Day Ninety-Two: Food Tracking

It’s weird, being a relatively smart person. I know what I should do. I know what the benefits are. I know it’s not difficult. And yet… I don’t do it. Food tracking is my elusive bugbear in this whole thing.

It’s… like I said, weird. My wife is great about it. She tracks regularly and methodically. I just… don’t. I’m on the sobriety, I’m good with exercise, I’m not even eating particularly stupidly. I’m just not tracking.

I’ll chalk at least part of it up to being easily distracted. Even now, from the time I started writing this, I had a tab open on my browser to look up “Bugbear”, which led me to the Dungeons and Dragons ‘bugbear’. Which almost had me clicking more tabs and falling deeper down that rabbit hole. Which would have ended with me rushing out the door. So I’m trying to stay on point now, finish this, record the podcast, and then log the goddamn food for today. 

It’s the second time in less than a week that this has been my focus. So obviously it’s on my mind.

Food tracking forces better habits ‘effortlessly’

Because this is what I know.

Food tracking changes my diet without me ‘changing my diet.’ When I do it, honestly and consistently, I don’t have to think about eating right. I eat right. It’s totally self-reinforcing.

When I don’t do it, I snack, go off the rails, etc. In fact, snacking is what drives me from doing it. I can’t face the guilt.

So clearly, tracking is the way to go. It takes very little time, it’s not hard, and it’s very helpful.

I’m a smart guy.

Why do I get stuck on this?


Day Ninety-One: Spending Time (and Iron Fist)

How am I spending time? How am I blowing time?

I recently finished watching Iron Fist on Netflix. Well, kind of second-screening Iron Fist. I knew it would not be good going in. I knew it was not good while watching it. It wasn’t particularly compelling, but I watched it to the end.

I am going to die someday.

Why in God’s name am I watching Iron Fist?

I wish I had a good answer for that question. There’s been a thing rattling around in my head for a decade now, which becomes truer every year. Media consumption used to be defined by access: physical access (is the movie playing here?) and financial access (can I afford a ticket?).

Things have changed.

If you’re in a developed nation, and have a stable Internet connection, your media consumption driver is not access. It’s time management. I used to say there was nothing on TV. Now my wife and I have routine conversations to triage the shows we watch. We divide things up and report back to each other about whether something is good (I’m the canary in that coal mine — she reads a lot, I second-screen a lot).

Spending time when time is your media currency

So it’s hard to feel good about spending time on something you don’t think is worth it. I could have been building something, or climbing a tree, or cleaning my toothbrush collection.

And it’s hard sometimes to distinguish “leisure” from “waste.” I kind of feel okay about video game time. It’s at least engaging and either a way to work on my reflexes and/or puzzle solving skills. But the Netflix thing is just so… inert.

But I need to relax, right? And bad TV is a form of relaxing… right?

It’s hard to know what to feel okay with, and what to feel guilty about, sometimes.

Day Ninety: Why Snack? I know.

Why snack? I’ve been trying the “eat when you’re hungry” thing for a while, and still find myself on hand-to-mouth autopilot. It’s aggravating, frankly… going about your day and then finding yourself eating.

It’s an interesting problem, though. What’s going on with my wiring that I just… snack? A couple of weeks ago, I ran up against this. And assuming that I was going to change that problem just by observing that problem may have been naive.

I’ve tinkered with a couple of anti-snack strategies. I think what would work best is actually planning my food day, every day. It’s a road I’ve been down a few times. And it’s the path that consistently works.

Why snack? Because I don’t know what I’m eating.

Like, what I’m eating in the future, not what I’m eating while I’m snacking. That would be weird. But when I have a food schedule, I stick to it. I’m good at that part.

So what’s keeping me from having a good food schedule?

Well, I get busy. My wife gets busy. It’s good-busy, but more often than we’d like, I get back to the house and it’s time to whip up some food. Or I wind up eating at work. Or… stuff happens.

Maybe it’s time to look at my schedule, or switch food-logging from a phone system to a computer one — doing it while I’m sitting here, right after the podcast is recorded.

Recipes are also a problem. Why snack? Because I don’t want to write stuff down. Why snack? Because I’m already snacking, and not logging it, so what the hell.

I’m not being too hard on myself — I think trying to force absolute change super fast isn’t a great idea, especially when I’ve got a lot going on. But it’s worth thinking about a gradual and consistent change.

Day Eighty-Nine: Sobriety Sleeve-Tugs

I’m being more open about not drinking with people now that I’m about three months into this. It’s usually a version of the “dimmer switch conversation.” But I’m still getting what I think of as “sobriety sleeve-tugs.”

It usually goes well. More often than not, it leads to reciprocal sharing; almost everyone has a similar struggle (most often with food). A couple of people who have told me they think they might have the same alcohol issue as well.

I work in academia, so I think I benefit from an atmosphere that doesn’t prize the kind of rabbit-punch manliness that some drinking cultures are built around. So that’s helpful.

But — almost ninety days in — booze still tugs my sleeve on a regular basis. It’s pretty surprising. At least once a week, I’ll open the fridge and see some of my wife’s beer and think hey. Or have a crap day at work and go home and think wine. Or just generally reminisce about being at the bar and drinking with some colleagues.

Sobriety sleeve-tugs are worse when you don’t have a “problem”.

In a weird way, not having a capital-P “I strangled the family dog” problem is a trap. Rock bottom is super bad and something I never want to hit. But at least burning the house down means you have to rebuild.

When you have a kind of problem, it’s harder to get a clear grasp of consequence. “I must never drink again because I murdered a busload of nuns” is a clear mission statement. “I don’t drink because, meh, sometimes I thought I might be drinking too much” isn’t really a hook.

So I have to find some level of satisfaction in “I’m not drinking because I’m not drinking,” and — weirdly — accept my story internally as gracefully as friends and strangers accept it. When the impulse hits, I don’t believe myself the same way that strangers do. That’s a weird place to be in.

I’m not drinking today; carrying on. It’s just an odd space.

Day Eighty-Eight: Running 10k

Do you know the easiest way to get yourself to run 10k?

Run 5k in a straight line away from your house. Then realize you have to get back.

That sounds like a joke, but that was seriously the approach to my first 10k of 2017: I thought i’d be doing six. Then I just decided to keep going at 3k out, to 4. And then at 4k out, I thought what the hell.

10K Run March 30 2017
Straight up, straight back.

Nowhere near a great time for me, but running 10k in under an hour, and that’s a good baseline for the year.

The cyclical nature of it all is bothersome… training for three seasons, then a forced break, then starting slower than I finished in the fall. But there are no indoor tracks I can access where I live. And treadmill running is fine, but I’m more committed to the rower at home than a gym membership.

Day 88: running 10k and oh, also Nazis

So I’m feeling better than yesterday about confrontation, and since it’s day 88 of this project — look it up, Nazi-watchers! — I definitely feel better about the whole situation. I gots better places to focus my compassion than white guys that should know better dropping giant steaming turds of ignorance in public spaces.

Day Eighty-Seven: Conflict Management

So I got in an Internet Fight with somebody yesterday. A while back, I pledged that I’d stand up to ignorance more. That the Nightmare Clown is happening because weak people with heads full of bad ideas were just being left to rampage around and spread those ideas. Because it’s a pain in the ass to argue with people. But conflict management isn’t an internal strength for me.

So I’ve been arguing with these people. Yesterday was pretty typical: somebody who’s obviously been pulling all their thinking from talk radio. A childlike understanding of the world and the law. Lack of empathy bordering on comical.

Conflict management is not my forte.

This actually kept me up for a huge chunk of the night. Not just being riled up, but a couple of things in addition:

  • First, I actually feel bad for the guy. There’s no moral fiber there, but a deep weakness that leads to accepting easy, angry answers to feel safe in an uncertain world. But this is a weak person lashing out, not a strong person. I could have been more compassionate. But being condescended to by somebody who doesn’t actually have any idea what they’re talking about is literally the button to push to get me pissed.
  • Second, maybe there was an actual teaching moment there, and I blew it by being argumentative instead of explaining. Probably not. Again, when somebody is more interested in being ‘right’ than being human, there’s not much room there. But maybe there could have been some sort of way to punch through that kind of perpetual tantrum and reach a rational mind.

I’ll never know, obviously. Not being good at practicing compassion robbed me of a possible chance to do better. Conflict management, again, is not one of my strengths. Internal conflict management — not letting this stuff keep me up at night — is definitely not a strength.

So I’m glad that I’m at least not letting poison go unchecked. Annoyed with myself for not finding more ways to check the poison.

Day Eighty-Six: Stretching Myself

One of the ancillary things about the exercise is the stretching. I’ve given myself permission to hate yoga. But stretching is still (probably) a must. Especially with rowing back in the mix — it really can do a number on your back. I’m easing into it, but even so, I’m trying hard to work some back stretches into every morning post-exercise (rowing or running).

It’s one of those things. When I was younger, stretching had to be done before exercise! Every time! Or you would surely die! Now, the science says stretching before exercise is kind of meh. But you must stretch after exercise! Every time! Or you will surely die!

I don’t know. The back stretches, sure, they help my back feel less terrible. But the overall stretching… I’ve never really done it, and maybe I’m just cruising for a stretch-bruising, but it doesn’t seem to have done me lasting harm.

Stretching to prove a negative

Who knows? Maybe if I’d stretched every day my whole life I’d now be crazy flexible and still have hair. Maybe I’d be dead of deadly stretching. Maybe I’d pull my own arms off and discover I am full of deadly fluid. Who knows? I just know I’ve been doing okay with a more or less stretchless lifestyle.

Sometimes I feel bad about it; I’m totally inflexible (physically). Sometimes I give it another shot, and it’s a way to ‘exercise’ on days that I’m really, really, really not feelin’ it. But on the whole, I’m okay with not being stretchy. Stretch Armstrong was stretchy. And where’s that guy now?



Day Eighty-Five: Booze Hostage

One side effect of being sober is being a “booze hostage.”  I like hanging out with my drinking friends, and my wife, and I don’t mind when they drink and I don’t. But here’s the thing — you can’t rush a drink.

Here’s the scenario: I’m out with somebody. They order a beer. I order a soda. They drink their beer, I drink my soda.

Life is good.

They order a second beer. I don’t want another soda, so I’m on water.

Over time, the conversation is… it’s fine, but the bar’s loud, it’s not so easy to hear. I’m not buzzed in the way that makes conversation flow like it does when you’re drinking.

So there’s a kind of drink gap in conversation.

I start getting itchy feet. I could be doing something; if I’m with my wife, we could just as easily be talking while cooking, or doing laundry. Or doing something.

But what are you going to do? If the beer is high-grav, I’m not going to start demanding you chug it. I can’t ask you to walk away from a good beer. So I’m kind of stuck.

Being a booze hostage means patience. And planning.

One thing I need to do is start taking my iPad with me. And/or phone. Or a book, or… something. I feel like a massive jerk, in some ways — what, you don’t like conversation? But I also don’t like loud places (which bars are) and I’ve got about a 45-minute attention span for talk when nothing else at all is going on. It’s how I am. And the conversations you have once people are a couple beers in get more… elevated in tone and emotion, and it’s kind of taxing when you’re sober.

So I need to start planning my booze hostage moments better. It’s good that I’m not drinking, and it’s good that I don’t plan to drink. Also good that I like hanging out with my wife, and my friends.

But if I’m not going to be insufferable while other people drink, I need to find better strategies to amuse myself.

Day Eighty-Four: Sleeping In

Sundays are sleeping in days; often for me it’s a “get up, then go back to bed” sleeping in day — I get up with the cat, watch something dumb on Netflix for an hour, and go back to sleeping in.

There’s a school of thought that you should really sleep and get up at the same times every day. Which I kinda do. But the amount I sleep every day is less than the sleep I should get. Partly because of getting up in the night. So the question then becomes, is sleeping in for “sleep debt” better than keeping a steady sleep schedule?

I straight up don’t know; obviously sleeping the “right” amount every night would solve the problem. But that doesn’t seem to be in the cards. So I’m not sure if I’m setting myself up for success or failure by letting myself sleep in on Sundays.

So I turn my mind to ‘hidden costs’ — am I robbing myself of anything else by sleeping in on Sundays?

What does sleeping in cost?

Opportunity cost, I guess — but if it’s payback for getting up early on weekday mornings, there’s no lost opportunity. I’m pretty efficient and productive on weekday mornings. So losing “free” Sunday time for effective workday time is a good trade.

What else could I be doing with my early Sunday mornings?

  • Exercise, but recovery really is a thing, so taking mega-walks on Saturdays and having Sundays wholly off is something I’m down with.
  • Goofing off time, but that’s basically a different version of sleeping, and not as restful
  • Projects, but I don’t know if I’d be at my best to tinker with stuff when I’m sleepy on a Sunday morning

On the whole, I think the system works. It seems a bit silly in retrospect to run through all of this to arrive at “the current path is the best one,” but it’s important to head-check these things once in a while.

Day Eighty-Three: Space to Exercise

I’m lucky. In many areas, really, but I was just thinking today that I’m lucky to have a large enough space that there’s space to exercise.

There have been a lot of times in my life when I’ve lived in cramped quarters. Not submarines, but small enough that I couldn’t stretch, let alone get a rowing machine in or jump rope. And in Canada, not having a home space for exercise means months of incurring gym fees or not exercising. Or potentially breaking your butt slipping on ice.

“You can exercise anywhere!” say chipper people making DVDs or websites from their massive exurban homes. It’s really not true. It’s hard as hell to work out in tiny spaces. So while we are definitively house-poor (I looked it up), I kind of don’t mind scrimping in other areas to pay the mortgage, because I really love our house and what it affords us in terms of space.

The podcast is quiet today because we have a visitor in the next room. We have a guest room! That’s great!

But back on topic: we have space to exercise.

Space to exercise is mental space

When your natural tendency is don’t-exercise, your brain is always looking for excuses. “I have to move three chairs and roll up the rug” is an excuse.

I’m also fortunate to have a partner that is also invested in having some space in which to exercise. So it’s not like a dedicated room, but there’s part of the family room that is mentally earmarked as The Space Other Stuff Doesn’t Go In. It doesn’t look like a home gym or anything, but we both know, and that’s enough.

So getting up and going into that space is itself kind of motivating. It’s a good space to have.

I’m lucky.