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[“Can you guess why I’m so happy?”] 

Last week, we took Elsie for her annual checkup at the vet (a place she absolutely loves–go figure).  At the end of the appointment, the vet pronounced her an ideal specimen of canine health.  Not only that; Elsie had lost nine pounds since her previous visit.  Nine pounds!  That’s, like, 63 in dog pounds!  She’s been hanging on to that excess weight for a couple of years, at least. 

This was quite the contrast to our first vet appointment, back in 2002, when she was both underweight and unhealthy. We got Elsie from a Rescue Mission here in the city, because  I was keen to save a little pup that would otherwise face certain death.  But there was also a monetary consideration, as the mission charged only $200 versus the $1200 or so we’d have to dish out for a purebred pup.

I remember the event perfectly: it was a blustery, snow-swept Saturday in February (a day very much like most of last week, come to think of it–except THIS IS MID-MARCH), and we were assured that our little 12-week old fuzzball had received all the pertinent shots, was proclaimed worm-free, and had been given a clean bill of health by their vet. 

As he shoved her into my eager embrace, the scuzzball “attendant” behind the counter drawled, “Waell, you just take her in to your vet on Monday morning, and if there’s any problem, you can bring her on back.”  (Right.  Quick inventory: cramped, smelly, fecal-encrusted and rusty cage in dingy, musty basement; approximately 50 clamoring, whining, unkempt pups crammed into it shoulder to shoulder; Elsie, sweet, reticent, timid, hovering in the back corner, eyes pleading as she silently implored me, “Please!  You must help me! Get me out of here!  Pleaaaassseeee. . . . “). Return her to that torment, under any circumstances?  Um, I don’t think so.

Needless to say, when Monday morning rolled around and we  made it to our regular vet, we were hit with this diagnosis:  worms (yes, the scum-bag guy lied!  Imagine that!), fleas, mange, parasites, broken tooth, and your garden-variety malnutrition. To look at her, you’d never have known; she was nonetheless alert, frisky, and exhibited a voracious appetite (which remains to this day).  We embarked on a series of medications, unguents, and shots to rid her of all the vermin.  Ultimately,  we calculated, restoring Elsie’s health cost us about the same as if we’d purchaed 2.7 purebred pups instead.  Of course, by then  we already loved her so much that there was no question–it was worth it. 

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[Elsie, pre-weight loss]

So, now that she’s svelte and healthy, how did Elsie achieve this amazing feat? The same one, I must admit, that’s been eluding me since I started this blog back in November? And, more important, what can I learn from this?

First and foremost, Elsie now has a new sibling to share her time and energy. Ever since little Chaser Doodle arrived on the scene, Elsie has spent most of her time warding off the “let’s play” advances of her baby sister.  Chaser attempts any tack to entice Elsie to play: tug a little on the ear, nibble a little on the collar, poke a bit at the bum, taunt ceaselessly with the Nylabone, or nudge repeatedly with a paw. Sometimes, Elsie just gives in and plays. And play means exercise.

Human Counterpart: Seems I need a new baby or a new playmate. Hmmmn.  Baby may pose a challenge, as both the HH and I have passed our best-before dates for procreation (together, we must be something like 4,732 in dog years). And a new “playmate?”  Well, I’m not sure how the HH would like that one, either. But I do think a dieting buddy is a workable option; most of the women I know are watching their weight, too, so it would make sense to team up. 

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[The new, svelte girl]

Second, I’ve cut way back on the treats I offer The Girls, compared to the quantity Elsie received before Chaser’s arrival.  Partly because current dog-training philosophy advises against treats, and partly because I no longer require treats to engage Elsie’s attention (since she’s got another dog to play with now), the number of daily biscuits has diminished by half at least.  That’s like cutting out snacks during the evening, or reducing your meals by 25%.  No wonder she’s lost weight!

Human Counterpart: Cut down snacks.  I may need to establish nap-time between 2:00 and 3:00 (when my blood sugar crashes) for a while, but that, too, shall pass. And fewer snacks means fewer calories.

The Girls also spend a lot of time romping outdoors, running off leash for a minimum of 45 minutes per day. Before Chaser’s arrival, Elsie was walked for the same length of time each day, but never felt the urge to run (or even walk very fast).  Obviously, having a playmate has made a difference.

Human Counterpart: Take a daily romp in the woods.  Well, if I translate this into human terms, what I really need to do is more exercise.  I’ve read that in order to lose weight, the average person must exercise ninety minutes a day.  Ninety!  And once women reach perimenopause (and after), they require an hour a day just to maintain weight.  So if I tally up the hour or so I walk The Girls each day, plus whatever extra I add on with the treadmill or the workout club, I should realistically be able to reach that goal. 

Why haven’t I incorporated any of these tricks yet?  Maybe I needed Elsie as my inspiration. I know it’s worth a try. I mean, Elsie does look marvelous, and, even better, she seems to have more energy these days for frolicking and gamboling.  And lord knows I could use more frolick and gambol.

Yes, Mum, I’d highly recommend it.  I do enjoy my frolicking.  But now, can you do something about getting Chaser off my back?”

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The Habit of Exercise

January 27, 2008

I hate winter.  For someone who was born and grew up in Montreal, that is a heretical statement.  But I’ve never been athletic, I get cold easily, I don’t have the greatest sense of balance (not exactly a plus when you’re navigating ice-laden sidewalks while holding the leash of a frisky, determined dog in each hand), and so winter makes me grumpy.  Grumpy, and lazy.

During the snowy months, I have to be vigilant not to let my exercise routine slide somewhat.  I mean, who wants to take the extra twenty minutes to pile on an additional pair of wooly socks, long underwear, scarf, insulated hat, dexterity-diminishing gloves, earmuffs and galoshes, drive through snow and sleet at 15 km./hour to unwrap for another twenty minutes on the other side before changing into workout gear, just to push some weights around for 40 minutes or so? Not I. 

And so, I often end up missing my otherwise quite enjoyable workouts during this cold season (“So long, Septuagenarian Couple with the Matching T-Shirts!  Sorry to miss ya, Burly Guy Who Stares at Women’s Breasts Between Sets!  Catch you next time, Personal Trainer with the Gigantoid Biceps!).  Feeling compelled to make it there this morning, however, (after all, how could I let down the legions of fans interested in my Progress Tracker?), I forced myself to go.  And then, had a very lovely time. And was truly glad I went. 

 Keeping motivated can be problematic at any time of the year, but winter presents its own unique challenges.  For me, a change in routine tends to help (as starting a new set of machines, for example, or a different activity entirely), but it’s still difficult to keep up that kind of momentum. 

I recently came across an interesting article from Lifehack.org that provided some help in this area.  The article is actually about tricks for making new habits stick, but I think many of these apply to the habit of exercise as well.  One that struck a chord with me in particular was using a “but” statement.  As in, “I’m no good at sewing, but if I work at it, I might get better.”  There are seventeen other tips as well, including items such as “commit to 30 days” or “form a trigger” (something else you do right before the desired habit, to create a pattern). 

For me, changes might include setting out my workout gear the night before I plan to go to the club (the trigger) or asking a friend to commit along with me so that we can be accountable to each other. 

I may be having trouble keeping up with my workouts during the winter, BUT I’m working at it.  And I guess that means it can only get easier.  (And I think moving to Florida might help, too.)

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(“Mum, we love the winter.  It must be that Scottish heritage in us.  So why not make walking US your trigger??”)

TV and the Treadmill

December 29, 2007

I’ve never been much interested in team sports (but even if I were, being perennially chosen as the “anchor” in tug of war, being last–always–to be picked for any team in grade school, and having to wear those navy blue bloomers in gym class, beat every last trace of desire out of me).  Instead, when it comes to exercise, I tend to prefer solitary pursuits, both cerebral and physical. 

So when I decided to try to get back in shape, I knew that the best possible piece of exercise equipment I could buy would be a treadmill.  Years ago, I joined a workout club in order to lift weights whenever I can (Hey there, Elderly Gentleman Who Always Wears Black Knee Socks!  How ya doin’, Septuagenarian Couple With the Matching T-Shirts! Nice to see you, Teenaged Girl with Spiky Blue Hair!), but really, for me, “exercise” means walking.  And in winter months, when I can’t be taking my Girls for any serious length of time outdoors, it means walking on a treadmill.

Ever since we moved to this new house last month, the treadmill has been stationed in the TV room.  Yes, this does make for a somewhat “eclectic” set of furniture (because the room is relatively small, all we can fit in it is the TV, 2 chairs, and the treadmill), but I love it nonetheless. We’re not the kind of people who watch TV when friends are over, and, in fact, I watch very little TV at all. With one glaring exception:  my soap opera. 

I am addicted to watching my soap opera every weekday.  Yes, I know, a soap opera. Now, this fact would have been a carefully concealed, disgraceful little secret back in my days as a PhD student when all my academic cohorts held forth in the T.A. lounge and our classrooms, eagerly discussing Foucault, Bloom or Barthes, or the esoteric implications of various (the)rapist(s) with great bombast and flourish. It took me a long time to realize that, fundamentally, they were pretty much full of crap, and even though they tossed around a lot of big words, they didn’t actually understand any more about those theories than I did. (On a completely unrelated tangent, that reminds me of a list of self-referential grammar and language rules that circulated while I was a teaching assistant, especially this one: “Never use a big word when a diminutive one will do”). 

After surviving the trauma of being an underconfident PhD student, I am now unabashedly declaring my affection–nay, my complete adoration and undying fidelity to–soaps.  Well, actually, just one soap:  As The World Turns.

Shortly after we moved in here, I realized that I’d been avoiding my treadmill for months, despite rather enjoying the meditative whirring of the belt as it rolled beneath my feet, my mind barely awake and flitting aimlessy from fuzzy topic to fuzzy topic as I tried to gain focus for the day. 

In the previous house, the treadmill was in the (unfinished) basement,   so it meant trekking downstairs and walking by myself within the dismal grey concrete surroundings. I found I couldn’t muster up the energy to do it most mornings.  Then, my brilliant idea:  why not place the machine in the TV room, and watch my soap while I walked?  After all, I watch my soap every day, anyway; why not combine it with something good for my health? In fact, it’s turned out to be quite the incentive for me.

Often, I won’t have time to watch in the evening (what with posting to Holidailies and everything), so I’ll save the tape (not technically a tape any more, as my HH keeps reminding me) for the following morning, and walk as I catch up with Lily, Holden, Carly, Jack, et al. There, at 6:30 AM as the gears spin and my feet flit over the woven belt, I fix my eyes to the screen and tread, tread, tread.  Before I know it, the 44 minutes are up (perfect interval, I think, for a morning walk) and I’ve burned about 200 calories.  Brilliant!

In fact, I’m going to propose this as my next healthy-lifestyle strategy:  combine exercise with something else you enjoy.

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I guess that for many of us, that combination would naturally entail walking our dogs. (“Very punny, Mum.  We are naturally entailed, too, and we love to wag them when we go for a walk!”)  For me, dog-walking hasn’t worked as an extra boost of exercise, mostly because I’ve been doing it regularly for so many years now so that my body has acclimatized and it doesn’t seem to make a difference, either to my weight or my general shape. 

Are there any hobbies out there that require lifting heavy objects?  (Sumo wrestling for fun and profit, anyone?). If so, I’d love to know.  I’m sure many other weight-conscious blogs have covered this one, and will have suggestions. For me, it’s a fairly narrow range of choices: treadmill, or weight lifting (which I bizarrely happen to enjoy just on its own), or dancing to Motown or disco tunes (music of my adolescence) in my living room.

What do you all do? 

(“Squirrels, Mum.  Chasing squirrels is always a good one.”)

Lifting Weights

November 4, 2007

People are usually surprised (okay, flabbergasted) to find out that I go to the gym and press weights at least 3 times a week.  Their wide-eyed stares and gaping maws would suggest their silent response to this piece of information is something like, “But how can a fat pig like YOU actually do any exercise, let alone lift weights???”  Their polite, public personas instead say something like, “Oh? Really?  Well, good for you!”

Another one of those bizarre paradoxes of my life is that I enjoy going to the gym and lifting weights, yet there seems to be no discernible effect (ie no taut, bulging muscles, no weight loss whatsoever) from what I do. 

True, when the alarm sounds at 6:30 and I’ve only crawled into bed at 11:38 the night before, it can be difficult to haul myself out from under the blankets.  Many mornings, I end up sleeping another 30 minutes or so while C. takes The Girls for their morning exercise, after which I finally throw back the covers and get into my gym clothes to head out as he hops in the shower.  Other days, I don’t manage it at all, and end up rebuking myself for being so lazy.

But when I do get there, I’m always happy.  Years ago, I established a good routine with a personal trainer, and have followed it since (I suspect it’s time for a change–maybe this new Plan will be the catalyst). 

Because of my back and knee problems, my workout is limited, but I do cover all the machines I’m able to.  I love the feeling of pushing those muscles to the limit and lubricating those joints as my blood starts to circulate more quickly and efficiently.  Despite all the overeating and the erratic aerobic exercise, I seem to be able to persist with the weights on a relatively regular basis (except when my back decides to snap and I’m out of commission for a week or so–but I’ll save that for another post).

 As someone who’s relatively shy and inner-directed, I am quite focused when I follow my routine and rarely speak to anyone else there (which also helps me keep to a schedule,  so that I can get home in good time–meaning before Chaser has to be put back in a cage–and get started with my day).

But I do certainly recognize the “regulars” and we tend to acknowledge each other with curt smiles and nods.  Most of the regulars I see are older than me (and my hats go off to them–cudos to you, Bald Man in Your Seventies! My admiration, Little 60-Something with the Spiky Black Hair! You are my inspiration, Septuagenarian Italian Couple with the Matching T-Shirts! And hope I’m as flexible as you at that age, Elderly Gentleman Who Wears Black Knee Socks!).  A few are my age, and some are younger.  There’s one couple who work out together every time I’m there (which leads me to believe they actually go every day, as my own schedule can change day to day), and they look almost exactly like the Canadian couple from the old “Participaction” commercials.  There’s also a rotund girl who’s no more than 18 at best, who dutifully arrives every morning to meet her trainer and strain through a series of exercises on the machines, with hand weights, and on the oversize exercise balls.  I hear her laughing even as she grunts to finish a set, sweat blossoming on her T-shirt, and I feel recharged.

So I like my routine.  I feel guilty when I don’t do it for more than two days.  And I feel energized when I’m done, a bit more lithe and flexible, a bit more awake and ready to start the day.  The fact that it seems to have no impact whatsoever on my physical appearance is secondary, I suppose.  But as I say to C. on occasion, man, I must have fabulous muscles under all this fat.

Today was also my day to update the Progress Tracker–go see how I did!

The Diet: NAG

October 30, 2007

 DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS has moved! 

If you’re reading this page, you’ve landed on the old site.  Please visit the new location by clicking here–and don’t forget to update your readers and blogrolls!

As always, thanks for reading.  I look forward to seeing you at the shiny new Diet, Dessert and Dogs!

“Um, Mum, we are coming with you, aren’t we? Because (and sorry to have to tell you this), we actually have more fans than you do on this blog.”]  

* * *

Today’s post will outline the diet plan I intend to follow for the next year and the rest of my life. 

1) NAG Diet.  As I mentioned, at school they called it “NAG”: natural, alive, good quality.  So what does this mean?

Natural:  foods that are not processed or are minimally processed.  So nothing packaged, no frozen dinners, no prepared cakes, cookies, buns, muffins, breads, nothing with preservatives, colorings, additives, chemicals, or anything like that.  Does this sound hard?  Actually, it’s the way I usually eat anyway, ever since my diagnosis with candida in 1999.  What’s great about this category is that everything is just what you see when you buy it:  an apple is an apple, quinoa is quinoa, eggs are always eggs.  Nothing added, nothing taken away. 

If you can eat this way (at least some of the time) you’ll find two things:  first, your groceries are cheaper.  When you buy brown rice and cook it yourself along with onion, peppers, and herbs, you are paying waaaaay less than buying pre-packaged rice pilaf mix.  Second, everything you eat is more filling, more substantial, and, eventually, more satisfying.  You’re getting real food, with real nutrition.  Oh, and a third, one worth mentioning:  everything takes much longer to cook.  I’ll deal with this issue throughout the blog, as I list what I’ve cooked and how long it takes.

Alive: for optimum health, “live” or raw foods are recommended.  This is not to say I’m advocating following a raw diet. No, just raw some of the time (I’m aiming for something raw with each meal, 30-50% raw each day).  This could mean a fresh apple cut up into cereal, a salad with lunch, baby carrots for a snack, cucumber slices with dinner. Or it could mean a raw almond-veggie pate as a lunch option (recipe to follow–promise!). As raw foodists know, raw foods contain health-enhancing enzymes that also help us to digest food better.  You digest faster and more efficiently with raw. . . it only makes sense to include it.

Good quality:  this trait refers to many things, but generally I think, “organic.”  I try to include as much organic food as possible in my diet.  One thing that’s absolutely essential to me is that any animal product be organic.  After learning what’s done to milk, meat, eggs, cheese, etc., I wouldn’t even give my dogs non-organic in these areas!  (Lucky for Elsie and Chaser, they get lots of organic veggies with their organic dog food for dinner.) (“We do appreciate that, Mum, really!”)

I guess I’m lucky in that I do love healthy foods, so it’s no hardship to eat this way.  The problem is that I also love unhealthy food.  So I can eat a perfectly healthy meal of my favorite almond-curry stir-fry with tofu and mixed veggies, then 30 minutes later eat 6 cookies.  Granted, the cookies are my own creations, made with spelt flour and Sucanat or maple syrup. . . but it ‘s the quantity, man, the quantity! 

Which leads me to. . . the rest of the diet. 

2) PORTION CONTROL. Ideally, if I follow the diet I see in my head, I’ll be able to eat moderate amounts of very healthy foods, with small amounts of less healthy foods (such as my beloved desserts or a glass of wine occasionally).  For me, this is probably the biggest challenge:  I don’t feel I’ve “eaten” unless I feel full (sometimes, almost to the point of bursting). So being able to eat a regular-sized meal followed by a regluar-sized dessert would be an amazing accomplishment for me.

3) EXERCISE. Technically, not part of the diet, but an integral part of the plan related to it.  The mission is to alternate my weights with aerobic exercise, 6 days a week.  This means treadmill for me, as bad knees prohibit either running or cycling.

Interestingly, I do already walk every day by virtue of my furry girls (“No problem, mum, we’re happy to remind you to take us out!”).  I generally take them out every afternoon for a minimum of 20 minutes (this in addition to their morning walk, courtesy of C., and their evening walk, which we all take together).  I see this as one of the major benefits of having dogs. Though I have to say here, that when we watch The Dog Whisperer, one of our favorite shows (“No! Don’t watch that, mum! Don’t watch that show!”), I’m always amazed that when asked how often they walk their dogs, people say things like, “Well, I manage to get out once a week. . . .”.  Huh?  Knowing that dogs were basically born to be outside running around, I would destroy myself with guilt if I didn’t take them out at least twice a day.  Strangely, though, the twice-daily dog walks don’t seem to affect my weight.  Ergo, adding in the aerobics every second day.

That’s it for now.  Tomorrow, I’ll cover the Goals section of the plan, after which I’ll really be on my way.