Reasonably Achievable Resolutions

Did you make a New Year’s resolution?  If so, how’s it going?  According to a social network called Strava, which somehow conducted some research into the topic, most people who make New Year’s resolutions end up breaking them by January 12.  So hang in there: you apparently only have to suffer through a few more days of compliance before you can go back to those old habits.

The Strava research seems to have focused on exercise and dietary resolutions, which are probably the most challenging resolutions of all.  People buy that health club membership and start eating leafy green vegetables for dinner with the best of intentions, but are felled by unrealistic expectations of what will happen.  When those unrealistic expectations aren’t met, they fall off the wagon.  And then, after they fall off the wagon, they figure it’s hopeless to try to change and totally give up.

I think making resolutions makes some sense, and the start of a new year is as good a time as any for some self-reflection and consideration of how a beneficial behavioral change might be in order.  There’s nothing wrong with trying to get more exercise and be more healthy, but why stake your New Year’s resolutions entirely upon goals that experience teaches are incredibly difficult to reach?  Maybe we should start small, and think about little, reasonably achievable resolutions that might just make you a better person and improve your life at the same time.  Consider, for example, this list of 58 New Year’s resolutions that don’t involve dieting or exercise.  It’s not exhaustive and right for everyone, of course, but it may give you ideas for the kind of resolutions that are suitable for you.

This year, I’m going small with my resolutions.  I’m going to clean out my closet and give the clothes that aren’t being used to a charitable organization.  I want to go through what we’ve got stored in the basement and the pantry, figure out whether we’re using it, and donate what’s unneeded to the Goodwill.  I’m going to tackle my emailboxes and iPhone photos, delete what I don’t want to store forever, be happy about the reduced clutter, and see whether that improves my phone battery life.  And while I’ve done a better job of leisure reading this past year, in 2019 I’m going to up the ante by identifying and then reading through to the end at least one really mentally challenging book.

Making goals is a good thing, but reaching those goals is even better.

 

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The 160-Pound Me

Last week my doctor’s assistant had me stand barefoot on a scale-like contraption and hold a metal bar that was linked to the scale so that the fingers and thumbs on both hands were touching the metal.  The device, she said, would measure my muscle-to-body-fat ratio and also give me an overall weight goal.

I eyed the contraption with skepticism and trepidation.  More than a year ago I made a concerted effort to lose weight through a low-carb regimen and lost about 20 pounds.  I was happy with the results and decided to stop at that point, and I thought I had been pretty successful in keeping the weight off — but I don’t weigh myself regularly.  The scale/handle device therefore would be the acid test.

I followed the procedure and waited for the results.  The good news was that my weight was within a pound or two of where I was when I stopped the low-carb approach last year, and the device concluded that the amount of muscle was where it should be, too.  The bad news, though, is that the device said that I needed to lose about 25 pounds and get below 160 on the scale.

160?  Seriously?  160?!?  That’s less than I weighed when Kish and I got married in 1982, which was the skinniest I’ve ever been as an adult. If you wanted to find the last time I weighed less than 160 pounds you’d probably have to go back more than 40 years.

I get the need to watch your weight, and I understand the different health problems that can be caused by excessive weight.  But getting below 160 pounds seems like a pretty outlandish goal.  Presumably it would require a radical change in diet and exercise efforts, and I wonder if it would be sustainable.  I don’t want to lose two stone eating twigs and raw lettuce, buy an entirely new beanpole wardrobe, and then see my weight pop back up.  And yo-yoing on your weight doesn’t seem like a particularly healthy thing, either.

I’m rationalizing here, I’m sure, and I’ll talk to my doctor, of course.  But for now I’m thinking I’ll just take things one step at a time, and try to get down to the 170s and see how I feel about it.  I’m having a really hard time envisioning the 160-pound me.

The Salt Monster

In an otherwise forgettable episode of Star Trek, Dr. McCoy meets a woman whom he believes to be a former lover.  Instead, she turns out to be a hideous, shape-changing Salt Monster who kills humans by extracting all of the salt from their bodies through giant suckers on her hands.

Today, I have a sense of what the salt monster must have felt like after a satisfying high-sodium meal.  Yesterday I unwittingly ate something that was high in salt, and I woke up in the middle of the night with a mouth that felt like the salt-studded rim of a margarita glass.  I brushed my teeth again and drank lots of water before going back to bed, and when I woke up this morning my tongue still tasted like it was dipped in seawater.  When I’ve had an unfortunate close encounter with salty foods, the physical effect extends beyond the desiccated mouth region to encompass the rest of my body, which generally feels like crap.  Studies indicate, of course, that too much salt increases your blood pressure, and that high blood pressure in turn can make you a candidate for a heart attack or stroke.

I try to avoid salty foods, but it isn’t easy.  If you go to the grocery store and randomly look at ingredient labels on food items — a government initiative that even free-market types must admit has achieved the important social good of allowing people to know what they are consuming — you will be amazed at the reported levels of sodium.  Virtually every processed food is loaded with salt, either to add flavor or enhance preservation or both.

The American Heart Association has some helpful tips on how to identify and avoid salty foods, both at the grocer and when eating out.  My approach is to learn from experience.  When I wake up feeling like the Salt Monster, I remember what I ate the day before and I resolve to avoid it in the future.  It’s why I don’t eat chips, it’s why I never eat Chinese carryout anymore, and it’s why you won’t find canned soup in our cupboards.

Dining Hungry Heifer-Style

In a classic episode of Cheers, Norm — “Norm!” — talked about eating at the Hungry Heifer, a blue-collar dining hall where the portions were immense because all of the food was imitation.  Woody, intrigued, decided to join Norm for a meal.  When he returned to the bar he explained that the imitation food had to be called by a slightly different name, then raved about the “loobster” and “beff.”

IMG_3746Lately I feel like I’ve been channeling my inner Norm.

When my doctor told me to try to eat more fish and less red meat I groaned.  I don’t mind the taste of fish, but it’s a pain to prepare and tends to stink up the house.  One day at the neighborhood Kroger, however, I noticed packages of chilled imitation crab and imitation lobster.  They were cheap, so I decided to give them a try.  Surprisingly, they were tasty, and now they’ve been worked into my evening meal rotation on days when we don’t feel like making a big sit-down meal.  I feel good about listening to my doc when I buy them, because they have a “heart healthy” logo, too.

What’s in the imitation crab and lobster?  Mostly Alaska pollock, apparently.  The ingredient list also indicates that the product includes water, wheat starch, sodium, extracts of crab, oyster, scallop, lobster, cutlassfish, anchovy, and bonito, fish oil, rice wine, egg whites, and corn starch, as well as some more exotic sounding experiments from the chemistry lab, like disodium inosinate, guanylate, titanium dioxide, carmine, and canthaxanthin.  For all of that, the imitation lobster and crab taste pretty much like lobster and crab.  And, on the laundry list you won’t find anything that looks or sounds like red meat.  So, on any random night you might find me munching on some imitation crab leg, feeling good about my dietary habits and food spend, and inevitably thinking:  “Norm!

Look, Doc, I’m Eating Fish!

IMG_2330When you’re an aging guy in your 50s, your doctor tends to be concerned mostly with your prostate and your blood statistics.

Fortunately, my prostate hasn’t exploded — yet — or ballooned to basketball size, and most of my blood statistics are within the optimal range.  The only exception is “bad” cholesterol, where I’m two points above the maximum target.  My excellent doctor presented three options — start to take medication, go in for some kid of scan, or try to change my diet and eat more fish and chicken and turkey and less fatty red meat.

On general principles, I try to avoid medication or medical procedures unless they are essential.  So, I’m going to try the diet modification approach.  This is not as easy as it sounds — and not just because I can’t image a more succulent meal than a juicy cheeseburger or a sizzling New York strip.  I’m prone to poultry-fatigue, and when you live in the land-locked Midwest it’s hard to eat fresh fish.  And, let’s face it — fish that isn’t fresh blows.  It’s rubbery or dry or oily and not very appetizing.

IMG_2331When you come to a seaside resort, however, eating seafood becomes as easy as sipping that chilled glass of rum punch.  The fish are beautiful, absolutely fresh, and perfectly cooked and prepared.  The raw tuna appetizer shown above, half of a Caribbean lobster, a local fish served hot from the griddle, and a swordfish filet with a white bean sauce — all have gone down very easy.

So far I’ve had fish for lunch and dinner, and I’d have it for breakfast if it were offered — it’s that good.  Who knows?  This one vacation may get me below the line.

Hey, doc!  Look!  I’m eating fish!