My Favorite Food Apps

If you have an Android device, you have over 450,000 apps to choose from, and even more for iOS/Apple users! Some apps, like Angry Birds, find their way into your life by the sheer popularity and addictiveness of the game, but where do you turn if you are looking for something a little more practical? After several years of installing, trying, and often deleting food-related apps, there are a few that have found a permanent place on my home screens. Here are my top 5. (Note: These are all Android apps, as I am an Android-er, and they are all free. I am oddly cheap about paying for apps, and I like my favorites enough that I don’t see how a paid-for app could be any better.)

For Tracking Diet and Exercise–Myfitnesspal: This is great food and exercise tracker that I have used for years. It is easy to use, and works well both on a smartphone and on a computer. It can give you some guidelines on your calorie needs, and can track your weight, and even things like arm circumference. The food tracker seems to always have the items I am looking for, but a word of caution: other people can enter foods for you to choose. While this is convenient, you are trusting that the information is complete and accurate. I try to choose myfitnesspal’s own entries when possible, or confirm that the nutritional information is at least in the ballpark.  You can also set up your personal database to focus on what your specific desires are. Watching your sodium or carbs? Need more calcium? You can choose the information to be displayed. You can also set categories of meals or snacks. For example, if your drink a lot of high-calorie beverages, you can create a beverage section, to keep a close eye on those items. You can also keep track of fitness, which then “pays you back” some of your calories; its a little extra incentive to exercise when you see your calorie allowance go up! Other great tools are all the reports you can run to see your data over time, and you can share your diary with others, have myfitnesspal friends that you can contact, or just read the message boards for inspiration and support. It even has a bar-code reader to check on the nutrition of your foods!

Chad and I have used this several times in the past, sometimes just to reign in portion sizes or be sure we are exercising regularly. Because this has so many great tools, this is what Chad is using to track his 40 By 40 progress…we love it that much!

For Recipes–Big Oven: Despite my growing mountain of cookbooks, I am often looking for a recipe that will fill an immediate need, such as when I am overrun with basil or eggplants! Big Oven is a easy way to focus on what you are looking for. It allows you to search for what ingredients you want to include (basil and eggplant,) and omit any with ingredients you definitely DON’T want! (Around here, that’s mayo and ketchup!) You can read others’ reviews and see posted pics of the recipes. You can also search for categories to narrow your search, use its recipe planner for your weekly menu or even help make your shopping list. If you save your recipes on your phone, you can always pull them up at the store to make sure you don’t forget a crucial ingredient! You can search for recipes under other categories such as diabetes, but remember that these recipes are often shared by the public, and the listed nutritional information may have errors. (Also, all recipe websites are sure to tell you they are not able to “cure” your disease by using these recipes…so use at your own risk, and always use your best judgement when choosing healthy recipes!) I am a member of several recipe sites (read: food nerd) but Big Oven has a great blend of easy, comfort, fancy and ethnic recipes, so I always get a lot of variety.

For Label-reading–Fooducate: This is my newest toy! It’s main purpose is to scan bar-codes in the store, and condense all the information on the nutrition label and ingredient list into a letter grade. It will tell you some good and bad aspects of that food, and if your food gets a poor grade, it will give you some alternate ideas that score better. For me, this is just fun, but for others who don’t want to spend time comparing 5 different types of cereal and weighing the pros and cons of each, this gives you one overall piece of information to base your decision on. Beware that using this app can ALSO take some time, so if you don’t read labels at all, this will make your trip longer. But for those bogged down by the many choices in the aisles these days, it could be a time-saver to them. One other note: It is pretty tough to get a grade above a C+ or B-, and part of that is the preservatives and salt used in processed foods–which is what allows them to be packaged and given a bar-code in the first place! Even if you only use it once, either at the store or looking into your own cupboards, you may think twice about some of the items you buy!

For Kitchen Math–Recipe Converter: Since I am always trying new recipe ideas, and I am a science nerd, I always like to have an actual recipe to follow. I follow that recipe exactly, unless I have made it a couple times and feel comfortable enough to tweak it to our personal taste, which usually means twice the herbs and spices! And there is always the doubling or halving of recipes, whether you are going to a potluck or just making dinner for two. Because it’s part of my knowledge base, I can convert grams to ounces or teaspoons into cups, but not always in my head! Recipe Converter helps me with kitchen-type math quick enough that I don’t have to stop my actual cooking. It takes a second to get used to it, but it converts both weight and volume measurements to almost any unit and can even give you the needed amount if you change the yield (how many the recipe serves.) Kinda geeky, but handy if you spend lots of time cooking or baking.

For Workouts–Map My Run: Though this isn’t a food-related app, it is part of overall health. I use it on my phone to track the distance of my runs, bike rides and even kayak trips by GPS. I have tried several others, but this app seems to be the most accurate and consistent. I can share my workouts on Facebook, and make the routes public, so others can benefit from your routes, too. This also has a general fitness tracking system where you can enter workouts, and you can map out a trip on the computer before you leave, so you know the distance you will travel. This app was fabulous when I was training and needed runs of a specific number of miles. (They do have memberships that have a fee and come with more features, but I haven’t felt anything was lacking in the free version.)

Who knows what app I’ll find next, but it makes me feel a little better knowing that it MIGHT be something to help live a healthier or better life…but it also might be just for fun. Hey, there’s always Fruit Ninja!

Please note that I do NOT receive any compensation for endorsing any product. These are my personal opinions.


And the challenge starts…(for real!!)

I’ve known since the day I started this project that the real work of it would be once school started again. Many people have no idea what a school principal does, and that is probably our fault as a profession for not making it clear to the public at large. The reality is that it is a very busy job, with almost constant demands on one’s time. For example, yesterday, I had 14 scheduled meetings. I know there are likely jobs where there are more, but to me that seems like a lot and those are just the ones that get on my calendar. With about 120 staff members in our building, I have many times that many “conversations” where a staff member is seeking me out for an answer, reassurance or problem-solving.

I don’t want to have you think I am whining about this. I love my job and the pace and variety of it are one of the things that attracted me to it in the first place. But it does present what has so far been an insurmountable challenge to my healthy lifestyle choices. I get so engrossed in my work I skip meals. I eat at odd times. I go so long between meals, that I am starving and eat the first available food, whether it is good for me or not.

Michelle packed me a lunch on Tuesday morning. It was amazing: salmon fillet, quinoa and black beans, melon balls, and 2 cups of assorted veggies. What’s the problem? I didn’t eat it until Thursday at 1:00 pm. It sat in the school refrigerator for over 2 days, because I couldn’t find the time I needed to eat it.

Whoops! There, right there, is the crux of the problem. I just typed “I couldn’t find the time.” That’s where I always fall down. I am realizing it isn’t about finding time. If I have to find the time, something will always be more important. There are too many truly needful things I have to address daily for me to be able to “find time;” I need to “make time!”

Making time? I believe that is the key. Now I just have to figure out how to do that. 🙂 Suggestions all?

Weigh-in Day #2

So, I know I posted some weigh-in stats over the weekend, but that was just a result of my not being able to wait till “official weigh-in day” to look and see how I was doing. Anyone who has ever tried to lose weight can likely sympathize with that feeling. And also probably intuitively knows who counter productive that is.

For me especially, my weight can fluctuate so much from day to day, that any weigh-in schedule of less than a week is counter-productive. This week is a good example. So as you may recall, I weighed-in on Saturday at 376. 4. On Monday, I was walking by the training room in our school, so I stepped on the scale: 378. 8 was the result. This morning, less than 48 hours later, I stepped on the same scale for my official Wednesday weigh-in: 372. 2.

If I keep that up, multiple weigh-ins a week, I will quickly drive myself crazy. So, official Weigh-in day is Wednesday. In the past I have used both Friday and Monday. Those are no good. Friday, because, as Michelle mentioned in a previous post, our weekend lives are very different from our weekday lives and that number is usually my lowest point in the week. Monday’s are no good for the opposite reason; it is usually my highest point in the week. So Wednesday should give me a pretty good average.

Other than weight, how am I doing? Well, this is the first week with staff back in the building, which means I have already missed a meal. Yesterday, I didn’t get a chance to eat breakfast, and then I didn’t eat the lunch Michelle had prepared because of a commitment over lunch, so I ended up grabbing a rushed pair of bratwurst and a plate of baked beans. This is exactly how every day goes in my job, so that is going to be one of my greatest challenges. We’ll have to see how our plans to overcome it work.

On the exercise front, I have worked out 9 of the last 12 days. My shins continue to be painful, but my speed and wind are improving. Yesterday, I also skipped my morning workout to get some work done, and I felt a little off all day, so I grabbed a quick walk at about 7:00 pm. Seemed to make my night go a little better.

Hang in there everyone and thanks for following my progress.

Week 1’s Dietitian (AKA: Wife) Visit

NOTE: This blog is for (your) entertainment purposes only. If you are inspired to improve your diet and discuss what your obstacles are and how to address them, find a registered dietitian (RD) near you for an expert, personalized opinion that takes your personal health status and history into account.

After sixteen years of marriage, Chad and I have had discussions on almost every topic. But when it comes to nutrition, exercise and any other health topic, the number of talks have been in the hundreds. I am constantly throwing bits of “nutrition trivia” at him and taking him for long leisurely walks through the grocery store to read labels and scowl at the food marketing. Also, since he has struggled with his weight for most of his adult life, we have had many discussions (in varying degrees of loudness) about how we might change his lifestyle. I say “we” here because any spouse that has been with a partner who is trying to make a change, whether its trying to quit smoking, eat healthier or get into a healthy exercise habit, the spouse is part of that change. (And sometimes NOT for the better.) Because of my career, I am uniquely qualified to either help or frustrate him. It is a fine line to walk to be supportive, informative and encouraging without sometimes coming off as judgmental, disappointed or scolding. For Chad, he may feel like I am secretly adding up every forkful he eats and silently, but constantly, critiquing his every choice. Imagine being married to your therapist!

One of the common questions I get from people who have weight issues is “How much should I eat?” That is a brilliant question, because it gets to the heart of the problem, but for the same reason, its not an answer that will be quick, and definitely won’t be the same for everyone. Chad has mentioned that he has a “two calorie goal system.” This idea seemed like it might work for him for a couple reasons: we lead different lifestyles during the week versus the weekends, and though one number may be easy to stick to during the week, the weekend is more difficult, often involving traveling and restaurant-hopping, which we both enjoy! Also, he does have a history of abandoning his efforts after a day of not reaching his goal calories. So why set things up for failure when beginning a year-long project?

To determine his numbers, 2400 calories and 3300 calories, he consulted with his geeky RD-wife, who promptly pulled out her phone calculator and did a page full of calculations!

  • I looked at his “current body weight,” his “adjusted body weight,” his “goal body weight,” and his “ideal body weight.”
  • I calculated the calorie-range that would maintain each of these.
  • I looked at how much he wanted to lose to reach his goal (~65#) and how long he had to do it.
  • I included how often he would be working out, and how many calories he is estimated to burn each time.
  • We also took reality into account: he does come from a tall, large-framed family, and to expect him to weigh less than any male in his family has ever weighed (less than 195#) is not realistic!

OK, enough geeky stuff. It was predicted that to maintain his “before” weight, or to slowly add weight, as he had been doing not so long ago, he would need to eat 4000-5000 calories. Then we sat down and discussed it. We laid out a plan to show what calorie content each meal and snack might be to be sure he could imagine spending a year (theoretically) on this plan. At the end of it all, we decided on numbers that would be above the “ideal body weight” calories but still on the lower end of what was estimated for his goal of a 40 BMI.

Despite the very stern-looking numbers on the page, there were two things to remember: 1. These are estimated amounts, no matter how we tried to count every last calorie, and 2. any decrease that results in more calories being burned than calories eaten will result in weight loss. What we are hoping to predict is how much is a workable amount, and allows steady weight loss without such crazy hunger that Chad cracks, eats poorly, and then gives up. As the year goes on, life will dictate what happens to those calorie goals: is he losing weight too fast or too slow? Is he working out the same amount, and at the same intensity? Will he need to add snacks or eliminate them, thus changing the size of his meals? Are the two goals set too far apart or too close together?

So how are we doing so far…?

After one week: Chad has lost 6.6 pounds in 9 days, that’s a little over 5# in one week. In most situations, I STRONGLY tell people to shoot for 1-2# per week, at the risk of starting too strong, then losing your will to keep going. However, knowing my “client” like I do, there are some factors at play here.

  1. First, he’s a guy, and darn it if guys just don’t lose a weight a bit easier than girls.
  2. He’s a BIG guy, so he loses more in a week than others have as their total goal; for him, its a smaller percentage of his total weight. (6.6# is 0.017% of his original body weight…oops, sorry, more data!)
  3. Water weight. For the last week, he has eaten much less processed food as well as exercised regularly. This can sometimes cause a extra bit of weight loss at the beginning of a diet, but it’s important to be aware of this, since it doesn’t continue for long and people often wonder why the weight isn’t coming off as quickly as at the start.
  4. He has been feeling appropriately hungry at mealtimes, without the desperate, starving feeling that comes with severe calorie restriction (and possible nutritional deficiencies.) He says he’s happy with how the calories are set right now, and that he feels fine.
  5. I know from his other weight loss attempts that he could lose MORE than this in a week, so I do take that into account because it speaks to how his body/metabolism responds to his weight loss efforts.

He had a good week of meals, with only having one small slip involving gas station food because of time and planning issues. He has not skipped a meal. His proportions of carbohydrates, fats and protein are good (more on that another day,) and he is eating more fruits and vegetables!

He has a good start on his exercise plan, which will hopefully become a habit, and even more enjoyable when he become less sore and starts seeing some physical results.

I am most curious to see how the weekly amount of weight loss changes and if, when, and how often the calorie goals need to change. There are many weeks ahead of us, and I would say he’s off to a great start!

Just over 1 Week in…

…and I weigh 374. 4 pounds and have a BMI of 47.5. That is a pretty good week. My strategy of having a primary and ultimate calorie goal seems to be working well. While I have had days in excess of 2400 calories, I have not had the sense of failure that I have in past weight-loss attempts, because I have successfully stayed under the ultimate goal of 3300 a day.

Also, I have exercised 6 of the last 7 days. This is a big change from all of my past attempts. Exercise has not been a priority before. However, the calorie deficit vigorous exercise affords me, makes the eating less less painful. Michelle has been telling me that to lose weight I needed to eat less and exercise more!! Turns out she might know what she’s talking about.

So after 9 days, I have shed 6.6 lbs and lowered my BMI by .9. I have some sore muscles, especially in my shins, but over all I feel great…it even seems my shortness of breath has already improved, though I recognize that might be psychosomatic. But like my dream-catcher tattoo that prevents nightmares, I’m about results!

Stay tuned for more….and thanks for all the well-wishes from everyone. It is surprisingly encouraging to read your positive comments. Keep it up and share your stories, successes and struggles, as well. We’ll all get there together.

Madison Mini Race Report

Enjoying wine with Chad while listening to live music on a beautiful summer evening…four days before race day!

When I was ready to get out of my fitness slump, I knew I needed another race to fire me up. I had done 5Ks and 10Ks and sprint triathlons, and though it sounds strange to some, the tri’s were mentally less intimidating for me, since I wouldn’t have the monotony of doing the same activity, running, for hours at a time. But since I was looking for a new project, and did have some confidence from my previous races, even thought they were years ago, I decided to try a half-marathon. Yes, 13.1 miles, or almost 22 km! I talked to one of my racing friends who knew that previous to this, I had already aborted a half-marathon plan after a long run of 8 miles. She knew I usually average 3-4 miles per run, 3-4 times per week. She also knewI was born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin, and immediately suggested the Madison Mini-marathon, as well as Hal Higdon’s training plan. Both of these were strokes of genius; the course gave me a chance to visit Madison, which I ALWAYS LOVE to do, and the plan was great for me, as I didn’t know what my “race pace” would be, and didn’t much care. I needed to build my mileage while cross-training and keeping on schedule, and this plan helped me do that without any fussing over times or distances. I also was not going to stop enjoying other things I love. (Note the wine in the picture!)

That brings me to my next step: What should my goals for the race be? I have learned to set not just one goal, but a few, each a little loftier than the last. Since my miles don’t get much quicker than 10 minutes, the time would be slow, so I had to decide how low, and high, to set my bars. Also, with some of the heat and humidity we’ve had and the unknown weather on race day, I wanted to be conservative.

GOAL #1: Finish (Hey, this is should be a goal in all races for everyone. There could be injury or weather that pops up to foil your plans, and this way, if you finish, you have already succeeded.)
GOAL #2: Under 3 hours. This is 13.7 min mile pace, but again, I’m setting myself up to enjoy the experience, in case I’m inspired to do this again.
GOAL #3: Under 2:55
GOAL #4: Under 2:50
GOAL #5: Under 2:45–I figured if I could come in under this, I’ll be ecstatic!

The view 30 minutes before race time.

By some miracle, I actually got more sleep the night before the race than on other insomnia-laden nights, so I figured I was ahead of the game. (True to form, I did have 1 glass of wine with my delicious pre-race dinner at Greenbush.) I headed out to the Memorial Union early in the morning to allow myself a lot of time. I was able to get a great parking space, have all the bathroom access I needed (you racers know what I mean) and relaxed for a while looking out at Lake Mendota, anticipating the finish that I hoped would be coming soon. Because my time goal was so low, I was placed in the last corral for the start…corral J. As in A, B, C…J! Since I hate trying to start slow while feeling pressure to speed up as everyone is crowded and trying to get a good position (really? in the first half mile of a 13.1 mile race?) I was fine with that, and actually found a spot toward the back of J. It was a great few moments: the sun was out and the air was just cool enough to be refreshing, with little humidity. With a slight uphill start, I could see hundreds of people in front of me waiting to start. I was never so calm before a race…I was just HAPPY. I knew I could cover the distance from faithfully following my training plan, even though the longest run I did was less than 11 miles…I could crawl the difference if I had to! And then the race began!

[My plan was to go slow, and then slow down from there! If I felt panicky, which happens to me sometimes for unknown reasons, I will downshift instead of speeding up. I would watch my splits and try not to be too erratic, but would not start running for any particular time until after the Arboretum, which was somewhere after mile 7. A mini-goal I had set for myself was to not feel I went out too fast. That is a classic mistake, which I have made before, and was also everyone’s advice for me.]

I am glad I chose Madison to run my first half, because the course is laid out to take you past many of the great sights of the city, and I hoped the course would help take my mind off this crazy thing I was about to try! I felt good from the very beginning, and the Capitol/State Street section was wonderful. I was glad we were running down State instead of up, which I have done before and do NOT like! But I also knew how tempting it was to pick up the pace, and I reminded myself to keep it to one step above “shuffle.” Then I had my bit of Mini-magic. Part of me always does anything unique and interesting for my dad, who died at 46 of cancer. As I was almost at the end of State Street, I saw a couple who were friends of my father’s, who I NEVER see otherwise. I was able to call out to them and wave, and they were of course surprised to see me, too. I kept on going, but the tears were rolling down my face for a good mile as I was running my first half marathon in the hometown I love. I choose to believe this: dad couldn’t be at the race, so he sent them for me instead.

That was the final piece of the puzzle. I knew I would have a good race and enjoy myself, so I just settled in and looked at the course through happy eyes. The run past the Kohl Center, Union South and Camp Randall was great of course, and it was here that I passed the 2:45 pacer. That group was ahead of me at the start by a couple minutes, and though it was WAY too early to care, part of me knew that if he didn’t pass me, I’d have my A+ goal. The atmosphere changed as we got into the first residential area. Things got quieter and the runners started to spread out, and we had our first tiny rolling hills. By concentrating on my pace, I was able to actually pass some people who had a more up and down pace. I also saw my favorite sign at this point, “We are proud of you, total stranger!” I would take someone who has run to know how nice of a sign that is! (Also to her credit, I saw her twice more on the course…what a great spectator!)

Running along Lake Wingra near the zoo was also great for me; my family spent many a summer day at this free zoo, and I was able to let my mind wander to my family and childhood in Madison. It wasn’t listed as one of the sights on the map, but we were also running very close to St. Mary’s hospital, where I was born…I guess that sight-seeing moment was just for me. I was feeling good as we entered the Arboretum, which was a mental checkpoint for me. I knew it would be shaded (it was) so I was hoping to collect my strength if I needed to, or just keep up the pace if I was feeling good, which I was. I continued to stop at each aid station for a water and a Gatorade, and though I walked while I drank, I was never walking for more than a minute and a half, and was able to run the rest of the time. When I came out of the Arboretum, I did some very basic math, and knew I had a shot at 2:45!

We headed back towards the University through surface streets and a stretch of four lane road. I was still feeling good, but obviously getting more tired as the miles wore on. I would just start to feel a bit sluggish when an aid station would appear, and my cup of Gatorade rinsed down by a cup of water would revive me. My next landmark was the University Hospital, marking more than 10 miles, which was my longest training run. I had slowly noticed that I had passed most of the people that I was with for the first part of the race, and other than a few people who were still getting further from me, I seemed to be running the same pace as most, and passing others. This reminded me of a movie quote, “I’m not going faster, Harry, everyone else is going slower!” Needless to say, I was pretty proud of myself, since my plan of not going out too fast seemed to work, and others may have fallen victim to that mistake.

The last couple miles were strange and new for me, because I don’t recall anyone overtaking me, but it seemed like I was passing many people! This is when I decided I would ALWAYS start towards the back of my starting group…it feels great to imagine you are speedy! I knew I had been bouncing slightly between 11:30- and 12:00-minute miles (definitely NOT speedy), and I was happy with the consistency of my splits; I felt good enough to push a bit harder the last 2 miles. Thankfully, the course did not take us up Observatory hill, but along the lake on a much flatter paved/packed dirt road. There were some inclines and declines, and that, with the tiredness and the mounting excitement, made me start losing my breath for the first time. I had still walked only while drinking, so I had to be sure to remember that I would still be running for about 20 more minutes, and I had to make sure I didn’t reach exhaustion too early. Thankfully, the organizers of the race broke the last mile into pieces, because I lost all concept of time, and that last mile did feel the longest! I had to stay calm as I passed the 3/4, 1/2 and 1/4 mile markers, trying to gauge how much energy I had left.

The last couple hundred yards was kinda rough, with a downhill followed by an uphill as the roads and driveways along the lake fluctuate up and down, but I knew this stretch and knew exactly how far the finish line was, so I decided that I could power through the distance (~0.1 mi) that was left. As we turned onto Park St, I prepared to give what I had left (which is not much, since I am NOT a sprinter, as my slow miles bears out,) and then I see Chad. He is standing at the top of what little incline I have left, with his camera at the ready. My adrenaline gives me the power to raise my hand over my head to wave, and I know he sees me. I don’t remember breathing as I round the last corner and see the finish line. I don’t know how many people were there when the majority of racers finished, but I remember there were still a sea of faces and I did hear my name as I approached the finish. I crossed the line at 2:36:32, exceeding every goal I had set for myself!

Pretty gosh-darn proud of myself!

The finishing chute was wide, and since finishers were sparse now, we had plenty of room and did not bottleneck as we slowed to a walk. I got my water and a volunteer placed my medal around my neck (yippee!) There were snacks aplenty; chocolate milk, bananas, chips, cookies, granola bars, but other than the medal, I was most grateful for the sweat towels they handed out! I made a beeline for the lake shore, where Chad found me right away. We snapped a couple pictures and I got my free beer! Those who know me at all know that I don’t drink beer, but, boy, did I drink this one! I got my results from the receipts they print out for you; this is a great new invention! (Have I been out of the fun run scene that long, or do they only do this for larger races? Great to have this right after the race; there was a time it would take days to get results!) Chad allowed me to bask in my post-race glory as we sat at the Union and people-watched.

This is the best race I have ever run, and many things made that happen: great weather, great course, great town, etc., but I think the confidence built from my long runs and my happy anticipation were key. Chad was a great support for me; training involves quite a time commitment, and he never rolled his eyes at my training. In fact, he never scoffed once in June and July, as I was babying a raging case of plantar fasciitis with ice, massage and a funky nighttime foot brace. It could be said that I didn’t set a realistic or challenging enough goal, but as many have told me when planning for this, “the first one is just for fun.” And it was!

Net Time: 2:36:32
Pace: 11:57
5 Mile Pace: 11:49
10 Mile Pace: 12:06
Last 5K Pace: 11:31
Division Place: 211/244 (Ahh…BOP yet again!)

I’m an Anti-super-star!

After watching other dietitians’ blogs, I was VERY leery to add a section on my physical activity. Since Chad and I are using this as a tool to track his weight loss and hope take him from morbidly obese to obese (and hopefully further!,) I didn’t want to in any way diminish his work and commitment or intimidate or discourage anyone else who might also be on the same path. However, since this is a blog partly about how we function as a couple, and because non-obese people set goals that are challenging as well, I will be sharing a bit about my athletic endeavors, such as they are. To prepare you, here is a glimpse into where I am coming from.

I am fortunate to take after the thinner of the two sides of my family tree, and have never been considered overweight or obese. As a matter of fact, I had always been on the thin side, which was helped out by sports in high school. However, I had earned the Freshman 15 like almost everyone else, and my activity level became sedentary–other than bar-league sand volleyball. After several years, I decided I needed a goal, an endpoint that will hold me accountable for the routine exercise I should be doing. My little commuter town held a yearly sprint triathlon, and I decided to go for it! This often seemed crazy, especially since I never ran track or cross country in high school, and always power-walked the mile fitness test! But I knew I could never stand all the running that would be required for a running-only race, so I thought this would build cross-training right into my schedule. Also, because it was a local race, I knew how horrible I would feel if the race came and I wasn’t at the starting line! I had planned it early enough that I had practically a year to train, and when the day came, I was  quite nervous, and felt like an imposter! “At any moment, someone will look at me, my inappropriate hybrid bike and my obviously non-track body, and tell me I don’t belong!” Then, as I was making my way to the check-in tent, I realized that of all the hundreds of people around, no one was looking at me. At all. If anything, they had the same looks on their faces that I knew was on mine; they were worried only about themselves and if they could live up to whatever goal they had set after their year of hard work. After that, I was no longer embarrassed, and after that race (and after 2-3 races per year for the next several years,) I had no feelings of  embarrassment or dread. I only felt the nervousness that comes with excitement and hopefulness.

During all my athletic endeavors, from t-ball to today, I have had NO public glory in sports. As far as I can remember, I have NEVER “placed” in any tournament or season standings, never made an all-city team or even been voted MVP. When  the “individual sport” season of my life began, things were no different. From the 5K and 10K races I ran to the sprint triathlons I did, I never made it above the bottom third of my age group. I don’t ever expect to make the top 3 finishers, or even make the top 30%. Part of the reason for this is I have never come close in all the years I have played sports. But the other reason I learned on the morning of my first triathlon: you don’t race against the people standing around you. It doesn’t matter who passes you and who you may pass. You race for yourself. If you don’t, you always lose. If you do, you always win.

As a lifelong BOP-er (Back Of the Pack,) I can say that all the cheesy lines are true. The journey of a thousand miles DOES begin with a single step. Just being there IS a victory. It ISN’T how you finish but that you had the strength to start. Run your own race.

Currently, I have started over once again. As happens to all of us (healthy weight dietitians, too,) I had an “off-season,” where my fitness suffered, along with my attitude, my body and my self-esteem. But I am glad to say I started another season of fitness, which has just been topped off by accomplishing a major goal; one I never would have thought I would have while walking briskly around my middle school track.

First few days…

So, we are 4 days into the project. In those 4 days, I celebrated my birthday, ate at one of our favorite Madison restaurants, ate a danish at the Madison Farmer’s Market, went out for the evening with some former students and coaching colleagues, and attended a Brewers’ game. Just about everyone of those things is a potential empty-calorie jackpot for me.

I did really well at the Brewers’ game; finishing the day right at my primary calorie goal. Friday’s birthday night wasn’t as good, but I still stayed below my ultimate calorie goal. (I’ll explain that primary and ultimate thing in a bit.) Dinner at the Greenbush, with wine, and popcorn at the movie theatre did a pretty good job of boosting things higher than we want. With breakfast at the Stella’s Bakery stand at the farmers’ market, followed by lunch at Laredo’s and dinner and drinks with friends at Sal’s Pizza in Fort Atkinson, meant that Saturday was a lost cause, calorie-wise.

Michelle tells me that to maintain my weight at my level of activity as of last week, I needed to consume in access of 4000 calories a day. So we have established an “ultimate calorie goal” of 3300 calories a day. This combined with an increase in physical activity (5 days a week of at least 45 minutes), should allow me to lose weight at a healthy, slow rate while still reaching my goal of 40 BMI by August of ’13. Due to my strange psychology, everytime I miss a goal, I feel like quitting. So, using, I have established a “primary calorie goal” of 2400 calories a day. Now this number is doable some days. For example, I hit it on Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday. And it is not doable on others, like Friday and Saturday.

But what happens in my brain is, I look at the primary goal and I shoot for it. If I make it I feel great. If I miss it, my hope is that I won’t feel terrible, knowing that wasn’t the “real” goal for the day anyway. Thus I am trying to game my own weight-loss psyche, so to speak. So far it seems to be working, but it has only been a week. We’ll see how long this “setting the clock 20 minutes early” plan will work.

“40 by 40” gets started!

I am Chad Harnisch. I am 6’2” tall and I weigh 381 pounds. From the ages of 12 to 21, that was pretty much how I was introduced. Name, height, weight. I was a successful high school football player, and for a goodly percentage of my life, one of my goals was to get bigger. Then I went to play college football (unsuccessfully) and big became huge.

Now, I am high school principal in northern Wisconsin and huge has become obese. There are no easy answers to how someone gets to be 381 pounds. There’s a combination of factors involving psychology (stress eating), metabolism (purposely gaining weight for 10 years), lifestyle (sedentary), and genetics (everyone says I look exactly like my grandfather). I’m sure my wife, Michelle Swader, (my partner in this project “40 by 40”) could add a few other factors as well.

At the end of the day, however, all of those factors add up to this: tomorrow, August 17th, 2012 my BMI (Body Mass Index) will be 48. 4. Michelle will likely share with you what my BMI should be, were I to be considered healthy. What I’ll tell you is that tomorrow, August 17th, 2012, I am celebrating my 39th birthday, and I am sick of feeling bad. A brief overview of my physical ailments would include: out-of-control high blood pressure, diabetes, damage to at least 5 of my spinal discs, ankle and knee joint pain, chronic shortness of breath and a slightly enlarged heart.

In the last few years, a number of people important to me have died prematurely. For a while now, every time I look in the mirror, I think about all of the years those people are cumulatively missing, and about how many years I am likely throwing away by not changing my lifestyle, and I can barely face my reflection. The years I am giving away, others would gladly take, to finish college or raise a child or bounce a grandchild on a knee.  The sure knowledge of that potential waste, combined with the health difficulties, has convinced me that it is past time to make substantive change.

So, the “40 by 40” project! My goal is to lower my BMI to 40 by August 17, 2013. (To do that, I will need to lose over 65 pounds.)  I am working with Michelle in multiple ways on this project. First, she is my wife and loves me and wants me to be around for a long, long time. Second, she is a registered dietician, with specific knowledge and skills that can help me in my quest. Third, she is a fantastic cook, and because she is “under-employed” at the moment, she has time to be a personal chef, of sorts. Lastly, she is a novice blogger, which will allow us to both publicize my goal and my progress, but also share with the world the process of going really fat to just fat.

We’ll be doing this without fad diets or surgery or drugs. My goal is to do this under the care of my dietician in a healthy way and to share the process with others so that they may be inspired to try to make similar changes. I know it will not be easy. I have tried and failed before. Over the course of the next 12 months, we will share our successes and our failures, our triumphs and our frustrations. Hopefully, I will hit “40 by 40.” When I do, I will set a next goal, and a next goal, and a next goal, until I hit my 80th birthday. (Then I am going back to buttering my steak!!)

This year’s new garden experiment…eggplant.

It’s my third year with a garden, not just herbs in pots, which I inevitably dry out by July, but a permanent garden in the ground. Each year I try a new vegetable or herb other than the tomatoes, peppers and herbs which I have grown each year. This year, my local farm co-op offered seedlings of eggplants, so I decided to give them a try. I was pretty skeptical, since they seemed a bit tricky, but that’s really only because I don’t see them in too many gardens, so I assumed that’s because they must be hard to grow. I either lucked out this year, or eggplant is a very under-rated veggie for the new gardener. They grew quite well, with me just leaving them alone!

Who know the blossoms were so pretty? A nice bonus.

My first eggplant!

What shall my first eggplant dish be? Pizza!

Grilled eggplant pizza with my own basil! A pretty good start of eggplant season!









I’m looking forward to more eggplant and more great recipes, and I will be sure to keep eggplant on the list for next year’s garden!