Weight Loss Strategies & Thoughts

sparkling water bottle for weight loss success stories blog post lemonI have been on a bit of a weight loss journey for the last few months and I finally have had enough success to blog about it.

After I tried a round of IVF in February (it failed) I found that I had gained another 5 lbs on top of the 20 or so pounds I had gained from the time I got married in July 2009.

The IVF hormones and drugs seemed to make me puff up around the middle and I am sure that there was some stress eating along the way also.

I had been battling my lifestyle, stress and eating behavior for years thinking that just changing one thing, or giving up one key item would be the turning point to weight loss success. Boy was I wrong. People who say that are lying.

I had been pretty successful at losing weight when I needed to earlier in life. Once in high school (90’s) while very active in sports and discovering lean cuisine and diet coke and another time in my 20s while dancing up to 7 days a week (2000’s).

Now in 2012 with a sedentary desk job that demanded hours of excel analysis and implementation and a husband/home/cats/yard to take care of I had given up all of my personal interests and hobbies. Yep, every single one of them. I had no way to exercise and no time.

I finally have had some weight loss success because of several factors coming together to change a lot of things in my life. Like hundreds of things. Lifestyle change isn’t really the right word for it, it is more like millions of really small decisions adding up every day. I don’t actually feel like my lifestyle is any different. I am not sure how much of your lifestyle is really about food anyway.

Some of these changes were:

1. I was diagnosed with ADHD, documented by years of childhood report cards with attention issues. Medication helps me concentrate and stick to things until I get them finished, and keeping the long term goal in mind has always been a problem for me with weight loss. Some people may cry foul because many ADHD meds do lessen appetite, but I counter that with the fact that my stomach still growls if I am hungry while taking it. I just eat a more normal amount and I don’t use food as a stress reliever as much since I’m less frazzled in the first place.

2. I mostly gave up cooking, and certainly the idea that I had to provide my husband with a fancy full course dinner several times a week. (I never cooked before we were married) This led to less groceries being bought, less exotic ingredients in the house, less opportunity to snack. Less choice in the matter of snacking. And fewer trips to the store, which are tempting within themselves. I also canceled all those email recipe newsletters, unsubscribed to the food blogs and droped the idea that desert was needed at all. It actually gives me more time to do other things if I don’t have to always be meal planning, cooking, cleaning and prepping. I have a few staple things I still make, (roast chicken, onion/green pepper/mushroom omelette with egg beaters, quinoa veg salad, organic cornbread) but overall the cooking is much less frequent.

3. I reduced portion size by half. It is important and needed its own mention separate from the previous item on the list. Small plates help but someone isn’t going to lose weight on that method alone as certain statistical studies and books suggest. Basically I have the slowest metabolism in the world so my body can make a tiny bit of food last forever. It may have been an evolutionary bonus but now its a huge negative. I probably live on 1000 calories a day because I don’t exercise. There has also been research lately that states that people who have been overweight have cells that have a history of expecting overeating and slow processing. My take on that is I will always have to eat less than my contemporaries because of my history and extra slow metabolism.

4. I don’t eat breakfast. All you breakfast eaters that hate my method can shove it. I know that my eating snowballs during the day. I start out with lots of motivation/focus and as I get more tired/frustrated/stressed I eat more. My resolve weakens. I also have a kind of weird rebound effect to eating where I get hungry again within 2 hours especially if it is sweet stuff. So why sabotage myself by eating first thing in the morning if I’m not hungry? My metabolism isn’t going to get jump started by eating but my stomach cravings will. Sometimes I wonder if this suggestion is deliberate sabotage by the skinny people of the world that seem to talk about food constantly and eat nothing. Here is an article stating that you never start burning fat reserves unless you fast for 12 hours.  

5. I don’t drink soda – I drink organic coffee with organic creamer in the morning (I guess instead of breakfast) and sparkling water the rest of the day. I’m not a big alcohol drinker so cutting that out is pretty much status quo for me. ( a 1/2 beer is enough to make me sleepy) I don’t think soda is inherently evil but I do think I can’t afford its calories and my teeth don’t need the sugar/nutrasweet. (just like most parents thought back in the 70’s when I was a kid). I don’t drink diet soda because my body was past the point of being tricked by sweet tasting stuff that has no actual nutritional value in it and my body was pissed. About an hour after drinking diet soda I get incredibly hungry and inhale just about any food around me because my stomach hurts so much. Sparkling water seems soda-ish enough with the carbonation, but not sweet or with any calories. (avoid the flavored waters with nutrasweet or splenda) Other people make their own infused waters with cucumber, mint or orange/lemon/lime. That is cool too but I’m not going to cut up produce and do dishes at work, so my sparkling mountain bottle just sits on my desk.

6. The only exercise I do occasionally get is yard work and walking. At first I had no stamina to do basic things like mow the lawn (it’s not self-propelled but still it isn’t like we live on a hill either). I did force myself to get through yard tasks whether I liked it or not because I am incredibly embarrassed if the yard looks bad. This is only really something I have time for on weekends so if I have a bonus of some time during the week I do walk around the subdivision. There is a 1 mile loop around it that takes about 45 minutes. I even go out after dark. No excuses. The dog walkers are still out there and the weather is nice in the evenings now that it is summer.

7. I don’t obsess over lunch. If I bring lunch it is a Tupperware of fruit (pineapple, grapes, oranges & apples) or something like broccoli salad. I have also learned that the potbelly chickpea salad is the healthiest thing within walking distance of the office. I also get chipotle burrito bowls from time to time but only eat half. And the rest is for dinner. I told you I could make a few calories go a long way.

8. I like organic products but I am wary of some since they seem to have more fat, sugar and calories than their non-organic counterparts. I think the organic decision is more about long term health and less processed food, fewer chemicals, fewer hormones and pesticides that you ingest to hopefully avoid cancer. This may be more meaningful for some than others depending on your genetics and other factors, but I just think its safer to minimize the risks a bit. Its impossible to go totally organic so I don’t try but when I find a good organic alternative I usually stick to it even if it is a bit more expensive. Just avoid the organic granola/energy bars. Some have as much fat as a big mac.

In summary it took a lot of changes and a lot of time but after 4 months I have lost 15 lbs (to fit into things I wore in 2009). My hope is to lose another 5 and I hope this blog post doesn’t jinx it!

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Hidden fat & Cholesterol in Foods

I am still hot on this topic of finding hidden fat and cholesterol in my diet because I am still faced with how to get my Cholesterol down from 243 to under 200 in the next 6 months. I am not wild about the challenge but I don’t really have a choice either. Its my health right?

I have been to Jewel (our local grocery chain store, they’re pretty nice actually) and reading a lot of labels. I am finding a lot of fat in places I didn’t think I would. Here are some of the suprising foods I have decided to avoid to stay under 40 grams of fat per day.

Anything Organic.Organic food doesn’t have to be lowfat, so to make it taste better they leave the fat in despite all the health claims. Some of those organic granola energy bars had up to 12 grams of fat in them. A lot of it is from coconut and nuts in general. Yes, nuts make things taste better sometimes but you can’t have nuts in everything, despite it being good fat in them. Beyond about 6 almonds worth per day its still too much fat for the average person.

Any pre-made bakery, cookies or granola bars. Granola bars may have 8 grams of fat per bar and cookies can have 6-8 grams of fat per cookie. How many of us eat just one? Not likely. The only ones I found that were bearable was a low fat sunshine brand granola bar with 2 grams of fat and a honey graham cracker cookie and generic nilla wafers with 3 grams for a serving. I still like my sweet but I am not going anywhere near the enteman’s aisle or the key lime pie freezer.

Cereals. Yes, cereal. You don’t even get to enjoy the fat in cereals. Why is it there? I am not sure but some is from nuts other fat may come from the yummy clusters. I am not sure, but shredded wheat with frosting has 0 grams of fat and LIFE cereal has 1 gram, so those are the best of the bunch in my pantry and they’re plenty sweet.

Light Salad Dressing.Most of the big agrifoodmanufacturing companies have gone with a light is better than full fat strategy to sell more food because its tastier that way than at fat free. So finding fat free dressing is more of a challenge these days, yet the light dressing can have up to 6 grams of fat in one serving. How many of us only use one serving though? Back to fat free only for me, even though some of the fancy brands are a bit more expensive.

Pro-Biotics Again the health food claim but not low fat. A pro-biotic bar that was next to the Yogurt was 12 grams of fat. It was made of mostly nuts. Even the pro-biotic yogurt has 2 grams of fat in those tiny one ounce containers. Sneaky!

So generally I am looking for foods that have 1-3 grams of fat and anything 4+ gets tossed back on the shelf. One bright spot: The sunmaid english muffins with raisins (by the eggs in the fridge case, not the bread like you would think logically) only have 1 gram of fat. But no butter is allowed on them for me, I use jam instead.

The absolute worst food I found was a frozen Quiche about 4 inches across that had a whopping 26 grams of fat! Avoid quiche at all cost!

How do you lower your cholesterol? With what foods?

I heard from my doctor on Monday that I have high cholesterol, it is 243 at the moment. The good cholesterol is at 71 and the bad is 146. Yikes! I am only 33 so this is a bit surprising. We really took the test on a whim, not expecting it to be that bad yet. Yes I have a family history of heart problems (my maternal grandmother died at 50 with a heart attack and my paternal grandmother died at 55 from a stroke) but I never knew it started this early.

I do feel like I have time to work on this, at my current age I can make changes now and hopefully reverse some of the issues. There are some suprises though that lead me to believe my genetics aren’t that great. Not only am I a lot younger than most people with this cholesterol score, I also don’t eat the things they say are causing it. I am not someone who eats red meat every night, cheese, whole milk, butter or eggs. I think there are some sneaky causes to high cholesterol though that may not be as straightforward as the advice they have given me.

The causes I think are:

1. I am completely sedentary. I get less than 1K steps a day because of my job and where I live. This isn’t really changeable which sucks.

2. I eat out a lot, because we work a lot and I am a pretty bad cook. I really don’t know how to make anything besides grilling it, boiling it or the nuke it in the microwave method. I also grossed myself out on healthy choice and lean cuisine frozen meals in the 1990s so I can’t really eat them anymore. So I need another option besides skim milk and fat free cereal for dinner.

3. Healthy food is expensive! And Complicated! Yuck, or it’s raw which isn’t that great. I really can’t afford salmon or a fancy salad every night. I have to look into some low fat/cholesterol options.

4. Carbs may play a role in this. Both because many carb-licious items have butter/iol/fat in them and because carbs get eventually turned into and stored as fat. I am a carb addict. I would much rather come home and eat a pile of pancakes or muffins than meat any day. But then again I’m polish and we do carbs like nobody else. (and I like the serotonin from them too)

5. I have to get reading labels again. Both with packaged groceries and in restaurants. Hmmm an iPhone would help with looking up nutritionals at restaurants. I really have been lax in looking into that and keeping track of what the heck I put in my mouth.

6. I am consistently surprised that I gain so much weight from just a few calories extra and how little I work off. I think part of the equation is also loosing weight, but I’m not morbidly obese either. I am bout 20 lbs heavier than I should be, which definitely needs to go since its a cholesterol making machine, but it’s not like I have done anything drastically bad yet and I’m already in trouble.

The man-foods we usually have at home that I am no longer allowed are:

1. Brats (duh, we’re mid-westerners and they are really cheap)

2. Pizza (again a cheap fast food with a huge amount of cheese and most of the time Steve also likes meat)

3. Bakery (sob!) I love any kind of baked goods and I just got a kitchen aid mix master for a wedding gift. Sigh… I have to do things like angel food cake (egg whites, no fat) and light bread and limit carbs generally.

4. Hamburgers (again cheap food that is freezer friendly and fast to make)

5. Ice Cream – I usually eat light ice cream and not all the time, but this is probably best left off limits.

6. Snacks – Granola bars are really formulated to taste like cookies and bakery these days, and they have the bad stuff to match. Candy of all kinds can’t be good either.

Can ordinary people manage the risk in the stock market for their retirement?

I am beginning to think there is no way an average American can invest in the market and make any money for their retirement in a 401K. I was reading this morning that 5 and 10 year returns in the portfolios of most mutual funds are negative now when they calculated in the huge losses from recessions in 2001 and 2008 and the beginning of 2009. (Q1 hasn’t been kind) 

As an investor (for my 401K) I look at that and say: yuck! Why would I put my money in something that has no long term value?

My fiance sent me this article saying that now 20 and 30 years are the benchmarks for best overall performance in mutual funds and stocks in the market. Yikes! 20-30 years? Who has that much time before retirement? Who can invest for that long anyway?

When you consider that most people’s salary starts dropping when they reach their 50’s (because employers don’t value old employees and can’t spend time/money updating their skills) you really have 25 years max to work with as far as investments for retirement.

You start your first real paying job with a 401K at age 25 and you may not be fully employable by age 50 although you will likely live to the age of 80 or 90.  There’s your 25 years to save and invest for 30-50 years of retirement.

I also think there is something else going on here affecting the 20-30 year market profit numbers. The US Markets benefited from a long term technology/innovation and growth curve from WWII to the 1980s. Personally, I think that was a one time deal and we will never see that kind of long term prosperity again.

Why? 1. Because we don’t understand enough about technology to innovate on that level again to create that much growth. 2. Because the US has higher paid workers than anywhere else in the world and everything gets manufactured and produced (and serviced) somewhere else. 3. Because we’re too complacent and have too much entitlement as a country of workers. Work creates wealth, not shell games with securities.

That brings up another point: We’ve been playing a shell game with our economy since the 1980’s. De-regulate, re-regulate, stimulus, fix, fund, trade, outsource, sell, leverage, whatever… It’s all a shell game to us worker bees and the internet has been the only significant improvement in technology to create new industries and jobs in the last 20 years. We need more than that to survive and prosper as a nation and a world.

I don’t know about you but I can’t stand to take that much risk with my money. I have some in a 401K but mostly my retirement is locked in a 5 year CD IRA at 5.25% that was a promotion this fall when banks wanted more cash reserves. I changed companies in 2006 and rolled over the old 401K to a bank in 2007 because I knew the 10 year recession was coming soon and I didn’t want to risk timing it.

There will always be people who game the market and come out ahead, but those of us without finance degrees, huge money to invest in undervalued markets or inside scoops will never really profit on the whole. Many of us will get out exactly what we put in and maybe less considering our lack of  investment prowess. So, in that level of risky why not just put it in the bank? Positive 3-5% sounds a lot better than negative 40%.

I hate the inflation argument that says that 3-5% isn’t enough to make money after inflation. Guess what? Inflation has been very low and inflation doesn’t stop when you have negative returns either. I’d rather have some money dependably than none at all when prices are higher. 

You may be asking why I want more innovation and less investment in the market? Doesn’t investment in the market lead to more innovation?

NO. Most of the mutual finds and stocks you can buy that are highly rated are in huge old (one trick pony) risk averse companies that have already peaked and can’t figure out how to do anything new. They sell shares to raise cash and then have old people make decisions like the old days. Venture Capital,  new small businesses and Universities are the place where innovation happens. If I could invest in those, I would. But then again I don’t have millions of dollars and apparently I won’t any time soon.

What are the best proven ways to fund your retirement and create wealth then?

1. Have a side job for extra income you can save (part-time weekends or evenings a few nights a week)

2. Own rental property for extra income (you need to live near it for this to work)

3. Have fewer kids if you’re contemplating having a family (ok we don’t always control this, and we love kids, but nobody is going to debate that they are expensive) 

4. Own a smaller home (smaller mortgage = smaller amount in interest paid (lost) to the bank)

5. Don’t go into debt on credit cards or car loans (hello! 25% interest, MONTHLY! on some cards)

6. Live frugally generally, keep your cars 10 years, don’t buy new clothes every month and don’t buy big ticket items like TVs and Computers every few years. Spread out the expenses over the long term.

7. Share what you have with others. Seriously, knowledge, help with projects, donating time and donating items you no longer need, as well as hand me downs between families help kids and neighbors live better within their means and help the community live better too.

8. Take care of your health. Eat less junk, lower fat, lower salt, lower carbs. Exercise daily. Take vitamins. Don’t work in an industry that has a side effect of cancer. Visit the doctor regularly and if something comes up treat it early, it will cost so much less in the long run. Heath issues start in your 30’s and get more frequent in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. Expect to pay more every decade for health costs in your life/budget.

These are all real tactical changes we can make to save more money monthy and yearly that will get better returns than the stock market and help prepare for inflation. What else do you think can help?

Danactive Yogurt Drink from Dannon Really Works

danactive, yogurt, health, immunity, systemLast year at this time I was sick constantly. I think the combination of everyone in this office having too much to do, not enough sleep and riding public transportation every day is a ripe situation for illness to hit and spread. I had a cold/cough thing on Thanksgiving last year and was also pretty sick over Christmas. I was also sick around New Years and about once a month until around May. I know there are a lot of reasons one can get sick, but it was really common here in this office last year and it has started again.

But this year I have been drinking danactive yougurt drinks from Dannon every morning since October and I have also been drinking more water. I wasn’t too sure about these danactive things but the package said that 70% of your immunity/system comes from your digestive system. Woah! I didn’t know that. My digestive system is always pretty messed up. I won’t get into the details but it’s always been weird so I figured I’d be a good candidate for this. So I started taking it and I haven’t been really sick since. I still have allergies and I still have other health problems but no colds, flu, coughs or fevers even though the people around me all have them about once a week. I am not sure exactly how it works but I think they explain more about how it keeps bacteria and viruses from entering through your digestive system with these good- bacteria. But that is a sketchy explanation at best.

It doesn’t help that nothing in this office is ever cleaned and and the air is re-circulated in a small area. I have to wash my hands as soon as I get here and after touching any doors or elevators. But I did that last year too. It’s just the danactive that is different this year. I am glad they made this product available I hope it helps more people stay healthy like it has helped me.

July 5th 2008 Update: Some lame-ass thinks this post is fake and somehow a paid ad for Danactive. I just wanted to say that it is not in any way an ad or paid for. I literally spent most of last year sick with a long list of minor illnesses that ranged from sore throats to colds to the flu. I was sick at least once a month and I missed a lot of work. This year I started taking vitamins, walking more, washing my hands a ton and drinking danactive. I think they all helped me stay much more well this year and I did not miss nearly as much work as I did last year. Why would that be so unbelievable that I would blog about feeling better? I blog about everything else. People should really think twice before making assumptions and inventing stories about people’s blogs who they don’t even know offline. You never know, someone might just call you a splog right back.

How to prevent cancer? Be thin.

I have been more interested in how people can cut their risk of cancer latley since I found out that despite my family history of no cancer I am just as much a possible target as anyone else. Today the BBC email I get reported on a new study that had 10 points to follow for reducing your risk of all types of cancers. I found that it was much more specific that a lot of other lists I have seen naming foods specifically that you have to avoid. This makes these points easier to follow. Here is the list:

RECOMMENDATIONS INCLUDE:

 

Limit red meat

 

Limit alcohol

 

Avoid bacon, ham, and other processed meats

 

No sugary drinks

 

No weight gain after 21

 

Exercise every day

 

Breastfeed children

 

Do not take dietary supplements to cut cancer

Organic Bedding And Home Products

organicOrganic food has gotten popular in the past few years because of the feeling that pesticides and artificial additives and antibiotics in our food is really doing more harm to our health than good. I have shopped at whole foods on and off for about 6 years now. There is a movement to go beyond food though now. It is a mix of sustainability causes and health reasons that cause people to make the switch. Organic Bedding, Furniture and Toys are just some of the new products that are on the market that meet the socially acceptable needs of organic lovers. I also have heard about biodegradeable soaps and detergents. All these products help us change our ways of living a little bit more and to treat ourselves better and the earth.