No sugar, no chocolate, no cancer!

Yesterday, after a long and difficult wait, my husband got the final pathology report from his surgeon; no cancer!

With this milestone behind us, it now feels ‘safe’ to write about the experience (a bit superstitious, no?) and it’s surprising effects on my fitness and nutrition.

A quick recap, since I haven’t really blogged about what’s been going on.

In early August, hubby was admitted to the hospital, diagnosed with severe anemia and received several blood transfusions. Tests were ordered to determine from where the blood was being lost. Both endoscopy and colonoscopy (‘top’ and ‘bottom’ of the digestive tract, respectively) were normal but a CT scan revealed a suspicious looking mass somewhere in the small bowel.

A subsequent biopsy was inconclusive and we were told that the tumor had to come out regardless of what it was. The surgery would be ‘exploratory’ with possible outcomes including ‘gastrointestinal stromal carcinoma’, some other lesser known bowel cancers and ‘duodenal polyp’ (go ahead, Google them; I did). The pancreas may or may not be affected and the bowel may need to be re-sectioned. Estimated time in hospital, eight to 10 days, with another six to eight weeks recovery at home.

Despite the urgent sound of the potential diagnosis, surgery was not scheduled until the 7th of October (and we live in Canada, home of excellent access to medical care…).

We did our best to fill the rest of the summer with holidays and fun activities with the children, but the possibility that life might change dramatically for our family was never far from our thoughts.

With the help of friends and family (thank you all!), I did what I, and all moms, do best; take care of everybody, everybody else that is. All through the countdown to the surgery date, the operation itself and the seven-day hospital stay. Concerned with staying positive for my husband and children and trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy, I failed to take care of myself.

I missed my workouts, even though a quick visit to the gym (or even better, the yoga studio) would have certainly made me feel more energetic. I gave in to convenience foods, serving frozen pizza and takeout for dinner when I was too rushed to cook. I soothed my worries with baked goods, chocolate and wine.

I love my Miss Me's

I fell off my health and fitness wagon (tight jeans don’t lie; by the way, that’s not me in the picture, it’s the model at on the Miss Me site).

Now that things are back to normal (or what passes for normal in my house), I need to get back on track. Be more mindful of what I put in my mouth. Be more diligent about my workout schedule (last week was awesome!). My timing couldn’t be more perfect.

Tiffany and Gale have a new round of their ‘2 week no added sugar challenge’ starting today, November 1st. Coincidentally, Kirri announced a ’30 days without chocolate challenge’ that starts today as well.

I’m in and I’m in! Both are exactly what I need to jumpstart my nutrition salvage. What better way to get over Halloween and start preparing for the upcoming holiday season.  I figure that the first two weeks will be a cinch; since chocolate has sugar in it, I won’t even be tempted (ha!). Double dipping, as it were, without the nut butter and chocolate chip calories.

Unsure whether it’s for you? Check out this and this and this post about my last round of ‘no sugar’ and I bet you’ll change your mind! Feel free to leave your comments below!

Are you up for a challenge or two? 

‘Like’ fitknitchick on Facebook for moral support and to join the discussion.

Midterm report card; making good on intentions?

At the beginning of September I posted a list of my intentions for the month. Things that I wanted to work on and make time for. Goals that pertained to the four most important spheres of my life (in no particular order); fitness, food, family and home.

Well, September has come and gone. What of my intentions? Did I make good? Let’s see!

Fitness: attend 1 yoga class per week, lift weights twice per week

Fitness goals are always the easiest for me to achieve. It probably helps that I work in a fitness facility and am surrounded by people who are making time in their day for exercise (and making me feel guilty when I don’t :) ). I made it to yoga class 6 times this month. A bit more frequently than I originally planned, partly because I found it so enjoyable (challenging too!), but also because my back injury kept me out of the weight room for about ten days and I needed something physical to do to preserve my sanity and help me sleep at night. I did miss a few weight training sessions, but expect to be back on track again this week.

Food: eliminate (once again) all added sugar in my diet, continue experimenting with home made, low sugar versions of my children’s favourite snack foods

Despite finding some great new (to me) clean eating websites (check out the sidebar to the right) and trying half a dozen new recipes, I am not any closer to finding healthy snacks that my children are willing to let replace their old favourites (which, by the way, they’re not getting any more!). I’m not giving up, though. Eventually, they will forget how good ‘rainbow chip’ granola bars taste and start appreciating my efforts. It’s all about re-training the taste buds. My own sweet tooth has been kept in check fairly well, with a few sugary splurges, including dessert night and my healthier version of a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie. Always an on-going thing with me…

Family: spend 1-on-1 time with each of my three children, every single day (oh yes, this is meant to be positive interaction time, we have enough of the other…)

I am still struggling to make time during the day to sit down with each child, one on one, for some quality interaction time. I’ve always read to my children before bedtime, and has recently switched from reading storybooks to my youngest two (ages 7 and 9) to longer, more challenging chapter books. We are enjoying a good 30 minutes of reading each evening and this ‘slow down’ time has been good for all of us. (We recently finished ‘Holes’ by Louis Sachar). My oldest son started attending a gifted program at a new school this fall. The downside is, I have to drive him to and from school (we’re cross-boundary, so he can’t take the bus). The upside is, we have a good 30 minutes of interesting conversation every day. I know that he is enjoying it as much as I am. Now if only we could reduce the negative parent-child interactions… (is it only my children who enjoy fighting amongst themselves?)

Home: devote 30 minutes per day to house cleaning (rather than a whole, stressed out day once per month)

Well, I have managed to spend 30 minutes a day on house cleaning chores, however, it doesn’t seem to be making a dent in the state of household affairs. I mean, look at the state of my laundry room (I can’t believe I’m showing you a picture of this mess!).

Perhaps I could combine family time with house-cleaning time, teaching my children the art of taking care of the house while spending quality time with them? Do you think they’ll go for it? I can dream, can’t I?

October is going to be a juggling act for me; my hubby is having surgery on Friday and will be in hospital for approximately 10 days with another few weeks recovery at home before he’s back up to speed. I’m thinking that sticking with these intentions for another month is about all I can handle right now. That, and blogging regularly, of course…

Did September fly by for you too?

Any October goals you’d like to share?

September intentions

For those with school age children, September is only second to January when it comes to making new goals and refreshing those ‘left over’ from the end of the last school year. You know, those ones you never got to because summer holidays got in the way?

There’s something about a new calendar, with those big, empty boxes, just waiting to be filled with activities and appointments that makes me want to start fresh. Maybe even more so than on January 1st.

Rather than creating a list of goals, I’ve decided to re-phrase and refer to them ‘intentions‘. In part, because I feel like ‘goal‘ is an ‘end product‘ rather than a ‘process‘ word (and I’m trying really hard to stay in the moment these days), but also, because the word ‘intentions‘ brings to mind (at least to me) images of peaceful, flexible yogis and one of my intentions is to begin a yoga practice.

Why yoga, you ask? Why indeed!

Over the last five years, my fitness level has improved markedly. I’m stronger and leaner than ever before. I can lift heavier and cycle for longer each and every week. My core strength has improved and I’ve been free of joint aches and pains for a while now (knock on wood; every time I reflect positively on my injury-free status, something goes wrong and I’m out of commission again…).

The only thing that hasn’t gotten better is my flexibility.

When I teach the stretching segment at the end of a group fitness class, I am almost always the least flexible person in the room. I can barely touch my toes and forget about the little flexibility test on the left. Also, I’ve heard that yoga is good for quieting the mind; since mine won’t shut up, I’m thinking that a little inner silence might be just the thing as I anticipate a rather stressful fall on the home front.

I’ve group my intentions according their area in my life; fitness, food, family and home, but really, they are all intertwined, each contributing in its own way to a more focused, balanced and contented me.

Fitness: attend 1 yoga class per week, lift weights twice per week

Food: eliminate (once again) all added sugar in my diet, continue experimenting with home made, low sugar versions of my children’s favourite snack foods

Family: spend 1-on-1 time with each of my three children, every single day (oh yes, this is meant to be positive interaction time, we have enough of the other…)

Home: devote 30 minutes per day to house cleaning (rather than a whole, stressed out day once per month)

Wish me luck (and focus). Namaste.

Do you set intentions or goals regularly?

Tell me what you’re working on right now!

What inspires you?

Recently, I was invited to join Pinterest; an on-line site for creating photo boards and essays simply by ‘pinning’ pictures directly from the internet onto one of your ‘boards’.

Like Facebook, you can follow other users’ boards and they can follow yours. If you see an image you like, you’re free to go ahead and ‘re-pin’ it. When you pin or re-pin an image, it’s original URL moves with it, making it unnecessary to remember to give photo credits to the photographer or website you’ve grabbed the photo from. Easy, peasy.

I’ve been using Pinterest to design a vision or inspiration board. My board is a collection of images pertaining to my current health and fitness goals; strength, flexibility, healthy eating, better hydration and family time (yes, improving the quality of family time counts as a health goal in my books; less conflict means lower blood pressure and stress-induced belly fat!).

Vision or inspiration boards are a great way to remind yourself daily of what’s important to you. Kind of like pinning a photo of a fitness model on the fridge door (does that really work when there’s leftover chocolate cake inside?). I use mine as the wallpaper on my computer monitor. Every time I check my e-mail I’m reminded of what I’m working towards.

Want to join the fun? E-mail me (tgrand AT telus DOT net) and ask for an invitation. (Pinterest is still in the beta-testing stage and new users must be invited to join). You can follow my boards and I’ll be happy to follow yours!

Do you have a vision or inspiration board?

If you’re already using Pinterest, who’s boards are you following? 

Well excuuuuse me (with apologies to Steve Martin)

The other morning, as I was getting my indoor cycling class ready to warmup, I mentioned that I had been sick for the past week and this was my first day back. I told them ‘not to worry if I cough up a lung, just keep pedalling’.

From the back row, I heard a voice reply (and I’m paraphrasing here), ‘You always have an excuse. Last week it was your knee, this week it’s your chest. What’s next?’. The class laughed, as did I and we got on with our workout (and a tough workout it was; the 10 min standing hill climb with ever-increasing resistance left my legs quivering all through the recovery song…).

The class ended without further incident (and my lungs remained in my chest, where they belong) but the comment stayed with me for the remainder of the day.

Now I’m sure this participant doesn’t view me as a slacker. I train at least as hard as the rest of the class. And more frequently, I’m guessing, than most. Nobody who comes to my classes would say I was ‘un-fit’. In general, I look and act the part of an avid exerciser.

Why then was I having a hard time reacting as lightly to the comment as it was surely intended? What is it about the word ‘excuse‘ that got to me?

According to Merriam-Webster, an excuse is (1) something offered as justification or as grounds for being excused or released and (2) an expression of regret for failure to do something. Synonyms include the words alibi, apology, defense, plea, justification and reason.

Hmm. Seems like the word excuse (and most of it’s synonyms) has negative connotations. Makes sense then that being accused of making excuses (even in jest) does not leave one feeling good about about themselves.

Given how poorly we tend to view excuse makers, why do we continue to make excuses for ourselves? Do we do it to feel better about our shortcomings (real or perceived)? Or to make others judge our actions or performance less harshly?

I think it has more to do with the first than the second. Humans are great rationalizers. We like to make ourselves feel good (why are sugar, alcohol and cigarettes so difficult to give up?). It’s much harder to really put yourself out there, to give an activity everything you’ve got and fall short than it is to lower your expectations and pat yourself on the back for a mediocre effort.

In my business, I hear excuses daily; “I had a busy week, I couldn’t get to the gym” or “But it was birthday week at my house, I couldn’t say no to the cake” or “I need my evening glass of wine to unwind” or “I couldn’t find a sitter for the kids”. Nothing frustrates me more than starting a training session with excuses. It tells me that the client isn’t fully committed to their training. That something (fear of failure? or success?) is holding them back from fully engaging in the process of change.

My remarks to my spin class were meant to be funny, but also to provide an explanation for why I might not seem to be working as hard as I usually do. When it comes right down to it, though, it was an excuse. It gave me a way out of working as hard as I might have (even if that level of effort was less than my usual given a week-long chest cold) and gave my participants the opportunity to see me making excuses. And in the end, the only one who lost out was me.

I’m done with making excuses. How about you? Ready to give it everything you’ve got? My challenge to you; next training session or fitness class stop the excuses before they even start. Focus on the task at hand and give it your very best effort. Be present and accountable to yourself! I promise you, you’ll feel great (well, maybe not the day after :) )!

All I need to know about exercise I learned from knitting: 10 similarities between exercise and knitting

I have two great passions in my life (besides my husband, and sometimes, my children); fitness and knitting. At first glance, they seem to be rather incompatible past times.

One involves vigorous whole body movement, the other sitting on the couch, barely flicking one’s fingers for hours at a time. There are special clothes for exercise. Not so much for knitting. You can knit and drink a glass of wine and watch TV simultaneously. No wine at the gym, last time I checked. Exercise is about challenge and progress and setbacks and all out effort. And knitting? Turns out that fitness and knitting are more alike that one might think. There are many similarities between exercise and knitting.

In fact, all I need to know about exercise I learned from knitting.

  1. similarities between knitting and exercise

    I knit socks on 2.25 mm needles, with about 70 stitches around. The leg of a sock might have 70 rows in it; that 4900 stitches in one leg alone!

    Keep the goal in sight, but enjoy the process. When one spends hours making thousands of tiny stitches with small wooden sticks, thoughts of the finished object are unavoidable. But, focusing on the end of the project makes it feel more like work than an enjoyable way of spending your time. Concentrate on how the yarn feels running through your fingers. Stop to admire the evenness of your stitches. In the gym, listen to the beat of your heart. Note how it increases and decreases with your effort. Enjoy the feeling of your muscles as they work to press that weight over your head. The long-term goal is still a ways away; revel in the moment.

  2. Sometimes you have to go backwards before you can move forward. Knitters call this ‘TINKing’ (that’s KNIT spelled backwards). It happens when you don’t read instructions (I can vouch for this one personally), or when you’re not truly paying attention to what you’re doing. Similarly, injuries happen during exercise when we try to advance ourselves too quickly or are distracted in the gym. Setbacks happen and strength must be regained before we can once again move forward.
  3. Always take detailed notes. If you want to remember what you did on the first sleeve so you can knit the second to match, take notes, lots of notes. Don’t count on yourself to remember the specifics or the details of your last workout. When you’re getting results in the gym, it’s much easier to figure out why (and keep progressing) if you know where you’re coming from. Journalling is a truly effective way to measure progress.
  4. Be selfish; no one else appreciates your efforts as much as you do. I am a selfish knitter. I knit primarily for myself. I know that I will love what I’ve knit and will wear it with pride. Knits that I have gifted have not always been so obviously appreciated. Exercise for you and you alone. Don’t do it because someone else wants you to. Don’t do it because you think you should. Do it because you love how it makes you feel and look.
  5. similarities between exercise and knitting

    Stranded knitting has always been difficult for me. Because I am a tight knitter, the fabric usually puckers. This sweater is for my daughter, and I’m proud to say, it’s my best stranded knitting yet!

    Don’t be afraid to try something new. For a long time I stuck to basic knitting projects. Things that I knew I could do well. If a pattern required a technique that I was unfamiliar with, I knit something else. Over the last few years, I’ve become more adventurous in  my knitting. What’s the worst that could happen? I might screw it up. I might not like it. I might have to rip it out. Or, maybe, just maybe, I might find something else that I’m really good at! There are lots of fitness options out there. Weight rooms not your thing? Try Zumba. Can’t stand running? Hop on a spin bike. The options are nearly endless and there are new tools and techniques to tackle almost weekly.

  6. similarities between exercise and knitting

    I gave up knitting this one in the evening; the lace rows were so long I would lose track of where I was and have to rip back row after row to find my mistakes.

    Know when tackling a challenge is a bad idea. I don’t knit complex lace at night. My attention is not focused and my eyes don’t work as well in the dark as they used to. Similarly, increasing my loads in the weight room is best left for when I’m feeling healthy and well, not when a cold is looming or I’m tired from a late night out. Challenge is good, but not all the time.

  7. Variety is a great motivator. I always have 3 or 4 projects on the needles (a simple sock in my purse, something complex for afternoons without the children). When I tire of one, I simply move on to another. Same thing with fitness. Bored with your current routine? If it’s a good one and you’ve seen results, switch it up for a week or two until you again need a change. I like to intersperse heaving weight training days with spinning days (love those cardio intervals!). Over the longer term, I might stick with a whole body training program for a month or two, then switch to body part training (one or two body parts a day) for a few weeks. Rather than do nothing, do something else!
  8. Surround yourself with like-minded people. Before I found Ravelry (an awesome online community of fiber artists; think Facebook for knitters), I had very few people to share my knitting obsession with. Now, I check in with my on-line knitting buddies daily for a dose of inspiration and support. I’ve learned a ton from these women and am continually motivated to try new techniques and patterns. Seek out friends and acquaintances who are as committed to exercise as you are. Motivate each other to do more and better.
  9. similarities between exercise and knitting

    I have a vase of needles like this on my mantle; I grabbed this image from the web.

    Always choose the right tool for the job. The knitter’s primary tool is a needle. But needles come in many different styles (single point, double point, circular, cable), sizes (from 1 mm all the way up to 20 mm and beyond) and weights (stainless steel, wood, laminate, bamboo). Different projects (and yarns) require different needles. If you use the wrong needle for the job, you’re bound to be unhappy with the final result. Same things goes with exercise. You need to match the tool to your goals. Want to put on muscle and gain strength? Forego the fixed machines and light weights. Pick up a kettlebell, some dumbbells, a barbell. Approach the squat machine with confidence. Get face to face with the chin up bar.

  10. Make time for it every day! In order to get better at something and actually see the results of your labors, you need to do it frequently. I’ve been to the gym and knit half a sleeve today… and it’s not even dinner time yet!

There! My top 10 list of similarities between exercise and knitting!

Do you exercise? Do you knit?

What are YOUR favourite similarities between exercise and knitting?

The Last 10 Pounds

So, I have a confession to make. I’ve been cheating. I have strayed from my nutrition plan and have payed the price.

Hanging my head in shame.

Over the last 8 months, I’ve gained about 10 pounds on the scale. At first, I didn’t pay much attention to it. I was lifting fairly heavy weights 3 or 4 times a week. I was teaching my usual 3-4 cardio classes as well. My clothes still fit. Nobody was telling me I looked fat (not that my husband would ever dream of making a comment like that; although my 8-year old daughter would, she still has the brutal honesty of the young…).

I had almost convinced myself that I was putting on muscle (but really, 10 pounds of muscle on my frame, come on), when I decided to do a little reality check. I got out the tape measure and camera. Gulp.

Weight; 147 lbs
Height; 5’7″
Chest; 36″
High waist; 28.5″
Abdomen; 30″
Hips/butt; 39″

Using my standard method of estimating per cent body fat (not BMI; BMI only considers height and weight, not body composition or the relative proportion of your total body weight that is fat), I was carrying around 31.3 pounds of fat (21.3% body fat)! That’s a lot for me, personally. I feel best at 18-19% body fat, which corresponds to approximately 136-138 lbs (of course that depends on how much muscle mass I’m carrying).

When I put on my favorite bathing suit and took some quick pics in the mirror (pardon the splatter marks that I forgot to clean off first!), it became immediately obvious to me just where that extra 10 pounds had accumulated. A little bit too much junk hanging out of the bottom of the bathing suit. A small spare tire around the middle. (Note that these photos are not meant to be gratuitous bikini shots, but rather, a tool to motivate myself to do better. Skip them if you’d prefer not to look!).

By my calculation, I’ve got about 10 weeks until summer holidays start. I want to look and feel great at the beach. Taking little bits and pieces from all my favorite fit females (Rachel Cosgrove, Tosca Reno, Jillian Michaels and MizFit, to name a few), I’ve put together a plan. I’m going to share it with you as a means to stay accountable and perhaps, to help any of you who are also on a mission to shed those last 10 pounds. Note that this plan is based on my goals, my body, my schedule and most importantly, my ability to stay focused and on course. If you join me, your results may differ from mine.

My three-pronged approach:

1. Exercise; I’ve been following the NROL for Abs and have been pleased with the results I’m getting. My core strength has improved immensely. I’m lifting heavier and doing more of the metabolic intervals each week. I’m currently half-way through Phase 2 and plan to continue with this program as it’s written. In addition to 3 days of weight training, I also do cardio intervals on the spin bike two times a week.

2. Water; While I’m usually fairly well hydrated, increasing water consumption will help elevate my metabolism and burn more fat. It will also make me feel fuller between meals. I’m aiming for 75-80 ounces a day (1/2 ounce per pound of body weight). I always drink an 8 ounce glass immediately after my morning coffee to help counter-act the diuretic effects of the caffeine and to get my insides moving!

3. Nutrition; This is where I really need to re-tool. I’ve been having way too many splurges (cookies, wine, chips, cake) to look and feel my best. My first week’s goal is to eliminate these from my diet, along with all pre-packaged, processed foods (including bread, pasta and cereals other than oats and low-fat granola). The fewer ingredients on the package, the better. Getting rid of processed foods will also help eliminate sugar.

I’ll be eating 3-4 ounces of lean protein at each meal (5 small meals per day), along with a fruit (no more than 3 per day) or vegetable (as many as I want) and a healthy fat (olive oil, coconut oil, flax or chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, almonds, cashews). In addition to choosing the right fats, the key to losing fat while eating fat is to limit serving size (1 tablespoon of oil or seeds, 1/4 cup of nuts).

I’ll be timing my starchy carbohydrates; one serving at breakfast (oats, clean cereal, quinoa, ezekial bread) and one at my post-workout meal (sweet potato, brown rice, barley, quinoa, whole grain couscous). Again, I’ll be watching serving sizes here, even clean carbs have calories that add up quickly.

Limiting my splurges to 3-4 per week. A glass of wine is a splurge. A cookie for dessert is a splurge. A half of a bagel or a muffin is a splurge. I will be planning these so they are not wasted on things that are not an absolute party in my mouth.

So, are you in?

Love to hear how it’s going; comments below, please!

Beware the saboteur…

Let’s go for lunch; you can skip the gym just this once…

It’s just dessert. Splurge, you’ve been working so hard, you deserve it.

Exercise always comes first with you. What about our friendship?

Honey, you look great to me. I like you with a few extra pounds around the hips.

You’re so boring now that you don’t drink. You used to be fun and let loose. What happened to you?

Sound familiar? Those are the words of the saboteur (you know, the friend/relative/spouse/child/co-worker/exercise partner), who’d rather you didn’t stick to your exercise and nutrition goals today (or tomorrow, for that matter), who constantly tries to sabotage your health and fitness plans.

Saboteurs come in all shapes and sizes; learn to recognize them. They often sound like they have your best interests at heart. They comfort you because they tell you what you’d like to hear. They tempt you into staying exactly where you are rather than moving forward. They smile and encourage while under-mining your health and fitness goals.

Why do some people feel the need to sabotage others’ good intentions? What’s it to them if you decide to skip dessert or forego the second glass of wine? Why does your going to the gym affect them at all?

Realize that more often than not, your saboteur’s desire to have you fall off the wagon has much more to do with them than you. Your good habits make them look and feel bad about their own poor ones. If they succeed in getting you to skip a workout, their decision to do the same is validated. They instantly feel better about themselves.

While I’m all about helping people find happiness and self-worth, I don’t do it at the expense of my own. Neither should you. Tips for dealing with saboteurs?

  • know who’s most likely to try sabotaging your health and fitness goals
  • anticipate their comments
  • prepare responses that emphasize your commitment to your goals and explain why those goals are important to you
  • encourage them to join you in your quest for health and wellness
  • use ‘when you say ____, I feel _____'; often people don’t realize the effects of their words on others
  • distance yourself; this is a last resort, but all too often we keep people in our lives even when their attitudes and actions are bad for us.

Stay strong, focused and true to your goals and aspirations. Don’t let the saboteurs sabotage you!

Twenty percent down

This week is the 11th week of 2011. Twenty percent of the year has already passed!

Remember those goals you made back at the beginning of January? How are they coming along? Are you on track? Are you 20% of the way there?

If your goal was to lose 20 pounds, you should be down at least 4 by now.

Planned on getting to the gym 200 times this year? There should be forty swipes on your gym pass by the end of this week.

Not quite where you hoped you’d be by now? Not to worry, there’s plenty of time to get back on track and reach those goals by the end of 2011.

IF you get to it TODAY! Have a great one!