Thursday, September 26, 2013

Countdown to TTC: Week 45

Etiquette lessons from Sofia: the proper sitting posture

Proper Posture

Again this week, I decided to begin working on something that's a bit more challenging for me than some of my early goals: posture.  Honestly, if I just make a little progress on this one it will be a big improvement, because I have been hunching for as long as I can remember.  Maybe it's because I'm taller than most women, or maybe it's a holdover from my awkward teenage posture, or possibly I'm just too lazy to stand up straight.  Certainly adopting a lifestyle that involves sitting at a computer most of the day hasn't helped.  Whatever the reason, I know it's probably bad for my neck and back in the long run and I especially want to improve my posture before I get pregnant.  I've read numerous times that posture during pregnancy is even more important than it usually is because your body is changing and working hard to support extra weight that's all concentrated in one spot.  Women are already understandably more prone to back pain during pregnancy, so I really don't want to make it even worse by slouching all the time.

Although the origin of my bad posture is somewhat unknown, the reason for its maintenance is fairly obvious--my core, back, and neck muscles are weak.  Plus, I am so used to having bad posture that I almost can't even tell if my posture is good or bad at any particular moment.  Thus, my first course of action was to buy an inexpensive posture corrector to remind me to sit and stand up straight.  The particular corrector I ordered is made of elastic material that stretches around your back and shoulders and wraps around under your chest to attach with velcro.  It could be worn by a man or woman, but I feel it is particularly designed to strap under a woman's bosom.  I opened it as soon as I saw that it had arrived and started wearing it.  As various reviewers had mentioned, the material and the velcro are not very comfortable, so I wore a t-shirt underneath and padded some of the spots that rubbed (under the armpits, probably because my arms aren't as slim as the models) with washcloths.  While it doesn't exactly force you into the correct posture, the elastic is strong and definitely pulls my shoulders back without me doing anything.  Because of the way the getup looks and the fact that I am wearing it over clothes, I have no intention of wearing it out of the house.  Instead, it is a way to practice a couple of hours at a time sitting with good posture and hopefully that will slowly train my muscles and also make me more conscious of what proper posture feels like.  Even after just a few days I do feel like it is a little more natural to rest with my shoulders back rather than hunched forward.  But I'm sure it will take a long time to break my bad habits for good.

In addition to my sessions with the corrector, I am beginning to try a few other strategies to make my posture improvement a speedier and less unpleasant process:

  1. Work on back and core strength.  There are numerous online articles and video explaining and demonstrating exercises that promote good posture.  In general, it is easier to support your head and keep your shoulders back if you have good upper back strength and to support the weight of your body if you have strong abdominals.  My typical exercise routine doesn't focus much on strength, and when it does I focus mostly on my arms and legs, so these are definite weak spots for me.  
  2. Stretch.  There are lots of good stretches that promote better posture and reduce back and neck fatigue/pain.  Stretches can even be done at a desk at work. 
  3. Adjust my sitting position.  If you're going to sit all day, it's better to sit properly in an ergonomic chair with legs straight down and preferably feet slightly elevated.  Or even better to use an exercise ball or a kneeling chair rather than a traditional desk chair.  Since I share my office space and take whatever chairs are available, for now I'll settle for getting up frequently, setting my chair to the proper height for my computer monitor, and trying to to cross my legs or lean to one side for a long time while I work.  
What about you?  Have you done anything to improve your posture recently and, if so, what was your strategy?  Do you have any experience with the effects of good/bad posture during pregnancy or have any words of wisdom to share?

For more in this countdown series, see last week's challenge about Having an Active Lifestyle. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Countdown to TTC: Week 46

Color Run NYC 8-26-2012

Get Active, Have Fun

 Once I commit to a certain activity or behavior, I am pretty good at following through on it.  So taking the stairs more or drinking more water are doable as long as I am able to remember they are on my to-do list.  But something I don't really do well is add spontaneous healthy behaviors to my day.  Even if I have an opportunity, I won't spontaneously add extra walking or play outside with friends or go out dancing.  For me, health-related activities are a necessary chore that you have to plan for but that you wouldn't want to do for fun.  So my goal this week was to work on changing my perspective about being active and to move toward having a healthy lifestyle, rather than a set of specific healthy behaviors.    

Step one of this effort was to register for and participate in a Color Run.  These events are popping up all over the United States and are pitched as "The Happiest 5k on the Planet".  Participants register in advance to take part in a 5 kilometer walk/run and show up on race day with thousands of other people to travel on a single track.  People of all shapes, sizes, and ages come to take part (including many families with infants and small children).  Runners/walkers are released in small waves, and there are several stations set up along the track representing a single color.  At each station, participants are sprayed by enthusiastic volunteers with dyed corn starch that starts to cover their clothing and bodies in bursts of bright colors.  When you complete the race, you toss a final color packet that you received at the start of the race along with hundreds of other participants, creating a rainbow cloud (pictured above).  

I am usually the type of person who avoids such events when possible, but since I started counting down to trying to conceive I have been thinking about my goals a little differently.  Usually I pass because I don't like waking up early on the weekends, which is almost always mandatory for walks/runs, and also I worry that I will get too tired or sore by the end of the race and look foolish.  Now, though, I am thinking more long-term.  Why avoid something fun like the Color Run just in case I might get tired?  I should instead look at it as a challenge and a goal for self-improvement.  Plus, it could be fun and maybe I would even want to be one of those mommies out there in a future race pushing my baby in a stroller or one of the fit pregnant ladies strutting along with a prominent belly bump.  

The next step will be a bit more difficult, because there is no specific plan or list to follow.  I will just need to start saying yes more often to opportunities to get active. I don't want to make a rule to always say yes, because there are some things I don't like to do or that are beyond my current abilities.  But having a yes attitude will be a good start.  Also, keeping an eye open for opportunities I might otherwise miss is a good idea.  I see lots of information about free events in my community, but usually I skip right to the ones about food or theater/movies and don't even look at active ones.  Even though most of them might not be my thing (I loathe most organized sports, for example), I might find the occasional gem like the Color Run - within my ability level, active, fun.  

What about you?  Is routine exercise the only way you get active, or are you able to find ways to get moving that aren't part of your exercise schedule?  How do you have fun while staying or getting fit?  What are some calorie-burning activities that you actually enjoy?   

For more in this countdown series, see last week's challenge about Eating More Produce. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Countdown to TTC: Week 47

Eat More Produce

By this point I've had over a month to ease into this countdown business, and despite spending a few days having to pee every 10 minutes and waking up sore one morning from climbing about 20 flights of stairs the day before, so far I haven't challenged myself to make any major changes in my day-to-day life.  This week, I want to rock the boat a little more and really put health at the forefront of my efforts.  I am challenging myself to eat at least 4 servings of produce a day.  At least half should come from veggies, ideally more.  

Some aspects of what we should eat and how much of it we should eat are controversial, but I won't be spending too much time today discussing that issue.  Almost everyone agrees that eating a variety of vegetables (especially) and fruits is good for you, and the fresher the produce is and the more different kinds you consume the better.  You can also add environmental and nutrient benefits by shopping for locally-grown produce in many parts of the United States (just search Buy Fresh Buy Local and your state's name online to find information about farmer's markets and other local food resources).  This message is being vigorously promoted by the USDA's My Plate program, which suggests you fill half of your plate at each meal with fruits and veggies.  And the same message is also supported by leading nutrition researchers (who are not necessarily without bias but probably are under less direct pressure from the agricultural lobby), such as those at the Harvard School of Public Health who recommend a similar diet breakdown.  

This week, I used the handy calculator from the My Plate website to determine what is the recommended number of servings for someone of my age, size, and activity level who wants to progress toward a healthy weight.  My personal recommendation is to consume 6 oz of grain, 2.5 cups of vegetables, 2 cups of fruit, 3 cups of dairy, and 5.5 oz of protein daily.  Based on the most current nutrition research, I think the recommendation for my dairy intake is too high (see the Harvard School of Public Health's discussion about dairy and calcium for more information), but I am convinced that I should ideally be eating at least 4.5 cups of vegetables and fruits on an average day.  

The calculator further breaks down the proportion I should devote to vegetables of different varieties over the course of a week:  1.5 cups leafy greens (note that one "cup" of greens is actually 2 measured cups due to their volume), 5.5 cups orange/red vegetables (like carrots and tomatoes), 1.5 cups beans and peas, 5 cups starchy vegetables (like potatoes and lima beans), and 4 cups of other vegetables (such as onions, mushrooms, and green beans).  Unfortunately there is not much evidence provided to support the suggested breakdown, and the Harvard School of Public Health food guide suggests that starchy vegetables like potatoes shouldn't really count toward your daily vegetable intake, but I do appreciate the help trying to think of the different kinds of veggies I should be eating so I don't just get stuck in a rut of eating only spinach or only green beans.  In fact, I have a very hard time thinking of anything that isn't green as a vegetable, so the breakdown is pretty nice.  My only change would be to lower the allotment for starchy vegetables and redistribute the remaining portions to other categories (particularly leafy greens).  

So, this all seems very well and good, but unfortunately I like doing all the research a lot more than I enjoy actually trying to cram more produce into my day.  I know fruits and vegetables are supposed to be a large part of my diet, but usually when I start adding more than I would normally eat I just end up packing in more calories rather than replacing something with them.  For instance, I'll still have the same amount of rice and chicken at dinner, but now there's a cup of green beans too.  Anticipating this problem, the My Plate people have created corresponding dinnerware that visually shows you how much of your plate should be devoted to each of the food groups.  This would be a great idea for someone who likes to eat their foods in discrete categories, but I'm more of a mixed dish kind of person.  I often eat my foods in a sauce and all piled together on a plate.  Grains, proteins, and vegetables all go together but fruits are usually eaten separately, often not even in the same meal.  So how do I implement the My Plate idea if I can't see the ratios of the food groups?

Despite the intuitive plate rules, I have decided that the best thing for me is to actually count the servings.  This is not too difficult for me since I already track my calories on SparkPeople and can easily look over the day to see which foods were fruits and veggies.  It gets a bit dicey when I want to determine exactly how much of something counts as a serving, but generally I use these 3 rules for veggies:
  1. 2 cups = 1 serving fresh leafy vegetables
  2. 0.5 cup = 1 serving of cooked vegetables that reduce substantially when cooking  
  3. 1 cup = 1 serving of anything else (cooked or not)
These rules are simplistic, but I think they are true to the spirit of the thing.  With fruits I am more fast and loose.  One fruit is a serving unless it is especially small (e.g. plums, apricots, cherries), and then I just count about the amount that would make up a cup as a serving.  For dried fruits, half a cup is a serving.  I don't typically drink juice to get my fruit, but 6 oz is a serving by my accounting.  

So now all that remains is for me to actually eat my fruits and veggies.  I started on that effort this week and haven't been entirely unsuccessful, but I have had to fudge the numbers a bit to get to 4 every day.  Through no fault of my own, our household had an unanticipated influx of leftover pizza this week that had me counting pizza sauce as a partial vegetable serving and of course the summer produce season is ending so it was hard to find veggies on sale at the grocery store.  I have been quite successful with the 2 servings of fruit a day, but I think it is much harder to pack in extra veggies.  They just don't make good snacks in my opinion - they need to go with something.  Plus, I know this is a bad excuse, but it's just so disappointing how quickly fresh fruits and vegetables go bad!

My creative solutions so far in this challenge have been to add spinach to my scrambled eggs, make a peach sauce to top my evening pancake snack instead of syrup (with some bonus sliced banana on top), and to add some yummy hummus to my ready-to-go foods stash (good thing beans can double count as veggies!).  I also bought some broccoli slaw so I can hide that in basically any sauce.  Plus, I always keep no salt added canned vegetables on hand, as well as fruits canned in juice and a supply of flash-frozen produce to keep it interesting. 

What about you?  Are you a produce-eating champ, or do you struggle to fit in fruits and veggies?  What tips and tricks do you have to boost your intake?  Have you found ways to make produce more portable or less work? 

For more in this countdown series, see last week's challenge about Taking the Stairs.