Monday, May 31, 2010

Weight Loss On The Road

So much for staying caught up!  I've come to the conclusion that I picked the worst time to begin blogging.  On the other hand, I couldn't have picked a better time!!  From the "worse" perspective, with my husband out of school for summer break, we are on the go ALL the time leaving little time for blogging.  I'd rather be spending the time with him.  From the "best" perspective, the blog is already serving one of its primary purposes.  With every move I make or bite I eat, I remind myself that this MUST go in the blog.  It is keeping me accountable even though I'm writing sporadically and as of yet, have no readers to help with honest feedback.  That will come in time, I believe, so for now, will post when it feels right, continue to read the blogs of those who encourage me and when hubby starts his summer school term on July 1, I'll get back to developing the serious blog I envision.

We spent two glorious nights last week at the Pisgah Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway in western North Carolina.  It is nostalgic with few frills, but a delightful place with million dollar views.  From our home in east Tennessee, as the crow flies, it should only be a couple of hours away, but utilizing the parkway from its beginning point just outside Cherokee, NC, it took us all day to get there.  We hiked to Waterrock Knob, the Richland Balsam Nature Trail and Devil's Courthouse.  On our full day at the inn, we hiked the Buck Springs trail to the Mt. Pisgah summit trail and back to the inn.  The plan was to summit Mt. Pisgah, but weather interfered and we only hiked about halfway up the trail before turning back.  Provides a great incentive for a return trip to the Pisgah Inn!  It was wonderful being able to hike directly from the inn without driving to a trailhead.  On our return home, we stopped at the Graveyard Fields trail system and hiked to Second Falls and Upper Falls.  I highly recommend all of these hikes.

We left home early yesterday morning for a week in the Blowing Rock/Boone, North Carolina area.  This area holds many wonderful memories for me starting from my childhood, so it is a "comfortable" place we frequently return.  However, I think this is the first time we've had an entire week, so we are looking forward to lots of hiking/walking/strolling along with hours in our beautiful cabin just reading and talking.  This morning, it is raining and looks as if it will not be stopping anytime soon, so today may be a quiet day enjoying our beautiful cabin.

As my numbers show, I had a slight weight gain last week and am not sure why.  I am not doing a stellar job keeping my food journal, so the only thing I can figure out it that I am still eating too much. (That's kind of a "duh" statement, isn't it???)  With very few exceptions, I am eating all good things and remaining diligent (although not perfect) with my goals to gradually eliminate white flour/white sugar from my diet.  I am still eating yummy salads with fresh ingredients purchased at our farmer's market, but again, they are huge!  Portion control is the key along with burning more calories than I eat.  There's no new information there!!

Weight Gain This Week:  .43 pounds (24.43 to goal)
Average Daily Steps For Week:  14816
Hiking Miles This Week: 10.7
Biking Miles This Week:  Did not bike this week

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Daily Life Through Sharon's Eyes

Wow, this blogging things gets away from you quickly, doesn't it?  I plan to blog at least every couple of days and had hoped to blog daily while getting my story told.  Next thing I know, it's Sunday and I haven't written since Thursday.  Will have to work on a better schedule.   Also changed my mind about today's post.  Rather than write about my decision to retire early, I decided to just catch up on what's been going on in my life.  Realized there are lots of blogging days to come - the story doesn't all have to be told the first week!

My husband is a Professor and Program Coordinator of the Music Department at one of our Community Colleges.  He is now out of school until July 1 and as he says it, "I now have him 24/7."  Normally, we travel during this period of time, but for several reasons decided to stay close to home this year and do several short jaunts to places we enjoy.  We have already spent four days in Charleston, SC and will be heading to an inn near the Blue Ridge Parkway for a few days this week.  We are in search of higher elevations, cooler temps and new hiking trails. 

Travel always presents challenges for someone who is trying to lose weight.  The temptations presented when eating in restaurants are too great for me to handle and sometimes the planning involved in taking my own food is simply more than I want to deal with.  However, in keeping with our commitment to a frugal lifestyle and need to travel cheaply, we've become accustomed to carrying the majority of our own food and finding places to stay that have kitchens or microwave oven/mini-fridges.   The inn where we are headed doesn't have the kitchen or microwave, but does have a mini-fridge.  I've got a fridge full of veggies and good stuff from yesterday's farmer's market, so we'll make it work.  Hopefully, hubby wont notice that he's eating carrot sticks instead of chips!!  LOL!  Crackers and chips are two of my "trigger" foods, so right now, they just can't go.  Thank goodness, he's good with that. 

We had dinner with friends last evening.   I made some good choices (passed on the appetizers) and some poor choices (three slices of bread w/butter and dessert) resulting in a weight gain this morning which was not unexpected.  Since I weigh daily and average those weights weekly, one day can skew the whole week especially if the gain is near the first day of week like today. 

My plan for losing this 30 pounds is still evolving, but I believe I'm still eating too much for me to lose weight.  I'm eating all good things (except last night's dessert!!), but one still must burn more calories than they consume in order to lose weight.  I like the things I'm eating and the schedule I'm following.  I must work on fixing and eating less of those things.  If I don't see some results, I may need to revert back to my regimented plan outlined in an earlier post in order to get my body in weight loss mode again.

On Sunday of each week, I will record my weight loss and average number of steps for the previous week.  I will also record any hiking and/or biking miles that I accomplished.

Weight Loss:   .29 pounds  (24 pounds to goal)
Average Steps:  14164
Hiking Miles:  7
Biking Miles:  did not bike this week

Thursday, May 20, 2010


I'm one of the lucky ones!! I love to exercise.  Although I do not enjoy going to a gym or working out, I have always been an outdoor person.  I will never choose to be indoors if it is possible to be outside.  My two favorite activities are hiking and biking.

Living at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with its 900+ miles of official maintained trails is certainly an advantage!  Since retiring from my professional career in 2003, I have tried to hike at least once each week.  The love for hiking is so great that I have always hiked even at my heaviest weights.  I have also been proud to watch the greenway and park system in my community expand greatly over the past several years, so when I'm not able to get to the mountains, there is quite a variety of beautiful options right here in town. When I lost 60 pounds during the 12-month period between October, 2006 and October, 2007, the process of feeling myself grow stronger, more agile and lighter on my feet was most evident on the hiking trails. 

My husband and I lived in Louisville, KY for six years in the early 80's.  He was in grad school and we needed cheap entertainment so we bought bicycles.  Louisville is mostly flat and we rode those bikes all over everywhere.  Those were fun times!   Shortly before we returned to East Tennessee, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (a story for another day) and for a few years could not ride a bicycle.  During that time, we also moved back to the mountains of East Tennessee, so feeling that bicycling was probably no longer possible for us, we sold our bikes.  Fortunately, after a few years and amazing progress in treatment plans and meds for Rheumatoid Arthritis, mine became controlled and I've been able to return to biking.  We bike often and have set an ambitious goal to bike a rail-trail in every state.

In early July, 2006 I saw a bulletin in our local newspaper asking for volunteers to participate in a walking study conducted by a grad student at the University of Tennessee.   Already knowing that I was approaching that 200 pound level again, I was looking for something motivating that would involve some accountability and would be something I enjoyed.  I interviewed for the study, was accepted, given a really fancy pedometer, tracking paperwork and told I had to walk no less than 10,000 steps each day for the next six months.  My six months started on August 1, 2006 and I enjoyed the challenge from the very beginning.  It did indeed, provide the motivation to lose weight and by the time the study ended in January, 2007, I had completed the study with flying colors and also lost quite a bit of weight.  For successfully completing the study, I was allowed to keep the pedometer and now have lifetime access to the fancy weighing and body fat measuring equipment they have in the Exercise Physiology Department at UT.   I love my pedometer!  It is the last thing I remove after getting in bed at night and the first thing I put on in the morning. 

To track my exercise, I have a Excel spreadsheet very similar to the one I created to track my weight. Each morning,  I insert the previous day's step count and the spreadsheet keeps a running calculation of my average steps for the week.  Hiking days are bolded in dark blue and biking days are bolded in dark orange.  From 2006 until today, those spreadsheets are all in one Workbook - I just add a new tab (sheet) each new year. 

I am so very grateful that the desire to exercise has not been the battle for me that I sense it is for so many people.  Yes, in the dead of winter or hottest days of summer, I don't always WANT to go walk in the mall because I'd much rather be outside, but that's when the "habit" kicks in.  I've done it for so long, it doesn't feel right not to!!  

My exercise goals include:
1) raise average weekly steps to 12,000
2) begin to incorporate some strength training in my exercise program.
3) hike 300 miles in 2010 (as of yesterday, I'm at 124.9 for the year)

Today was my six month check-up with my Rheumatologist.  She was pleased with my progress, made no changes in my meds and was very supportive of my weight loss efforts.  I promised her she'd see lots of progress next time.

Tomorrow:  How In The World Did I Retire at 48?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tracking Progress

Until 2006, tracking my progress was a constant challenge.  My weight fluctuates in a wild manner with absolutely NO consistency that I've ever been able to find.  I had tried everything from weighing monthly to weekly to daily to not weighing at all.  (Believe me, that didn't work.  LOL!)  Although my head knew that a three pound gain, for no apparent reason, could be water retention, too much sodium the day before, constipation, etc., my heart never dealt well with a gain after I'd worked so hard for a loss. Fortunately, with enough research and reading of weight loss books, I've again found something that works beautifully for me and keeps me accountable to myself.  I believe is was the Heller's in their Carbohydrate Addiction books that  first gave me this idea.  I started this method of tracking for both weight and exercise in early 2006 and have followed it faithfully ever since.  I weigh every morning and record that day's weight in a simple Excel spreadsheet that I created.  At the end of each week, the previous seven days are AVERAGED automatically and the average weight for the WEEK is where I focus.  That average is in bold red print with a different font, so my eyes are drawn to focus on that figure rather than the daily figures for the previous seven days.  As another checkpoint, I use a larger font and bold color to highlight the first day of each month.  It becomes simple to see how my weight changes month to month, but the focus is still on the weekly aveage.  The spreadsheet makes it easy to add a new tab for each new year.  I am now in my fifth year of logging and the method has been perfect for me.  I can go to this Excel Workbook and with a couple of clicks can tell you my weight on any given day since early 2006.   It isn't always easy to get on those scales after a poor day of eating (and I've had several of those over the past couple of years), nor is it easy to watch the number on the spreadsheet going UP instead of DOWN, but all of that makes it so much sweeter when you can look back and watch it going steadily down.  

The Heller's eating plan and many of their philosophies were way too stringent for me, but I will be forever thankful to them for this idea.  I utilize the same spreadsheet idea for tracking my exercise, but that will be tomorrow's post.

Today is absolutely gorgeous in East Tennessee.  We've had some pretty strong storms over the last couple of days, but the end result is temps in the low 70's, no humidity and bright sunshine.  I'm headed out to enjoy it!!

Tomorrow:  Planning and Tracking Exercise

Monday, May 17, 2010

Changes in Plan

During the children's sermon at my church yesterday morning, our pastor started by pointing out a kettle bell laying on the floor and explaining to the children that he uses this when working out at his gym.  Then he asked one of the children to pick it up.  The young boy couldn't even budge the kettle bell, so he was asked to choose someone to help him.  The two of them could move it, but not pick it up, so a third child was chosen to help.  It took all three to pick it up.  The pastor then explained the importance of teamwork and helping out when one person can't carry the load.  He then just casually mentioned that it was a 30 pound weight.  I nearly choked because that is the EXACT amount of weight I have regained from my previous loss of 60 pounds.  It took THREE children to pick up the amount of extra weight I am carrying on my body that I have regained after such diligent work to get it off.  Don't want to even think about how many children it would take to pick up 60 pounds.   I think the picture in my mind of those children straining to hold that 30 pound weight will keep me motivated for quite a while. Thank goodness, I'm already headed in the right direction.  As of this morning, 6 of those 30 pounds are gone!!  Maybe now 2 2/3 children could carry my extra weight.  LOL!

I already have a strong understanding of the value of blogging. As I was writing yesterday's post, I kept having this unsettled feeling that something just didn't quite ring true.  I knew everything I was writing was correct and exactly what works for me along with the reasons why.  Somewhere between then and now, I've realized that although that plan has worked perfectly twice (once in the early 90's and again from October, 2006 to October, 2007), this time around I've had some changes in philosophy so will approach it a little differently.  What I expect will happen is a slightly slower weight loss.  What I HOPE will happen is a plan that I can continue following permanently.  One that incorporates the original plan when I find myself slipping, but one that allows for some flexibility to be more creative with my eating.  WOW!!  How much clearer all that became because I wrote it down rather than just letting it swirl around in my head and confuse me.

What has happened?  It took me a few years to slowly relax in to being retired.  I have found that I do enjoy a certain amount of meal planning and trying out new recipes.  I love being encouraged by other blogs and incorporating ideas from those in to my own plan.  I have found that I can tell a difference in the way I feel when I am eating little or no white flour, white sugar or other highly refined products.  It is now late May and my community has access to a wonderful farmer's market just about every day of the week.  This was NOT the case in 2006.   It just seems I have access to more good stuff along with the motivation to try new ways of serving and cooking.  So I'm really excited to grow my eating plan while still knowing I have a fallback plan that will always be available and will always work if I find myself losing focus or control.

Here's a summary of the changes I'm trying to make:
1) Drastically reduce and eventually eliminate white flour, white sugar, HFCS, any trans fats (within a few days, I am able to sense a lessening of cravings for foods containing these items)
2) Increase amount of daily protein  (my strict plan did not include enough protein and I was often hungry)
3) Eat breakfast within an hour of waking up.
4) Eat something every 3 hours.
5) Eat fresh whenever possible.
6) Eliminate fast food. (believe it or not, this isn't a huge temptation for me.)  
7) Drastically reduce restaurant meals except as a "treat" or a non-avoidable social commitment.
I'm sure this list will grow.

Today's lunch was a FEAST from yesterday's farmer's market bounty.  A huge salad with three kinds of lettuce, carrots, walnuts, apple, chopped baby broccoli, edemame and 3 oz. grilled chicken.  Topped with ranch dressing that I made.  Here in Tennessee, it is the height of strawberry season, so fresh strawberries for dessert.  Absolutely delicious.  Much better than the Captain D's we'd gotten in to the habit of picking up on our way home from church. 

Tomorrow:  Tracking My Progress

Sunday, May 16, 2010

How I Lost The Weight - What Works For Me

Today is Sunday.  I am a Christian. Growing stronger in my relationship with Jesus and living out my faith from day to day is the overriding reason for my existence.  Everything else is secondary.  Unless we are ill or out of town, Sunday mornings will always find us in the choir loft at our church.  Sunday begins a new week with a whole new set of "gains" and and probably a few "losses."  Hopefully, the scale will reflect a positive "loss."  I am excited to start a new week.  Hope you are!!

I am not a doctor nor do I have any medical education.  I know that what works for one person does not necessarily work for the next.  I found what works for me, but it is unique and would not work for MOST people.  It works for me because:

1) I have a husband who does not expect or require dinner on the table every evening, nor do I have children to consider,  His work schedule is "wacky" and he is gone several evenings each week. As a result, we usually eat dinner at different times & he is content to eat something simple that he fixes for himself. 

2) I do not enjoy cooking and/or planning meals.  This plan is simple, plus is very easy to track calories and document exactly what is eaten.

3) My greatest food "issue" is the inability to stop eating.  If food is there, I have to have it and it never stops tasting good no matter how full I am.  It is a compulsion.  I was not blessed with the "stop eating when full" button.  (There is so much more to this that I will write about over time, but for today, am trying to keep it simple.)  If food is available, I will keep eating it.  But once it's gone, I'm o.k. Sick from overeating maybe, but not normally tempted to resort to unusual methods in search of more food.  I am slowly working on this and am finding more educational materials available to help, but for now, my eating plan for steady weight loss, MUST be very regimented and controlled, 

It's not rocket science, but it has worked for me not once, but twice.............................

1/2 cup cereal (I make my own granola)
1 cup skim milk
1 fruit

One frozen dinner (Lean Cuisine, Smart Ones, Healthy Choice, etc.)
Salad or veggie assortment
1 fruit

One frozen dinner (Lean Cuisine, Smart Ones, Healthy Choice, etc.)
Salad or veggie assortment
1 fruit or low-cal, fat-free dessert

This will ALWAYS equal approximately 1200 calories which is the level at which I lose weight best.
In addition, I walk at least 10,000 steps per day (how and when I began this habit is a post for another day)
I only drink coffee and water.
If I get hungry between meals, I eat an additional fruit or handful of veggies.  Sometimes a Clif Bar or other protein "bar."

Life happens and with it comes circumstances where following this is not possible.  I revert to my knowledge of portion control and make every attempt to eat what is served to me in reasonable portions.  As with any weight loss plan, the key to success is to get right back doing what you know works for you.

When I began this plan on October 1, 2006, I did a lot of web research evaluating ingredients in these meals.  Healthy eating is important to me and I fully understand that these are considered "processed" foods and contain  ingredients not found in fresh foods.  Many of them have a high sodium content. I weighed this carefully, but knew this plan works for me and with no underlying health issues such as high blood pressure or cholesterol, determined that the benefits outweighed the risks.

I also discovered that between the three brands mentioned above plus many others that have entered the market, one could easily go for a year or more without ever eating the same dinner twice!!  I use coupons, find them on sale and keep a medium sized upright freezer that is usually full of nothing but my "dinners."  I open the freezer, stick my hand in and pick one out.  Lunch and dinner are always a "surprise."  I can honestly say I have never grown tired of this or not looked forward to my next meal.

Needless to say, I've encountered different criticism's when asked about my weight loss and how I did it.  Those generally fall in one of two categories:  1) that's very expensive  or 2) I don't like them, they don't taste good.   My response has always been to smile sweetly and reiterate that what works for one person doesn't necessarily work for another.  These are preconceived ideas that mask the real issue and you aren't going to change their mind.   I let my visible wight loss speak for itself while trying to offer encouragement for finding something that DOES work for that person.  I have vowed never to forget what it felt like to be grasping at ANYTHING that might help me get on the right track to weight loss.  I'd hate to ever be responsible for being a "discourager" rather than an "encourager."

Here is the downside of this plan.  It's a big one and something that will continue to be a challenge.   Much like Nutrisystem, Jenny Craig or any plan that involves pre-packaged foods, one has to learn to deal with the challenge of moving back in to the world of "real" food and the availability of it.   In other words, portion control when the portion isn't controlled for you.  This time, as I near my goal, I hope to work out a better balance for the "maintenance" phase.   It's always a learning process, isn't it???

Tomorrow:  More About What Works For Me -Changes in Plan and Tracking

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Who Am I and What Is My Story?

Starting today's post with "who am I" sounds easy, yet is hard.   I was born in east Tennessee and graduated from college in east Tennessee with a degree in Education and a minor in Psychology.  Other than a few years in South Carolina and a few years in Kentucky, I have lived my entire life in east Tennessee.  I've traveled widely throughout the US and other countries, but there is no where else I would rather live than right where I am.  My husband and I have been married for 33 years.  We have no children and this was a choice we made from the very beginning.  I have one younger sister and two nieces whom I adore.  I am very blessed to be able to say that both my parents and my in-laws are still living and reasonably healthy.  I enjoyed a wonderful professional career in the fields of Human Resources, Training and Development, Adult Education and Career Development.  I "retired" from that career in 2003 at the ripe old age of 48.  There were excellent reasons for my early retirement, all positive.  We've never regretted that decision and you'll learn much more about the "whys" of that in upcoming posts.  

My weight has been an ongoing struggle for as long as I can remember.   From high school to this point, it has been a constant battle with the same 60 pounds.  Along the way, I've tried all the fad diets and eating plans, but have always found that what works best for me is simple calorie counting, writing it down and consistent exercise.   That sounds much simpler in theory than in reality and I'll be writing much more about that process in future posts.

Twice, I have broken the 200 pounds barrier and in both instances, that seemed to be the trigger that forced me to take serious action.  I am one of the lucky ones in that I am "pear" shaped meaning all my weight settles in my thighs and hips.  Lucky, you ask??  Yes, in two ways.  First, that shape is much easier to mask with the proper clothing.  Second, that shape is less susceptible to the heart disease risk that comes with being overweight.  However, 200 pounds is at least 50 pounds overweight for my height and build, so "lucky" is not an excuse.  I have other health issues (also to be address in future posts) which are only aggravated by extra weight.

On October 1, 2006, I broke that 200 pound barrier for the second time (203) and vowed I'd lose the weight never to see it again.  With a diligence I didn't know I possessed, I worked hard and reached my goal weight of 138 almost exactly one year later losing an average of 4-6 pounds per month.  I plateaued and actually gained a few pounds during the holiday season of 2007, but started back with a new determination in January of 2008.  I reached my low of 134 in February of 2008.  138 is a "perfect" weight for me.  It feels good and looks good.   As I have learned from reading many blogs, one just knows when they reach their perfect weight and I certainly did.

Unfortunately, between February of 2008 and today, I lost focus, had some "normal" health issues that confront most 50-something women, plus was diagnosed with thyroid disease. However, I offer no lame excuses.  Truth is, I simply picked back up bad habits and gained 30 pounds.   But here's the good news and the positive spin I leave you with today..............I ONLY gained back 30 pounds before regaining control.  Not all 60 pounds, just 30.  I can lose this and I will.  As of this morning, I've already lost 4 1/2 of them leaving me with 25 1/2 pounds to that "perfect" weight.  That's a whole lot better than 60, isn't it?
Tomorrow:  How I Lost The Weight - What Works For Me

Friday, May 14, 2010

And So The Blogging Begins................

I love to write.  I always have.  Friends who've known me for a long time are amazed when I tell them I haven't begun blogging.  And I guess I understand that since a large part of my professional career involved writing, teaching & training.  That part of my life is in the past, but the love for writing is not.  So my answer to the question of why I'm only now entering the fascinating world of blogging is this:  there are so many things I want to write about, where in the world does one start??  Do I write one blog to chronicle my never ending struggle with weight loss and maintenance, and then separate blogs to discuss other subjects which are a huge part of my life such as travel, very early retirement from the career scene, simplicity and frugal living, hiking, biking, finance and money management to name a few??   With everything flying around in my head, blogging could easily become a full-time job, something I'm trying to avoid at all costs!!  

But my weight loss story, which I will share with you tomorrow, is the theme that always weaves it's way in and out no matter what the secondary writing is about.   I am just like so many of you whom I have followed secretly for a long time.  I have been gaining, losing, regaining, maintaining and losing again, the same 60 pounds for over thirty years now.  Each time, it becomes harder to lose and I vow that I will remain at my "perfect" weight for more than three hours!  LOL!! 

So this blog will be about my life through my eyes.  And I will share with you the Gains and the Losses because all of life involves some daily gains and some daily losses.   I hope to find new friends who will keep me accountable as I journey back to that "perfect" weight for what is hopefully, the last time.  My heartfelt thanks to those bloggers whom I've been following that have already encouraged me more than I'll ever be able to tell them.  Once I get this blogging thing figured out, I'll get them added to my page so they will know who they are.

Tomorrow:  Who Am I and What Is My Story?