Just wanted to post another invitation to follow me at my new website, lmwellness.com. I notice that there are still a number of people who are visiting this site (kimthedietitian.com), yet I have not posted in many months. I fear they must think I am lazy! Not so. I have just been posting in a different place. Join me there!
Category Archives: Life As a Run
Gotcha! I knew I could catch your interest with a title like that!!
Are you still looking for IT – the plan that will do it for you this year, the ONE that will help you meet your New Year’s resolution (the same one you make every year, to lose X number of pounds, maybe by a certain date)? Despite the mounting evidence against dieting in general, and against a specific effective plan for everyone, the diet industry will still take buckets of our money again this year.
Are we nuts?! No – but we are feeling desperate. And those claims are oh-so-tempting, aren’t they?
Can I talk you into reading a recent article from the Wall Street Journal? And can I convince you that your own experience has probably already taught you much of what is mentioned in it, making an even more compelling argument for knocking off the nonsense and beginning the real work of changing your lifestyle habits in a more permanent way – and following a plan chosen with great thought about your life situation, taste preferences, and physical needs?
This way of choosing does not mean reading an ad, watching an infomercial, or even falling hook, line, and sinker for the testimonial advice of a friend who just lost 20 pounds in a week and a half – all while in the midst of the most recent panic attack over your last visit to the bathroom scale. The sane way of finding your “plan” involves sitting down in a calm environment, perhaps breathing deeply and centering for several minutes first, and then asking yourself for real answers about your overall needs and what is realistic to expect.
Then, and only then, can you find the plan that fits you. Not sexy, not fast, and not a profit center for the diet industry, but hey, it just might work!
I picked up a recent issue of Runner’s World magazine, intrigued by the teaser on the cover: “Beyond the Mantra – Transform Your Running with Your Mind”. Hmm, sounds like something I talk about often, but in reference to eating habits and weight loss. “Transform Your Eating with Your Mind” would be the title I could use to describe what I think is so important about changing habits.
The article is great. I would link to it, but it requires a subscription to access the online version, so I will summarize the points I think are most helpful.
Coach Dean Hebert gives these tips (Comments in parentheses are mine.):
Select a performance goal. Decide what you want to achieve by the end of your training . . . (Yes, set a weight loss goal. Make it realistic.)
ID your weaknesses. (Do you habitually eat at night after dinner, even when you are physically satisfied? Do you eat most meals out? Maybe you are allowing yourself to get over-hungry too often?)
Set process goals. These are the specific, measurable actions you do every week to help you reach your performance goal. (I have my weight loss group members set a weekly goal that is not an end point goal, but a behavior-based goal instead. It might be not eating after a certain time at night or eating a vegetable and salad with dinner every night.)
Develop focus tools. (Anything that helps to calm anxiety and keep you in the moment is effective. Breathing deeply or positive self-talk are a couple of examples. These tools will not prevent all overeating, but with practice you will improve. That is the key.)
Sync it up. Train your brain as you train your body. (Keep a journal of your successes with weekly goals and which tools were helpful. Noticing your self-talk will keep you progressing away from negativity.)
Practice, practice, practice. (This is basic. You must practice new habits to make them stick. This includes habitual thought processes. If you want to be more positive, you have to practice that way of thinking. As you go, make changes to your eating plan as needed to increase your success rate. Continued practice – without judgement – with give you the self-knowledge to recognize your needs.)
Reinforce process goals. (For example, if your weakness has been eating for comfort at night, zero in on this time and take note of techniques that work for you.)
Prep for race day. (Prep for your meals – and your life. This means you must make sure you have food available, so go to the grocery store and do a little planning. When you eat out, check the menu ahead of time so you will have a plan. This need not be lots of work. Start where you are and work toward improvement.)
Visualize executing your race plan. (See yourself making better choices at the grocery store and at home/work. Visualize yourself stopping when your body has had enough. Whatever it is you are practicing, it doesn’t hurt to practice mentally as well.)
Stick with routine. (Routine helps build habits. You don’t have to eat the same thing day after day, but if you have a general pattern of eating, it will feel easier. You won’t have to make so many last minute decisions. That can be stressful!)
I love what Hebert says about what we can control and what we can’t:
You don’t control if you run 3:30. You only control the steps that improve your chances of hitting that time, from how well you train to whether you take in fluids on race day.
BINGO! I constantly remind my clients that the scale is not a controllable entity. (Damn scale, right!?) It does not always make sense. What you CAN control is what you do to get to your goal weight. Are you making healthy food available and keeping over-tempting treats out of your environment? Are you eating an appropriate amount of food (enough to feel just satisfied) most of the time.
Hebert also encourages looking at the big picture when “keeping score” of your efforts. I like to tell clients to put away the magnifying glass when looking at how they are doing. You only need to improve overall, not every single day. Step back and take a broader look at your progress. Better yet, think of yourself as the earth and see how things look from the space shuttle. You will miss the little bumps and disappointments. Then you can see what you are really accomplishing.
I went for a run this morning, my usual 3 miler. I have been enjoying this lately, as long as I keep the distance short and the frequency low (about once a week). It feels like a celebration of my no-longer-strained hamstring muscle.
This morning, however, I just wasn’t feeling the good “mojo” as I headed out. I was just dragging a little. After a few blocks, I overheard myself (the automatic voice): “This is HARD! If it’s this hard already, it will only get worse as you keep going. You think you are tired NOW . . . may as well just walk . . . or go home and drink coffee while you read e-mails.”
Not to sound TOO psychotic, but there actually was a response to this nonsense. Call it a conversation between my internal devil and angel, or maybe my powerful self vs. her wimpy sister.
In the end, the wimp was no match for POWERFUL ME. “This is b.s., you wimp! It has been a while since you felt like this, and remember what happened last time? . . . Yep, you noticed that it actually got easier, not harder, as you kept going. Remember how you got into a rhythm of steady breathing and it seemed easier, almost like the way a car glides once it revs up to speed and steadies out?”
What a great reminder this was for me today! “Getting up to speed” is even a phrase we use to describe the labor intensive, harder segment of a learning curve. It applies to anything new.
Changing eating habits is very hard at first for many people. Why? Because it is new. It takes some time to get into a rhythm that feels more effortless. In the meantime, it can feel very deliberate and . . . well, HARD. This does not necessarily mean that the plan is bad. It may just be new.
When running was new for me, I did not realize that starting with slightly low energy did not always mean it would be a low energy run from start to finish. Time and experience have shown me that this is almost never the case. Putting my focus on rhythmic breathing has almost always made it seem easier, but it always takes a few minutes to find that feeling.
After years of running, I now have the experience to let me remember that. It is what helps me to tune out the “wimp” and hear the wisdom of what I have learned.
The equivalent of rhythmic running is consistent eating habits. With time and experience, confidence grows when there is a “groove” that feels right. Being in the groove of healthy eating just feels like settling in and being more comfortable . . . struggling less. Up and down eating patterns are the equivalent of unsteady gasps of air. Eating too little is like holding your breath, while overeating is like gasping to get enough air (after holding your breath!). Breath holding (not eating enough) creates the gasps (overeating).
It all comes back to being open to learning – not assuming that we know what will happen. Staying present enough to know what it enough – air, food, . . . – helps to find the right rhythm.
I picked up my fancy Garmin GPS watch this morning. The sun was shining here in Wisconsin – a beautiful crisp October day was just warming up – and I had the itch to get out in it. I started to strap the watch on, when I realized that it was nothing more than a gray disc with straps. No numbers, no time, no life! A dead battery . . . @#$*!!!
“Now what?” I wondered. Clearly a Plan B was needed to satisfy the statistician in me. The best I could come up with was a plan to check the time in the kitchen before I left and again when I returned. I know my pace, give or take, and on such a beautiful day, this might just be a good exercise in imprecise feedback.
What I noticed was that my pace was not exactly constant. I allowed myself to do whatever made the effort feel constant. As I climbed the hills, my steps were a little smaller, and my speed a little slower. Downhill segments were slightly faster, with longer steps coming easier. I was feeling downright carefree! With no one marking my progress or speed, the morning run became all about the tree colors – magnificent! – and the alive feeling of the cool air on my skin.
Arriving home 37 minutes later, I didn’t really care about the time anymore. With all the technology now available – devices that can evaluate every aspect of our lives – I think it may be a good idea to ask whether or not we know too much. Is all the detailed information we can track, from weight lifting reps to number of calories in our breath mint, surely not all of it is helpful. Are we missing a little of the “soft side” of accomplishment? Let’s not forget how good it feels to move and nourish our bodies. A successfully balanced lifestyle is not as easy to measure as it is to know in great detail our height, weight, blood pressure, . . . .
This is a great day to do what is needed to feel as well as personally possible. And on that note, I’m heading out to give Stella a chance to smell a few light posts and moisten a few leaves. Dogs have mastered the art of enjoying the moment.
In the middle of my run today, it hit me – I am really enjoying this. I am not feeling tired, I am breathing nice and steady, and my mind is not focused on my end point and thinking ‘Can I make it?’
If you have not read my previous posts in this series, you will not know that “in the middle of my run” is not 10 miles, or 5 miles, or even 3 miles. I seldom run more than 3 miles at a time, but I was having some fun over the summer with pushing my physical limits with regard to speed.
There were times when I truly was not sure if I could keep going, even if I slowed down when my breathing felt frantic. It felt like I could only recover by stopping and just walking for long enough to regain my breathing rhythm.
Over the past few weeks, I have headed out for runs making a new deal with myself: Kim, you can go at ANY pace you want. Just get out there.” This attitude got me out the door several times when I would not have gone if I thought I had to push the speed.
Sure, it felt good to accomplish speed goals. Just to know I could do it gave me a mental boost, even though I was completely whipped by the end. However, after a few leisurely runs, it occurred to me that my short-lived fanaticism just didn’t feel “right” in a bigger sense. Today it dawned on me that the speed strategy was not in line with my real goal – my BIG goal – which is to feel as good as I can and be super healthy. I simply felt less achy and looked forward to my runs more when I was more moderate.
I don’t regret pushing the limits, because I realize it helped me to find my balancing point between what was too easy and what was too hard. I now define that healthy balance in terms of my breathing. I no longer keep looking at my Garmin watch to see my pace. I let my breathing guide me. If I start sucking wind, I slow down right away and steady the breath. If I think I can feel good picking up the pace, I do it.
So human, isn’t it? I started from a point of very little effort, hardly running at all a year ago, and then I got a little full of myself and pushed to the other side. I needed to see just how far I could go.
I found out when I naturally started slowing the pace. Now I consistently run about a 9.5 minute mile, regardless of whether I clock it or not. I also find that I can occasionally run 4 or 5 miles and enjoy it, but usually 3 is the magic number. My body knows its balancing point.
I see this with weight loss. People can feel a little fanatical when they start seeing results. “Well, that wasn’t so hard. Let’s see what happens if I cut back more.” They eventually reach a point of effort (suffering?!) where they swing back the other way until they find that comfy spot, the point where they aren’t always looking at the calendar and wondering how long this can continue – much like me looking at my watch when I run, gasping for air and wanting to quit. Thoughts?
After I wrote this, I re-read my last post about running. Hmmm. It seems that I realized, in the middle of my speed demon phase, that my speed tended to balance out over the course of a run – faster spurts were often followed by an opposing slower pace. It just took me a little longer to realize the bigger reality of balance as it applies to my genuine lifestyle goals.
Push too hard and you will find yourself at the other end of the exertion spectrum – not pushing at all or giving up completely.
This is the latest of my wisdom gleaned while running. The competitive side of me is showing its colors lately, as I get closer to an upcoming local 5K run. I find myself looking for the edges of my ability, and it has quickly become clear that pushing like a maniac just to see a number on my watch has its sensibility limits if I want to actually FINISH the 5K.
If I force an overly fast pace, I find that I need to slow down significantly to recover, and the average speed is not as fast as when I keep a more moderate – but not entirely tortoise-like! – pace more consistently. The trick is knowing where that balance is.
What I know for sure is that if a high intensity effort is too high, there is a tendency to even that out by compensating with an equally low level of effort. In the extreme, this can mean quitting altogether. Call it the Law of Human Tendencies. The less the difference between the extremes, the more sustainable the behavior, be it running or eating.
This holds true for almost everyone trying to lose weight. Try too hard – eat too little, get too little pleasure – and there is usually an equal and opposite binge on what is missed.
Homeostasis is a term used to describe the tendency of human bodies to return to a balanced state. There are so many regulatory functions of the body with complex balancing acts in constant motion. Hunger and brain chemistry are no exceptions. We have some wiggle room for trying to change our balancing point, but pushing too hard is not the answer. Know yourself and use a little finesse.
Like my running, I believe the key to weight loss lies in putting in effort to a point. For all of us, there is a point at which the effort is excessive and we get the uncomfortable feeling that the wheels are about to come off the bus – not a good feeling!
I am getting a little better at recognizing the point when I feel panicky about regaining my breathing rhythm while running. Now I need to practice listening to the signals and steadying the pace. The trickier point is knowing when to ease up before my knee starts talking to me. Again, this has to do with over-pushing.
Changing eating habits is at least as tricky. Your body is giving you clues. Are you listening?