Friday, January 29, 2010

Will power and the cleansed brain

In my previous post, I mentioned that the refresh of cleansing, in addition to habits lost and found, helped me avoid the typical binging I commit when I'm stressed (and January tends to be a real doozy for me at work).

Apparently, I get a pat on the back. According to NPR, it's not easy.

A few questions hit about the story, so here it is — Will Power and the Slacker Brain: Why is it so hard to do the right thing? Turns out your brain gets tired sometimes and just can't fight the power... of chocolate cake.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

End of the cleanse

A Frank's bratwurst was delicious... but not very cleansing!When I crossed the finish on my three-week cleanse last weekend, I celebrated with a cold 13-miler, which broke my training into 10+ (and 30 for the week) for the first time since the Akron Half.

Needless to say, it was a bit much and probably not a fab idea to suddenly kick up my long run by 50% in less than a week.

At least the cleanse was fab.

Now that I’ve shaken the not-so-hot post-cleanse overindulgence I committed on Saturday and Sunday (bratwurst from the market, cupcakes, cookies, apple fritter, pizza on Saturday; cinnamon roll-wrapped bacon and cupcakes on Sunday) and shed weight I packed in a mere two days, I’m basking in the afterglow and digging some new habits.

It’s no secret that nutrition is both mystery and obsession for me. What’s more fun than exploring foods’ properties, cooking up a storm and understanding how food delivers energy and affects our insides, outsides, brains, feet and tears? Yet I’ve never grasped how much grub I needed to thrive (and how not to skyrocket my blood sugar all the time).

The Clean program was a good place to start. Not only did I learn about my body’s natural, regular detoxification process, I discovered a collection of foods that lessen the detox load, deliver energy and kick the habit of blocking my body’s natural ability to heal itself.

A week out of the cleanse, I'm still observing the 12-hour detox period at night and waking up with a lemon-water detox for my liver. If nothing else, these two rituals have helped my body prep for sleep at night and wake up easy in the morning.

What’s more: I began to appreciate a number of ingredients (i.e., quinoa, kasha, kale) that comprised many of my meals, use them in new ways and crave them for the great way they made me feel. For weeks before the cleanse, I had suffered from nearly debilitating heartburn. By week two, it was completely gone.

But it was the “plan” part of the cleanse that delivered the real epiphany.

While I consider myself, in general, a healthy eater (with some unhealthy habits), I don’t think I’ve ever been a conscientious eater. Particularly with respect to calories. I’ve grown up in a culture that advertises 2,000- and 2,500-calorie diets as standard. And they are. For people much larger and/or more active than I am. Even if I am training for the Ironman. After getting a basal metabolic rate assessment from my health care provider, I realized that a person my size (5’1, 124 pounds) needs about 1200-1300 calories each day. Then I get a few more for training… but not much. Who knew?

I’d used online tools in the past to measure my needs, but the standardized tools recommended 1500-1800 calories each day. Suddenly I realized how a girl running 50+ miles a week could gain weight.

Imagine my disappointment, though, when I discovered that I needed 300-500 fewer calories each day! I thought I was going to starve. But then I really tuned in to my plan and listened to my real appetite.

In the past my appetite was measured on taste satisfaction, not quantity. Cupcakes? Those are good… and I’m not full until I’ve had 30 of them. Green beans? Often delicious, but not indulgent. So, I’m full about 20 calories in.

Enter the Clean plan.

The book didn’t outline three weeks of meals, but provided a series of recipes and a recommended eating plan (i.e., smoothie for breakfast, lean protein solid lunch, light detox-friendly snack, soup for dinner). And it only took me 1-2 days to realize that the smoothies, soups and meals I was eating actually left me full and satisfied, even if they were smaller than my usual pig-out of food.

Some things like a brothy soup or grilled chicken breast tend to have filling properties, but I was surprised that I wasn’t full… my appetite was satiated. Even on heavy training days. And once 7 p.m. hit., I observed my 12-hour detox and never thought about snacking. Turns out following this plan was a lot like following a training plan for a marathon. It’s not always perfect, but delivered results.

But what will shock you to your very core: I seem to have kicked the too-sweet habit. Seriously.

Sure, I tried the weekend overindulgence, but I didn’t really enjoy too much of these goods things. In fact, I only ate one half each of two cupcakes and a third of an apple fritter before I felt too indulged (they were tasty… and are now in the freezer). I ditched plans to make fancy donuts at home on Sunday… and haven’t had anything sweet all week despite being done with my cleanse.

Don’t get me wrong: I still love my desserts and treats. But I don’t crave and think and plan and dream about them. Much (I am still alive). I have a drawer full of chocolate I stashed during the holidays (“for later”) and haven’t even reached for it. Somehow I survived a very stressful month without any stress-eating. And according to NPR, that’s not easy to do!

But how long will I stick with the good-eating habits? What will toss me from the wagon? Only time will tell. At least I have regular cleanses planned to keep me on the straight and narrow. I’m most vigilant, however, on how my nutrition affects my training. And… so far so good. My energy has been steady and strong (totally unlike calorie-cuts of the past), and I feel like I’m eating the right things, rather than less of the same schtuff.

Still so much to learn about myself, food, energy delivery... and the million things I can do with kasha.

All this Cleanliness has primed me for dropping some of my non-leanness for racing season. I dropped about six pounds over the three weeks (part diet, plenty of exercise). The only drawback: my running tights are too loose now… and loose tights lead to some mean chafing on a rough 13-miler. Ouch!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Cleanse week two, training week one (15 weeks to go)

Rumor has it that it takes three weeks to break a habit. Fingers are crossed that it’s true: I’m two weeks into breaking my healthy-diet-spoiling eating habits and hoping that it sticks.

And after a week’s warmup, I finished my first week of training for the Pittsburgh Marathon.

Here’s the full rundown on Week #2 Cleanse/Week #1 Training
On rising: lemon water
7 a.m. herbal tea
Breakfast: blueberries, cocoa, almond milk smoothie
Snack: probiotic yogurt
Lunch: snapper w/broccoli rabe, kale and pine nut quinoa
Dinner: zucchini-basil soup
*Training: 6.25 treadmiles @ 9:00/mile

On rising: lemon water
7 a.m. herbal tea
Breakfast: blackberries, mango, spinach, almond butter smoothie
Lunch: grilled chicken w/pesto, spinach, zucchini, kale, chipotle sauce over polenta
D: pumpkin pudding (pureed pumpkin, probiotic yogurt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cayenne)
*Training: warm-up; progression hill repeats w/ two sets of 1:00 1-8% grade/:10 pace increments; cool down; 20:00 strength training

On rising: lemon water
7 a.m. herbal tea
Breakfast: oatmeal w/blueberries, almonds, almond milk
L: Pumpkin risotto w/short-grain brown rice and grilled balsamic chicken
D: Pumpkin soup w/cilantro, onions, zucchini
*Training: 25:00 strength, 40:00 yoga, restful night

On rising: lemon water
7 a.m. herbal tea
Breakfast: oatmeal w/blackberries, cinnamon, almonds, almond milk
Lunch: Sweet miso w/shiitake mushrooms and spinach
D: Bean chili (not exactly cleansing, but the best I could do out)
*Training: 7 treadmiles w/intervals between 7-8:00/mile; 30:00 yoga

On rising: lemon water
7 a.m. herbal tea
Breakfast: Almond butter, mango, spinach smoothie
Lunch: Pumpkin, cinnamon, fresh ginger, cayenne, almond milk smoothie
Dinner: ahi tuna over cilantro-lime short-grain brown rice w/avocado + green beans
*Training: 25:00 strength; 30:00 medium effort cycling

On rising: lemon water
7 a.m. herbal tea
Breakfast: harvest grains + steel cut oats w/ blackberries, almonds, cinnamon, cumin, ginger
Lunch: carrot ginger soup
Dinner: cilantro-lime short-grain brown rice w/avocado, green beans, zucchini
*Training: 30:00 yoga; 4:25 miles outside @ 8:50/mile

On rising: lemon water
7 a.m. herbal tea
Breakfast: blackberries, pineapples, almond butter, cinnamon, almond milk smoothie
Lunch: apple (OK, so I missed lunch)
Dinner: Lettuce, red onion, black olive salad w/minestrone
*Training: 35:00 medium effort cycling with 2x5:00 mid-high intensity; 15:00 stretches

And then I started week #2 of training with 9 miles outside @ 8:45/mile. While I thought I was being too ambitious targeting eight miles, I reached big hill at mile four and decided to tackle. It’s about a half-mile bump whose last quarter mile builds from 5-8% grade.

The sidewalk was pretty icy this morning, so the ride down wasn’t its usual relief.

As you might suspect, I’ve managed to lose a few pounds since I started my cleanse and training. But, as you might not suspect, it’s not a matter of malnutrition.

I’ve tried to drop pounds in the past during training, but found it nearly impossible. Probably because I felt entitled to thousands of calories I hadn’t earned. When I actively tried to cut my calories during training, I wouldn’t optimize my meals or my calories. So, I was left feeling weak and energy sapped and completely convinced it was impossible to drop pounds on the run.

Ridiculous, huh?

My real goal is to drop 15 pounds from my beginning-of-the-year weight by the time I race the Ironman in September.

It’s a pretty healthy, metered pace. I’ve dropped 3-4 pounds in the past two weeks, which isn’t the pace I’ll continue, but a nice start. These first several pounds were, well, easier to drop because I packed on plenty during the holidays. Bonus pounds, we’ll call them.

So, in this final cleansing week, I hope these good habits grab tight. Obviously, I’ll allow myself the occasional blip of indulgence. But maintaining the small size and frequency of blips will be the trick.

I get the sense that it would take me far less than two week to break good habits and find myself smothered in some delicious buttercream frosting.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Spring cleaning: part two, week one

Blueberry smoothieCleanses don’t have the best reputations. Sometimes for good reason. In fact, my first experience of detox/cleanse was really unpleasant. And it was third hand.

A friend fell into the Master Cleanse—mostly a water, lemon, maple syrup, cayenne drink until you drop—while crushing on a girl from yoga. By day three he was, well, overwhelmed by the squirts (not to mentioned grossed by the salt water he had to drink), and apparently no amount of feelings for a bendy girl really outweighs the squirts.

I heard all about it, in graphic detail, from my friend Jeff and never wondered why it was called a “cleanse” again.

Then I discovered’s abbreviated weeklong post-holiday cleanse last year. It was a balanced meal plan of mostly smoothies and soups with a collection of solid meals that delivered carbs, protein, fats, vitamins, the works in a way my normal diet just doesn’t.

Whole, natural ingredients nixed sugar, high sodium and processed gunk. Regular smooth meals eased work on my stomach. The whole week left me feeling energetic and, for lack of a better word, clean.

But I’ve said all this before.

One week into my second cleanse, a three-week detox, good feelings are back. Most mornings start with lemon water, tea and a delightful smoothie; lunch is a solid meal containing most of the day’s protein; and dinner is a veggie-based soup after a post-work snack of something like probiotic yogurt or almonds.

What’s different with this cleanse is that a) it’s really blimey cold outside; b) I’m still cooking dinner for Neil; and c) I’ve started training for the Pittsburgh Marathon in May and the Rev3 Ironman in September. At first, I wasn’t sure it would work.

Training, however, blends well with cleansing: the hard breathing and sweating removes toxins and eases stress (which releases poisons of its own) in a way that plain old good eating and healthy thoughts just can’t. What’s more: I’m more dedicated to yoga practice and deep breathing during heavy training cycles, which helps kick out the bad schtuff even more.

To illustrate, here’s a few days in the life:
On rising: lemon water
7 a.m. Herbal goji berry tea
8 a.m. Kale, pineapple and flaxseed smoothie (at least 12 hours after last meal)
Lunch: Balsamic grilled chicken w/ rosemary wild rice
After work: 25 min cycling
Snack: 20 almonds
Dinner: Carrot-ginger soup
Part of the detox process is giving your body time to digest, kick into its natural detoxification process and recover. Alejandro Junger, doc-author of Clean, explains that digestion takes up to four hours, followed by eight to rid the body of toxins, and that we should give our bodies at least 12 hours to complete the cycle.

Putting the solid meal in the middle of the day and a smooth meal at night during cleanse, Junger suggests you’re giving your system greater time to recover with ease of digestion as it heads into daily detox.

Because I cook for Neil (last time he fended for himself), I had to strategize—no way he was going to dig carrot-ginger soup for dinner. How would I do solid lunches?

Easy: time shift.

Starting on Sunday, I cooked dinner for Neil, packed away half for lunch, and whipped up a soup for me. The next day I reheated the Balsamic chicken with rosemary wild rice (on Tuesday it was roast salmon w/broccoli rabe quinoa; Wednesday had Moroccan lamb w/harvest grains and spinach) and repeated.

Neil was a little put off by our different meals, but I’m thinking the deliciousness should eventually distract him.

Alongside feeling great, I enjoy how just one week of cleansing makes me feel in control of my appetite and my diet (and, as opposed to my friend’s Master Cleanse, my bowel movements ;-). Sure I have the occasional fantasy about cookies and cakes, but I’ve already shook the self-consuming cravings.

Could I go for some dulce bread pudding? Sure. Will I have some? Nah. I think I’ll have a smoothie with mangoes, almond butter and spinach instead.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What I did not look like on my first treadmill run

My last trip on a treadmill? Forty-five seconds of sweaty stumbling, stopping, skipping, swearing misery that actually, according to my friend Jeff, turned me into a fire-breathing devil woman. (I'm still paying for his therapy.)

No, I didn't fall, but sometimes the threat is worse than the actual thing.

Except, of course, when it's the actual thing: 15 years ago I stood on a treadmill for one absent-minded split second as someone plugged it in. And then I was thrown across the room at 6:00/mile. Ouch.

Imagine my anxiety today when I decided to hit the treadmill at lunch. It's been weeks since I last ran, months since I've trained. Chances of me running on freezing rain: unlikely. While I've packed outdoor running clothes every day for work since October, I haven't peeled myself out of my office chair into the cold once. Oh, winter wussiness.

I must have looked I was approaching a lion's cage for the first time and walking in. The buttons were difficult to push, the moving-ground sensation took a bit to grasp, and let's just say my knuckles were white as I gripped the bar to steady myself.

I only let go after five minutes, when my arms started to hurt! Then I gripped hard with two fingers, then one on each hand. Finally: at 2 miles I ran hands free. No stumbles, zero trips and only one too-long stride. I think I'll do it again.

It wasn't a bad inaugural workout either: 4 miles @ 10:15, 8:20, 8:34, 9:00. The first mile wasn't fully slow... it took me several minutes to poke up the pace from 12-13:00!

So it begins: Pittsburgh, here I come!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Spring cleaning: part one

Nothing leaves me feeling flabby, lazy, gross and, of course, merry quite like the holidays.

My uncanny ability to down 3,000-5,000 calories of sweets and non-essential fats (in lieu of blood, a slow sludge of sugar and butter creeps through my veins) in a single sitting without diabetic coma drowns me in guilt and extra pounds every time. For some reason, I just keep doing it year after year.

A semi-hiatus from running has intensified my itch of grossity this time. I’ve been on the mend and a little lazy since September. Sure, I’ve been keeping up cardio, trainer-cycling and strength training, but nothing quite has the return on investment (for me) like running. And so I flab.

But new year, new me… right? Well, not even the glory of new year could throw me on track this year: I stepped outside for my inaugural run on Friday morning and wiped out on the new ice. Looks like only a treadmill and an indoor track can save me now. When did I become such a winter wimp?

Cold or not, I refuse to wimp out this year on mastering a healthy diet. I’m turning 2010 in February and believe my uber-healthy-on-one-hand, crazy-unhealthy-on-the-other eating habits won’t hold up in decade #3. What better way to start than a three-week cleanse?

Following Thanksgiving, I tried my first detox/cleanse. It was a weeklong process that consisted mostly of raw fruit/vegetable soups or smoothies and making me feel great. No sugar. No processed junk. Very little salt. Despite enticement from Dunkin Donuts chocolate peppermint holiday treats commercials, I felt really satisfied, healthy and clean the whole week. And for the first time… ever… I felt more in control of my appetite and my relationship with food.

Then I went to Dunkin Donuts on Saturday and drowned in guilt. Bleh.

It was such a great experience, however, I’ve been pretty eager all holidays long to get back to an extended cleanse. The trial run was based on this detox, which led me to the full plan by Alejandro Junger. So, for Christmas I bought myself and just finished reading “Clean,” Junger’s book about detox and restoring the body’s natural ability to heal itself.

Far from the “eat (this) and thou shall be saved” variety of miracles, Junger’s book explains the body’s natural (and daily) detoxification processes, the makeup of good foods, not-so-goods and toxins, and the benefits of going “clean” for a few weeks. It also outlines the plan, including recipes, recommended eating times (or, more importantly, times between eating), and detoxifying activities, such as deep-breathing, yoga and sweat-inducing exercise, that I’ll be following for the next three weeks.

It’s not gospel, but the book assures me endurance athletes can follow the cleanse while training. Good news because I’m entering a major marathon-training cycle! It should help me regain my appetite control and, I hope, engrain those lessons over the three weeks so they stick. Because on the other side of the cleanse? The next great holiday indulgence.

My birthday.