years I've been weaning myself off of processed food, I've been repeatedly surprised by how easy it is to prepare real food. I've had a weak spot for french fries for as long as I remember. Now I take a potato, chop it into wedges, splash them with a bit of olive oil and bake them for 20 or 30 minutes -- my version doesn't take any longer than the (expensive!) frozen fries with all the icky additives!

That's it, folks. Good luck with your resolutions. Let me know if I can help -- seriously. Email, call, contact me on facebook, and I'd love to talk food -- give me a chance to come up with an easy way to replace your favorite junk food!

Me, I'm going to work on eating seafood more regularly, and slowing down when I eat (I have an annoying tendency to behave as though meals were some sort of race!). I'm thinking about putting away the silverware and using only chopsticks for meals as a way of forcing the issue, at least until I get accustomed to lingering over my food.

Plus, maybe a little less time spent at the computer.

Here's to 2012 being even better than all that's come before it!  **tink!!**

*That's another thing: I did it all without ever giving up beer or wine. If you eat real food, you still get to drink adult beverages. Surely, that's worth giving up the frankenfood!!!  ;-)


Keera Ann Fox said...

Happy new year, Alice! And congratulations on your successful exercise and weight changes!

After spending my holidays with a woman who can cook and does so well, and after a good year of low-carbing, I want to learn to cook well for one.

Unlike you (and any chef), I have no understanding of food. I watch someone like Jamie Oliver mix mint, ginger and lemon and I can say that'll be tasty, but I would never have thought to combine those on my own because I have no innate feel for what flavors do together. Without instructions (recipes), I am helpless. Still, for my own health's sake (and the planet's), the more I can cook for myself, the better. So that is my goal in 2012*.

I have another goal, too: To walk up hills more. I'll have to think about what fond activity I can combine it with that will work as motivation for me.

*) Since you asked: I've been saying two thousand twelve in both English and Norwegian because it's the Norwegian standard way of saying years. The Swedes say twenty-twelve, and I would expect English-speakers to, too. Eventually, so will the Norwegians. :-)

alice said...

Keera, I don't have an innate sense either, but this book has been a help: The Flavor Bible, but mostly I just stick with recipes until I feel comfortable improvising...

I haven't been saying anything yet with regard to the year, but I just asked G-Dog, "Quick! What year is it?" and he responded "two thousand twel... WAIT!!! Twenty-twelve!!" So, I guess, the household is attempting to take a position... ;-D