Meeting new challenges: Running

Running, I absolutely hated running during my teenage years and early twenties. Do you know that feeling when you’re forced to take a run in physical education class and everyone is starting off sprinting as best as they can, but you just end up almost at the end of the pack? Do you know that feeling of embarrassment that creeps up inside you after you finally reach the finish line? Well… that was me.

After I had changed around my eating habits, lost a lot of weight, and started making sports an integral part of my life, I still hesitated to start running again. For some reason, probably because of the bad memories I had kept in the back of my mind, I had decided that running just was not the right sport for me. I had wondered why so many people loved to run through the streets day in, day out, and most of all, why they were so much better at it than I was.

lollslauftraining

Make your training as enjoyable as possible: I loved running around the Kiessee in Göttingen.

However, somewhere inside me, the challenge of overcoming my fear and changing yet another part of my life tempted me. And so, one day, out of no particular reason, I decided to run for a little bit, just for fun. (Yes, when I wrote this I immediately thought of “Forrest Gump” as well!) After running for about ten to fifteen minutes, I had to stop and walk for a little bit, before I took off again. What I realized on that day was that I could do it. It wasn’t my body that was unfit for running, but my mind! All of my bad experiences had built up an invisible wall patrolled by guards telling me that I could go no further, that this was as far as I was allowed to go. But on that day, I was so proud of myself for taking on the challenge that my short stint motivated me to run more often and to increase the length of my stints. Additionally, I began educating myself a little bit about the running sport by browsing through books in the bookstore and took some of my new knowledge to heart. I improved my breathing technique for example and made sure I was running in the right body position.

Two weeks ago today, I finished my first 5k and couldn’t be prouder of myself. During the summer, I had signed up for the traditional annual run in my hometown and had practiced regularly in order to reach my goal. I did not want to finish in a particular time or wasn’t having the illusion of winning a medal (I’m not THAT far yet), I simply wanted to FINISH and complete the 5000 meters without having to stop for a break. And the feeling of running over the finish line was incredible!

lollslauf1

My sister and I after we ran our first 5k. (Photos: Wagner)

Why am I telling you all this and even devote a whole post to it? My success of meeting a challenge and expanding my own personal boundaries is something I wouldn’t have thought possible five or six years ago. And it is another sign for me that I can change and am on a good path to become the person I want to be. It doesn’t matter what happened in the past, you can always set new goals for yourself and work on them until you reach them. And they don’t have to be goals to improve your health or fitness, I am talking about any goal you set for yourself. Even if they’re small goals and may seem insignificant to others, they are one step on the way for you! My own process of losing weight and changing my life around, including making sports an important and fun part of my life, is proof of that.

If you haven’t read my series of posts about my personal journey yet, you can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

So get up, find your own personal challenges, and work on mastering them!

As always, let me know about your experiences or ask questions!

How I lost 30 lbs and began to lead a healthier life (Part 2)

For years and years I have struggled with my weight and have tried several times to effectively slim down without any long-term success. Finally, three years ago, I found the right way for me to reduce my weight and keep it down. Little did I know that this was also the start of a long-term learning process and a transformation, which affected not only my diet and exercising habits, but also my attitude towards the food and diet industries and, ultimately, my own formerly sedentary lifestyle. In this series of blog posts, I want to share my knowledge and sketch my path from the decision to try a new way of controlling and reducing my weight to the present.

(Important note: This is a personal decription and is not meant to be or to replace professional advice from a medical doctor or a nutrition expert.)

Loving to move your body

In the first part of this series, I introduced you to fitness apps available for your smartphone and their operating modes and stressed the importance of changes to both your diet as well as your exercising habits in order for weight loss to be healthy and permanent. In this part, I want to tell you the story about how I transformed from a coach potato into an amateur athlete and learned to love exercise of any kind.

First of all, I was never an athlete. Growing up, I always felt like my body just was not made for sports. In gym class, I was always among those pitiable kids who were the last ones to be picked for a team and I did not have a lot of confidence in my own body and athletic ability. This lack of confidence most certainly added to my misguided belief that whether you were athletic or not depended on your genes.

During my earliest weightloss-endeavors, I began to exercise regularly, for the single purpose of losing weight. I spent hours on the exercise machine in our basement and started doing yoga and pilates routines. However, I always felt like I had to force myself through the units, for the sake of that shining goal at the end of the journey, which appeared in the form of certain digits on the scale. Exercise for me equaled torture! Whenever I had reached a certain weight goal or had simply given up somewhere along the way, I stopped exercising and returned living a mainly sedentary lifestyle.

One of the mistakes I made was that I never tried many different sports and never found out, which ones I liked and disliked and which ones were more fun for me. For example, I forced myself through running stints that I absolutely hated. That practice only added to my belief that I just was not made to be an athlete, because “running seems to be the sport everyone likes”. Then “why do I hate it so much”?

After I began logging my exercise in my fitness app every day, I was motivated to try different sports, as the app offers a database of all sorts of different kinds and shows you, how many calories you burn during a certain period of time. Knowing how many calories I burned while exercising gave me a real motivation kick! I started trying different sports and looking for possibilities to exercise during my daily commitments. Initially, I merely exercised in order to be able to eat more and not go to bed with a hungry stomach, while still staying below my daily calorie limit. But after a while, I began to like moving my body and being active. I realized, how much fun I had during long bike rides or how listening to my favorite music motivated me to do an extra ten minutes on the elliptical.

It is a scientific truth that exercising triggers the distribution of serotonin in the human

Lauf fürs Leben

If it’s for a good cause, even running can be fun for me now. At least for a short while. 😉 Photo: Wagner

brain,  which is called the happiness hormone. Thus, exercise ultimately has the same effect as eating a piece of delicious chocolate, it makes you happy! After a while, I began to get used to my regular exercising units and even started to crave them after a long day sitting at school and using mostly my brain. During my free time, I tried to find new ways to move my body and to make my exercise more diverse. I began to swim, take long walks, play badminton and do units on the stepper. I even took up running again now and then and found that I had improved my general fitness, which made even this form of sports endurable. However, I still don’t like it very much.

The essence of all this is that you have to try different sports and I guarantee you that you will find at least one or two that you like. In the beginning, you have to force yourself to work through the scheduled units, but after a while you will find that your exercising routine makes you feel better about yourself and makes you happier. You might even find that you long for movement, just like I did!

Right now, I usually exercise four to five days a week. The form of exercise varies depending on the weather and my general mood. Some days, I enjoy a two-hour bike ride in the sunshine or swim for 30 minutes, on others I merely do 30 minutes of yoga, pilates and stretching routines. I also began looking for ways to move my body during my day-to-day routine. For example, when it is not pouring outside, I always ride my bike or walk to class instead of taking the bus. And whenever I have to make the tough decision between the elevator and the stairs, I mostly opt for the latter. You just have to walk through life with open eyes and you will find opportunities to move your body, even if you have a busy and tiring schedule. As actress Cameron Diaz writes in her “Body Book”, “everyone has ten minutes”. I will introduce you to her amazing enlightening book in the next part of this series.

But for now: get up, find the perfect exercises for you and MOVE YOUR BODY!

Feel free to comment about your experiences or ask me questions.

Read the first part of this series here.

How I lost 30 lbs and began to lead a healthier life (Part 1)

For years and years I have struggled with my weight and have tried several times to effectively slim down without any long-term success. Finally, three years ago, I found the right way for me to reduce my weight and keep it down. Little did I know that this was also the start of a long-term learning process and a transformation, which affected not only my diet and exercising habits, but also my attitude towards the food and diet industries and, ultimately, my own formerly sedentary lifestyle. In this series of blog posts, I want to share my knowledge and sketch my path from the decision to try a new way of controlling and reducing my weight to the present.

(Important note: This is a personal decription and is not meant to be or to replace professional advice from a medical doctor or a nutrition expert.)

An experiment that became a success

First, let me point out that I was never obese. I had a couple of pounds more to carry than I liked and had struggled to lose these pounds ever since I gained them during my teenage years. I had put myself on self-prescribed diets several times, which mostly included eating only half-sized portions, cutting out sweets of any kind and forcing myself to complete stints on the exercise machine or on the bicycle. It worked for a certain time period and I started to lose weight within about two weeks. However, my stern discipline usually faded after about four to six weeks, when I realized that I was not even getting close to my goal and my mind told me that maybe I did not really need to lose weight; that I was fine the way I was. I told myself that I could be proud of myself for losing a couple of pounds already and it would be okay now to reduce my efforts and merely try to keep them down. Thought and done, sometimes I quickly gained the pounds back, other times I kept them down but ended up still being unsatisfied and unhappy with myself.

What I know today is that the biggest secret to effectively losing weight is to educate yourself about the basics of nutrition, its energy value and the energy value of the human body. Why should we drink at least six glasses of water a day? How many calories are in a banana? How many calories does your body need to function on a regular day without additional exercise? Could you answer any of these questions? If you shake your head now, you’re exactly where I was three years ago. One of the reasons for the failure of my dieting endeavors was that I simply lacked this basic knowledge. For example, I thought that I would burn as many calories during a 30-minute unit on the exercise machine as are hidden in a delicious frozen pizza. But the truth of the matter is, you would have to stay on that machine for about three times that long to burn this amount of calories. These 30 minutes are merely enough to induldge in a normal-sized yogurt of 175 grams.

But how do you gain this knowledge without reading numerous books and browsing the internet for hours and hours, because – let’s be honest – most of us do not have the time or ambition to invest that much effort just to lose weight, at least not when we are just at the starting line of our dieting marathon. (“I don’t want to become a nutritionist!”) And one thing has to be clear from the very beginning: losing weight and keeping it down is a long-term process – it’s a marathon, not a sprint! Forget about all these cutthroats smiling at you in magazines and on television who claim that it is easy and healthy to lose ten pounds in two weeks. It is not!

lifesum banner

 

“Lifesum” is your personal dieting coach. (Photo: Wagner)

 

In our modern times, we use our smartphones and computers for just about anything. One day in 2013, when I browsed through the available applications for my phone, I came across one that promises to help make your dieting efforts a success. It is named “Lifesum” and works as follows. You enter basic data about yourself, e.g. your age, height, weight and activity level, as well as the weight you wish to reach, and chose from several dieting options. The app then calculates your energy use and tells you the amount of calories you can consume per day and still lose weight. Your job is to log everything you eat during the day in a virtual diary. The app offers a large data base of food items from thousands of brands, so it is very likely that you can find most of the products you eat. Be skeptical though about the truthfulness of the information given in the data base. Since it is generated and expanded by users, not every calorie declaration is correct. If you cannot find items in the data base, just read the nutrition label on the product and log it manually. If you do not just want to lose weight, but also live a healthier life, which I highly recommend, you should incorporate exercise of some sort into your program and log it as well. Trust me, it will not just make you feel better about yourself, it will also have the positive side effect of giving you the option to eat a little more during the day, because you have burned calories during the exercise.

The diary then offers you a complete overview of what you have eaten, tells you whether your diet is healthy or should be changed and visualizes how many calories you have burned during the day. It also offers you the possibility to track your water consumption, which needs to be an essential part of your program. Drinking at least six glasses of water per day, or 1,5 liters, should be mandatory. If you exercise, you need to drink even more and the app will inform you about the recommended additional amount of water intake. After certain time periods, the app will ask you to log your current weight and offer a graph that depicts your progress.

Many people think critically about giving away too much data about themselves by using social media platforms or apps like “Lifesum”. Don’t get me wrong, I am concerned about surveillance and the shady business with private information as well. However, I found that tracking my food consumption and exercising efforts made it a lot easier for me to control my dieting efforts and optimize them. Of course you can do that the “old school” way as well and simply write down your calorie intake and burned calories on a sheet of paper. If you have the time and energy, go for it! For me, the app was the right choice, because it required a minimum of work on my part and I had it with me at all times. It gave me the chance to take a closer look at my daily consumption and fuelled my ambition to meet daily limits. Another huge booster for your motivation is the weight graph that clearly visualizes your progress. And last but not least, the positive side effect of all this is that you learn a lot about the energy content of foodstuffs as well as the energy consumption during certain forms of exercise. You start to memorize approximate energy values and get a feeling for portion sizes and the arrangement of meals during the day. Furthermore, you start to realize how many minutes of certain exercises equal the energy content of specific foodstuffs. You will be surprised!

Feel free to check out “Lifesum” or an alternative I have also tried named “Noom” yourself and start playing around with the apps. There are certain special features in both apps that will require an upgrade subject to charges, but the free versions offer all the basic features you need.

Before I conclude this post, please remember: The important thing is that you take your dieting efforts very seriously from the very beginning. You need to be exact when you log your meals and exercise in order for it to become a success and your goal should not be to simply lose weight, but to educate yourself and improve your health by optimizing your eating and exercising habits.

Feel free to comment about your experiences or ask me questions.