Friday, November 27, 2015

Extra days off lead to excessive reading (a good thing)

** Originally written last week but only published on December 1st **

Yesterday was Thanksgiving day in the US, so I was off work and had lots of time to read. Some of the things I've been reading about food and nutrition lately talk about:

  • the value of fermented food and drinks (pickles, sauerkraut, kefir)
  • how the human gut is the second brain
  • the importance of fiber in our diet
  • the merits of intermittent fasting versus eating multiple smaller meals each day
  • low carb diets, high in fats (like Paleo), with or without grains and gluten
I remember when I lost a lot of weight once before, when I was living in England back in 2006, I drank a little bottle of Yakult probiotic dairy (sugary) drink each day. I wouldn't do that now, but I would be okay with other fermented foods and drinks. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Butter is back in favor, and high in flavor

If you only read one other thing today, let it be this:

It's an article by food journalist and author Mark Bittman, talking about the benefits of butter. After being told for 40 years that saturated fat in butter is bad for us, the consensus is shifting again back in favor of 'real' butter and away from highly processed margarines, etc. As Bittman says, "...the real villains in our diet — sugar and ultra-processed foods — are becoming increasingly apparent".

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

349 - my lowest in three years

Once again, I'm on a downward trajectory, which is good.
349 lbs (158 kg), my lowest in three years!
There were a couple of evenings in the past seven days when I didn't want to get up and walk, but I knew I had to to keep up the momentum. I'm glad I did. When I weighed in this morning I tipped the scales at 349.0 lbs (158.3 kg). I don't think I will make my target by the end of the month but that won't stop me trying to get as close as possible.

Today saw our first major snow storm of the winter season in this part of Montana. My walk home took 35 minutes instead of the usual 25 minutes, and my stride length was shorter, but that's okay. I'd rather get home in one piece than with a broken hip from falling on the slippery snow. It was a much harder workout than usual. It was really funny, in a way, to receive at least five offers of rides from work back to my apartment, only to turn them all down with an "It's okay. I need the exercise."

Knowing that, for me, most of the battle of losing weight and getting fitter is a psychological game I have to play against myself, I have also turned down all invitations to Thanksgiving dinner. It's probably the single worst time of year for overeating, which I already know I'm prone to. So, instead, I've suggested to my friends that I can come the following day (Friday) or at the weekend, when there's usually the same food left over, but minus the pressure to have two or three spoonfuls of everything when one is an appropriate serving size.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A sluggish week is behind me now

Last week was a bad one in terms of progress towards my goals. A couple of friends and I were celebrating our birthdays (mine is November 28th, thanks for asking), so I ate out a couple of times, which I haven't been doing much of lately. Eating out always means struggling with extra large portion sizes, a terrible lack of vegetables, and an extra load of carbs that I usually try to avoid. But it was for a special occasion, so I happily made an exception. It also meant not going to the gym a couple of times, which I really missed.

I also had a pulled muscle in my back, which made walking uncomfortable anyway. So I was delighted to be able to do another 2 miles on the treadmill last night, followed by a good half hour of swimming (thanks, G!)
2.0 miles in 48 minutes 22 seconds
I managed to get my heart rate up to 140 bpm and keep it there for most of the time, so I knew that the sweat and my rate of breathing were consistent with a good aerobic workout. By the end of it, my feet were a bit sore, so the swimming was a blessed relief.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Once more tomorrow and the weekly treadmill walking trifecta is complete

Yesterday, I was fortunate to get a ride to the gym for a couple of hours (thanks, Ann!) I walked on the treadmill for two miles, then swam for an hour. It felt great.
Tuesday's tally: 48:44 minutes and 2.0 miles
Today, I decided to try something different. Instead of walking on the level (or near level), I cranked the machine up to a 5.5% incline, which is akin to what the first five miles of next May's 100 mile PCT hike will be. That's steeper than when I walk home from work.
Wednesday's steeper grade: slower and not quite as far
I managed to keep my heart rate up at about 140 bpm, which is a good aerobic level for me.

When I walked back from the health center (which is just down the road from me) today, I made a point of slowing down slightly but not stopping altogether to have to catch my breath. I've got six months to train myself up to a point where I can easily walk uphill for several miles without huffing and puffing.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Regular consistent application of small steps leads to big gains

When I first started walking to walk, in mid-June, I timed myself. Going to work took 22 minutes (it's downhill) and it took 28 minutes to get home from work (it's uphill - an elevation change of 100 feet over 0.7 miles). Gradually, week by week, those times have gone down from 28 to 26 to 25 minutes. Now, I can regularly get home in about 22-23 minutes. On frosty mornings, when I don't want to hang around outside (I leave at 06:15), I can now easily get to work in 15 minutes.

Yesterday, I had made arrangements to meet my friend Elaine at my apartment after work. Without the aid of my reading glasses, I had mistakenly thought that she'd said she would be there at 4.50. In fact, she had written 4.30 in her text message. When I discovered this (after donning my glasses), I thought, "Oh heck, I don't want to be late", so I deliberately walked home a lot quicker. I also didn't stop as much to catch my breath. Imagine my surprise and delight when I checked the clock upon my arrival back home and discovered that I'd walked UPHILL in 15 minutes! I couldn't believe it. That's a 2.8 mph pace up a 2.7% grade hill.

Then, today, I decided to try walking home a little bit slower and deliberately not take any 15-30 second breaks to catch my breath. Normally, I have half a dozen spots where I might regain my composure quickly before carrying on. Today, zero stops. I still made it in 23 minutes, which I'm okay with.

Even if the progress is measured in tiny steps, 100 tiny steps in the right direction are still equal to a whole lot of larger ones. As long as I'm constantly improving, measurably, I'm happy.

So close to a milestone - 350.2 lbs

350.2 lbs (158.8 kg)
After eating well (making good choices, not consuming copious amounts) for a few days and having been walking quite a bit recently, I was quietly confident that I might break through the 350 pound milestone when I stepped on the scales this morning. Doh! Missed it by that much! Now it's onward and downward towards my end-of-November goal of 341 lbs.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Cauliflower tortilla recipe

This versatile cauliflower tortilla recipe is super simple and allows you to "have your cake and eat it", so to speak, if you are trying to avoid wheat flour. The ingredients are very straightforward:

  • a large cauliflower, with the stem and leaves removed
  • one or two eggs (depending on how large your cauliflower is)
  • seasoning to taste
That's it! 
Then, preheat your oven to a moderately hot 375 °F (190 °C, Gas mark 5). 

Using a blender or a food processor, pulse the cauliflower until you get a texture finer than rice. Steam the riced cauliflower over boiling water or in a microwave for 5 minutes.

After letting it cool for a few minutes (so that you don't burn your hands), place the steamed cauliflower in a wet dish towel and squeeze out as much excess water as you can. You should be able to get out a lot of water; be really aggressive about squeezing it or you’ll end up with soggy tortillas later.
Cauliflower, eggs and seasong

Transfer the cauliflower to a bowl. Add in the eggs (one if it was a small cauliflower, two if it was large), salt and seasonings (you can use any spices you like). Mixture should not be sloppy wet. Use a rolling pin for thinner, larger tortillas.

On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, separate the mixture into 6 balls of equal size, and spread each ball out on a parchment-lined baking sheet to make six small circles.

Place in the oven and bake for 10 minutes; then flip and cook for another 5 minutes. Allow to cool.
The finished product

Alternatives for flavoring water without Aspartame

Water flavor enhancers
After reading some more about the safety (or not) of Aspartame, I've decided to get rid of all the products in my apartment that contain it. The two things left were sugar-free chewing gum (more on that later) and water flavor enhancers.

Filtered water with lemon slices
I'm not opposed to drinking plain water but it's easier, sometimes, to drink it when it has some flavoring added. I still have to experiment with cold brewed teas. In the meantime, I will be trying out simple sliced lemon. It's not that my tap water at home tastes bad. I would just like some variety. I currently filter my tap water in a jug in the fridge but it's really only to get rid of the chlorine smell.

If you have any good recipes for flavoring water, please share them with me. If I get enough, I'll create a new web page with those recipes so that everyone can enjoy them. Happy hydrating!

351.6, a new low

351.6 lb
This morning's weigh-in was exciting for me. I tipped the scales at 351.6 lb (159.5 kg) which is right on track to meet my personal end-of-month goal. I was a bit worried that I would lose the momentum during my week of vacation if I was at home all day with a fridge full of food. Thankfully, I wasn't distracted from my mission. In fact, I'm more determined than ever to get out and do the exercise needed to succeed with the big hike next May (check out if you haven't already).

Walked a nice trail along Prickly Pear Creek

Yesterday I had the pleasure of discovering for the first time a cool little walking trail that goes along the Prickly Pear Creek. It's just off Route 518 between East Helena and Montana City, right opposite the Ash Grove cement works. There's a park called Sunderland Park, and a groomed trail that is just over 1 mile long. After parking your car, you cross a wooden bridge and head north and east. The terrain is winding and undulating. None of the little ups and downs are too high or steep. When it has recently snowed, which it had when I was there, one or two parts are a bit muddy and slippery, but it's generally nice to walk on with a lot of chipped bark. According to the Helena IR, it's part of a thing called the Prickly Pear Greenway. Very nice!

The Last Chance Audubon Society lists this as a good birdwatching trail in their publication:, citing; "Common bird sightings include swallows, American Dipper, Cedar Waxwing, Gray Catbird, Veery, and Song Sparrow." There are, indeed, lots of birds with very distinct calls there (although I didn't recognize them, sadly).

My walk was just over 6,000 steps, about two and a half miles, in about an hour and a half. Upon returning to the trailhead, I was glad of the rest at the concrete picnic tables and benches, although it was a bit cold to stay there very long after working up a good sweat. I'm sure it'll be a great place to go in the spring and summer. As I was leaving, one other person came with his dog, otherwise, no-one else was there.

It was a good workout for me, and definitely somewhere I'd return to when the weather is warmer.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Importance of lots of measured steps

I came across this story a couple of days ago:; "Research that monitored 3,000 Australians over 15 years shows sedentary people who increase[d their] number of steps have significantly reduced mortality... A sedentary person who increased his or her steps from 1,000 to 10,000 a day, seven days a week, was found to have a 46% lower mortality risk. If increased to 3,000 a day five days a week, the person had a 12% lower risk." The average age of participants was almost 59 at the start of the study, so you're never too old to get started!

The Guardian also had an interesting article the day before: that was a bit more tongue-in-cheek, about how a pedometer is "a small device is now your jailer, minder, boss and mum", and "move[s you] into the steps-bore A-league". I decided to use my Android smartphone instead (saving myself $100 in the process), since the phone has all the same accelerometers, and I always have it on me.

I use both the Google Fit app, and one from a French company, Withings, called HealthMate. Withings makes very expensive hardware like pedometers, bathroom weighing scales and blood pressure meters. Their Android app also lets you manually track blood pressure, pulse and oxygen saturation (and, bizarrely, height - which I'm sure doesn't change that much from day to day, right?) The two apps are usually within a few dozen steps of one another at the end of the day, so I know they are fairly accurate. 

There's also an amusing article by Joel Stein in GQ called How to Get a Superhero Body in 90 Days or Less! Enjoy. 

Thursday, November 05, 2015

With expanding and contracting waistlines, a new medical problem

With so many Americans (and Brits) being overweight or obese, the sight of our "panniculus" is not so uncommon any more. That's the name for the apron of skin and fat that hangs from our lower abdomen and covers, to varying degrees, our pubic hair, our genitals, or (in extreme cases) our thighs and knees. If you are part of the one-third of people who are not overweight, you should do a Google image search (but, perhaps, not while you are at work!) It's quite disturbing sometimes. It's also knows as a FUPA, which means “fat upper pubic area”.

It can be especially frustrating for the 'owner' of the panniculus if it has come about as a result of a recent pregnancy or if you've just lost a lot of weight. After all, you've worked hard to get your body back into shape, and now you're left with an unsightly flap of skin which can make it difficult to fit into clothing properly, or ride a bike comfortably, or attend to other life functions without some inconvenience.

The good news is that with the rising popularity of bariatric surgery, plastic surgeons are becoming more and more adept at post-weight-loss body contouring, including panniculectomy and abdominoplasty (which is different in that it also involves muscle tightening and belly button realignment). For Americans who do lose a lot of weight and would like this procedure done, the question then becomes: will the corrupt medical/insurance system actually pay for the surgery? I know a couple of people who have had to go abroad, where it's much cheaper, to get this "cosmetic" surgery done because their health insurance wouldn't cover it. Outrageous!

Another successful Wednesday evening walk

Yesterday evening I was able to get to the gym again and complete another 2 miles (3.2 km) on the treadmill, followed by an hour in the swimming pool.
2 miles in 49 and a half minutes with a very slight incline
My heart rate got up to 145 bpm which is fine for me, getting my aerobic exercise. I was sweating and puffing and breathing heavily enough at the end that I could tell I'd just had a good workout. I was originally going to go for a whole hour, but was happy to see the machine tick over to the 2 mile mark, so I stopped a tad earlier than originally anticipated. 

I don't know why it is, but it always seem to take a couple of days for my good or bad behavior (lots of exercise or overindulgence) to be reflected on the scales. This morning I weighed in at 353.6 lbs, which is five pounds less than I was two weeks ago. With all the minor fluctuations up and down that come from obsessive daily weighing, it's difficult to accurately compare any one day to any other but that seems about right.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

A week of intensive learning

I'm on vacation (holiday) this week. I was supposed to be writing a novel for NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing month. Instead, I have been learning a LOT about different aspects of diet and nutrition. Oh boy! There's a lot of information available, and a lot of misinformation. The challenge for anyone is to be able to sort the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.

My biggest take away, the most striking thing I've learned, is just how evil refined table sugar is. Artificial sweeteners are just as bad, which makes me sad since I was a faithful user of stevia for years. And, even though the government says it's safe, I'm more convinced than ever that Aspartame is really evil and dangerous, and I'm redoubling my effort to eliminate it from my diet altogether.

I've been reading a lot, and watching YouTube videos, on non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is gaining in prevalence in the population as a whole and, frighteningly, among young children. The number one culprit: sugar-laden drinks, whether they are sugary colas or "sports drinks" or even fruit juices (and most of those contain very little actual fruit).

I've been learning about the benefits of chewing gum after meals. Not as substitute for brushing and flossing teeth, but as an extra thing. The American Dental Association has information on its website: about how the mechanical act of chewing increases the flow of saliva in your mouth. If you chew gum for 20 minutes after eating, the increased saliva flow can help neutralize and wash away the damaging acids that are produced when food is broken down by the bacteria on your teeth. Now my dilema is, do I use gums that are made with synthetic plastic and use Aspartame (No!) or go for something more natural, with the old-fashioned and more natural chicle as its base?

Since your mouth is the gateway to your gastrointestinal tract, it has an underrated importance in your overall health.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

We need honesty and clarity from the food industry

I have a growing amount of respect for my compatriot, Jamie Oliver, who gave an interview on Canadian radio earlier this week: in which he said that: "I believe, passionately, that people ... make good choices when they have clarity; and business and money and marketing ... it's murky...". The processed food industry is a $1 trillion business with unimaginable political muscle, able to buy off lawmakers at will. We need people's champions, like Jamie Oliver, to stand up for us, the consumers, and advocate for change.

One area that MUST be changed is food labeling. It has to be easier for consumers to recognize the HUGE amounts of added sugar in processed foods. Requiring that sugar to be expressed in terms of teaspoons instead of grams would be a good start. Then, your can of cola which has 40 grams of added sugar can be seen to have 10 teaspoons of white death. Much more easily recognized, even by people who don't know what a gram is! That healthy granola bar with 12 grams of added sugar, that's three teaspoons! Does three teaspoons of sugar sound that healthy to you!

Another thing that has to change is the recommended serving sizes printed on packages. Just for fun, I filled my breakfast bowl this morning with what I thought was a reasonable amount of a high fiber cereal. It was 1½ cups. Then I measured it and compared it to the nutritional label's recommended serving size.
Unrealistic serving size
What! ½ cup is totally unrealistic. So, instead of just 100 calories (including the milk), I've eaten 300 calories. At least I got 42 grams of fiber though, right? Serving sizes for drinks are the worst. They are all based on an 8 ounce cup, which babies and young children might drink. In the real world, adults drink from glasses that are 14 to 16 ounces large. If you have a tall glass of real orange juice, now you're consuming 10 teaspoons of sugar (40 grams) instead of just five.

And, please, don't buy Sunny D for your kids. 98% of it is water and evil High Fructose Corn Syrup, 2% is all the other chemical stuff (like; thiamin hydrochloride, natural flavors, modified food starch, canola oil, sodium citrate, cellulose gum, xanthan gum, sodium hexametaphosphate, sodium benzoate, yellow 5, and yellow 6). A small 8 ounce serving of Sunny D contains 27 grams of sugar (6½ teaspoons), and that sugar is from the HFCS, not fruit juice. So, Junior's big glass will have 13 teaspoons of sugar in it!

A healthy obsession (Part 2)

Alice follows the rabbit down its hole.
OMG! I knew this would happen. I started reading about the dangers of added sugar in our diets, and about the benefits of not eating so much meat, and now I'm hooked. I've been reading more and more, and watching so many YouTube videos, my brain can't process it all quickly enough. People who know me will know how much I like to follow tangential threads, like in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

So far, the two big lifestyle changes that I will be making are to eat less meat and more vegetables, and also to cut out the stevia that I had been using as a sweetener.

There is a growing body of evidence that granulated table sugar is actually REALLY BAD for us. Many places are considering removing soda/pop machines from schools, or introducing a "sugar tax" to help reduce consumption. A great resource, that I will be going back to again and again, is, which is designed as an authoritative source for the scientific evidence about sugar and its impact on health. It is developed by a team of health scientists from the University of California, San Francisco.

When I started to delve into some of these things, I realized that improved health isn't just about losing weight per se. It's also about:

  • controlling fatty deposits on your liver, 
  • reducing insulin resistance, 
  • lowering your blood pressure, 
  • reducing the amount of abdominal fat we carry around our midriff. 

Visceral fat, that pendulous "belly fat", has been linked to metabolic disturbances and increased risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Fortunately, with good diet and exercise it's possible to get rid of it.

I started to read about Metabolic Equivalent of Task (MET), or simply metabolic equivalent, which is a way of expressing the "energy cost" of physical activities in a way that allows comparison of the effects of exercise between people of different weights. An activity with a MET value of 2, such as walking at a slow pace would require twice the energy that an average person consumes sitting quietly at rest. Raking leaves from your lawn has a MET value of 3.8. Backpacking or hiking has a MET value of 7.8. Running at 5 mph (12 min/mile pace) has a MET value of 8.3.

The more I've read, the more certain names keep cropping up again and again: Dr Rob Lustig, Gary Taubes, Cristin Kearns, Laura Schmidt, Joel Fuhrman. More and more documentaries and videos, such as Sugar Coated or The Secrets of Sugar, are coming out.

It's not just sugar that's bad for us, processed foods too can be damaging to our health. So, once again, Michael Pollan was correct with his 7 Rules for Eating: "Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can't pronounce".

There's more to come ...