Monday, May 9, 2011

good things: food, exercise, harr!

It was a pretty good week, I gotta say.

» I stayed within my Weight Watchers points, and it wasn't that hard. It was one of those weeks that I *wanted* fruity desserts, sauteed veggies, oatmeal for lunch some days.

» I exercised 6 days! My original goal had been to get to the gym every day last week, but that didn't happen. What did happen was: on days I didn't make it to the Y, I did exercise on my own time in the out-of-doors. One workday, I took a long walk on my lunch break (through some pavement fields ... I'm surrounded by parking lots and main thoroughfares in this office). Last Saturday, I walked our dog to the dog park, a good 30- to 40-minute haul each way. I rested on Sunday, but didn't feel at all guilty; the day off must have done me good.

» I simply felt better. Exercise and good eating do that. But it's so funny what minimal positive effort it takes to get to a place that is exponentially more satisfied and satisfying. I felt lighter, smilier, more able to continue making healthful decisions.

» I did it! I cut my own hair! I was nervous. And then I got more nervous after I started in with the scissors. You know how your hair dresser gets chunks of your hair between his index and middle finger, then glides the scissors across the ends to trim up? That's how I started in on my hair and it was taking forever. Not to mention I couldn't cut a straight line to save my life.

At some point I got a chunk of that hair, twisted it a few times and then just lopped off the end of those twisted bits. And it worked. I just kept repeating that method until I'd got my hair looking as you see it. (And really, I had to force myself to stop. It got kind of addicting.)

I'm looking forward to my next trim, and I plan to try different shaping techniques. (I have no idea what I'm talking about. I'm just sayin' that I want to figure out how to shape my hair, is all.)

And that's just half of what a great week looks like for me.

Onto the next!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

a small problem with the economy of scale: satisfaction

Firstly, as a number-lover and budgeter, I appreciate economy of scale.

It means that if I go to a warehouse store and buy bulk, I can get my oats at a lower price per ounce. If I tell the farmer at the market that I might just buy that whole crate of apples, he might just give me a little deal and reduce the price per pound.

I don't have a problem with the concept, per se.

But there's this thing built into economy of scale when it comes to buying prepared foods; and I don't think I'll be able to sum it up clearly, so I'll just tell the little story of my coffee cup.

get the short cup

I've come to really enjoy my afternoon coffee. It's one of those mental breaks that helps carry me through the last couple of hours of work before I head back home on the bus.

I keep forgetting to pack my own coffee grounds along with lunch in the mornings; my backup cup is from the Starbucks across the way (the only coffee within walking distance of my job).

When I'd set out to get my afternoon cup this past Wednesday, I had two things on my mind: I've only allotted myself $20 for "treat" purchases this month; and I'm trying to trim back my caffeine (just one more way that I'm trying to achieve a better nutrition balance).

So I headed out thinking "You know what? for the first time in a long time, I'll get the 8 oz. cup of coffee." (If you ask for a "short" at Starbucks, they discreetly [I noticed] pull an 8 oz. cup and fill it for you.)

I was kind of steeling myself for the smaller portion. Because, you know, you just get used to having a certain amount of *anything*; and getting less can feel like you're getting ... shorted.

In any case, I steeled myself for the 8 oz. cup, and I truly got ready to enjoy the smaller amount of coffee.

And then the total came to $1.57. Umm, that's only 11 cents less than the 12 oz. cup (at $1.68). "I only saved 11 cents?! It would totally be worth 11 cents to get four more ounces of coffee!!"

That's what I was thinking. With some math running in the back of my head:

» 12 oz. is 50 percent more than 8 oz.
» $1.68 is only seven percent more than $1.57!

The value is obviously with the 12 oz. cup!

UGH. But this is the problem. I didn't *want* the 12 oz. cup. And yet the skewed valuation made me feel cheated by the 8 oz. cup. It was difficult for me to feel I'd made the right decision ... because it wasn't the "smart" financial decision.

I had to convince myself that it was still the right choice. That if I wanted the 8 oz. cup, I should be ready to place a higher value on my own desire for less coffee than on my instinct to get the "better deal."

this is nothing new

Obviously, Starbucks isn't the only food retailer that prices their menu this way; and this economy has existed for generations.

I'm not going to argue that the system should change. I just wanted to take the time to recognize how my decisions are affected by the system and ask myself what I should do to stay in control as a consumer.

solution no. 1: be happy with less at a higher cost. When it comes to buying prepared foods, whether it be in restaurants, coffee shops, bakeries, my focus *must* be on what I want ... me. I shouldn't even *think* about the larger size vs. the smaller size; the dinner platter vs. the salad and soup; the waffle cone vs. the cup of ice cream. If the "better" financial value lies with a selection that feeds me more calories (or caffeine) than I want to put in my body, it is NOT the better value for me.

solution no. 2: scratch-make it. Another argument to make most of our foods from scratch! (Or in the case of coffee, to brew our own.) When we home-make our meals, snacks, desserts, we buy ingredients in their whole -- and cheapest -- form. It's here that economy of scale works best for us ... we're buying things that we can store on the shelf until we need them, or use to make multiple meals throughout the week. And you know what else? When we use those ingredients, the cost to us is in direct relationship with the amount we pull off the shelf.

Some math (using made-up, easily divisible numbers):

» We pay $10 for a bag of coffee beans that'll make 10 cups of coffee. $1 per cup.
» One day, I decide I want only a half-cup of coffee. The cost? $0.50 per cup.

I like that. A lot.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

signs that i'm back on track

Yay! Good things are happening. They're tiny, but tiny is where it starts.

i know i'm doing it right when ...

» I headed to the gym for the third morning in a row. Third day's the charm. Not to mention I've been getting to sleep around 9 p.m. each night. My gym alarm is set for 4:40, and by the time it goes off I've actually gotten enough rest to spring out of bed.

The physical benefit of the sleep is one thing; and another is that when I get to bed later, I fall asleep with a sense of dread that I won't feel fully rested by the time that early alarm goes off. I think I absolutely do carry that negativity through my sleep and into the next morning, when often I'll opt to turn off the alarm and go back to bed.

» fruit dessert! When I can be happy and satiated by a bowl of cut up bananas, hazelnut butter, honey and a sprinkle of granola, I know I'm doing pretty well. No lingering emotional dissatisfaction with a "dumb healthy dessert," no giving in to compulsion. Bonus: an extra serving of fruit, a dash of protein and whole grains.

» water water water water water. And more water. I've said it before, but drinking my daily allotment of water can feel like work. When I start craving the next bottle of water, though, I'm in a good place. It's a place where my healthy decisions feel less burdensome, and where I put more value in them then I do in what would be easier.

some things I'm not doing yet

Some of my healthy habits haven't kicked in yet, but I'm not worried. I've returned to a frame of mind that says I should slowly add things as they feel right, and up to the point I still feel excited and positive about them. In the meantime, I'm not:

» pushing super hard at the gym. I'm pushing somewhat, and I'm doing new things (namely I've picked up regular weight training, but I've traded in my rigorous elliptical workouts for more slow-paced walks around our indoor track).

» tracking my numbers. I know! I'm so into numbers! You'd think it's the first thing I'd want to get back into. But I'd prefer to focus on the actual work behind those numbers, first. I have this nagging suspicion that -- while my tracking is ultimately good and will be a great tool for me in the future -- sometimes that tracking can lay a thin film of burden/judgment over everything I try to accomplish in a day. I think I may have become disheartened by some of my numbers, and I allowed that to affect my efforts.

I'll work on establishing a solid routine with food and exercise before I slowly return to collecting data.


Monday, May 2, 2011

i forgot my lunch!!

I was headed to my bus stop this morning when I realized I'd left my super-awesome-healthy lunch (veggies, homemade hummus & fruit for dessert) on the kitchen counter.


If I turned back, I'd have to drive my car to work (no thanks; I like taking the bus, which is cheaper, saves my car the wear-and-tear and is better for our little environment here).

That was challenge no. 1: realizing I'd have to go out into the consumer food world and make the right decision when my plans had suddenly changed. (Plans do me a world of good. When I make a plan, I generally stick to it. No plan? Who knows ...)

Challenge No.2: I've recently tightened up our budget. One of the financial corners I've tidied is our willy nilly spending ... the coffee here, the workday lunch there. It adds up!

But I definitely want Patrick and I to enjoy ourselves. So I'm taking cash out each month for each of us to carry around. Once it's out, the month's treats are done. My monthly allotment? Twenty bucks. And it's only May 2.

So I've got the unplanned, consumer food world ahead of me, and I don't wanna spend too much money. And of course I want to be healthy.

and then, a big duh

Whenever I think of buying my lunch, I think of going to a restaurant. My options within walking distance of work (cause, remember: I took the bus)?

Cici's Pizza (salad bar plus a few slices, which always ends up being too much bad food).

Panera (which has healthy options, but always ends up costing too much money).

And that's basically it. The other options are either clearly overpriced or unhealthy.

AND THEN DUH IT HIT ME: I have a grocery option. Within walking distance. Sure, it's through some awkward, big parking lots. But it's a place full of healthy, cheap food options!

How is this the first time I've considered it?

In any case, as immediately as that option popped had in my head, I also thought to scour the shelves for the best and cheapest lunch option, to serve as my consummate back-up plan for the days I invariably forget a lunch or we've come to the end of our in-stock healthy options at home (it happens!).

With that in mind, I trekked to the grocery looking for savory, high-protein options, plus a little something sweet. I came back with (about):

» 1/5 lb. green beans ($0.33)
» 1/3 lb. sweet potato ($0.27)
» 1/3 lb. red potato ($0.32)
» 1/3 lb. roma tomatoes ($0.77)
» 1/2 lb. banana ($0.24)
» 1/2 lb. apple ($0.72)

total: $2.72 (including tax)

As I was been filling my arms with goods, I actually thought "OK, this is gonna start getting expensive," but I definitely wanted to make sure I brought enough food back to be satisfied (hungry Lindsay is kinda ... a grump).

I'd also expected to seek out something hearty in the bakery (bread) or dairy (cheese?) departments, but I'd forgotten all about sweet potatoes! Filling, delicious, nutritious.

I plan to heat the potatoes in the microwave and see if I can find a little something fatty in the work fridge (butter or dressing) to sprinkle on top along with salt. The rest? I'll crunch on raw.

I'm kinda stoked and proud to have found a healthy (cheap!) back-up plan!

PS: Bonus? I got fresh air, the walk was long enough to feel invigorating (including a pretty steep climb on the way back to work), and I drink lots of water during the jaunt.

the week ahead

OK, let's keep this simple!

Things I wanna get done this week:

» go to the gym every morning. It's a big goal, but there's also no reason I can't do it. In fact, it'd probably do me good to have a super stable sleep/wake schedule. And who says I have to kill it every morning on the machines? The goal is just to get to the gym and do something.

» cut my hair! I had this idea recently that I could save a lot of money and learn a new skill by being my own stylist. It's kinda bold. It's kinda scary. But why the heck not?

Hey ... and that's it!

I'm definitely in Slowly Get Back on the Horse mode, so this seems like plenty.