September 30, 2011

Lazy Links--Casual Friday Edition

Yep, it's time again for Crabby's Completely Casual Collection of random health and fitness links!

And for those of you too fatigued or busy to concentrate on big long paragraphs of stuff? No worries! It's Friday, we'll keep it simple. You can pop in, find a magic (and tasty) cure for depression, then find some good news to pass along to your pothead friends, and check out some fun links... then scoot right back to playing Words With Friends finishing off your important work that you always do so diligently.

First up, ever wonder if taking fish oil capsules will work as well as eating real fish for getting Omega-3's? Or curious whether flaxseed oil will do the trick? The quick answers: Yes, and No. (Get the full scoop from the Diet Doctor).

Have you heard about the birth control pill packaging error that could lead to unintended pregnancies? Or new research challenging the notion that menopause increases heart disease risk? Or, hey, need a recipe for leftover lamb and mango salad?  These all courtesy of my new favorite gyno-food blog, The Blog that Ate Manhattan. And ok, it's probably the only gyno-food blog out there, but that only makes it more awesome.

Get tired of female celebrities being criticized for their curves? Charlotte has their comebacks over at Shape, plus some behind-the-scenes thoughts on her slideshow at The Great Fitness Experiment.

Wondering where you can find a list of good cardio-only workout DVD's? Ask the FBG's, they're on it.

Got a couple minutes to kill?  Check out the weirdly entertaining Draw a Stickman site, which brings your attempt at a stick-figure to life.  (I found myself, however, compelled to give my stick figure a That-Girl style flip haircut, so that she was clearly a stick-woman.  Down with sticksexism!) 

And Healthy Dish has more random health and fitness info--like how to know if you're at risk for osteoporosis.

Recent Stuff Copied from Twitter:

Study: older overweight women don't seem to have stronger leg muscles to compensate, making mobility difficult:

Colon cancer hits men earlier, so study suggests men should get dreaded colonoscopies sooner, women later. (whew!)

Lots of coffee may lower risk of depression in women: But 4+ cups a day? Yikes!

Pot smokers LESS likely to be obese:  Hmm, if we exploit it as a weight-loss aid, can we finally legalize it?

[Plus, Dr. J reports that timely pot-smoking may help prevent PTSD]

Study I plan to forget: chores like cleaning, laundry, may help ward off dementia: (Chores? Sorry, I have an allergy to those)

Shocking finding! "Most Patients Want Experienced Surgeons, Not Trainees"

Aerobic exercise great for blasting belly fat: (But clearly not perfect solution, according to my belly.)

Stop dissin' granny's driving! Kids less likely to get injured in crashes when a grandparent drives than a parent.

Slumping at your pc right now? Ha, thought so! An exercise to fix that: Though you may get funny looks at work.

More creepy MRSA news: antibacterial ointments like neosporin don't kill it, and may actually hasten its spread.

And that's about it...  Oh wait:

My favorite recent google query that led a reader to Cranky Fitness? "can i do lsd after the master cleanse?"

So, any thoughts, gripes, or stuff you're grateful for this Friday? Feel free to spill!

September 26, 2011

Tough Workout? Motivational Secrets Help You Kick Ass

Photo: Jontunn

Sometimes you can smell a lousy workout coming a mile away--you're so full of dread, slothfulness and self-pity you can barely tie your shoes or lift your water bottle.

Other times, a horrifyingly discouraging workout comes as a complete surprise!  You set out to tackle your usual routine full of cheerful vigor and eager anticipation... only to slam unexpectedly into a brick wall of supreme suckiness a few short moments after you've begun.

Wait, when did my leg muscles turn into lead weights? Could covert top-secret government agencies have started monkeying around with gravity, it feels incredibly heavy today! And crap, my watch must be broken... because I'm dying here and there is NO F#%CKING WAY I could only have been exercising for one and a half minutes!

Of course you could always bail--and depending on the situation, that's sometimes the most logical and sensible option. You might want to consult an effortometer, and depending on the read-out, dial back your original expectations and cut yourself some slack. Perhaps you've been over-training, or are coming down with a cold, or haven't slept enough, or have too many other demands on your limited motivational stockpile for the day.

But what if you know you'd be much, much, much happier with yourself if you could somehow suck it up and get through your workout exactly as planned--right now, not some other day?

Six Secret Workout Motivational Tips For Tough Days

Of course, as you will soon discover, these are not secrets at all, but are obvious suggestions that you know perfectly well already. But if I offered up a more accurate heading:

Recycled Exercise Motivational Advice You've Heard A Thousand Times Before But That Might Actually Be Useful To Remember Because You're Not Actually Doing It All That Often, Are You?

...then what are the chances you'd keep going and read any of these suggestions?

So anyway, here we go with some motivational "secrets":

1. Embrace the Wimpy Warm-Up

Sometimes all it takes to deal with an abysmally pathetic beginning is to back off your normal warm-up pace, slow way the hell down, and extend the whole "warming up" part of your workout past your normal time frame. Admit you feel crappier than usual, and don't be all punitive and inflexible with yourself--ease in more than usual, hope for the best, and sometimes the sluggishness disappears as mysteriously as it came.

2. Recall the Paradoxical Pukeyness Principle

You might not know it by that name, but this is the often-forgotten fact that sometimes the best workouts you've ever had in your life began as grueling, afraid-you're-going-to-vomit ordeals. What causes an unpredictable "second wind" to occur? Who knows! But there is often very little relationship between how a workout starts and how it ends. Could this be one of those triumphant experiences where you fight past fatigue and apathy and somehow burst through to the other side with a sudden surge of strength and energy for a personal best performance? Or will you give up before you find out?

3. Change Something, Quick!

If you've already embarked on your run, swim, weight training circuit or whatever, it may be too late to do something drastically different like pogo-sticking your way up a nearby mountain or competing in a bog-snorkeling competition. However, even minor alterations to your standard workout can sometimes ease that icky sensation of "I can NOT stand to do this yet again today!" Play with the incline on your treadmill, or do your weights in totally the wrong order. Or choose different variations of the same old exercises, even if they're not as optimal. Use an old playlist of tunes you haven't heard in a couple years. Reverse the direction of your normal run. Try a new machine at the gym for 2 or 3 minutes; experiment with running backwards or sideways or skipping for a bit; close your eyes for a few seconds and see if you can manage not to kill yourself; dump half your water bottle onto your head; climb out of the pool half-way through your laps and do 10 pushups... it can be a profoundly stupid or trivial experiment, but in an Emergency Workout Suckage Situation, every little bit helps.

4. Break it Down

The single most stupid thing I tend to do when faced with an excruciatingly bad workout is to mentally rehearse just how awful and impossible each successive step is going to be. If the first set of leg presses feel this bad, how will we get to the next set, let alone all our other exercises? If my legs are this tired after 2 minutes on the elliptical, how will I ever make it to 45 minutes? Shockingly, this type of "it's only going to get worse" stewing and sulking is not tremendously helpful.

The cure: focus on the next thirty seconds or so and FORGET THE FUTURE. Who knows, an asteroid could hit the earth and you won't have to do any push-ups after all! Or, if that's too gloomy, just allow yourself to consider the rest of your workout is entirely negotiable... if you can just get through the next 30 seconds.

And it helps to find a bunch of different mini-goals, one after the other, especially if you have any exercise gadgets with you. "I'll keep going until the next song on my playlist" then "well, I need to at least reach an even 2 miles, I can't stop at 1.9," then "oh wait, my pedometer says I'm at 3900 steps I gotta make it an even 4000," and then, "hey, it's almost an even 20 minutes, I can't stop at 19:30," and then "wait, now this song is almost over, maybe I can make it 'til the next one starts?"

Eventually you'll either get in the groove... or drive yourself so nuts trying to make it through your workout that you can deserve to call it a day.

5. Pump it Up! ...Wait, WTF?!?!

This is the most counter-intuitive trick I use. Sometimes, when I'm dead tired and can barely manage even my slowest pace, I make myself throw in ONE hideous all-out interval to a non interval-training day. Weirdly enough, exponentially increasing the misery for a short time sometimes kicks off a waterfall of brain chemicals that can wash out some of the lethargy that's been clogging up the circuits.

6. Mess With Your Head

Say you're attempting to make yourself hoist some disagreeably heavy weights or you're trotting sluggishly on the treadmill, marveling over the unfairness of having such a crappy workout when you've been so damn virtuous and wondering if the minute hand on the clock will ever, ever, ever move forward... Well, try to remember that even if your body may be stuck there having a lousy time, your brain is totally free to leave. Your imagination can put you ANYWHERE, doing ANYTHING you want with ANYONE you'd like!

But what if the misery of your current bodily state is too distracting to allow yourself to enjoy making out with a hot celebrity on a tropical island, or consuming a luscious six course meal of all your favorite foods? Well, then perhaps you might at least be able to coax along a more inspiring or exciting fantasy to accompany your exertion. You're... competing in a reality-show weightlifting competition and you'll win a million dollars if you can just complete this last set! You're being chased by a horde of hungry werewolves! You've gotten a last-second invitation for an exotic cruise by a wealthy and well-connected benefactor, who will take you (and your family, if you're feeling generous) on an amazing adventure... but only if you can run to the pier before the ship sails.

Anyone else have to use goofy mental tricks to slog through workouts from hell? Got any tips to share?

September 21, 2011

BTB Sunglasses Winners

The Random Number Generator has spoken!

Did you win? Well, even if you didn't, we've got a consolation prize of sorts: a special discount exclusively for Cranky Fitness readers!

So, if you order a pair of BTB sunglasses through the end of September, they're offering 20% off if you use the promo code is CRANKY20.

Drumroll please...

And the winners are:

Jen and Mrs. K!

Winners have until end of day Friday the 23rd to check in (email me or leave a comment), otherwise the RNG will get back to work and pick a new winner. Congrats to both of you!

September 19, 2011

Running Into Trouble

Yes, Sometimes I Am An Ass.

Help--I need an intervention! I lost control last week and did something incredibly dumb.

I went off for a "power" walk in the woods--and in the middle, for about fifteen minutes, it kind of turned into a run.

Granted, for many people, running is not a dumb thing to do. For most people, it's an excellent form of exercise! But... I ain't most people.

I am just now finally starting to recover from plantar fasciitis in my right foot after struggling with it for more than two freakin' years. I'm thrilled that it's almost gone--the last time I was feeling this close to healed was over a year ago. And guess what I did then? I went for a short run. And felt ok!  So the next week I went for another short run, re-injured the foot, and sent myself back to square one.  I couldn't walk more than a block for months and months. AGAIN.  (Oh, and before the plantar fasciitis ever hit--I had chronic knee problems from running too).

So WTF? Why would I be so idiotic as to endanger my tentative recovery from an injury that has plagued me for ages and caused me so much angst? And in exchange for what--a few minutes of trotting on a trail? I can get all the aerobic exercise I want on the lovely low-impact elliptical machine in our basement home gym.

Does anyone else struggle with an inability to leave behind an addictive physical activity no matter how stupidly abusive it is to your body?

Should You Stop Running When You're Older?

For tons of people the answer is a resounding: No! Keep running if you can, it's ridiculously good for you. A Stanford study of older runners found: "Elderly runners have fewer disabilities, a longer span of active life and are half as likely as aging nonrunners to die early deaths."

There are plenty of folks who can keep running pain and injury-free as the decades roll by. And there is a ton of advice out there on the web for preventing over-use injuries, stretching and strengthening various body parts, correcting biomechanical issues with orthotics, getting physical therapy, injections, electrical stimulation, surgery, etc, etc, etc.  However, I am not going to write a post right about that.  Honestly, the thought of all those happy healthy older runners out there training and competing and chugging away in their f#%cking marathons makes me so cranky I want to spike their water bottles with prune juice and metamucil and padlock all the portapotty doors.

Because for every cheerful article reassuring people that yes you can keep running your entire life if you just follow a few simple tips--there are thousands of us former running addicts who have followed all those steps, gone to multiple doctors, physical therapists, etc. etc. and tried every damn thing we could think of... and still can't manage to run without injuring ourselves.

And it's not just plantar fasciitis; according to one article, common injuries in older runners include back pain, bursitis, stress fracture, hamstring injury, problems with the kneecap, shin splints, Achilles tendonitis, heel pain, nerve disorders in the foot, calluses, bunions, and a "host of other leg and foot problems."

Why Is Running So Hard To Stop Doing?

This must sound like the most ridiculous problem in the world to those of you who hate to run. It would be like me trying to relate to articles such as: Do You Keep Your House So Clean It Intimidates Your Guests? Or Are You Making Way Too Much Money? Or perhaps:  Is It Time to Stop Meditating So Much--Before Your Head Explodes From All the Bliss?

But, odd as it may sound, here are some of the reasons I keep "running" back to reinjure myself:

1. Running is cheap, convenient, and happens outdoors where the Sun and the Breeze and the Trees and the Beach and the Birds and other Lovely Things live!

2. Running involves launching yourself up in the air and coming back down over and over. The inherent bounciness of it is way more satisfying than the staid and steady plowing forward of walking or biking.

3. I started running at an impressionable age (17) and my still pliable brain was twisted into thinking that running was the only authentic, virtuous and noble form of aerobic exercise that existed. Decades later, I still can't entirely un-brainwash myself. All the wires deep in my brain apparently rusted together, and I don't have access to a brain-blowtorch to excise this stupid idea!

4. Other people still get to run and I don't. This drives me ape-shit crazy.

So How Do You Stop Yourself from Running When You Really, Really Want To?

In the unlikely event anyone else is currently tempted to return to an activity they know they shouldn't, here's what I'm trying:

1. Blog about it. I actually was heading out for another run before I started to write this post.  I then realized just how much of a jackass I was being, and changed my mind.

2. Avoid Triggers! Last week's foray into running happened on my old running trail, as I was listening to an old song that was on my running playlist. It felt so much like old times I couldn't seem to stop myself.

3. Or, If You Insist on Flirting With Triggers Anyway: Pre-exhaust yourself! We went back for a walk on the Trail of Temptation this weekend, but this time, I made the Lobster wait for half an hour while I went down and did intervals on the elliptical first.

4. Choose Your Wardrobe, Shoes, and Accessories Strategically.  I also made sure to wear pants, not shorts on the running trail, did not wear running shoes, and left my iPod at home.

5. Confront Denial and Remind Yourself of the Hideousness of the Possible Consequences. It's always hard to pass up a certain short term endorphin rush in order to avoid a danger that is only hypothetical. Even though I was hoping I might not re-injure myself, I needed to remind myself of how furious and miserable I'd be if I guessed wrong about that.

6. Bribe yourself with "later." Like other addictions, running is best dealt with one day at a time.  I haven't ruled out trying to start running again later, when my foot is completely healed. I reminded myself that the lovely trail in the woods would still be there for me to ruin my foot on later, once I'm entirely healed, if I feel so inclined.

7. Pump Up the Variety! I don't think I realized that I was getting so bored with my biking and elliptical routines until I found myself rationalizing my way into a run. Time for new tunes and routines and activities! Fortunately, our bizarre bi-coastal lifestyle means that in another month or so, I'll be on the other side of the country, with a whole new set of workout options--if I can keep from re-injuring myself before we get there.

But, I don't think I'm "out of the woods" yet! Anyone else struggle with this or have any good advice? 

On a serious note, if you struggle with addictive behaviors that are interfering with your life, that's not a joke. There is help out there. One option is  Above It All Treatment Center.

September 16, 2011

Kirstie Alley's Weight Loss and Other Lazy Links

Since People Magazine didn't get around to suing me two years ago...

Are you dying to know how much weight Kirstie Alley lost this time? Or don't give a crap?  Either way, hang out with us here at Cranky Fitness and see if there's anything you missed this week in health, fitness, or whining!

So the People cover is from a few years ago. But if you care to know Kirstie Alley's latest weight loss total...

This time, it's 100 pounds.  Huffpo has some Kirstie Alley 100 lb weight loss photos if you wanna check 'em out.

And what's the only reason I know about this? Well, a vintage Cranky Fitness post about Kirstie Alley's weight loss program all of a sudden got weirdly popular. Not that I check my stat counter program all the time or anything!  I just pop in there every three minutes occasionally and so I happened to catch an unexpected flurry of Kirstie Alley activity. So what do you guys think? Should I feel bad about teasing her two years ago with some skepticism about her efforts to make a buck off weight she hadn't lost yet? Should I apologize for being premature?  If someone wants to get her on the line...  I'm sure she's eager to hear what Crabby McSlacker has to say.

And elsewhere around the web:

Just wanted to recommend a couple of blogs I've recently become fond of. Over at Results Not Typical Girl, WTF Wednesdays are always good, plus, for those of you looking to beef up your resume and apply for a new job, Kirsten has some awesome tips!

Another great blog to check out is Keeping the Pounds Off, where among other inspirational and useful posts, you can discover a whole new kind of damage evil processed junk food can do.  Turns out snausages and other sugary doggy treats may be slowly killing your dog!

Want to discover out 10 mistakes you might be making at the gym or would you rather stay happily oblivious?

Do you find you're afraid to get hungry? Watch out--it could mean you're eating too much, and you may want to check out what to do about it.

Got an opinion about second hand smoke and higher education?  Read about the controversy on campus-wide smoking bans.

And some stuff I shared on twitter in the last couple weeks:

Remember that annoying study warning against taking Vitamins A, E, and beta-carotene? A newer study says these supps lower mortality rather than raise it.

USDA finally bans any bacteria from meat that sickens more than 100,000 a year. But if 99K get sick, bring it on?

Not a perfect-enough perfectionist? This books tells you how to be a better perfectionist:

Got at least one family member with insomnia? Your risk is 67% higher.  Got three? It's 314% higher. Yikes!

Dieters assigned to Weight Watchers instead of just getting a Dr's advice lost 2x as much...said study funded by Weight Watchers. (but it looks legit)

Cheers! Middle aged women who had 3-15 alcoholic drinks per week had the best physical and mental health by age 70.

Birth control pills affect memory--women on them remember emotional gist better, but are fuzzier on details.

Why are kick-ass exercises labeled "Men's" anyway? Great inspiration at Shape Magazine by Charlotte of the Great Fitness Experiment.

Vigorous exercise burns a bunch of extra calories after working out, moderate exercise doesn't.

Nearly 40% of Europeans suffer from mental disorders? And here I thought we 'Mercuns were #1 in head cases.

Couch potatoes rejoice! You can now blame your genes (at least if you're a mouse) But you still need to get fit.

Strange: subconsciously, most people find straight white men more likeable than gay white men, but prefer black gay men to black straight men.

Remember the marshmallow experiments? Follow-up says kids' ability to delay gratification (or not) persists for decades

Heavier women over 60 have fewer hot flashes: But experts warn: don't gain weight on purpose. Gosh, really?

Gotta Love Google:
What was my favorite recent search term for finding Cranky Fitness?

"why does it seem I cant focous?"

And lastly,

Giveaway Reminder!

Don't forget to enter to win one of 2 pair of nifty BTB sunglasses on Wednesday's giveaway post

Have a great Friday! Anything on your minds?

September 14, 2011

Review and Giveaway: BTB Sports Optics Sunglasses

Yep, we've got another great giveaway going this week, in the never-ending quest to bribe innocent web travelers over to Cranky Fitness.  Who knows, maybe new readers will get so hopelessly disoriented by the weirdness here that they'll forget how to leave and will have to spend every single day for the rest of their lives wandering through the archives! Or, well, maybe they'll just stop by and leave a comment and then need to stop by next week to see if they won. That works too.

Anyway, I got to keep a pair of  BTB Sunglasses myself, so I can tell you all about them. And we've got two additional pairs to give away!  Not necessarily those pictured above, either: you can pick any pair you take a liking to over at the BTB website.

(Sadly, though, you need a U.S mailing addresses to get the glasses. Others can still enter, but you have to pick someone in the U.S. you'd like to send your pair to).

Hmm, poor Brad seems to be squinting a bit...

So, are you feeling lucky?  The random number generator is waiting!

About the BTB Sunglasses:

The great thing about the BTB shades (especially if you don't manage to win a pair) is that you don't have to pay a fortune for them, but they've got high-quality lenses and sturdy comfortable frames like the expensive brands. They market 'em as "the best $100 sunglasses you can buy for under $50," and I'd say that's a fair assessment. For someone like me, who is forever losing my sunglasses or sitting on them, this is a bonus.

I tested out the BTB 200 Polarized pair, and was impressed!

Of course, I haven't bought an expensive pair of sunglasses since the Carter administration, so I often find myself peering through blurry or glarey lenses. And mine don't tend to last long, because I keep ruining them by squashing, smashing, or twisting the cheap frames until they are loose and lopsided. These sunglasses, by contrast, were polarized, well-constructed, and gave me a crisp clean view of everything when I took 'em out on a whale watch yesterday. They were definitely better than my old ones.

Another bonus? If you ever plan to go quail hunting with Dick Cheney, it's good to know that these lenses can withstand being shot at with a 12 gauge shotgun at 30 feet! They've even got a video demonstration, in case you've always had a secret hankering to watch a pair of sunglasses get shot.

The one downside I found is that I picked a pair that might have been a bit too big for my face. The BTB 200's are designed for small-to-medium sized sized faces, and they certainly were comfortable, but next time I might pick a different style because I like 'em a little smaller.

BTB 200's Spotted In Their Natural Habitat

Giveaway Contest Rules:

Just leave a comment on this post by the end of Tuesday night September 20th, and the random number generator will pick a winner on Wednesday September 21st. You can comment on sunglasses, or whatever the heck you feel like talking about.

Then if you win, you need to email me by end of day Friday September 23rd or I'll redraw for a new winner. And as mentioned above, you'll need to come up with a U.S. mailing address.

NOTE TO FACEBOOK READERS: If you're reading this post on Facebook, please pop over to the actual post at Cranky Fitness to enter, that's where the RNG hangs out. (Though as always, "likes" and comments of any sort on FB are very much appreciated!)

Good luck!

September 12, 2011

Counting Calories? Seriously?

Clearly Not Everyone is a Fan
Photo: Plan 59

Last week, as I was bemoaning the unfortunate connection between menopause and weight gain, I mentioned that I had started using a different approach to weight management that seemed to be working out well for me.

Yep, it's true! I'm now one of those scary women scurrying around the kitchen with tablespoons and measuring cups and a food scale and a little spiral notebook, weighing and measuring and scrawling numbers and scheming and plotting and cackling with demented glee when the numbers add up just right.

Counting calories?  It's almost embarrassing to admit.  How naive! How passe! How unevolved! How... weird is it that I'm losing weight, not feeling deprived, and even having fun?

I did the same thing back in my thirties, and it worked for me then too.  I don't know how long I plan to do it--but long enough to reset my "intuition" to a more appropriate intake. Say, enough food for a 51 year old woman and not a ravenous 600 lb grizzly bear intent on storing up enough fat for a very long, cold, hard winter.

But is counting calories healthy?  Or it an inherently messed-up way to deal with weight management? Are there ways to optimize nutrition, mental health, and hedonism while still managing to make the numbers add up the way you want them to?

Counting Calories Isn't For Everyone

Many of you have been there, done that, and found it didn't prevent weight gain. Or maybe it did but the results weren't worth it because of the resulting anxiety, depression, frustration, self-loathing, eating disorders, homicidal rages, catatonia, or spontaneous combustion. I imagine you must be thinking: Holy crap, what happened to Crabby? Perhaps the killer amoebas ate her brain?

I know too many lifelong calorie-obsessed, trying-their-hardest-yet-still-overweight dieters to believe that calorie counting is any sort of universal answer. But for someone like me, who has a reasonable metabolism, is very active, eats healthy food, and yet finds the clothes dryer has suddenly grown crazily aggressive and is shrinking all her jeans... calorie counting can be a very handy tool for portion control and accountability.

Crabby's Semi-Obvious Tips for Healthy Calorie Counting

For those of you who are calorie counting veterans, this list will seem laughably incomplete and over-simplified. But just in case there are others who like, me, are joining the party late, here are some thoughts:

1. Honesty Above All Else

If you are human, you will have days where you go way over what you've allowed yourself. (In fact, the whole first week my numbers were hilarious!) But for me, accounting for every damn thing I ate, whether it was a virtuous vegetable smoothie or an ill-advised third S'more at a beach bonfire, made me feel like I was still on track. As long as I wasn't lying to myself and undercounting or leaving things off, I could congratulate myself for being on the right path. And sure enough, staying accountable to my own process got me through the "Duh, I'm going to need to eat less" transition. As the daily calorie totals started dropping, the tallying itself became weirdly rewarding.

2. Allow Yourself Enough Damn Calories!

So many people have written about this that I won't belabor the point, but if you aren't eating enough (a) you will convince your body it's starving and thus screw up your metabolism and (b) you will feel hungry, crappy and deprived. It's not one of those things where "more" is better.

3. Prioritize Health

I hate to see dieters shunning healthy whole foods and opting for low-cal junky processed stuff instead.  But wow, now that I'm seeing how the numbers add up, I suddenly see the temptation!  Some of my favorite staples, like fruit, nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains, grass-fed dairy, olive oil, avocados, etc can seem mighty "expensive" when on a calorie budget.  And conversely, a 150 calorie Skinny Cow chocolate peanut butter ice cream sandwich can seem like a great bargain!

A couple things I like to keep in mind, when tempted to prioritize naked calorie totals over nutritional quality and diversity:  there's more to weight (and especially belly fat) management than just calories in, calories out.  Healthy whole foods aren't just good for you, they keep you feeling full longer. Also, I just read about a recent study in an article entitled "Still Counting Calories? Your Weight Loss Plan May Be Outdated." (Thank you very much, Jane Brody, for calling my brand new shiny plan outdated!) Anyway, the study was full of interesting food and weight correlations. Turns out, independent of calories, there are indeed "bad" foods particularly linked to weight gain. (These include French fries, potato chips, sugar-sweetened drinks, red meats and processed meats, other forms of potatoes, sweets and desserts, refined grains, other fried foods, 100-percent fruit juice, and butter). Conversely, there are "good" foods linked to more successful weight management. Some of these were fruits, vegetables, whole grains, yogurt, and nuts, including peanut butter. And intake of dairy products, whether low-fat or full-fat, had a neutral effect on weight.

But how to take this into consideration when trying to hit a target calorie count? This leads to the next tip:

4. Creative Accounting

So in my calorie counting, I permit a "fudge factor." (Which, unfortunately, does not mean I get to eat extra fudge). I consciously round up calories a bit on "bad" foods, and round down a bit on "good" foods. I don't consider this cheating under the "honesty" rule, because I think it more accurately reflects the real differences in how our bodies handle what we eat. My calorie goal is arbitrary anyway; if over time my slight undercounting of good foods is skewing the results and I'm not reaching my target waist size, then I'll weep a few bitter tears and adjust downwards again. But otherwise, I might be too tempted to say goodbye forever to old friends like guacamole and trail mix, and hello to some artificially sweetened, fake-fat "lite" treat that makes the numbers look pretty at the end of the day.

5. Don't Forget Exercise

Some people track this separately, but my calorie target is based in part on how much I exercise. If I do more, I can eat more. If I do less... well, no dark chocolate and merlot for you tonight Crabby!

For me, I get best results making sure my workouts include a variety of cardio activities, high intensity intervals, strength training, flexibility, and balance training.  I've cut way back on the amount I sit during the day by using stand up desk and finding excuses to walk around. Plus, figuring in exercise to the calorie targets has resulted in my taking more after-dinner walks, riding my bike more on errands, and even going out dancing more. I'm a simple, easily manipulated creature: I love getting "credit," especially for things I enjoying doing anyway.

6. Allow Yourself Treats!

I function better knowing that nothing is truly forbidden. I can earn treats by making smart choices most of the time and having enough "in the bank" to withdraw on something frivolous. Some of these are relatively healthy expenditures (like dark chocolate or a low-sugar brand of kettlecorn) and some of them must go unnamed here because they are Ridiculously Evil and Indefensible. But I feel far less guilty when I do have something decadent now that it's part of an overall plan. Strangely enough, I'm finding the "restrictions" of calorie counting actually feel quite liberating.

However, it's only been a little over a month. Who knows, the novelty might wear off any moment, and the Grizzly Bear could emerge again, terrorizing nearby bakeries, ice cream parlors and burger joints.

Must. Have. Cupcakes.

So, does anyone else count calories? Or have I jumped on the bandwagon after everyone else in the world has jumped off?

September 09, 2011

Lose Fat, Not Muscle: I Love Leucine?

No, That's Leucine, Not Lucy! Though She Is Pretty Darn Adorable.

Happy Friday, folks!

So this is just a quick follow-up post for those thousands of four readers who read the last lazy-links round up, and may have caught that bit about leucine, one of the trendier amino acids, helping preserve muscle mass when people are losing weight.

Did any one else then find themselves driven to go google leucine and investigate? Or am I the only nutrient-obsessed nutbucket who takes every passing study seriously in the quest for easy muscle-building/fat blasting tricks and has to go check 'em out?

Anyone?.... Anyone?... Sigh.

But it's all good, because: it turns out there may be something to the leucine-muscle building connection after all!

Does Leucine Helps Preserve Muscle?

Were you thinking of climbing Everest anytime soon? Well, the recent study that initially triggered my interest was mainly about mountain climbers. And despite the headline, the article is frankly pretty damn confusing as to whether they got anything conclusive on whether leucine helped preserve muscle or not. Apparently the leucine-packed bars they gave the climbers tasted like crap, and the researchers discovered they had some serious work to do on the "palatability of the leucine food vehicle."

But what the article did reveal was that the study was based on a bunch of previous research that says leucine helps people on calorie-restricted diets retain muscle mass while losing weight. And for those trying to gain muscle, leucine supplementation seems to help. For those of us not planning on climbing Everest, this is a tad more practical.

Food Sources of Leucine

Some commonly mentioned food sources of leucine are, (in no particular order): whey, soy, eggs, milk, seafood, meat (particularly game meats), poultry, lentils, peanuts, cheese etc. Lots of protein powders and bars contain it. There are several big-ass lists of where to get it, such as this leucine list, but seriously: bearded seal? Whale meat? Elk? My grocery store ain't gonna be much help on some of these. Self Magazine also has a nutrient data-base with lists of food high in leucine. Men's Health tout's whey protein as a source of leucine for muscle-building purposes.

When Should You Consume Leucine To Build Muscle?

Looks like during or right after a workout. According to this leucine research, a large dose of leucine consumed immediately after exercise "increased muscle protein synthesis more than when periodic smaller doses of protein were consumed." It was also reported that "muscle protein synthesis was 33% greater after consumption of the leucine-enriched protein beverage than after a lower-leucine drink."

Should You Bother With Any of This Leucine Stuff?

Well, that depends. Leucine is naturally in a lot of stuff we eat anyway. But if you're really watching your calories, and are worried about losing muscle while doing it, you may want to be strategic about your post exercise meal. For example, before I read up on leucine, I'd been giving second thoughts to the egg whites and whey protein I'd been adding to my post workout smoothie. Were they really worth the calories? Now I'm thinking: well, yeah, maybe so! But on the other hand, I'm probably not going to run out and buy a bunch of crappy tasting leucine-filled power bars. I don't Love Leucine that much.

Anyone else curious about leucine? Or are you folks better at letting this research come and go without running around changing your diet every 5 minutes?

September 06, 2011

Menopause and Weight Gain

Even Hallmark Came Up Empty On This One.
(Photo: smussyolay)

Does going through menopause automatically trigger a metabolism shift? Or is it only middle-aged lifestyle changes that cause so many women to pack on pounds during their menopausal years?

And perhaps more importantly: just what the hell are you supposed to do about it?

(BTW, for those younger women and men not the least bit interested in menopausal weight gain: normal general purpose whining will resume shortly.)

So Does Menopause Itself Cause Weight Gain?

Well, let's see what the experts say.

The Mayo Clinic--normally a respectable, sensible source of health information--says this about weight gain during menopause: "Hormonal changes alone don't necessarily trigger weight gain after menopause."  Instead, they say, "weight gain is usually related to a variety of lifestyle and genetic factors."  They insist menopausal women tend to exercise less, and "sometimes, factors such as children leaving — or returning — home, divorce, the death of a spouse or other life changes may contribute to weight gain after menopause. For others, a sense of contentment or simply letting go leads to weight gain."

To which Crabby McSlacker says: screw you, Mayo Clinic!

I swear it's not the lifestyle, it's the hormones. But perhaps I'm being overly swayed by anecdotal evidence? Especially as I'm now myself becoming an anecdote.

Crabby's Sad Tale of Hormonal Weight Gain

Actually, you can go ahead and put the Kleenex box away and tell those violins to stop playing--it's not really all that sad. We're only talking a 5 pound gain or so (albeit a scarily fast 5 lb gain). In fact, up until recently, I thought I was magically exempt from the menopausal weight gain thing. Remember how I was whining about my hysterectomy recovery? I couldn't exercise at anywhere near my former intensity for months and months (not just from surgery, but also from foot problems and a broken arm).  I didn't cut calories, yet somehow, I managed to stay the same size anyway. Whoopee! I was really psyched when I could start working out hard again.  I fantasized I might get leaner and stronger than ever!

But then... what the hell happened?  I started noticing something strange once I got back to my old routine... my pants started getting tighter!  My annual physical confirmed what I was trying not to see in the mirror: I was gaining weight. Also, my formerly brag-worthy cholesterol and blood glucose numbers suddenly shot skyward.

Coincidence?  I think not.  And for me, I swear it's not lifestyle factors. Even with the occasional indulgence (hello, kettlecorn, my new bff!), I eat healthier than I ever have.  I get more (and smarter) exercise, and I'm even using a supposedly calorie-torching stand-up desk instead of sitting. Nor am I, as the Mayo Clinic suggests, tearing my hair out worrying about my kids boomeranging back home and starting a garage band. (Not having kids makes that one a cinch). So where else can I place blame but The Pause?

It also fits in perfectly with what I've heard from quite a few other active healthy women:  something changed with menopause, and the old numbers suddenly stopped adding up the same way.  Even though my 5 minutes on google exhaustive scholarly research failed to turn up convincing research validating this theory (menopausal weight gain studies seem to be conflicting), I don't think we're all hallucinating this connection. And it only adds to the huge sympathy I have for those who struggle with uncooperative metabolisms. (I've always admired the heroic efforts those of you on the bigger side who are so conscientious about healthy eating and exercise and yet still battle the scale. It's so unfair!)

But Post-Menopausal Belly-Fat is Definitely Real

Even the buttheads at the Mayo Clinic (who think we must be sitting on our asses all day scarfing Doritos and weeping over our children in order to be gaining menopausal weight) do concede that dropping estrogen levels affect fat distribution. Thus, they admit, menopause can lead to excess belly fat. The Mayo folks also creepily remind us that belly fat increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, certain cancers and premature death.

Does HRT Help With Menopausal Weight Gain?

Hmm, you would think if my theory about hormones was correct, then going on hormone replacement therapy would help prevent weight gain after menopause. But yet again the HRT and weight research is conflicting. If there's any preventative effect at all, it certainly doesn't look to be huge.  But who am I to let silly evidence get in the way of a good theory? I'm still blaming my missing ovaries for those extra pounds, damn it!

So What's The Best Way to Deal With Menopausal Weight Gain?

Well, when you go off googling, the general advice on preventing menopausal weight gain seems to be aimed at sedentary consumers of junk-food. It consists mostly of the obvious suggestions to eat healthy, limit portions, and get some exercise. Duh, right? But what if you've already been doing all that?

As I see it, there are a couple of sensible options:

1. Forget the Scale and Your Clothing Size, and Focus on Health.

Remember the study that come out a few years ago that said thin people actually die younger than those who are overweight? It's only when you get to be obese that longevity is compromised. (Funny, isn't it, how there's never much publicity about this?)

So if that's the case, then rather than worry about the girth of your hips, thighs, butt, etc, it would make most sense to focus on getting a good variety of exercise, eating healthy foods, and paying attention to whether you're become more of an "apple" than a "pear." If you're putting on weight in the belly, that's more dangerous, but there are more targeted approaches for losing belly fat. You can find more of these at WebMD and Mayo Clinic and elsewhere. (Just don't fall for the One Rule for a Flat Stomach ok?)

2. See if You Can Tweak Your Eating and Exercise Routines Just a Little More.

What if you think you're doing everything you can already? Well, some of you are, and you may be out of luck. But some us just pretend we are, when we know damn well that there are steps we could be taking that we just don't feel like doing. For some of you it could be doing more weight training, or cardio intervals, or cutting out a big hunk of refined grains and sugar, or commuting by bike or on foot instead of driving. Chances are there is something you used to do once that you let go of, or some new thing you've been reading about that you know makes sense. Take a minute and see if the answer isn't right there in front of you, waiting for you to just get motivated enough to give it a try.

Is it worth it? Perhaps not! Then see #1 above.

Crabby's "Sad" Tale: To Be Continued...

Alarmed at the prospect of having to buy new pants (I loathe clothes shopping), I instituted a new Healthy Eating and Exercise Program a couple weeks ago. It's early yet, but... wow, it seems to be working! I'm not feeling deprived, my pants are fitting better, and I'm enjoying saying a big "F@#ck You" to menopausal weight gain.

Is my new approach Shocking and Groundbreaking? Hell no, it's the oldest trick in the book. Would my approach work for everyone? Of course not! Nothing does; we're all unique little snowflakes, remember?

If I were a less lazy blogger I'd outline it right here, right now, but this post is long enough already. In the unlikely event you're actually curious about my recent experimentation, stay tuned, and I'll post about it next Monday.

So, anyone else struggle with Menopausal (or Perimenopausal) Weight Gain? Or have other metabolism-based frustrations? I'd love to hear what worked (or didn't) for you!

September 01, 2011

Pre-Labor Day Weekend Lazy Links

OK so not everyone is a lazy-assed napper when they hit the beach.

Technically it's only Thursday and not really Labor Day weekend yet, but let's go ahead and start slacking early, shall we? Shut off the laptop, put your feet up on your desk, and grab a cold one! So what if your boss and your hard-working colleagues are giving you dirty looks? Just tell them Crabby McSlacker,  obscure and irresponsible world renowned and respected fitness blogger, said you're supposed to relax and take it easy for your health.

Anyway, here's a little of what's been happening in the health and fitness webworld over the past couple of weeks. Because in keeping with the "lazy" theme, these link roundups now seem to happen biweekly.  Um, unless "biweekly" actually means twice a week, in which case, sorry--that's a total lie.

In Blogland:

Should all previous track and field world records for female athletes be tossed out and the slate wiped clean?   Fit and Feminist has the details on this controversy, one I was completely unaware of.  Plus, you gotta love a blog that has a whole category called "fascist beauty standards."

Feeling sleep deprived? You're not alone! Here are some ideas on how to catch some more zzz's.

No need to be scared of purple green beans or purple potatoes! Find out at Escape from Obesity why they're so awesome and what to do with them. (Bonus: pretty pictures of food!)

The always hilarious Leslie Goldman, who was recently on the Today Show talking about how women can't take a compliment, has coined some awesome new sports and fitness terms.  Example:  " Zomba (n.) ZAHM-buh. A person who looks hopelessly lost and unable to follow the lead in a Zumba class. Usually characterized by a scared, wide-eyed, frozen stare, open mouth and stiff limbs."

Want to save money when buying organic, or find out why Paula Deen is the “worst, most dangerous person to America”?  Healthy Candy has that and more in their always-tasty link roundup.

And Here's Stuff Crabby Tweeted About Recently (as edited and interpreted for the Twitter-Impaired):

High protein diet + dairy is better than high carb for gaining muscle, losing fat. Says, um, study funded by dairy group.

Yet another study says chocolate has health benefits, yay! This one says lower risk of heart disease:

Climbing Everest? Or, (much harder) enduring a calorie-restricted diet? Leucine may help burn fat, conserve muscle:

Brain imaging techniques better identify those at risk for Alzheimer's. But do you want to know?

In the war between scientists and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, scientists find a new weapon: Your move, bacteria?

Study: Consuming 25% of calories in fructose or HFCS raised heart disease risk factors; glucose didn't.

Brits issue new guidelines for diagnosing high BP: Cool! You gotta wear a bp cuff all day, but much more accurate.

Bad news if you argue lots, good news if you don't: conflict levels in couples don't change much over 20 yrs.

Bi-guys validated! Scientists belatedly discover male bisexuality DOES exist. Older study implied bi meant gay men lying to themselves.

Get off the couch! Yet another study says exercise good for your brain; both aerobic & strengthening:

Triclosan, an antibacterial in soaps, under scrutiny for safety. Creepy: it's also in Colgate Total toothpaste.

Study: Moderate drinking cuts alzheimers risk; heavy drinking may worsen memory. Wine looks to be most protective:

And at Cranky Fitness:

What were recent non-obvious search terms folks used to find Cranky Fitness? My faves: "gorilla without fur" and "moo you bastard I was going to say that."

Planning on hiking this weekend? You may want to re-read this vintage post on how to pee outdoors.

Got plans for Labor Day?  Miscellaneous thoughts or complaints?