What I’ve Lost – 1 of 3

Writing 101 – Today’s Prompt: Write about a loss: something (or someone) that was part of your life, and isn’t any more.

Today’s twist: Make today’s post the first in a three-post series.

cig

Loss is not necessarily a bad thing. Often it is not until after you have lost something that you realize how that thing really impacted your life. Even if the loss was beneficial, that does not mean it was pain free and doesn’t hurt from time to time. This post’s loss started as a fling and ended up being an 18 year relationship with many ups and downs. This relationship cost me dearly and felt abusive at times.

As the picture suggests, my relationship was with cigarettes. As of tomorrow the 10th, I will be nicotine free for 4 months. Do I still miss it? Sadly yes. Was it hard to quit? F-ing yes it was. Did I think I would actually be able to quit? Day to day, no, but as time passed, yes.

Anyone who has never dealt with an addiction may not completely understand the difficulty in quitting. Therefore I’m try to explain the relationship I had with smoking and its place in my life for so long. Before I start, a word of warning for anyone out there reading this: Never Start Smoking! Trust me it is not worth it.

In the Beginning There was a Woman and a Car Accident

Back in the innocent days of the late 1990s I found myself in an unexpected relationship with a woman way out of my league. It is the summer of 1996, in the final months before my senior year.  After a junior year party and the junior prom I started dating hanging out with a senior, we’ll call her K.

I thought she was one of the coolest women I’d ever met and the fact that she was interested in me made her all that much cooler. So that summer when we started dating I fell pretty hard. She was getting ready for college and enjoying her last summer of freedom. Not wanting to appear un-cool and unworthy of her time I made the idiotic decision to try smoking. If she did it and appeared to enjoy it, I wanted to do it to. Even if I had spent years telling myself I wouldn’t smoke like my parents did.

Come August, she ends up giving me mono and strep throat at the same time she breaks up with me. I end up laid out for weeks and stop smoking. I’m smart enough not to pick it back up even though all my friends smoked. I even manage to find myself a new girlfriend.

Things were looking up. Then an elderly gentlemen runs a red light one cool October evening.

I was driving my girlfriend to a min-golf course to meet up with friends. Going through a lighted intersection my car is struck on the driver’s side door. Luckily we are not struck by any other vehicles and I’m able to pull over to the side of the road.

My heart was thumping in my chest and anger simmered just below the surface as I listened to a cop try to tell me it was my fault.  After the whole ordeal I needed to relax and ended up buying cigarettes. And from that day on, I didn’t go more than 5 days without smoking for 18 long years.

What I Got From Smoking

From that night so many years ago until last December, smoking became my go to for dealing with stress and moments I didn’t want to be around. The nicotine did its number on my system, and I won’t lie and say I didn’t enjoy that part of it. Truthfully though it was the action that held the most power over me.

I would use smoking as an excuse to go outside away from everyone. I’d light that cigarette and stand there breathing deep the smoke. That deep breathing and exhaling could have been done without the cigs, but I didn’t know that at the time.

Through a tumultuous 15 year relationship, the birth of two children, a divorce, a suicide in the family, death, job loss, going back to school in my late 20’s, and many other ups and downs, there was one constant. I could always count on cigarettes to be there for me without judging me.

Besides getting dressed and going to the bathroom, the first thing I did every morning was smoke a cigarette. After every meal, I’d smoke. After a show or movie was over, I’d have a cigarette. I couldn’t go to sleep without having one last cigarette just before I went to bed. On average I’d smoke between 1 and 2 packs a day. While I didn’t like paying for them I handed over thousands of dollars at the register and got to know the local gas station clerks pretty well.

All in all, part of me knew I had to end my relationship with cigarettes, but I loved them too much to be serious about it. I still loved them even as I decided that I needed to get my health under control or I’d miss seeing my kids get married and have kids of their own.

I know its not over and I’ll be tempted for years to come, but as the days come and go and I’m still not smoking I feel confident I’ll make it.

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Taking the Train – Mental Health

Day 2 of Writing 101:

“If you could zoom through space in the speed of light, what place would you go to right now?”

Ignoring the sciency (is that even a word, if not spellcheck, it is now) warning that going the speed of light is dangerous for your health and still wouldn’t get you very far out of our solar system very fast, how cool would it be to be able to go that fast. I’m going to leave the logistics of proving Mr. Einstein write or wrong to people smarter than I and instead focus on the location part of the prompt.

A little backstory to this post. The past few days I’ve been trying to figure out how I could incorporate meditation into my daily routine. I used to practice it years ago and really enjoyed it and feel it would be beneficial to start it up again. My form of meditation was what worked for me and may not work for others of course. I always looked at it as a journey, therefore I’ll take you along for a ride by describing the mental images and thought process of my meditation.

Taking the Train

You find yourself sitting on the dusty wooden floor of a train car. You feel the hum and vibration in the seat of your pants as you race over the tracks. The click/clack sounds begin to fade into background white noise as you stare out the open sliding door and watch the country side speed past.

Unbidden thoughts try to invade the zone you find yourself in. Instead of giving into the busy chaos of your brain you hold open your hand before your face. When a thought surfaces you squeeze it down out of your mind and blow it out your mouth in a deep breath. You catch the thought in your hand. Staring at it you can’t help but realize that the little bugger is not as important or defining as it seemed in your mind.

You blow the thought out the door like blowing a kiss to a loved one and fall deeper down the rabbit hole of relaxation. One by one dozens of thoughts are purged and you find yourself centered and just feeling the world around yourself. The subtle weight of your own limbs pulls at your body pulling your focus inward. You begin searching for your core truths, tossing your self-immolating lies out the train door. Eventually you hear the brakes squeak and your weight shift. Time to get off the train.

Today’s journey is short, only a few minutes. Tomorrow’s will be longer. And with each trip you will reach new heights of awareness.


I usually chose a train as the mental setting of my meditation because it serves as an easy way to trick my brain into ignoring the sounds around myself. If you’ve ever tried to sit still and clear your mind you can relate with how much background noise we all deal with every day. I also liked the idea of being able to throw undesirable thoughts away. I have other locations I’ve used and may post about them another day. If you meditate I’d love to hear what techniques you use to trick your mind.

MyFitnessPal – Quick Website Review

MyFitnessPal

As I reported in my post My Fitfness Pal back in February(darn it, I didn’t catch the typo in that post title until just now), I am using the service with the same name. As an aside, I reported it as My Fitness Pal when it is actually MyFitnessPal.  Apparently they are into losing the dead weight in typeface as well as physical space. To save time and a bit of my sanity I will refer to the service as MFP going forward.

Anyway, I have been using the service for a while now and feel confident in putting my thoughts into this review. Just as an advanced warning, there is a possibility that this post is going to be a bit long. So kick back, grab your favorite beverage, and don’t say I didn’t warn you. (its not as long as I thought it would be)

MyFitnessPal

MFP is a comprehensive service that can appear daunting on the surface. Full of trackers, social help, 3rd party integrations, and multiple portals; there is not much this service does not provide. It is easy to get lost in all the tabs, pages, and options. In all honesty, I’ve been using it daily for over a month now and I’m just starting to really feel confident in what I’m doing.  In six months time I may look back and laugh at that statement, but it is true for now.

Website

MFP Splash Page

If you take a walk over to MyFitnessPal.com you’ll be greeted by a familiar splash page for today’s modern internet. There is a member login/sign up section complete with email sign up or Facebook sign up. It’s nice that they give you an option other than Facebook, but it would have been a good to have other options such as Google or Twitter as log in options as well. Beneath the login section you can find the usual testimonials and health facts such as “Medical studies show that keeping a food journal DOUBLES your weight loss!”. I would like to see a link to those studies, but I digress.

Further down the page is a set of links to the mobile apps available for MFP. They have the big two, Apple and Android, but surprisingly also have apps for Blackberry and Windows Phone. It is good to see that they want to reach as many people as possible. Back to the top of the page there are links for Food, Exercise, Apps, Blog, Community, and Log In.

  • Food gives you a search box to input food. You can get free information on calories, carbs, fat, etc for most common food items both homemade and restaurant. The search also pulls in fast food for those who are brave enough to find out what’s in their burger.
  • Exercise give you  the ability to see what calories are burned during activities.
  • Apps houses a listing of 3rd party apps and services that can be fed into MFP to supplement your data
  • The Blog page has a rotating and constantly updating list of health related article. I like to find interesting recipe ideas here.
  • Community is MFPs baked in social aspect. It is forum based for the most part and is the area I have spent the least amount of time exploring. This is something I hope to change as the months go by.
  • Besides the Community section, the other sections listed above are great resources even if you don’t sign up for the service itself.

Membership

Exploring the MFP website you can find out about the various benefits of signing up for the service.  Instead of going over all of them, here are the benefits I’ve found useful. In the future I will put out some posts that go into more detail on these benefits.

Diet Tracking

MFP Food Tracker

This is the main use I have for MFP. Most of my tracking is done via the android app installed on my phone. I’m able to go into the app and within a minute or two add my entire meal or snack and see what damage I’ve done. It is also handy for trying to figure out if something you want to eat will fit into today’s plan.

You can get more granular by selecting any of the items in your list to get its individual nutritional value. I find this helpful as I’m trying to keep my carb intake under 200g. I can also see the benefit of knowing how much protein I’m taking in as I begin weight lifting.

Adding items to the tracker can be a pain at first until you get used to it. You can add entire recipes, meals, custom foods, or search their exhaustive database. I suggest using the website to add your own recipes and meals ahead of time. Then its just a matter of selecting them from a list to add to your daily tracker.

This tool will also keep track of your calories burned versus calories ingested. It is very helpful to see whether you are calorie positive or negative as you try to lose, gain, or maintain your weight. I’ll explain how this is accomplished in the next benefit section. Before that, one other feature that I dig in regards to the dietary tracker is the ability to keep tabs on my water consumption every day. As I stated in my post Water you going to do about it?, wait a minute. Did I really name a post something like that. Wow. Just, wow. I’m going to need a minute to let that sink in.

Okay, I’ll be fine. Now back to the water tracker. According to my Water post back on the 5th of March, my goal is to drink 124oz of water a day. Using the MFP app helps me do that. Every time I empty my water bottle I pull out my phone and add the three cups I drank.

Exercise Tracking

Pacer A close second to the dietary portion, I find this very useful. When you sign up for the service you can set your fitness and nutritional goals.  By inputting your exercise into the system you can see your progress for those goals. I manually add in my weigh lifting activity, but my walking and running get added automatically via a 3rd party app.  I have connected my Pacer app to MFP and now my steps get imported daily.  My calories burned are checked against my input and I can see how I’ve done for the day.

The steps are taken care of for me now, I would like to get better integration with heart rate input as well by using a fitness band like Fitbit or Microsoft Band. But one step at a time. Until then Pacer works for me. What also works is adding my weight lifting. Once I added them my profile on the website(easier to do it there than on the phone) it is easy to add an update anytime I work out on the phone app. For now it acts as a central hub to keep this information. Sadly there are no reports tied to strength exercise here. I will be digging further for a viable option for that.

Blog

The MFP blog is a helpful tool on the website. There are often exercise and dietary articles posted. The latest post I saw and enjoyed is Eight 200-Calorie Snacks to Grab on the Go. The articles/posts are usually quick reads and often lead to other bloggers or authors to read.

Final Thoughts

Out of a possible 10 points for usefulness, I’d say MFP the website gets a 6.5 which is not great but not bad either.  I don’t check it every day, more like once a week. Even so, I do find it good for adding new recipes or activities since those are easier to do at a laptop or desktop instead of on a small phone screen. As one of a group of portals to the overall service, it service its purpose very well.  I’ll write a review of the mobile app sometime in the near future. Sneak peak, I find it more useful on a day to day basis.

Stream Of Consciousness

I signed up for a prompt event this month. This is the first post of 20 that I will being doing as part of this event.  I will try to tailor the prompts given to me towards the purpose of this blog.  Today’s prompt is to do a 20 minute free writing exercise and post to my blog.  20 minutes feels daunting now nearly as much as it appears when I’m beginning 20 minutes on an elliptical machine.

So how do I do this successfully and try to make it interesting to read?  Talk about that all fun issue, starting over.  After this weekends holiday, I need to start over for the week. I ate way too much, didn’t have any physical activity, and only the fact that I didn’t drink any soda keeps it from feeling like a losing effort on my part.

Of course, like everyone else, I need to not beat myself up too much when this happens. Holidays are notorious diet/exercise killers.  How do you get back on the right side of the ledger afterwards? One small step. Decide you are going to start over whatever came before has no bearing on what you do going forwards.

I made that commitment to myself this morning. I will eat properly, go to the gym, and not look at the scale for a few days.  Looking at the scale gives credence to any weight I put on over two days of family feasts.  Instead I’ll do what I’m supposed to do and let my diet and exercise get me on the right track.

So what’s the plan for today? Decent breakfast, still didn’t quite nail it on a higher caloric/protein breakfast but it will have to do. solid lunch, a planned dinner with meat, fruits, and vegetables. 1 to 1.5 hours at the gym tonight. Weights, weights, weights. Sandwiched in-between a mile walking on the track and a mile plus on an elliptical machine.  Hopefully I can get it done before the Badgers’ NCAA championship game tonight. Go Bucky!

All throughout I need to get back on track with my water intake. I had 12 cups of water total over Saturday and Sunday this weekend. I’ve already gotten my morning 3 cups and 1 cup of coffee out of the way. Only 8 more cups to hit my goal for the day. I’m focusing on the water because I noticied a difference after not drinking what I needed to the past two days. I had inklings of headaches, was tired, was hungry consistently, and really craved sweets.

(Looking at the clock I’ve got 3 minutes left on my timer, and I’m freaking out about finishing)

After making the commitment this morning I felt eager to hit the gym.  I’m still new to weightlifting but I can’t wait to push myself to steady and stable improvements.

The biggest thing I hope to learn and the biggest accomplishment of this week will be that holidays are only a temporary setback if I let them be. With summer barbeques and family reunions and birthdays on the horizon, that will be valuable for my mindset.

Whew, 20 minutes down. Ugly post but I did it.

The Event

 


Quick edit note, this was my 10th post on this blog. Woo-hoo, its a good start.

10th Post

Pumping Iron – the origin story for my future physique

 

Last week I completed a Wellness Orientation at the local YMCA.  During which the trainer and I walked through all of the weight machines and figured out what settings they should be at. He also introduced me to the networked exercise tracker they use on said devices. It is a nice piece of software. I can view my progress on each machine individually, at a terminal, or online from the comfort of my own home.

The linked equipment automatically sends the weight, sets, and reps to an online portal for me to view and track. Which is nice since I’m not the best at keeping track of things in the moment and don’t always have the best record of remembering to do so later. I wanted to do the same thing on the elliptical machine but didn’t quite figure it out. Oh well, there is always next time. The software from the equipment does give you some neat pieces of info as well. Such as during my last workout I lifted a total of 6,970 lbs over the course of 11 exercises.

I’ve been back twice to use the equipment.  The first time, I didn’t understand the rotation so messed up on reps and sets.  The last time, yesterday evening, it all clicked (even if I missed one of the machines somehow, facepalm). I now have a nice baseline (minus that one exercise) with which to judge my progress against. I have added each exercise to MyFitnessPal so I can add them to my daily diary. Side note, lets just say I love having that one place to funnel all my info into. I will have to do a write-up on it another time.

Back to the point of this post. The plan is to try and use the machines 2-3 times a week, throwing in elliptical running on those days to keep my cardio pumping as well. Below is the numbers I’ve got for the exercises. It would have been nice if the weights were more impressive, but I’m starting at a pretty low point of strength.  I hope to look back at these numbers a year from now and cheer my progress. Here’s to sore muscles and increased strength.

Exercise

Get Healthy With Breakfast

image

I am not a morning person. If possible, I wish my day could start at noon. Sadly that’s not my life, so up before the sun rises is the day to day occurrence. Along with not being a morning person is the fact that I’m not much of a breakfast easter.

Don’t get me wrong, I like breakfast foods. I usually eat them at dinner time instead. A lifetime of not eating breakfast had made it extremely difficult to be good about eating it on a regular basis.

Now that I’m trying to get healthy, and stay that way, in having to take a deep look at my eating habits. And here is the ugly trend I’ve found.

If I eat a small breakfast, each subsequent meal doubles in size from the previous meal. So if my breakfast is 250 calories, on average my dinner is 1000 calories. If I want too keep to a 1500 calorie diet I need to do better in the mornings.

Goal for tomorrow: come up with a plan for quick and filling breakfast ideas.

The First Mile is Going to be Tough

jogging

Last night was interesting for my fitness growth. As I’ve written in the past I’m not a runner and have a long road ahead of me before I’m any good at it.  The first step was to create a plan for myself. My first milestone was to run 1 mile in one evening. I’d be ok with breaking it into 1/4 miles with 1/4 breaks where I walk it off.

So last night I decided to push myself and go for it.  I walked for 1/4 of a mile then kicked it into high gear, or as high a gear as an overweight mid 30’s ex-smoker could go and jogged 1/4 mile. It took me 2 1/2 minutes to do it. My legs and lungs burned. I walked it off for another 1/4 mile. Gritting my teeth I did the next quarter mile at the same jogging pace. 2 1/2 minutes later I had now run a whole half mile.

While I may not be running on a beautiful beach like the picture above shows, I was still ecstatic to be running. The next round of walking then running went very much the same as the first two. As I ended my cool down and prepared to run that final quarter mile I worried that I wouldn’t be able to finish.  Well “F’ it, I told myself and began the first of 5 laps. Full four letter word said in my head of course. The first lap wasn’t bad, the 2nd ok, the 3rd I almost gave up and stopped jogging. But like anyone crazy enough to torture themselves I pushed on.  Before I new it I finished the 5th lap and had just finished my first mile of running.

As I walked my cool down 1/4 mile I couldn’t help but feeling some sense of accomplishment.  But, and of course there is a but, I wanted to do better. after the Cool down I did another 1/4 mile jogging.  If I hadn’t been on a crowded indoor track I may have thrown my arms up in the classic Rocky celebration. Not since I was 17 had I run 1.25 miles in a week, let alone an 1.5 hour timeframe.

Now that I know I won’t die if I jog for any period of time, I can move forward with my plans. Eventually I’ll be running a 5k marathon, but until then I’ll work towards 1 mile in one complete stretch with out walking. This time next month I hope to be celebrating that next milestone.

 

Image taken from: http://goo.gl/O0THZ6

Courtesy Creative Commons: http://goo.gl/jM8bIi