Monday, October 28, 2013

Countdown to TTC: Week 42

Week 5


Track My Eating

Last week, following my visit to the nutritionist, I took stock of my goals for the year leading up to TTC and decided it was time to get serious about tracking what I eat.  As I've mentioned before, I have been a member of SparkPeople for a couple of years now and will sporadically track my food when I consider my weight loss goals, but I typically lose enthusiasm for it when I am not seeing the kind of progress I want.  In the past, I have always stuck to dieting strategies that involve extreme changes in my eating behavior, show quick results, and fall apart the instant I return to "life as usual".  

Well, these days I am determined to live a healthier lifestyle, not just get back into a smaller clothing size.  I don't want to go back to the days of extreme, unsustainable dieting followed by immediate weight gain, but I worry that my body won't respond to more subtle changes in my diet and activity levels.  I am trying to keep my focus not only on how my behaviors impact how I look and feel, but on how my choices might one day soon affect my child's development in the womb and his or her attitudes and beliefs growing up.  That is a big responsibility and I take it seriously.  I don't just want to lose weight for my own gratification anymore.  In fact, as the nutritionist pointed out, maybe I shouldn't even be focusing on weight loss per se.  So this past week I decided it was time to focus less on the scale and more on what I am putting into my body.  

I'm sure everyone has their own method of accountability that works, but for me it's been the online tracking tools that really help.  I can enter down to the last detail everything that I ate or every ingredient I included in a recipe, and then I can reuse those entries over and over for things that I eat frequently.  Plus, I can get all kinds of reports, like the one pictured at the top of this post (Note: that is not a picture of my own progress report -- I actually eat about 1650 calories a day for my current weight, and that is the bottom of the suggested range).  For someone with a scientifically-oriented brain, these features are indispensable for maintaining motivation and enhancing my feeling of self-control.  

Admittedly, I am sometimes at a loss for what to enter when I eat too many things outside of my usual repertoire (I went to a reunion this weekend and tracking just went out the window for the day), but entering my food has helped me to be conscious of what I am eating and how much I am taking in.  It isn't so great when I reach the top of my calorie limit for the day and still feel hungry, of course, but it is very freeing when I realize I have eaten less than the limit and can indulge in a little something extra at the end of the day.  Plus, I think it motivates me to eat more fruits and vegetables just so I can see them being added to the list.  

So far, tracking consistently hasn't caused me to lose more weight (crossing my fingers that this will change in the future), but it has stopped me seeing those occasional weight gains of two or three pounds and makes me feel certain I am eating the right kinds of foods in the right amounts for good health.  I'm hoping to remain diligent in this practice throughout the rest of my countdown to TTC and continue into pregnancy.  

What about you?  How do you keep yourself accountable for what you eat and how much you eat?  Do you personally feel helped by calorie counting, or does it backfire for you?  Anyone else track what they eat carefully but still not seeing movement on the scale?  Any advice on how to stick with a healthy lifestyle even at the times when you aren't seeing much change or improvement?  

For more in this countdown series, see last week's challenge about Seeing a Nutritionist.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Countdown to TTC: Week 43

Coqui the Chef Nutrition Workshop Building Healthy Habits

See a Nutritionist

Normally, I avoid seeing medical or health professionals unecessarily.  I believe preventative care is important, but the U.S. healthcare system really isn't set up for people to visit their doctors and other care providers just to check in.  Plus, as a graduate student I really don't like to do anything that increases my medical expenses.  However, a flyer in the office recently reminded me that my university provides several free services to employees and students to help them stay healthy or get healthier.  One of these services is an initial consultation and several follow-ups with a nutritionist.  Given my ongoing goal of getting ready for pregnancy over the course of this year, it seemed like a perfect opportunity.  So, this past week I added consult a nutritionist about preconception planning and weight loss to my list.  

In preparation for the visit, I had to track my food for several days.  Since I am a veteran user of SparkPeople, the only difficult parts about that were (1) being more self-conscious about my food choices knowing they would be scrutinized by a dietitian and (2) having to simplify my tracking to fit onto the form I was asked to use (since I usually make my food, I am often tracking a dozen ingredients per meal).  In the end, I brought both a filled-out form that was impossible to read and a super long printout of my food from the same days taken directly from SparkPeople.  The dietitian didn't seem to mind and actually looked more at my long, detailed printout.  

I really wasn't sure what to expect from my appointment, since I didn't have any choice over the dietitian and her philosophy--I was just visiting the person who works for my school health center.  The only time I've ever known someone to visit a nutritionist was if they had to lose a substantial amount of weight for medical reasons, which is pretty different than my situation.  Plus, a university is unlikely to employ someone to work with undergrads whose expertise is in chronic medical conditions.  So I shouldn't have been surprised when I came to the appointment explaining that I was frustrated with my current weight loss efforts because I am not losing pounds despite having recently reduced my caloric intake and tracking my food vigorously and her first question was "What would you say if I told you that you should stop trying to lose weight?"  

I don't think she particularly believes I am at an ideal weight, but she is a person who subscribes to a philosophy of being healthy at any size.  Throughout our conversation, she encouraged me to focus on healthy behaviors rather than fixating on the number on the scale.  She also pointed out that I may be making physical changes in preparation for weight loss right now (don't see any evidence of that, but who know maybe I'm stealthily gaining some muscle mass).  She also discussed some flaws with BMI as an indicator of health risk (click here for some alternative measures of ideal weight and here for an article about a new way of calculating BMI that may be more accurate for adults).  I have not yet found any research on the subject, but she suggested that even the "common knowledge" that BMI is directly linked to negative health outcomes may be flawed.  According to the nutritionist, studies which are able to include health-related behaviors directly in their analyses along with BMI typically find that body mass has not additional impact on health outcomes above and beyond healthy behaviors like exercise and eating right.  I don't claim to endorse this opinion, but it certainly gave me something to think about and I will want to research this more.

Although I have made a lot of improvements in my healthy lifestyle and the nutritionist was very positive about my health indicators like cholesterol levels, I still couldn't quite get on board with the idea that I should stop caring about my weight.   But I agreed with her that I am focusing too much on the scale and too little on the positive health changes I am making.  In the end, I didn't have a great answer to her question about my weight.  Honestly, if someone told me I don't need to lose another pound to be maximally healthy and ready for pregnancy, I just wouldn't believe them.  I'm sure I am at a weight that would make it possible for me to get pregnant and probably have an uncomplicated pregnancy, but I know I could have more energy and a fitter body to deal with the stress of growing a new life and then caring for a small child.  Perhaps getting on the scale every day and agonizing over the number isn't the right way to do that, though.  Based on my appointment, we agreed I would cut back to weighing in twice a week and pay attention to my hunger cues.  At my next meeting, we'll discuss making some changes to my eating habits that focus more on hunger levels than on how many calories I think I have "left" for the day.  It's a good start.  Hopefully the scale and my healthy improvements will match up soon, but if not I will try to focus on getting healthy with weight being a secondary component rather than my main indicator.  

For more in this countdown series, see last week's challenge about Planning with Pinterest.  

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Countdown to TTC: Week 44


Planning with Pinterest!

The past couple of weeks have been extremely busy for me, so this past week I decided to tackle a goal that was more fun than challenging.  I started a secret Pinterest board to keep track of all of my baby-related findings.  In addition to my public Pinterest account, I wanted a page where I could keep track of my personal baby research, like links to pages of nurse midwives in my area, hospitals where I could give birth, or play groups in cities I might live in when I have little ones.  I decided to keep it private because (1) my level of obsession with this topic is a bit embarrassing given that I'm not even TTC yet, and (2) I once posted a few baby-related pins in a row on my public page and was instantly being interrogated by my social network.  As much as I enjoy sharing this weekly journey with you, I don't want my family and friends to be confused about my status. 

Secret or not, I love spending my free time researching these kinds of topics and imagining what the future might hold, but often I forget what I discovered as soon as I close all the tabs on my web browser and then I end up looking the same things up all over again (or, even worse, forgetting about a gem that I found).  But surely that is the purpose of a site like Pinterest?  Even though I keep lots of tabs open on my computer, I can never have every page I am interested in easily accessible until the time when I need it.  Invariably the moment I give up and close that recipe I had open for two weeks is the time I finally have a chance to try it.  And planning for a pregnancy that's at least 10 months in the future, I really need to be able to store up the information I find for a later date.  I have also created a Word document to track some information, like my thoughts and ideas, and a folder where I can store published research articles about topics like childbirth, since unfortunately those types of materials rarely have any pictures and as a result Pinterest won't even let me store them.  

Ultimately, this week's goal wasn't so much of a challenge as an opportunity to acknowledge that TTC is really approaching.  It's important to get my mind and body in a good place, but I also need to keep the end goal in mind and maintain my motivation to make positive changes in my life.  The day DH and I decided to start trying is now less than 300 days away!  Until then, I want to continue to enjoy this time of anticipation and preparation.  Different people have their own ways of savoring the moment, but for me one of the keys is getting to imagine and mull over every detail, even if it's just a private activity on my secret Pinterest board.   

What about you?  What's your favorite way to stay motivated to get healthy and prepared, or just to keep up your excitement for a pregnancy or baby that's still a long way away?  Do you keep a secret Pinterest board or is your baby mania out there for all to see?  

For more in this countdown series, see last week's challenge about Proper Posture.