Thursday, July 29, 2010

Conditioning Myself - Part 2 (Physical)

This is part 2 of a 3-part sequence. Part one explains what conditioning is and is here. Part 3 pertains to mental conditioning and is here.

The point of conditioning rather than turning myself around 180 degrees and just making a lot of changes at once was to make the changes stick. It's a little like learning one new word a day instead of trying to memorize a list of 365 immediately. It's not impossible to learn that many new words in a short time, but the chances that you'll recall them well is improved if you learn them slowly and apply them in everyday use. The down side, of course, is that slow changing means slower results. If you're someone who has to be who you want to be tomorrow, then this is a horrible method for you. Fortunately, I'm not one of those people now (though I used to be much more like that).

The start of my conditioning focused on the physical. I believe that our bodies are used to the balance of food we give them and an abrupt change causes a physical "shock" to the system which makes it much harder to succeed. The body pushes the mind and the mind weakens its resolve. Essentially, you push your body and it pushes back. The more gently you push, the less it offers a counterforce.

In order to mitigate the difficulty and hopefully "ease" my body into these changes, I took the following steps over a period of many months. Note that I remained at each step until I reached a period in which my discomfort with that stage was not very high. I did not stay at a stage until I was entirely comfortable before moving ahead, just much less uncomfortable and mentally capable to making things more difficult for myself.

It's important to keep in mind that I did not start out as a consumer of appreciable amounts of junk food. I didn't eat fast food at all (pretty much dislike it, always have). I did eat potatoes, rice, and a mix of about half white bread and half whole wheat, though mainly I ate whole grains. I did eat food made with sugar (like muffins) and I ate salted snacks (generally not potato chips though), chocolate, and ice cream. That being said, I didn't eat the huge portions people imagine fat people eat. I didn't have a lot of terrible habits to begin with. I just ate too much of everything (especially cheese, bread, and dairy). Period.

After I felt minimal discomfort with the current step, I pushed ahead to the next step in this list:
  1. I reduced portion sizes slightly. I ate about 3/4 of what I normally ate and even reduced the portions of liquids that contained calories by a similar amount. I did not guzzle large amounts of water as my aim was to reduce my stomach capacity on the whole, not to fill it with non-caloric liquids or low-calorie foods that would keep it stretched.
  2. I reduced portions sizes to about half of what I used to eat for both caloric liquids and all food. I also started practicing the early stages of "mindful eating". That is, I started to pay attention to the taste and texture of every bite of food so that I could extract the most from each eating experience. This naturally slowed down my eating.
  3. I reduced portions of carbohydrates and started to measure them out carefully to single portion servings. Seeing how small one serving of things like mashed potatoes really is would shock many people.
  4. I started counting calories one day per week. I staved off craving and hunger pangs on that one day by promising that I could eat as much as I wanted of any food I wanted the next day. I meant it. I never "lied" to myself about what was possible.
  5. I started counting calories two non-consecutive days per week. Again, I dealt with hunger by allowing myself to have what I wanted "tomorrow", and I meant it.
  6. I started counting calories three non-consecutive days per week.
  7. I started counting calories 4 days per week.
  8. I started counting calories everyday.
The calorie counting days forced a reshaping of my eating habits in various ways. I started to see how I had to balance my choices to fit in enough food not to starve on those days. Knowing I only had to do this one day a week made the starting point easier, and gave my body a chance to recover from the shock of what felt like great deprivation. I had to plan carefully for the calorie counting days and learned slowly to prepare food in a certain manner in accord with those days. There was a learning process that I slowly was broken into in terms of food preparation and the cumbersome and odious nature of calorie counting.

This method didn't make it "easy" for my body to adjust to fewer calories, but I think it did make it easier to stick with it because I had time to adjust to the demands on my time for food planning and preparation and to figure out how to work with food. I wanted my body to go from ample energy to diminished amounts to reduced energy to under-powered in stages. Note that I never stepped back once I took a step forward because I never stepped ahead until the discomfort was relatively small. If you have to step back, you're probably moving ahead too quickly.

I did not fulfill my desired goals every single day, but I never changed the goals. If I "failed", I simply followed the plan at the present stage. I didn't "punish" myself for eating too much on a calorie counting day by curtailing the eating on the next day, for instance. I did the best I could every day regardless of the previous day's efforts.

The other half of the physical conditioning was movement oriented. My body was in a terrible state when I started and my body was weak and prone to much pain. I couldn't walk 5 minutes without excruciating back pain. Improvements came quite slowly, so I was very careful not to do too much too quickly. Sometimes I felt frustrated by the fact that I couldn't use exercise more to help me lose faster, but the truth is that I think it helped me focus more on food and that is really where the bigger challenge lies and where the most effective part of weight loss comes from.

Roughly, my path has been:
  • I started walking as long as possible without pain and sitting down at regular intervals. In the beginning, I was in agony after about 3 minutes. I added about 5 minutes to that time every several weeks depending on pain levels. In the beginning, I sat down frequently and stopped a lot. Sometimes I'd have to stop every 20 steps or so and rest.
  • I started trying to stand more when I did housework.
  • I tried to make myself get up and do things more often rather than consolidating trips to other rooms.
  • I bought plastic weights that are to be filled with water. When full, they weigh 2.2 lbs. (1 kg.). I started lifting them 5 times in one range of motion. I added reps little by little and then added other ranges of motion.
  • I added in exercises that can be done from my computer chair like leg lifts and stomach muscle holding. I added reps to the original count of 5 when the muscles didn't become sore anymore.
Concurrent with the physical stages above, I went through mental conditioning techniques which I will summarize in the next part.

1 comment:

dlamb said...

How thoughtful, how sane, how doable!
What I really enjoy about your blog and your accomplishment is that I cannot imagine anyone who reads it, who can possibly say "I can't do that".
The extreme dieters we've both discussed before, the ones who lost an entire adult in 5 months and who believe that because they did it, so can anybody else, have unreasonable expectations of their fellow human beings.
Your approach is so, well, APPROACHABLE! Applicable to anyone who is not completely incapacitated physically.