A Little Help With That Diet Resolution

Heed the sage words of Brian!It’s nearly a week into 2008, and the odds still favor that you haven’t yet given up on your carefully chosen resolution for the new year. OK, maybe the odds are fifty-fifty. But the odds are better than that that you’ve resolved to become that lean, muscular beast that you’ve seen flashing it’s pearly whites on the cover of, well, every magazine under the sun. The reason the smart money is on a diet resolution is that according to The Obesity Society (yeah, I didn’t know they existed either), fully 64% of Americans between the age of 20 and 74 are obese. And because you’re reading this blog, the odds are that you enjoy a good adult beverage and a fine cigar. (Neither key indicators of fitness, sadly.)

The statistic may come as a bit of a shock, but if you think about it, I’m sure you aren’t really surprised. Think about your own life. If you’re anything like me, you’re eating out a lot more than you did a decade ago. You’re also eating a lot more often, and larger portions than you did in the past. I can remember way back when eating out was something that almost never happened. It was an event reserved for special occasions like birthdays and some holidays. I can also remember when the largest fountain drink went from around 16 to 18 ounces to 32. (Now you know why all those cup holders in old cars are so maddeningly small.)

I’ve got another surprise for you. As a chunky monkey in a state full of monkeys that are chunkier than average, my resolution should be to go on a diet. But it’s not. I’ve determined resolutions regarding diet just don’t work. Instead, my focus is to find small, beneficial and most importantly, sustainable changes I can permanently incorporate into my life to prevent weight gain, and hopefully, start me on a road toward weight loss. (For example, the Atkins Diet/South Beach Diet/whatever diet isn’t sustainable, nor is a blender-heavy turn-everything-to-juice diet.) If you can’t do it forever, it will fail. As such, a formalized resolution with a strict begin and end date is irrelevant.

But it occurs to me the tips I’ve picked up along the way maybe useful to those of you who have committed to a diet for the New Year. Here are somethings that seem to be working for me. What do I mean by working, you ask? While I haven’t lost a significant amount of weight recently, I have successfully maintained my current weight for the past year, which is a first for me. Additionally, and more importantly in my opinion, my blood pressure has significantly improved, going from pre-hypertension (on the door step to high blood pressure) to normal. In my book, that ain’t too shabby.

Ok, onto the tips.

Buy a Nintendo Wii. I’m not kidding. Hitting the gym is generally boring and sooner or later you’ll find a reason to quit. Home exercise equipment, which I’ve found marginally easier to stick to, take up too much room and will eventually break down. (I was running around 2 and a half months per exercise bike back in the day.) And unless you’re lucky, most of your friends don’t have the time to meet up for a daily game of tennis. The Wii on the other hand, takes up little space (though you do need some clear area in front of your television), is immensely entertaining, and comes packed with simulated players to play against. And I’m just talking about the Wii Sports game that comes with the console. If you get tired of that game, there is an expanding selection of games available that will help you break a sweat.

The clever guys behind the Wii have noticed this trend toward gaming for fitness, and are coming out with a new one that focuses on fitness called “Wii Fit.” Check it out. (Or at least watch the video clip, which is probably more useful than the article.) And while you’re at it, check out my analysis of my experience with the Wii.

Eat your meals in two courses, and make that first course a ton of veggies. This tip has been a pretty recent addition to my regimen (if you can call what I do a “regimen”). It’s one I’ve cooked up myself. (Pun accidental, but accepted.) I’ve been buying those jumbo bags of frozen mixed vegetables, and about half an hour before I plan to eat lunch or dinner, I fill a nuke a full bowl of these guys. The benefit to doing this is that I’m a lot less likely to eat seconds, or go for any sort of a dessert. Not to mention, it’s helping me get the 3 to 5 servings the old Food Pyramid advised (2 and a half cups in the new “MyPyramid”).

The great thing about this tip is that it works when you go out to eat. Order a house salad with anything you order, and make sure you tell them to bring it out first. Then order whatever you would have normally ordered. Even if it includes a side of those tasty slivers of evil, french fries. You may still eat a few of them, but you’re less likely to polish them all off, which is a net gain.

Standercize. Stand up. Get off your butt. As I discussed in a previous post, simply standing up had a dramatic impact on our bodies ability to burn fat. (See original article here.) When we sit for long periods of time, enzymes responsible for keeping that jelly donut off your thighs close up shop. They stop working almost completely. Apparently they figure that if we aren’t working physically, neither should they.

From my own experience, I have noticed simply standing instead of sitting in the evening has done wonders for my digestion, and has helped a bit with my sleep. And as a bonus, I’ve found standing means I’ll start doing little chores that need to be done almost without realizing it. While it can be incredibly difficult to pry your backside out of the couch after a long day, if you’re already standing, it’s surprisingly easy to do the little things that need to be done. And you’ll probably find that you’ll start to wake out of that evening stupor after you’ve been standing for a while. Hey, if all your doing at night is watching the boob tube anyway, why not do it standing?

Take a nap. This one is a bit easier for me to do than a lot of people, with my current work at home arrangement. But a well timed nap is hard to beat, even if it is hard to find time for. Why am I bringing this up here? Because being tired and stressed (they tend to work together) leads to overeating. When you’re sleep deprived the things (I say “things” because I can’t remember if they’re chemicals, enzymes or itty bitty martians) in your system that register fullness are substantially depleted. And when you’re stressed, your body will have elevated levels of Cortisone which will promote fat storage.

But instead of buying one of those $50 bottles of diet pills with the condescending television ads, you can work on getting a little extra sleep. Run out to your car at lunch time and take five. Or maybe sneak out around three when you’re hitting the afternoon lull. (That was always the time I hit the vending machine for a good dose of carbs and fat.) Heck, one article I read advised turning your visit to the restroom stall as an opportunity for a very short “micro” nap. When you’re well rested, you’ll be surprised at how much food you really need.

Eat at home. Again, this one is pretty easy for me, because my wife is a great cook. As I mentioned earlier, not that long ago, eating out was something that was pretty uncommon for the average person. According to one article I read, “…more than half the average [American] household food budget will be spent on meals bought outside the home….” That wouldn’t be a bad thing if the trend at restaurants wasn’t to increase the size of portions to justify higher tabs while pushing meal-sized desserts and appetizers at you as if it was normal to eat 5000 calories in one sitting.

It’s just easier to eat less at home. Why? Because you have to make it! But beyond that, you have absolute control over the portion sizes. You can do what I advised above and eat a massive bowl of vegetables before your meal. You can tailor your ingredients to maximize health benefits and minimize fat, salt, oil, sugar or whatever you like. And as a bonus, you will save money in the process.

I hope you diet resolvers out there find some of this information helpful. You know, even if you do fall off the wagon, you can always do what I do. Try to find healthy, sustainable habits to incorporate into your life. You never know, if you build up enough of them, you might just lose a little weight without a diet!

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Sickness, Dehyrdation and The Palate

Happy Shootin’ DudeEven though I’ve been over my lovely little case of bronchitis (and pink eye too!) for a couple of weeks now, I seem to still be experiencing the side of effects of said malady. Don’t worry, I’m not sick, and the nagging shallow dry cough has hit the road for new throats to set up camp in. What I mean is that a lingering case of dehydration may have been adversely affecting my cigar smoking experience, and as a result, my reviews for the past week or two.

It all came to a head when I realized I was starting to get headaches at the drop of a hat. Smoke a cigar, get a headache. Drink a cup of coffee, get a headache. Drink a beer or a glass of wine, get a headache. And for me, as for the average hung-over reveler, headaches are a symptom of dehydration.

Until I realized I, like the state of Georgia, was undergoing a serious drought, I thought I’d lost my tolerance for stronger cigars. Cigars that I could normally smoke one after another on an empty stomach (probably not a good idea, actually), were suddenly working me over like a loan shark collecting an overdue debt. As you can probably guess, this was a little unsettling. I write regular reviews for the Stogie Review (and irregularly here), as well as spending a lot of times at herfs. Being knocked on your ass by a medium-strength cigar at a herf is the kind of thing that makes you lose a bit of credibility as a cigar reviewer. And look like a pansy. Since I don’t actually know if I command any credibility to begin with, I gotta focus on avoiding the floral resemblance.

During this period of dehydration, when my noggin wasn’t being knocked around like the steel ball in a pinball machine, I noticed that every cigar I smoked was unusually spicy. My palate was surprisingly sensitive to the acidity and pepper flavors in cigars. But after an aggressive re-hydration campaign, the same cigars were noticeable less spicy. And that’s fascinating. What this seems to indicate is that even pairing a cigar with water in an attempt to get a good, unaltered read on the flavors may be a flawed idea. Smoking a cigar without a drink will be a different experience that smoking one with water, because the presence of additional water has an impact on how your palate detects flavor.

Of course, some people already know that a very cold or iced beverage deadens the taste buds. (Ever wonder why cheap beer is served ice-cold?) As part of my recovery process, I’ve been trying to drink room temperature water to avoid irritating my throat. So I’m not just talking about the turning you palate into a flavorless tundra.

So what should you, as a cigar smoker take away from my random, unscientific, anecdotal thesis? A couple of things:

  • If you find your cigars are suddenly kicking your butt, you might be dehydrated. Trying drinking a bunch of water an hour or so before you light up. Consider having some more water with your cigar. Remember that coffee is actually a diuretic! (A very tasty one, given.) Without realizing it, your cup of joe may just be dehydrating you! And keep in mind some areas become drier in the winter, so your environment may be working against you!
  • If you find that your cigars seem pretty bland recently, cut back on your fluids while you smoke them. Or maybe considering smoking your cigar with something warm like tea. If cold beverages deaden your taste buds, it stands to reason that a warm beverage will wake them up.

But what about me? I read your blog, and I don’t smoke cigars! Well keep in mind that the very same palate I use to enjoy the finer qualities of premium tobacco is the palate I use to evaluate red wine and the presence of possible poisons in my wife’s cooking. (She seems to have the mistaken idea that I have a large life insurance policy in her name. The joke’s on her, I’ve left everything to the neighbor’s Chihuahua!)

But if the preciseness of your palate is not a big concern to you (or maybe even a liability if you live on Taco Bell and Schlitz malt liquor), you still should be aware of the importance of water. After billowing plumes of premium tobacco smoke, water is probably the most important thing we can consume on a daily basis. I did a quick search of the web for the effects of dehydration and came across this website that alleges the lack of water is tied to everything from Asthma to diabetes, arthritis, heart burn, back pain and migraines. And you know what? I believe ’em.

Drink up!

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Make The Most Of Your Holiday: Get Sick

How To Be Idle at Amazon“Michael, I did nothing. I did absolutely nothing, and it was everything that I thought it could be.”

– Peter Gibbons, Office Space

I’m usually one of those annoying types that enjoys bragging about never getting sick to perpetually sniffly coworkers. As you would expect, I actually do catch a bug on rare occasions. I’m usually good for one stop-you-in-your-tracks illness a year. Invariably it happens right over the top of a major holiday. I don’t really know why, perhaps it’s the colder weather. But if I haven’t come down with something by New Year’s Day, the smart money says that I’m in the clear until Halloween.

As I write this, I’m wrapping up day six of a yet-unfinished bout with a lovely little case of bronchitis, and, added at the very last minute, special guest pink eye. So if the deep congested coughs weren’t off-putting enough, my zombie eye should do the trick. So that means this year’s ill-iday was Thanksgiving. It seems like such a waste, doesn’t it? The best food day of the year, and you’re stuck eating chicken noodle soup, crashed out on the couch watching the peerlessly poor programming that is holiday television. (Is it just me, or does TV just suck like a Dyson vacuum these days? I didn’t any loss of suction on the tube this whole week.)

But then it occurred to me that actually being sick on a holiday is the ultimate in efficiency from a work perspective. You kill two birds with one stone; a sick day and a holiday day, buy one, get one free! And you don’t get crap about being gone for being sick, because everybody else was gone for the holiday. You didn’t miss anything, and there will be no extra catch up work or email to return. And no accusations about faking it to go golfing or fishing. (Is there anything more irritating than that? It makes you want to want to sneeze on their keyboard and wipe your clammy, sickly hands on their mouse.)

But wait yet it gets better. Sometimes holiday festivities are great fun and you look forward to them. More often though, its the same drive to the same place to eat the same food and talk about the same things with the same people as you have for years. While you don’t probably loathe the experience, the thought probably crosses your time that you’d much rather play computer games in your underwear all day instead. Well, if you’re sick, you get to live that dream and with everyone’s blessing. They usual suspects don’t want to catch whatever nasty thing is causing your hacking cough and running nose. Everybody’s happy! (And you’ll probably find you cough a lot less while engrossed in a good game, than you would listening to the same family argument.) And triple word score if you get a doggie bag!

Ever notice that after a festive holiday you come back to work more worn out than when you left? You won’t have that problem if you spend 18 hours of the day in the dark green comatose land of Nyquil. In spite of the midnight coughing fits and afternoon headaches, I’ve never been more relaxed and more rested than I have been this week.

This all brings to mind a book I read (and thoroughly enjoyed) earlier this year, How to Be Idle: A Loafer’s Manifesto. To sum it up in a few words, the book is advocates that everyone increase his or her indulgence in rest and relaxation, noting the decided lack of down time or personal time in modern western society. And it does this with a humorous tongue-in-cheek style. And as luck would have it, this book has a chapter on illness. In it, author Tom Hodgkinson, relates how illness gives one the opportunity to take a break, rest up and enjoy life. But as society evolves, this opportunity is being taken away by the abundance of convenient symptom-suppressing pills and the expectation that we’ll use them and get right back to work. Being sick on a holiday, however, completely removes the pressure to do anything productive. (Without digging too deep into the book, I suspect that readers of my blog will find it to be a great, entertaining read.)

I’m not naive enough to think that this book, or my mention of it will be enough to reverse the giant cogs of progress. People will get colds, they will pop some pills, and they will sniffle through their day in the office under the approving eye of management. All I’m saying is that you might consider hanging out in the doctors office the a day or two before a public holiday if you really want to have a good holiday. On second thought, just fake it, people will probably assume you are anyway!

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Office Etiquette: Hand-Chiseled On Holy Tablets

You don’t have to look like this to be a good I.T. consultant.I’m not sure why, but the office I’ve been working in for the past couple of months seems to have a high concentration of people who don’t grasp the unwritten rules of office etiquette to which I am familiar. Rules that I like to believe are common place in the U.S. professional workplace. I’m not saying that there is an unusually large percentage of people from other nations working here. I’d say the mix is similar to most other places I’ve worked. And as a I.T. contractor, I can say that I get around.

The Restroom
I can understand that people can be a bit uneasy in the restroom. Let’s face it, its not the the most pleasant place to spend time. Everybody’s heard some story about somebody, somewhere catching something from a visit to a dirty restroom. But come on, unless you work in a gas station, you’re not using a gas station bathroom. You’re slapping your pampered backside down on the same, daily-sanitized porcelain as other people who spend their whole day doing nothing more irresponsible than eating an extra donut or drinking burnt coffee.

I see some crazy stuff people do to deal with the terror of the white collar restroom. Toilets embalmed in toilet paper. Unflushed urinals. Piles of paper towels laying in the corner between the wall and the hinge-end of the door. I’m all in favor of the touch-free bathroom experience, especially in bars and the airport. But in the office of a computer consulting firm? What the hell?

Let’s review. Here are the restroom related things people must begin doing immediately. Immediately.

  1. Flush the damn toilet. It’s so easy, even if it isn’t done for you automagically. Most flush levers offer little resistance, so training is not required.
  2. Throw your paper towels in the trash where they belong. Yes, I read the same report you did. Door handles have cooties. If you must open the door with your partially used paper towel, take it with you until you find a trash can. Do not, repeat, do not throw it on the floor where you think there should be a trash can.
  3. Clean up your mess. See #1 and #2. Be creative, you can apply this rule to toilet seats and sink counters.
  4. Wash your hands. Every single time. This week I witnessed a guy walk out of a stall and directly out the door. Toward me. I ran screaming in terror. And this guy died of typhoid. Actually he probably didn’t, but he might be really sick by now. I wouldn’t advise shaking his hand. Or Sheryl Crow’s, for that matter. (Yeah, I know, supposedly it was a joke, but if you use a paper towel to open the door, you probably want to use one when shaking her hand, just in case.)

The Break Room
This important point of office interaction is one of the other major locations of ridiculous violations of etiquette and common sense. Unlike the restroom, the point of this area is enjoyment. You’ve got your water cooler. The coffee pot. The snack machine. And so forth. People loiter and talk here. (Well, probably not as much as they should. Nobody wants to be seen as that slacker who’s taking a five minutes away from his or her desk.) But for some reason, this area of pleasure is often transformed into an irritation by people who don’t clean up after themselves, or take the extra minute to replace supplies they’ve used. And you know not everybody is running late to a meeting. And if they are, maybe they should consider hitting the break room after the meeting. (There’s a lot more time then!)

But enough talk. Let’s get to the list of break room rules.

  1. If you kill it, you must fill it. This is the single most important rule of office life, and strangely the one most often broken. If you take the last bit of coffee, and it’s earlier than 4:30 PM, you are a complete bastard if you don’t start up another pot. If there’s any any doubt lingering in you mind as to whether you should make one or not, do it. Or face possible retribution in the afterlife. From the holy book of Second Lumburgh: “Yea verily, quoth the Lord, he that drinketh the dark nectar of the bean and replaceth it not for his brethren shall be wretched in my sight. I shall smite him with pimples in uncomfortable areas, and cause his hair to wither and fall upon his resting cot. And also I shall smite his coffee, that it be as decaf all the days of his life. Thus it shalt be, totally.” Hey don’t shoot the messenger here, it’s there.
  2. Clean up your mess. Yep, it works here too. Isn’t it great how applicable this is? Keep thinking, you’ll find some other great places to apply this rule! 😛 (Exceptions apply for people who bring in pastries.)
  3. Lab experiments in the office fridge. Though I don’t use it myself, the office refrigerator is not a petri dish for the budding mad scientist. I wouldn’t care about this one, but I get sick of seeing the all-office email about cleaning out the fridge. It’s kind of implied by #2, but merits special mention.
  4. Separation of your drool and the water purifier/cooler is essential. You know I love working with you. That doesn’t mean I want to make out with you. Really, your cold sore looks so much better on you than on me. Please, please, please leave a bit of space between the shared water tap and you 6-month old water bottle. (Give some thought to one of those new, wide-topped bottles. You might be able to pick one up when you get your next bonus.)

Janitorial Etiquette (Bonus!)
You didn’t see this one coming, did you? Well, the truth of the matter is that not all violations of important office etiquette are self-centered A personality types. The folks doing the scrubbing and vacuuming need to also follow a few rules to keep the business running smoothly. There are a few essential rules of janitorial service that are so important that failure to follow them should lead to immediate dismissal. And deportation to country of citizenship. ( 😆 I just couldn’t pass that up… You know you were thinking it.)

  1. The soap dispensers are the most important piece of machinery you service. They should be tested every time, and under no circumstances should they ever be allowed to be empty. If left empty for more than 24 hours, any janitorial staff found on the floor of the offending soap dispenser should be fair game for a swirly.
  2. Paper supplies are important too, leave extra. There should never be a scenario where paper products run short. Paper towels, toilet paper, and hand towels. There should extra of all of these be located wherever these products are used. The swirly rule applies here too, except that this time, the swirly recipient gets a quick toilet paper pre-wrap before the punishment is performed. (The point here is to stress the paper issue.)
  3. You have no say on office or break room layout. Just because you empty the trash or rinse out the coffee pots doesn’t mean you have a say in where they should live. While your attempts to optimize the layout might be appreciated, generally speaking its less productive for us to have to walk across the office to throw away the sheet of paper with our doodles of the boss swinging from a yardarm and being eaten by sharks. Optimal clean time does not equal optimal office productivity. The punishment? Oh, I think you know by now.

While I have made every attempt to be comprehensive here, I may have left off an item or two. Be creative and apply whatever sense is common in your location. I know you can handle it. 🙂

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Sugar? Nope, pass the Miracle Berries.

Miracle Berries

This morning while I should have been driving into the office I was reading a story in the WSJ about a “miracle berry” the Synsepalum dulcificum that somehow enhances your tongue’s sweet receptors so that for a prolonged period of time after eating it (or gargling with it, as seems to be more the way it’s used) everything tastes sweet. Raw lemons, limes, grapefruit, just pick a sour citrus. The most intriguing taste experiment to me was the stout beer + miracle berries = milk shake. I really wanna try that.

Apparently, experiments are underway to harness the power of these berries. All I want to know, is what color will the little packets be? Sugar owns white. Splenda has yellow. Nutrasweet’s got blue. And the controversial Saccharin is all about style in pink.

Check the article out here (membership required, *sigh*).

Want to know a bit more, but don’t want to subscribe? I found this page, and another place that says it sells the seeds. Note: I haven’t verified the information at either site, nor do I endorse the purchase of anything there. Enjoy!

Somewhere Goji berries are secretly plotting their revenge against this upstart star of the berry world.

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