Monday, January 28, 2008

Who's in charge here, me -- or the menu?

There are people who enjoy making charts, counting calories, and weighing and measuring, and generally tracking everything they are going to eat.

It doesn't work for me. It doesn't work at potlucks, at other people's houses, or in most restaurants. It doesn't work because I don't like a way of eating that makes a fuss or calls attention to me.

To my way of thinking, the American way of eating (out) is so far removed from what's good or recommended that it feels almost ludicrous to count and measure and nickle-and-dime it ("Let's see, I can have one-fourth of the bacon cheeseburger, with three french fries..."). So I've found that I need whole new strategies to deal with eating out.

Currently, I'm playing around with these three:

1. The 1-in-9 strategy. Eat eight healthy, low-fat, high-fiber, yada-yada, meals at home or at your desk and get one meal out in High-calorie Land. And enjoy it.

2. The half-of-what's-on-the-plate strategy. This works particularly well with American breakfasts. Order the standard bacon-eggs-toast breakfast and eat half of it. This also works well with "one-dish" types of meals such as pasta dinners and sandwich lunches, where you can get a doggy bag and take the rest home. And it's also a life-saver when you're on vacation and none of the menus are within your control so the 1-in-9 strategy can't be applied.

3. The two-appetizer dinner plan. This is for elaborate multi-course meals in special restaurants where everything looks delicious and, of course, you aren't going to sit there and nibble the boring Caesar salad while everyone else vacuums up the trout meuniere or fettucine quattro formaggio. Quite often much of what appears on the dinner menu, surrounded by potatoes, rice, sauces, etc., is available in a smaller, less starchy, version as an appetizer. So when everyone else orders an appetizer and a main course, you can order two appetizers, having the second as your main course.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Fashion: Computer bags get beyond "basic black"

I'm mad for bags, and got to write about the laptop bags I saw at Macworld Expo for TidBITS, the Mac news site. Here's the article, and a slideshow.

The photo at right shows me wearing my fave bag, the beta version of a sling bag due out in May from the highly regarded Brenthaven company.

It turned out I wasn't the only one prowling the aisles at Macworld in search of the coolest bags. You'll find more bag reviews at Geeksugar (Melissa Beth bags), ars technica, SlipperyBrick (Targus bags), Laptops Arena (Clark & Mayfield bags), and Techie Diva (Urban Junket). Some reviewers were all about fashion and others were all about function.

Ironically, while Crumpler blanketed the blogosphere with press releases about its new line of Squirrel briefcase bags, and won oohs and aahs for its creative booth (a castle) and swag (playing cards), the non-squirrel bags that make up much of the Crumpler line failed to impress me. Most are unconstructed, limp affairs that would look lumpy with a laptop in them, particularly if you tried to stow any odd-shaped accessories as well. Better save the Crumpler for when you're packing just your iPod and a trendy sweater.

Workout Review: Beginning Belly Dance with Dahlia Moon

Since Visionary Dance has been kind enough to let me take the Power Belly weight-belt workout without actually knowing how to belly dance, I thought it was time to learn the basics. The introductory class turns out to be yet another great group of women (and one young man, who seems to be with two women from his high school). And Dahlia Moon is great teacher.

Dahlia Moon does "modern Egyptian" belly dance, which is a very elegant style associated with movie and cabaret performances. Delilah, who founded Visionary Dance and teaches Power Belly, does what's called American Style, but I'm told she does a take on it that's uniquely her own. There's a third style called American Tribal that has New Age and, sometimes, Goth elements; the photo (above) is of Tribal belly dancers.

A few of the warmups we did tonight were similar to the ones I did last night at the African dance-based workout. The "snake arms," on the other hand -- those were something else entirely.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Workout review: African Fitness Jam

Tonight I drove over to Capitol Hill for the African Fitness Jam workout with Eric Wilson, the founder of CompFit. The class focuses on African dance moves that strengthen your core (lower abdomen and back). I definitely found some muscles in my lower back that I'd been neglecting!

The live drumming is so energizing, and Eric is such an inspiring teacher and dancer, that the class (a half hour of warm up and individual consultation, followed by an hour of fast-paced dancing and a cool-down) just zips by. Highly recommended.

Money and fitness goals

The excellent Diet Blog notes that the new StickK website lets you set up a contract in which you set a goal, choose a referee, and then deposit money that you can't get back until the referee affirms that you've met your goal. (If you don't make the goal, the money goes to a charity of your choice.)

StickK ("Put a contract out on yourself!") has online communities for the popular goals of exercise, weight loss, and quitting smoking.

Would this work for you?

C2 Clothes

Turns out that not all "comment spam" is bad.

This blog got a "comment" from C2 Clothes that was all about them...but when I went to moderate it I looked at their site and realized I like the look of their workout clothes and was impressed by the information the website had on the high-tech elements used to achieve comfort and durability.

Has any one tried out any of their products?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Rock the routine

I like to do power yoga and resistance work to hip-hop and pop music — tunes I'd never listen to for any other reason. According to an article in todays New York Times, that's because the 120-140 beats per minute of upbeat dance numbers like Snoop Dogg's "Drop It Like It's Hot" match my workout heart rate. (Tip: Use the little iTunes-BPM Inspector (freeware) to calculate beats per minute.)

The article goes on to talk about neurologist Oliver Sacks swimming while humming waltzes, and Greek warriors going into battle listening to music played in the Dorian mode.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Bill Hartman

If you're intrigued by exercise, and what different types of exercise do and don't do, Bill Hartman's blog is a good read. I liked this piece, which includes a hierarchy of effective exercises for fat loss.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Food news

OK, enough about clothes and yoga. I spent Sunday at the Pike Place Market, unquestionably the highest concentration of gourmet comestibles per square foot in the city.

Nina and I started with brunch at Cafe Campagne, a place that preserves an old-fashioned French urban vibe: Old room, old furniture, everything gleaming and golden and just a bit fussy. The service is attentive and professional and the classic, unabashedly rich food is a relaxing exception to the assemblages of politically correct pedigreed ingredients that are currently in style elsewhere.

I had oeufs en meurette ("poached eggs served on garlic croutons with pearl onions, bacon and champignons in a red wine and foie gras, sauce served with pommes frîtes") and Nina had the cassoulet with lamb, pork, duck confit and garlic sausage. We also had a side of the cafe's thick-sliced rosemary raisin toast, which I thought was one of the best things I've ever eaten. (So where do they get that rosemary raisin bread?)

After brunch we popped into Rose's Chocolate Treasures to buy truffles and ooh and ah at the antique hot chocolate sets for sale (these look like tea sets, except both the pots and the cups are tall and narrow). No, I didn't try the chocolate blueberry basil or the chocolate balsamic tomato truffles pictured here. I had the "plain" toasted coconut truffle.

Next stop was the Perennial Tea Room to buy Yorkshire Gold breakfast tea. They have an extensive display of Henley stainless steel teapots. Pick one of these mid-century modern pots up by the odd-looking handle and you realize that this is not a teapot that is going to pull forward or tip when filled with water. It's beautifully designed. The painted ones (bright colored pots with stainless feet, spouts, lids, and handle) were in a two-cup size but the plain stainless one comes in four sizes, all the way up to a 53-oz. "family" size (at left).

The Perennial Tea Room is one of the area tea organizations sponsoring a Northwest Tea Festival in the fall. Details to come at the website.

What cost fitness?

I was standing in the shower this morning, rinsing shampoo out of my hair and calculating how much my 3-times-a-week workout program costs on an annual basis when I heard someone pounding on the front door.

It wasn't that polite Fed Ex we've-left-your-package knock. It was the your-car-is-blocking-the-neighbor's-driveway; the we've-got-a-report-of-an-assault type of banging. The kind where you know the person knocking isn't going to go away and let you finish your shower.

So I jumped out, grabbed a towel and wrapped it around me, and dashed to the front door. I yanked it open to discover one of my neighbor's contractors on the porch.

"Oops," he said with a big grin. "Terry said you'd have a key."

I dripped over to the mail table, got the key, and handed it to him.

Workouts: $1,500-$2,250 a year.

Being able to comfortably answer the front door wearing only a bath towel: Priceless.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Love is the answer

I just checked my RSS newsreader and saw about 100 posts on exercise and dieting—some from blogs about health and fitness, but plenty from personal and professional blogs.

So, I'm going to blog about what works for me. And why it might not work for you. (And why what works for you might not work for me.)

Confused? OK, let's back up. When I was in college, studying for a degree in psychology, I came across a study that compared three types of therapy: traditional psychoanalysis, cognitive therapy, and behavioral (reward/punishment) therapy. Participants were asked which therapy they believed was most effective, but were then assigned randomly to a course of treatment with a therapist. Which therapy was most effective? It turned out that all three therapies were most effective—with those individuals who believed in advance that that therapy would work for them.

Now, extrapolate that to exercise and dieting. The reason most people fail with exercise programs and diets is because they don't enjoy their workouts and they don't enjoy what they're eating. Our lives are busy and stressful enough that there are just too many reasons to give up on something you don't enjoy.

(Can you imaging meeting someone, falling madly in love with them, and then saying you weren't seeing them very often because the person didn't fit into your schedule? Or because you spend all your evenings with your friends, and your friends didn't like the person? Substitute "diet" or "workout" for "person" and you'll see why these are pretty feeble excuses. If you love your workout, or you love what you're eating, you'll change your life to stick with it.)

So the challenge is to find the workout, or the diet, that you love.

In my case, the workout I love is 5 hours a week of yoga classes (or, substitute in belly dance classes if there aren't enough yoga classes available). I haven't found a diet I love, so dieting doesn't work for me.

But it might be different for you. You might decide you love the South Beach Diet. Or running. Or eating primarily organic vegetables and whole grains.

I've found myself rolling my eyes at people who ask, about my workout schedule, "So, how much longer are you going to do that?"

Er, for the rest of my life.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Two moves for the new year

Today's workout with Susan Powter.

Put down the mat.

• Breathing
• Step back, reach up.

Now...a little more detail. Susan covers extensions, bends, hangs, sinks, rotations, and all sorts of yoga-derived moves that will strengthen your core and warm you up: