Healthy Gamer

Healthy Gamer – Add It Up Part 2: The Final Countdown

couch“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt

A few days ago I wrote a post where I had to answer a difficult question a friend posed to me.

If I was making good eating choices, then how did I get so big?

It stemmed from a discussion where she suggested that my eating habits in the presence of other people and by myself were different. She was both right and wrong.

Some critical self-analysis lead to a few horrifying revelations you can read about here, about where I had been. Today, I’m here to discuss where I am and where I’m going. The responses to those practices that created the hole I’m trying to dig out of.

In many cases, I’m going to be repeating the same thing over and over here, because the truth is, different applications of the same root concept are the answers.

I’m pretty overweight and while I’m very active and in the best shape I’ve been in  for …well, as long as I can remember, really; I’m not out of the woods yet, in terms of my goals or just generally being healthy. I’ve still got a ways to go, but I am confident that I will get where I’m going, due in part to being forcefully mindful of the things I am discussing in this post. Being aware is a big part of winning the fight.

Problem 1: Unconscious eating.

Unconscious eating becomes conscious eating. Doi. Start paying attention to everything you eat. Everything. I keep to a pretty strict calorie budget, and I use a calorie counter to keep me accountable with it. My Fitness Pal is my app of choice, if there’s a better choice out there, I haven’t seen it. Fitocracy is another favorite of mine, although one I struggle to remember to use.

Of course, it’s not this simple, it takes time and dedication to break the habits of looking in the fridge when you shouldn’t.

If you are going to snack, make better choices. I bring water and fruit to my Pathfinder game. I don’t buy unhealthy snacks because old habits die hard. I’m only human and I know it doesn’t take but a few pebbles to start an avalanche. Once or twice in this process, I bought something bad, thinking I would/could ration properly, etc. Both times, old habits won out. So now I don’t tempt fate. Sure there’s an argument here to be made for “well, just learn self-control, fatty,” but I choose to exercise this as not exposing myself to the temptation in the first place. I’m not missing much anyway, honestly. When it comes down to it, those foods are just designed to press that pleasure button and don’t really give me any reward but to want more of it. Pass.

Problem 2: Holiday binging.

More mindfulness. Being resolute not to do it. This is one place where I have cut myself a little tiny bit of slack in that I have not avoided the foods associated with the holidays. Last week on July 4th, I had some barbecue and potato salad. I also avoided other meals that day (I know that’s not good, I made a special exception for this) and I didn’t go crazy with it. I also took a walk after the meal, which is something else that I had not previously done with other holidays. I can do with a lot of denial, but I also understand that if you become too unyielding in your restraint, it may begin to chafe. Once that happens, you’re a lot more likely to rebel against it, which is self-defeating.  Let yourself indulge, but do so infrequently and responsibly.

Problem 3: Cooking For Forty Humans

This can be a tricky one, but it’s possible to work around. Plan your grocery shopping  by means of what meals you will prepare before you go, and do not deviate from that list. You know what you mean to make, and buy only those things and actually make those things. A little order goes a long way here. Another thing I do is careful rationing here. Frozen meals may be processed and host to a number of evils I’m not going to bother discussing, but some of the Healthy Choice meals are not totally awful for you, and with the portion already doled out, you can’t really overdo it unless you are actively and intentionally doing so. Same goes for the Greek yogurt I have in the morning. The only time I really have to be careful is dinner, and by the time I’m coming into dinner, I already know what I am making, what my calorie budget is, and how much I can get out of it. One out of three meals takes a little more effort. That’s really not so difficult; just like with every good habit, it takes time to make it a habit.

If you’re a member of the Clean Plate Club, that’s okay. You’re fighting a battle on many fronts here, so you need to pick your battles carefully. I still eat everything on my plate. I just make extra sure that there is a lot of control exercised in what goes onto it, and more importantly, how much.

homerProblem 4: MOVE. 

That pleasure button I mentioned earlier is not the only one you have. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times. Move. Get a taste of those endorphins, feel that high, use it to build upon itself. Stop deflecting, stop making excuses for yourself. GET. UP. AND. MOVE.

Once you build a little momentum, you will see progress, and that progress is exciting. Use that progress and the resulting excitement as your new baseline persona. Take stock of how good you feel, and how you don’t want to let that person down. Think of all the things that person wants to do, and how close you are to being able to do them. You’d be amazed at how strong this concept is. Own it.

Still, easier said than done, right? The first steps are the hardest ones. You don’t know where to start. You have a treadmill in the basement collecting dust, and walking is boring. You’re already out of shape and pushing too hard could result in injury. (Been there, done that, several times over) If you don’t take that first step, you’ll never make the progress to get past these.

I personally can’t stand treadmills. I know plenty of people who get on them, zone out and walk for a few miles. Does not compute. I hate that the scenery never changes and that I’m not going anywhere. I’ve never been able to pay attention to TV while exercising. Your mileage may vary, but walking is one of the best “entry level” exercises. I still walk, I just can’t do it on a treadmill. I do it in a park. Or at the zoo. Or maybe the art museum. Or in one of the more culturally active vibrant areas with lots going on to look at. Grab a friend and make it a social outing.  See, while it’s true that your peak exercise may involve raising and sustaining your heart rate, you’re still burning a lot more calories walking around with frequent stops to look at things than you are sitting around. These things don’t even feel like exercise, but they are.

If you’re like me though, you want to feel the burn, and if you’re in the kind of shape I’m in, that means hitting the gym.

Which means working out…in front of people. The first few times I did this, it took a lot of tunnel vision to get me past feeling self-conscious about it. All too often, I feel like I am the lone fatty there, surrounded by people who are just there for maintenance of their already toned bodies. In a typical workout, the sweat I can wring from my shirt weighs more than the average gym attendant. I completely get the fat guy public exercise anxiety. You’re going to look ridiculous exerting yourself. This keeps a lot of people out of the gym. It kept me out for a long time, until I hammered in a few key facts through my thick, cheese-cushioned skull.

1. No one there knows me. There’s no reason to believe that they are watching and judging that didn’t start in my head, and even if they are, who cares? They are not ever going to say anything, and you’re unlikely to have to deal with them in any capacity. For the most part, people mind their own business.

2. You’re doing something about it. This is a big point. You may be out of shape, but you’re taking action to change that, which is a LOT more than a LOT of people can say. That’s a really big deal and something to be proud of.

3. This last point may be just me, but I have a chip on my shoulder for the whole world. I have a fierce competitive streak, and when I go to the gym, I’m there to prove that there’s nothing there that those other people can do that I cannot. Yes, I know I’m  silly. Yes, I know I’m vain. Carly Simon even wrote a song about me, for fuck’s sake. But it’s also something that drives me, and the end justifies the means. So if you have a competitive streak (and seeing how 4 of my 5 readers are game nerds, I bet you do), remember that it has more uses than just at the game table.   

Art imitates life. I'm pretty sure this is how I look on the elliptical some days.
Art imitates life. I’m pretty sure this is how I look on the elliptical some days.

The payoff is awesome, the activity decidedly less so. I’ve become a bit of an endorphin junkie, and there are still days where I have to talk myself into kicking it up a notch. It gets easier the more you do it.

These have been the “secrets” of my success so far. Talking about them has fired me up to get even more active (so I advise you to do the same). Remember, anyone can do this. I know your problems because they are my problems. And you can do this because I can do this, and do not have any special abilities that you do not.

What are your pitfalls? What’s working for you to correct them?


8 thoughts on “Healthy Gamer – Add It Up Part 2: The Final Countdown

  1. Honestly, I’ve found #3 to be the hardest. Being poor means lots of noodles which are hard to judge. The combination of that and being part of the “clean plate club” is what gets me. I’m not a sweets junky, just a big eater. Nice blog,Joe.

    1. I know how that one goes, and noodles are a bitch. Actually, one that I don’t really deal with anymore. I will occasionally make something pasta based for my daughter, but you do not get a good return on investment calorically speaking, so I avoid them. Habitually, I am still inclined to bigger portions, so I skew my decisions to lean that way. Which means a lot of salads and other fruits and veggies along with a modest amount of lean protein. When I am eating outside of my healthy lines, I get a lot less food, which reinforces my decisions to eat healthier because I get more. Weird, right?

      Try this one, for something that works pretty well, is not expensive, and totally not bad for you. Get a bag of broccoli slaw, saute it in a small amount of olive oil until softened some. Add a can of Progresso Tomato Basil soup (you can use something else, but I’ve found this to be calorically superior to pasta sauces), cook for a bit longer, add red pepper for spice and/or a SMALL amount of grated parmesan.

      End result is a vegetarian pasta-esque dish that has <500 calories in the whole panful. Thanks for reading!

  2. Excellent post, as usual Joe. I’ve been meaning to weigh in more often, because as you know, I’m going through a very similar journey as well.
    The idea of eating was a topic of conversation between a friend and myself not too long ago, and I think that the revelation we made is pertinent to this conversation:

    You have to stop thinking about food as something you do for fun, to pass time, to satisfy cravings; and start to see food solely as fuel for your body.

    It seems simple enough concept, but it was a paradigm shift in both of our eating habits and how we planned out meals for the week. For example: A staple dinner meal for me is what I have dubbed the “Lean Green”. I take 1 cup of fresh spinach, 1 cup of fresh broccoli, and 4 to 5 oz of chicken breast, throw it all in the steamer and presto! I have a plate of food that is marginally smaller that what I used to eat, but is only 260 calories, 5 grams of fat, 15 grams of carbs and a whopping 38 grams of protein. Couple this with a workout either an hour before or two hours after, and you have the makings of a meal that not only sheds fat, but replenishes your muscles after intense workouts. If it is too bland, or you need to change things up a bit, you can always add black pepper, oregano, or other spices for a negligible caloric addition.

    Breakfast options I typically do a two-egg omelet, with spinach and/or broccoli (its a good think I love both of these veggies) with 3 strips of bacon. This yields a high energy meal that is only 250 calories, 16 grams of fat, and 18 grams of protein. And only 4 grams of carbs to boot.

    I am fortunate to work in a quick-serve restaurant that has healthy lunch options as well. I won’t go into those so much as to not sound like an advertisement, but there are almost a half dozen options that all come in under the 450 cal mark.

    As for working out… As we all are/were, I was self-conscience and afraid to go to the gym. I found a lot of good work outs that I could do from the comfort of my own home to get myself started, and boost up my self-esteem a bit. Lots of good apps by Zen Labs (makers of C25K (Couch to 5K), they also have Push-Ups, Legs, Abs, and Butts (which I consider more of a legs, I understand the marketing)). However, my experience at the gym didn’t seem to mesh with my, rather our, preconceived notions of how other gym-going individuals would react to us. I was actually surprised by how supportive everyone at my gym as. I have random folks coming up to me at various times offering encouragement and advice. This is completely against how I view people in general in my area (Columbia is a wretched place), but in the gym, there are dozens of people that see me and remember where they were 6 months, a year, 2 years ago. Mayhaps I am just lucky to have found a good gym.

    Another facet to my new healthier life-style, is my amazing FitBit. It is so so so much more than just a pedometer. It tracks the usual things such as steps and distance, but it also tracks things like overall activity, and you can set goals on it. There is also an amazing website where you can track your weight, bmi, the food you intake, how many calories you’ve burned and how many you can still eat (it will even update your caloric intake based on your activity level), and if you have friend that use a FitBit and/or the site, you can track their progress as well to motivate yourself, or motivate them if the need arises. Another thing it is able to track is your sleeping patterns, and over-all quality of sleep. It wasn’t until I started using my FitBit that I realized how terrible my sleeping habits and sleep quality truly was. Once I realized how bad it was, I was able to seek help from my doctor. Sadly, my sleep is still an ongoing process, but I am much better off now than I was a few years ago.

    Thanks for the opportunity to share Joe. You’ve been a big part of my motivation, and I hope that I can help you as much as you’ve helped me.

    1. Stephen, first of all, congratulations on your successes so far. As well you know, this process is not an easy one, but the rewards are absolutely outstanding. You bring up a very valid point that I’ve been meaning to touch on for a while. As a culture, we have glamorized food as a piece of hedonism accessible to everyone. In the end, under all of that, it is JUST fuel.

      While I am not a “foodie” there are definitely aspects to the foodie culture that I find fascinating. While I do not want to work in the restaurant industry in any capacity whatsoever, I wouldn’t hesitate to take an opportunity to attend a culinary school. We do tie some emotions to food. The term is “comfort food” with a good reason. Much in the same way that you associate certain smells with memories, you do with tastes; and of course everyone would love for the things they eat to be delicious, and when you have something so delightful, it’s pretty easy to want more of it than is necessary. Talk about a slippery slope.

      It is a difficult balance to strike, one that encourages culinary exploration and appreciation, and one that recognizes food’s true purpose.

      Humorously enough, I just typed “sole” and then erased it to replace with “true.” Food does serve more than that purpose, but it has to be handled delicately and responsibly. A cupcake is not going to kill you. Having 2 or 3 is a horrible idea, and having 2 or 3 frequently is a distressingly common event.

      My own approach to the original point was to look at my relationship to food as fuel in the same capacity that the other most commonly fueled object in my life does, my car. How often do I take my car to the station and top off the tank when it’s not empty? NEVER. How often do I go fill up when I’m at the halfway point (not particularly hungry, we can say). NEVER. When I’m in the car, I ONLY put in fuel when I need to. The car and your fueling habits have a lot to teach you about yourself.

      I don’t want to write a book here, but I hope readers of the blog (all 3 of them) take special heed of your comment here and what they can apply to their own lives. I applaud your efforts and hope you keep fighting the good fight. Yesterday’s weigh in officially saw me at 100 lbs down, but this only fired me up to make the next milestone. Thanks for reading, and keep up the great work.

  3. Great posts, Joe. Thanks for the motivation. I found out about 3 months ago that I am now diabetic, and lost 25 pounds in 6 weeks, but have since leveled off. I think changing the way we think about food and its purpose is a huge key. I’m not a foodie, but I love to cook, so I’ve been finding healthier alternatives to some of the unhealthy choices I used to make…the main one being that I used to keep Pepsi in business, but now have cut back to very little soda. Pizza, pasta, potatoes, high carb bread – pretty much out of the diet as I’ve found healthier options that are just as filling. Luckily, I like lean meats and veggies, so the adjustment has been easier for me than what other people experience.

    One thing I try to remember when thinking about snacks and meals: make a good choice each time, and it will become habit. Every time I open the fridge, I remind myself that all of those little choices are going to add up to big improvements.

    Continued good wishes on your efforts.

    1. Diabetes runs in my family (SHOCKING) and I have dodged it somehow. I think my current obsession with health will hopefully keep me out of that game. Those first few weeks are magical, aren’t they? The pounds just melt right off and you think “man, this can’t be as hard as people say it is!” Stay the course and you’ll regain your momentum.

      As you and Stephen have both suggested, thinking about food differently is SUCH a huge piece of the puzzle. I also enjoy cooking, and learning new fantastic and healthy recipes is exciting to me. A lot of carbs hit the road with me because of the poor calorie ROI, but I think that works out better for me anyway.

      Keep up the good work Brent. Thanks for reading!

  4. Joe, I feel your frustration and have had the same experiences you mention here. My weight has been up and down over the years, and being a girl, the pounds just don’t come off as quickly. I guess the smaller amount of muscle mass is the culprit, but it is still frustrating nonetheless! Anyway, you mentioned holidays as a big stumbling block and I agree 100%. It is my biggest downfall. I always tell myself, “oh it’s a holiday, you can have a little dessert.” Well, maybe so, but that usually just starts me down a path of getting that taste back in my mind and I end up craving it again. Now I just say no to sweets and desserts, even on holidays because I know how it ends up affecting me.

    1. It’s easy to preach moderation, but more difficult to practice. If you give yourself an allowance, it routinely cycles into something worse, and you keep on doing it? I’m no expert. There’s certainly a valid argument for “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” but there’s also a strong argument for “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” More and more I find myself in the second camp. It’s easier to avoid it altogether than to try to say “a little won’t hurt.” And honestly, I don’t think I’m missing all that much. And even among sweets, there are better ways to do it. Freeze bananas, then blend them with soymilk and you’ve got a banana ice cream that isn’t completely horrible for you. Of course, all things in moderation. Thanks for reading!

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