Project LIFE: bye bye McFit

Now that I’m in maintenance mode I’m tracking myself with daily weigh-ins and experimenting with different foods to add some variety. I also felt like it’s a good time to reassess my workout routines.

I went to my gym for a morning workout last week and found it was closed for the final days on an ongoing renovation. I went to the grand opening yesterday and was sort of shocked my what I found!!! It has been transformed from a basic (occasionally stinky) McFit to a too cool for school John Reed. 


Complete with uber cool lounge areas, spin class and workout rooms with virtual instructors speaking English (and attempting a Texas accent) and I got a free new member t-shirt!


Strange art now adorns what used to be marked up walls. Actually I don’t remember the old color, funny how you can go somewhere every day and not really see it…

When I walked into this room I wasn’t clear if it was a workout room or a changing room… things could get awkward!

Is this the temple of doom or the men’s locker room…maybe they’re not so different from each other?


I just don’t understand the purpose of this space at all. Is this where people discuss their workout over a protein shake? 

The change is strange, but comes at a perfect time when I’m looking to revamp my workout routine. Now I have tons of easy options to build in to my mornings.

Nice touch screen next to the workout room that explains the class options. A great example of danglish, by the way, a mix of German and English.


The workout set was an oil farm in Houston, Texas! Complete with a working oil derrick and an instructor who was possibly trying to impersonate an oily worker, complete with oil smudges on his white tank top. He even said things like y’all, yeehaw and boy, this Texas son is hot! I was very entertained.

The virtual class trainer is an interesting concept that I’d never encountered before. Has anyone else seen this at a gym?

Project LIFE – maintenance mode

Project LIFE – maintenance mode

I DID IT! Y’all, I did it! I hit my goals (adjusted, I’ll explain in a bit) and now I’ve moved on to chapter 2 (aka the rest of my life): maintenance mode. This is a vague path for me and it feels a bit like a hike I took over a rocky path (see feature photo for this post) where the trail was marked by a series of red dots. The dots were strategically placed at any point that I needed to decide where to go next – especially if the next step was up a suddenly climb or through an otherwise indistinguishable series of rocks. As on this hike, where I sometimes found myself teetering on a rock ledge and hopping between stones. Now that I’m in maintenance mode, it’s a bit unsettling to not see the entire path at once. I expect that I will build this maintenance chapter through a series of experiments (red dots) that appear as I approach them. Some dots will take me along the correct course and other times I might find myself drifting and need adjustment. I’m ok with this method of trail mapping. I feel though like I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me first explain how I confirmed I had achieved my target…

Over the past couple of months I’ve gotten a lot of nice feedback from colleagues and friends who’ve noticed my weight loss progress. This often involves a fun discussion about how I managed to drop the weight and exchanges of healthy habits. A few weeks ago I was chatting with my manager about my project LIFE and I mentioned that I was encountering trouble dropping any more weight. I had hit the dreaded walk and I began to wonder if maybe I’d achieved my healthy weight. She told me about a recent health assessment she’d completed at a work event and emailed me the contact of the person who ran the assessments. I shot him a message and then we both were traveling over Easter so I practiced another muscle I’ve been growing lately, patience, and after a few weeks we managed to meet for my assessment appointment.

I woke up early the day of my appointment (scheduled for 7:30 am, gulp) and fought off hunger pains. I was instructed to arrive on an empty stomach. The night before I had deposited notes around the house in strategic locations (near the coffee pot, on my backpack) saying: “do not eat”. I usually eat first thing after I wake up. I allowed myself one cup of black coffee so I could drive safely….threw on some yoga tights and a tank top and brought work clothes to change into. Then I headed to the office in Leverkusen.


I met the assessor and then the rest of it went quickly. He asked my specs – height, age – and then I stood barefoot on the machine and gripped the handles. Then it ran its magic analysis.


The machine works, I believe, by running a current through your body and measuring the amount of resistance that helps it calculate the relative percent of water, fat and muscle in your body.

My report spit out in about a minute and we sat down to analyze. I was pretty curious and excited to study the results. The report told me what I had suspected: my body weight (plotted as an average – below, healthy, high) came in at the upper end of healthy. I wasn’t surprised by this outcome – my BMI calculation is never good according to the averages charts. I know I’m a strong type of build (with very strong bones – once I had a body scan that told me my bone density is in the 90th percentile, further when I was a kid I suffered a bone tumor that in most people would have led to a broken bone) and I’m fine with that, I enjoy being strong. 

The next figure explained the body weight being on the high end of healthy – this was my estimated amount of muscle calculation, which was 20% above average. The person running the assessment was pretty happy with this result. My profile was falling out as expected as a strong body type. For me this explained why I struggled to achieve the same weight I had 8 years ago when I was running for exercise 80% of the time. Changing my exercise patternsto more  fighting and weight training had subsequently resulted in more upper body muscle which of course brought more muscle weight.

The last figure also made me happy and this was my estimated amount of body fat. I know I always carry a relatively high amount of body fat for a fit person, or at least I’ve always had this opinion of myself. According to this assessment, my current body fat is 22% which is good and healthy, not super lean, but, wow, that’s a tough way to live. Maybe not right for me. Although part of me still toys with the idea of a 6-pack for a day. 

At this point, we paused to discuss how I could use this data. The assessor asked me a simple question: “what are your goals?”. For a moment, I was lost. I have to admit, I was so surprised to find that the weight loss journey was done, that I didn’t know where to go next. I think I really didn’t believe I could do it, so I hadn’t thought to the next step…

But, as we talked, it came to me. My goal is to be healthy and strong and capable of tackling any physical challenge that comes my way, I would say within reason, but who defines what is reasonable? 

I also have a new goal to maintain my healthy weight and built a sustainable eating and exercise balance to eliminate as much as possible future swings.

Throughout this post i have bantered about the term: “healthy weight”. I’m sure there’s a scientific definition of this term, but here is what it means to me. First I start with what it is not: healthy weight is not super-lean. I’m by no means currently super-lean. Healthy weight for me is feeling strong and happy with how clothing fits. 

Over the past 7 months through attention to diet and a solid exercise routine, I dropped nearly 3 pants sizes and now find medium tshirts to be a bit too large. For me, this is a very rewarding combination (although it does mean I might need to get some of my skirts adjusted and buy some new blazers – hmmmm, I’ll survive).

Now we get to one of the most interesting parts of the discussion. When I said I was happy with the report and agreed that I didn’t want to drop any more weight, we shifted the topic to daily calorie needs to maintain my current body profile. The report informed me that with my weight and muscle mass combination, I need 1500 calories a day when I don’t exercise and 2000 on the days I exercise. Which basically means I need 2000 calories nearly every day! What a surprise!

Now I encounter an unanticipated challenge – how to increase my daily calorie intake in a healthy way? I cut loose a bit this weekend (increasing the fat in my diet a bit and adding back in a bit of bread) and found I was suddenly again losing weight. Strange predicament to be in since I no longer want to lose! But, I’m going on vacation again soon, the England, the land  of pubs, fish and chips and meat pies, and I predict I’ll gain a bit and then can stabilize.

Now that I’ve hit my target I am savoring success. Sometimes this is a new piece of clothing hat fits. Sometimes I allow myself a bit more ice cream, but I’m surprised to find that I really don’t feel a need for the quantities of food I used to eat. Which is also surprising.

As I take my first steps down fork in the road from weight loss to weight maintenance, I would appreciate any advice from those who have traveled this road before me. Please share in comments, it will be greatly appreciated!

Thanks to everyone for your support and encouragenent. Especially my husband who never told me I needed to lose weight, but when I decided that did, offered me help to find a path back to a healthy me. Then put up with a million silly conversations about dietary minutiae and how many 10th of a kilo I had lost or gained each week. Without you, I wouldn’t have had the courage to start the journey, let alone be where I am savoring the success of taking back my health and my life.

Peace before the storm 

Peace before the storm 

Bathed in warm sunlight, the crunching of carpenter bee mandibles tickles my ear drum. A slight tip of my right ankle forward and backward slowly moves the rocker beneath me. My dog rests her head on the bottom porch rail.

I breathe deep, embracing the peace and admiring the warm blue sky.

The wind picks up, the stir of new green leaves brushing against each other obscurs the bee whispers in my ear. Temperature drops swiftly as the sky shifts from blue to gray. Clouds block the warm sun. No longer squinting, my eyes relax and my breath lightens.

A spring thunderstorm is blowing in, taking her time to arrive. 

I eagerly await the first drops. Anticipating the scent of fresh rain on warm stones accompanied by the chatter of drops falling upon leaves, saturating the parched earth, before accumulating in rivulets on saturated soil and running into creeks, rivers, and lakes.

The tapping of a woodpecker is replaced by the rhythmic creaking of wood crickets. My gentle revery is broken by a mosquitoe lighting on my leg for a bite, prompting a quick slap.

Wind picks up again – the American flag begins to wave. This is my home, this is my land, this is my place of contentment and peace.

I find myself ruminating on a yoga mantra my uncle left with me during his recent visit to Germany.

“I am safe. I am sound. All good things come to me. They bring me peace”.

Namaste

Project LIFE – subtraction and addition

Project LIFE – subtraction and addition

Now you written a plan. You’re committed to achieving your goals. How will you ensure success? This is where it’s important to begin writing down best practices (you might call them “rules” – this is the term I usually use) focusing on behavior changes you will make to achieve you healthy lifestyle goal. In mathematical terms – what will you subtract and add to hit your target weight?

In my project LIFE plan, I wrote my rules on the right hand side of the page opposite  my weekly weight targets on the left hand side. Now it’s all on one page. I workout a lot and I’ve done so since I was a kid (I’ll devote another post to this topic). So I did plan to change my workout patterns slightly but I knew this wouldn’t deliver the results I craved. My first focus was on changing how I eat. The truth was, my mathematical equation was out of balance. I was simply consuming more calories than I could burn which had increased my weight and was now maintaining the current weight. 

When it came to adjusting how I eat, I focused on two things – what to eliminate and what to add. Be fully aware that it will be impossible to 100% follow the rules. I am not perfect. You are not perfect. None of us will ever be perfect, so it’s time we give ourselves a little compassion. (Hence the reason I love the Dali quote at the beginning of my post). I give myself compassion by following the 80:20 rule. I’m successful (not perfect, not even seeking perfection) if 80% of the time I follow the rules. 

I also had a goal for how to balance the source of calories in my diet. I wanted a ratio of 50% complex carbohydrates, 30% protein and 20% fats. Carbs to fuel my brain, protein to build and maintain muscle, and fat to produce hormones and utilize vitamins I consume through the other items in my diet. My UC Davis biochem class is coming in handy!

Project management hack: identify obstacles that will make it difficult to follow your rules and decide how you will overcome the obstacles. 

My project LIFE plan Rules:

1. Eliminate drinks that contain calories. 

Why? Soda, alcohol, juices, even milk – these liquids contain insidiously high amounts of calories that can completely torpedo your success. Besides they’re not satisfying or filling. Also, I think making this change – for instance – ordering an americano with a dash of milk instead of that daily cappuccino – you can easily cut out 200 to 300 calories a day. It’s too easy to overlook. If you replace caloric drinks with water or hot tea, you’ll see immediate results.

2. Add 2 Liters of water a day + coffee + tea as desired. 

Add a lemon or mint to your water bottle if you start to get tired of plain water. Also, an exception to rule 1: milk or almond milk is included in my diet via my normal breakfast routine (I’ll explain that later). A warning about caffeine. I read in a book that when you reduce calories you can become more sensitive to caffeine so be careful you don’t overdo the coffee and caffeinated tea and get all jittery. 

3. Eliminate simple carbs and processed snacks. 

I nearly completely cut out granola bars and all processed snacks foods. This is not actually that hard to do once you kick the sugar addiction (one I’m still fighting myself – lately I find myself strangely craving sweets at night, which is maddening! :)). If you’re like me, another thing you have to kick is the joy that comes from receiving free food. I picked this up in grad school… a meeting with snack! Heck yeah, I’ll save some money by eating that granola bar you’ve given me. On a quick flight – why yes, thank you for the breakfast bar or pretzels! Now I don’t need to pay astronomical airport prices. This is a tough habit to break!

4. Add unlimited fresh vegetables + 3 to 4 pieces of fresh fruit a day. 

First obstacle: I know what you’re thinking. I’m busy, when will I prepare the vegetables? I am here to tell you that it’s not so hard to find the time. Give me a moment to convince you that you, yes you, can find the time to chop fresh vegetables! Here’s what I do. During my weekly shopping run I buy: carrots, celery, bell peppers, cucumbers, and maybe something else that catches my eye. Then when I get home I unload the veggies, pile them on the counter near the sink. After I’m done unpacking and storing everything else I bought (which isn’t so much since about 1/2 of my diet is veggies now), I jump right in with prep work. I promise you, it’s fast. I can prep enough veggies (chopped into small portions for snacking) for the week in about 20 minutes! For this to be a winning strategy, make sure you have a nice sharp large chef knife and cut with care! Buying some nice size tupperwares is also a great idea. Immediately, I pack my weeks-worth of veggies into tupperwares or small bags in a quantity that is just right for each day – probably 2 to 3 cups of veggies. 

Voila – you are now a vegetable prep pro!

If you want something sweet, turn first to fruit, but watch your intake, it can also be high in calories so it’s good to eat in moderation. Melons are a sweet treat with a lot of water and fiber with low calorie count. Other fruits don’t require any prep time which makes them super-convenient to carry with you.

When you begin to reduce calories you will be hungry. When hunger strikes, eat vegetables! It’s surpassingly satisfying and I also find it gives me lots of energy and a clear mind. No sugar crash!

5. Make sure to eat enough healthy proteins. 
I admit, I don’t really know the difference between a healthy protein and an unhealthy one – but there are lots of different sources of protein and some make me feel lighter and stronger and some weigh me down. I think it might be related to how much saturated fat comes with the protein. So, it’s something to consider with a meat protein source.

Here are the proteins I try to consume to feel full and not have too much fat:

  • Chicken breast – a light coat of olive oil and paprika sprinkled on top and broiled in the oven.
  • Tuna fish – sometimes packed in olive oil if I also want some fats. A favorite dish is to mix this with a fresh avocado. It’s delish!
  • Nuts – this is a great snack but a tough one for me because I often eat too much in one sitting. Try to prepackage appropriate portion size. It’s a good attempt (which sometimes works!) to watch the calorie intake.
  • Greek yogurt – plain with no added sugar. I like to top with granola and fresh fruit
  • Cheese in small portions
  • Eggs – boiled or fried in olive oil
  • Almond milk with chia seeds and or oatmeal soaked in for breakfast. A great way to start the day!
  • Occasionally I’ll have a protein shake if I’m in a hurry after an exercise round in the morning.

6. Avoid saturated fats and eliminate trans-fats. 

If you eliminate prepared snack foods you’ll nearly eliminate trans-fats without trying. Saturated fats can give lots of energy – because they’re packed with calories. So, limit them to maybe once a week – this is a method I apply to red meat and pork.

7. Reduce bread and crackers. 

The need to do this might vary from person to person. And you’re probably thinking, oh my gosh, she’s an expat in Germany, she must eat all the delicious breads! Yes, in fact, this is what I also thought in the beginning, and it was killing my waistline! Breads + my metabolism do not equal a slim Natalie. I also believe that breads get processed fast in my system leading to a sugar crash. So, I’ve nearly eliminated them from my diet. 

8. Add complex carbs as close to natural condition as possible. 

I now receive most of my carbs and fiber from granola, oatmeal, chia seeds and all sorts of beans (lentils, etc). Amazingly, I don’t even really miss the bread now, and when I do eat it, it’s a real treat!

Try implementing a few of these steps and let me know how it works for you. What secrets do you apply for healthy, fulfilling eating?

Next post: fire up your engine!

Project LIFE – setting your targets

Project LIFE – setting your targets

The primary driver for me beginning a lifestyle revamp was hitting a number on the scale which was the highest in my life. I saw it and I said “no more, time to do something”. So, I stared to build my first “Project LIFE” plan.

(Disclaimer: if you’re reading this blog for weight loss advice, you should consult a doctor before you begin any lifestyle altering plan. I’m sharing what worked for me, which may or may not work for you.)

Here’s what I did:

1. I took a piece of 8 1/2 x 11″ lined paper. 

2. On the left hand column, I wrote the date of a week – each Monday (this is when I weigh in) and wrote to the bottom of the page. Conveniently, this should be about 6 months. Then I added headers to the page: “target weight” and “actual weight”.

3. At the bottom of the page I wrote my ultimate target weight drop for the next 6 months. Depending on how much you have to lose this might be the total weight loss you want to make, or halfway to your ultimate goal. In my first 6 months, this took me 2/3 of the way to my ultimate goal and turned out to be 10% of my beginning body weight.

4. Then halfway up the page I wrote down a number that was the midpoint between my current weight and my target weight.

5. Then I noted vacations or other times when I might have a hard time reducing.

6. Next, I wrote a decreasing number target about 0.3 to 1 kilo per week. In the beginning it will go fast and then slow down. Most of my target drops were 0.3 kilos. In the weeks on vacation I had a goal to hold or even allow myself to go up 0.3 kilos. The targets aren’t an exact science, but they give a goal to strive toward.

7. Finally, I added Milestones – intervals at which I would check against my targets and assess if they needed adjustments. If you aren’t hitting your target weight for too many weeks it can be discouraging, so try to make them reasonable.

8. Write in pen. It makes it more of a commitment!

9. I transferred all the info into my daily calendar as a reminder of my goals. I use an old-fashioned monthly calendar that my aunt gave me. It’s a nice way to track things (including exercise) and see where I was and where I am now.

10. Buy a fun scale to weigh in. I found a scale emblazoned with a smiley face scale at my local home store and that made it more fun for me! 🙂

You can think of your weight targets like these spray painted red marks I found on a rocky trail at Crowder Mountain. They marked my way through an otherwise indistinguishable path to my destination. Sometimes over very narrow rock paths and sometimes through easy going patches. I predict this is how the experience will also feel for you. Trust the PLAN!

Next installment: what steps I took to actually hit the weekly target weight.

Project LIFE

Project LIFE

As you’ve probably caught on to from my plethora of hiking posts, my husband and I really like to walk and hike. In fact that turned out to be one of the things I miss the most about our NC life while I’m living in Germany: our morning and evening walks with the dog. Walks are our time to talk, get advice from each other, take in the fresh air, listen to the hoot owls and song birds, say hello to the horses and the occasional neighbor we pass along the way, watch the seasons change. We don’t walk particularly fast and make lots of breaks for our dog to take care of business. But, it turns out that the walks were part of a calorie burning routine that I believe was one of the reasons for my insidious, and a little surprising to me, weight gain when I moved to Germany. The extra hour of movement was missed by my body and my appetite didn’t adjust accordingly.

So, it came about that during my last visit home we took a walk and began to talk about choices and healthy living. The truth is a person must choose to live a healthy life and then make choices that accumulate in this direction. Without the conscious choices that add up to healthiness, it will never come to be. Perhaps it’s the law of chaos, who knows, but evidence has shown us in our own lives that occasionally there comes a time to take stock of where we are health-wise and make a plan to reclaim our health.

We started to discuss strategies and rough out the plan for a health challenge we could accomplish across the seas. This gives the added bonus of giving us something else to talk about on viber. 🙂 That night, instead of cracking open a bud light and plopping down in front of the TV for a couple of hours, we sat at the dining room table with 8 1/2 x 11″ notepads open to a fresh page in front of us, pens in hand, and began to make a plan. Because if you want to commit to something you need to WRITE IT DOWN. It’s even better if you also tell someone. Consider yourself my witness.

Besides, and here’s the cool thing, we’re both project managers, which means we KNOW how to make a PLAN! I mean how cool is this?!!! Talk about life and work coming together in a surprising way! We also know how to identify the obstacles that could derail implementation of a plan. We know about milestones to check in on progress and how to rally appropriate resources to ultimately achieve success. Why not apply these skills to our healthy-living revamp?

We began to write, first quietly (ok, I can imagine I wasn’t so quiet, I’m usually talking or humming a tune or something…) and then we compared plans. It was interesting to notice our different approaches. I started by listing on the left hand column of the page a series of dates – every Sunday to indicate a new week, and a series of weight targets. Then on the right, I listed a series of steps I would take to hit the weight targets. My husband, on the other hand, started with a weekly schedule of work travel and workouts. Then, he moved on to weight targets. I had already designed a workout schedule so maybe that’s why I didn’t start with this, nevertheless, I found it interesting to see we began in a different way.

As my husband and I compared plans and discussed strategies I noticed that at the top of his page he’d written in all caps “PROJECT LIFE”. I joyously laughed out loud because I loved it! I mean that’s truly what we were doing. Making a project plan for a healthy LIFE! Of course, I stole this lovely idea and decided I would title my plan “Project Life 2.0”. Why 2.0? I had been through a similar revamp last September when I returned from a visit to the US in which I stepped on a scale for the first time in months and discovered, to my horror, that the scale number was a record high for me. Later that day, on our evening walk, I asked my husband to help me brainstorm a path out of the jungle of brauhauses and jager schnitzel to lower weight and better health. And he did, and it worked, to a point. But I noticed that things had begun to stall out (I had arrived at the dreaded plateau) so a reset was in order. Thus, 2.0 was born.

Halfway through the first week into Project LIFE, I weighed in and my weight had actually gone up! What?! How was this happening? I stayed the course believing that the plan would work, and today I’m happy to report I’m actually 0.8 kilos below my target weight for the week! 

I’ll use the blog to talk more about Project LIFE and some of the lifestyle changes we’re implementing to reclaim our health. I’ll post perhaps in weekly installments, could be more, could be less. 

I welcome your healthy life tips, please post in comments. We’re all in this together!

Go Project LIFE!!!!