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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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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A Race at Lands End

route

He Said:

Today we did another DSE run (they host them every week, so if your in the Bay Area you should come check one out, $5 for a race isn’t bad) the first one we did was the Embarcadero 10k and today’s race was the Golden Gate Vista 10k.

One of our friends had told us about it so Alex and I agreed to do the run without really reading anything about it or doing any research on the course.  The run was at lands end in SF and for those who don’t know, this is one of the hilly parts of the city (I know, where is it not hilly).  The run starts on a trail and then goes along the coast, where it peeks on a hill (or small mountain) over looking the Golden Gate bridge.

Without having looked at the map or realizing where the run was going to be held, it was a little bit of a shock when we got there and our friend told us it was going to be hilly.  The first half of the run went fine, knowing that there were going to be hills, until we got to the mini-mountain and struggling to get to the top of this thing.  There were a couple of guys in front of me, and just seeing them keep going helped to motivate me to keep going.  Getting to the top without stopping was my accomplishment for the day and it did make me feel good about the race.

Over all I ran the race in 54 min, which with all the hills was better then I thought I was going to do.  My comment to Alex in general about the race was how strange it still is sometimes to think that we just wake up and run six miles now.  Both of us agreed to the run without really thinking about it and not worrying about not being able to complete the run or dying along the road on the way.

Cheers to 10ks.

Onward

Left to right: Me, Nathaniel, Billy and Alli.

Left to right: Me, Nathaniel, Billy and Alli.

She Said:

A few weeks ago my best friend’s girlfriend asked Nathaniel and I if we would like to do a 10k with her and my best friend.

Without really worrying about it I told her we would do it – not even knowing the name of the race where it was or anything other than the fact it was in San Francisco and only cost $5 to participate in.

It’s so amazing to me that a year ago I couldn’t even jog a ¼ mile without dying and now I’ve completed a half marathon and can run a 10k any given Sunday without really worrying about it.

The only thing I do differently leading up to it is eat a different breakfast than I would normally eat. Usually I like to have a banana and orange juice before a 10k but today I had toast with peanut butter and orange juice.

Anyways – the date kind of snuck up on us and just after 8am this morning Nathaniel and I were pulling into a parking lot near Sutro Baths in San Francisco with our friends in the car behind us.

It was a brisk morning and we were quite cold as we checked in, paid our fees and just stood around waiting for the 9 o’clock start to roll around. A tall guy (about 6’5’’) sidled up behind Billy and was eyeing him really obviously.

It annoys Billy when people comment on his height or react strangely to him because he is tall so I told the guy “Yeah – he’s taller than you.” Which really embarrassed him and he wandered away…

Soon it was time for the race to start and Billy (the only one of us who has done a marathon) told us the course was going to be hard. I seriously hadn’t even known where the race was until we got into the car and were heading north towards the city … but Billy telling us it was going to be hard worried me a little bit.

We took off at 9 am and the big group of us went looping through the parking lot and then off road to a nice trail with views of the Golden Gate Bridge. The view was fantastic for most of the run and around mile 1 we hit a staircase and I had to climb it – not running.photo-5

To be fair- the stairs were spaced really strangely for running. Only really tall people would be able to run them normally but for the rest of us you have to either bound up them or take a strange step and a half for every stair.

Those stairs were the only thing that really killed me on the run. I was dying by the time I got to the top of them (partially because my muscles were still cold).

I noticed a long time ago it takes me about two miles to start enjoying a run – after that I can cruise a long for a while and just be really happy to be out moving.

During the Las Vegas half Marathon I felt like shit from mile 0-2 and 9-13. Everything in between was fantastic.

I caught Billy and Alli on a long sloping hill near the three-mile mark and passed them near the top of it. Alli (sorry if this annoys you) is a lot thinner than me but doesn’t run as much and she has asthma. If she ran as much as I did she would totally kill me because I outweigh her by 20-30 lbs.

After I passed them on the downhill portion of that hill it was probably another half mile till we started climbing again. And then it was maybe another mile of long sloping hill.

I didn’t actually need to stop at any point on the race except for the stairs although I did walk with Billy and Alli for a few minutes.

The last big hill it came down to just making myself do it. I was slowly trotting up it and near the top stopped and took about two walking steps before I told myself I was being lazy and that I could finish it – and then I started running again.

Although the course was hilly and hard I set a new PR today by about 2 minutes.

I was really happy with how I did and it has me motivated me to start running on a more regular basis.

Onward!

photo


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The sick days of winter

With the cold season abound it was only a matter of time before one us came down with something.  One of my coworkers who sits right in front of me was sick all week and finally my body gave in and I started to come down with a sore throat on Friday.  Alex has been burning the candle at both ends the last half a week and now she is sick as well.

Nobody like being sick, and every time I get sick I question how we haven’t figured out how to prevent it yet.  However, I have noticed that since I have started to eat healthier I get sick a lot less then I used to.  Other then medicine and rest, the other remedies that I try to stick too are drinking lots of water, getting enough sleep, and continuing to eat healthy.

The last suggestion on that list is something I never would have thought of in the past.  When I would be sick I would think chicken soup and that would be it.  But if we really are what we eat, then when your body is fighting off a parasite you need all the nutrients that you can get.  Alex and I usually eat at least five fruits and vegetables a day, but when I am sick I make an extra point to get as many as I can so I can feel better.

Just remember to take care of yourself, but don’t let being sick keep you from eating right or sticking to your routine.

On(achoo)ward.


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Getting High….breathing in elevation

IMG_2456Alex and I went snowboarding this past weekend (as I am sure you can tell from the picture) and other than being sore the next day due to falling we were both pleasantly surprised at how well we did.

We stayed at a lodge close to Heavenly, so close in fact, that in the morning we didn’t even need to drive to the ski resort, we just grabbed our gear and walked.  One thing I noticed (and later pointed out to Alex) was that I didn’t get out of breath walking up the hill to the resort.  The reason this stuck me is because Tahoe is at a high elevation (Olympians go there to train to be acclimated to high elevations) and when us normal sea level folk go there we tend to huff and puff due to our lack of acclimation.

Not being out of breath at the top of the hill was one of those small things that really cemented in my head how far we both have come.  Back in the day I am sure that I would have been out of breath when I got to the top of the hill.  And I am sure I wouldn’t have been able to go snowboarding all day (since it has been eight years since I went last time) without being extremely tired at the end.

What this whole experience taught me is that while we want to lose weight to look a certain way, or fit into a specific size of jeans, what being in shape allows us to do is—well anything we want.  I was able to go sky diving last year because I wasn’t over the weight limit (which used to be a concern for me) or go snowboarding when I want to because I know I am fit to do so.  Being healthy will not only help you live longer, but will make the time you have here as active as you want it to be.photo

Onward!