Thursday, January 2, 2014

12:12 AM

And so it Begins...
Today marks the inaugural day of my Fitness Project. I fasted for 24 hours, traded in my run for a yoga session on the beach and otherwise had a fantastic new years day on the beach with my family, including breaking my fast with a delicious Mediterranean feast, a glass of Riesling, and two squares of dark chocolate (this is a project, not a punishment).

This year-long, Self-Health Project has two key elements, a Fitness Element wherein I focus on a single type of exercise for a month, and a Dietary Element, wherein I focus on a particular style of eating that research would suggest has some health benefits. However, overriding all of this will the key tenant of my Fitness Project which is that whatever I do has to work within, not dictate, my life. As such I will have to design and implement it to accommodate life, work, and family.

Since my fitness project is beginning in the middle of a family vacation, I had to immediately confront the issue of how to balance it all. For January I needed to focus on something that could be done anywhere, with a minimum of hassle, and would not be weather-dependent (e.g., rain in Hawaii, dark and cold when we returned home, and snowy for a potential late January trip to Tahoe). The diet choice had to similarly be flexible as I expected to have access to a more limited food selection and kitchen while traveling.

The other contributing factor to my decision was the fact that the house we are renting in Hawaii is owned by Michaelle Edwards of recent NYT fame and founder of the YogAlign Method. Staying here meant we not only had full access to five acres of gardens and fruit trees, but to her fully stocked, on-site yoga studio.

This all suggested that January would be the month dedicated to the practice of yoga - a month of mindfulness to start off the new year.

This would be coupled with Intermittent Fasting, a simple technique of limiting food intake for scheduled periods of time. Since this technique entailed no food restrictions (other than not eating for up to 24 hours at a time) it seemed to be the easiest one to implement while in unfamiliar surroundings. Further it seemed pretty hard (not eating for up to 24 hours at a time). I figured it would be a good challenge for me (someone who has never, ever been on a formal diet before) and would really benefit from the practice of yoga.

Baseline Condition
To gauge my baseline condition, I should probably have had a thorough physical, or at least a scale. Unfortunately, I have neither at hand, so here are some loose statistics to set the stage.
Age: 37
Height: 5'8"
Weight: 133 lbs
Exercise habits: Daily exercise, usually moderate to high intensity for at least 60 minutes
Dietary habits: Vegetarian, generally healthy diet, although weighted heavily towards carbohydrates, and whatever free food is available at the office (pizza, sandwiches and cookies)
Overall condition: I generally feel pretty good (low BMI and blood pressure, etc), although I have some niggly pain in my knees and my right shoulder and I am less flexible than I used to be. I have spent most of my life as a dedicated exerciser, but my working out has lacked focus - I want to be really good at many things, and as a result, I am pretty good at many of them. Part of the goal of this Fitness Project is to force me to focus singularly for a period of time on some of the things I love doing and to feel how my body responds to that activity when it is literally not being pushed and pulled in so many different directions.

Fitness Focus: Yoga  
Yoga has been a part of my life for about 15 years now, and I even taught it twice a week for six years. However, given that going to yoga classes requires being at a certain place, for a specified duration, and $15-$20, it has definitely taken a back burner since the birth of my daughter 5 years ago. As such, I have lost flexibility and a certain mindfulness that a deep and dedicated yoga practice can bring.

There is a lot of air between me and the floor
My goal this month is to immerse myself in yoga, reading, practicing and meditating. I will hopefully be able to take advantage of the wide variety of class offerings and great teachers available to me in the Bay Area  and get to try some new things too (acro yoga, partner yoga). I am realistic that my bank account and schedule constraints will most likely dictate where and when I can take classes, but I have made the point to sign up for a full day intensive workshop with one of my favorite teachers, Baron Baptiste, and for a private session with Michaelle Edwards. As always, I will supplement with my own home practice. I am ready to stop pounding on my body so hard for a little while and bring it some inner and outer peace.

Dietary Focus: Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting is a calorie restriction method which includes everything from periodic multiday fasts to skipping a meal or two on certain days of the week. "IF" is based on the basic principles that (1) fasting has been used for centuries to improve health, rid the body of impurities, and to cure any number of ills, and (2) our current three-meals-a-day lifestyle is a dramatic departure from our ancestral eating habits and has negatively altered how our body responds to and processes food (namely in its regulation of insulin). The health benefits of intermittent fasting supposedly include weight loss, increased growth hormone levels (ageing antidote), increased energy, improved mental and physical health, increased immunity, increased life expectancy, healthier relationships with food, detoxing and cleansing,....and the list goes on and on.

The IF diet has gained in popularity in recent years, in part due to books such as Eat Stop Eat, The Fast Diet, The IF Diet and The 5:2 Diet and purportedly even President Obama is a subscriber (if Maureen Dowd is to be believed). While it may well be just another fad diet, the reason I am intrigued is three-fold:
(1) I know I eat way too much sugar and carbohydrates, both of which cause cravings that can be mistaken for hunger. By having to be very conscious of when and what I eat, I hope to break the cycle of craving empty calories and to increase the quality of the food I am eating.
(2) I actually can't think of anything harder than not eating. If I am going to spend a year trying different diets that will necessarily restrict what I can and can't eat, I will need some tools in my tool box to get through the rough patches. There seems to be no better time than now to start.
(3) Despite the sometimes not eating part, I  actually think this appears to be a pretty manageable approach to eating, tempered with an otherwise healthy and diverse diet (see some great tips by Mark Bittman for eating healthier).

So there it is, the baseline and the Fitness Project for January. Let's see how it goes, shall we?

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