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Project Louise: The Project Ends Now … But It Lasts A Lifetime

baby steps, will 668/flickr

baby steps, will 668/flickr

With the end of 2014 comes the end of Project Louise. The official end, that is. My excellent CommonHealth hosts gave me a year of coaching and support to see how much I could improve my health, and that year is now over. But my efforts to keep improving my health will continue, I hope and believe, for the rest of my life.

In part that’s because I haven’t reached all the goals I set for myself a year ago. I lost some weight, but not as much as I hoped; I exercised more, but I still haven’t developed the consistent exercise habit that I know I’ll need in order to make fitness a real and permanent part of my life.

On the other hand, I have made some real changes that I know will last. My diet is much better than it was a year ago – more vegetables, less junk – and, maybe even more important, my relationship with food is less complicated and neurotic. I still sometimes eat “bad” foods, but I don’t hate myself when I do – and that means I don’t go off on a binge.

That change is part of a larger one, one that Coach Allison Rimm urged me to undertake – and one that, frankly, didn’t immediately strike me as relevant to this project. Gently, consistently and with remarkable success, she has encouraged me to speak more kindly to myself, to focus on what I’m doing right rather than what I’m doing wrong.

Gentle Nudging

It turns out that gentle encouragement works much better than relentless criticism – something I knew and practiced in raising my children, yet somehow needed to learn in “raising” myself. In teaching me this lesson, Coach Allison has given me a priceless and lasting gift.

And that newfound sense of patience with myself is connected to the main reason I’ll keep working on this “project,” the single most important thing it has taught me. More than better nutrition, more than motivation for exercise, what Project Louise has shown me is that nothing lasting happens overnight. Change is a continuous process, not an isolated event.

No Overnight Success

We all fantasize about the life-changing moment, the day that divides our imperfect past from our glorious future – isn’t that what New Year’s Eve is all about? But in fact most days are pretty much like most other days; the calendar may change tomorrow, but we all know that Jan. 1 won’t feel much different from Dec. 31. Continue reading

Project Louise: Learning To Drive A Ferrari Brain Toward Exercise

(Sovxx via Wikimedia Commons)

(Sovxx via Wikimedia Commons)

“You have a Ferrari engine for a brain – and bicycle brakes.”

That’s how Dr. Edward Hallowell explains ADD and ADHD to his younger patients. It’s an explanation he’s used in some of the numerous books and articles that have made him a nationally recognized expert on the subject. It’s also what he told me when I met with him last week – and it’s remarkable what a difference that metaphor makes.

I have ADD. I know I have ADD. I’ve known it for nearly a decade, and suspected it for far longer than that. But something about this diagnosis has made me resist admitting it, much less embracing it … and yet that’s exactly what Hallowell says I need to do, both to solve the persistent problem I’m having in developing a consistent exercise routine and to improve just about every other area of my life.

“This is the biggest change you can make, to really embrace your ADD,” he says, when I tell him of all the changes I’ve been trying to make this year, and of my recent wondering whether it’s ADD that’s keeping me from focusing on that last big goal, regular exercise. “Embrace it, not put up with it: ‘I’m so glad I’m not one of those boring attention-surplus people!’”

So why haven’t I embraced it? For one thing, when I first heard of ADD, it was as ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – and, as any regular follower of this project knows, hyperactivity is not exactly my problem. But it turns out that ADD, or distractibility and other symptoms without the hyperactivity, is more common in girls and women.

And when I was researching a book about helping your child learn to read and needed to bone up on common learning issues, I came across a self-assessment for this form of the syndrome. (I hate calling it a “disorder,” because who wants one of those? Especially if she already feels disorderly enough!) I’d point you to an online version, but I just spent 10 minutes haring around the Internet looking at different sites, and I can save you the trouble: Google it and pick one, because they’re all pretty much the same. (And if you can do that, you may not have ADD!)

Anyway … reading that simple checklist was a revelation. Continue reading

Project Louise: Trying Not To Hate Steve Brown For Easily Losing 30 Pounds

(Duncan via Compfight)

(Duncan via Compfight)

In 11 months, I’ve lost 15 pounds.

In three months, Steve Brown lost 20 pounds.

I am trying very hard not to hate him.

It helps that we’re colleagues; he’s a longtime anchor and reporter at WBUR. And it helps even more that he has been telling me for months that I’m his “inspiration” for this success. Flattery will indeed get you everywhere.

So I had to ask him: How’d you do it?

And it turns out that the answer is, well, just a little bit despicable too. He used an app. That’s it. He used an app, and he lost 20 pounds.

Actually, Steve tells me, once he reached his goal of losing 20 pounds, he decided to keep going and lost another 10. And, he says, “it was kind of fun.” He lost 30 pounds! And it was fun!

What have I been doing wrong? Or, more constructively, what has he been doing right?

The joy of the Hershey’s kisses was extended.

– Steve Brown

Coincidentally, a recent study found that just knowing about a weight-loss app won’t necessarily help you lose weight. But Steve insists that downloading — and using! — this app was really the only thing he did. The app he used is called Lose It!, and it’s developed by a company right here in Boston. It’s free, although you can also get a premium version with more features.

The free version, Steve explains, is basically a calorie tracker. You tell it how much you weigh now and how much you’d like to weigh; it then tells you how long it will take to get there based on how quickly you want to lose – a pound a week? Two?

And then you start telling it everything you eat, and it keeps track of how many calories you have left to “spend” each day. It can also factor in any exercise you do – and it will even give you credit for whatever steps your phone tells it you’ve taken that day.

It seems so … simple. Can it really make you lose weight? Surely there’s more to it than that. So what exactly did this app make Steve do? Continue reading

Project Louise: With Two Months To Go, Where Are We?

(Andrew Borgen via Flickr)

(Andrew Borgen via Flickr)

Tick, tick, tick. Two months to go before the official end of Project Louise – though of course I’m now seeing that improving my health is a lifelong project. In any case, Coach Allison Rimm suggested it was time for a checkup. With her, not my doctors.

So we got together last week and reviewed my progress toward the goals I originally laid out for the year. Here’s how that went:

Goal: Reach 145 pounds and feel comfortable in size 10-12 clothing.

Status: I’ve lost 15 pounds, putting me at 174. Clearly, since I am not going to do a crazy fasting thing, I will not reach 145 by the end of the year. On the plus side, however, I am now solidly a size 12, rather than the tight-14-oh-help-please-no-I-won’t-buy-16s I was in January.

More important (since, as all women know, clothing sizes are pretty crazy, arbitrary and variable anyway), I truly believe that the 15 pounds I’ve lost this year are gone forever. This is a huge shift from my previous attempts at weight loss, when I would lose 15 or 20 pounds, then bounce right back up again as soon as I stopped “dieting.” Now, I don’t feel as if I’m on a diet every day; I’m just generally making better choices, eating smaller portions of more nutritious foods, and the scale is heading in the right direction. Slowly, slowly, but I’ll take it.

Goal: Eat healthfully at least five days a week.

Status: Generally, yes. I have “bad” foods once in a while – French fries are my weakness – but I find that I don’t crave them as I used to, I don’t eat as much of them when I have them, and I eat them only when I really, really want to. The random office cakes, cheap Halloween candies, and fast-food burgers have lost their power over me. Continue reading

Project Louise: What To Do About Cholesterol?

(Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

One of my original goals for this project was: “Lower my cholesterol and triglycerides.” I’ve been doing some serious thinking about that lately, along with a bit of research, and I’d like to share the results with you.

The serious thinking started last spring, when I ran across the current controversy about the risks of statins in postmenopausal women.

A growing number of physicians and researchers are arguing that, for some women like me, the risks of taking statins to lower cholesterol may outweigh the potential benefits. And the risks are scary: muscle pain (and, more rarely, permanent muscle damage), kidney and liver issues and – yikes! – increased risk of diabetes. Aside from being my own biggest fear, diabetes also, ironically, increases the risk of heart disease, the very thing statins are meant to prevent.

All this gave me pause, because my doctor had prescribed a statin a while ago, and my argument to the nurse practitioner (whom I actually see more often than the doctor) that I didn’t really want to take it had been met with a firm insistence that I should. Based on my numbers, she said – total cholesterol around 350, with an HDL (“good” cholesterol) of around 60 – there was no question.

So I took it for about a month, but I felt tired and achy – maybe just because of life in general, but the achiness felt worse than usual. So when I saw the new studies, I thought, “You know what? I’m just going to stop.”

And I did, and I felt better. But I’ve been avoiding going back to the nurse practitioner to tell her. All of which strikes me as the behavior of a naughty child, rather than a mature adult.

So, as a mature adult, this week I sought another opinion. My editor, Carey Goldberg, suggested I talk with Dr. Vikas Saini, a cardiovascular specialist and the president of the Lown Institute. He’s known for promoting the cause of “right care,” or “avoiding avoidable care” – that is, for arguing that modern medical practice too often overtreats patients, with frequently expensive and sometimes disastrous results. This seems self-evident to me, though it has been enough to create huge controversy in some circles.

In any case, I called Dr. Saini and talked with him about statins, in both general and personal terms. After noting that statins have become a fairly polarizing issue in the medical community, he asked a few questions about my personal and family history.

Dr. Vikas Saini

Dr. Vikas Saini

I gave him my numbers, which he agreed create a slightly increased risk – on paper, anyway. But when I told him that both my grandmothers had high cholesterol but lived into their 90s (and neither died of heart disease), and that neither of my parents, who also had high cholesterol, died of heart disease, either, he said that this history “makes me very, very suspicious of any attempt to paint your high cholesterol as a risk factor. It doesn’t add up.”

Well, hurrah. So I’m not being stupid to stop taking the statin?

“I don’t think that’s stupid at all,” Saini said. “I personally wouldn’t do much of anything except check your numbers.”

And, of course, keep increasing my commitment to exercise – “at least get it up to three times a week” – and eat your basic Mediterranean diet with plenty of olive oil, and work on stress reduction. All these factors, he noted, clearly help prevent heart disease. Continue reading

Project Louise: The Zombie Workout Adds Strength Training

Louise's new role model: Rob Zombie. Note the muscle tension achieved by the squat.

Louise’s new role model: Rob Zombie. Note the muscle tension achieved by the squat. (Alfred Nitsch via Wikimedia Commons)

Back to the gym at last! I’ve been working out, far too sporadically and half-heartedly, at home, mostly doing my zombie workout on the treadmill. But as the cooler temperatures have been reminding me that year’s (and Project’s) end draws ever nearer, I knew it was time to get serious. And that meant a call to Trainer Rick.

Rick DiScipio is a kind, patient trainer who always manages to push me without making me feel guilty for not having pushed myself. So, even though I’d been neglecting him for months, he happily scheduled a session and walked me through a simple routine. Because he knew I’ve managed to do some cardio on my own, we decided to focus on some very simple strength training.

The key this time is that it’s all something I can do at home – no more using “no time to get to the gym” as my excuse for not doing a real workout. And Rick suggested that I set a small goal for the first couple of weeks. “Just do it twice a week,” he said. “That’s all. Just twice a week. What you need is to develop the habit.”

What I also need, I’m discovering, is a sense of community – a sense that other people are on this journey with me. So here’s my routine. I hope you’ll join in (assuming your doctor wouldn’t object, of course). Just twice a week.

First, a couple of notes. I don’t know about you, but I have torn out pages of suggested workouts from magazines, bookmarked routines online, bought videos, picked up flyers … and never done any of them. So I am deliberately not making this fancy, because I don’t want you to bookmark it or print it out and then never do it.

Instead, I want you to read through it, realize how ridiculously simple it is, and then try it just once. Continue reading

Project Louise: Can You See The Future?

staircase

 

Slowly, slowly, I seem to be getting somewhere. I think. I’m exercising more than I was, I’m definitely eating better, and all this is contributing to a generally improved sense of well-being. On a good day, anyway. But lately more of them seem to be good.

I owe a lot of this to the exercise that I resisted for months – and I’m not talking burpees. It’s the exercise that coach Allison Rimm kept exhorting me to do, and that I finally did at her workshop this summer: creating a vision statement for my life.

I had resisted for a lot of reasons. I didn’t really see what it had to do with losing weight or working out more; it sounded abstract and a little corporate-mission-statement to me, and, I dunno, it just seemed kind of New Age cheesy, you know? More deeply, I think I subconsciously feared laying out exactly what I want my life to look like because then I’d have to examine, and own, the reasons it doesn’t look like that right now.

But I did it, and last week Allison and I finally sat down together to review it, and I have to tell you: It is a really powerful tool for creating lasting change in your life. In fact, the experience of reading it to another person was so powerful that it actually brought me to tears. Continue reading

Project Louise: Stop Worrying And Learn To Love The Zombie Workout

Yes, I promised that my next post would be an interview with a stress expert. But I cannot deliver that post to you, because finding the right person to talk to has just been too stressful.

I wish I were kidding. And I wish I could say I had done a thoughtful and comprehensive search of all the possibilities. But we know me better than that by now, right? So let’s just keep this brief and move on: I have not succeeded in interviewing a thoughtful, reliable and accessible expert in the field of stress reduction. I’m sure there’s one out there, and as soon as I find him or her I will let you know.

Meanwhile, though, I have returned to my long-neglected trainer, the wonderful Rick DiScipio, and he’s been giving me some great advice about exercise. So let’s look at that, shall we?

Rick’s watchword for today is “HIIT.” You may already know, as I kinda-sorta did, that this stands for “high-intensity interval training.” Basically, it means that you work at maximum intensity for a very brief spurt – as little as 10 seconds, Rick says – then recover for a similarly brief time, then repeat. It’s quite the thing; do a search on YouTube and you’ll get about 557,000 results. Including this one:

Rick recommended that one to me as an example of “training to failure” — that is, working to the point where your muscles are too tired to do even one more rep. “That’s high intensity,” he told me.

“Notice the slow reps, supersets, force reps, and isometric holds at each point of the exercise,” he added in an email. “My thoughts are everyone should train with intensity because intensity = work = results but training needs to be personalized.” That’s important, Rick points out, because your individual health history, injuries, motivation, energy level and goals will help determine what’s most likely to work for you.

Elsewhere in the vast YouTube library, I came across the one at the top of this post. I haven’t made my way all the way through that video yet – it’s a deceptively simple killer, one that Rick points out is similar to the notorious Insanity workout – but I think it’s the very simplicity of the concept, and of the execution here, that makes it so appealing. Knock yourself out, then catch your breath. Knock yourself out again, breathe some more. I’ve been doing an even simpler version of this on my home treadmill, and I’m finding it surprisingly easy. Continue reading

Project Louise: The Dog Ate My Homework

(Girl.In.the.D via Flickr)

(Girl.In.the.D via Flickr)

Hmm, was that me last week, waxing rhapsodic about that great “back to school” feeling? So, here we are, near the end of my kids’ first week back at school, and I have to say: What was I smoking?

Yeah, it’s lovely to get out the pencil cases and pick out the first-day outfit and meet the teachers and see old friends and try to spot new ones. But it’s also a flat-out crazy week of adjusting to new routines, getting back in the groove, filling out more paperwork than anyone should have to deal with in this electronic age and, oh yeah, getting to work more or less on time.

Unsurprisingly, I find all this a bit stressful. (Can I get an amen?) And that’s why it seemed like such a great idea last week to promise that I would interview an expert on stress, and then let you all know all the great things I learned.

Only here’s the thing: I was too stressed out to get it done. Sure, I could tell you that her book didn’t arrive in the mail as quickly as it was supposed to (which it didn’t), and that therefore I didn’t get back in touch with her publisher to set up the interview before the long weekend (which I didn’t), and that then I came up with a backup plan (which I did) to interview someone else (which I didn’t), but essentially that all boils down to the adult equivalent of “the dog ate my homework.”

So, look, I’m sorry, and I promise – I swear – I more than swear, I’ve told my editor! – to have real information on dealing with stress next week. But meanwhile, let’s just talk about stress for a quick minute. I’ve told you some of mine, but here’s a more complete list:

  • Taking care of a teenager and a 6-year-old
  • Working full-time-plus at a job that requires evenings out fairly often, and even the odd weekend
  • Trying to hold the family finances together in spite of some real (and private) challenges
  • Resolving some seemingly intractable problems in a key relationship (also private, so I wouldn’t even mention it but it’s a huge stressor)
(Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

  • Learning to navigate this strange new electronic world we all live in – and, for example, figuring out those lines between public and private, to say nothing of taming an email inbox that daily threatens to crash from its own weight; this sounds trivial compared to everything else, but it’s surprising how much angst it causes
  • Wondering how I’m ever going to fix up the “charming,” “needs TLC” old wreck I live in, enough to either be happy in it or put it on the market
  • Fretting about my health, not just the tired old song-and-dance you’ve been hearing about my weight and cholesterol and so forth, but also that funny-looking mole on my back
  • And did I mention the three dogs and the gecko?

Continue reading

Project Louise: Entering The Home Stretch, Time To Press ‘Pause’

pause button

(Maximilian Schonherr via Wikimedia Commons)

Is it just me, or do we never really outgrow that “back to school” feeling? As a new school year looms for my kids, I find myself similarly anticipating a return to seriousness, a settling down, an evaluation of past progress and a recommitment to getting things done.

Plus, we are now entering the final third of Project Louise – and that has me feeling like I’ve got a lot to do in a very short time! Yes, I work best under pressure; yes, nothing motivates me like a deadline; and yes, I tend to put things off until I really don’t have any choice but to do them. But I confess I’m feeling a bit anxious that I have not lost as much weight as I wanted to by now, and that I am going to have a really hard time hitting my end-of-year goal without some kind of drastic action.

But hold on a minute. The one thing I’ve learned this year is that making permanent change is not about drastic action. It’s about nudging, guiding, steering yourself gradually from one course to another – a gentle gliding curve, not a hard yank of the wheel. So, before anyone gets crazy here, let’s take a deep breath.

(That’s another thing I’ve learned. Breathing is good.)

So. Where are we on this path, and where do we need to go? I say “we” deliberately because I’ve already figured out one thing I want to focus more on in the home stretch: I’d really like to know what you’d like to know. What kind of advice and support do you need in order to reach your own health goals?

Over the past months, we’ve explored a bit about diet, a bit about various kinds of exercise from power yoga to cycling, and a fair amount about personal change. But what’s missing from the picture for you? What kind of experts would you like to hear from, and what would you like to learn?

Here’s one idea to get you started. Next week I’ll be talking with an internist who studies the many effects of stress on our health, and I’m hoping to get some good tips on how to manage stress more effectively. If there’s anything you’d like me to ask her, let me know. Continue reading