A Brief Glimpse into the Mind

Well, into my mind, anyway.

I have not been up to snuff on keeping in my calories this week. Given the wonderful job I did the first week, I’m dreading my Sunday weigh in. If I maintained I can take that, but I worry I gained.

I’m not writing for pity or scolding, though. I’m writing because something occurred to me this morning.

The past couple weeks with the stress of work and my move, I’ve had a lot of “problems”. I worried about a bladder infection, bladder cancer, meningitis, chest pains, and whooping cough. There was nothing physically wrong with me that whole time. I’m probably forgetting some other mystery ailments. Then I realized last night, after eating far, far too much food, that it was the first evening in a long couple weeks that I felt fine.

But, I don’t like being fat and it negatively impacts everything I want to do. I need to figure out how to calm myself without it and return to rational land.

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New Steps, Old Brain

One of my strengths in dance has always been my ability to pick up quickly on new steps. I remember them as soon as I’m shown them, and pretty quickly they make it to my feet. They don’t look good, they aren’t properly executed, but at least I know what they’re supposed to be. And while I’m still above average in that regard, I think my brain is starting to suffer from an attack of old or is too filled with old steps.

After scrambling to class after work and jumping in a few minutes late, we breezed through our light, single, and slip jigs to work on some changed in the reel. To encourage the kids, my teacher cheerfully informed us that the open champs have the same step in their reel, so aren’t we glad to have it in our novice/prizewinner step? Not me, no. But I caught on soon enough.

We drilled the right leg, then the brave children decided we should dance both right and left leg of the updated step. After a successful run through the right leg, I went into autopilot and bungled my old step with the update in my left leg. A few more runs saw it stick, but I’ll need to drill it at home to be sure. We then drilled the change in our second step, and I caught on amazingly quickly. Of course, left leg happens, but I was pleased by the end of soft shoe.

Soft shoe time always ends too soon, so we were on to changing into our hard shoes and going over the changes to the treble jig. Everything made sense in my brain, but going through to my legs is a completely different story. I also haven’t picked up on how the new steps fit in with the music. So there will be a lot of mental drilling along with physically walking those steps.

No classes for me for a while now due to going out of town for a work conference, so hopefully I’ll have the new steps somewhat engrained in my legs before I return!

Moving Down the Scale

If you’ve been around these parts before, you know one of my big struggles with dance is my weight. Irish dance really can’t afford any extra fat, as the weight you’re fighting against when jumping should really be something that works to your advantage to overcome that gravitational struggle, mainly muscles. Also, I have a wedding coming up in a little over a year and I’m not happy with how I look.

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Oolong tea was a nice, friendly snack on a cold and snowy day.

Cue my food problems. Food is a big comfort to me and a way for me to destress and unplug from whatever is bothering me with life. It was a habit I picked up in childhood – partially from parents and partially from getting used to a larger intake when on a sports team. Over the years I’ve had bouts of successfully controlling the problem and bouts of just giving in to the craving to unplug via food consumption. I also have a supportive fiancé telling me I look good no matter how much weight I’ve gained since we started dating, which removes some of my drive to be more disciplined with my eating. Between a loving/somewhat enabling fiancé and the major stress of buying a house and moving, not only did dance have to go but so too did my nutrition standards.

 

So, on January 1st, I weighed myself in at 155 lbs (70.3 kg/11 stone 1). That might not sound heavy to many, but I’m pretty short and it’s definitely not all muscle. I’m the heaviest I’ve been since I left college and really close to my all time high. The New Year was a good opportunity for me to put my foot down and insist on getting back to my former…if not glory, at least a better comfort in my body and better fuel for my dance goals/wedding dress dreams.

Somewhat miraculously, I’ve been sticking to this goal more than a couple days and I dropped three pounds in the past week! There was certainly some initial water weight so I don’t want nor expect that rate of loss to continue, but I was very happy with the result. It was a struggle to stay on target some days, but other days came with built in food control with the general busyness of moving out of the apartment and into my house. In addition to getting more fruits and veggies, I’ve tried to do some more cooking at home rather than grabbing convenience food (i.e., pizzas). Since moving into the house, my accomplishments include crock pot chicken and dumplings, spaghetti with home-spiced tomato sauce, and chicken parmesan with tossed salad. Yesterday’s dinner was a chicken hot dog and bun, but hey, it was a long day and so too will be today!

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I’m no connoisseur, but this is one of my favorite wineries.

I’m also not without treats. I got some tasty frozen yogurt for a sweet tooth fix and gave myself a housewarming gift in the form of a shipment of wine. Time will tell if I can actually maintain my momentum, but at the moment I’m very happy with where I am in terms of eating.  Once I get a good groove there, I’ll focus again on my macronutrients to optimize them for dance performance.

 

My Calves Are Sore…

…from cooking. Yes, cooking.

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the key issues missing from my training program is good nutrition. I’ve also discussed weight to power ratio, which basically means I need to get to an optimal amount of body fat so that the weight I need to force into the air contains the least amount of “dead” weight possible and the most amount of useful, or muscle, weight. Lighter dancer = easier to get a good hanging leap.

While I’ve worked on getting more consistent with my training, I’ve found myself too tired to cook in the evenings after dance and too tired to clean my apartment properly (which demotivates me). I’m also just super, super hungry since I’ve ramped up the activity levels. And on days where I’m not at dance, I still feel pretty worn out. It’s a bit of a cycle,

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Our farm bounty

as proper food = more energy. When I’m tired, I eat like crap, but I’m tired in part because I eat like crap.

Enter pounds of veggies, a wedding, and a massive meal prep weekend.

A couple Saturdays ago we went to the farm, which during fall harvest hosts a deal where for $20 (or less with enough people) you hop on a trailer pulled by a tractor, get hauled out into the fields, and pick away to your heart’s delight up to five bags of veggies. My boyfriend and I got everything in the photo for $32.50, and it’s super fresh! I didn’t have a ton of time to process them after picking because I also had a feis that weekend, but I set aside the past weekend to cook.

And cook I did. I made cottage pie, chicken stew, salsa, vegetable soup, pumpkin puree, and pumpkin seeds this weekend. I still have a ton of veggies left and probably should blanch and freeze a good amount of them, but I was tired and didn’t get that far by Sunday night! I froze a bunch of the food I made this weekend and am definitely set for this week and potentially part of next week. Even though it was a lot of work, I’m hoping to make weekend meal prep part of my routine this coming year.

Why a year? Well, that’s both about the amount of time it will take me to slowly (0.5-0.75 lbs/week) lose the extra weight I’d like to lose, and it’s when I’m getting married. 🙂 I got engaged on Wednesday and we kind of had a last hoorah with a nice meal and a bunch of wine, and now both of us are looking to shape up so we can be carefree on the day and happy in our pictures.

But mostly I’m looking forward to getting in shape for dance, because we all know dance is life. I think I said “I can’t, I have dance” about 10 times in the past week!

The Nutrition Strugglebus

I’ve been trying to get my shit together the last couple weeks, hence the lack of updates. While cross training has been going well and I’ve made some dance advances*, I just can’t seem to stick to my eating plans. That’s been reflected in my weight, which has been bouncing near my “starting weight” from mid-May.

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Goal weight in green, planned loss rate in red, actual weight in blue.

I was doing mostly well the last couple weeks in June, then the first week of July I barely kept track of my intake. I’m glad I didn’t break 150 again, but I really need to get myself back on track.

This isn’t just a “I look bad and need to lose weight” thing, although aesthetics are certainly part of my desire and there’s no reason to deny that. Extra fat is unhealthy, period. There are too many studies and too much evidence for me to justify that my current body weight/body fat and current way of eating are in any way “healthy” or even acceptable. I want to have great quality of life for as many years as possible and to dance as long as possible. I want my optimal weight to power ratio for dance. I don’t want my feet and knees to hurt as much when I dance. I want to leap higher and stay higher on my toes. All of that is harder with extra weight. And independent of weight, I know that when I eat well vs. when I eat poorly, my performance and general feeling of well being is improved.

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Zucchini “pasta” with parmesan and ground turkey – great veggie infusion!

So why is it so hard to stick to?

Food is my way of coping with a lot. I get anxious about this or that, and eating is the easiest way to suppress that for a while. Sure, I could go for a walk, work out, any other distraction, but eating takes the least effort. And putting forth effort when anxious is very, very tough.

I’m also lazy outside of anxiety and looking for instant satisfaction. I wait until I’m hungry to eat and don’t want to put forth the effort to cook for 30 minutes, or wait for something healthy to finish cooking/baking because I’m hungry RIGHT NOW.

I still don’t understand how to overcome any of this, but I keep working on it. So far so good this week (three days, so long! ha). I’ve finished cleaning my apartment, which was way overdo and a clean apartment helps motivate me to stay on top of everything

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Low calorie dinner of champions: scrambled egg and turkey sausages.

from training and eating properly to otherwise being productive. I’ve stayed in my calories the last three days and avoided both eating and drinking temptations. I hope someday it will become habit, the way my poor eating became habit.

My training (both dance and cross) has fallen by the wayside the last week while I got myself together food and clean apartment wise, but today after work I will do my lifting. Dance class starts up next week but only once a week until the official summer session starts in August, so I will also continue working on my own.

The key will be to keep on top of my nutrition and not slipping into old habits. I have a good jumping off point, and I need to stay the course instead of drifting over to the side of the pool where it is necessary to build a new jumping point and try again.

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So much deliciousness when I’m not lazy.

*For cross training, I’ve been hanging in there on my runs and staying on schedule and working on amping up my weight lifting. For dance, I’m getting closer to a left punch and proper double ups and have been working on tips and shuffles. And I’m getting better at the bit of Blackbird I’ve learned!

You Were Gone Forever, I Counted

I went through a bit of a slump in May. I used moving out of my horrid apartment as an excuse, both before (I’m getting ready to move and can’t stand being here, I’ll train later) and after (I just moved, I’m tired, I’m unpacking, I’ll train later). But later never comes.

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Moving is tough

In my defense, my cat was pretty worn out from the move too and he didn’t even have to pack or haul boxes.

Then I tried getting myself back into gear, but can’t seem to manage much at a time. So I decided to hold off blogging until I was officially back to doing everything on my list. We see how that went! I never got totally on track and never came back to the blog.

But I decided the blog helped motivate me and track my progress, so I’m back anyway. I’m not doing everything in my schedule yet, but I’m working on it. And that’s okay. It might stick easier to take baby steps and it certainly is easier to get back on track without the all or nothing mentality. So with that in mind, here’s a quick round up of what I’ve been working on the last month or so.

Dance:

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    Ghillie lines = hard work, right?

    I made progress on my punches! I can officially do one with the right leg. The left leg still needs work.

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    I’m competing on Friday in the adult category and that may be my last adult competition before dropping down this fall.

  • I’m in a teams class now and loving it. I was hoping to do Oireachtas but it’s not clear if we’ll have enough older folks for a 15&over team. If the dancers want to field an adult team, I’ll wait until January of 2017 to drop down from adults. I suspect we won’t have enough competitive adults, though.
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Performance fun last weekend

Training:

  • I want to focus on getting in better shape this summer in preparation for dropping down in September. To that end, I’ll be doing my “off season” training to build that fitness baseline while I work on losing weight. I just didn’t make enough progress since January. I also restructured my week. I find it easier to have Friday off because I can motivate myself better on the weekends due to free time. If I do take a teams class this fall, it might be on Fridays and in that case Wednesday will be the new off day.
    • Monday: Dance class (2 hours)
    • Tuesday: Dance class (1.5 hours), flexibility (20 min)
    • Wednesday: Weight lifting (NROLFW), core (20 min)

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      ‘Tis the season to start wearing sunblock on running days.

    • Thursday: Dance class (1.5 hours), foam rolling
    • Friday: off
    • Saturday: Dance practice (1 hour), flexibility (20 min)
    • Sunday: Running program, core (20 min)
  • I haven’t stuck to every thing on every day. At all. But I’ve been fairly consistent with dance class. Going forward, I’m going to ramp up lifting and running before I worry about the flexibility/core pieces. They’re important, but it’s too much to get into at once.
  • I’m trying to get spun back up on all aspects of my training without taking an “all or nothing” mindset when I miss a session.

Nutrition:

  • Struggle bus! I’ve been on and off here, seemingly one day good and one day poor. But I keep coming back to it.
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Some meal prepping this week…mason jar salads

  • With a 0.75 lb loss per week rate I’d hit my goal weight around St. Patrick’s Day 2017. I thought it was a very auspicious day to have as the end goal!
  • I’m a couple pounds down from my highest, but more or less holding steady.
  • I have a really nice spreadsheet tracking weight, calories, and Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). I’m glad I found it and it helps motivate me, even if only every other day. Right now a little behind on my St. Pat’s target.

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  • Hit or miss with steps. I’m doing mediocre, but need to be more consistent.

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I won’t be lifting on Wednesday since I compete on Friday, so my main training goals this week are to keep my nutrition in check and attend all my dance classes. One last push to the feis, then settling in for summer with training for dropping down!

Done Easing In

Last week I focused mostly on easing back into my dance regimen. This was a…mixed success. There were successes, but also many lack of successes:

  • Monday: I survived 2 hours in the studio…75 min of drills class followed by 45 min of teams, which was also “just” drills. My legs and core were sore until Thursday morning. I ate 1577 calories and got 8273 steps, so overall a good day.
  • Tuesday: No class, but I did my 20 min flexibility/mobility training. 1641 calories and 11,786 steps. Another pretty good day.
  • Wednesday: No anything. I didn’t count calories at all but I did get 9914 steps.
  • Thursday: Went to my main class at the studio. Class was 90 min long, and I almost didn’t make it through our work on the hornpipe. Didn’t count calories again and only 7741 steps.
  • Friday: Nope. No training, no counting calories, only 6666 steps.
  • Saturday: Totally intended to do my run, and totally lamed out on it. Didn’t count calories and didn’t even wear my Fitbit.
  • Sunday: Rest day, right? Right. Rest day. I counted calories through dinner, when we went out for Mexican food. I think I finished with about 2100 for the day, which isn’t great but it could have been worse. I did get in my steps, total of 10,196.

But when life gives you lemons, you need to remember that you actually rather enjoy the taste of lemon, and wouldn’t these be delicious in -ade, pie, or chicken form with a generous side of vegetables, right after you finished training for your goal of being a champion dancer.

Another motivating factor was this MRI photo I saw today comparing an active person’s body composition with an inactive person’s, both in their 70’s. I was really struck by the fat between the muscles of the inactive person as well as the decreased bone density. In addition to all the goals my current planned training would achieve for me, I want to be terrorizing the retirement community when I get older, not be stuck in a chair. Being healthy in the future starts now.

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Getting in a Groove

I’ve finally managed to get my diet under control in the last week. I’m feeling much better about the amounts I’m eating and not just eating out of stress. There’s still work to do with macro and micronutrients, but one thing at a time.

Best of all, I’m down 2 lbs for it! Watching what you eat works, it just involves careful tracking.

Tuesday was really the only day last week where I wasn’t diligent in my food diary. I’ve

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Skyr!

found I have no problem keeping in my calories with just a little bit of planning ahead, even on days when I’m sharing some pizza and wine, or like yesterday when I went out to eat after our recital. I just need to put forth the effort and find better ways of dealing with stress and anxiety than giving up and shoveling in food.

This week I’m shifting focus back on getting in all my dance classes and cross training, which I’ve been slacking on the last couple weeks. But my next step for improvement in my diet will be to focus on getting better quality foods: more fruits, veggies, lean meats rather than convenience type foods. After that, I’ll focus on my macronutrient ratios. My training book recommends high protein, high carb, and low fat for best performance. As I’m in weight loss phase, I’ve cut back to more moderate carbs, which I’ll then add back into my diet when I’m ready to maintain my weight. Right now I’m too high on fats and too low on protein.

 

The Simplest Thing is the Hardest

There is one thing I could do to increase my performance and make dance progress in a snap. It doesn’t require much effort, and the results snowball into awesomeness. And it would even save me money.

Don’t overeat. Eat properly. Lose weight. Optimize power to weight ratio. It’s simple. Eat

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Pasta, tomatoes, peppers, and ground turkey for dinner. One of my easy quick favorites.

less. Eat healthier. Take a couple minutes to track calories. Make your life easier during the week by prepping delicious, nutritious foods on your Sunday rest day. And hey, even save money by buying less food to eat and more vegetables and less packaged foods, and not letting those vegetables and fruits go bad.

So why can’t I do this simple thing? Why is it so hard that I can only stick to it a day at a time, maybe?

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Easy healthy choice at work cafeteria.

I have all the excuses. I’m tired. I haven’t gone shopping. I don’t feel like shopping. I really don’t feel like cooking. I’m busy. I don’t want to do x thing, and if I’m eating I don’t have to feel guilty about not doing x thing because I’m busy eating. I was at dance and had to shower and now it’s 8pm. I’msohungryIneedallthefoodsrightnow.

My relationship with food is complicated. But to sum it up, I can remember from at least high school that shoving food in my face helps me avoid stress. I’m not thinking about x, y, or z that is stressing me out and I don’t have to worry about the myriad of things on my to do list. Forcing my self to do things, like cook, clean, or go to dance class, can be really mentally

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Delicious breakfast.

exhausting for me.

I haven’t figured out how to get my shit together yet, but I’m working on it. Because I know how wonderful I feel when I get things done.

Nutrition is Still Missing

Why do I feel like I’m going to collapse every time I’m trying to push through the end of the slip jig or hornpipe? Easy – my power to weight ratio is off!

20150927_154143If you haven’t followed me from the beginning (and I’m assuming anyone who may be reading this has not!), I’m following a training plan based on and adapted from Lauren Early’s Training Book. My workouts follow her schedule, though I’m using New Rules of Lifting for Women for my strength training day. Another key component of the book is diet. If you want to be a champion, you have to train like a champion and eat like a champion.

Aside from all the usual reasons for wanting an optimal level of body fat (general health and well being, feeling good about one’s appearance), as an overfat Irish dancer I am trying to push around about 30 lbs of tissue that does essentially nothing for me. The fat is “dead weight”, more or less. It doesn’t contribute to my strength, flexibility, or dancing. It just means I have to work a lot harder to jump than I would if I had the optimal amount of body fat, like dancing around in a weighted vest. Of course, the reverse is also an issue: too little body fat or body weight and not only is the body not at its most healthy, but the dancer does not have the muscle and power required to perform well. As in all things, moderation.

So I did the calculations and for about 20%-25% body fat and a healthy weight, neither too high nor too low, I’m looking to lose between 25 and 30 lbs. I’ve gained over 15 lbs in the past year between major stress eating and a lovely boyfriend who always tells me I look good and am not fat. I can tell pushing through to the end of the dance is much harder than a year ago (partially due to learning more difficult steps, but to be honest some of it is probably the weight). My added leg width adds some difficulty as well with foot placement.

To reach my weight goal and support my training, I’m aiming for about 1600-1700 calories

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Delicious things happen when I bother cooking nutritious food.

per day (a 300 calorie deficit from what I’ve calculated my daily burn to be), with a mix of high protein, moderate carb, and low fat to help fuel my performance. On this plan, I should be losing at a slow but steady rate. Easy peasy, right?

Wrong.

I can dance, lift, core, stretch, and even cardio on a semi-regular basis, but I can’t seem to curb my eating.

There are several reasons (pronounced: excuses). I’m an emotional eater and stress eater, so it’s hard to fight the cravings. Sometimes I’m too mentally drained and just give in. I’m too tired to cook. I didn’t get home and showered until 8pm after class. I forgot to go grocery shopping, so I’ll just graze.

Might as well just own up to it. I’m lazy and unmotivated a lot. Unmotivated doesn’t work when you want to reach your goals.

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Tasty office breakfast today.

So, upward and onward. Yesterday I stayed under 1600 calories and while it wasn’t the most nutritionally balanced, I did get a good amount of protein. Today I will also stay in my calorie goal, and I’ll make the effort to make it a bit more nutritious than it was yesterday.

I’ll figure this out. I’m just not there yet.