Two a Healthy Life

One couple on a mission to become healthy


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Book Review: The Power of Habits

The Power of Habits

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg takes a fascinating look at why people behave the way they do and how these behaviors transform into habits that control most of the perceived decisions we make on a daily basis.  While analyzing ones habits can be applied to anything that you want to change, there is especially good information for people that are starting a new diet or exercise regime.

One of the main concepts of the book is what Duhigg refers to as a habit loop (which Alex has already mentioned in a previous blog).  Habit loops (much like the idea of a computer program loop) stem from some cue (visual, audible, etc) that triggers our brains to perform some type of routine (smoke cigarette, eat cake) that produces a reward (nicotine, sugar).  These habits run deep and even after we have broken a bad habit, years later a cue can still trigger a desire to perform these old tasks.

The book is very approachable and doesn’t use a lot of complicated jargon or delve too deep into the science behind the ideas, but rather uses concrete examples of individuals, companies, and organizations to illustrate key points.  I listened to the audio book and for those on the lookout for a great listen; the narrator has a voice suited to the material that will make you just want to sit a listen till it’s done.

The only issue I had with this book is that it is light at the end on ways to change bad habits.  However, from all the examples given, one can deduce effective ways to change or start new habits.  If you are trying to start a running regime, keep your shoes and workout clothes by the bed so they are there when you first get up, then after a couple weeks the routine will become habit.

Personally I am trying to get to the gym more.  I noticed that when I get home, I have little motivation to go all the way back out to the gym (though running is easy because I just change and I am off).  To fix this I have bought a bike lock and plan to stop at the gym on my way home, instead of going home first.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in changing their bad habits or creating better ones.  What I really took away from it was the hope that change is possible.  I remember being overweight (after another failed diet) and thinking “this is it, this is how much I am going to weigh”.  At that point I thought there was no way to change.  But there was!  I don’t know the exact changes that made it stick; however, I know that writing this blog and having someone to lose weight with has made a big difference.

Thank you for reading, now go out and get this book!

 

The link below goes to a great chart for how to go about anayzing and changing habits.

http://charlesduhigg.com/need-to-break-a-bad-habit/

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Habit Loops

Breakfast in Atrani Italy Summer 2009

Breakfast in Atrani Italy Summer 2009

To use vocabulary from The Power of Habit– I developed a habit loop.

I already drank Starbucks in High School but during my first three years of college I had a really long commute and nearly every morning I would go to starbucks, buy a drink and a pastry (full of carbs, sugar and fat) and eat it before class started.

I was easily putting down 700 calories before lunch and hungry before noon ever approached.

I’d get hungry when I didn’t eat a real breakfast, pick-up coffee and a pastry because I was in a hurry, indulge in delicious sugar that made my brain happy with all those awesome calories… rinse and repeat.

You couldn’t physically eat 7 apples for breakfast but that’s the caloric equivalent of what I was doing but without any vitamins or protein.

As I started traveling the habit loop was repeated everyday (although not at Starbucks). I’d wake up in the morning, roll out of my hostel bed and head out the door with my backpack. On the way to a museum or the train station I’d grab a cappuccino and pastry on the street corners of Rome, Barcelona, London or Paris.

Breakfast in New York City Spring 2010

Breakfast in New York City Spring 2010

Do that everyday for months at a time and the habit gets into your DNA. I would then spend all day on my feet so I actually lost weight but when I came back to college in the fall I continued the pattern minus the exercise.

Even after a year of TwoAHealthyLife I can’t go to Starbucks without eyeing the pastry case. I especially love the mini vanilla scones… So recently I’ve been avoiding my pastry-buying triggers.

I know what I am going to have for breakfast everyday M-F (yogurt). I have a piece of fruit at 11, lunch around 12:30 and more fruit at 3:00 pm and 5:00 pm.

In addition to my food plan I am trying to cultivate the habit of making tea before I go to work so that I won’t be put in a situation where I am in a line internally bargaining and arguing with myself about eating or not eating something that shouldn’t be considered food. Part of what I crave in the morning isn’t necessarily “coffee” but a hot beverage I like the taste of.

A side effect of this new habit is that I should save at least $500 a year NOT buying coffee before work.

Nathaniel found The Power of Habit and encouraged me to read it and I am really enjoying it so far. I encourage anyone trying to change his or her lifestyle (for whatever reason) to pick it up.

For us dieters this book can help you identify how to tackle key habits that you want to get rid of or avoid and come up with helpful strategies to reach your goals.


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Channeling my inner tortoise

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Photo by matea2506

It is a classic tale, the tortoise and the hare, speed versus determination; however these two paradigms can be applied as approaches to running.  Being a typical man, when I started running I simply wanted to get faster and continuously pushed to turn in quicker times on my runs.  As I have mentioned before, I ended up over-training and having some knee issues.  Now that I am back training, I am approaching running from the other side.

Alex has never been concerned with how fast she was running, but chose instead to focus on how far she runs.  To date, she has never has any issues with over training or injuries (knocking on wood now).  We recently did a run together (our first run ever together) and it was ironically liberating to have to slow my pace so we could run together.

This experience put a spotlight on the issue of speed for me.  I continually try to push my pace (though I know I should be focusing on strengthening my legs and slowly inching up my mileage), so after that run I have committed to slowing down.

The marathon training plan that I am following has two runs a week for 30-45 minutes, but does not specify anything about distance you should run.  I am now using these runs to focus on my technic (breathing, foot placement, stature) and am recommitted to slowing down so that they are not as physically demanding.

This new strategy can be seen in the couch-to-5k and many marathon training plans that incorporate walking as part of the program.  Walking helps reduce the amount of stress on your body during a run, and can help people to increase their mileage more than running continuously can.  This all feeds into the idea of slow and steady build up.

I think I am like most guys, and when you tell us to slow down or take it easy, we just want to get out there and rip it up even more.  But what I have learned thus far is that the safest approach is one of slow determination.  With enough training you can eventually morph into the hair, but we all need to start out as a tortoise.

Run on!


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The danger of medjool dates

http://www.flickr.com/photos/peachyogurt/5278298560/

Photo By popartichoke

On a good day, if I am hungry and need a little something extra to tide me over before dinner (but otherwise have stuck to my diet), I might take a trip to the grocery store by my work. However, before I go I try to visualize what I am going to buy, because if I don’t then the cookies, candy, and even trail mix starts calling my name as I enter the door.

Medjool Dates Nutritional Information

Medjool Dates Nutritional Information

One of the treats that I used to get on these days was medjool dates (they are delicious).  I would get a bag of three or four and call it a day.  The only problem is that once I looked up calories of just one (66 cal.) with most of these coming from sugar (I should have known this seeing as they taste like caramel) meant that for four of these I would be  eating 266 cal. and 64g of sugar (which is a lot for a snack, I could have almost nine whole carrots for that many calories).

This is an example of how even when we think we are being healthy, it is easy to reach for snacks that “appear” healthy, but are just as bad as some processed foods (well maybe not as bad as that, it still has fiber).  A similar situation is how some parents try to pack dried fruits or trail mix instead of fruit snacks or Hostess cupcakes.  But those dried mango prices that were so popular at Costco a couple years ago are crammed with sugar.  And the average trail mix has significantly more calories in it then people would think, it is nuts and dried fruit, with chocolate.

Today I was able to grab a tangerine and call it good.  But I have to remind myself that if something tastes too good to be healthy, then it most likely is, even if it is fruit.


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Of good runs and bad

http://www.flickr.com/photos/kimolsonphoto/8358642701/sizes/z/in/photostream/

Photo by Kim Olson

On Wednesday I had a good run; I think the first good run of my marathon training and since coming off an injury late last year.  There are those runs, that from the beginning you just know you’re in the zone, your steps feel light, your breathing is synched, the whole act feels fluid.  Not all runs are like this, in fact, most aren’t.

I am not one of those people who would tell you “even the worst day of running is better then the best day of being a couch potato”.  There are some days that my runs don’t feel good, where I am tried and it is a struggle to keep going and not turn around (and sometimes I do).

There was a piece on NPR a few days ago (listen above) that was about how in the facebook generation we have turned into a society of braggers, where people only post the good news online and leave out the rest.  To some extent I feel I have been that way on this blog, putting down the successes and not admitting the failures.

Over the course of the several months were I was dealing with knee issues, I was depressed about not being able to run, and I let a lot of the habits I had built for myself go by the wayside.  I went from 155, back up to, at one point to 170 (this was also in the middle of the holidays, but no real excuse).  Now I am back down to 163, but it is still a struggle to get back down to where I was.

What I am really trying to get at is that, even though I may sound like I have it all together from my posts, there are still those days where all I want to do after work is come home, get in my PJs and watch TV while gorging on ice cream.  As Newton said, objects at rest tend to stay at rest unless acted upon by a force.

Not every run is going to be great, not every day of dieting is going to feel good.  By I can honestly say that since I have gotten back on track the last several weeks, I feel way better then I did when I started to slip and eat junk again.  Keep your eyes on the horizon, remember why your doing what your doing, the long term goal, and keep in mind those really great runs.

Onward!


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The Big Push

Lunch

Lunch

Last night I announced to Nathaniel that I am in the midst of a big push to lose my next 7 lbs. I’ve been bouncing back and forth between 50 lbs. of weight loss and 53 lbs. of weight loss for what seems like a really really long time. I blame at least part of this on the automatic M&M dispenser at work but also preparing less of your meals at home or making more complicated meals at home increases the difficulty of gauging your caloric intake.

Wired (the publication I work for) had a really interesting article about how calories are sometimes too flexible as a unit of measurement. I agree with the article but I also think that if steaming your vegetables instead of eating them raw is enough to throw your weight loss program off… you are probably not cutting your calories enough to begin with.

Basically I have to go back to being really really strict with my calories (those M&M’ are a slippery slope) and running 5-6 days a week. My BMR is all out of wack right now and if I eat 1,000-1,200 calories a day without running I don’t lose weight.

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185 lbs. represents 50 lbs. of weight loss since January of 2012. My body mass index as of this morning is 26.1 which makes me still medically speaking overweight. For me to have a healthy BMI of 25 or lower I need to be at least 174 lbs. which I fully intend to celebrate at my favorite burger place.

I expect this push to make me crazy and cranky for the next month. An occasional strip of bacon should keep me sane.


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Edge of the World

Nathaniel and I had a great weekend full of activity and healthy foods!

Getting up Saturday morning we loaded up my SUV with Nathaniel’s sufboard and headed to Pacifica. While Nathaniel spent time in the water I went for a run along the coast and saw some spectacular scenery. 

Pacifica is a great place to run and I can’t wait to go back and explore the trails along the coast more in the future. 

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I turned off of highway 1 and ran down this path towards the beach.

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Intensely beautiful views everywhere.

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Runner or not I am still clumsy and I fell running up this staircase.

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Nathaniel rinsing off after about an hour in the ocean.

I was a little late getting back to the beach to meet Nathaniel (and he was a little annoyed) but the run was amazing. At certain points you are running along a sheer cliff and feel as if you are on the edge of the planet… although you are (obviously) on the edge of a continent. 

It is a crazy feeling of freedom.

It was my favorite run so far.