Monday, July 8, 2013

Weight Loss - Part Three (Exercising)

I'm excited to announce, along with this 3rd and probably final post about my weight-loss journey, that I have officially reached my main weight goal!  June 19th was my 6 month goal deadline, and on that day I weighed 118lb which exceeds my goal by 1 pound!! I DID IT!!
That means I've lost about 27 pounds in 6 months! I'm working on setting some new goals so that I will maintain and keep improving my overall health!  And I also want to say THANK YOU to the many people who reached out to me after reading my posts - it has really been a tremendous encouragement to me to hear your own stories and your kind words and to keep me going when I'm felt like my goal was still so far away!!

In my last post, I wrote about how I'd changed my eating habits, and I wanted to do one more quick segment about exercise and what I am doing in that department.  I just want to reiterate first, that while I do think that exercise is really important to improve & maintain overall health, in my own personal experience, exercise alone was very ineffective at giving me the results that I was hoping to see.  In my original post about weight-loss, I shared my story about how I felt like I was "trying everything!" for the longest time and not seeing any results.  I was doing workout videos, walking/jogging for 1-2 hours almost every day, and doing all sorts of exercises that Pinterest told me to do!  But all those things made me hungry!  And I felt like because I was getting SO much exercise, I could afford to eat however much I wanted (and all the very sweet things I felt like I deserved).  The fact was that I WAS exercising a LOT, but I wasn't ready to change how I was eating, and when I was finally willing to make the leap and start eating better, that is what made all the difference for me!  For me, eating right is my main method of effectively losing weight and exercise is just the extra push that makes it all happen a bit faster and helps tone my body.  It's sort of like (sorry! …horrible pun for a post on weight-loss!) the cherry on top of the sundae.

A family friend sent me a wonderful article she found that perfectly explains and corroborates my exact experience and gives a lot of reasons and examples of why this happens.  You can read it here (it's definitely worth giving a look-over if you're thinking about trying to lose weight or if you've tried before without much success!) - Why Exercise Won't Make You Thin by John Cloud.  (When I originally read this article it didn't make me subscribe to view it, but now when I try to open it, I'm getting that prompt... So I'm not sure if this link will work or not... sorry about that)

So on to what I've been doing in the exercise department!  In that first month of changing my diet, I did very little exercise.  And the stuff that I did do was just random little exercises (something akin to what was required during warm-ups in gym glass before you could go get intentionally hit by a dodge ball thus allowing you to be "out" and sit along the side of the room, talking to your friends).  There are so many suggestions out there about what to do and what not to do and how to do it all, that it can be really confusing and even discouraging… for example, I had previously stumbled upon a few articles about how crunches were useless and even potentially damaging and this really discouraged me because I actually used to really like doing crunches!  But now the pros were telling me it wasn’t a good exercise.  Well, I had already tried to follow along with the pros a few months before and to do all their special workout videos, but it just hadn't done anything for me and I hadn't lost any weight.  And it left me feeling a little rebellious.  So I did crunches anyway!  And I love them.  I still do them all the time and they have become a major part of my routine, and I think I definitely owe the definition I see in my abs to them!

My routine looked vaguely like this at first:
            *25 jumping jacks
            *25 lunge-style jumping jacks
            *25 crunches with knees up at a 90 degree angle
            *25 crunches with feet on the floor, knees in the air
            *25 15 pushups (Okay, I'm not going to lie - this post isn't about looking good - I mean it is, but it's about how far I've come, so I'm going to be honest here -  that's about all I could do at first …I should probably confess that they were also "girl-style")
            *15 left leg lifts, lying on the floor on my right side
            *15 right leg lifts, lying on the floor on my left side

I didn't do this every day - maybe 2-5 times a week. 

But then… dun dun dun - I started to see results! A few pounds melted away and I thought (for the first time in a long time), "Hey, my workout routine is working! It's actually working! I can really do this!" and I was very excited.  So I started pushing myself harder.  I kept increasing the reps that I did during each exercise. And then I started doing my routine every day.  And then I started doing it a few times every day anytime I got a chance.  At one point, I was doing several hours of exercise each day.  30 to 90 minutes at a time, usually 3-4 times a day!  During this time, I honestly lost track of the number of exercises I did - for example, I did hundreds of crunches - I'm talking 200-400 at a time and probably move than a thousand over the course of a day.  It sounds like a lot, but my body was getting really used to it, and I was honestly starting to just breeze right through it. 

And I was starting to feel like stuff was too easy, and maybe the exercises weren't really "working" anymore.  (One thing that I experienced, probably about every 7 pounds of weight lost or so, was this very frustrating weight-loss plateau.  I'd lose weight consistently for maybe about 2 weeks and then suddenly, even though I hadn't changed anything, the number on the scale just would not drop.)  I thought maybe my body was getting too used to some exercises, so at that point I switched it up with a new routine.  I had used to love jogging before I was married and I really wanted to start doing that again.  (I had actually tried this several months before, when I was close to my heaviest weight, and I was very discouraged with this exercise, as well, because I started to have serious pain in my left knee, and I barely could start to jog before the pain slowed me down to a walk.  I could only attribute the pain to my increased weight adding pressure to a weak joint in my knee.  I thought maybe since I had now lost about 10 pounds, I might be able to try jogging again without the pain).  It was also winter at the time, and because the temperature, snow, and ice (and also because I was worried that my knee might start hurting again), I decided to jog inside.  In my house.  I don't have a treadmill.  Or an elliptical.  Or any piece of actual equipment.  Sooooo, I jogged in place in front of the tv, around my living room, and back and forth down my hallway.  Hahaha!  And yes, I did do this when I was home alone, because even with my cat watching, I felt kind of like an idiot at first.  Now it honestly just feels normal and I do it all the time.  (In fact we had a guy doing some work in our basement a few weeks ago, and I kind of forgot he was around and without really even thinking, here I come jogging down my not-very-long-hallway into my living room right past the stairs which this guy happened to be currently standing at the bottom of, giving me a strange look, and I was immediately reminded how much of an idiot I must look like).  But it feels right.  And sometimes you just have to go with what feels good! :)

Since I can't really track how far I'm going in miles, I usually measure this exercise in 2 other ways: by counting my "steps" and also I vaguely keep track of the amount of time I spend on a "run".  I started small - about 500-1000 steps (about 10-15 minutes).  Now I often do 4000-5000 steps (45-70 minutes) at a time and I'll occasionally do this more than once per day.  My intention was, once it got warmer, to take this outside.  BUT somewhere along the way, to increase my intensity and to focus in on my arms which were not getting their fair share of work (my arms have always been a trouble area for me) I added weights into the equation.  Weights are the only piece of equipment that I use.  I started by jogging with 2-pound weights in each hand, and now I've graduated to 3-pound weights in each hand.  I usually run the first 500 steps and last 500 steps of my "run" without the weights to allow my body time to warm up and cool down gradually.  So, even though it's now much warmer (very hot) outside, I still jog inside because I worry that if I get too tired and need to put the weights down for a bit, I'll be in the middle of my development and unable to do so…

I also still do all my other exercises too but I try to switch stuff up occasionally.  I've definitely sort of unintentionally cut way back on the amount of exercise I've been doing lately just because I've gotten busier with things when the weather got nicer.  Sometimes I have much more active weeks and sometimes I feel like I barely get a few crunches in.  My go-to exercises, though, are as follows:
            *75 jumping jacks
            *75 alternating side lunge-style jumping jacks
            *3000 (1500-5000) "step" jog (depending on the time I have)
            *200-300 crunches
            *100-200 bicycle crunches
            *100-200 bicycle crunches (just legs, abs clenched)
            *50 butt lifts (bridge)
            *50 bridges - bringing knees together and apart
            *about 300 reps of different arm movements in 50 rep increments with 3 lb weights

Just to give you an idea about the amount of exercise I get right now, I'm probably doing right around 45 minutes of exercise about 4-5 days a week.  I often don't have time to exercise on weekends, but I often still do a few hundred crunches on those days, which only takes about 10-15 minutes. 

That's really all I do… I just kind of make up my routine as I go, depending on what I feel like I need to work on each day.  I haven't tried any workout videos yet, (like I said, I tried those before and didn't feel like I saw any results which sort of made me a little discouraged with them) but now that I'm back on track with eating and doing other exercises again, I will probably eventually give them another shot when I'm ready to switch up my routine again! :)

Some other tips/thoughts about my exercising:

*Pinterest is a double edge sword...
This pin I found is funny because it's so true… sometimes I might go on pinterest and think, "I'm going to look for amazing new workouts!" and then I end up in the kitchen 30 minutes later, pulling a tray of triple chocolate chunk cookies out of the oven.  Pinterest can be very inspiring, sometimes to lose weight and become fit and sometimes to eat large quantities of desserts that would make the whole losing weight thing next to impossible.  It's often hard to make the pictures of the skinny, flat-abed, supermodel women effective motivation to lose weight when the picture right beside them is of the most luscious, rich, delicious-looking cake in the world.  Plus, I'm often skeptical that the woman whose picture is being used to display the result of some routine or recommendation, actually did the routine or recommendation that the pin is telling me to do, and it makes me feel like I'm being misled which in turn makes me distrust the effectiveness of the routine or recommendation… I'm not saying I'm at all against pinterest - I really enjoy it and use it ALL the time - just saying, for me, the trick to losing my weight and coming up with a good exercise regime… it wasn't thanks to pinterest!

*I listened to my body.  There were a few weeks that I was really feeling motivated and pushed myself a little too hard.  I can think of probably at least two separate occasions when half-way through the week, I was completely out-of-steam and barely felt like I had the energy to do even a small workout for the next few days… I was really busy these weeks with other activities outside of my normal workout that kept me moving and active without me even realizing that I was already getting quite a bit of exercise from them… I couldn't understand why I had no energy left for exercising, and tried to push forward anyway.  I ended up wearing myself out to the point that I just didn't have any energy at all for several days afterward and felt like I couldn't get many of my normal every-day house chores done.  There's no need for that! Your body knows what's necessary and what's not necessary to be healthy.  Now I listen to my body when I have days like that and (after I ask myself a few questions to make sure that I'm actually worn-out and not just feeling lazy), I give myself a break!  I come back the next day feeling refreshed and able to do a proper workout!

*On that note, sleep is really important for weight-loss and for having the energy to exercise… I sometimes have trouble sleeping, so I really work on trying to do relaxing things before bedtime (hot tea, doing something monotonous like playing a game on my phone - like candy crush!!! ahhhhhh! hahaha!) and actually getting into bed at a decent time so I'll get a full night's sleep and wake-up refreshed! Exercise itself actually really helps when it comes to sleep-time… there is a good level of exercise that will make me tired enough to sleep well, without wearing me out too much.

*I recognize this fact as truth, whether it actually is or not: No amount of exercise that I am going to do today or any day makes up for any of the stuff that I'm going to eat.  Exercising isn't about negating the bad things that I put in my body.  I used to view it that way and it got me nowhere! To me, exercising isn't about taking something bad out of my body (i.e. burning calories), it's about adding something good into my body (i.e. boosting my endurance, raising my energy levels, promoting good balance, increasing my strength, improving my mood, etc. etc.)

*While I don't have any real gym equipment, I finally invested in 2 nice sets (less than $2-3 each at Five Below) of light weights (2 lbs & 3 lbs). I have to admit that I was a little afraid to start using weights because I was a bit worried that it would make my arms bigger instead of smaller.  I've always really disliked the size of my arms almost more than any other body part… I have large shoulders (my middle school guidance counselor, who was also involved with the sports department, once embarrassed me horribly by out-of-the-blue telling me that I should sign up to play football with shoulders like mine!) and so that just really confirmed to me, at that impressionable young age, that I had man-shoulders.  I have always felt like my wide shoulders made my arms look even larger and only increased my dislike of my "club arms", as I'd come to think of them.  So, while I can't do anything about my wide shoulders, I decided I wanted to work on those "club arms". I'd read that using weights was a sure way to lose inches in that area, but I was so worried that it would build muscle there and just make my arms even larger and "clubbier".  But I gave it a shot, and within probably 2-3 weeks, I noticed a significant improvement in my arms and for sure they were shrinking! So be brave! Use the weights! I promise it'll be amazing!!  (Also, on days that I'm feeling really worn out or lazy or just not feeling well, arms are a great exercise that I can do that do that is fairly slow and steady, requiring little movement, and that I can even sit while doing!)

*I began my weight-loss journey in mid-December, and this is a hard time to start.  You're smack-dab in the middle of Comfort Food Season, it's cold outside, there is next to no yard work that needs done, it gets dark before you're even finished making supper, and you just spend a lot of time inside.  All of this makes it super easy to pack on the pounds and hard to feel motivated to exercise.  I was hoping and definitely was happy to find that it was the case, that when spring comes around and I had more time invested in working outside, I got much more exercise without even "trying".  Spring was a great time for me to work on losing weight because I was just that much busier and it's really important to think about the exercise you get outside of your workout - just because it wasn't a planned workout doesn't mean that it doesn't count as exercise!  The time of the year will definitely have an effect on your ability to lose weight, so think about when you want to start and what you want your exercise routine to look like!  In the winter, I did like a million times more exercise workouts than in the spring and summer, and it was noticeably easier to lose weight in the spring and summer, when I had more projects that required physical work.