May 13, 2012

Reader Questions & Answers #13

On Sundays, I will answer some readers' questions in a post. If you have a question that you would like me to answer here on the blog, just send me an e-mail with the subject "Q&A", and I may include them in a future Q&A post. They don't have to be about weight loss or running--anything is game!  (Remember, I'm not a doctor or dietician, or any sort of medical professional--I can only answer questions from my own experience).

Q. How did you determine your calorie needs in the beginning?  Did you start with WW and later move to calorie counting? I read in one of your FAQ posts that you didn't start exercising until you were well into your weight loss. I'm already exercising 3-4 days per week. When you started exercising what did that do to your tracking? Me and WW recently broke up so I'm trying to determine how to count calories and activity without their tracker.

A. When I started losing weight in August 2009, I started by counting Weight Watchers Points. I didn't join WW, attend meetings, or use their online program... I just used a paper journal and counted Points from the materials I had at home (previous WW attempts). I wasn't exercising at all at that time.

As I lost weight, the number of Points I was allowed to eat kept dropping. I started to feel like I was starving all the time! I decided to track my calories for a week and see how many calories I was getting from the amount of Points I was allowed. I discovered that I was getting only 1,000-1,200 calories per day! No wonder I felt like I was starving. So I decided to switch over to counting calories alone, and to track them on SparkPeople recommended 1,200-1,550 calories per day, and I tried that for a couple of weeks. I still felt hungry, so I increased my baseline calories (see below) to around 1,600 per day, and was still able to lose weight.

750 calories, and one of my favorite "earned" treats

The number that I aim for each day is what I call my "baseline" calories. That is what I aim to eat when I am not running that day. When I started exercising (after I had lost about 60 pounds), I added half of those calories burned each day to my baseline. So, for example, if I run six miles and burn 600 calories, I would add 300 calories to my baseline of 1,600... making my total 1,900 for the day. Does that make sense?

The only exception I made to this was on my long run days. I chose to allow myself to use ALL the calories earned on my long runs on a special treat--a frosted cookie from Mrs. Fields, ice cream from Maggie Moo's, a big piece of cake, etc. I only do one "long run" per week, so it gave me something to look forward to, rather than dread.

So, to answer your question, there is no right way to determine your calorie needs in the beginning. I had to experiment to find out what worked for me. I knew 1,200 was not enough, and I was NOT happy getting that few calories, so I made up my own "rule". I would start high and see if you lose weight that week, and if not, then lower it a little and try again. Obviously, you want to be able to eat as many calories as possible and still lose weight--so it just takes some experimenting to find out what works for you.

Q. I know you are training for a marathon and running is the only exercise you do now.  But have you ever thought about anything else for exercise?  Like different classes--Zumba (I love), body pump, spinning, or boot camp. Or if you can't go to classes what about different DVD's? I just wanted to know do you ever change it up.

A. The short answer to this is no. Before losing weight, I never enjoyed exercise--period. I started walking in order to train to walk the half-marathon in Indy. And then I started running only to run a 5K race for my bucket list. I never, ever expected to "become a runner"--I thought I would run that one race and never run another step again.

But somewhere along the way, I really began to develop this love/hate relationship with running, and I got hooked! I love constantly trying to improve my distances and times. I love only competing with MYSELF, and nobody else. I love that it's a solo sport, for the most part--there aren't people watching me, and I don't have to see all my loose skin jiggling in mirrors at a gym. I love how efficient it is--I burn a heck of a lot of calories in just 30 minutes of running.

I've tried a couple of classes with Jessica, and I was horribly uncomfortable the entire time. I'm very uncoordinated and awkward. I think that's another reason I like to run--it just feels like a natural movement to me. I don't have memorize moves and follow instructions. I tried DVD's many times, and just grew frustrated.

I guess I actually LIKE the monotony of running. Since I don't have to think about the movement, my head is clear to think about other things--sometimes I pray, sometimes I plan out what I'm going to make for dinner, sometimes I imagine reaching goals (like crossing the finish line at the marathon). I can see why some people would find running boring when you do it day after day, but I thrive on the "boringness" ;)

I am NOT trying to say there is anything wrong with doing classes or DVD's, however. I think that everyone should do what they enjoy, and if you enjoy your classes, that's great!

Q. I'm an avid follower of your blog and love the fact that you have about as much enthusiasm toward dreadmill running as I do--however we both know that there are times when it's a necessity. What I'm wondering is whether you have any set dreadmill workout plans that you work from? Do you get them off the net? Make them up yourself? Or do you just see what you fancy on the day? I'd love your thoughts on this as I'm constantly looking for something - anything - to make the dreadmill just that little bit more interesting.

A. Yes, running in place for miles on end is completely boring! When I use the treadmill, it is only out of necessity--when I don't have anyone to watch the kids, or when it's too hot to run outside. I will run in snow and freezing temps, but during the summer, I just can't stand running in the heat. So usually, I will just do what I need to do and get it done. But there are ways of making it go by faster...

I've found that the most enjoyable (least dreadful?) way to do the treadmill is to change something every minute. I might start at 6.0 mph, and then after 1 minute, bump it up to 7.0, then after a minute of that, go down to 5.5, etc. Here are a couple of my favorite treadmill workouts--I've included a run, a walk, and a run/walk for variety (feel free to change the speed settings to whatever numbers are appropriate for you).
This is the run, and at those speeds will total about 5K

 Hopefully that will help prevent boredom! I created these on Excel, so you can make up your own workouts however you'd like.

And now a question for all of you...

What did you have for breakfast this morning?

Noah asked me if he could make me breakfast. He made me a scrambled egg and toast with butter and grape jelly. I thought it was cute that he asked--my kids don't normally acknowledge Mother's Day! Maybe he's old enough now that he understand it ;)


  1. Happy Mother's Day, Katie!! Hope you & your boys had a great weekend! :)

  2. AnonymousMay 13, 2012

    Thanks for the dreadmill run time map! I will definitely try this. Also thanks for the calorie discussion. I find I don't lose weight if I add calories on running days like you do. But I'm okay with it. I figure that I can just suck it up and get to my goal. I know all this lower calorie eating is temporary. I worry about figuring out the balance point for maintenance, but I decided to worry about that when the time comes (about 30 pounds from now).

    Breakfast: my daughter (25) took me and her grandmothers to a brunch at botanical gardens conservatory sponsored by her vet school. Fund raiser thing. Very nice. We had a buffet of fruit, scrambled eggs, sausage patties, bacon, cheesy kind of potato, and a selection of pastries. The fruit was really good, and Mom said the french toast triangles were good. : )


  3. Big Charlie made me breakfast this morning. Two scrambled eggs with some swiss cheese melted on top, 2 slices of whole wheat toast with Olivio and one with TS Rhubarb Strawberry spread and a vat o'coffee. He would have taken me out to breakfast but little Charlie didn't get out of bed until we made him at noon, since he was exhausted from his trip!

  4. LoveAnAnimalMay 13, 2012

    Happy Mother's Day! I really enjoy the Q&A.

  5. AnonymousMay 13, 2012

    Breakfast for me was chocolate oatmeal - so yummy.

    I'm with you on the classes; I just don't like having to follow movements and whatnot. Running is much easier.

  6. I had toast and eggs with a bit of strawberry jam, which is my new favourite combination! :)

  7. Cinnamon toast crunch French toast with scrambled eggs and a mimosa at a local restaurant near Indy... Scotty's Lakehouse. Yum!

  8. AnonymousMay 13, 2012

    My kids made my breakfast this a.m. but normally as of lately I've been having a fabulous wrap so thought I would share. Target sells low carb soft shell tortilla's that only have 80 calories and 2 grams of fat. So I used that and put a piece of Kraft 2% Am cheese slice on it. I saute onions and mushrooms and then add 1 Tbl. ham and 1/4 C egg beaters. Scramble it up and put it on the tortilla with the cheese already on it and the cheese melts and it is fabulous and so filling! Sometimes for lunch or dinner I will make the same thing but instead of ham saute black beans with it. Tonight for dinner I did black beans and broccoli instead of mushrooms because I ran out. Very good, low calories and low fat. I have hypothyroidism and can't lose if I eat over 1,000 calories or more than 35 grams of fat so I have to find filling things to eat. Love your blog - happy Mothers Day. (Sorry, I still don't know how to post without being anonymous) Lisa -( I promise I'm a real reader:)

  9. My Hub brought home Cannolis from Vito's Bakery. Yummy, but in no way healthy at all.

  10. My husband and kiddos made Belgian waffles and sausage for us. Definitely not low calorie. :)

  11. I had my egg, overhard, with a slice of 2% cheese on two slices of whole wheat toast.

  12. Thanks for the treadmill workouts, I think I'll give these a go :) I've been adding in hills lately, lots of sweat throughout those workouts! lol

    For brekkie the last few months I've been having a small wholemeal pita pocket toasted in the toaster, topped with cottage cheese, sliced avocado & tomato. So delicious! But it's almost winter here in NZ, & I'm on my last lot of homegrown tomatoes. Mught be time to start on porridge soon.

  13. For breakfast I had 2 sunny side up eggs, and a piece of wheat toast with white chocolate peanut butter spread. My special distance run breakfast! I've been meaning to do an 11 mile run for like 4 days now, but we have family in town visiting and it's hard to plan around them!! Hoping to get going on it... right now!

  14. I think the best way to start is by setting realistic goals. If we adopt a step by step approach to lose weight, our efforts to do it will result in the achievement of our goals.

  15. Such a sweet thing for Noah to do. I think my youngest son made me breakfast once for Mother's Day. I made the mistake of inviting the whole family out yesterday for a barbecue to try out all the new sauces we bought on our barbecue vacation. So for me...Mother's Day was work work work, and I couldn't even complain because it was my idea. But it was nice to have the whole family out, including my niece and great niece, and they all brought food too! It was especially nice because I had the energy to do it all! Pre-weight loss a dinner like that used to exhaust me. I still hosted them, but I complained and was completely exhausted afterwards. my house is all cleaned up in preparation for my surgery next week and six weeks of inactivity.

    I like your approach to calories. I know that I can't take in many calories now, I was thinking 1700 or 1800 maybe just to maintain, but then the scale starting drifting upwards, so I'm trying to keep it around 1500. I guess since I don't run and burn a whole bunch of calories that way, I have to resign myself to the fact that I just can't eat much anymore. I try to tell myself that I ate anything I wanted for 30 years, so now I have to practice restraint. I see something that looks good and I think, "UHUH....that ship has sailed!"

    P.S. How is your mom doing with her weight loss attempt? I don't want to ask her directly, because I always figure if someone isn't doing well, the last thing they want to do is talk about it!

  16. Thank you for answering my dreadmill question Katie, it's going to help me no end with that boredom problem. For some reason since I have restarted running I am finding it difficult to go out alone - I used to be up and out by 6am - and so the deadmill has almost become a lifeline - go figure huh lol.

    As for breakfast. Well that was just the cutest thing ever for your boy to do that for you.
    Personally I usually stick to porridge oats made with semi skimmed milk and sweetner. Or else Shreddies made with the same.


  17. We were planning on going out for a yummy Mothers Day breakfast but I was having pretty intense contractions so instead I had a greek yogurt wit a sprinkle of granola and a half a banana cut up and mixed in. By the time I got to the hospital, the contractions had stopped so hear I sit. Still pregnant. Still not running. :( I am glad I can read about your amazing marathon training to keep me motivated for now and I cannot wait for you to run this marathon and hear all about it! You are going to do so awesome and I think you are already a winner for committing to and training for it!


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