A while back, I introduced this month’s series in a post called Resolutions Review: did you get control of your weight, fitness, money, and work issues? (Plus Power Poses.) Tackling this series a bit of a stretch for a paranormal-themed blog, but less so if you understand that I define the word paranormal broadly.
Para- / par-ə / Prefix. ”Alongside, near, beyond, altered, contrary to.”
normal / nawr-muhl / Adjective. “Conforming to the standard; usual; regular; natural.”
No matter how far I stray from topics like ghosts, cryptids and mysteries, I am always thinking about how to make life better and easier for my kindred. These articles will become part of a section of the blog I’m developing, dedicated to living a (moderately) paranormal lifestyle.
There. That’s out of the way.
In the first installment in this series (Resolutions Review: How “You Need A Budget” (YNAB) helped us save $1000 in less than 3 months) I I tell a detailed and sordid tale of my financial history. In this post, I don’t have a long, personal story about a struggle with weight loss or maintenance.
Basically, I’ve always been a healthy-looking Midwestern girl. I’m tall, and broad and sturdy. And I’m okay with that. I am, however a writer in my mid-40s, and some extra pounds have caught up with me. More importantly, I’ve been noticing a decline in how good I feel physically. I’ve got aches and pains and stiffness, especially after a long day at the keyboard. I get a bit winded when I take a flight of stairs or prowl a cemetery with a lot of hills. When I attempt to flee from zombies, I sometimes get caught.
This sort of thing has been going on for a while but, until recently, I was ignoring it because I didn’t have the time or energy to deal with it.
Back in November, though, I attempted to do NaNoWriMo, and failed miserably. Perhaps the stress of the last few years had caught up with me, perhaps I had just neglected self-care for too long, but the end result was that I couldn’t write fiction. My creative well had run dry. After more than a month of wailing and moping, I decided I might as well do something useful with my time, so I resolved to get healthier and drop a few pounds. As usual, I turned to the web to find tools to help me achieve my goal.
THE SPARK PEOPLE METHOD(S):
Eventually, I stumbled on sparkpeople.com. I made a free account and started to explore. I was blown away by the myriad resources available.
There’s no magic in the system. It simply puts everything you need in one convenient place. (And “what you need” will vary from person to person.) The basic approach is that you must create a calorie deficit in order to lose weight. SP is all about giving you many options with which to create and maintain such a deficit.
THE SPARK PEOPLE SITE:
Once you’ve created your account, you have a start page, where you will check in often and track you progress. It is divided into three major sections:
- In the first section (Step 1) you can set the parameters of your goals about food, fitness, weight and measurements, then track your behavior over time.
- In the second section (Step 2) you first create, then review your personal goals and motivations. You can also read featured diet- and fitness-related articles.
- In the third section (Step 3) you can access the social features of Spark People, including a personal homepage (where your blog lives, if you choose to have one,) general message boards, and team message boards. (You can choose to join teams based on common interests and goals.)
Digging deeper into any of these sections will reveal additional available tools. I do no use any paid features of the site, but I believe it it possible to purchase the services of a personal coach and personalized menu plans.
In my opinion, there’s just too much there for any one person to use. The best way to use the SP community is to pick and choose the tools that are most useful to you. At first, of course, I sampled everything. I signed on to too many challenges and played with too many tools. Now that I’ve been using it for a while, I’ve settled on the stuff that’s crucial for me:
The food tracker:
I want to be clear about what I mean when I say I haven’t dieted. Though I eat whatever I want, when I want to, I DO track my intake. And I do it faithfully and honestly. I actually weigh and measure my food most of the time. I have a digital scale and a set of measuring cups so it’s not that big of a deal.
Now that I’ve been at this for a while, I know what an ounce of nuts or cheese looks like, but I usually check to make sure I’m not estimating badly. That said, I don’t worry about taste testing my sauces or the cream I put in my coffee. I record meals and snacks, though, including that one 53-calorie Chips Ahoy I’ve been known to snatch when I pass my boy and his open tray of cookies.
Tracking has not reduced my total calorie count by much, but it has improved my diet. I eat less junk and more fruits and vegetables. I am less likely to eat in the evenings when I’m working, because I know by then that I’ve actually eaten the calories I need throughout the day. If I must have a late-night snack, I’m more likely to grab the grapes than a candy bar, because I am (always) short of the recommended daily minimum of five to seven servings of produce. I hardly ever stay within the default calorie range. In fact, I think I’m going to go in and change the range, now that I know I can lose weight, albeit slowly, at 2,000 – 2,500 or more calories.
Tracking has been useful because, like most creative types, I just don’t think about what I’m eating much of the time. (I’m often either writing or reading.) Awareness and tiny, natural-feeling self-corrections have contributed to a slow, nearly painless weight loss.
That said, I’m not kidding when I say I’m not dieting. I ate SIX big, luscious, custard filled donuts on Saturday, because we made a special trip to a special bakery. But, during the week leading up to that, I had avoided mindless snacking and paid some attention to how I was fueling myself.
Net result? The number on the scale wobbled for a day, and now I’m back to pre-donuts weight. I might not lose this week. If we make the trip next weekend, maybe I’ll have TWO instead of six.
That’s pretty painless.
The fitness tracker
To be honest, I’m not doing well with fitness right now. When I first started at SP, I was on a major Zombies, Run! kick and I was doing it every day. Somewhere along the line (maybe when I started writing again) I stopped finding the time. The horrible weather hasn’t been helping either, because I haven’t been able to go on my Twilight Walks. I’m still not doing yoga, even though it’s one of my fitness goals to incorporate it into my life and routine.
Here’s the thing, though, I am AWARE that this is a problem, because I know I haven’t opened the fitness tracker at SP in days. Every time I go in to track my food, I notice I’m being sedentary because my Step 1 summary section isn’t adjusting my suggested calorie intake to reflect the calories I’ve burned by doing extra exercise.
Today, I’m working on a deadline for this blog because the weather has changed and I AM going to go for a walk. And then I’m going to come home and happily make an entry in my fitness tracker. Part of the impetus for that decision is that I created a challenge at one of my Spark Teams, and I can’t very well not complete my own challenge.
Zombies, Run! led me to Spark People. I googled a question I had about the game and was taken to a message board that provided the answer. The board turned out to be that of a Spark People team, created by and for Zombies, Run! players. I grew curious. After clicking around the mother site a bit, and seeing everything it had to offer, I signed up.
There is a team for EVERYONE at SP. (The danger lies, I think, in affiliating oneself with too many of them.) Each team has a message board with multiple forums. There’s a place to introduce yourself to the team, another for chit chat, and another where team goals and challenges are created and accepted. (Most teams have additional forums too.)
Joining a team is a great way to make friends and find supporters and accountability partners, should you wish to have them.
I belong to:
- Zombies, Run!
- Writers (which I was invited to co-lead)
- Partnership Accountability to the Finish Line
- Bipolar Mania
- For The Love of Horror
- Inside Out Weight Loss (IOWL)
- and the “class” of December 1-7, 2013
There are literally thousands of teams, based on everything from gender, to age, to sexual orientation, to religion, to politics, to dietary habits, to sports teams, to careers, to hobbies, to medical conditions, to specific weight issues, and so on. All of them exist under the umbrella of Spark People.
The personal blog
With few exceptions I have made a personal blog entry at SP every day since I started. It’s a wonderful place to vent and whine and obsess about, well, personal things. Fairly soon after I started that blog, I created a sort of mental template for my entries, so that the process is quick and easy. I make note of my general physical and emotional status (so that I can spot the patterns of my bipolarity) then I list at least three things that happened in the day for which I feel grateful. It’s a satisfying, low-stress practice.
The friends I’ve met through team interactions stop by, read my blog, and leave comments and “spark goodies” for me, and I do the same for them.
The virtual prizes, gifts and rewards
Spark goodies are another entirely optional part of the SP experience. Every time you complete an action in SP (tracking food, leaving a comment at someone’s blog or in a message board, reading an article, etc.) you earn “spark points.” These points go into an account. The points in one’s account can be spent on a variety of virtual gifts that you can buy for yourself and/or other SP members. It’s silly, but it’s fun. I don’t spend a lot of time playing with this, but it’s fun to be able to send a pretty bouquet or a hot tub to someone who needs cheering up or has reason to celebrate.
Even if you don’t partake of the social interactions at SP, the site does reward you with virtual tokens for milestones like losing a certain amount of weight, or tracking X-number of fitness minutes in a month, or signing in to SP every day.
So far, I’ve only told you the good news though. Here’s the bad:
Time-suck. SP can and will eat as much time as you give it. Be careful. There’s a balance between taking care of yourself so that you can function at your best, and losing yourself in something-anything that isn’t exercising … or writing … or whatever else it is you know you should be doing.
Ads. TONS of ads. There is no option to have a paid, ad-free membership at SP and you will be assaulted by advertisements on nearly every page you visit. I’ve heard there are ways to get around that with ad-blocker programs, but I’ve just learned to ignore them.
Drama. There’s nothing about SP that makes it worse than any other type of online interaction you might have, but there’s nothing about it to make it better either. There are drama-queens and bossy-folk and sad-sacks. If you’re vulnerable to being drawn into such shenanigans, it’s wise to guard yourself in the wilds of SP Land. After all, it is a place where people are revealing a lot about their hopes and dreams and their failures and successes.
Still, overall, getting involved at SP has been good for me.
The resources available at SP are many, and I’ve only scratched the surface here, by sharing my favorites. If you are looking for a tool, or rather a set of tools, to help you take charge of your health and fitness, I’m confident you’ll find what you need at Spark People.
TIPS & TRICKS:
1) Choose a short, easy to remember username – preferably one that includes your actual first name or a common nickname that you like. People communicating with you will want and need to type it often. (I didn’t do this right.) And. please, don’t choose a self-denigrating name. Nothing makes me sadder than seeing someone self-identify as FATBARBARA or CHUBBYCHUCK.
2) Limit yourself to joining 2-3 teams at first. It’s less overwhelming. If you’re going to join up and you’re a regular reader here, you are probably a writer too. So the first team you should join, of course, is Writers at http://teams.sparkpeople.com/wordsmiths. The board is in the middle of getting a structural update right now, but you’ll probably recognize my handiwork all over the place. Soon, I’ll be completing the orientation sections there that will make getting started in the team, and on SP in general, as easy as I can make it.
3) Make a personal spark page right away. This is different from your START PAGE, which only you see. Your spark page is where people can visit you … where, in fact, ANYONE can visit you if they know your SP handle. Mine is RRUDEPARANORMAL And yes, I’m a little uncomfortable about it now that I am admitting to myself that the WHOLE WORLD can see my soft, boring underbelly. You know I’m an open book, but there’s stuff there there that has NOTHING to do with the public persona I cultivate. What’s done is done though, and I can’t realistically make my page view-able to SP people friends only, now that I co-lead a team. YOU have the option to more privacy, if you’re smarter about choosing a user name and / or if you decide to go with the SP friends only option.
4) Track what you normally do for a couple of weeks before you try to change anything deliberately. And once you do start to set some behavioral goals, be gentle with yourself. SP has a high burnout rate, because so many folks come in with the intention of keeping a strict, demanding routine.
5) Take a “before” picture, and note all your measurements as soon as you start. You’ll want every opportunity to see improvements as you travel your journey.
6) and, finally, I’m leaving this very specific tip here, because I’ve yet to figure out how to easily access this handy view from the start page or anywhere else I regularly visit in SP. Once you have created your account, and you are signed in, bookmark this address: http://www.sparkpeople.com/myspark/stay-on-track-calendar.asp (If you click that link right now, it will just take you to a signup or log-in page.) After you’re set up it will take you to a calendar view like this:
For a couple of weeks now, more days than not, I’ve been doing something a little different. About an hour before sunset, I leash up my dog, grab my purse and keys, and drive ten minutes to a particular neighborhood in White Bear Lake. Then I walk. And look at things.
I know I could just head out my front door on foot and go, but I don’t enjoy the sprawling lawns of the neighborhood surrounding me as much as I do the village gardens, snugged up next to each other.
It’s not really exercise, because:
- I don’t change into anything resembling workout wear.
- I don’t walk for any set time.
- I pause, stop, even sit down whenever I feel like it.
- I neither break a sweat nor raise my heart rate.
- I’m not miserable.
See, to me, real exercise has always been something one does at the gym or in front of a blaring TV. It’s loud, and bright, and unbearably upbeat. If you know me, you know that’s not my favorite kind of environment. If you read this blog, you probably don’t care for it much either.
Even so, I’ve been thinking lately that I have to start going to the gym again. These 10-18 hour days of sitting in an office chair – hunched over a keyboard until my back locks up and my mousing wrist gets hot – are turning me into an old woman. But I keep putting that off, because the process is such a chore. I’ve been off that horse for a while, and climbing back on doesn’t appeal.
Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t spent much time resolving to go back. Ever since I quit the job at the hotel, I’ve been so focused on writing that I’ve been neglecting my body. In fact, I wasn’t even thinking about my health when I started the walks … I just felt bad for my dog, who was cutting short his own (purely utilitarian) daytime walks because of the heat and humidity. Guilt and concern made me take him out one cool evening.
Now we go because that first pity-walk made me remember that I need to unkink. So it IS exercise, even if it’s no fitness walk. It’s just as good for my mind and soul as it is for my body. I already feel a little better physically. And I’m remembering how good it feels to actually move around.
Yesterday, I skipped the walk. I watched Dexter with Ogre, then worked on the mostly-invisible blog revisions some more. By the time I was finally ready to quit for the day, it was so late that my normal walk might have gotten me arrested for casing the neighborhood. I was a pretty much one big knot of tight muscles. I wasted a minute or two shaming myself for not taking my opportunity to walk.
Then I spent 10-15 stretching out. I used some of the yoga poses I remembered from classes I’ve taken, and I made up some by paying attention to what my shoulders and lower back were telling me to do.
Before I started my twilight walks, I wouldn’t have thought to stretch out. I might have climbed into a hot bath, but I would most likely have just gone to bed, hoping sleep would fix me before it was time to sit down at the keyboard again.
So, in its own way then, this twilight walk has been the best kind of exercise. Not only will I do it happily, it has energized me enough to take another step in the right direction.
In case all this talk of feeling better hasn’t been enough to send you out the door, here’s a sampling of the kinds of things I see.
It’s worth the drive to go to a place that feeds your soul.
One of my best friends is studying to become a yoga instructor. Another regularly goes on 8 mile+ bike rides. My son is a black belt. FIVE of my closest family members completed The Warrior Dash this summer.
Me? I take pictures.
I am not a sporty person. Which is a shame, I guess, because – apparently – I have pretty good genes. (I come from Norwegian and German farmer stock.) Despite 40+ years of an utterly ridiculous diet, and an almost complete lack of exercise, my body hasn’t given up on me yet. Every once in a while, I realize I’m feeling sore and tired, so I commit to doing a few sun salutations daily. (This “commitment” usually lasts a week or two.) On the first day, I am always shocked at how stiff and weak I’ve become. Then, the next day, I can effortlessly drop into a pretty darn good standing forward fold, and I can hold a plank for minutes at a time. (Though that is harder, now that my future-yoga-instructor friend told me I needed to drop my hips lower.) Just since I started working at the hotel, my biceps have firmed – even started to pop – thanks to all the sheet folding I have done. My body wants to be healthy.
The problem is that I find exercise boring. It’s also hot and sweaty and just plain not fun. (My experience leads me to believe that endorphins are a myth.) It doesn’t help that I hate competing against others, which leaves me out of actual sports. In my lifetime, I’ve found only a handful of (G-rated) physical activities I actually enjoy. On the exotic side, I like yoga, kayaking and rock climbing. (Before you get any ideas about the strenuous nature of those activities, you should know I mean the least dangerous version of them. Think paddling a kayak around the edge of a lake, or scrambling up and down the gentle bluffs near the St. Croix River.)
I also like to walk/hike and, strangely enough, run. (I don’t mean jogging. I mean all-out running – across a pasture, along a soft-sand road, down a sun-warmed sidewalk. And, yes, I’d prefer to do it barefoot.)
I don’t run as much as I used to. When I forget myself – like when I’m playing with the dog – I find that my form is still good but my endurance is … not. (Don’t ever start smoking, Children.) Still, until my lungs catch fire and my heart threatens to explode, it feels awesome.
I’d like to be able to run again.
Which is why I am now absolutely determined to get a smart phone – just so I can buy an $8 app:
Here’s the official website:
This is my favorite review of the game:
By the way, now is your chance to weigh in on the IPhone v. Android debate. Has anyone actually tried the game? Or, like me, do you now think you want to?