March 11: Pringles Lightly Salted Original

It’s been a few days since the beginning of Lent. Since I gave up excess sodium (i.e, >1500 mg), I have had to be much more diligent about watching what I put into my mouth. I’ve pretty much abandoned looking at any line on the nutrition label except for sodium. When I went to Kroger Thursday, I made sure that nothing I placed into my cart had more than 400 mg of sodium per serving. The choice basically relegated me to fresh meats and produce, which is fine. My blood pressure has paid the price for overindulgence in convenience (i.e., pre-packaged overly processed food and fast food).

Since I planned to make peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwiches for lunch, I ventured down the potato chip aisle to see if I could find some affordable, low sodium potato chips. And wouldn’t you know it: Pringles Lightly Salted, withc 50% less salt than their original chips were on sale 4 for $5. Each serving, which is a gracious 16 crisps, has only 75 mg of sodium! I bought two super stacks.

I had them for lunch for the first time yesterday. The texture is the same as other Pringles. If you’ve never had Pringles, then Baked Lays would be another brand with a similar texture. With the original flavor, the chips are kind of bland. I would prefer a flavored low sodium chip, but I still find the flavor enjoyable. Besides, it’s the flavor that usually drives up sodium content. I’m just happy potato chip manufacturers are getting with the program and offering low sodium options as well as reduced fat choices. As I said earlier, I haven’t paid much attention to the other nutrition values but they weren’t alarming. Often with reduced anything (e.g., fat, sodium, sugar), another line item takes a bump to compensate for flavor. Unfortunately, this particular brand of Pringles is not listed on their website but the nutrition information is here. At least I couldn’t find it after 5 minutes of browsing and a deliberate search. But if you like chips and need a lower sodium option, Pringles Lightly Salted in the original flavor is a good choice.

An added bonus for my Lenten sacrifice is that I’ve lost 3.4 pounds since Wednesday! The only thing I have changed is that I’ve limited my sodium intake to 1500 mg or less. I attribute the weight loss to the fact that my body no longer has excess sodium to retain unnecessary water weight. It’s just the first week of Lent, so we’ll see what I’m talking about a few weeks from now, particularly as I travel for a conference and for a vacation. I imagine it will become exponentially more difficult to keep my sodium intake low when other people are preparing my foods.

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February 7: Seeing a nutritionist

I like to think of myself as resourceful. When it comes to nutrition and fitness, I rely on health and fitness magazines and websites with the general notion of USDA guidelines in the back of my mind. Even though I have had access to nutritionists at previous universities, I seemed to manage just fine. That is until I wasn’t. So when my employer hired a nutritionist, I thought it prudent to make an appointment.

I’m really concerned about my pre-hypertensive blood pressure if for nothing else than having to pay for medication the rest of my natural life. High blood pressure is a mostly preventable disease, though genetics also play a role. I just don’t feel it’s a good use of my money to pay for prescription medication for a disease I can prevent if I make better choices. The fact that I’m not losing much weight also bothers me, though I substituted one bad food habit with another and some days compounded the problem…can we say pork sausage and chocoholism?

My appointment was scheduled for one hour. It felt like a therapy session; the nutritionist asked me what were my concerns, what I was doing to address them, and what typical days were like in terms of food intake and exercising. I was completely honest about what I was and wasn’t doing to improve weight loss and to lower my blood pressure. As I was expressing my issues aloud, it became painfully clear how I was sabotaging my own success. I mean, looking at Loseit graphics, eating pork sausage when I know it raises blood pressure, and consuming >40% of calories as snacks, all while not skipping a meal, somehow weren’t enough for me to realize and truly understand the effects of the choices I was making daily for weeks.

Since I had not made much progress on the weight loss issue in four months, we agreed to focus on that concern. The nutritionist pointed out that I was not eating balanced meals throughout the day. For example, I usually only have one class of milk a day. She recommended I eat yogurt and fruit for my morning snack — instead of just a piece of fruit — and have cheese and crackers for my afternoon snack rather than a carbohydrate-loaded granola bar. Since I have trouble eating enough vegetables most days of the week, the nutritionist suggested cucumbers and raw peppers to substitute for celery when I grow tired of it. Athenos three pepper hummus and spicy pepper hummus are delicious and make celery much more palatable. I can’t get with raw baby carrots, no matter how “sexy” advertisers want them to be.

Crunchy vegetables are also good alternatives to salty potato chips. Apparently, my Lean Cuisine lunches aren’t helping my blood pressure. I really should start making sandwiches again, but not having something crunchy doesn’t satisfy me. I can even put low-sodium cheese on sandwiches! For one, I didn’t know cheese could be a culprit in my blood pressure saga. And secondly, I wasn’t aware low-sodium cheeses were an option. Good to know!

I definitely feel better about my health concerns after meeting with a licensed nutritionist. I have a free health screening at work in three weeks, but I can also have my blood pressure checked weekly at locations on campus (who knew?). While I doubt I will have normal blood pressure in such a short amount of time, I’m confident that if I eat more balanced meals, particularly snacks, and pay more attention to all sources of dietary sodium, my blood pressure will return to a non-hypertensive level. Oh, and the nutritionist thought my idea of calorie currency was clever *smile*. She was concerned that I might be depriving myself, but I’m not. I’m just making better decisions in that regard. So, one day at a time, one step at a time.

January 17: Fitness medley

About two weeks ago, I tried a spinning class for the first time since it was free. The recreation center concluded their free week of group fitness classes on Sunday. I attended yoga pilates, total body tone, vinyasa flow yoga, and step & sculpt classes. I have enjoyed yoga DVDs for years but never actually attended a class. With the opportunity to try classes for free, I thought I would give it a try. The other classes I chose were just from curiosity since they fit into last week’s schedule best.

I went to both yoga classes with a friend, Kim, who was also interested in yoga. While I’m not afraid to try new things by myself, it definitely helps to have someone join me. Yoga pilates was our first class; we spent 75 minutes doing sun salutations interspersed with other postures. For about 8 minutes, we performed pilates to concentrate on abdominal work. The instructor was really great at explaining proper alignment and what muscles should be felt.

Wednesday night I went to Total Body Tone. The class was way too crowded, which happens when free is combined with college students at 6:15 pm. Using too many contraptions (step, body bar, free weights, and resistance bands), we hit all muscle groups in 45 minutes. While the workout fatigued my muscles, I just didn’t have fun. And what’s the point if I don’t have fun, right?

Thursday found me in vinyasa flow 2 with Kim. It was refreshing to see men in the class; they were athletes whose dance instructor required them to attend at least one yoga class. Again, we spent most of the time doing sun salutations. A different instructor from the one who taught our yoga pilates class, Scott also did a good job explaining postures and modifications; proper alignment; and proper breathing. While I definitely want to attend Scott’s class again, it occurs at the same time as Tai Chi, which I planned to attend weekly with a co-worker.

Saturday morning I found myself in Step & Sculpt. I figured few people would show up at 8:30 on a Saturday; I was wrong. While not as crowded as Total Body Tone, a fair number of women attended. We had plenty of space, however. A young lady I met in the locker room Friday was on the step behind me; she said the instructor was one of her favorites. It took some time for me to learn the intervals, but once I did I began to have a lot more fun. I was drenched with sweat well before the class was half finished. I think that as I attend the class each week, I will do better at following along. It was a great workout that was really fun.

And as I was visiting all these classes this week, I began the aquatic distance challenge. One of my friends who came with me to spinning class agreed to be my swimming buddy for the eight week challenge. Brittany and I swim 1000 yards or 1000 meters (depending on lane availability) twice a week. It takes us about 45 minutes to swim the 40 laps. Well, Brittany swims; I kickboard *smile*. Each time I enter the pool, I practice breathing underwater. I started adding single armstrokes as I kickboard. My goal is to actually swim a few laps of freestyle before the challenge concludes. The last time I tried to swim for exercise, I became tired in the middle of the lane and panicked; that was at least 5 years ago and I’m still traumatized.

I’m really enjoying the variety of workouts. I still do Bob a couple of times a week. According to Loseit.com, I should probably step up my exercising. While I wrote a few weeks ago about my concern of eating too few calories, I went overboard with indulging in pumpkin bread, chocolate chip scones and cinnamon rolls. Tracking my progress makes me more accountable to myself. Seeing new muscles when I brush my teeth or being able to comfortably wear a flattering pair of skinny jeans is encouraging; and I am hopeful that such positives will make me think twice about overindulging in sweets.

January 6: Loseit.com

I have found my new favorite website! Every month I read about awesome phone apps for health and fitness. Well, I’m still in the dark ages and do not own a “smartphone”. Paying $1500 annually toward a family plan isn’t a good use of my money at this point in life. Come to find out that applications are often available as traditional websites, including Lose it! I just signed up for my free account. Lose it! is basically an online food journal; you track calories in and calories out. What I like about the website — besides it’s crisp, colorful design — is that I don’t actually have to keep up with the calories of most of the food I eat. I did have to search the internet for nutrition information on homemade pot roast because apparently people only eat store bought pot roast. I can even “create” an exercise. I don’t have a heart rate monitor, though, so I have zero clue how many calories I actually burn working out. Sure I can find reasonable estimates, but they are less precise than actually using my heart rate to determine calories expended on any given task. Anyway, my point is that I do not know how accurate the measurements are for the exercises included in the database.

I am not a fan of counting calories. I do, however, think it’s good practice to know what’s going on with the food I put in my mouth. I always read labels for new products I buy. The only reason I joined the website is because I am not seeing much change in the measuring tape. I feel that inches on the tape rather than pounds on a scale are a better barometer of my weight fluctuations. I’m not a spring chicken any more, and I’m learning the hard way that I can’t eat the way I did in my 20s. That chocolate addiction I have is not doing me any favors against the battle of aging. I should say that I’m not old. I’m 31 and by all accounts healthy. However, I cannot continue to eat whatever I want, maintain the same level of fitness and expect to remain at the same weight over time.

By entering my meals and exercise for today alone, I realized that I am not eating enough food. I have about 850 calories left for the day and still must account for the calories I will burn during spinning class this afternoon. It’s basically like I didn’t two meals today. No wonder I have not been seeing any progress. Here I thought it was just eating too many cookies, which I am absolutely sure is not helping my situation. But not consuming enough calories may have my body in starvation mode. I eat when I’m hungry; that is one thing friends and family who know me will say: I do not miss a meal, especially a free one! I’m going to continue to use the site and monitor daily net calories. If I have not seen progress as measured by the tape by the end of the month, I’ll have to go to plan B, whatever that turns out to be. That’s a bridge I will cross later.