Me, only better

In May 2014, I wrote a post lamenting the fact that after six weeks of walking, exercising and conscious food choices, I had still failed to lose a single pound. Not too long after that, I started using My Fitness Pal to track not only exercise but food choices, and started making slow but steady progress. I did pretty well through the summer, losing nearly 10 steady pounds, and then my weight crept back up again over a long, cold and icy winter.

In April 2015, I was back on the bandwagon again and once again lamenting my lack of progress. Back to food and fitness tracking I went. Thanks to daily step goals, food tracking and power yoga, I dropped what I’d regained and by July was at my goal weight, a full five pounds less than I’d managed to go in 2014.

Here we are in March 2016 (see how I start paying attention a little earlier in the season each year?) and that darn winter creep has me up another five pounds. There’s no whiny lament this year, though. My weight is still equivalent to the lowest point in 2014, and I’m sure I can banish that pesky 5 lbs and get myself in my happiest range, which is anything under 170 lbs. I think the two things that kept me from completely regaining the weight I’d lost over the winter this year were regular power yoga (so good for strength!) and the fact that I’ve kept up parking the car in the driveway and walking the kilometer or so to pick up the boys after school all through the winter. I can count on one hand the number of times we capitulated to the weather, and I drove another handful of times when I was running late, but in general, we were diligent about getting in those daily walks.

I haven’t yet resorted to food tracking again, but I love tracking my daily steps. I’ve had a FitBit that I’ve used pretty regularly for the past three years, and I’ve seen steady improvement on my dedication to leading a less sedentary life. So when the nice folks at TomTom offered me a review unit of their new high-end fitness tracker, I was happy to try it out.

The TomTom Spark GPS Fitness Watch has all sorts of interesting features way beyond a simple step tracker (but it has that, too!) Most interesting, it stores up to 500 songs from your music library, so you can leave your phone at home and listen to your workout playlist via Bluetooth headphones. The TomTom Spark also has a continuous heart rate monitor, a sleep tracker, race mode and interval training mode, and multi-sport mode. It also has something I’ve wished all along my FitBit Flex had: a watch! The official description says:

TomTom Spark is the latest in the complete line of TomTom wearable fitness technologies. The 24/7 activity tracker continuously logs steps, active minutes, distance, calories burned and sleep duration. TomTom GPS tracking provides real-time information including time, distance, speed and pace. The built-in heart rate monitor accurately tracks heart rate, without the need for a chest strap. Multiple sports modes let users track their activity inside and out, across running, cycling, swimming, treadmill and gym workouts.

Pretty neat, right? I wore the TomTom Spark for about a week to try it out, and in general I really liked it. I wore both the FitBit and the Spark on the same wrist for a few days and found they were fairly agreeable about the number of steps taken, which is great. I’m always less concerned about the actual steps and more concerned about one day relative to the next.

TomTom

Here’s what I’ve noticed about the TomTom Spark so far. Out of the box, it’s quick to charge and super-easy to figure out. There’s a square button under the watch face, and you can push it left to see your steps, up to see your music, right to access multi-sport modes and timers, etc. Although it’s bulky and at least in the black model I received, a little industrial looking, the strap is SO MUCH easier to use than the FitBit one I’m always cursing. It was pretty much plug-and-play with the My Sports app, and it automatically scanned my computer to find music files so I was able to add my favourite iTunes playlists with two clicks. The GPS tracking is very entertaining, especially for someone who has a weird fascination with maps. I want to use it to draw pictures – except for maybe not so much the penises. Ahem.

In truth, I think the TomTom Spark has way more features than I will ever use. I have a few friends who are runners, and they would LOVE the timers and distance trackers. I think it’s pretty cool that it also has modes to track everything from swimming to cycling to the treadmill. All that to say, it is more my dedication to competitive sports that is lacking and certainly not the features on the Spark.

There were a few things that I did not love about the Spark, and they are personal peccadilloes based on what I’m already used to. If I were to trade in my FitBit, I would miss the small community of cheerleaders (and challengers) I have built up, and one of my favourite features on my FitBit is the little victory buzz it emits to randomly scare the crap out of me celebrate when I achieve my daily step goal. And the help section for the Spark is entirely comprised of YouTube videos. I know most people would love that, but I’ll happily wade through a 10,000 word help article before capitulating to a two minute video.

Do you use any fitness trackers? What features do you love and what features do you covet? And, have you drawn any cool pictures with your GPS?? I think that’s the feature that I’m going to play with this week!


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10 tips to walk 10k steps a day

by DaniGirl on July 1, 2015 · 2 comments

in Me, only better

Did you hear that bellow of “GOOOOOOAAAAAALLLLLLL” on Sunday morning? No, that wasn’t an overenthusiastic fan at the FIFA Women’s world cup – that was me, reaching my weight goal after more than a year of (admittedly on-and-off) trying. Yay me!

Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 7.55.02 AM

Even better than meeting my weight goal, though, has been that I’m meeting my movement goals. Even though I’ve had my FitBit for more than two years now, it’s only since this spring that I’ve been consistently meeting my goal of 10.000 steps each day. A goal of 10K steps per day is sort of arbitrary, I’ll admit, but I’ve read a lot of studies that say it’s an ideal point to maintain fitness and lower your risk of things like heart disease and diabetes. And the best part? It’s a genuinely achievable goal, even for a sedentary girl like me.

So, from lazy me to you, here’s 10 things you can do to step up and meet that 10,000 steps per day goal.

1. Wear comfortable shoes. I picked up a second pair of running shoes and keep them in my office. It’s surprising what a difference this makes!

2. Step-load the early part of the day. This may work for me because I’m also naturally a morning person, but I try to get in as many steps as I can as early in the day as I can. When you’re at the end of the day, you’re much more likely to make an effort to take a quick walk around the block to overcome a 1,200 step deficit than plan a hike to make up 4,000 steps.

3. Set a task reminder to move. I must have seen this tip recommended a hundred times, but have only taken it to heart recently. I have a task reminder set up at work to go off every 90 minutes, and when it goes off I have to stop what I’m doing, walk down the four flights of stairs to the main floor, walk the length of the building, and walk back up again. It’s the best part of 1,000 steps, and it’s really quite amazing how much it clears your head.

4. Leave your car in a central area and walk your errands.
With a parking lot in front of each big-box store, it’s tempting to move your car from lot to lot as you go from store to store. Resist the urge, or park a bit further away if you’re just going to one spot.

5. Think of walking as a me-time indulgence rather than an obligation. This was a huge one for me. Once I stopped thinking of getting my steps in as a drudge and started thinking of the time as an indulgence, I found myself working harder to make time for it. And walking is a gift to yourself – mentally and physically. You deserve it!

6. Find a buddy. Tristan comes with me when I walk the dog every night, and he sets a brisk pace that’s natural for his coltish teenage legs but a challenge for me to keep up. It’s also a wonderful quiet interlude to suss out things that may be weighing on his mind, or for us to catch up on our busy days. At the office, my friend Annie and I have taken invigorating lunch-time walks that breezed by in the depths of conversations. I find that keeping up with my FitBit friends online also serves as a motivator when I feel like slacking. I am the opposite of competitive in most things, but I hate to fall out of the leaderboard on FitBit!

7. Make it part of your routine. After a while, finding small ways to pad your day with extra steps becomes second nature. I’ve started circling my office building to use a different entrance each time I come or go, adding a couple of hundred steps each time. I also figured out that I had just enough time to park my car in the driveway after work and hop on my bike to get to the boys’ school in time to walk them back home again. I am really missing the extra kilometer of steps from the after-school routine this week!

8. Make it fun! Listen to a podcast, or your favourite music while you walk. If you’re particularly dexterous and can’t stand the idea of missing the latest activity on your social networks, walk while surfing your smartphone. Or, choose a beautiful place to explore on your walk – drive to a neighbourhood you don’t often visit, or find a trail to walk.

9. Bring or borrow a pet. Sometimes, the idea that the dog is counting on me is the only thing that motivates me to get out in poor weather, or after a particularly long day. She doesn’t mind walking in the rain or snow, and inspires me not to mind so much either. We haven’t melted yet!

10. Be kind to yourself – each day is a clean slate. While I now make my step goal six or seven days each week (as opposed to making it two or three days each week this time last year), I don’t beat myself up if I don’t make it every single day. I have consistently made my weekly goal of 70,000 steps each week since Easter, though. Turns out when you aim for 10K steps a day, you often land somewhere closer to 12,000 or 14,000 steps a day!

And now, a bonus tip for FitBit Zip users!

I got my first Zip back in January of 2013, and upgraded to a Flex about a year ago. I still use my Zip as a backup when the flex is charging, though. I used to hate the idea of “losing” the steps between first waking up in the morning and when I’d get dressed for the day and tuck my Zip into my pocket or clip it to my bra, so I’d carry it around in my PJ pocket – and then inevitably forget to move it when I got dressed. All that to say, I wish I’d had the brainstorm two years ago that I had last month when I discovered the Best! FitBit Zip! Accessory! Ever!! Are you ready for it?

Photo 2015-05-20, 11 15 22 AM

A hairband! Seriously, why did I not think of this before? So when I want to record my steps before I get dressed (or, ahem, after I put on my jammies!) I just do this:

Photo 2015-05-20, 11 14 53 AM

I’ve also been known to actually attach the Zip to my ponytail in the pool or while doing yoga.

You know that old expression, “Look after the pennies and the dollars will look after themselves”? It’s like that with steps, too. Find a dozen times to add 100 steps to your day, and you’re there!

What do you think of the goal to walk 10,000 steps a day? Do you do it? Any other tips to share?


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Two months ago, on Easter Sunday, I pulled my FitBit back out of the drawer, where it had been taking a brief break from my wrist. I’ve missed my 10,000 steps per day goal only seven out of the 61 days since then. I’m pretty pleased with that!

FitBit steps graphic

I’ve really been working on overcoming my naturally sedentary nature. I try not to go more than 90 minutes sitting at my desk without getting up and moving around. My favourite work break is to get up, walk down to the main floor, across the length of the building, and back up the stairs to my fourth floor office. It’s surprising how clear your head gets after breaking away from a task and doing eight flights of stairs! I’m also working on getting a stand-up desk, and have jerry-rigged my current office set-up with stacks of dictionaries under the keyboard tray in the meanwhile. Not exactly ergonomic, but it will do for now.

I’ve also been pretty good at getting home from work in enough time to leave the car in the driveway and walk the kilometer or so over to the boys’ school to pick them up and then walk them home, or on days when time is short, hopping on my bike and cruising over to the school, then walking my bike home with the boys. One of my fellow moms at the school gate commented on how I’m always smiling and happy-looking as I walk up and I realized that it’s one of my favourite times of day – a peaceful transition from the work day to the rest of the day wrapped in an invigorating 15 minute walk. (And heh, the more late I am, the more invigorating the walk can be!)

I’ve also discovered hot power yoga, and have been doing that once a week faithfully for about three months. I seriously love it, and it’s become a sacred part of my week. My family has been great about accepting the twice-weekly gym visits and now weekly yoga classes, and Tristan is an excellent walking companion. (And my excellent, I mean long-legged setter of unforgiving paces that sometimes leave me struggling to keep up with him!)

My focus has really been on moving my sedentary arse, so while I’ve been conscious of my food choices, I haven’t exactly been dieting. There has been poutine and chips, and a healthy share of Beloved’s amazing cookies. (Oh the irony: as I have been busy teaching myself how to cook real, whole foods, he has been teaching himself how to bake like his grandmother did. I keep asking him to bake the cookies I like least, just to ameliorate the temptation. The cinnamon oatmeal chocolate chip cookies from Chef Michael Smith’s Family Meals cookbook are more than my feeble willpower can withstand!)

All that to say, while I have been making good choices, I haven’t really been depriving myself, and I have been seeing some pretty solid progress: I’m down 10 lbs over two months, and am at my lowest weight in a couple of years.

Screen Shot weight progress

You can see there has been a lot of two-steps-forward one-step-back, but that’s okay. I can feel the difference in how my clothes fit and even see the difference in the mirror – especially in yoga class, where I first flinched at my reflection months ago. I’ve got 2 lbs to go to my original goal, but if I go another 10 lbs I’ll be at my 10-year low, where I was circa 2009. That would be awesome, but what’s even more awesome is that I feel strong and healthy and proud of myself. And I had cookies along the way!

I’m doing anecdotal research about stand-up desks while I wait to see if the bureaucracy can cough one up for me. Are you using one? Any recommendations?


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You may have noticed that I have a bit of an obsessive personality. *snort* Not for me “I should write a blog” but “I should write a blog for ten years and turn it into a career” and not just “I should take a few pictures” but “I should take a picture every day for years and become a photographer.” Why dip your toe in the puddle when you can fling yourself in the ocean?

I decided back in early April that it was time to get my overweight arse back on the health bandwagon, but this time my focus was less on what I was eating and more on what I was doing with my body. I kept reading articles about how a sedentary lifestyle was a huge health risk, and so I decided that while I would start counting calories again, my real focus would be getting my body moving more often.

On Easter weekend, I fished my FitBit back out of the drawer (we were on a break, but we’ve since made up) and I made my goal of 10,000 steps per day every day for EIGHTEEN DAYS IN A ROW. I’ve been using a FitBit since January 2013 and the longest stretch I’ve previously gone was only four or five days, so the streak was a huge accomplishment for me. That’s almost 8 km of walking every day, through the spring sunshine and the rain and that raw wind that just won’t quit.

For the best part of a month, I lived a wonderfully active life. I set up a reminder to move on my computer at work, and every 60 or 90 minutes I’d get up, walk the four flights of steps to the main floor, across the length of our building and back up again. I’d walk five blocks out of the way to get my coffee or park at the parking lot down the road from where I was heading to get in a few extra steps. I spent an hour-long conference call from home pacing the 16 steps from my bedside table through the ensuite bathroom and back again and logged over a thousand steps for it (not to mention a serious case of vertigo.) For one solid week I drove home as quickly as I could so I could have time to park the car at home and walk over to the boys’ school so we could walk home together – good for me AND good for them, win-win!

Look at me! I’m active! I’m in control. I’m happy!

Well, not so much. It’s hella work and time consuming to do all that walking, and I was so busy trying to get my steps in that other things started falling by the wayside. Blog posts? Can’t. Walking. Errands at lunch? Only those that include lots of steps. And god forbid the day started to wind down and I was nowhere near my step goal – the stress started to get to me. I can’t tell you how much of a relief it was to finally break the streak when I didn’t make my step goal this Friday.

I had been making myself crazy to get that line on the chart to turn green each day, going to ridiculous lengths to make sure my FitBit gave it’s little victory buzz to let me know I’ve reached 10K steps for the day. (Aside – after almost a year of wearing the FitBit Flex, you’d think I’d begin to be less startled when the thing goes off to mark 10K steps, but no. I have variously jumped, yelped, flinched, flung a wooden spoon into a pot I was stirring and nearly wet my pants when it buzzed unexpectedly. I think the worst is when I’m anticipating it – somehow it manages to wait for the split second my attention is diverted before it goes off and I’m always the most harshly startled on those days. More than once I’ve thought I had an angry bee in my sleeve – rather unlikely in the deep dark heart of January, but still.)

So there’s a finite amount of time here and I’m going to have to figure out a way to be productive (when everything I produce involves me sitting in front of a monitor) AND be active AND do all the other tasks required to be the chief operating officer of our busy household. And don’t even bother recommending one of those treadmill-desk things. I did consider it, for about eleven seconds, but I have a hard enough time overcoming gravity and my own clumsiness when I’m focused on what my body is doing – I’d cause myself grievous bodily harm on one of those contraptions.

The other thing I noticed is that I did not feel any mentally better while I was on my 10k/day streak. In fact, I felt emotionally ragged and raw for a good portion of that time. It’s entirely possible that it was a coincidence, but the day I broke the streak of green “I did it” lines was the most contented I’ve felt in weeks. Hmmm.

So, the moral of today’s story is don’t exercise I need to find a way to integrate moving my body into my daily routine that is sustainable without being slave to the green line of achievement. And maybe I need to learn to do some things without quite so much, um, enthusiasm. 😉


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Alright, I give up. I charged my FitBit and I started tracking calories again. I guess I’m back on the wagon.

It was just shy of a year ago that I capitulated to counting calories with My Fitness Pal, and it did work for me. From a high of 183 lbs, I worked my way up and down to a late summer low around 175 lbs, but I never really made it below that. (I was aiming for 170, which is ironically the weight I was in 2005 when I joined weight watchers for the last time. My 15 year low is 163, where I ended up after six months on Dr Bishop’s weight loss plan, after topping out after Lucas was born at a way-too-heavy for me 192. I’m saying the numbers out loud so I stop feeling shamed by them. I hope it works.) After a sedentary winter with too many chips and Beloved learning to bake, I’ve been trying to get back on track with increased exercise alone, but my weight isn’t really budging. So. Calorie counting it is. It sucks, but it works.

I don’t really hate it as much as I thought I did. I like to have projects, and it’s the quiet season for photography, so I will obsess about my own health and fitness for a while. I am my current project. And like almost all of my projects, in two or three quick skips I’ve gone from mildly interested to engaged to obsessive.

The first significant phase of my project was yoga. My friend Yvonne mentioned hot power yoga at Mountaingoat Yoga in passing one day, and my interest was piqued. I’d been thinking I’d like a pilates class for strength, and though I am terribly intimidated by fitness classes (I’ve had a GoodLife membership for 10 years and never once attended a class), I started in late February and haven’t missed a weekly class yet. Hell, I even bought a yoga top, 75% off on the clearance rack at Gap.

Despite my best intentions and what felt like an increased attention to making good choices, the scale refused to reward my good behaviour. Not only that, but one day I happened to position myself in yoga class in full view of the mirror, and comparing what I thought I looked like to what I actually looked like (especially compared to everyone else) was a harsh reality check. I am not on the large side of healthy, I am overweight.

So. This week I have attended two yoga classes and gone to the gym twice for cardio workouts on the elliptical machine and the rower. I took an hour walk with the boys on Sunday, started tracking my steps and calories, and walked a kilometer to the boys’ school to pick them up and walk the kilometer back home. I’ve resisted Easter chocolates and made good food choices. I practically skipped to the gym this morning, so keen was I to reap the rewards of my sustained and extended efforts. You know what I got?

Nothing.

Sigh.

That’s where the reference to Sisyphus comes in. I feel like this is how it is, all the time:

65:365 Sisyphus

Oh I know, you don’t have to say it. The scale only shows my relationship to gravity, right? And I’m probably building muscle tone and losing fat. And it takes time to make progress. Blah blah blah. I know, I know. I’m just so frustrated that I feel like Sisyphus up there, always ALWAYS pushing against that rock. I know that if I keep tracking steps and calories that I’ll make progress, just like I did last year. And I know that eventually I’ll get tired of it or something shiny will come along and distract me, and I’ll lose focus and the weight will creep back up again.

Bah. I’m just tired of struggling against being tired, yanno? I sleep 8 – 9 hours a day and I’m still tired – and sitting on the couch feels sooooooo good. I really think that it’s not food I’m battling here – my food choices are really not bad even when I’m not tracking calories. Not great, but not excessive. It’s my sedentary life that’s the rock I have to keep pushing up that hill.


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Isn’t it funny when the random bits of your life come together in a cohesive way?

Toward the end of February, my friend Yvonne mentioned she was doing something called Hot Power Yoga Basics, and I was intrigued. I’d done yoga classes at the local community centre on and off way back in the day, but I liked the idea of something more physically challenging and strength building like power yoga. I’ve been going to the class every Thursday evening since the beginning of March and I’ve been really enjoying it – when I am not cursing it. The cursing usually comes about 40 hours after the class when my muscles lock up from the exertion, but even that is a good sort of pain. I’m hoping to be leaner and stronger and a little less unbalanced [insert your own joke here] in a couple of months if I keep it up.

By sheer coincidence, within days of my return to yoga I happened to receive an e-mail from Glenda at Ottawa Corporate Yoga. She was looking to commission a photographer to help her develop a set of cards to accompany bedtime yoga workshop that Glenda offers with a special focus on kids who have sleep disorders or anxiety issues. I loved the idea of the project from the start, and the fact that designer on the project would be the fabulous Lynn Jatania was the icing on the cake.

Here’s one of my favourite poses from the session. It’s called Lizard on a Rock, and it’s being demonstrated by Glenda and her adorable daughter.

Lizard on a rock

I can’t wait to see how the final project turns out!

Hey Yvonne, you want to try this one out at yoga class tonight? I get dibs on the top position!


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On plateaus and progress and The Diet Fix

11 June 2014 Me, only better

I was already thinking about writing a blog post about Yoni Freedhoff’s book The Diet Fix when I happened to catch him speaking to Jian Ghomeshi this morning on CBC Radio Q. I’ve been aware of Dr Freedhoff, an Ottawa doctor who specializes in treating overweight people, for many years. I’ve been following him on […]

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In which there is an app for that

19 May 2014 Me, only better

Two weeks ago, I lamented that despite my best efforts, I had utterly failed to lose a pound and in fact, was losing the battle against the 10 lbs I gained in the last year. I whined that I did not want to count calories, that I was doing my best, that I did not […]

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In which she utterly fails to lose a pound in six weeks

3 May 2014 Me, only better

I will try very hard not to whine during this blog post, I promise, but I am soooo frustrated that I need some moral support, and maybe some advice. As you might have noticed, I am really working on healthier living. I cook more than 90 per cent of our meals from scratch and I […]

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One year with Fitbit

10 January 2014 Me, only better

Just about a year ago, I bought my Fitbit Zip. What’s a FitBit? A funky little pedometer with its own app and social component. I like the pedometer part, but it’s the stats and bar graphs that I truly love. (Beancounter much?) So far I’m as impressed with the fact that I’ve stuck with it […]

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