Tuesday, August 15, 2017

actually healthier dust

Sorry for the length of this post.  My health routine has sort of taken over my life, so there's a lot I want to report.  No one is under any obligation to read this entire thing.

As should be obvious, I have had the longest hiatus from posting to this blog since I opened it.  This wasn't intentional, but was a direct result of my exercise routine and church teaching prep cutting into the spare time I would have had to post.

I did want to report back in on how my healthier lifestyle is progressing.

When I started this exercise routine I wasn't extremely excited about it because I had real doubts that I would be able to stick with it, and to me it was worse to start and give up than not to start at all.  I still have those concerns because it's an extraordinary challenge to squeeze my routine in, but I have stuck with it.  I don't know if I'll be still doing this in a few years, but my mindset right now is that nothing I'm doing now is worth it if I don't stick with it over the long haul.

One thing that changed since I last posted is that I did actually start watching what I eat.  I didn't at first because I didn't want to commit to more than I could stick to.  However, in March I determined to try modifying my diet because I felt like if I'm already exercising hard I should do what I can to see good and more speedy results.  I started using the app Lose It! to keep track of what I eat, and I've been a real stickler to keep on top of it.  This has actually helped me stick with the exercise routine because it's undeniable now that there's a benefit to what I'm doing.

At this point, the benefit I can see is having lost about 35 pounds and somewhere between three and four inches of belly fat (belly-button level).  My body fat levels have gone from somewhere in the 25% to 28% range to 20% or 21%.  I know my VO2Max (how much oxygen your lungs can take in) is improved too because I can breathe better when exercising, but I don't know how to measure that.  All of this is gravy (hmmmmm... gravy), however.  My real goal is to lower my triglycerides and LDL cholesterol, and I won't have a reading on those until my next annual doctor's appointment in January.

I've had a few observations along the way.
  • Most of the diet challenge was finding foods I'm happy to regularly snack on at night.  For now I've settled on a rotation of apples, celery, pickles, oranges, and carrot sticks.  I'm convinced that this is the change that has effected my health the most.
  • Early on, I'd occasionally still be hungry come time to go to bed, but I rarely am any more.
  • I still snack on cereal and cheese and crackers occasionally.  The difference is that it is more sparing, and I'm careful to limit the amount of milk I swallow with the cereal.  I remember my great aunt telling me that I should use all of the milk that I poured into my cereal when I was a kid, but I believe now that advice made more sense when she was a child during the Great Depression than it does today.
  • I used to make peanut butter and jelly regularly just because it was easy.  I very rarely do that any more because it's a high-calorie food.
  • If I'm ahead in my calorie count for the day, I absolutely splurge on some food I'm craving.  There are two reasons for this.  One is that eating too few calories negatively affects metabolism.  The other is that there's a great psychological benefit to being able to regularly eat higher calorie foods when I'm ahead for the day.
  • I track calories because those are quantifiable, but I'm coming to believe the calories matter less than that I'm eating more fruits and non-starchy vegetables.
  • I personally avoid diet and fat-free foods and beverages.  I used to drink Diet Pepsi, so I cast no judgment on those who use those.  In fact, if you like the taste it might make sense.  Whatever research I've been able to find on those products has made me doubt that diet and fat-free foods are beneficial, however.
  • My weight loss has been reasonably steady at around a pound a week (maybe a little more) throughout this whole process.  Everything I'm reading indicates that you don't want to lose more than two pounds a week.
  • Just in the last few weeks I've started watching videos from NutritionFacts.org.  They basically just walk through what the research says about different dietary habits, and it's extremely interesting.  I'd recommend it for anyone who's interested in improving their health through (possibly minor) dietary changes, such as consuming a few more nuts a day or eating brown rather than white rice.
  • I never dreamed I'd be the sort to look into supplements because that's the world of snake oil salesmen and bodybuilders.  In fact some research indicates that vitamin supplements have a negative affect on peoples' health.  However, I just ordered creatine supplements for the first time because the effects that specific supplement has on the body align with my personal health goals (namely, I'm targeting18%-ish body fat).  It's a whole new world for me.
  • Even after exercising for this long it's still obvious that my body has not been gifted with endurance or the ability to get a runner's high.  Maybe it's because running is not part of my routine?
  • I'm actually amazed at the number of minor things that these life changes have helped with (example), and I've also discovered some things that I didn't realize were an issue that I still need to put a plan together to address.
  • I have never once exercised in a gym, and I don't ever expect to have a gym membership because I don't have time to go.  If my exercising relied on me going to the gym, I wouldn't exercise at all.  Everything I'm doing right now is from a FitnessBlender YouTube video in my living room.
So, lest anyone make the mistake of thinking I'm doing anything extraordinary, the following is the routine I've been doing.

When I first started out I was very out of shape, so I just rotated through the following routines, exercising five or six times a week until I started seeing some improvements.  Mind you, they felt very slow in coming, but I did start to see them after a few weeks.

Then, I started working in some resistance exercises into my routine because I had read that it was important to have a mix of cardio and resistance to lower LDL cholesterol.

As I improved I slowly started working in more challenging and/or targeted routines and dropping old routines.  Right now I have a five-day rotation that I typically go through in a week.

Day 1: Abs/Core (The hardest of all days)

Day 2: Tabata Style HIIT Aerobics

Day 3: Arms and Legs

Day 4: Beginner HIIT Aerobics

Day 5: Total Body Workout

I'm constantly reassessing this, so there will be changes in the future.  I still have a lot of room for improving how challenging my cardio routines are, and I need to start stepping up my weights on "resistance" days.  For now this is what I'm doing, though: about 140 minutes of exercise a week plus some watching what I eat.

Golden sometimes joins me in my exercising as well.    Those are fun days.

Monday, January 23, 2017

binge watching

One thing that has been difficult on me lately is that I want to take part in what is becoming a national pastime of sorts--binge watching shows on Netflix.  My current life situation and responsibilities preclude this possibility, however.  Most of the shows I'd want to watch are not completely kid-appropriate, and there are too many other responsibilities I need to devote my time to in a given week.  This isn't to say I don't watch TV, but it is much less so than at other points in my life.

I remember earlier times in my life when people would say they didn't watch TV because they didn't have time, I would wonder how that could be.  I still wonder that, because I still make time, but I understand better now.  Now what I don't understand is how people who I know are as busy as I am are able to make time for a marathon of Stranger Things or The Crown.  They have time management skills that I still need to master.

This being said, I actually have more time than Golden.  Where I could realistically add a TV series or two to my schedule due to my willingness to give up some sleep, and her more constant responsibilities, it's a serious challenge to get small things added to her schedule.

All of this will change one day.  We're in a busy stage of life.  When the kids are older and some of our other responsibilities are lessened I anticipate us having more time for such pursuits.  This is just an outgrowth of our time of life, and some of our life choices.

This has me asking a few questions, though.  Is this a greener grass on the other side of the fence situation?  Will I look back on this busier time with nostalgia because of the kids' ages, or will I look back with relief that things are slower?  What percentage of adults are in a stage where they can't realistically binge watch a show without neglecting other responsibilities?

Thursday, January 12, 2017

new year, healthier dust

I inadvertently scheduled a physical in the last couple of weeks last year.  The timing was an accident, but it has led to a bit of an odd situation.

Every year I make a point of not making a New Year's resolution.  I know that most people break their resolutions (if they're even specific enough to break) before the end of January, and so making a New Year's resolution always feels to me like an impulsive or a showy move.  I know many people have great reasons for making resolutions, but for me to do it doesn't feel natural.

Since I went to the doctor's office and had the typical blood work done right before Christmas, I got a call over the Christmas holiday that my triglyceride and bad cholesterol levels were consistently elevated enough that I need to start exercising more regularly.  For me this means that I need to start exercising at all.

Golden's first reaction was that we should get a membership to the local community center and work out there.  My first reaction was thinking that I don't want to be one of those guys the regulars see as an annoyance who will give up in a few weeks.

What I have done so far is find a YouTube channel called FitnessBlender and start with some of their beginner routines.  It turns out my boss uses the same channel for some of his exercises, so I'm not the only person I know who uses the channel.  He's more active and healthier than me, though.  I've committed to doing twenty minutes of routines every day, even when I'm very busy.  This sounds great on the surface, but to this point I have primarily proven to myself that I am horribly out of shape because I have a hard time completing anything other than the beginner routines.

My short term goal is to get healthy enough to regularly complete the normal, not-beginner routines without too much trouble.  My medium term goal is simply not to gain more weight, and ideally trim some (five pounds in a few months would be great at this point).  That goal is more psychological than anything.  My long term goal is to not have given up on this endeavor in one, two, five, or ten years.

Thus far, I have not modified my eating habits because I don't want to make major changes all at once that are unsustainable.  To me, this whole thing is pointless if I don't keep this up over the long term.  We'll see how committed I can remain to this since it's now more directly a question of health rather than just clothing size.

Monday, August 08, 2016

nine lives

A couple of years ago we got a cat, and CH fell in love with it.  Since then, a significant part of her identity has been one of a cat lover.  So, once she found out about the movie Nine Lives several months ago, about a man who is switched into a cat's body, she has waited in eager expectation
Nine Lives
for when she would be able to see the movie.  So, we had to watch it this past weekend when it opened.

It is obvious from the trailer what sort of movie it is, so I fully anticipated not caring too much for it.  However, I did find it more tolerable than I expected.  The reason I was largely uninterested was the same reason I didn't care for Click or The Family Man.  It belongs to a specific genre of  movie where the central point is that a dad needs to learn to lessen his focus on work to focus on his family.  That point is not a bad point, but the point is typically made in a way that makes it look like it is less than ideal for a man to be committed to a job that supports his family.  So, imagine my surprise when a Nine Lives subplot almost went the opposite direction.

Certainly, the central theme of the movie is a man's discovery that he has not been there for his kids.  Not to spoil too much, but the protagonist cannot switch back to being a human until he learns that lesson (Surprise!).  This character being mind-bogglingly rich removed most concerns about the portrayal of a man who is just trying to support his family, and the secondary plot in the movie actually goes the other direction.

In this subplot this man's passion in life, to own the tallest building in North America and have his name on it, is ultimately presented as more of a positive than a negative.  This would go over the heads of most of the kids watching the movie, but the story is presented in a way that idealizes rather than demonizes a man who is willing to squander other peoples' investments for what amounts to a vanity project.  This is ultimately a minor quibble I have with the movie, but it was a surprise.

The movie itself was enjoyable enough for what it is--a kid's movie that is complex enough to entertain adults.  It isn't ridiculous enough that it would be embarrassing to watch without kids, but it isn't a movie I'd seek out if I didn't have kids. Now that I think about it, that describes almost everything I see in the theater these days.

Friday, July 29, 2016

song of songs

FYI, the topic below is somewhat adult in nature, but it is Biblical.

Along with teaching Sunday School, I also alternate with someone else teaching a men's class at church.  I could take the easy way out with video series, and I am leaving myself open to the possibility in the future, but I have been doing expository teaching through different books of the Bible.

What I hate teaching (or sitting through a lesson on) the most is something that everyone in the room already knows.  If I know a passage or a topic has been taught repetitively and I don't have something new to bring to the table, I really don't enjoy teaching the lesson.  Because of this, I am drawn to teaching things that others have not focused on, for one reason or another.

All of this is to say that I decided a while back to teach the Song of Songs in the men's class.  I used two books in planning my lessons (The Song of Solomon: An Invitation to Intimacy by O'Donnell and Exalting Jesus in the Song of Songs by Akin and Platt). I am going to be wrapping up the series in early August, and so have pretty much gotten through the entire book.  I have included some thoughts I have about teaching the book below.
  • I never appreciated the true spiritual value of the Song.  Marriage represents the Church and Christ, and so the quality of union we have with our spouse reflects how we value the relationship between Christ and the Church.  The purpose of the Song is to celebrate and promote Godly marriage that properly reflects the relationship between God and His people.
  • I never appreciated the context and target audience of the Song.  This is probably a song (or series of songs) meant to be sung at a wedding celebration, and targeted to unmarried girls.  One can imagine singers taking the roles of husband and wife, and a choir of girls singing the "friends" parts.  Who the target audience is explains a lot of the content in the book, not the least of which are the three commands in the Song to not forfeit one's virginity too quickly.
  • I did not appreciate that reading this song literally is a relatively recent approach.  For centuries commentators assumed that the book is a metaphor for God and the Church or God and Israel.  The Song couldn't be about intimacy between a married couple because that would degrade the Holy Scripture.  This is a perspective that seems laughable today, and it is a ridiculous position, but it was the de facto position of all of Christianity and Judaism for over a millennium.
  • Some weeks were flat-out awkward because my sources assumed that if something could be describing a very intimate part of the body or intimate action that was probably the correct interpretation.
  • I used to have a real problem with the Song because I believed that the man in the Song was Solomon.  One of my sources (Akin/Platt) believes that this is true, but my other source (O'Donnell) believes that Solomon is only introduces for comparison purposes.  This is appealing for a few reasons, one of which is that it solves the very difficult challenge with the book that the Song does not describe a polygamist's marriage.  This would conflict with the mutual ownership that the woman expresses throughout the Song (Song 2:16; 6:3; 7:10), as well as with the fact that polygamy was not God's perfect ideal for marriage.  I agree with O'Donnell that Song of Songs is written by Solomon to describe a different, idealized couple.
  • I did not realize that the Song was written very much with the intent of praising the value of virginity.  Apart from the commands to wait for love in the Song, there are a couple of clear indications that the woman (This song is targeted to girls) saved herself for marriage.  First, in the honeymoon chapter her husband refers to her body as a locked garden and a sealed fountain, indicating that she has closed herself off from men until this time (Song 4:12).  Second, in the conclusion the woman describes herself as a wall in comparison to a door, which likely establishes her virginity because a wall is not entered but a door is (Song 8:10).
The most practical lesson I have gotten from teaching Song of Songs is that a husband has a responsibility to praise his wife's beauty to her frequently and in detail, and see her as his standard for beauty, Likewise, a wife has a responsibility to periodically make herself physically available to her husband.  Those points sum up about half of the book.

I am looking forward to being done with this series.  That is less about the awkwardness of the topic and more about the time I have to spend in preparing these lessons.  I'm ready for a less-involved series.

Friday, June 03, 2016

like edison

When I was a kid I dreamed of being an inventor.  The idea of taking materials that weren't all that valuable on their own and assembling something valuable out of them was extremely appealing.  As a result, stories like that of Thomas Edison's were very appealing.

I remember hearing about all of the things Edison created, with over 1000 patents to his name, and the underlying philosophy that was part of his persona.  He is credited with the assertion, "Genius: one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration."  I remember visualizing him sitting in a dark room trying material after material in his light bulb until something worked.  This whole ideal perfectly fit the philosophy of a nation where most would at least claim to believe in meritocracy.  Intelligence is just hard work, and intelligence that doesn't work can't be called genius.

While I don't fault the focus on effort, as it is a necessary ingredient to success, this philosophy misses a ton of what made Edison successful.  Because the story has historically stopped here many have been led to believe that his secret was simply trying hard, when there was a bit more to it.  Edison brought a bit of intelligence and a lot of elbow grease to the job, and that's all it took to get all of those patents.  So, all that is stopping you is the elbow grease.

In more recent years Edison's reputation has taken a bit of a beating due to what is viewed as his mistreatment of Nikola Tesla.  While I don't know enough to know whether this new reputation is deserved, what I do know is that it shines light on where that perspiration came from.  Edison was right that the genius of his success was in hard work, but it is not appreciated that he hired a lot of that work.  There isn't anything wrong with this, except that the team and their work is always forgotten in order to give credit simply to the guy who hired them.

Also, this illuminates (Ha!) that sometimes one guy working really hard isn't enough.  Some jobs require a team to be successful.  This doesn't fit into a narrative that celebrates our individualistic ideals, so it is scrapped.

I wish I understood all of this earlier, because this is extremely helpful to understanding how the world works today.  If you're fortunate you could be successful as some guy working by himself, but it's unlikely.  You're certainly not going to emulate Edison levels of success that way.  To be successful like Edison isn't just to work hard, but to get others to work hard as well toward that same goal.

I don't actually feel the need to be as successful in this world as Edison today, but since I did aspire to that in my youth I wish I understood what that really meant.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

provide a boy

Golden and I both always wanted a boy and a girl because that is what we both grew up with.  We didn't, and I still don't, think of either as being easier or harder to raise, or more or less fun to have around.  Golden had another pressure that I never understood, though.  She felt that she needed to provide me a boy.

I wish she never saw this as a burden, because I always considered the idea silly. Since I never got the impression that it was a big deal to my dad, and it isn't a big deal to me, I always assumed the idea of having someone carry on your name was a dying artifact of a bygone era that modern people didn't care about.  While we did have a boy--and a wonderful one at that--I wouldn't have cared if we only had girls, other than that I would have felt bad for Golden for the burden.

In the past few years I have actually heard a few men make comments about this that have shocked me.  They implied that having a boy was much better than having a girl.  There are actually men who care about this!?  And not only that, I've heard this from some who consider themselves "progressive"! Unless I felt pressure from my parents on this I cannot fathom it being a huge deal what gender my kids were.

We're happy with our boy and our girl.  I can honestly say I would be just as happy if we had two boys or two girls, though.  We love them both!