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Old Age Superpowers

This is one of a series of posts about my health/fitness journey. The first one is here.

Part 3: Old Age Superpowers

jbum in a coffinAt fifty three, there’s a lot of things I can point to in myself that aren’t what they used to be. My reflexes are slower. My hearing is worse. My knees are fucked up — I was recently told I have a torn meniscus in one, and that was the good knee. I don’t like standing for long periods and can’t tolerate concerts that don’t have chairs. Since I hit my 40s, I’ve been periodically convinced that my mental acuity is declining, although I think this is probably mostly a delusion brought on by lack of self confidence. Still, I’m told there’s a reason most mathematicians do their best work in their 20s.

However, as I decline into my dotage, there’s a few superpowers I’ve developed. One of the more important ones, which has definitely played a role in improving my health, is the rather unsexy superpower of planning.

When I was in my 20s, I took great pride in my flexibility and ability to play it by ear. I found my parents’ apparent need for precision to be unnecessary and a little sad. I gritted my teeth during a car ride in which my parents seemed unduly concerned whether our dinner reservations were for 6:45 or 6:50, and how long it would take to get to the restaurant. Of course, that much vaunted flexibility and relaxed attitude of my youth was the flip-side of a lack of organizational skills, a greater sense of entitlement and not much accountability.

But now I’m the same age as my parents were then, and I take great pride in knowing exactly when I’ll arrive somewhere (thank you Google Maps). And I can use this superpower to improve my life in innumerable ways.

Take Evernote, my current journaling tool of choice. For almost every project and interest I have, I keep an Evernote page which contains a list of Todos, future plans, ideas and so on. I have a set of notes tagged health, in which I journal my progress from day to day. I’ve logged a lot of my exercise & workouts, so that over time, I’ve developed a better sense of how many calories I’m likely to burn doing a quick walk to Starbucks, vs a cardio-heavy workout.

In the first installment in this series, I mentioned my lack of impulse control when it came to food, and how difficult it was (and still is) for me to control my eating. Short-term planning is one of the tactics I use to combat this. Often at the start of the day, I will plan what I’m going to eat for lunch and dinner. The commissary at my work posts daily menus, so I can see what’s going to be available, and I have a few go-to options I can eat for dinner. I’m not necessarily going to follow this plan, but I have a structure to work-around, and I know roughly how many calories I’m going to consume. If I change plans, I can insure that I’m changing to something that isn’t going to considerably change things for the worse. Impulse control becomes more of a problem when things are out of my control, or when I don’t plan. If I don’t plan my dinner, and I let the time slip by, by eight-o-clock I become ravenous, and then it gets harder to keep a lid on things. A short-term plan is like a contract, and I find it easier to abide by a contract with myself, rather than to wing it every single day. If I’m going to a restaurant, and it’s in myFitnessPal or it’s a chain, I can usually find the nutritional info and plan what I’m going to eat before I arrive. Short-term planning really helps with impulse control.

I use long-term planning to provide periodic ego boosts. For example, once I had decided I was going to lose 2 pounds a week, I shot a few arrows into the future, and marked the days on my Google Calendar when I was going to hit certain interesting weights. When would I hit 208 pounds? June 6. Let’s note that. That’s the day that according to the awful BMI system, I would no longer be classified as “Obese”. When would I hit 199 lbs? That’s a cool number. July 3. When do I hit 185, my last minimum weight? August 31. That particular arrow was shot pretty far into the future, but I missed it by just a week.

At some point I figured out that I was losing an inch in my waist every 8 or 9 pounds, so then I was able to shoot some more arrows into the future, and work out the dates when I would have a 34 inch waist and a 32 inch waist. Every one of these arrows is a present to myself. I bought some new pants that I didn’t quite fit in yet, planning for the day when I would. I planned an annual physical with my doctor and scheduled it around the time I would hit 200 lbs. I planned for a future visit with my cardiologist, who was likely to reduce my blood pressure meds. All little arrows containing little presents to myself.

These presents were like handles on the rope I was climbing. If I made enough of them, I could see the next one, just ahead.

Speaking of planning, remember how I was using a spreadsheet to track my food, weight calories? Well that’s just one tab from a five-tab spreadsheet. The other tabs are “Blood Pressure”, “Exercise”, “Food Reference” and “Calculators”. “Blood Pressure” is a blood pressure log and graph. My blood pressure meds are now significantly reduced, but I’m still monitoring it closely. “Exercise” is a journal of my walks, hikes and workouts. My Fitbit can be used to log a lot of this stuff, but I find it useful for note keeping. “Foods Reference” is nutritional info for Foods and recipes I commonly eat (somewhat redundant now that I’m using myFitnessPal). “Calculators” has formulas for calorie burn, BMI and PBF, as well as a set of goals. When I first started on this journey, I was probably spending an hour a day fiddling with these spreadsheets, and more importantly, thinking about this stuff. It has become more routine now, but I remember what happens if I go on auto-pilot, so I’m trying to remain vigilant.

One thing is very different from my 1999 Weight Watchers regimen: my approach to exercise & fitness. More on that in the next installment.

Next: Nerdstrong

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