Thursday, July 31, 2008


DESPITE THE MYSTERIOUS FIRE-DEPARTMENT situation of yesterday that shunted all morning-workout freaks to later or next-day exercise sessions, I did managed to slide in after work, giving a lift to another blah day with some king-hell progress.

Good thing, too. The last time I'd worked my shoulders and legs (I do both on the same day) was last Friday, and I was beginning to feel aches in both. This let me know that muscle was being broken down, or so I believed. In practice, I fulfilled one of my goals for the week by lifting more than I'd anticipated in a couple of exercises.

I felt tired and fatigued by the time I got home from work, and I figured, at minimum, I would get 30 minutes on whichever aerobic machine was available. I assumed the upstairs weight areas were going to be swamped. I typically get home between 5:15 and 5:20, and take about 10 minutes to get dressed and over to the gym in the morning, when there's less traffic through the heart of town. So I took a couple of coins for the town parking meters in case the gym lot was full. But a spot near the entrance welcomed me, which I took as a good sign.

The weight floor was busy, but mostly filled with silent men who weren't using any of the leg or shoulder machines I planned to attack. Just in case, I switched my usual order of battle and hit the shoulder press machine first. Because it's a plate-loaded unit, not a Nautilus- or Cybex-style stack-raiser, it's tough for folks to "work in," or alternate use on the gadget—while one party exercises, the other rests, then they switch, the seat and weight are adjusted, lather, rinse, etc. With plate-loading machines, you'd have to drag off many of the barbell plates to reset the thing for the next person. If you're doing several sets, like I was, and combining it with a second, related exercise (in my case, shrugs with dumbbells), it's best to have the machine to yourself for the full bunch of sets.

Which I did. In fact, I felt strong enough to add a little more weight to later sets, which surprised me. I'd honestly thought that missing Monday, plus the dodgy protein intake over the weekend, were responsible for lost muscle tissue. But the top set on both the shoulder press machine (45 lb. each side, 5 reps) and the shrugs (60 lb., 5 reps) were both confident and controlled.

With the shoulders out of the way, the three sets of leg exercises, as well as some crunches and dumbbell bicep curls I finished with, were a dream. I stretched, rode home through grim humidity, and enjoyed a chocolate–mixed berry protein smoothie. So if nothing else, I am at least feeding myself enough protein to keep muscle during those accidental outtages that inevitably will crop up.

And Now, a Musical Digression

I did manage to follow this up today with a half hour on the elliptical trainer. Instead of absorbing CNBC's panicked pre-market jabberings, I went with my iPod. I listened to a techno/dance compilation Trance: A State of Altered Consciousness, which in disc form rarely left my car during long solo casino rides. Certain dance music from the late Nineties found a nice place in my ear, despite my fairly diverse, untethered allegiance to any one favorite musical style.

I'd first heard this record at the long-gone Tower Records in Paramus. The first cut, Sasha's "Xpander," came on the store stereo system while I was digging through the magazines. I'd heard this track before, during an ad campaign for some videogame, and I found the whole track riveting. I read idly through several magazines and books at the store while listening to the rest of the record, then bought it. In the intervening years, it was always part of my driving music on the way to Foxwoods or Atlantic City. I couldn't make the final approach along Route 2A or the AC Expressway without the gaudy pulse of System F's "Out of the Blue" conjuring images of the Japanese techno-future we all thought was coming back in the mid-Eighties, with candy-sheened megatowers clawing their way into the violet Tokyo skies.

I gave copies of this disc to two women I knew, one a close friend and former lover, the other a friend I hoped would become a future lover (sadly not to be), both of whom dug dance music. My own copy disappeared when I stupidly left a case full of CDs untended at a gym in Las Vegas in summer of 2003. When I bought my first iPod later that year, it took some time to locate a new copy of the record, but find it I did, and I added it to the playlist and stashed the disc someplace safe.

I hadn't listened to it for a while until today. The new iPod does a much better job of running the tracks together without that split-second gap the '03 model dropped between the cuts. Although I didn't have time to let the whole album play, as my ride neared its end, I did blip forward to "Out of the Blue," and imagined myself, with the TV in front of the elliptical trainer showing only my sweaty reflection, gliding among those pastel-and-steel Tokyo towers again, a Blade Runner metropolis done up by Ecstasy-addled confectioner/architects.

Some love may never catch fire, and friends may drift away, but at least I shared that music with them, bidding them the chance to fly through their own dream-cities wherever they might lie.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


I WOKE UP AT 5:00, pulled on my gym clothes, and ran out the door to keep up with my usual program. I had been looking forward to this yesterday, because today's scheduled routine was to work my legs and shoulders — both of which felt a little weak over the course of Tuesday. The slightly erratic protein intake of the weekend, and the one-day delay in getting to the gym, cost me just enough muscle to make a noticeable difference. Nothing I couldn't remedy. Besides, the back/chest routine yesterday was great; I actually added weight successfully to two movements.

So you can imagine my disappointment when I — a Fat Man on the Move, ready to push back against the Great American Disease — reached the gym and was told, by a fellow patron heading out of the facility, that they were closed.

She couldn't give me a reason, so I headed in to find out. The desk clerk told me there had been "fire department activity" last night, but that my pass would be cross-honored at the other two clubs in this chain across the county. She also gave me a sheet on which I could record my name and phone number so I could receive a call when they were open (they anticipated 11:00 today). They would also credit me for the lost day.

I wrote down my number and left, too thrown off to ask what precisely constituted "fire department activity" (a fire? failed inspection? a fundraising dunk tank ruptured and flooded the spin-bike room?). No sense in getting angry at them — hell, I could've lost a club, and they or their coworkers could've lost their jobs or lives. Not much else I could do, as pissed as I was, aside from slamming my front door upon returning home. I spent a fruitless hour trying to fall back asleep before arising at 6:00 to fuck around on the Net for a stretch, still stewing a bit over the lost opportunity.

But I have to trust myself that I will be able to overcome one day of interruption. Eventually, I will get a cold, or some other illness, that will force me to stay home for a day or two. All I need to do is see how much muscle I have left to work with, adjust the weights accordingly, and forge ahead. My weight didn't change between today and yesterday, and my eating plan was within tolerances on Monday and Tuesday, so I've done all I can. I did let a weekend indulgence — homebrewed coffee — creep into this morning's intake as a way to soak my frustrations. If I eat properly, hit the gym tomorrow (or maybe even sneak a cardio session in tonight if they're open), and work with what muscles I've got, I should do well this week. I'm looking at a loss of 4.5 lb. since the first day of the 30x40 challenge, and 9 lb. since my 232.5 peak after the birthday–July 4 weekend week of Cookie Monsterish consumption. With a projected goal of losing about a half-pound of fat per week, I'm on target.

It's the stress-relief aspect of the exercise that I will miss today. This work week so far, and all of last work week, have seen me in a state of simmering anger. My daily workouts have been the antidote so far, the high points of these days. And as Howard Dean and George McGovern will tell you, peaking early is no blessing. I have to sit through a staff meeting today, during which I will sorely miss the endorphins. So wish me strength until I can get to the gym and give myself the next good push in my ongoing physical rebirth, and set in pixels here the reasons why I feel more done than ever with this stop in my career.

Monday, July 28, 2008

30x40: Week of 7/21/08 Progress

THIS IS THE THIRD WEEK of my fitness program, and so far, the most important measure, weight, has been under control. Particularly important, because emotionally it was a shitty week (of which more later), and I didn't run out and bury my frustrations in some of the low-carb crap I've been wont to do. The only weekday meal that missed the mark was a Friday adventure with nacho chips and cheese, but I counted every chip, calorie, and macronutrient, so I have no food unaccounted for. (Plus I tossed the remaining chips Saturday morning in the manner of a repentant, backsliding smoker.)

So, for those who crave more obsession with my weekly rigors, the new list of goals on the board last Monday was as follows:
  • Improve clean protein intake
  • 7/21: Waist measure
  • Perfect gym attendance
  • Post weight #s on net
  • More protein (sans bad fats)
  • More veggies
  • Push limits of at least two exercises
  • Good dinner choices
Here's how I made out:

7/21: Waist measure: I'd added a weekly bout with the tape measure to complement the scale readings. The number is nice and all, but the gut circumference helps reveal gross fat differences more clearly. And at the rate I plan to go, my clothing should not feel perceptibly looser from one day to the next, or even across a couple of weeks.

My ides of June measure, fresh from Las Vegas, was 51 inches across the navel and hip bones (which took a little doing to find). On 7/21, I'd reduced to 49.5; today, I'd shaved off another half-inch. Not bad, considering this weekend held some extra-naughty cake, courtesy of Steve and his co-conspirators at Jen's graduation party.

Because I expect a very gentle, gradual drop in this figure, with possibly imperceptible progress over a month — and because I'm so inept at finding the proper place to stretch the tape over my topography — I'm not setting a goal for this figure. I'll just let this one inform the more frequent weight surveys.

Perfect gym attendance: A second perfect week. Of course, I fouled up any chance to add a third week of this by sabotaging my sleep schedule. Upon returning home relatively early Saturday night, I made the mistake of pulling Watchmen off the shelf. I didn't set it aside until 2:30, and I still hadn't finished it. I even complained at the party earlier that day of the hazard of even peeking in the comic to confirm one quick detail, for fear of just plopping down and plowing through the whole book. Goddamn you, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

So tomorrow begins this week's cycle, with Monday's workout. No big thing, although past experience has shown the Monday lifting-fests to be a bitch if the preceding weekend featured scattershot protein intake. The past two days weren't so bad, but today was a lean-food day. Not the worst thing to admit for someone who backed himself into this situation with his fuckin' appetite, but still, I don't want my body snacking out on my own muscles and unraveling my work.

Post weights #s on net: I only added this because I kept blipping on saving the Blogger template, leaving yesterday's weight and date for all to see. Problem fixed.

More protein (sans bad fats): Having the small tins of tuna has worked well during the day, but I still see myself falling short of the 40% of total daily calories that I want to get from protein sources. I bought eggs and Egg Beaters, which I can have in a 50/50 blend to make scrambled eggs for breakfast on weekends or weekday dinners. I can snag small cups of yogurt to eat as dessert, though I do have to watch the simple carbs they contain. One other solution is jerky, but the bagged jerky around these parts tends to have some nasty chemical flavoring agent added (We put the "yak" in "teriyaki!"), and the good stuff you get online costs about as much as heroin. Will have to tinker with it this week.

More veggies/better dinner choices: Dinner in Week 2 wasn't so bad, but it was a little deficient in good veggies. Week 3 was just about the same, so I am going to keep these two goals to help guide the ship of progress inch by inch . . . into the nearest Chinese buffet. No, seriously, I can nail these if I plan ahead.

Push exercise limits: I did well here, thanks to the microloading tactic I adopted. I took some time (at work, of course) to plan out tomorrow's progressions, and I think being able to notch things up in 2.5-lb. steps ought to help me climb that wall I seem to be nearing. I do feel stronger while accomplishing various household chores, climbing stairs, and the like, so I'm in far better shape than some summers while working in the city, when I would sit panting at my desk after lugging my 240-lb. frame across Midtown or Chelsea and wonder if I'd have the endurance to roll back to Jersey in the murderous heat of the evening.

Target weight: 226: When I weighed myself Saturday morning, I came out at 223.5, well within my goal. I've already retraced some of this (225.5 this morning) due to the less controlled grazing at Jen's party on Saturday, but note: I didn't gain it all back. Good sign. I'm going to use today's weight as the goal for this week. If I remain at 225.5 by next Saturday, but I improve my lifting numbers, then I know I dropped a little more fat. If I do better at the weights and beat the goal . . . well, I won't complain.

So we'll see how I do during this week. If I can stay awake, I'll post some or all of the handwritten analysis of my work situation, which I scrawled out over a couple of hours in the office last Friday. It was by far the most productive thing I did there all week.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

To the Lab, Schizohedron!

OUR OFFICE IS SUBDIVIDING, and with this move comes a great tide of disposal. I managed to rescue two items from the purge that brought me great and geeky joy at the end of a shitty week.

Before he got the sack with the rest of my company's art department, we had an in-house photographer. At the various offices through which this wing of the company has moved, he's had photo studios, where he shot numerous pieces of cover and interior art. These shoots were for healthcare titles, so when needed, he and the art director of the publication in question would order props and costumes to suit the shoot. I myself helped out with one of them, for which I was dressed in a hospital gown from a closet full of medical uniforms.

I found out on Friday that this was only part of the stash the art department had accumulated over several years. I chanced upon the remaining art staffer while she was filling a garbage can with items she was taking from the prop closet. Never having seen the inside of this particular closet, I peeked inside . . .

. . . and immediately emitted a squeeeeeee of delight. Amid boxed, bagged, and bubblewrapped props sat a stash of lab glassware, including several Erlenmeyer flasks. I don't know why, but I have a massive geek-crush on labware, and the king of this peculiar jones is the wide-bottomed glass flask that has sort of become shorthand for chemistry. Want to tell your readers that a chart, or a region of a country, or whatever USA Today–style display element is about the chemical industry? Whip up a little cartoony Erlenmeyer flask icon, maybe half full of some green, bubbly liquid. It's like using an atom with three electrons around it for expressing the nuclear industry or physics.

"An Erlenmeyer flaaaaask," I cooed in a tone of voice usually reserved for greeting a friend's new puppy. I took down from the shelf a hefty 2000-ml flask, and unbidden, the delirious giggle of a child seizing a coveted Christmas gift filled the air. My coworker edged away as I began digging through the collection of labware, locating a clean 500-ml Erlenmeyer to pair with my 2-liter one (for I had already decided that only the cops were going to make me relinquish that Dumpster-destined flask). She pointed me to a box full of bubblewrapped items, which had survived at least one office move and evidently hadn't been tapped as a prop resource since. Inside were even more pieces, including a Florence flask and two HUGE graduated cylinders. A scientist's ransom in glass geekery.

As for the other gear going into the trash, there was clearly a story behind each piece, maybe even a confusing one. For some reason we had eight gavels (and we don't even have any legal journals) and two massive wooden gag gavels large enough to drive stakes for a circus tent. There was a doll pierced with multiple knitting needles. More pertinent to our pubs' topics, there were boxes of rubber gloves, scales, a seemingly functional sphygmomanometer, and a box of syringes. (And me without my heroin.) Some of the medical gear could certainly have helped a local clinic, and maybe the remaning glassware could go to a school science lab, but as for the two flasks in my grip, they were coming home with me. I asked the art person if she was otherwise going to throw them away with anything else. "Take 'em," she said, "it's worth it for that laugh you laughed when you saw them."

I would not be able to dispute an eyewitness report that I skipped back to my desk.

I washed out my treasures and concealed them in my briefcase and the Whole Foods bag I use to haul in my daily ration of health mulch. The last thing I needed was for the anal fistula that is our HR person to spot me toting the 2000-ml flask out the door and start asking questions. As it was, I made it to the car without interception.

The 500-ml. guy sits by my computer, awaiting sunlight to illumine its curves, or perhaps a cut flower. Its bigger cousin is still in the bag, about to be brought over to my friends' house so I can share my squeeeeeee moment with them. (It also spares one of them, a non-lab-based worker at one of New Jersey's fine drug companies, my weekly requests to sneak into one of the labs and jack the biggest Erlenmeyer flash she can find. Or a monkey.) Aside from that, it too will find a place of honor among my knick-knacks.

Now all I need is a single female scientist to come into my pad, lay eyes on these babies, and emit a squeeeeeee of her own. "Yes, Doctor [whoever], they're real, and they're spectacular."

Monday, July 21, 2008

Microloading for Busting Stalled Weightlifting Progress

WHILE ENGAGING IN THE CURRENT (and, one hopes, ongoing) round of exercise, I checked my past recorded efforts, most of them failures. I noticed I tended to stall out at one maximum weight, then stop, get discouraged, and lose all of my progress.

The barrier seems to be that jump to the next higher weight unit. I use machines as well as free weights. The weakness of some of the machines is that the smallest unit is 10 lb. When you're barely strong enough to pull down 100 lb., 110 seems very distant. So I would end up leveling off, then flounder.

Enter microloading. Bodybuilders have long added smaller-than-usual weight plates to their barbells to push past the sticking points that lie between the standard 2.5- and 5-lb. plates. Some use magnetic mini-plates, others rig custom additions from huge washers or lengths of chain. For a sampling of what some bodybuilders have done, check this article the Dave Draper IronOnline message board. It's where I got my solution to the problem:

I don't need the single-pound nudge as much as the ability to make gradual progress between those big 10-lb. steps. To accomplish this, I hit the neighborhood hardware store (not yet driven out of business by Home Despot), and bought a length of moderately thick 2-ft. length of chain and a 150-lb.-test carabiner. I can dangle a 2.5-lb. plate from this, not unlike one of Flavor Flav's clocks, then attach it around the weight stack, so the next step from 100 becomes a slightly more manageable 102.5. When the time comes, I can up that to 105.

The only thing I need now is a gym bag, both to make sure this thing comes with me to the gym, and to hide it from casual view. Just sitting on my passenger seat, it makes me look like I'm heading to a rumble. An extra in West Side Story I'm not.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

30x40: Week of 7/14 Progress

WEEK TWO OF MEASURING MY fitness and fat loss has concluded with wins in both areas. I surpassed my goal of reaching 227 lb., and according to my gym-visit records, I got just a little bit stronger. That's precisely the combination I sought during this program, as losing lean muscle is always a risk when reducing total food intake.

I revised my list of weekly goals as follows:
  • Improve clean protein intake
  • Perfect gym attendance through 7/20
  • Track all meals & weekday calories
  • Weigh self daily
  • Superior dinner nutrition
  • Daily fish oil caps
  • Blog progress
My progress toward these went like this:

Protein, protein, and more protein: My current caloric split is 40% protein/30% carbohydrates (complex for as many as possible)/30% beneficial fats. I've found it hard to meet the protein number. Nutrition/protein bars usually also contain simple carbs (sugar of various types), and red meat has unavoidable bad fats no matter how trimmed the cut might be. I upped the amount of MetRx protein powder I add to my post-workout smoothies to two, and I've used the larger cans of Bumble Bee tuna as my dinner protein rather than the smaller cat-food tins. I eat walnuts or almonds at least once per day, and some days I've replaced one of these servings with half a natural peanut butter sandwich ("natural" = no added sugar). Don't want to overdo the fat intake with the nuts, though. One solution that also helps my perpetual quest for healthful weekday dinners: I made a ton of chili last week that I've begun mixing into the daily menu, which gives me fiber along with clean protein.

Even while not hitting the number I set, I've made some small strength gains during the week. I think it was a factor of keeping the kinds of carbs and fat I ate as healthful as possible, lower overall caloric content, and . . .

Perfect gym attendance through 7/20: Nailed this one today with a cardio trip to the gym this afternoon. I managed to get into the gym early each day except Friday, which I took as a personal day; at any rate, I was perfectly on schedule. I moved the weights up on a few of the exercises, as mentioned, and will seek reasonable opportunities to do so this coming week. Slow, steady progress is most likely to result in sustainable gains without training injuries or burnout. If I do feel the cold/flu-like symptoms of overtraining, I can drop one of the cardio days (Wed., Sat., Sun.) and sleep in. I won't be afraid to do so if it avoids erasing a week's worth of gains when overtraining and a dinged immune system lets some damn virus in. I don't think I said it any better than last week: "Flexibility and consistency trump guilt when these sorts of diversions occur."

Tracking meals/Weigh self daily: Kept on course here, despite some of the aforementioned diversions. On Monday night, I shared in the leftovers of Sunday's dinner at my parents' house; unlike Sunday night, I skipped the simple-carb side dish. Friday night my mom and I went out to dinner while my father spent a second night having a suspected recurrence of an old GI problem checked out at the hospital. (Problem solved; Dad came home Saturday.) I went with chicken parmigiana, but declined the linguine. In all cases, I made note of what I ate, but for these two meals I didn't get anal about the exact calorie count.

In any event, they didn't seem to ding my progress much. I surpassed the planned 227-lb. goal weight by half a pound. My chart indicates I got as low as 223.5, but this was an outlier. I'm setting my next goal at 226, a natural progression from the second week of 227 if I'm losing .57 lb./week. Keeping up with decent amounts of protein will keep the lean muscle coming as much as it will.

To the current weight tracking, I am going to add a measure of waist circumference. Abdominal fat is a precursor to cardiovascular disease. if I can measure a downward trend in the gut, I know that visceral and intramuscular fat are both being depleted, and the long-term luggage is finally, slowly, getting hit. This I will measure on Saturday mornings; I'll get a baseline read tomorrow morning.

Superior dinner nutrition: Other than the two dinners mentioned above, two of three were good-quality meals, including the chili I'd made for just such an occasion. The first night I had it, I paired it with a serving of brown rice, which significantly boosted that day's carbs. Though they were complex carbs, I'm still trying to keep a limit on them in the evening. The final one was an impromptu affair in the hospital emergency department waiting room. I'd had the smarts to bring a small tin of tuna, a fork, and a serving of almonds with me. Because my father was not an emergency case per se, it took him a long time to be admitted; and even when he was in, the necessary test took 2 hours from start to finish. I also had a double-serving of prunes with me in case I felt myself going faint. Oddly, I didn't; I avoided major hunger until I drove my mom home around 11 p.m. that night.

Fish oil: Doing my part to deplete the oceans, I managed to hit this goal each night before bed. I'm leaving it off of next week's list because I did in fact place a Post-It next to the alarm clock. Simple solutions sometimes do work.

Blog progress: I believe I forgot to hit save one day when entering the weight progress, but other than that, I recorded enough detail during the week to offer this minor update.

I've got a revised set of goals up for the week of July 21. I'm looking forward more to fulfilling them than I am to going to work.

NYT's Medium Blog: Are All Morans Morons?

VIRGINIA HEFFERNAN, WRITER OF THE Medium blog on the New York Times site, ruminates this week on how a reporter should quote, and possibly edit, the incorrect — by turns inadvertent and deliberate — spelling, grammar, and usage one finds across interactive Internet writing.

This is no small matter, particularly among message board or blog communities in which English has evolved, or been guided, into clipped lingo for speed or irony. To an outsider, it can appear impenetrable. A non–poker player visiting the 2+2 message boards would need to visit the FAQ to decipher TPTK (top pair, top kicker), OESD (open-ended straight draw), or the all-important MHIG (my hand is good). And should we presume the user of the term moran to be a moron, a poor speller, or merely one delivering a zinger on an actual moron by quoting this spirited citizen?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Vive la (Faux) France!

I'VE BEEN A SLUG ABOUT recording my recent Las Vegas adventures here, but I do have three photos from the town of thematic interest on this Bastille Day:

Paris Las Vegas, Eiffel Tower
Paris Las Vegas, Eiffel Tower by Schizohedron. Some rights reserved.

I blasted this one from my car while heading south on Las Vegas Boulevard. The need to keep half an eye on the stoplight explains the trimmed tower tip. You can go up the tower to a restuarant (whose logo is visible through the palms), which affords a great view of the Bellagio fountains across the street, or travel to the top for the second highest public view of the Vegas Valley in town.

Paris Las Vegas, south side
Paris Las Vegas, south side by Schizohedron. Some rights reserved.

I don't know precisely which Paris structure the main façade of the hotel mimics — a university or library, I'd assume — but this shows some of the details. This is one of the more cohesively and pleasantly themed properties in town, and still holds up well after 10 years, which is an eternity in this town.

Should you stop by, the Le Village Buffet is excellent, one of the best I've had there. Your best bets are breakfast and lunch; they also offer a Champagne brunch on weekends.

Paris Las Vegas, Arc de Triomphe
Paris Las Vegas, Arc de Triomphe by Schizohedron. Some rights reserved.

This Arc de Triomphe stands in the center of a cobblestoned traffic circle. You enter the property to the left here, and the parking garage is to the right and straight on.

Note to poker fans: If you like the poker room at the Planet Hollywood casino one property south, but hate the ¼-mile trek through the mall that lies between the PH parking garage and the casino, park at Paris, walk out to the Strip, and enter through PH's main entrance; the poker room is just inside.

As I begin this day, my own thoughts are on the buttery, flaky, chewy croissants available just across the street. The demands of the weekly eating regimen, sad to report, forestall indulging in one of these Gallic belly bombs. Quel dommage.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

30x40: Week of 7/7 Progress

THE FIRST WEEK OF MEASURING my progress in the 30x40 challenge has concluded. Though I didn't lose the pound I'd hoped to drop, I did overcome the birthday–July 4th week of celebratory consumption, and I met most of the goals I set for myself this past week. If you're willing to sit through a shitload of solipsistic fitness minutiae, read on.

Last weekend, I wrote these goals on the whiteboard on my front door:
  • Perfect gym attendance from 7/7 through 7/12
  • 7/8: Begin tracking meals and calories
  • Weigh self daily
  • Improve dinner choices
  • Fish oil every day
  • TARGET WEIGHT 7/12: 227
  • Blog progress + KEEP WRITING!
Here's how I did:

Gym attendance: The only day on which I didn't go was Monday, 7/7. I had that day off, and I was slated to volunteer down at WFMU with a shipment of Marathon prizes. My plan had been to wake up very early, then either hit the gym and cruise down to Jersey City at leisure, or head straight down to Hoboken, walk around Manhattan for a few early-morning hours, then PATH to Exchange Place and nearby WFMU.

As it turned out, Sunday night ran past my usual bedtime, and the combination of the late, large meal at my parents', and the next day being a day off, led me to stay up longer than I'd planned. I slept fitfully due to the heat, and when I arose, dawn was a grim smear of sun wanly struggling through thick haze. I ditched both plans to catch up on sleep and set my sights on the last train to Hoboken. Walking to that train through the soupy air was a challenge. I'd gained a couple of fat pounds between my birthday and July 4th, and I felt them in my breathing and pace, which — when I'd been a regular NYC commuter and did this walk twice a day — was more peppy. FMU's volunteer room was very stuffy, so hitting the gym upon my return to a nightmarishly hot apartment was out of the question.

For the rest of the week, I was on target. The Monday skip pushed my workout schedule forward, so I got muscle workouts in on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, with a night visit for 40 minutes of cardio on Thursday. The heat during the week peaked on Wednesday, and once again it took some time for my apartment that night to cool down to a sleep-friendly level. So I bumped the Thursday morning cardio to the evening. Today will be the second half of the total two-day muscle routine that is usually scheduled for Friday. I'll go in the late afternoon when the foot traffic is thinner and I have a couple of healthful meals in me. Flexibility and consistency trump guilt when these sorts of diversions occur, and my failure in the past was to let such diversions discourage me long enough for progress to unravel.

Tracking meals and calories: Easier than last time. When I ate at home, I entered the information right into Excel, relying on several pre-typed lines of caloric and nutritional info to speed the job. Because I bring my meals to work, on two mornings, I was able to cue up the info for those meals even before leaving the apartment. The rest of the days, I kept notes at work.

Wednesday and Friday nights, and Friday afternoon, involved meals not so easy to parse into their component elements. My mom invited me over for stir-fry Wednesday night, from which I knew I'd be taking home leftovers, which became Friday's lunch. In both cases, I made note in my Excel chart of the food I'd eaten, but — as will be the case for Sunday night dinners — didn't knock myself out trying to match calories and nutrients to the food. Ditto with the wonderfully generous spread Dave and Julia offered their guests last night. No way I'm missing that. It was enough to know what I'd eaten, and to keep myself accountable to what I'd need to do the next day at the gym to counteract the off-program eating. This way there's no looking back and saying, "Why did I feel so slow and fat Thursday morning?" The answer is right there on the weekly menu and the exercise log.

I learned that I was going to have to eat more, if you can believe it. I mentioned earlier this week only hitting 1477 out of the planned 2200 calories. I think the first two days of planned eating cost me some muscle, because my weight bottomed out at 225.5 on 7/11/08, to rebound to 228 after a weightlifting day and considerably more protein. Those seeking to control body fat by mixing cardiovascular exercise and weight training are best served by not starving themselves. Muscles need clean protein, though the challenge is to get enough of it while controlling bad fats. That will be one of next week's goals.

Weigh self daily: No problem there. Also thinking about adding a weekly waist:hip ratio measure to assess body fat. Perhaps another good goal for next week.

Improve dinner choices: Much better this time around. Sunday night dinner had the benefit of putting two roast chicken breast halves in my fridge, so I had clean protein for dinner two nights of the week, which I paired with broccoli and salad. I also made chili Thursday night for next week and beyond, for which I wrote down the nutritional values so I can make a quick entry on the chart for each measured serving I pull out of the freezer. Might pair them with brown rice, but I have to find one that reheats well; I'd make four servings' worth and store it in the fridge to apportion over the week.

I'm also thinking of grilling meat at my parents' house Sunday afternoons and using them over the week for dinner. I do have a Foreman grill, but even with the specially designed sponges, cleaning it is a bitch, and nothing matches real charcoal grilling. (Though I admit I'm a wood man.) If I can get over there earlier, grill three or four nights' worth of lean meat (maybe even throw this in marinade on Saturday), I'd preplan a big chunk of the week's dinner choices and only have to worry about the veggies.

Fish oil every day: Missed two days. It's tougher to remember this one, because I take the capsule right before bed (unlike my vitamins, which go down with the morning smoothie), and I store them in the freezer (a tip: by the time they melt, they're past the point of repeating on you and giving you "fish burps"). Will put up a reminder next to my alarm clock.

Target weight: 227: At 228 this morning, down from 232.5 last Monday, I give myself partial credit for at least dropping the extra fat I'd gained the week prior. I just need to monitor the good protein, especially on weight-training days, to keep my body from cannibalizing itself. The goal is to lose .57 lb./week. My scale is only sensitive to the half-pound, so if I'm really somewhere between 228 and 227.5 right now, and I watch the food numbers and keep hitting the gym on schedule, perhaps I will meet that goal come next Saturday. Anything extra will be a bonus unless, as with early this week, it's traceable to low calories or protein in particular.

Log progress and keep writing: Res ipsa loquitur.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

You Write What You Eat

BY COINCIDENCE, WHILE RECORDING the ingredients of the post-workout shake I had just mixed in a new Excel chart, designed to record my weekday food intake, a report came over the radio about a study of just such a behavior. Researchers at the Oregon Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research report that people who diligently recorded their daily food consumption (amid a program of daily exercise, reduced caloric intake, and a healthful overall diet) lost twice as much weight over a 20-week period as did those who recorded few or no details about their food choices. (Here's the Washington Post's writeup, along with a U.S. News & World Report article on maintaining a food diary.) My goals for this week included initiating just such a diary. Crazy synchronicity on that.

As part of my goal to lose 30 pounds by age 40, my plan was to control what I eat very closely on weekdays. With three or four meals eaten while at work, it's easier to pack, tote, and eat a specific set of rations. For Saturdays, I plan to adhere to the weekday food choices as closely as I can (particularly breakfast, lunch, and my post-workout smoothie), but I assume I'll eat out for dinner or lunch.

As for Sunday, I nearly always eat dinner at my parents' house, and the logistics of parsing out the caloric breakdown on home cooking leads me to declare Sunday a no-records day and just enjoy myself without worrying too much about the details. Of all the meals I eat each week, my mother's cooking is the one I won't have access to forever. I can let the program slide if it means I get to enjoy such a timebound opportunity.

But as for weekdays, I've set up an Excel spreadsheet to capture what I eat in granular detail. I made a determination of how many calories I'd need to eat to remain at my current weight, and, in another spooky parallel to the study's methods, I knocked 500 calories off of that. I also did some research on what division I ought to make among the major macronutrients — protein, carbohydrates (complex for as many as possible), and fat — and made a note of how many calories of each would give me the right spread of percentages. I also made a separate sheet listing my most commonly eaten foods with serving sizes, calories, and the protein/carb/fat grams. All I needed to do was to write down what I ate.

As you've read, the morning was easy; I was at home, so I could type it right in. For the workday's meals, I took notes. I forgot to do this half the time during my last food-diary attempt, so I would have to make half-assed guesses by the end of the day. I've tried to grease the rails by limiting the initial range of foods I'd eat. Hell, they're more or less the same stuff I eat most workdays. It's the dinners that have been problematic. I'm hoping recording those, along with every other meal, will make it plain when I've made the correct choices and reinforce the practice with results in the form of looser clothes.

They're a touch more snug than this time two weeks ago, I have to say. The birthday–July 4 axis involved a night of drinks, birthday cake, and a cookout/BBQ/homemade cookie whirlwind this past weekend courtesy of Ratatosk and Amy. I call it a last-hurrah mulligan and have forged ahead with a solid plan. (To force accountability, I am also recording my daily bodyweight and posting it, for good or ill, on this blog.)

Despite a bad few nights of sleep these past days (I sleep poorly in the heat), I managed to lever myself out of bed in and crank out an effective workout at the gym. I adhered closely to my list of chosen healthful foods for the entire day, including a far better dinner than I've eaten on a weeknight in some time: roasted skinless chicken breast, broccoli, and a huge-looking baby spinach/red leaf lettuce salad. If I'm going to make any aspect of the last meal of the day big, it's best that it be produce based.

The final number on the day fell surprisingly short of my caloric goal. I was going to aim for 2200 calories Monday through Friday, and see where that got me with 4 or 5 weekday workouts, but I only got up to 1477 today. On a day when I lifted weights, that's a bit low. But it gave me the same information it doubtless gave the folks in the study mentioned above: explicit details of what their food looks like in calories. As long as you're honest, there's no denying that a muffin, ice cream cone, or fructose-laden coffee drink is making an impact on your ass.

If the whole process sounds mechanical, it ought to be. Automatic and programmable. Too much of my eating has been mindless. Paying attention to what each food choice can do for me is the best way to calibrate the right amount for the slow process of fat loss while preserving muscle. That's the Holy Grail of body reshaping, and the only way to gauge success is to look back a day, a week, a month at your food diary, bodyweight records, and workout logs and say, "This combo worked here, this one didn't," and so on. It's fundamentally about taking control and accepting that responsibility for success is mine alone.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Racist Scum Jesse Helms Dead

WE'VE BEEN GIVEN A TRUE Independence Day gift: One of the most vile remnants of America's racist history, former Senator Jesse Helms (R–NC), died early this morning. From a position of great influence over a nation whose diversity is its most fertile virtue, he instead blocked progress toward greater harmony for all, and stigmatized those who were different from him to advance his philosophy and retain power. This, if nothing else, is the definition of evil.

He joins atavistic white supremacists George Wallace and Strom Thurmond in nonexistence. Our advance into this still-new century takes us step by cleansing step away from a time when such men became civic leaders by demonizing women, homosexuals, and religious and racial minorities.

At least this race-baiting homophobe got to see an African-American man and a woman vie for the chance to lead this country. Each vote for Obama and Clinton was a nail in the coffin of men like Helms and the sick vision of the American dream he promulgated.

Nearly two and a half centuries after that auspicious day in Philadelphia, that vision is finally dying. Let Helms's corpse be flung upon it.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

One-Year Anniversary at Work

IF YOU'D TOLD ME ONE year ago, when I started the current job, that in 6 months, I'd survive one round of layoffs, the departure of a key subject matter expert from the editorial staff, and the announcement — on my half-year mark no less — that my immediate boss was likewise giving notice, I'd probably say, "Well, I do work in publishing."

I would probably not be surprised to hear that, within the next few months, the final member of the editorial team I was joining would soon, herself, leave. To the news that such an evaporation of staff would give me chest pains, I would surely be horrified. But I suspect I would react with genuine incredulity were I to learn that day in July 2007 that this incident would be followed by the reconstitution of the editorial team several states away, along with a shift of leadership away from the managing editor who had spurred the staff exodus.

And I would count myself as a prophet if I somehow got the inkling, while digging through the usual first-day HR forms, that this wave of hiring in the remote office would presage a mass transfer of jobs from my office to that one, including the entire art staff.

That last bit took effect Wednesday. After two rounds of layoffs, and all my teammates bailing, the halls now echo. And the old managing editor (ME) is officially no longer working on the title. Despite the muttering and grousing of the old coworkers, she turned out to be very effective in a pinch, if occasionally reluctant to admit delays (which, with only two editors working on the title, were inevitable). She was also tremendously generous, thanking me and the artist each issue during our crisis period with some sort of substantial gift. The ME also proved to be the only person in the company who remembered my birthday. (Nobody else in the office did, even though I always bring something in for others' birthdays; I felt it to be in poor taste to trumpet my own upcoming date. The ME, by contrast, sent a gift card, which beats simple/junk carbs any day.)

I've no idea how I might have anticipated the surprises, challenges, and even the absurdities to come. What I have learned since then is not to lose track of what matters amid such crazy shit: health, family, friends, and the overall career, sight of which sometimes disappears behind smoke if all you're doing each day is stomping out fires. For now, the conflagration is dying down, and with any luck, I'll be able to recognize blue sky when I see it again.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

30x40: Losing Thirty Pounds by Age Forty

I WILL TURN 40 in just under a year. For this birthday just past, to devote myself to one change that will have the most productive influence on the rest of my life, I have chosen fitness. The goal: to lose 30 pounds by my next birthday.

On my birthday last Friday, I weighed 228 pounds. This January 1, I weighed 231.5. Doesn't appear to be much difference, and I do admit some backsliding during the stressful late winter I endured, but my body composition has changed somewhat since then; a little more muscle and a smidge less fat. Don't get me wrong, I am quite obviously obese. I ought to weigh somewhere between 155 and 175 at my height. But I've been especially diligent since the beginning of May, and I've crossed a definite threshold as compared with past attempts to drop fat.

For one, lifting weights only three days out of eight in early–mid June while in Las Vegas didn't ding my progress at all. I got right back into my routine and took off the few pounds of fat I gained while there. Second, shortly before I departed for Vegas, I did three real pushups. In 39 years I have never been able to do even one. This revelation left me stunned for about three days and provided a tremendous endorsement of what I've been doing.

What have I been doing? Keeping most of my meals during the week healthful and of appropriate size and nutrition, and eating five or six of them through the day. Visiting the gym six times per week at minimum, seven ideally. Keeping careful records of my progress and pushing myself in some new way each time I visit. Avoiding the temptations of crappy calories at work (it's like Elaine's office in Seinfeld with the sugarfests). Restricting meals that dip into the standard American diet to the weekends or special occasions like my birthday.

I am not perfect, and I expect to fail, but I refuse to stop. I know that the forward progress is most important, no matter the temporary deceleration required to avoid obstacles. What I am introducing is a signpost, a checkpoint, to set a definite goal at which to aim. The short-term goals of eating better and visiting the gym are now solid habits to be tended carefully. I want to push them further toward a fixed, medium-term objective of major, permanent fat loss.

Losing 30 pounds by my 40th birthday, to weigh 198 pounds by June 27, 2009, will require a rate of loss of .57 pounds per week, or 2.5 pounds per month. This goal is well within the guidelines of 1–2 pounds per week mentioned as ideal (to maximize the impression of healthy habits and metabolic changes to keep the weight off) on, the Mayo Clinic site, and WebMD. I've been tripped up in the past by eating crappy food between or after meals due to boredom, aimlessness, depressed mood, or laziness. If I can figure a proper caloric intake per day for weight loss, and direct the energies that lead me into situations where I eat crap more positively, I should be able to hit that rate of loss.

The end of the year will be the real kicker. Halloween through New Year's is a nightmare of free-floating sugar and holiday bingeing. But one thing I learned while in Las Vegas was that I've lost the ability to eat huge, single-sitting meals. I just can't do four plate-loads of food at the buffets anymore. Not that I didn't try; I just went into a lethargic funk after doing so. I've backed myself into a corner of better consumption, it seems. About goddamn time. So I should be able to manage the autumn sugar siege without destroying my progress or getting written out of the will because I brought a Tupperware full of broccoli and lettuce to Thanksgiving dinner. (Besides, a day full of football goes naturally with onion dip and cheddar cheese.)

So that's the goal. The best thing to do is to continue to post here about it, to hold myself accountable in "public," and to track my progress. If I can take one year, set strong yet flexible habits to keep me from heart disease, cancer, and diabetes for the rest of my life, and emerge feeling even better than I already do after just a couple of months at this quest, I'll have prepared myself well to enter middle age. It's time to build on the foundation I've been constructing for the past several weeks and give myself a birthday gift each day.

Season of the Itch

THE HALFWAY POINT OF THE YEAR finds me contemplative most times around. Not only do I have the second six months on the calendar to ponder, or the last six to scrutinize, but my birthday precedes this dividing line by four days.

This birthday saw me enter the final year of my thirties. Jack Benny time. It was more of a diffuse zone than a day this time around, because I saw so many people over the course of the days surrounding it. I was convinced that my friends Jen and Steve would be thoroughly sick of me by the end of the weekend, as I saw them for three dinner dates in four days, including one they kindly hosted. Also saw a few folks I don't get the chance to hang with as often on my actual birthday, including one guy now (but possibly not for long) in North Carolina. The mighty Felix and his wife, Julia, were present for the third day of my unprecedented social activity, on a weekend that saw their own six-month anniversary as a married couple.

One common thread among my friends was discontent with the current job. At least four people I saw over the weekend, and a fifth living outside the area, are either contemplating an employment shift or have just completed one. I could make that five and a half, in that I plan to update my resume in case my shop gets the yen for another round of job relocations or layoffs. With the business downturn entering a new month and the stock market officially in bear territory, one never knows how an employer will defend itself against losses. This made it all the more interesting that some of my friends seek a change. As a defense against a market that punishes narrow skill sets, two other friends of mine have completed higher degrees or additional certification in their field.

Most of my friends are in the latter half of their 30s. Could they all be in the same contemplative mode as I am? Looking forward a couple of years, pondering a property purchase, a wedding, children, and figuring, at least get a job change settled first for greater satisfaction, security, or interest in the work?

As for me, with the passage of this birthday milestone, I have a very specific plan for one aspect of my life over the next 12 months. Not employment. See next post.

I Wish This Were My Fault

SADLY, I CAN'T TAKE CREDIT for the recent news of casino stocks taking a tumble and Las Vegas suffering a slowdown. I barely played the table games where I could've done that sort of damage to the houses' bottom lines. Blame falls on the credit crunch and the rocket ride petroleum prices have taken, with a side order of the steep plunge in the Vegas real estate market:

A cut in the wages of sin (Economist)

Gambling stocks tumble on economic woes (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

This amid massive new construction in Vegas, and the recent or imminent unveiling of expansions at Foxwoods and the Borgata. The saw about gambling being recession proof appears false, though these surveys don't take into account the still-huge amount of online and Mob-run gambling that goes on each day.

Still, this news is good for me medium term. With Vegas enduring a post-9/11-style slowdown, the offers for cheap rooms should begin streaming in. I might be able to get back there a little sooner than I had anticipated. Maybe not to Wynn, although I did get a fairly restricted deal email from them (cheap room + restaurant credit, but said credit could only be used in one of the eateries) a week ago. Bellagio's already been sending mailers, according to a chat I had with premier poker reporter Dr. Pauly.

However long it takes, once things pick up in the economy, and the blood on the Street is swilled down by patient value investors, the itch to return to Sin City among America's gamble-mad masses will become irresistible, and the dollars will flow. In the best possible world, this brings a tide of awful poker dilettantes into town . . . where I will be waiting.