Category Archives: knee rehab

Ruminations as 2016 approaches

While ruminating on change and New Year’s Resolutions, I ran across this article in the New York Times. The two questions “why don’t I do this already?” and “why do I feel the need to do this now?” seem to me to constitute a very useful approach to life changes. In the case of “why don’t I do this already?” it should lead to problem-solving around the answers. If (for example) you’re not eating healthfully, why not? Is it grocery shopping? Time to cook? Lack of ability to cook? The three problems have different solutions.

When people ask me how I’ve managed to lose weight, a lot of it has been problem solving, one new habit at a time.

There are a lot of messages about weight and fitness going around as New Year’s Day approaches. I have mixed feelings about all of them. I am well aware that many resolutions are not kept–but I am also aware that *decisions* made about making a life change can be a very good thing. I ran across an article about “body positivism”. This appears, at first glance, to be about accepting your body, whatever your weight, but there seems to be an undercurrent of “don’t bother trying to change, because you should love your body no matter what you weigh.”

I think that part of this is an excellent message–“celebrate what your body can do!”– but I disagree that excess weight is okay. I spent a lot of years with more weight than I’d really want to admit (here or anyway) and I feel much better now than I did when I was heavier. My knees hurt all the time, now they rarely do, even with all the running I do. I’m no longer developing insulin resistance: my fasting blood sugar has dropped from a very slightly high 105 to a nice 92. I’m not nearly as tired at the end of the day. I don’t wake up felling unhappy about my clothing choices and the way I look in the mirror (when I had the courage to look in the mirror).

When I decided to lose weight, more than three years ago, it wasn’t about looking better (that really has been a huge bonus!), it was about performance. I wanted to feel better, lose the knee pain (and avoid knee replacement surgery), run faster, get my borderline blood sugar down, run faster so I could keep up with Rush, and not hear my knees make that crunchy noise when I went up the stairs. I wanted to fit into airline seats. I wanted to cross my legs comfortably. I wanted to feel fast and lean.

It has not been easy. I have made my contributions to Weight Watchers (an organization that makes me want desperately to change it) in pursuit of a place to discuss food issues. I track everything I eat (and very rarely eat anything wrapped in crunchy plastic); I cook my own food most of the time and take my own food with me when going to dog events. It requires planning and thought and making big batches of soup for the freezer so I always have something healthy to eat, even when I am bone-tired. I swim and I run and I bike so I can have occasional treats. It’s not easy.

But… My knees don’t hurt. I’m not going to need those knees replaced at 60 (my current age), as they warned me five years ago. My blood sugar is normal. I ran a five-K race and placed first in my age group two weeks ago–beating eight women. I still have seven and a half pounds to go, an amount that should make my five k time 49 seconds faster. And it’s a lot easier to keep up with Rush, too.

In the last few days–New Year’s Day is tomorrow, after all, a few people have asked me about the Couch to 5k running program. So here’s a fuller answer. Yes, do Couch to 5k (c25k). But… do it very slowly if you’re starting from not doing much. Repeat each week until it feels easy and comfortable and even pleasurable. C25k was written for thirty year olds. When I started (two years ago), I did each week twice–it took 6 months instead of three. Then, once I reached the ability to (mostly) run three miles very slowly (I was doing 13-minute miles–tall people can walk that fast!), I went back and started over again, trying to run the running intervals faster, really run. But doing it gradually has meant that I’m stronger, uninjured, find running a pleasure.

And keep records of how you’re doing. Progress is slow–but you can see it if you have a record.

If you’ll find it motivational, sign up for a race. If you’re local to Portland (Oregon), and want me to run with you or do a five k with you, just ask.

BUY GOOD SHOES FOR RUNNING before you start, especially if you’ve ever had foot problems. I *love* my Hoka One One Clifton 2 shoes, but YMMV. My daughter loves her Altras. A good running store can help you with shoes. BUT, if you’re like me and too intimidated/embarrassed to go into a good running store when you’re forty pounds overweight and 58 years old (all those skinny young people? scary), Zappos is your friend. Free shipping both ways. Just buy four or five pairs and return the ones you don’t like. Hoka has free returns too, with a thirty day trial, so you can wear them to actually run in.

Finally, New Year’s Day is tomorrow (as I’ve mentioned), and it’s got me thinking about accomplishing small goals with a little bit of work toward them, every day. For many years, when the kids were small, I tried to spend 10-15 minutes every day working on a quilt, because that worked stayed done. In a world with small children, most things don’t stay done: there’s always another meal to prepare, another mess to clean up, another pair of shoes to buy–it was endless. But I have quite a few quilts that I finished during that time–and they’re still done.

Last year on January 10th, Jay’s friend Kurt Searvogel started riding 11-12 hours each and every day (more than 200 miles) in his quest to set a new world’s record for most miles cycled in a year — the record will fall in just a few days now, as he is now over 74000 miles (the record is just over 75K miles). He got a lot done with a lot of time every day.

My goal for 2016 is to spend a little bit of time *every* day drawing. I admire people who can sketch and have it not look like a grey blob, and it occurred to me a while ago that this was about practice NOT about “talent.” My intent is to spend ten minutes a day practicing sketching, with the goal of being better at it by the end of 2016.

Note that this is a behavior, NOT a result. The behavior is “draw ten minutes a day”; the result would be “get good at sketching.”

A quick summary of 2015: 20.0 pounds lost, 595.6 “official” miles cycled (rides for ice cream dropped), swam 23.2 miles (started in September), ran 528.6 miles. 5.58 million steps, 2600 Fitbit “miles” (some of which were run), 12.3K floor, 778K calories torched. Patting self on back. Smugly patting self on back.

Finally, I will note that I’ve been planning my 2016. I have two 5K runs in January, another 5K in February, a 10K trail run in March, a 10K road race in June, and a sprint-distance (0.5 mile swim, 12.4 mile bike, 3.1 mile run) triathlon in August. I am entering CPE trials in hopes of qualifying for CPE Nationals in California in 2017; I am entering AKC trials with the intent of getting better at AKC courses, since I find them challenging.

Fifty pounds, fifty-ish changes

I was fat. I really didn’t want to admit that to anyone, much less to myself. I was “fat but fit,” I told myself. After all, I could walk a fair distance, my stamina was good, my numbers were good (well, other than that pesky very slightly high fasting blood sugar number) (that my then-doctor was concerned might mean a pre-diabetic state) (but it wasn’t that bad and my overall numbers were good, right?). (Denial. Total denial.)

And then, in July of 2012, I made a decision that I would stop wanting to be thinner and healthier and I would do something about it. That’s been a good decision, but an extremely challenging task.

I’ve lost slightly more than fifty pounds over the last three years. I still have fourteen pounds more that I plan to lose. At dog events these days, people ask me how I’ve managed to lose the weight. I know exactly what answer they want: “Oh, it was easy, I followed the Blah-Blah Diet and the pounds just fell off and I never felt hungry.” We all have that fantasy.

Sadly, it is a fantasy, at least in my experience. I gained the weight over years and years of bad habits and one health problem that kept me from keeping fit–my chondrosarcoma (an adult bone cancer), which made walking painful and something I avoided, mostly. I stopped running. I stopped walking quickly. I continued to do agility, thankfully, since without agility I probably wouldn’t have caught the chondrosarcoma as early as I did. A surgeon took my left knee apart and put it back together, cancer-free, in 2007. After that, I started wanting to really do something about my weight.

I tried a bunch of relatively easy things between 2007 and 2012 and nothing really worked; I lost weight, I gained it back. Etc. I was still thinking about “diets” and not about changing my life. Changing my life is what it has taken, though–because my “old life” was what made me fat. I did focus a lot during those years on eating a very healthy diet, which was good. I got used to a life without too much processed food (other than breads and rice) and stopped eating most foods with added sugars. I also worked on getting back to a limp-free, pain-free regular walking habit. By 2012, I was walking around two miles a day with the dogs, albeit pretty slowly. Maybe once a week I’d walk more than that.

When I decided to lose weight, my doctor referred me to a nutritionist. The nutritionist had me record everything I ate for three weeks, and we discussed my eating habits at length. Ultimately, she looked at my diet and said “if you’re telling the truth, you should be losing a quarter to a half a pound a week.” The idea that I was lying amused me, mostly, and angered me, a little. I understood about lying to your doctor–it’s hard to admit you occasionally scarf down an entire sleeve of Girl Scout Thin Mints (isn’t that one serving?)–but I had made an effort to be honest, so that we could get a place that would be helpful. However, I had been eating a lot more carefully those three weeks, because who wants to admit to a nutritionist that you made really stupid food choices? I asked the nutritionist what I should do if I got hungry (because no one wants to feel hungry) and she said “you’re going to feel hungry, sometimes you just have to power through it.”

I went to Weight Watchers back in the 80s (after I had the kids, to lose the baby weight) and they kept saying “you don’t need to feel hungry”–and I was hungry all the time. Hearing that hunger was okay, from a nutritionist with a good history of helping people lose weight, was somehow very empowering. So that was change number 2: accepting hunger as a good thing. (Change number 1 was writing down everything I ate, with measurements (weight/volume/quantity). I still do that. It helps me know when it’s time to just stop eating.)

But since I wasn’t lying, and I wasn’t losing a quarter-pound a week (although my weight was stable at that point), I still needed to figure out how to lose weight. I am a researcher by inclination–never happier than when asked to find actual scientific solutions to problems–and so I went off and researched weight loss. I found the National Weight Control Registry, which is probably the best source for information out there, in that it requires that people keep the weight off for at least a year before they’re allowed to tell their stories. Every story is the same, basically: I ate less and I moved more.

I researched some more. I read books on changing business environments (this book was a favorite: Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard); I read what are called “weight loss memoirs” (this post would qualify); I read books on fitness for those of advanced years (love this book: Fast After 50: How to Race Strong for the Rest of Your Life).
I read books on creating new habits for happiness and a better life (Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives and The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun).

I started putting virtual sticky notes on my computer screen. They said things like: “I will lose weight because I am walking the dogs three times a day.” At the time, it wasn’t true, but I was trying to add a third walk to the dogs’ day, in the late afternoon. It took about a month for that new habit to stick. Another note was “I will lose weight because I am enjoying every bite I eat.” Think about that one for a minute: my goal was to make sure I wasn’t eating food that made me feel bad, mentally or physically. Take my favorite chocolate bars, for example (Rittersport with hazelnuts); some days I have done a lot–a long run, a few long walks with the dogs, a bike ride–and those are the days I really enjoy that occasional chocolate bar. But once or twice I’ve taken a few bites and realized that I really don’t want all that sugar and fat.

I admitted to Jay that I had a problem. Now, Jay is not blind, but he is a very kind person, and I’d never discussed my weight with him, not seriously. He has never said anything like “you’d be more attractive if you lost weight.” He’s wonderful, and he deserves many perfect husband points for his behavior over our marriage. It turned out that he wanted to lose weight, to make his bicycling more enjoyable. He said he’d eat whatever I fed him and eat a bigger lunch if he needed to. Okay, I didn’t need to cook something different for him–that helped a lot.

I found a few articles about hunger. In one of them, the writer–a researcher on obesity–talked about learning to recognize true hunger. Cravings are one thing; hunger is another. Right now, this very minute, for example, I would love to have a big plate of southern-style buttery biscuits, with lots of honey. I know where this craving comes from–I had one last week and wow, it was great. But, really, I can wait a few more weeks before I have another one. I also would love a large piece of chocolate cake. But I’m not actually hungry. I know that because the thought of eating a big salad doesn’t appeal to me. I have a salad planned for lunch, and I’ll have it at lunch time (in about an hour), before I go to the grocery store. By lunch time, I’ll be hungry.

My daughter Stacia inspired the desire to run more. She was deeply affected, years ago, by Jay’s non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (he’s been in remission since 2001). Jay got involved with Team in Training when he was in chemo in 2001 and that led to his involvement with bicycling, our stores, the websites, our eventual move to Portland, and more. Stacia wanted to get more fit, and she first did the Couch to 5K program, then signed up for a marathon through Team in Training. Watching her complete a marathon, despite sore feet and hot weather, made me want to start running again. I found a Couch to 5K program online (there are hundreds of them) and started it, Christmas morning 2013, when it was dark and rainy, because a) I figured the neighbors wouldn’t see me and b) why wait until New Years, even if it was my New Years resolution? I had to do each week twice, because my weight and my knees and my lungs simply couldn’t support a faster rate of increase.

In a not-so-typical part of the weight-loss story, one inspiration was my dog, Rush. From puppyhood, Rush always wanted to move faster and do more and jump higher. He was a challenge to keep up with as a puppy, and it’s never gotten easier. When he was around a year old, it became obvious that I couldn’t take him to the off-leash park to let him run (his testosterone just kept getting in the way) and I had to figure out how else to get him enough exercise. How do you exercise a very healthy very fit poodle? I spent more time at agility barns and I trained him to run at further distances from me so that he could run fast even though I was slow, but it wasn’t really enough. One more reason to think about running.

I have found record-keeping to be a huge part of these changes. I have a Fitbit to keep track of steps; I also use their website for food logging and making sure I run a calorie deficit every day (I aim for 500 calories deficit, but mostly I end up around 350). I record my runs and most bicycle rides using a Garmin. (I started with a Forerunner 10–the simplest and least-expensive Garmin–and just upgraded to a Garmin Forerunner 225, which measures distance, steps, heartrate… and gives you a map of your run.)

I spent a lot of time thinking about what I want to eat, what I could eat, what I should eat. When Jay was first diagnosed with lymphoma, he couldn’t eat much because of the chemo, and we struggled to find a breakfast that worked for him. We ended up with a fruit-yogurt-protein powder smoothie (half frozen fruit, half non-fat plain yogurt, one scoop protein powder per person) that we still have for breakfast every day. Jay also makes himself oatmeal, but I just have the smoothie. Yes, I’m still hungry after my smoothie, but it’s enough food to make it to lunch, and remember the bit about powering through hunger? Well, that’s a habit now, too: I just say to myself “I can eat at lunchtime.” Sometimes I do make myself extra smoothie for drinking after my run, though. So that’s breakfast.

Lunch is pretty much always a very large salad, not too much salad dressing. Lots of vegetables–sometimes I cook them, sometimes they’re raw, sometimes some are cooked and others are raw–a piece or two of fruit (apples, plums, orange pieces), a small amount of meat. I’m very fond of chicken livers, and so are the dogs, so many days we share a container of chicken livers–I cook mine and add the dogs’ share to their midday soup. Yes, I know chicken livers are not that popular with most people. Other possibilities are fresh mozzarella cheese (not much) or a piece of chicken breast or a bit of plan-over left-over steak. In the winter, soup–using pretty much the same ingredients–is always a possibility.

Dinner is more complicated, because there’s the catch where I have to feed Jay too. That makes it less amenable to habit formation. I like to have soup when it’s cold, and salad when it’s warm, and once a week (not more) we can go out to dinner. Jay adds chips or crackers or bread to his meal, and I try to pretend I don’t want chips or crackers or bread, and I weigh out a reasonable portion, and I mostly manage to be satisfied with that. And I tell myself I can have some another time. Maybe next week. Or the week after that.

Four in the afternoon is my worst time. I crave a snack then. Sometimes I have veggies or fruit, sometimes I have nuts. It depends on things like how much I ran or bicycled that morning–and what we have planned for dinner. If we’re going out for dinner, I watch trash TV instead.

I made a list of all the habits I’ve created, in no particular order:

  • Walk dogs in the morning
  • Walk dogs before dinner
  • Walk dogs before bed
  • Go to bed between 9 and 10 almost every night
  • Eat an apple for snack
  • Eat a few raw carrots for snack
  • Eat a small yogurt for snack — preferably plain nonfat with some fruit
  • Eat a handful of nuts for snack
  • Spend half an hour three times a week running
  • One long run (more than an hour) or one very long bike ride (more than twenty miles) every week
  • Use Fitbit: aim for at least 45 active minutes per day (and at least 12000 steps)
  • Want ice cream? Bike to it
  • Want chocolate? Bike to it
  • Went for a run? Use luxurious lemon cream soap in the shower after
  • Went for a long bike ride? Arnica salts in a hot bath
  • Check every few weeks for clothes that are too big and give them away (there’s no going back, so no need to keep them)
  • Buy new clothes that are a bit snug, since I still have weight to lose
  • Eat yogurt-protein-fruit smoothie for breakfast every day
  • Record everything I eat, even if embarrassed
  • Enjoy, really enjoy, a small piece of cake every few weeks (but not more)
  • Eat salad for lunch almost every day
  • Set and follow regular mealtimes: breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner
  • Don’t eat after dinner
  • Don’t eat in front of the TV
  • Use small plates
  • Serve food in the kitchen and eat it sitting at the dining room table, with silverware and a napkin
  • Freeze extra servings before eating–don’t leave them easily accessible!
  • One or two glasses of wine every few weeks, at most
  • Only one restaurant dinner a week–and plan for that meal and don’t indulge much
  • Before start cooking a meal, wash some carrots so it’s easy to snack on them
  • Buy a good food thermos and use it to bring salads or soups
  • Drink unsweetened ice tea or water or seltzer
  • Weigh daily and graph progress
  • Don’t eat food with a plastic wrapper
  • Don’t eat food with unrecognizable ingredients
  • When hungry, have a cup of tea and wait half an hour
  • Don’t eat between dinner and breakfast
  • Enjoy every bite. If you’re not enjoying it, don’t eat it.

Losing weight, getting more fit: summarizing my food and exercise obsessions

I was asked by a new agility friend a few days ago about how I managed to lose weight and get more fit when confronted by the reality of trying to run a big fast dog when I was a slow out-of-shape handler. I wrote a long email summarizing what I’d done; this post is an adaptation of that email, for the benefit of anyone who is bored with the reality of being out of shape.

I get asked what motivated me to get into shape and the short answer I give is that I struggled with running Rush. The deeper answer is both simpler and not so simple. Somewhere around there I saw my doctor about my “bilateral knee pain”. I was of course worried that my chondrosarcoma was back; my doctor was blunter. “It’s not cancer; it’s your weight. You’re going to need double knee replacements in a few years. Your menisci are thinning.” I went home and did research; I had a bone graft in the left knee as part of the chondrosarcoma surgery. It’s not really clear how successful a knee replacement would be, without good bone to drill into for the hardware.

So: tell me I may not be able to walk normally in a few years if I don’t lose weight, and guess what? I can lose weight.

It’s been more than three years since then. It’s taken three years–not a few months–to lose about fifty pounds. I’ve approached the project with every bit of my scientific brain trying to influence my eating patterns. I’ve read about what influences eating behaviors and exercise behaviors. I’ve read about getting fit “over fifty” (I’m turning sixty next week!). I’ve tapped into my desire to be competitive. I’ve done everything I can to get there, slowly and steadily. It’s been a lot slower than I’d like, but it beats the alternative.

And at this point my knees don’t hurt, most days.

That’s the summary of why. I also feel the need to mention that I stopped being angry at myself for gaining weight in the first place. It really didn’t help matters, and there was no point. I mean, who cares why I gained weight? I suppose it would matter if I had thyroid problems, but I don’t.

I’ve written before about what I’ve done: two posts that come to mind are two posts from late in 2014.

These two are a pair: the first is about goals, and the second is about measurable behaviors that would lead to those goals. Keep in mind that fundamental rule of training anything with a brainstem (as explained by Karen Pryor in Dont Shoot the Dog): you can’t reward results, you can only reward behaviors.

First.
Second.

This one is recent and discusses why I’m going to Weight Watchers right now.

This one is about the changes Rush has wrought for me.

This one is an early report, when I’d lost about twenty pounds. I’d forgotten that bit about “sometimes you’ll be hungry and oh well, just power through it.” Excellent advice.

Another report from around the same time: people were stopping me at trials to ask what I was doing to lose weight. (Literally: they’d sidle up to me and whisper “how are you losing the weight?” because it’s such a forbidden topic that no one will discuss it publicly. At this point, I think people have figured out that I’ve lost a lot and it’s okay to ask about it. But I still avoid talking about it, because it’s BORING to most people. You’ll notice I’m happy to obsess, however, to those who are interested.)

And another early report, talking about some of the research I’ve done on weight loss theory.

Calorie/food tracking apps:
I’ve used the Fitbit site, MyFitnessPal.com, SparkPeople.com, and the Weight Watchers app. None of them is really great, but they’re all okay. Right now I’m using Weight Watchers because I’m going to meetings as a way of help myself not eat MACH cake at agility trials–I go to a noon Monday meeting and the public shaming has helped. I hate the meetings (YMMV) but it’s one more habit, along with tracking what I eat and how much I exercise. I think MyFitnessPal has the best food database, and SparkPeople sends the best daily motivational email.

Exercise tracking:
I use a Fitbit and have for almost three years. My daily goals are 45 active minutes and 12000 steps…. I also have a runner’s watch (Garmin FR110) because I’ve accidentally become a runner, again. (I was a runner in my 20s. Stopped when I had kids. Hated it when my knees were bad… Discovered the Hoka One One shoes and now enjoy running again. The shoes are no good for agility, so now I have shoes for running, shoes for trail running, and shoes for agility. I spend money on shoes.) I also keep a paper logbook on my desk with a brief summary of my day, exercise/weight/agility training info. It’s maybe a sentence a day but it’s easy to review and I like that.

Books I have found helpful (these are live links, if you decide to use them, I get a tiny commission, as an Amazon associate.):

Karen Pryor Don’t Shoot the Dog (about creating rewardable behaviors and then rewarding them–works for people too) (very helpful in explaining to my husband, family, and friends exactly what I need from them–things like: “please buy me nice soap for my birthday, not chocolate.” “Please go for a bike ride with me instead of inviting me to lunch.”)
Link: Don’t Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training

Switch by Dan Heath — this is a book about creating change in businesses by approaching things from different angles. It’s pretty geeky/business-oriented, but it helped me think about behaviors instead of abstractions.
link: Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

Better than Before: Mastering Habits by Gretchen Rubin (she also wrote a book called The Happiness Project, to which she refers often in this book–not nearly as specific a book)
Since I’ve found a lot of getting fit/losing weight has to do with creating new habits (since the old ones really haven’t worked for me), the idea of deliberately setting out to create better habits is helpful. Some of the ideas in this book are useful, others, not so much.
Link: Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives

Sugar Salt Fat is about the food industry and is more than a little horrifying. If you need persuading that processed food is not healthy food, this book will do it for you.
Link: Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us

Secrets from the Eating Lab is about the subtle ways you can influence your own food-related behavior to make it easier to lose weight. Stuff like putting the food away, using small plates and bowls, etc. I’ve found a lot of it very helpful.
Link: Secrets from the Eating Lab: The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again

Still reading? If so, I’ll mention that I’ve started making absolute statements about myself, even if sometimes they’re more about goals than 100% true:
“I never eat processed food.”
“I avoid refined sugar (and artificial sweeteners).” (Both things wreak havoc on my insulin metabolism and create mood and sugar swings that I have trouble managing.)
“I run about 15 miles a week.”
“I walk my dogs three times a day.”
“I always record what I eat.”
“I bring my lunch to trials so I don’t eat the junk from the concession stand.”
“Yes, sometimes I’m hungry. It’s not a big deal.”
“I am losing weight because I enjoy every single bite I eat.” (In other words, I don’t just eat garbage food just because it’s there.)
“I do my hard workout on Wednesdays, when they bar car traffic in the park.”

By making these absolute statements, I a) reinforce the habit, b) make it harder to duck the task, c) present myself as the person I want to be TO MYSELF, instead of tearing myself down.

As for dieting philosophy and what to eat, I know people who are losing weight with paleo, with weight watchers, with Mediterranean diet, etc. I really think it’s key to establish what you’re eating now, what you really enjoy eating–and then reduce the amount about 20% and increase your activity about 20%. If you have any really obvious unhealthy habits, like soda or an evening slice of cake, rationing them is easier than eliminating them. I’m very fond of ice cream, for example. So these days, I can have my ice cream if I bike to the ice cream shop and bike home. French Fries? I can have seven, once or twice a month. Seven turns out to be a real pleasure. It’s enough to enjoy them but not so much I feel disappointed in myself later. One thing I really like a lot about Weight Watchers is the encouragement (through their point-counting system) to eat more fruits and vegetables. That’s helpful for me.

You can tell I’ve obsessed about this a lot. Surprisingly, there’s very little useful research out there, but I’ve found some of it very useful. All the research seems to boil down to: eat less, move more, don’t eat nutritionally altered foods (i.e., foods where a portion of the food has been refined away, such as white rice instead of brown rice, white flour instead of whole wheat, juice instead of whole fruit, etc.). Oh yes, and don’t mess with your sugar metabolism by eating refined sugar or using artificial sweeteners (yes, artificial sweeteners cause insulin to be released).

Looking back and moving forward

I’m really having trouble with the whole idea of 2015 being a real thing. I was born in 1955, mid-twentieth century, came of age when we didn’t trust anyone over 30, and next July I will be twice that. Of course, I know now how ridiculous the idea was–there must have been someone over 30 we could trust, even in the age of Nixon–but I’ve now come to the idea that one should hesitate to trust anyone of any age. (Especially politicians, but that’s not a topic for this blog.) Anyway, here it is, almost 2015, and the last New Year’s Eve I remember clearly is the panic of 1999-2000, when everyone was all worried about our software breaking down (Y2K and all that). Me, I was busy panicking about Jay being in the hospital that evening–he got his appendix out on the last day of 1999. (The hospital did have backup generators.) (And everything was fine, in the end. Just scary at the time.)

After that digression (I can hear Holden Caulfield’s classmates yelling “digression!” but I’m ignoring them), back to the matter at hand here. I’ve spent weeks thinking about my goals for 2015. I had huge goals for 2014–and I met most of them. I took Rush and Dancer to CPE Nationals in Minnesota (and Rush won his height class in FullHouse and Jumpers), Dancer got her C-ATCH in August and Rush got his C-ATCH in October, I beat my previous best time at 5K, and I lost a few pounds (not as much as I would have liked, but better than gaining). Jay and I did a long bike tour–Astoria, OR to Crescent City, CA–self-supported down the Oregon Coast. Four days (of the nine) were my longest bike rides ever. The longest day was 56 miles. And the last half-mile was uphill. My first bike tour. Not his first (nor his longest). I got asked to write an article about agility for someone else. (And they want more.)

Much of what I want to accomplish in 2015 is a continuation of 2014. I want to lose another twenty or so (or maybe a bit more) pounds, so I can focus that mental energy on maintaining instead of losing. I don’t think I’ll ever hit a point of not having to watch what I eat–or not being hungry–but there’s a huge amount of energy going into tracking weight loss and food right now, and I’d like to reduce that outflow a little. (Maybe I should write about losing weight instead of dog agility; it’s occupying nearly as much of my brain these days.) I read some research recently about visualization that suggests it’s important to visualize both the positive outcomes and the possible obstacles in the path. I know my obstacles; I need to think about how to climb over them. (I could imagine that I’m Rush, surmounting my difficulties in the same spectacular way he goes over the a-frame. There’s an image–clambering over a pile of body fat as it melts away….)

So continuing my weight loss is one goal. Last year I had pretty much the same goal… and didn’t lose the twenty-five or thirty pounds I wanted to lose…. but I didn’t gain. Sigh.

Next continuation is the dog agility goals: first, I want to work toward Rush’s CPE C-ATE title. It’s a time-consuming title, requires a lot of trials, and I want to do slightly fewer CPE trials this year, so there’s really no way he’ll get the title in 2015, as it’s not numerically possible. Rush will need twenty Qs in each class (and then some extras that can be in any class)–it already looks like Jumpers will be our biggest challenge. Second, I’m not going to try for Nationals in any of the venues. 2016, maybe, depending on where things are. Third, Jumpers. Jumpers needs work in any venue. It’s terribly challenging for me to keep up with him without the built-in pauses created by the contact obstacles. Finally, fourth is ISC. For the first time, I have a dog who can compete in the ISC classes, so I want to give them a try; I’m signed up for ISC at the January PAC trial, so we’ll see how that goes… (Last year, one goal I did not end up pursuing was trying to take Rush to Rose City to run the ISC classes there. I’m really not ready to run ISC in public. Maybe next year.)

The dog agility goals are all kind of nebulous and vague… Rush will turn four in May, and I’m pretty sure he’s amazing and brilliant (what did I do to deserve this dog?!), and Dancer is slowly retiring herself (no more AKC), and as she does that, I’m trying to figure out where I want to go next. A lot depends on achieving my running/sprinting goals (see below), which in turn are related to my weight-loss goals (as above). It sounds very intertwined, and of course it all is. I’m really glad to have a reason to get up every day and go out to run and play with my dogs. I’m contemplating (as I’ve contemplated in the past) doing some obedience or rally with Dancer. I did sign up for Denise Fenzi’s online precision heeling course. We’ll see. Dancer actually has a nice walk-with–it might be fun to work on a formal heel cue. She enjoys training and I enjoy working with her.

Running goals: speed and endurance. I want to go further, faster, more easily. I started last year with the Couch-to-5K program, barely able to run one minute (I started with walk-one-minute-run-one-minute and found the first few runs horrifyingly difficult). I’m starting this year able to run for most of an hour (as long as I walk about one minute out of ten)–albeit running very slowly–and I want to get faster and run more easily. Losing weight will help. Sprint work will help (and make a huge difference with keeping up with Rush in Jumpers, too). Hill work will help with strength. My knees are so much better than they were last year. I can sit down slowly without having to hold the arms of the chair and I can get up without holding the arms too–and without my knees hurting. That’s a flaming big deal. I bought a book on serious running training that I’m hoping will help. (This one: Daniels’ Running Formula-3rd Edition. I get a tiny commission if you buy through that link.) Since I like measurable goals–since you can measure whether or not you’ve met them (duh!)–the measurable goal here is a 11:30-pace 5K (a bit less than 36 minutes).

Jay and I are planning a weekend trip to bike Crater Lake. After that, I’ll contemplate doing a Century. Maybe 2015, maybe 2016. Eventually I’ll have to do one. Everyone else in the family has (although Stacia’s wasn’t a formal one) (which doesn’t matter, because Stacia wins this event anyway, since she biked from Portland (OR) to Williamsburg (VA) self-supported and mostly unaccompanied, which gives her the ability to one-up almost any cyclist).

So that covers dogs, cycling, running, and weight loss. All very boring. Finally… I want to write some more articles. Maybe even sell a few.

 

Eat less, move more

In my never-ending quest to be the handler my dogs deserve (and somewhere near as fast as Rush needs), I have been trying to lose weight. I saw a nutritionist back in July; as of today, I am down twenty-five pounds, which puts me somewhere in the vicinity of 1995 or so in terms of putting the weight on. (Alternatively, I could look at it as about the same amount I weighed when I was nine months pregnant with Stacia, which would mean that I am now trying to lose the baby weight I put on almost twenty-eight years ago. This is ridiculous.)

Anyway, people are starting to notice that I’ve lost weight and then ask what I’m doing, so here’s the summary, briefly:

Measure both activity and food: track activity (thank you to my Fitbit) and record everything I eat.

Establish baseline (which for me was about 2200 calories and 9000 steps/4 miles per day).
Decrease calories; increase activity. I’m eating about 1500-1600 calories/day and trying to average about 11-12,000 steps/day.

I’ve mostly eliminated junk from my diet over the years, so really the food issue is about amounts. Yes, I am measuring and weighing and being obsessive about food. Yes, that’s what it takes for me to lose weight. I’m using every single strategy I can find.

I measure everything. I use smaller plates. I eat a lot of soup (very filling). I carry measured snacks with me. I walk the dogs twice a day, sometimes three times. I don’t walk that fast, but I get off my ass and I walk the dogs. If we go to a restaurant, I check the menu earlier that day and I plan what I’m going to eat. Mostly I’ve been avoiding restaurants because it’s so easy to go nuts in them. Just ask and they bring you more food! Not helpful.

Oh, and I tell people I’m trying to lose weight. I’ve never done that before, because trying to lose weight is SO BORING. But, hey, anything that works. And this all seems to be working.

(And yes, I am getting faster and yes, it is getting easier to do agility and yes, my knees hurt a whole lot less.)

Going public… (we all have our closets)

My New Year’s resolution this year boils down to “become the handler Rush deserves.” Alternatively, you could think of it as “lose weight, get more fit, pay more attention to my handling and stop being so sloppy.” Or just “lose the fucking weight, damn it.”

When I got Elly (nine years ago!), I thought I was getting a couch-potato, non-shedding, companion dog who would enjoy walks with me. Slow walks, because I had a bad knee. Arthritis, the doctor said. Um, not so much. Elly was an energetic, oh-my-god-teach-me-something-else ball of poodle fire. Two walks a day, and I lost about twenty-five pounds just trying to keep up with her. (I’m not sure how much; I didn’t weigh myself for about five years in there. I just know my doctor was surprised.)

Oh yeah, and she made me teach her agility, too, which meant that I finally made the decision to see a sports medicine doctor, who did an x-ray and then an MRI, and then quickly referred me to an orthopedic oncologist to get my chondrosarcoma removed. Then two years of knee rehab (with another surgery to get my mending plate removed) and I was better than before.

And with a new resolve to lose weight. I lost nineteen more pounds, got stuck, got discouraged, saw a psychologist (“try to relax and be less stressed”–that didn’t work, as far as weight loss went, I promptly put most of the weight back on). Let it go for a while.

Then… Rush. The devil dog who yells at me when I’m too slow, who makes me work my hardest just to end up twenty feet behind.

So… another shot at losing weight. Saw a nutritionist this time. The nutritionist, besides giving me good advice about what to eat, told me “yes, sometimes you will be hungry and you just have to power through it.” After years of being told “if you eat the right things, you shouldn’t be hungry,” this was refreshing. And it’s helped. I am once again down … nineteen pounds, which makes me the lightest I’ve been since I got Elly.

And which means I only have forty or so more pounds to lose.

And I’ve been stuck here for about two months, inching down about a milligram at a time (note the cognitive dissonance of “inching down” and “milligram” in the same sentence–but no one says “millimetering down”). I’m using my Fitbit fanatically; I try to record everything I eat, but the holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, our 29th anniversary) were hellish. Too many cookies, cakes, occasions. Not to mention the nut brittle recipe in Maude Dickinson’s cookbook. (Awesome, by the way. Just wait until we get it republished.)

Cue the devil dog. Rush is so fast! He’s so determined to do his best. How can I let him down by not losing the weight and giving it my best effort to be the handler he deserves? I’m training him to be the best agility dog out there; isn’t it only fair to try to be the best handler?

I hate admitting to the world that I have a problem with food. The funny thing is: it’s got to be obvious to everyone. I mean… people aren’t blind.

A comment on my chondrosarcoma

When I was diagnosed with probable chondrosarcoma just over five years ago, I madly scanned the internet looking for more information, stories from “survivors”, details of rehab, anything I could find. There was then, and continues to be, pretty much nothing about chondrosarcoma on the internet. It’s a very rare bone cancer (about 2900 adult bone cancers are diagnosed each year in the US, with about 3/5ths of them in men–and chondrosarcoma represents about 1/3rd of those bone cancers, more or less:link here). The only treatment is surgery (the ACS notes that “most cases do not require amputation”). Five year survival is about 80%, although my surgeon told me that all of his patients are cured, an attitude I quite liked then and continue to like now. I think a lot of the survival rate depends on the age of the patient, as I was relatively young, relatively healthy, and my cancer was caught relatively early.

As chondrosarcomas go, I was pretty lucky. It was caught early enough that it could be treated without amputation, just a removal and a bone graft. A plate was used to stabilize the weak bone and I had it removed a year and a half after my surgery. I was determined to do agility at the same pace after the surgery as before the surgery, and to that end, I pursued rehabilitation ruthlessly. I was fortunate to find several physical therapists who believed that running reasonably fast was a reasonable goal. It helped that my surgeon took the time to figure out how to do minimal muscle damage, although I have realized lately that there are still a few things that I’m working around.

This is the part where I thank Elly, my oldest standard poodle, for her role in catching my chondrosarcoma early. When I fell while doing agility–a dog sport to which Elly introduced me and which I immediately adored–and the pain in my knee just didn’t get better, even after weeks of babying it, I didn’t just let it go with the “arthritis” diagnosis of my primary doctor; I went and saw a sports medicine specialist (someone who had fixed the knees of another agility competitor), who did an x-ray and sent me for an MRI. He called me as I was driving home from the MRI to tell me I probably had bone cancer (not something you should tell someone who is driving, but I survived that) and that I had an appointment with the orthopedic oncologist surgeon the next week. Two weeks after that, I had the surgery. Thank you, Elly, and thanks to the entire agility community for helping make my recovery successful.

Knee news is good news…

Friday morning I had the genius idea to do a little dog training outside on the world’s tiniest agility field–barefoot. I was just too lazy to put on my shoes. Of course, I slipped, fell, and twisted my right knee as I landed on it. I lay on the ground moaning for a few minutes (and Dancer popped right out of the weaves to come and check on me, sweet dog that she is). I thought it was going to be another four months of PT–which I’ve been doing ever since Dancer slammed into the side of my (right) knee while playing with Elly.

A few hours later, I noticed that walking down the stairs to the basement was painless, for the first time in months. This morning it is still almost pain-free. My left knee (the one I’ve had surgery on, twice), as it is wont to do when the weather is about to change, is somewhat achy–but my right knee… pretty much fine. And yesterday I took the girls for a 5 1/2 mile walk, too.

Our NADAC weekend….

The curly girls and I went to a NADAC trial this weekend, my first three-day trial since the bone plate was removed in January.

I am truly tired today. But my knee is way better, and I am feeling way less pain than I was before the surgery. This is wonderful.

Dancer got three Qs this weekend. Her only run in Tunnelers was spectacular and earned her a third place, a Q, a time that was good enough for Elite—and her Superior Novice Tunnelers title (S-TN-N). 128 yards in 26.86 seconds. Her second run in Jumpers (more on the first one below) was also spectacular. She flew through the course, following the flow of the course smoothly and gracefully while I directed her from quite a distance away, since there was no way I could keep up with her She did the 99 yards in 18.60 seconds (5.32 yards per second) and took first in her class. She was the fastest 20″ dog. That run got her the Superior Novice Jumpers title (S-NJC).

So we get to move to Open in Tunnelers and Jumpers, at long last.

Her third Q was in regular, for the first time in months. She did a gorgeous A-frame contact and a less-gorgeous dog walk contact. She took first, but…. it took two tries to persuade her to do the weaves.

She had weave issues all weekend. She didn’t enter the weaves without encouragement ever. Not ever. They were 24-inch weaves… maybe that was an issue? I don’t know.

Training issues arose. I need to work on:

*independent weaves
*contact behavior
*distractions

(Dancer’s first run in Jumpers was not a success. She came into the ring already nervous and upset, as we were following an extremely badly behaved Belgian who had barked a lot and nipped his owner (among other things I saw) and managed to get it together to take the first jump, which is when she looked up and saw the photographer sitting on the top rail of the arena (it was a horse arena), with the light behind him, creating a HUGE black silhouetted figure at the end of the arena. You could tell she was upset and scared, but she ran toward him, barking and yelling at him to get away from her mom. I love it that she’ll defend me even when she’s scared. As soon as I whistled and went the other way, she came to me, but of course our run was over at that point. Oh, and did I mention that the idiot gate steward told us we were next up by saying: “Dancer, be nervous!” which I thought was terrible. I told her that later–after I’d calmed Dancer down and we’d gone to meet the photographer, who morphed from a terrible scary 15-foot giant into a normal human being, right before Dancer’s eyes–and she (the gate steward) told me she was “just trying to be funny.” Ha… Ha… NOT.)

Knee News is Good News

I saw my surgeon Monday for a post-plate-removal checkup. Healing is uneventful, come back in June for your annual checkup to make sure you’re still cured. This is good news. I am feeling very little pain, walking with almost no limp. Dr. Sorensen tells me he found a bursa–a fluid-filled sac–caused by the plate, and that the resulting bursitis is what caused the pain I was feeling.

He also reminded me that if I overdid it, fell and broke my leg, he’d have to put the plate back in. That’ll make sure I behave for another month.