Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Good workout last night

I had a really good workout last night, walking almost two and a half miles:

A whole hour at an average of 2.4 mph
and swimming for a long time. Not all of it was vigorous swimming but sometimes I like to relax and simply float in the warm water. I can get a lot of good-quality thinking time in while I'm floating, almost weightless, in the pool, with the water blocking the noise out.

This morning I had some positive affirmation from one of my fitness apps on my phone: 12,249 steps. After a bit of a blip, the weight is coming down again too. 333.2 lbs this morning. I should be below 330 this weekend.

The weather is going to be slightly warmer this week (i.e. above freezing during the day), so the roads outside should be mostly free of snow and ice soon (well, until the next snow at the weekend). That should enable me to get outside and walk "in the real world", where there are undulation and varied terrain. On a treadmill, the speed is relentlessly constant, and the point at which your heel strikes the ground is the same every time. In the real world, that same spot on your foot gets a reprieve from time to time.

I'm really looking forward to the day (in the next week or two) when I can do a 10-15 mile test walk, just to see how I manage with that now, and whether or not I need to step up the intensity of my exercises. If that works out okay then the next thing will be to repeat the feat with a loaded backpack.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Learning about bears and knots

When I go on my big hike in 115 days (!!) there is a very small possibility that we'll encounter a black bear. I'm not a fan of that. I want to be prepared, with noise makers (whistles and bells) and bear spray. When I posted a question online about strategies to minimize the chances of bear encounters, someone kindly pointed me towards this great graphic:
Never have ANY food where you sleep, not even an empty candy wrapper
The website that it's from, http://theultimatehang.com, looks pretty interesting too, if you are into using a hammock when you backpack or go hiking a lot.

Looking at that website, and remembering all the YouTube videos that I've watched lately made me think: I really need to start learning about and practicing tying knots.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

You need to pant!

When I first created the ERGOOB website, 10 years ago now, I had tried to distill what I knew I had to do into a concise title. "Eat Right, Get Out Of Breath" was born. I was just reminded of that earlier this week when I read this:
When you lose weight, where does it go? It turns out, most of it is exhaled. Our body stores the excess protein or carbs in a person's diet in the form of fat, specifically, as triglyceride molecules, which consist of just three kinds of atoms: carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. For people to lose weight, their triglycerides must break up into building blocks, which happens in a process known as oxidation.  
When a triglyceride is oxidized (or "burned up"), the process consumes many molecules of oxygen while producing carbon dioxide (CO₂) and water (H₂O) as waste products. To burn 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of fat, a person needs to inhale 29 kg (64 lbs) of oxygen. The chemical process of burning that fat will produce 28 kg (62 lbs) of carbon dioxide and 11 kg (24 lbs) of water, the researchers calculated. That's a LOT of heavy breathing. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Results of my experimental cooking

Last week I made a couple of experimental recipes, some fortified hard tack to take on a backcountry hike and a 'good for you' chocolate pudding. The hard tack wasn't cooked quite long enough. At the relatively low temperature (250 °F) it needed more then 90 minutes to eliminate all the moisture.
The chocolate pudding turned out pretty well. 
Low carb chocolate dessert
The consistency was good. The flavor was not bad. It could have done with being slightly sweeter, so perhaps an extra teaspoon of honey, or one extra packet of stevia. I used unsweetened almond milk, so maybe regular almond milk would have been better? It smelled very chocolatey. A garnish of fresh berries would have been good (raspberries!)

Today, I have a couple of avocados that are ripe enough to try my other chocolate pudding recipe. I don't have a blender or food processor, so it'll be fun trying to get the avocados to be a smooth paste by hand.

A couple of rough days, back on track now

A couple of rough days

Last week was very tough at work. A long-running problem turned even worse, and became very stressful. On Thursday and Friday evenings, when I came home, I was starving (like, a lot more than normal). Instead of sticking to my healthy eating plan, which I had followed in the morning for breakfast and at lunchtime, I just dived straight into the first thing that was readily available; and I kept eating, and kept eating, even when I knew (in my head) that I wasn't hungry any more. What I was eating wasn't intrinsically bad food, but I was just eating WAY too much of it, and I felt almost powerless to stop myself. As a result there was a steep upward tick in my weight.

It was really a little bit depressing. I don't really know if it was work-related, or what the problem was. Maybe my body is telling me I'm missing a key nutrient (I've heard, for example, that some anemic people have cravings for red meat)? I totally skipped writing anything in my new food journal for those two days. I'm not going to go back and try to recreate them. I'll just write a comment that says "bad days" and move on to today's entries.

Back on track now

I went to the health center this morning to get some blood tests done and to check in with them. I'll get the results of those tests in a couple of days. The main one for me, obviously, is my weight.
332.2 lbs this morning
After peaking at 428 lbs back in June 2014, I was down to 405 by mid-June of 2015. Since then I've been able to sustain about 10-12 lbs of weight loss a month, with just a small blips in October last year. After my two days of ... insecurity at the end of last week, I'm back on track. 332.2 lbs is the lowest I've been in about three years.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Super grains - fortified hard tack

Last weekend I posted about the idea of making hard tack but adding some quinoa and amaranth for extra protein and other nutrients. Tonight I made some.


  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • ½ cup quinoa
  • ½ cup amaranth
  • 1 cup water
  • Pinch of salt (I used pink Himalayan, but I'm sure any kind would do)
Add caption


  1. Mix the flour and grains in a bowl
  2. Add water and mix together
  3. Roll out on a floured surface until about ¼" thick
  4. Transfer to a baking sheet, score in squares (perhaps 1" or 2" squares), and prick with a fork
  5. Bake in a 250 °F oven for 90 minutes
The idea is to find a balance of ingredients that will taste good, keep for a long time without going rancid, and that will have nutrients that will keep us going on our 100-mile hike in May.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

In 2015, no-one succeeded in climbing to the top of Mount Everest

In another one of my 'influential moments' that I have from time to time, I spent a chunk of time today reading a story about a rich guy (probably a merchant banker, or something that rhymes with it ["wanker" for those not familiar with the English vernacular]) who is about my height and weighs 210 lbs. By his own admission he is out of shape. Apparently, he just paid some company $15,000 to take him to Mount Everest in May so that he can climb it, having absolutely NO previous mountain climbing experience. All the comments from other people are, like, "don't do it. You're going to die!", or "don't do it, you're going to cause other people to die" when they have to rescue him.

My interest was piqued by the Mental Floss story that in 2015, for the first time since 1974, no-one succeeded in climbing to the top of Mount Everest (http://mentalfloss.com/uk/nature/37508/nobody-reached-the-top-of-mount-everest-in-2015). Wow! Knowing how popular that has become recently, I couldn't believe it, but they had a bad earthquake there in April and another one in May. Since then, only one man attempted to reach the summit, and he "missed it by that much" to quote Maxwell Smart (well, this young Japanese guy missed it by 700 meters).

So, reading all the other comments about the out of shape guy's death wish made me think about my own recently published list of ambitious projects (http://blog.ergoob.org/2016/01/ambitious-plans.html). Unwittingly, I may have planned things so that the order makes perfect sense. Working towards being able to hike 100 miles in seven days will help build up my strength and help me lose weight.

Afterwards, and assuming the weight loss continues, I'll train towards a long bicycle ride, which will help with endurance conditioning and improving my cardiovascular fitness. I did decide that it would be more sensible to go from Portland to Helena, rather than the other way round. That way, the 'finish line' will be my home town, and I won't have a day or two of travelling back to do before I can celebrate or relax. It's also going to be a great psychological boost to see Helena from the top of McDonald Pass, and the final 18 miles will be aided by the thought of being home soon. My quick back-of-an-envelope calculation says that I should be able to do the 700 miles at an average of 10 miles per hour (including breaks) in 70 hours, and that six hours per day would make about 11½ days, plus a couple of rest days along the way. I should be able to do the whole thing in two weeks.

Then I had a bright idea! Just as my daughter is going to be with me to do the PCT hike in May of this year, why can't I find someone to accompany me on the bike ride next year - and do it on a tandem? Yeah! I really like that idea. And, as I'm writing this just now, it occurred to me that it doesn't even have to be the same person accompanying me at the end as at the beginning. I could have two companions, in case one can't get more than a week off work at a time.

Then I thought about some of the things I'd need to be doing before climbing Mount Hood. I'd need to be able to carry a 40 lb backpack for several hours a day (check!) I'd need to have experience of substantially ascending and descending roads/paths (by then, check!) I will need to have built up my cardiovascular endurance, my muscular strength and my flexibility. Hiking steep outdoor trails with a weighted pack will be important, as will practicing on a few smaller and easier climbs (Mount Rainier, perhaps). There's no problem finding small mountains in and around western Montana, or in Washington or Oregon.

I have a plan now to start doing some weight/resistance training at home. It starts off very easily, and will build up in time and intensity as my strength increases. Eventually, I will make a short video of some of those exercises, so that other people can watch and learn, and maybe be inspired.

337 lbs - a disappointing week, but tomorrow is a new day!

Well, that was a disappointing week in the end. After walking 50,000 steps in the week (counting from last Sunday to yesterday) I actually GAINED three pounds! I know what did it. My usual problem lately - overeating. I'm sure I've got the composition of my diet mostly correct, I am still prone to simply eating too much. I did so well over the recent holidays, mostly avoiding the temptation to eat to excess. There were too many time in the last week when I know I didn't stop when I felt full, and carried on putting food in my mouth when my stomach was saying, "You can stop now!"

I know that this technique works. Health professionals recommend it all the time, and for a good reason. I shall start to keep a written food journal (not published and not online, but an actual handwritten diary). I will use it to record not only what I eat but also any comments about the time of day and how I feel about it, and any other relevant notes. The discipline of having to account (to myself) for everything I eat will force me to eat less. I will also be able to go back, after I've weighed myself, and see if I can actually spot patterns when I lose or gain weight. Are potatoes really evil? Is a low carb diet really the answer? Does increasing the amount of fiber have any effect? At the moment I have no way to tell but, in the future, I will be able to go back and find out.

Super grains for making hiking/trail snacks

In the context of lightweight food that might be suitable to take on a long-distance hike, I was reading about hard tack recently, in an online backpacking forum, when I was reminded that five years ago I made my own kind of long-lasting basic "survival" food.

Sesame wheat crackers, easy to make
My daughter, Birdie, and I made our own sesame wheat crackers, using flour and water and salt and sesame seeds, with some baking powder added, I'm sure. Usually, hard tack is made with just flour and water and salt, and it is slow baked at a low temperature for a long time (like, 200 °F for four hours, or something like that). Anyway, that much wheat flour is not consistent with my low-carb diet at the moment and, honestly, doesn't sound that appealing on the palette. If we're taking sustenance with us on our 100-mile Pacific Crest Trail section hike in May, we want it to actually taste good, and be nutritious too, right?

So, I looked up some alternatives online that were still easy to make, but had more protein and other micro-nutrients, yet would still make a light, flavorful snack. The addition of amaranth and quinoa, both gluten-free pseudo grains with essential amino acids, seems to be the most popular idea for adding flavor and texture and nutrients. Other good things you can add to the mix include spelt, Kamut, chia seeds and teff. Look online for phrases like "fortified hard tack" and you'll find more details.

This site: http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Markets/10-ancient-grains-to-watch-from-kamut-to-quinoa has some info on the health benefits of "super grains". It also reminded me that the US Department of Health and Human Services and the US Department of Agriculture recently published their new, updated 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. (http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/ ). Check out this link, from the same site: http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Ingredients/Cereals-and-bakery-preparations/Seeds-avocados-and-clean-eating-will-gain-traction-in-2016-RDNs-say

So, when I get my supply of amaranth and quinoa, in a few days time, I will be doing some baking and I'll share the results here.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

An alternative 'good for you' chocolate pudding


  • 1 ripe peeled avocado
  • ½ to ¾ cup water (start with a ½ cup and add more if needed to blend)
  • 3 tablespoons raw unsweetened cacao powder
  • 8 chopped pitted dates
  • Dash of vanilla extract


  1. Blend all ingredients in a blender.
  2. Serve chilled.
The avocado has excellent fats, the dates add some natural sweetness and fiber. The raw unsweetened cacao is packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. 

For a change, you could substitute blended coconut milk or almond milk for the water, or add a pinch of ground cinnamon. You could also top it with pistachio or other nuts.

Experimenting with a 'good for you' chocolate pudding

Back in the summer of 2014 I had an opportunity to learn first-hand how chia seeds will swell up and thicken any liquids into which they are poured. They are high in protein, and an excellent way to thicken your shakes and smoothies, or to make puddings. They have other nutritional benefits. A one ounce (28 grams) serving (two tablespoons) of chia seeds contains: 11 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, and 9 grams of fat (5 g of which are Omega-3). They're also packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

When I was drinking freshly squeezed vegetable juices, my diabetic partner at the time would add chia seeds to our drinks so that she'd get the extra protein she needed. It's really a good thing, hence the name Superfood in this recipe.

Chocolate Chia Seed Superfood Pudding

Chocolate chia pudding
  • 1¼ cup unsweetened non-dairy milk (almond or coconut)
  • ¼ cup chia seeds
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cacao powder
  • Dash of pink Himalayan sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon organic raw honey
  • Dark chocolate shavings for garnish
  1. Add all of the ingredients to a large glass jar with a lid, give it a quick stir, then put the lid on.
  2. Shake it like crazy to mix it all up.
  3. Refrigerate until very thick and pudding-like, at least 4 hours or overnight, shaking or stirring occasionally.
  4. Serve the pudding chilled with whatever topping you’d like.
Other optional toppings: crystallized ginger, goji berries, nut butter, coconut, fresh citrus, bananas, nuts, pomegranate seeds, whipped coconut cream.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Ambitious plans

Having asked myself the question, "What am I going to do after I finish my 100-mile hike on a section of the Pacific Crest Trail this May?", I have been thinking about other ambitious projects that I can work towards. I already mentioned Nordic or cross-country skiing in another post (http://blog.ergoob.org/2015/12/trying-to-like-snow-never-say-never.html). That'll be something for next winter (2016/17).

Here is the list I came up with so far:

  • cross country or Nordic skiing (winter of 2016/17)
  • 600 miles bicycle ride from Helena to Portland (spring/summer of 2017)
  • climb Mount Hood in Oregon (spring/summer of 2018)
Mount Hood is a technical climb, I know, but it's only 11,250 feet high, and only three miles away from Timberline Lodge. I couldn't possibly climb it now, but in 30 months time, with the right equipment, and the right skills and training, could I do it? Absolutely! 

Could I cycle all the way to Portland today - no way! Could I in 18 months time? Absolutely! I would need about two weeks off work to do it, maybe more, but it's certainly possible. 

In the meantime, there are other sections of the PCT to hike, plus the whole of the Continental Divide Trail (which is closer to where I live anyway). I should also think up some sort of swimming challenge, since I enjoy swimming so much, and that would be a good thing to do in the winter months. 

Finally, and this might be a total pipe dream, I was inspired by this Sara Bareilles video, "Brave", that is on YouTube:

It made me want to contact her to see if I could be a dancer in one of her future music videos. She's starring in a Broadway musical, "Waitress", at the moment but I'm sure she'll be writing and performing more songs in the future and making music promotion videos. She has a great voice, and having the confidence and ability to dance like the performers in her Brave video would be fantastic for me.

Third visit to the gym in three days - two more scheduled this week!

This is going to be a real post-holiday step buster week. I made the mistake on Sunday and Monday of eating too many beans (I'd made a Brazilian-style black bean and pork stew on Sunday), with predictable results. On Monday evening my stomach felt really bloated and walking was not comfortable, so I stopped after just 1.5 miles.
1.5 miles in 41:21 minutes on Monday
Tuesday evening I felt much better. I was easily able to complete a whole hour again, clocking up 2.23 miles. Including my walk to work and back, today I walked over 11,000 steps (44,200 in the last seven days)!
2.23 miles in 1 hour on Tuesday
I have been using the "Interval Training" setting on the treadmill, so that the incline goes up and down every few minutes. That makes the workout more intense. And, today for the first time, I even picked up the pace a bit and ran for a minute (literally). I normally have the thing going at 2.2 or 2.3 miles per hour, sometimes up to 2.5 mph, with an incline of about 1.0%. Today, after I'd hit the 2 mile mark, I cranked it up to 5 mph and ran for a whole minute. Now, compared to the fit people around me, who regularly run at 6, 7 or 8 mph, my little effort was nothing; but for me it was HUGE.

I'd like to think that I stopped running to spare the machine from being pounded to death by my weight, but I couldn't manage a whole lot more, perhaps another 30 seconds at that pace. Slowly, I'll built up my speed and strength. I told a friend that I'd tried the "Weight Loss" setting on the treadmill, but it didn't work. When I got off, I was still fat!

Slowly, slowly, I can tell that I'm improving. From day to day it's difficult to see, but every now and then I'll notice that my shirts are looser, or the drawstring on my sweatpants needs to be tightened. OMG, I even bought my first two pairs of NON-sweatpants in ages recently. I no longer have to feel like white trash because I'm too fat to fit into anything else. I no longer have to buy 4X clothing from a Wisconsin-based trading company because that's all that fits. I can now wear 2X and 3X clothes. Once you get down to 2X there's no longer a "big and tall" premium price to pay, woohoo!

Next time I go to the Civic Center to watch a music concert, I'll actually be able to get my ass in and out of the narrow seats without a crane or a crowbar. I'm looking forward to the day (soon) when I can take my daughter contra dancing, like we used to five years ago, and I can do more than one dance without gasping for breath. Having lost 70 pounds in six and a half months, I know I've still got a way to go (more than 12 months), but there's nothing in this world that will stop me now. To paraphrase a certain Dr Martin Luther King (thanks for the holiday in two weeks!), "I have seen the Promised Land. I WILL get there."

Sunday, January 03, 2016

First post-holiday visit to the gym

With Christmas and the New Year holidays out of the way now, today was my first visit to the gym in two weeks. I managed a whole hour of walking (2.25 miles) and half an hour's worth of swimming, which felt great. 
2.25 miles (3.6 km) in one hour
I'm scheduled to go at least two more times this week, more if I can manage it. 

The last couple of times I was at the gym, I was watching a movie while I walked. This time I was listening to one of my Audible audio books. I figured I'd try that, since I have so little time for reading, normally. It was pretty good. I'm listening to "Einstein: His Life and Universe" by Walter Isaacson. The whole thing is 21+ hours long, so it'll be good for a couple of weeks, at least.

334.2 lbs - the progress continues

334.2 lbs (151.6 kg)
The progress continues. At this morning's weigh-in I was 334.2 lbs (151.6 kg).

Friday, January 01, 2016

336.2 pounds today, and my staple breakfast

336.2 lbs (152.5 kg)
The progress continues. At this morning's weigh-in I was 336.2 lbs (152.5 kg). That will be my 'marker', my reference point at the beginning of the new year. This is the point from which all of this year's progress will be measured. 

Monthly targets for next year

Based on the progress I've made in the first six months of this journey, and bearing in mind my goal of reaching 178 pounds by my 50th birthday, I'd drawn up a back-of-an-envelope quick table of monthly targets.

  • Oct 2015      356       Actual: 356.2
  • Nov 2015      341       Actual: 345.4
  • Dec 2015      327       Actual: 336.2
  • Jan 2016      312     
  • Feb 2016      298     
  • Mar 2016      283     
  • Apr 2016      269     
  • May 2016      254     
  • Jun 2016      240     
  • Jul 2016      226     
  • Aug 2016      211     
  • Sep 2016      197     
  • Oct 2016      185     
  • Nov 2016      178     
Even if I don't hit every target, or I'm not at exactly 178 lbs by next November 28th, I'll still be a heck of a lot closer than I would have been if I'd just sat on the couch and not changed any of my behaviors! As long as I'm below 200 lbs, I don't mind taking an extra month or two to reach my target. 

What's really funny is that even at 178 lbs, my BMI will be 24.9, borderline overweight. According to the chart, I should be aiming for 149 lbs. That's not going to happen! 

Wilted spinach with eggs

Wilted spinach and eggs, my
"breakfast of champions"
My "go-to breakfast" these days is a very simple wilted spinach with eggs, soft yolk of course. I start with a couple of large knobs (2 tbsp) of good quality butter. Kerrygold butter is tasty and has a great natural yellow color. Then I fill the pan with as much spinach as will fit in it. Initially the lid might not fit very well, but the spinach soon cooks down. After a few minutes, I'll turn the semi-wilted spinach over so that the other side gets a chance to cook. 
In the meantime, I have cracked my three large eggs into a small dish, ready to add to the pan. An extra knob (1 tsp) of butter is added to an empty circle that I have created in the pan. The eggs are quickly added, with seasoning (usually just salt and pepper), and the lid is placed back on. This cooks over a low to medium  heat for several minutes, until the egg whites have set and the yolks are the desired consistency. I like mine runny. Depending on what I have in the fridge, I'll sometimes add a small sprinkling of Parmesan cheese, or some salsa or picante sauce.