Pushing Past the Plateau

Things on the physical front have been moving along in the same manner as my cognitive-behavioral efforts have: undocumented online, but still moving along steadily. I clicked into the cateogry archives to see when my last weight loss related entry was posted, and was surprised by the category description that loaded in the page header:
 

After some quick elementary school level mental math, the realization that I’ve been at this for three years now and am nowhere near completion started to nag at me. I haven’t updated since April to give myself time to focus on doing the work so that I’d actually have an update to make – March & April, I was having another one of those episodes of “unhelpful thinking”, and I overeat as a stress reliever in that mental space. For the past three weekends, I’ve kept telling myself “one more week” of activity before I start posting again.
Comparing my measurements and photos now to those back in March/April, there isn’t much difference on a surface level. I’m consistently weighing in a couple pounds lighter, and the targetted measurements at each body part is still more or less in the same range as before. Even though I’m still a ways off from a flat stomach & abs, all the activity has definitely had a great effect on me below the waist: I’ve started to build that desired “thigh gap”, and all of my leg muscles feel far more toned and strengthened.

Even though my running activity is higher now than it was when I first started occassionally running a couple miles as far back as 2010/2011, my body isn’t as responsive to my running activity as it used to be. Even with increased activity and dietary improvements, I’ve hit a wall. Though most people balk at the fact that I run 20 miles a day and would label me as highly active,, my insights from AddApp – a third party health data aggregator/parsing service – tell me otherwise.

My 5.2 miles that I try to do daily is only half of what I apparently should be doing each day. And both in my writing and to myself, I’ve been saying for a good while that I need to step up my game. Lately, I’ve taken to trying to wake up early in the morning to go for at least a short 3 mile run, clocking in over 8 miles for the day once the evening run is completed. So far, it’s definitely been testing my endurance and resolve. For the past couple weeks, my calves have been screaming at me for a break as soon as I step foot out the door.
Even then, that’s just a start. I did a search on bodybuilding.com for profiles that had my age/height/goal weight and a “fit” target body fat percentage, and pulled four random photos from the first page of results.

While I’m definitely much closer than I was a couple years back, there’s still so much more to go before I get there. I’m going to have to start implementing weight training, yoga, and crossfit into my routine, both long overdue additions. Not having much core/upper body/arm strength, I’ve been procrastinating and focusing soley on running to avoid dealing with the heavy soreness and pitiful performance that you have to overcome when you’re first starting to build muscle groups.
It’s a struggle, this quest for physical fitness. One of the biggest things I’ve learned from the process is a broader sense of compassion and understanding to extend to others. I know very well how hard it is to get motivated, to take that intial action, to stay focused and not fall back into bad sedentary & dietary habits. Then there’s the time, mental, and financial investments. Learning basic nutrition and anatomy, building a diet, having to go grocery shopping, having to cook, having to clean up, having to track of perishables and minimizing waste…it’s a lot of extra minutae to have to deal with. It makes me especially sympathetic to single parents who don’t have a family/friend support network to fall back on. The demands of modern life can easily make daily survival and personal health mutually exclusive.
Bringing my focus off the world at large and back on to myself, all there really is left to do is to get it done – and according to my Withings smart scale, I’ve officially hit the point where there’s actually a point in post updates to this blog category as of July 2nd. Time to push on up to the next level.

Return to Form

Almost two full months since last I wrote here. Looking through my archives earlier this morning, I realized that I’d been doing a fairly decent job at offline writing in my DayOne journal between May and now. Still, that’s pretty much the bare minimum, and it doesn’t get the blog updated.
Fact of the matter is, I scared myself away from online writing for awhile. At this point, I’ve beat the horse dead throughout all its lifetimes when it comes to expressing reservations about keeping the online writing habit when younger-me made the call to make myself the central topic; each time I do, I reach the same conclusion, where it’s something I can’t just quit, having put the worst parts out there.
So having made such a bold commitment to permanently moving past old habits, I’ve been doing my writing in a place no one else can see it in case I wasn’t able to make good on it. As it turns out that has not been the case: over the past two months, I’ve been enjoying a peace of mind and mental clarity I’ve been working so tirelessly at being able to reclaim – that default state of mind that’s easy to take for granted: to have the ability to wake up and feel finely in tune with your reallity and your ability to influence it, to see each day as an opportunity to do and accomplish instead of the necessary routine drudgery life can become for anyone, moreso for someone in a compromised mental/emotional state. More importantly, it doesn’t feel “borrowed”, as if something that could disappear at any moment. It feels innate and rightfully mine. After all the years of psychological/emotional/spiritual/existential deconstruction of my thinking and the past that influenced it, I’ve found myself finally returned to that place of unshakeable confidence that’s reached when you really “know who you are”.
As a result, it’s become much easier to write and journal for myself. Instead of spending my thought cycles trying to figure myself out and stave off those negative thought/behavior patterns, my mind is free (and able) to focus on articulating that which I already know.
Things are starting to get very interesting for me and my writing output…

Fitness Tech Tools: The Essentials

Being a “pro-sumer” tech enthusiast, I’ve downloaded and experimented with more apps — in this case, fitness apps specifically — than I care to admit. Since they’ve managed to become important support tools in my weight loss journey, I feel they’re due their own entries. Though my primary goal with this is to log the progress I make, I do carry this secret hope that maybe all this writing may end up motivating others, and capturing how it is that I achieve my progress feels like it’d help in that regard.
In this initial leg of the journey, the personal profile hasn’t changed much: I started a sedentary male in his mid-late 20’s with a long standing smoking habit who resumed his regular running to lose weight and actually started to enjoy it. Without a gym membership at my disposal, my exercise options are fairly limited. At home, the only equipment I have is a swiss ball, a yoga strap, and a pair of 30lb dumbbells, leaving cardio and body weight exercises as my only other available choices. I only do light/moderate weight training, so as to avoid muscle soreness that can get in the way of my running. While there are plenty of services/apps I have bookmarked for advanced workout & weight training, right now my focus is tied primarily to the core tools that I use to quantify myself and my running.

Withings

Back when I was in the market for a bathroom scale, Withings had just released their WS–30 scale, a $99 entry in response to the market price for wifi connected scales pushing below the $100 price point. Being a “smart” device, the scale has a companion app for smartphone connectivity. For the first few months of ownership, the scale & app carried out their intended functions but left a lot to be desired in regard to utility and presentation, so much to the point that I briefly regretted not opting for the competition, Fitbit’s Aria scale. Though the reviews at the time rated them as mostly comparable, the Fitbit scale tended to win out due to it’s aesthetic and integration with their wearable devices. I opted for the Withings ecosystem because it had wider integration with other fitness services/webapps then.
Withings Dashboard Comparison
In the time since I first purchased the scale, my initial investment has more than paid off. Withings redesigned the web dashboard from a very minimal line-graph interface to its present HealthMate platform, optimizing readability of information at a glance and introducing gamification elements. A recent update to the iOS app brought pedometer functionality, which MyFitnessPal also put into their native smartphone app. The timing of this addition was very fortunate, since I recently uninstalled the popular Moves pedometer app after it got Facebook and immediately suffered a privacy policy fiasco. Thanks to the developed level of communication & interaction between the two services, step tracking can be designated to one app and logged metrics will be pushed to both. Step count presence on the webapp and smarthphone dashboards helps centralize the data, giving a more assistive and holistic tracking experience than Moves ever provided.

MyFitnessPal

Withings does a great job facilitating tracking overall progress, but doesn’t provide much by way of nutrition or activity logging (beyond step counting). However, thanks to the aforementioned integration with various third-party services, it’s easy and painless to extend the scale’s functionality. MyFitnessPal is arguably home the web’s most robust food database. In addition to logging food for calorie intake tracking, it also allows users to log exercise to keep a running estimate of calories burned. Since MyFitnessPal has it’s own set of API’s to plug into other services, a lot of the exercise logging ends up being automated — calories burned are calculated off the running step count (from either the Withings app or the MyFitnessPal app), as are activities logged in other support apps.
MyFitnessPal Dashboard
Admittedly, MyFitnessPal is a service that I’ve been underutilizing. The action of food logging and the inherent accountability mechanism makes is easier to resist cravings and stick to dietary guidelines, but the prospect of yet another thing to have to check in with my phone on has dissuaded my use. That, and the frustration in trying to log food that’s cooked at home or off a menu that doesn’t list nutritional data. Yet I realize that the MyFitnessPal service only really works if food intake is regularly logged, and that even rough approximations from similar entries in its database is better than nothing at all. On top of actively logging calories consumed/burned, I’d also like to start tapping into the community on the site. From what I read, it’s really worth checking out.

RunKeeper

MyFitnessPal’s activity tracking features are sufficient for calorie tracking purposes, but the data collected and presented on the user dashboard doesn’t do much in regard to deeper analysis and training. With my efforts being so strongly concentrated on cardiovascular activity via distance running, run tracking apps are a sub-category of fitness apps that I’ve done plenty of experimenting with. The two I’ve ended up liking the most are Strava and RunKeeper. Though I prefer Strava’s design and data presentation, RunKeeper is still attractive in its own right and has the popularity & wide third-party integration that influenced my wifi scale purchasing decision when I was weighing Withings against Fitbit back in 2012.
RunKeeper Dashboard
As with most technology, the service/platform has improved exponentially since I first signed up with it. Free accounts come with a pretty extensive feature set, though putting down the cash for their premium Elite account level opens up some useful extra options such as additional training plans and granular data analysis. As one of the first and leading run tracking apps, RunKeeper supports data capture using fitness sensor accessories, specifically the Wahoo heart rate monitor strap and stride sensor that I own. This assures me that I’m getting as accurate of an estimate as technology can allow at present, and have it automatically shared to my Withings and MyFitnessPal accounts.

Wrap Up

These three apps/services work very well together and cover the basic areas of body tracking: weight, food, and exercise.
With the slight exception of the Withings scale which requires the $99 purchase of the scale, these services can also be used for free. As such, they’re what I’d recommend to anyone trying to lose weight or improve their physical awareness and performance. Once my efforts start to move past running and into other forms of training that can make use of other apps and services, I’ll likely write about them in a similar fashion. To anyone simply looking for advice on how to get started, a wifi connected scale, MyFitnessPal, and RunKeeper are a winning combination.

MGTOW: Men Going Their Own Way

I was reading through the archive over at artofmanliness.com, and read about the MGTOW philosophy, which promotes the idea that “…because society no longer respects and honors masculinity, men should no longer strive to meet the traditional markers of manhood.” At first, I seemed like something I could get behind — the idea that standards of manliness could be reinterpreted for today’s modern world and place importance on the individual, prioritizing self-actualization and enjoyment of life above the expectation of building a career to provide for a family.
Yet, the more I looked into it, the more I found myself in disagreement with it. The message of self-sufficiency and independence is delivered through the derisive focus on on the difference between men and women and the promotion of generalizing stereotypes. It’s neo-misogyny under the guise of self-empowerment, dishonest and ungentlemanly in it’s nature. MGTOW is what happens when a philosophical men’s movement takes a wrong turn for the worst.

Impediments

This past Monday, I hit reset on the counter for the weight loss project. I took new starting measurements, and was pleasantly surprised at where I weighed in. When I go through prolonged stints without regular exercise, I feel like I gain more weight from what I eat than I actually do. I was expecting to have set myself back as high as 210 lbs, and was greeted by a pleasant 200.3 on my digital scale’s display. As I noted in my check-in post a couple days ago, I managed to knock almost 4 lbs in a 5-day period.
However, I’ve noticed that it seems that almost every time I mentally coach myself up to a point of complete dedication, a new obstacle immediately presents itself and sends me veering off course. Two weeks ago, the county caught fire and climate conditions made even trying to relax at home hard and uncomfortable. This past week, I decided to get a jump on the week by completing a run on Sunday night (05/18) . The following morning, I had a pains in my left leg that made even just walking a painful effort.

Muscle Soreness Map - May 19, 2014
The Latest Pain Points

In my right knee, I felt a strong dull pain along the outer edge of the joint, as if bruised after being accidentally slammed into a small table. On my foot, I was forced to acknowledge proof that my earlier claim of having grown impervious to blistering wasn’t entirely true — I’ve apparently just become more accustomed to them. When I examined the end of my big toe, I was reminded of the time I went running and formed a new blister under a pre-existing one.
Toe Blister & Shoe Wear
I think there may be a correlation here…

When I looked at my left shoe, I noticed that the biggest wear-point coincided with where my big toe lies in the toe box when I have the shoe on foot. I always assumed the worn patches were just wear-and-tear on the decorative mesh and a perceived outer-layer of the shoe upper. The fact that all of my running socks are black helped maintain that illusion. But when I put the shoe on my foot without any socks on, I was forced to deal with the truth of reality:
Holes in My Running Shoes
I’ve been running in ratty hole-riddled shoes for weeks now.

So, in the spirit of stoicism and turning the obstacle into opportunity, I went on a few runs this week turning a blind-eye to the fact that my only pair of running shoes are falling apart and overdue for replacement. Additionally, I’ve also been going on walks with a co-worker on my lunch break, which has added 1.5 miles at a brisk pace every workday. I started doing some internet research in hopes of finding a good deal on a pair of new shoes from major retailers (Amazon, SportChalet, REI), but then remembered a local running store that I’d mentally bookmarked awhile back. After tracking down their website, I decided I’d find the time soon to go in for the free gait analysis that they offer and to pick up a new pair of kicks while supporting a local business. I did some additional poking around and found their Meetup.com group, which apparently hosts a weekly Wednesday run get-together and offers a 15% off a pair of running shoes at the Milestone Running store; a promotional discount, and the opportunity to add a social aspect to my running efforts.
I’ll probably have to take the run-down shoes out on one last jaunt tomorrow, since I expect most places will be closed for memorial day. A new set of footwear is in my short-term future, as will hopefully be another 3 to 4 lbs lost be the end of next week.

Unafraid

I compare myself to where I was just a year ago, and even already that person I was then feels like an entire lifetime ago. Around this time last year, I was just starting a new temp job with at a corporate office site for Union Bank, finally having found a new primary source of income after a rough unplanned two-month period of unemployment. I’d been so confident in my skill set and prior professional accomplishments that I didn’t anticipate finding a new job would be so hard a challenge. It was an enthusiastic hubris that made me blind to the reality that there are people with degrees (in some cases, even more than one) that have been struggling with long-term unemployment. In the months that followed, I juggled the intitial steps in beginning to realize my idealized self and the perpetual financial hardships that came from backlogged bills and unending auto repairs.
Throughout that time, counterproductive to my personal development goals, I grew weak in a new capacity. I subscribed to the “thankful to have a job” mentality, but also to the “beggars can’t be choosers” frame of mind that accompanies scarcity. I worked so hard at abandoning old unhelpful perceptions and self-imposed limitations, and adopted an entirely new set without noticing.
Now, after so much time working on rebuilding and reprogramming my self-perception and world outlook, I have an immense appetite for action and change. That unwavering self-confidence that once had me working 16 hour work days to coordinate an international ticket sale for a Japanese event promotional campaign is back under my command. The worst thing that can happen in life is for it to come to its end, and it’s a fate that we all share. Since the greatest our greatest shared fear is our common inevitability, why be afraid of anything that lies in between then and the present?
I’ve pushed aside pursuit of my passions to accommodate necessary practicality in life, and in continuing to do so contradict the persona I aspire to lay claim to. I see myself as capable, intelligent, and involved, and unafraid, and I need my reality to reflect it accordingly. Effective change requires a solid plan:

  • Aggressively assault the personal writing and weight loss projects I’ve already got running on this site.
  • Engage in meaningful work: to stretch the old marketing muscles, I’ve recently started working on helping a close friend develop her brand/business plan for a catering business she’s aiming to establish.
  • Find a new day job. I appreciate that my current one allows me to pay the bills, but the work I do is routine, meaningless, and fails to utilize my true potential, all without the benefit of development opportunities in new areas or career advancement.

My Intro to Audiobooks: The Blood of Flowers

As I’ve been listening to podcasts to pass the time at the office, I keep hearing audiobooks recommended by the different tech podcasters that I’ve started listening to. Curious to learn more about them, I directed myself to Amazon’s Audible.com and signed up for a free trial. I was planning on using the free credit on a copy of Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way. However, I figured that that would best be explored the first time in text, and I was in the mood for a good story to listen to. I browsed through Audible’s Essentials collection, and immediately settled on the #2 item on the list: The Blood of Flowers. I’ve been juggling around some ideas for this year’s NaNoWriMo, but haven’t had much luck with getting started with an actual draft. Since it’s been a good while since I’ve read a novel, trying out the audiobook experience with a work of fiction and taking a break from all the informational/instructional reading I normally consume was a two-fold benefit I couldn’t pass up. The premise of the book’s story seemed interesting enough, but it was the narration done by Shohreh Aghdashloo that sold me on it. I learned of her recently when she had a guest role on the TV show Bones, taken (like most others appear to be) by her elegant beauty and the hypnotic & pleasing raspiness to her voice.
I’m about 8 hours in, and it’s been turning out to be a great choice for a first audiobook. The only complaint I have is that, as a piece of historic fiction set in 17th-century Persia, there are sometimes where foreign words and names are used. Having only sounds to associate a subject to made learning all the characters a bit of a process. As a listener who doesn’t know any Persian, there are times when I’ve had to rewind the audio to get the necessary context to deduce whether a foreign word I’d heard was used for emphasis or an actual character or object. On the other hand, my utter lack of familiarity with Middle Eastern cultures hasn’t kept the ancient city of Isfahan from coming to life in my mind’s eye. Credit for that can be given to the few hours I clocked in exploring virtual 16th-century Constantinople in Assassin’s Creed: Revelations; using what I remember from that and a Google Image search for “Isfahan”, it’s really easy for me to step into the story-world of the book’s unnamed protagonist. It makes me wish I could step into some other universe where Middle East tensions don’t exist and I could explore Iran without having to be in a state of constant alarm and danger.
I can’t really weigh in too much on the overall story since I still haven’t finished it, but I will say that the setup in the prologue immediately seized my attention. The author, Anita Amirrezvani, has a respectable amount of talent as her craft. What I can confidently weigh in on is how enjoyable audiobooks can be (with the right voice casting, of course). With Audible being an Amazon service, the ability it has to sync positions across ebook and audiobook versions of titles has effectively pre-sold me on a Kindle Paperwhite and an ongoing Audible subscription. I held out over the many years on making digital book purchases to see how the iBooks/Nook/Kindle “war” would play out in regard to service/product development. Between Audible audiobooks, Whispersync (for Audible & Kindle), and Kindle Matchbook (heavily discounted/free ebook versions of paper books ordered from Amazon), I think I’ve finally determined who I’ll be giving my book money to.

Running

In my adult years, running has become a very integral part of my life. When I engage in conversation with others about my experience with the weight loss journey and the progress I’ve made since my teenage years, it feels as if people are disappointed to hear that the drastic changes I’ve made to my body over the years have been brought about by hours spent jogging the city streets and not the result of some magic pill. These conversations ultimately end with myself on the receiving recognition for what I’ve accomplished and praise for all the work I do presently. It’s then that I start feeling both amazed and amused with myself and my life at present — because I used to hate running.
I’ve been a stocky kid. I maxed out on the scale at the end of my time in high school. At the age of 17, I clocked in at almost 260 lbs in a 5’ 10″ average body frame; in other words, with an alarmingly high volume of body fat who somehow still managed to feel comfortable in his own body.

Me as I looked/weighed in 2006-2007
Me, as I looked as a teenager

As I started transitioning into my early adulthood years, I decided to start taking a stronger proactive stance on my health & appearance, and set out to “get in shape”. After sufficient progress, I got complacent at just above the 200lb mark. Over time, I eventually started putting the weight back on. In 2011, I started pushing myself to get onboard the fitness train and fully commit. My initial efforts weren’t so great:
Screen-Shot-2012-08-20-at-11.36.30-PM.png
Average pace of 15 minutes per mile. Rough.

And I paid for them in pain, on multiple levels:
blisters.JPG
EVERY run resulted in new blisters in new places.

 
These days, I’m able to do much better as a runner.
Running Log - Middle School Track
After hiking up and down Cowles Moutain, I decided to swing by the old middle school and run the old “one mile” track. I never finished a mile in under 13 minutes back then.

I have a 5.3 mile route that I run at least 3 times a week, and I’m working on putting together a data capture system so that I can start aggressively applying quantified-self principles and adopt a structured training plan with a system in place to track and measure progress. I’ve also started doing more weight/endurance training to encourage muscle growth, since straight cardio isn’t cutting it on it’s own anymore. In that respect, I’m dealing with basic weight lifting all of the annoyances of building up stamina and hardiness that I encountered when I started running. As soon as I break under 190, I’m going to start experimenting with High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) as well. I really want to be in prime condition to complete a 10K, at the very least. If I have my way, I’d be interested in testing my merit against the challenge of a half-marathon in the not so distant future.
That’s the story of how I went from being the 250lb teenager who couldn’t run more than 800 ft. without getting a gnarly side-stitch and could barely squeeze in a mile in under 15 minutes that HATED running to an adult in his late 20’s whom, despite having a long-sustained (and resented) smoking habit and still being of a heavier body weight, has developed a deep and real fondness for it. And if I could do it, it’d take a set of really special circumstances for anyone else to not be able to do the same.