Pull off the Roommate Switch, or Play to a Draw?

On December 8, 2014, I stepped on the scales to see how far I was from my Philmont goal weight. I weighed 278 pounds. That meant that I needed to lose about 40 pounds in six months. Based on my prior weight loss experience, I felt confident that I could do that, but I couldn’t afford to wait until January to get serious about losing weight. On January 5, I stepped on the scales again, and saw that I had gained six pounds since my early December weigh-in.

So I’ve arrived at another December thinking about the month’s impact on my weight. I don’t have the same kind of pressure that I had last December, but I’m coming off an October and November that weren’t particularly good for my weight.* So I do want to have a sensible December so that I can stop the recent slide that I’ve had.

*There’s some debate about the relative importance of diet compared to the importance of exercise in weight loss. I plan to post what I’ve experienced in this debate, but here’s a preview: I gained weight in November despite increasing my physical activity in preparation for my 5K, so for me, diet seems to be the more important factor. 

Almost everyone faces a similar challenge in December. I’ve had countless conversations with people about what December does to our waistlines, and studies show that most people expect to gain weight in December. According to some studies I’ve read about, the average American adult guesses that he or she will gain between seven and ten pounds during December (the actual average December weight gain is only about one pound).

So I’m going into this December intent on having a better experience than I did last December. In fact, I want to pull off The Dietary Equivalent of the Roommate Switch.

The Roommate Switch was featured in a “Seinfeld” episode called “The Switch.” In it, Jerry complains over lunch at the diner to George that he has become disenchanted with the woman he’s dating, but is interested in her roommate. George, recognizing the impossibility of successfully switching roommates, advises Jerry to “pay your check, leave here, and never mention this to anyone again.” He adds, “Do you realize in the entire history of Western civilization no one has successfully accomplished the Roommate Switch? In the Middle Ages you could get locked up for even suggesting it!”

Over the course of several hours, George and Jerry concoct a plan, which Jerry implements, with unexpected and hilarious results. My challenge is popularly recognized as equally impossible, and people may think I’m just as crazy for trying. I can’t say that I’ve really developed a similarly foolproof plan, but I’m trying to make sure that I maintain a high level of activity while eating reasonably–most of the time.

Maybe a better analogy comes from the world of sports. Two local sports radio personalities, Soren Petro and Kurtis Seaboldt from Sports Radio 810 WHB, have described their strategy as “playing to a draw.”

As an avid Sporting Kansas City fan, I’ve witnessed this strategy in sports. Sporting Park** is recognized throughout Major League Soccer as providing a tremendous home field advantage, so most visiting teams come into the park hoping not to win, but to emerge with a tie. To accomplish this, they play a highly defensive game, packing their players in the defensive end of the pitch*** to try to keep Sporting from scoring, but not really looking to score themselves. Sometimes this strategy forces Sporting to bring players further forward, creating opportunities for a single fast player from the visiting team to break away with the ball, potentially scoring by launching this counterattack.

**Now Children’s Mercy Sporting Park.

***That’s soccer for “field.” 

Similarly, I’m playing a largely defensive game. There are so many days when there are opportunities to be bad–holiday parties, snack days at work, special holiday-themed foods at restaurants and grocery stores, etc. I won’t be able to resist all of those temptations, so my strategy is to make sure that they don’t get out of hand. However, there will be opportunities to be more offensive–days when I don’t face these temptations–and if I make sure that I have plenty of physical activity and eat sensibly, I should be able to lose weight on those days. Those are my “counterattack” days when I will have scoring opportunities. This strategy gives me a chance to emerge victorious, but it’s one that is really more designed to produce a tie–no weight gain.

I don’t know whether it will work or not, but I’ll keep you posted. And regardless of the outcome, I’ll be working as hard in January 2016 as I did in this past January, and I’m expecting further progress throughout 2016.



WWWP5K: Mission Re-Defined, Extended, and Sort-of Accomplished

My last couple of posts have been about participating in the World Wide WP 5K Challenge. Automattic, the company that developed and maintains WordPress, challenged its bloggers to compete a 5K during the week of October 26 to November 1. They stressed that the 5K could be running, walking, or whatever. The challenge was to encourage its bloggers to get outside and move. They encouraged bloggers to use the “wwwp5k” tag on their posts and to take a picture as they crossed the finish line.

I decided to participate, and to participate by running a 5K, despite the fact–I’m not sure I’ve mentioned this–that I don’t like to run. During the week, I posted updates on my runs, as I attempted to work my way up to 5K.

Since a 5K was a significant challenge for me, I described it as The Epic Athletic Struggle of Fall, and noted that it was taking place at the same time as another epic athletic struggle: the World Series. As a lifelong fan of the Kansas City Royals, the World Series had taken on greater importance to me, and it interacted with my work on this challenge in interesting ways.

Having never been a runner, I started small, but with what was a significant accomplishment for me–about seven-tenths of a mile. I then increased that to 1 mile, and then to 2.5K (about 1.55 miles). The plan was to complete the 5K on Sunday, the last day of the challenge. But on Sunday, a morning Chiefs game, the deciding game of the World Series in the evening, and several other obligations in between kept me from completing the challenge.

So technically, I didn’t complete the challenge during the week of the challenge. But to me, the challenge has never been about a deadline; it’s been about accomplishing something I’ve never done before, and getting activity to support my ongoing efforts to get fit. With this in mind, I set out to complete the challenge on Monday morning.

I started early Monday morning, on four hours’ sleep, having gotten to bed late after celebrating the Royals’ World Series victory. I knew that doubling my previous longest distance would be difficult, but I wanted to try. I ended up completing only about 2.2 miles–nearly a mile short of my goal, and that distance included at least a small amount of walking.

Did I successfully complete my Epic Athletic Struggle of the Fall? By the technical standards of the challenge, no. I took eight days, not seven, and never did complete 3.1 miles (5K) in a single run. But over the eight days, I ran a total of 5.5 miles. Since Automattic emphasized that we could be flexible in how we meet the challenge, I could justify my total over four runs as meeting the 5K requirement.

Or, I could do that another way. Today–day 9 of the one-week challenge–I met the challenge another way. Today was the parade and civic celebration for the Kansas City Royals, and I was determined to go. My problem: the parade was scheduled to start at noon, and I had a meeting that wouldn’t end until noon. With hundreds of thousands expected to descend upon the two-mile long parade route, parking anywhere near the route was out of the question, especially given my late arrival. I ended up finally finding space just off 33rd Street, one block east of Troost.* I planned on catching the parade near Crown Center, as the southernmost point on the route.

*I know that won’t mean anything to many people, but those who are familiar with Kansas City will recognize how far that is from any point on the parade route. 

About halfway through the walk it hit me that I would end up walking (round trip) more than 5K. Had I realized it sooner, I would have tracked it through MapMyWalk. I did have the foresight to check my steps on Fitbit before I began, so that I could subtract that from my total upon returning to my car. I also would check Google Maps later to determine a distance. The results: I accumulated more than 8,000 steps on my trip to and from the parade, and Google Maps showed that I walked about 3.8 miles each way. So this extended walk also exceeded 5K. 

And, consistent with the Automattic’s suggestion, here is a picture–not of my finish line–but of the Royals parade at the finish line of their own Epic Athletic Struggle of Fall.

The parade through downtown Kansas City of the World Series champion Kansas City Royals.

The parade through downtown Kansas City of the World Series champion Kansas City Royals.

Finally, it is important to add that I haven’t given up on the goal of running a 5K. I’ll continue to add distance throughout November, with the goal of completing the Thanksgiving Day 5K that I mentioned in my first post of this series.

But don’t expect me to like running.


WWWP5K Update: Day 4

After a one day break, the epic athletic struggle of Fall continues.

One might think I’m referring to the World Series. I’m not. Unlike that other epic athletic struggle of Fall, this one doesn’t come with a change of city following the day off.

But there is a relationship between these two epic struggles. As a Royals fan, I was glued to the television Tuesday evening for Game 1 of the World Series…for fourteen innings. Or twelve innings, since I apparently fell asleep sometime in the 13th inning (although after waking up just after the game ended, I did watch the final two innings on DVR).

Actual photo of me in the 13th inning of Game 1 of the World Series, barely containing my excitement.

Actual photo of me in the 13th inning of Game 1 of the World Series, barely containing my excitement.

So after a very late night on Tuesday night, I was slow to get around Wednesday morning, and ended up not having time to run. Running after work was out of the question, because there was Game 2 of the World Series to watch.

So Thursday morning’s run came after a day off. It would have been easy to take another day off, when I checked the temperature outside and found that it was 35 degrees. Running outside was out of the question. I know there are people who run regularly in cold weather, but I will never be one of those people.

Instead, I went back to the treadmill. I was determined to top my one-mile run from Tuesday. As I got to the mile-and-a-quarter mark, I felt that I could keep going to make 1.5 miles. I did. From there, it made sense to keep going for an extra five-hundredths of a mile to make it halfway to 5K.

I was happy to make it halfway to my 5K goal. I had run further than I had ever run in a single run before. But I still don’t like running.

I’ve heard distance runners speak of a “runners high.” Perhaps I’d like running if that high would kick in. But I suspect that it takes a few more miles before one gets to the point where he or she experiences the high.

But I do think I experienced a “runner’s point of clarity.” It’s a realization that hit me as I was going beyond the mile mark: I was no more out of breath then, or after that point than I was at a half mile. It made me wonder: is the real challenge to running further not so much physical as mental? Does the point of the greatest feeling of breathlessness begin relatively early in a run and stay roughly constant until the run finishes? I’d be interested in hearing whether this is what other runners experience.

WWWP5K Update: Day 2

I still don’t like running.

This morning was my second day of running. Yesterday was a cold morning, and since I seem to have just caught a cold, I didn’t want to aggravate it by sucking in the chilly air, so I chose to run on the treadmill in our toasty basement. I ran about seven-tenths of a mile on the treadmill, then continued to walk at a slower pace for a while.

I woke up this morning and had an immediate realization: I apparently don’t use the same muscles for running that I use for walking. I was sore. Very sore. From running that short distance. I didn’t expect that.

My treadmill experience confirmed what I had suspected: that treadmill running is inferior to running outdoors. In my case, our treadmill is located in a corner, so I had to shorten my stride to keep from kicking the wall. So when I checked the temperature this morning and saw that it was warmer than yesterday, I decided to head outside.

I also knew that I wanted to increase the distance that I ran this morning. I was determined to hit the mile mark before I slowed down to a walk. I was tempted to stop several times, and my shoe that came untied at about the .8 mark was a really tempting excuse. But I made it to the one mile mark and immediately slowed down to a walk.

According to BringBackTheMile.com, Jim Ryun holds the record time for a Kansas male running the mile at 3:51.1 seconds. That record has stood since 1967. Jim should be worried; today’s mile was slightly more than 8 minutes slower than that. I’m sure that time will come down.

I still don’t like running.

I’m Taking a Run at a New Challenge

I hate running. 

Not running in general. I mean, I like activities that involve running, sometimes, but only for short times. I don’t mind running while playing basketball or football (something I used to do a lot more than I do now). And, of course, I’ve been known to come running when I’m called for dinner.

I hate running as an activity. 

I just don’t enjoy running for running’s sake. But I know that not everyone is like that. A number of my friends are runners, and regularly post their times and/or experiences on Facebook. I like seeing that, and I try to like their running status updates when I see them.

Plus, my son is a runner. He just finished his first year on his high school cross country team. I’ve really enjoyed going to his meets, and watching his progress throughout the year. It’s been a great activity for him, and it’s helped ease his transition into high school. It’s been great watching how the team members support one another, and how Wil has been included as an equal part of the team. I also enjoy watching him work for something that he likes. It’s something that I want to encourage him to do more of–to dedicate himself to improving during the off-season, to set goals, and to work toward meeting it.

I hate running as an activity for me.

I’m not sure why I hate running. It’s not that I think it’s pointless. I think runners like to get out and enjoy the scenery; that they prefer a changing landscape to the inside of a gym. I do to, but I get that out of other activities, such as walking.

It’s not that it makes me breathe hard. My favorite form of exercise is bicycling, which can elevate my heart rate and leave me breathless. In fact, I like to push myself on the bike. But cycling isn’t constant exertion. After a tough climb up a hill, there’s nothing like coasting down the hill, getting a chance to catch my breath. With running, there’s no coasting (or if there is, I’m not doing it right). So maybe it’s the fact that once you’re out of breath while running, you stay out of breath.

So I’ve started running.

Running will probably never be a big part of my fitness repertoire, but I’m going to give it a try.

The company that produces WordPress, the program I use to post this blog, has issued its annual Worldwide WordPress 5k Challenge. They challenge WordPress users–as well as readers of WordPress blogs–to complete a 5k during the week that ends November 1. They have apparently done this for several years, but I’m not sure I’ve ever paid attention before. For whatever reason, this year it caught my eye.

I’m hoping to generate more views of my blog by being a part of this challenge. The good people at WordPress encourage us to blog about our experience and tag those posts with “wwwp5k”, which I’ve done for this post. I’m hoping there are a couple of people who will follow this, read this post, and say to themselves, “Hey, this guy’s pretty funny/inspirational/(insert your favorite adjective here). I think I’ll follow his blog.”

The rules are pretty simple, and pretty lenient. They stress that there’s no time limit (I suspect that one could even accomplish it in multiple shifts), and they stress that participants can complete it by running, walking, even skipping. So I could walk for 5 kilometers–something I know that I could do easily–but I take the word “challenge” seriously. That’s why I won’t feel I’ve met my challenge without running.

I started working on it this morning. Instead of waking up and spending time on the elliptical machine or walking, I got on the treadmill and set it for 5 miles per hour. That’s hardly a breakneck pace, but it was too fast to walk, so I had to run on the treadmill. I finished about 3/4 of a mile before I slowed it down (to 4 MPH, a brisk walk pace), but kicked it back up to 5 MPH again after a couple of minutes. I probably ran for only about a mile, but was a start.

Even if I don’t complete the challenge by Sunday, I will still be working toward something else. My family has signed up for the Ward Parkway Thanksgiving Day 5K. It’s both a competitive race and a fun run, so I’m not under pressure to run the whole thing, but I don’t want to walk any of it.

I don’t expect this to lead to a lifetime of regular running. But I’m hoping that I might break down by dread of running a bit. Who knows, maybe I’ll finally discover the answer to something that’s puzzled me for years: why do some runners insist on running in the street right next to a perfectly good sidewalk?

My Mind is the Diet Borg

A recurring theme of this blog is that I’m a nerd. Few of you who know me will be surprised to hear that, and I freely admit it. I even made “I’m such a nerd” one of the blog post categories listed on the right side of the page, so you can easily find all 12 of the posts (including this one) that fall into that category. So it should come as no surprise that I enjoy watching Star Trek in all of its forms. I particularly like Star Trek: The Next Generation, (or TNG).

TNG had its share of Klingons and Romulans–carryovers from the original series–but it introduced us to a new set of aliens: The Borg. The Borg traveled through space conquering entire planets and incorporating them into their collective consciousness, so they were always changing as they encountered and assimilated new civilizations, life forms, and technology.

This adaptability made The Borg a formidable opponent. They encountered the Enterprise in several episodes of TNG (and at least one movie). Enterprise‘s weapons would initially do damage to the Borg ship, but the Borg would quickly adapt its defenses, rendering Enterprise‘s weapons useless, and requiring the crew to scramble to find new ways to stop the unrelenting advance of The Borg.

The Borg traveled through space in this menacing-looking vessel. My mind travels through my diet in a similarly menacing-looking vessel.

The Borg traveled through space in this menacing-looking vessel. My mind travels through my weight loss in a similarly menacing-looking vessel.

Like the crew of the Enterprise, my diet encounters its fair share of the usual enemies: French fries, potato chips, pizza, etc. While they’re not completely powerless, my diet can usually overcome them without too much difficulty. But my diet has met its most formidable adversary: my mind.

One of my more frequent topics on this blog has been the mind games involved in weight loss (“Mind Games” is also one of the categories of blog posts; you can click on it to see all of the posts about mind games that I’ve written). I’ve found that it’s easy to sabotage one’s weight loss using the power of the mind. And my mind has been particularly adept at adapting to whatever weapons I use to defend my weight loss.

This has been apparent during my current weight loss. As I’ve mentioned countless times (ad nauseum, you say?), I rely on some technological tools: I track my food and count calories using My Fitness Pal, and keep track of my activity and exercise using Map My Walk(/Ride/Run) and my Fitbit. My Fitbit syncs with My Fitness Pal, so that I get an estimate of the calories I burn each day with the steps my Fitbit tracks. On top of that, I can manually add exercise and get estimates of calorie burns using My Fitness Pal’s database But that’s where the mind games start. My Fitness Pal graciously adds the calories burned back into the calories available for eating during the remainder of the day.

About a month before I left for Philmont, I noticed that my pace of weight loss seemed to be slowing down. After thinking about this, I decided that a contributing factor was that I was relying too much on the credit that the tools were giving me for exercise, and actually increasing my calorie intake as a result. While I was still losing weight, I wasn’t happy with the pace, so I decided to stop tracking my exercise. I thought that by doing that, I would trick myself into eating less while burning the same amount of calories, thereby losing more weight.

And it worked…for a while. I noticed that after starting this new approach, I was once again losing weight at a faster pace. I was able to sustain that pace basically until I left for Philmont, and probably a few days after, when I resumed tracking again.

But then my mind went to work. My strategy relied not just on my not tracking exercise, but actively ignoring the credit that My Fitness Pal gave me for my steps tracked through Fitbit. That required me to mentally subtract out the those calories from what My Fitness Pal showed me were available. Over time, it was easier to not subtract, or to purposefully subtract fewer calories, allowing me to eat more.

Even doing that, however, I was able to continue to lose some weight. So my mind needed to continue to adapt. Its next step was to further make adjustments for the exercise not entered. So, while Fitbit gives me partial credit for spending time on the elliptical (I’ve noticed that each revolution on the elliptical results in one step being registered by Fitbit), the number of steps that Fitbit tracks does not come close to the calorie burn that the elliptical machine shows me I burned (or, for that matter, what the My Fitness Pal database says that amount of time I spend on the elliptical should burn). Knowing that, my brain tries to add the higher estimate of the calorie burn back into the available calories number that My Fitness Pal gives me.

These mind games are all tricks. They’re designed to override my mind, which eventually sees through the tricks. In the end, tricks themselves aren’t effective over the long run, and there’s just no substitute for doing things the right way without any tricks at all.

Weekends at Calorie Burine’s

Thursday, August 20
I’m starting this post on a Thursday evening, and I’m already beginning to think about the upcoming weekend. I won’t be stuck behind a desk, so naturally I’ll be more active. Without having ten hours of my day tied up with work and commuting, I’ll be able to dedicate more time to exercise, so I’ll burn even more calories than I do on an average weekday. I’m really going to lose some serious weight this weekend.

Or, maybe not.

If recent history is any indication, I’m not likely to lose much (if any) weight this weekend. The past two weekends are examples of what I’ve been experiencing lately.

On the weekend of August 8-9, I hit my step goal one day, and just missed it on the other day. On Saturday I biked 25.5 miles, burning hundreds of calories I wouldn’t have burned otherwise. But when I weighed on Monday morning, my weight was about a pound higher than it was at the start of the weekend.

This past weekend was similar. I hit my step goal on both days. I had a bike ride of 29.67 miles. And I took a 2.77 mile walk. And I lost weight–a whopping two-tenths of a pound!

I’ve been thinking a lot about this apparent paradox, trying to figure out why I don’t lose weight, even though my activity level increases significantly. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

One Good Turn Deserves a Bad One – Knowing that I have expended more calories, I find it easier to rationalize eating more and different food from what I consume during the week. I followed the 25.5 mile bike ride with a fairly big barbecue lunch.* Exercise becomes my rationalization for poor food choices.

*Hayward’s, if you’re keeping track. I couldn’t turn down the masa-dusted sweet potato fries now, could I?

Predictably Unpredictable – During the week, I’m generally in control of my schedule. I can eat when I want** and can plan around meal times. But during the weekends, I don’t have a set schedule, and must manage my eating around other family members’ schedules. Often we’ll end up having lunch or dinner (or both) later than we do during the week. When that happens, I find that I will be more likely to snack when my body says it’s meal time, and then eat the same size meal that I would have had without the snack. I think that’s adding many more calories to my weekend intake than I think I’m adding at the time.

**Who am I kidding? I want to eat all the time. 

Water, Water Everywhere, but Nary a Drop During the WeekI’ve been hearing for a long time about the importance of water intake to weight loss. But I’ve heard mixed signals. I’ve heard from dieticians that tea and even diet soda are almost as good as water, but everyone seems to agree that water is the best thing to drink if one wants to lose weight. During the week, I tend to drink more tea and Diet Coke than water, mostly because I need the caffeine (my lack of sleep is an entirely different subject that I could blog about). While I drink plenty, I think that I end up getting a little dehydrated during the week. On weekends, when I exercise more, I end up drinking more water, especially when I have more strenuous activity such as a hike or a long bike ride. But because I haven’t had so much water during the week, I think my body retains more of that water, meaning that activity that would normally result in weight loss doesn’t produce the loss that I expected.

Sunday, August 23
It’s now late Sunday evening, and I’ve had another active weekend. Yesterday I exceeded by step goal by more than 2,000 steps, and today I rode the bike more than 20 miles. I tried to be mindful of the issues I discussed above, by watching my snacking and avoid giving myself bonus exercise calories. This morning’s weigh-in gave me good news, but I’ll see when I weigh myself tomorrow morning whether I’ve broken the cycle of weekend disappointment.