Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Christmas 2014 (Wordless Wednesday)

Painting this year's nativity:

Christmas Eve at the Chinese Restaurant:

Christmas Eve Program:

Lined Up and Ready to Rush on Christmas Morning:

Each child with their favorite gift

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

10 Tips for Weight Loss

1.  Food counts more than exercise for weight loss.  

As much as I am an advocate for exercise, increased exercise usually = increased appetite which = no weight loss.  It is suprisingly easy to eat enough to counteract even the most rigorous of activities. For example, thirty minutes of running burns about 350 calories.  That's equal to about five Oreos or two bags of chips.  And most people who exercise don't run, which burns more calories per hour than most other exercises.  Thirty minutes of weight lifting burns just 100 calories, or 1.5 Oreos.  Walking might burn 116 calories.  Eat one small chocolate chip cookie and that calorie burn is gone.

With numbers like the above, you can see why I believe that the most important thing you can do to lose weight is to track and control your calories.  It's not fun and it's not glamorous, but it makes the biggest difference.  It's also why most of my tips for weight loss in this post will be about food, even though long-term health is more connected to exercise.  So yes, exercise your heart out.  Begin today and build stronger muscles and a healthier heart.  Gain more energy and feel better.  But don't expect to lose weight by exercising unless you pair it with a controlled diet.  
It's all about the food!

2.  Track your Calories.

There are a lot of great ways to do this and modern technology make it easy.  My favorite app for tracking is MyFitnessPal, though there's also Weight Watchers (for a fee) and Lose it (free). Weight watchers uses a formula that uses points instead of calories and their formula gives slightly more points for healthier foods, but basically, these all work the same.  

With MyFitnessPal, you enter in your personal information and then set your goal of how much you'd like to lose each week, from .5 to 2 lbs (more on why a few pounds a week is better and smarter later).  Once you've done that, it gives you a calorie target to stay within each day and then you start tracking.  The more you use the app, the easier it is to track because it keeps track of your recent foods and makes it easy to put them in again.  You can also save a group of items that you often eat together (like a PB&J sandwich) as a meal so you don't have to enter in individual items.  You can enter in your exercise and get the calories burned added to your calorie total for the day

One advantage to the Weight Watchers plan that the other trackers don't have is that Weight Watchers allocates a daily budget plan plus weekly flex points.  They are enough to allow you one meal's grand indulgence, or a small snack every day.  You choose how to use them.  I wish the other apps would incorporate something like this.  When I did weight  watchers, I loved to save up my weekly points for date night and then feel like I could eat anything I wanted.  It might mean I was a bit more hungry on other days, but knowing it was for a good cause (Cafe Rio, anyone?) made it work.  So if you're leaning towards paying for a program, Weight Watchers does have some advantages.  Weight Watchers also calculates points in a way that doesn't count fruits and vegetables (most are free!), which gives you a ton of incentive to eat healthier.  I've seen that backfire, however, as those who already eat a lot of vegetables and fruit find they don't lose weight on Weight Watchers because they are eating more calories than the plan estimates they will.

In any case, the trick with tracking is you have to do it.  Don't allow yourself to snack without writing it down.  In plenty of studies, they've shown that those that keep a food log lose more weight than those who just estimate.  And it's easy to see why.  Holding yourself accountable for what you eat is a powerful tool.

If this is the first time you've tracked your eating, it will be very eye-opening.  It can be hard at first to adapt your regular diet to one of restricted calories.  For me, to lose one pound a week, I get about 1500 calories a day.  To lose two pounds a week, I can only eat 1200 calories a day.   It's amazing how quickly calories can add up.  You might find yourself choosing what you think is the healthiest option on a menu only to find that the calories in it are outrageous.  That Caesar Salad at the Costco food court?  nearly 700 calories.  And those delicious Costco muffins?  also nearly 700 calories.  

3.  Learn to Make Smart Substitutions to Eat Less

As you track your calories, start making changes to what and how you eat.  Use that enlightening information on calories to cut back on calorie-dense foods (chocolate, peanut butter, oils) for things with lesser calories.

Are you used to eating a piece of toast with a tablespoon of butter?  Well, now that you can see that the bread (80 calories per slice) is less calories than the butter on top (100 calories per Tbsp.), you can think about how much butter you really need.  Or you could substitute other spreads (jam is 56 calories per Tblsp), use less, or add something more filling instead, like an egg (80 calories per egg, or 17 calories for just the egg white).  My husband's favorite go-to right now is a 100 calorie omelette he makes with an egg and a lot of salsa (you can eat a whole cup of salsa for 70 calories!).  Other people like protein shakes.

My favorite breakfast food is homemade granola.  But when I started tracking and realized how many calories were in that, I realized I could easily cut my breakfast calories from 300ish down to 180 by switching to oatmeal instead.  I also have found that I enjoy the taste of almond milk more than regular milk, and it has almost half the calories.

Another change should be your snacks.  It is so easy to overeat when you snack all day.  My running partner suggests portioning out what you plan to eat for the day at the beginning of the day and then keeping it in a bowl on your counter so you can eat when you like but don't overeat.

I've found that there are certain 100 calorie snacks that fill me up more than others.  I love the frozen Greek yogurt I found at Costco, for example.  I can also eat a ton of popcorn cooked in the tiniest amount of oil for very few calories.  

The longer you try, the better you'll be at finding what works for you.

3.  Budget your calories to save plenty for the evening.    

This was the hardest for me to do at the beginning.  Back when I first started doing weight watchers, I went to bed slightly hungry a lot.  I figured that was just part of weight loss.

But over time, I've gotten really good at strategies for avoiding that hunger in the evening.  And I've found that psychologically, I feel so much better when I have a good amount of calories in the evening for dinner and a small snack.  I don't mind feeling a bit hungry in the day in exchange for knowing that come 8:00, I can use those last calories for a snack I love.

So for me, when I was doing the 1200 calorie plan, I'd budget about 200 calories for breakfast, 400 for lunch, 150 for an afternoon snack, leaving 550 for dinner and a snack in the evening.  

My other strategy is that even though I exercise in the morning, I don't enter in those calories until the afternoon.  I try to eat the same those days as on days I don't exercise, knowing that I will want to eat more later in the day.  Usually by early afternoon, I'm famished and really grateful to enter in those extra calories.

4.  Don't make any foods off-limits.  Instead, learn portion control.

It's easy to feel deprived if you never allow yourself any sweets or any of your favorite foods. Instead of saying, "no chocolate ever," try to see how little you can eat and still satisfy your craving.  A small 50-calorie square might just hit the spot.  And it can be really satisfying to eat one slice of your favorite pizza and really enjoy it.  Tell yourself, "I can have that, I just can't have as much as I used to have of it."

Or save your favorite snacks and foods for days when you've exercised a lot and have more calories.  It will feel so good to know that you've earned the right to that food, and it will help you to learn moderation.  I believe allowing yourself your favorite foods in moderation means that you'll stick to your plan long-term.

5.  Set short-term goals and work towards them rather than the bigger picture.

Especially when you have a lot of weight to lose, it can be very discouraging to think in terms of "if I only lose this much a week, it will take over a year to lose all of this."  You can't allow yourself to constantly focus on the eventual goal weight.  Instead, focus on the daily or weekly or even monthly tasks.  

In Weight Watchers, they start by having everyone set a goal to lose 5% of their body weight.  This is a more realistic goal at first, gets the ball going, so to speak, and allows you to feel like you've accomplished something even when you are far away from your eventual goal weight.

For me, I've found the most success in setting a time limit for my weight loss goals.  In the spring, I challenged my Facebook friends to join me in meeting a six-week challenge goal.  I knew I wouldn't lose everything in those six weeks, but having a deadline and the friends to report to kept me on track.  And on the days it was hard, it was a lot easier to know that "hey, it's only for six weeks . . ."

I've also found success in seven to ten week increments.  Last year, I worked hard for the seven weeks before my trip to Hawaii and lost ten pounds.  Knowing there was an end in sight, even if it was only for a short time, made it a lot more motivating and do-able.

More recently, I lost ten pounds in the ten weeks before my birthday.  I challenged my husband to also set a goal and though he blew me out of the water with his success, I still lost ten pounds.

Right before the Moab Aventure 5K in November

You could also set a goal in conjunction with an exercise training program.  There are plenty of Couch to 5K programs or Half Marathon Training plans to follow and you could choose a race and set your diet and exercise goal to coincide with that.  

I also believe it is better to set behavior goals rather than outcome goals.  "Lose ten pounds" is bound to fail because sometimes, your body fights you even when you do everything by the book. It's much easier to say, "Exercise five days a week and stick to my calorie target every day for five weeks" because no matter what the scale does, you have control over your goal. 

6.  Allow yourself to take maintenance breaks.

Weight loss can be very difficult to do and especially when you work very hard and see very small changes on the scale, it can be so discouraging and overwhelming.  Instead of getting discouraged and falling off from tracking and perhaps cheating on your diet or exercise, give yourself license to take a break.  Give yourself a summer off and focus on just making sure you don't gain.  Then you can hit your goal again later with motivation and focus again.

7.  Find what motivates you and use that to your advantage.  

This will be different for different people.  For me, I can't stand to waste money, so I was highly motivated the first time I signed up for Weight Watchers to make it successful in my life.  I was paying what felt like a lot of money and I wanted to make sure I got my money's worth.  I would never sign up for a race and then not train for it; it's just not in my make-up.  If this is the way you are, find a way to use that to your advantage.  You may not even need to sign up for a program or a race.  Simply put a decent amount of money in an envelope and tell your husband that you get to keep the money if you meet your six week goals, but that he gets the money if you don't.  

If you're motivated by social pressure, find a way to use that to your advantage.  Create your own exercise and diet group through Facebook.  Join a weight loss forum or start following the diet and exercise blogs of others.  Find out which of your friends is on MyFitnessPal and follow each other. Promise yourself that no matter what, you will post a weekly update on your blog or social media account.  Then do it.  Being accountable to someone is a huge motivator for many people.  It may be as simple as having a good friend that you report to.

You may be motivated by small but simple, tangible rewards.   One book I read about a woman who lost over 100 lbs had a simple, weekly reward idea.  She said that on the weeks she lost weight, she would allow herself to stop on the way home for an ice cream cone.  On the weeks she didn't, she didn't get the cone.  Something like that might work for you. 

You might be the kind of person who never spends money on yourself.  Allow yourself a small amount of "fun money" to spend each week when you stay on target.  

8.  Find an exercise partner.

Nothing, and I mean nothing, helps you stay on track with your exercise goals more than having someone depend on you to meet them regularly for exercise.  If you're on your own all the time, it's easy to sleep in, skip a day, or give a half-hearted effort.  But if you have someone out there waiting for you in the cold so you can go running or someone driving over to pick you up for your exercise class, you'll get up and you'll do it.

9.  Weigh yourself regularly.

Whether that's daily or once a week is up to you.  I've found that I have better success with weighting myself just once a week when I'm actively trying to lose weight and daily when I'm maintaining.  The problem with daily weighing during the weight loss process is that it's too easy to get discouraged by a fluke gain that may just mean you had more salt to eat the day before.  A better picture of how you are doing is a once a week weigh in.

Even better than regularly weighing yourself is finding a way to report or be accountable for it.  Enter it into a calendar, post it on your blog, keep track of it on MyFitnessPal, or whatever motivates you the most. 

10.  Remember it's a process.  Your efforts and patience will be rewarded.

Don't be discouraged when you haven't met your goal yet.  Be sure to congratulate yourself on the progress you have made.  It took time to gain the extra weight you carry around; it will take time to develop the habits to lose and keep it off.

Enjoy the journey and the active lifestyle you create in the process.

July 24th Temple to Temple 5K with my kids.

And finally, for those motivated by such things, my before and after photos:
My heaviest, March 2011
December 2014
If I can do it, you can too!  Good luck!

What have you found that has motivated or helped you in weight loss?  Anything I missed?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Q&A Thursday: Body Image & Weight Loss

Today's question is in regards to my post last week about my weight loss.

I am curious about your overall philosophy about weight and body image. I have heard several people (well-known bloggers, included) share strong opinions that, in essence, it doesn't matter how much you weigh; it matters that you love yourself, and it is a bad thing to focus on weight loss and the number of pounds you are or want to be. Personally, I think this is silly, but I can't pinpoint why, and I don't know where my personal opinions even originate. It is possible I simply have given in to "society's" messages of beauty and thin women?

I'm so grateful to be answering this question.  I understand what you are saying.  I've read some blogs of women who are adamant that to even think about losing weight is a betrayal of their body.  I remember one saying something like "I exercise to thank my body, not to change it," which is a nice sentiment, but if you think about it, the whole point of exercise IS to change your body -- to get your heart pumping, to move your muscles, to build a stronger heart and better blood carrying capacities, to build your muscular endurance, to build fitness.  If weight loss doesn't come along with that or isn't the main purpose, then fine, but the very act of exercise does change the body in positive ways.  It is a gift you give your body and a gift you give those around you who are the beneficiaries of a stronger, healthier you.

As I thought through your question more, I decided there are six principles of body image I believe in:

#1  Our bodies are God-given gifts.  We are stewards of them.  

#2  Our world today is awash in harmful messages that encourage indulgence, exploitation, abuse, self-hatred, and extreme behaviors regarding our bodies.  

#3  We should work to have a loving attitude towards the body we have been given, whatever its limitations or its current condition.

#4  One of the purposes of life here on earth is to learn how to be masters of our appetites.  

#5  Regular, consistent exercise is a better indication of health than body size or shape

#6  Caring for the body is only one of many good things we should be doing in our lives.  Wisdom and order is needed in knowing where to put our efforts.  Caring well for our bodies makes it possible for us to do more in other aspects of our lives.

I'll cover each principle in turn.

#1  Our bodies are God-given gifts.  We are stewards of them. 
I believe that our bodies are given to us to house our spirits.  Our spirits lived with God before we came to earth.  I believe that God is our Father and that life here on earth is a blessing and a gift.  We are given the ability to choose the direction of our life and our body is the vehicle for that.  Some bodies are stronger, healthier, and more physically beautiful than others, while others struggle with deformities, disabilities, and other limitations.  Whatever our personal limitations, God expects us to do the best with what we have been given.  I believe we will one day be held accountable for what we have chosen to do with and to our bodies.  Do we treat our body as the gift it is, or do we constantly put ourselves down, focus on our supposed flaws, or covet someone else's hair, shape, or fitness?
Children naturally find so much joy in having a body -- can we learn from them?

#2  Our world today is awash in harmful messages that encourage indulgence, exploitation, abuse, self-hatred, and extreme behaviors regarding our bodies.  

Our media is absolutely obsessed with promoting an obsession with female beauty that focuses on youth, specific shapes that most are not genetically programmed to have, and sex appeal.  It can be hard to raise daughters in such a world.  One of the best talks I've ever heard on this subject is from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland.  He says,

In this same vein may I address an even more sensitive subject. I plead with you young women to please be more accepting of yourselves, including your body shape and style, with a little less longing to look like someone else. We are all different. Some are tall, and some are short. Some are round, and some are thin. And almost everyone at some time or other wants to be something they are not! But as one adviser to teenage girls said: “You can’t live your life worrying that the world is staring at you. When you let people’s opinions make you self-conscious you give away your power. … The key to feeling [confident] is to always listen to your inner self—[the real you.]” 8 And in the kingdom of God, the real you is “more precious than rubies.” 9 Every young woman is a child of destiny and every adult woman a powerful force for good. I mention adult women because, sisters, you are our greatest examples and resource for these young women. And if you are obsessing over being a size 2, you won’t be very surprised when your daughter or the Mia Maid in your class does the same and makes herself physically ill trying to accomplish it. We should all be as fit as we can be—that’s good Word of Wisdom doctrine. That means eating right and exercising and helping our bodies function at their optimum strength. We could probably all do better in that regard. But I speak here of optimum health; there is no universal optimum size. 
Frankly, the world has been brutal with you in this regard. You are bombarded in movies, television, fashion magazines, and advertisements with the message that looks are everything! The pitch is, “If your looks are good enough, your life will be glamorous and you will be happy and popular.” That kind of pressure is immense in the teenage years, to say nothing of later womanhood. In too many cases too much is being done to the human body to meet just such a fictional (to say nothing of superficial) standard. As one Hollywood actress is reported to have said recently: “We’ve become obsessed with beauty and the fountain of youth. … I’m really saddened by the way women mutilate [themselves] in search of that. I see women [including young women] … pulling this up and tucking that back. It’s like a slippery slope. [You can’t get off of it.] … It’s really insane … what society is doing to women.” 10 
In terms of preoccupation with self and a fixation on the physical, this is more than social insanity; it is spiritually destructive, and it accounts for much of the unhappiness women, including young women, face in the modern world. And if adults are preoccupied with appearance—tucking and nipping and implanting and remodeling everything that can be remodeled—those pressures and anxieties will certainly seep through to children. At some point the problem becomes what the Book of Mormon called “vain imaginations.” 11 And in secular society both vanity and imagination run wild. One would truly need a great and spacious makeup kit to compete with beauty as portrayed in media all around us. Yet at the end of the day there would still be those “in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers” as Lehi saw, 12 because however much one tries in the world of glamour and fashion, it will never be glamorous enough. 
A woman not of our faith once wrote something to the effect that in her years of working with beautiful women she had seen several things they all had in common, and not one of them had anything to do with sizes and shapes. She said the loveliest women she had known had a glow of health, a warm personality, a love of learning, stability of character, and integrity. If we may add the sweet and gentle Spirit of the Lord carried by such a woman, then this describes the loveliness of women in any age or time, every element of which is emphasized in and attainable through the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (Jeffrey R. Holland)
#3  We should work to have a loving attitude towards the body we have been given, whatever its limitations or its current condition.

I think Elder Holland hit on this principle above, but I wanted to add an analogy.  Imagine, for a moment, that you have just purchased a new home with a beautiful yard.  You are so excited because you know that this yard has so much potential.  It has room for your kids to play games, room for you to host gatherings and build friendships, and space for quiet contemplation.  But the yard also has some problems.  Parts of the soil are pretty infertile, some parts have been overtaken with weeds, and other places need some good shade trees.  With limited time and money, you can't fix everything the way you want it to be right now, but you can do some things and you are anxious to get started.

Now, for a moment, imagine that this yard isn't a yard at all but rather is your body.  You've been given a gift that will allow you to serve others, to build friendships and even to create life.  It isn't perfect, it has flaws and problems, some of them more visible than others, but it is a great gift and it has great potential.

Now think about some of the philosophies that women have about body image as it relates to the yard.  How about the idea that if you love your body, you would accept it exactly as it is and never notice the flaws?  Think about this in terms of your yard.  Would you decide that if you were to focus on improving your yard, that would show ingratitude towards it?  If you cut the grass and pull out the weeds, are you showing hatred towards the yard?
I don't clear the brush because I hate my yard, but because I enjoy it and want to make it better.

What about having an unhealthy obsession with how you look?  Can you imagine someone becoming so obsessed with their yard that they spend hours in it daily, making sure that it never shows a flaw?  Maybe they never let anyone see it unless it has been recently trimmed and weeded.  Maybe they decide the fact that leaves fall from some of the trees is unacceptable, so they replace the tree with an artificial one.  The might decide the grass isn't green enough and so they need some artificial turf installed and some plastic flowers.  They might neglect the many, many other things that should be part of their lives in their obsession with their yard.  They might subscribe to all the latest magazines with page after page of Photoshopped yards showing what perfection should entail. They might decide to rip out parts of the yard and replace it with the plants that a celebrity's yard has.

Or what if you don't go to that extreme, but you often think and worry that your yard doesn't measure up to anyone else's.  When your friends are over and compliment you about your beautiful flowers, do you point out that you hate your yard and wish it were better?  Do you point towards the areas that need to be improved and say, "Now, if I could just lose those ten ugly bushes over there, then I'd be truly happy with this yard."

It's an interesting thought exercise, isn't it?  We could probably go on with different problems women face in regards to body image (and if you think of more, feel free to share them in the comments!), but instead, let's return to that adequate and wonderful yard and think about what a healthy attitude towards it be?  To me, a healthy attitude would involve seeing it as a blessing and an opportunity and making use of it to bless my life and the lives of those around me.  It would involve spending time regularly tending to it, cutting the grass, pulling weeds, trimming bushes, planting flowers.   The point of this would be yes, to change the yard, but more importantly, to show that I am a good steward of the gift I've been given.  Occasionally,  I might decide that I have the time and energy to work on some of the bigger problems in the yard -- I might tear out some of the ugly trees, build a fence, or cut out those ten ugly bushes that have always bothered me.  But I'd also not be obsessed with how my yard looks or in constantly comparing it to other people's.  I'd learn to be patient and realize that things like shade trees take time to grow.  I'd make use of my yard in the meantime and not obsess about some future day when I will finally be happy with the way my yard looks.

I'm sure you can see from the paragraph above what I think a healthy body image looks like.  It means accepting and loving your body the way it is, yes, but also understanding and knowing what things about it require attention and being willing to work on those areas.  It doesn't mean that you hate yourself when you are overweight or when you eat too much junk food, but it does mean understanding that having a healthy body does contribute to a better life for you and those around you and working within your own times and seasons to build towards a consistent, healthy lifestyle.  It means not obsessing about ten pounds here or there, not worrying about what others look like, not trying to artificially change something, and being happy just to be alive.

Like with our yards, there are some things we really can't change about our bodies.  You can't change the climate in a yard in Maine, for example, to be like the climate in Florida.  And so it would be ridiculous to try to make your yard look like one in Florida.

No matter how much weight I lose, I will always have extra skin around my middle.  My skin there has been stretched eight times to create life and it's permanently stretched.  In fact, because I grew so much with the twins, I've even had extra skin below my big belly on subsequent pregnancies.  I also have a lot of stretch marks.  None of these things bother me a bit.  They don't interfere with my life or my ability to function.  I don't think they make me ugly, though they do mean my body will never conform to the pictures I might compare them to in magazines, if that kind of thing mattered to me.

I kind of like my extra skin and my stretch marks, and maybe even some of my extra weight.  They are a sign, like the gray hairs I'm starting to find on my head, that I've lived.  I've used my body to bring nine wonderful souls into this world.  I've used my hands to nurture them, my feet to carry them to wonderful places, and my belly and breasts to give them life and nourishment.  I've lived a physical life these thirty-seven years.  I've filled my days.

Someday, I will be resurrected and I wonder if those marks will remain.  I find it significant that when Christ was resurrected, He showed his body to His disciples and friends with the nail prints in His hands and feet.  I'm sure He could have chosen to remove those marks, but to His disciples and to all of us, He retained them as a symbol of His love and sacrifice for us.  My own marks are not quite as deep and didn't cause me as much agonizing pain, but they are also meaningful.

#4  One of the purposes of life here on earth is to learn how to be masters of our appetites.
We learn from the scriptures that we are here to learn mastery, to choose to do the right thing even when it's difficult and to face temptation.  We work to overcome lust and greed.  We try to avoid covetousness.  We work to become masters of our tempers and our jealousies.  These are all natural feelings, appetites that we have simply because we are human.  But as we work to become master of these things, we can learn to be patient even when we're tired, to respond kindly when someone is rude to us, to be happy for someone who gets something we had hoped for instead of jealous, etc.

I'm sure you can see where I'm headed with this one.  It takes diligence and work to become better in any aspect of our lives.  Improving our fitness and overcoming poor eating habits is no different.  And just like some of us are more prone to temper or jealousy than others, some of us have more trouble controlling our cravings for sweets and our aversion to exercise.  But whatever challenges we have been given, we can change, improve, and work to overcome them.  It might not result in the skinniest of bodies or the best-balanced diets, but it will make us better than we were before, and that counts for something.

I do want to add that one thing that's hard about weight is that it's such a visible thing and for some, it's so easy to judge that someone who is obese must be lazy or eat too much.  But you can never know from where you stand what that person has been through or what background they come from. And they might be masters of attributes and passions that you struggle with.  There are also real medical, mental, and genetic problems that make weight loss virtually impossible for some.  I wish we could all accept and love each other without the judgment.

One thing I love about God is that He is all-knowing and loving and that He understands what circumstances we've been given and expects us to do the best we can with what we have, not compared to some artificial standard set by someone else.  I read a while back a book about a woman who grew up in an abusive home, with a mother who was pretty neglectful, had a tough temper, and had some mental health issues.  The daughter grew up with hatred towards her mother and really struggled to forgive.  Then one day, she spoke to a wise leader.  She told him about her mother and shared with him about her mother's background.  This mother had grown up with horrible physical and sexual abuse from her own father and was damaged as a result.  "I see," said the leader, "so in many ways, your mother was your savior."  What?  thought the author.  Didn't you hear about the abuse and neglect I endured?  How could she be my savior?   Then the leader pointed out that this daughter had never had to suffer from physical or sexual abuse and that though her upbringing was far from ideal, her mother had saved her from the abuse she herself had suffered.  Though she hadn't provided a perfect environment, she had improved greatly the atmosphere in her own home from the one she was raised from.  From that conversation, the author was able to see things in a new way and begin to forgive and heal.

I share that story to point out two things.  The first is, for some people, weight loss and fitness may be the least of what they have to deal with in trying to improve their lives and the lives of those around them.  The second is to point out that some of us may have come from tough backgrounds where healthy eating was never modeled.  It's much easier for those who have had balanced nutrition and regular exercise modeled for them to incorporate those naturally into their lives than for those who have grown up with emotional eating, fast food and constant snacking.  Where ever you are, please know and accept yourself as a child of God and understand that He knows where you can and should make improvements and where you may just need to be content with being better than the generation before you.
#5  Regular, consistent exercise is a better indication of health than body size or shape
I've read a lot about fitness and exercise over the years.  I love to learn and so I've read a half dozen books on running and training, a couple of books about exercise, and I've subscribed to Runner's World on and off.  One very encouraging principle that I've seen many times is the fact that despite our culture's obsession with BMI, regular exercise is a much better indicator of health than the number on the scale.

Here's a sampling of articles:

Research that does tease apart weight and fitness — like a series of studies conducted by Steven Blair at the Cooper Institute in Dallas — shows that being fat and fit is better, healthwise, than being thin and unfit. Regular aerobic exercise may not lead to weight loss, but it does reduce fat in the liver, where it may do the most metabolic damage, according to a recent study at the University of Sydney.
“More often than not, cardiovascular fitness is a far more important predictor of mortality risk than just knowing what you weigh,” said Glenn Gaesser, author of “Big Fat Lies” and director of the Healthy Lifestyles Research Center at Arizona State University.
In 2005, an epidemiologist, Katherine Flegal, analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and found that the biggest risks of death were associated with being at either end of the spectrum — underweight or severely obese. The lowest mortality risks were among those in the overweight category (B.M.I.s of 25 to 30), while moderate obesity (30 to 35) offered no more risk than being in the normal-weight category.  (New York Times -- this whole article is really good)

Researchers analyzed nearly 100 studies that included more than 2.8 million people. While obese people had a higher risk of death -- particularly those whose BMI was 35 or more -- overweight people had a 6% lower risk of death than those of normal weight. 
"Because this bias against weight has been so prevalent, it's really been unquestioned, and I think this concept that thin is healthy and fat is not healthy is clearly not true," said Michelle May, a physician and author of "Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat."

The researchers examined data on 43,265 participants enrolled in the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study between 1979 and 2003, who filled out questionnaires about their lifestyle and medical history and also underwent physical exams, blood tests and a treadmill test to gauge their cardiovascular fitness. The researchers categorized obese participants as “metabolically healthy” if, aside from their weight, they didn’t suffer from insulin resistance, diabetes, low levels of good cholesterol, high triglycerides and high blood pressure. Nearly half of the obese participants in the study qualified as metabolically fit.
Compared with obese people who had at least two of the above markers of poor health, those who were obese but metabolically healthy had a 38% lower risk of early death from any cause. In fact, those who were fat but fit had no higher death risk than metabolically healthy normal weight participants.
I find these articles so encouraging.  To me, they say, no matter what your weight or your weight goals, if you start to move more, you'll be healthier and stronger.  They also confirm Elder Holland's quote above, "We should all be as fit as we can be—that’s good Word of Wisdom doctrine. That means eating right and exercising and helping our bodies function at their optimum strength. We could probably all do better in that regard. But I speak here of optimum health; there is no universal optimum size."

Speaking for myself, it's been a lot easier to love and accept my body and its size (even while trying to lose weight) when I'm exercising regularly.  It's hard to be down on a body that's thirty pounds overweight when that same body can cross the finish line of a marathon, hike several miles carrying a toddler on its back, or successfully nurture and give birth to a perfect little baby.

So, no matter where you are today, exercise!  Exercise to change your body and your health. Exercise will help you have more energy, live longer, and feel better, no matter what your size.  If you lose weight, great.  If not, you can decide for yourself how much of a problem weight is in your life and how much effort you need to put towards losing at this point in your life.  You may need to make other changes to realize weight loss.  But weight loss or not, exercise is awesome.

#6  Caring for the body is only one of many good things we should be doing in our lives.  Wisdom and order is needed in knowing where to put our efforts.  Caring well for our bodies makes it possible for us to do more in other aspects of our lives.

I think this one is self-explanatory.  Becoming too obsessed with weight or fitness is unhealthy because it takes away from living a balanced, happy life.  It is possible to become too obsessed with eating and exercise.  It's also possible to be not obsessed enough.  Finding your own balance for your own season in life is your own challenge.  Being fit may not mean running for you; it may mean walking and hiking with your kids.  It may be that your life is full of stress right now -- you might be moving, have a new baby, have a child with a disability, or be having relationship problems.  Weight loss may be a bad idea for you to take on in the midst of that kind of stress.  It may have to wait for a better time.  Over time, though, as you develop good habits of eating and exercise, you'll find things that work for you.  And you'll find that taking care of your body gives you more energy to take care of the other things in your life.


Thanks again for your question, BJ.  I hope my answer was helpful.  And now I'd love to hear from you, dear readers.  What are your thoughts about body image and weight loss?  What have you found to help you develop good eating and fitness habits?  How have the times and seasons in your lives meant differences in the kinds of things you do to take care of your body?  Any point you think I missed?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Loving my Studio! (Wordless Wednesday)

I'm loving having an indoor studio this winter.  It's been so fun to learn more about light and how to shape it and to have so much control of it indoors.  I spent some time last week installing a few background racks and setting up a few more things.  I also bought some paint and hope to paint a few walls some different colors for different looks.

Here's what my studio looks like right now:

All set up for the twin photos I shot last week

And here are some photos I've taken in there in the last week:

A self-portrait.  Love that camera timer function.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Q&A Monday: Which Camera Gear Should I Buy?

Today's question is from Sarah:

 I love your pictures and I'm getting ready to invest in another camera for Christmas. What one(s) do you use? 
 This is a bit of a tougher question for me to answer without knowing some of your criteria, Sarah.  What are your goals for photography?  Do you simply want better photos of your family and events? Or do you eventually want to learn enough to do portraits for your own family and friends? Are you on a budget?  I'll start out by sharing what I own and then I'll suggest what to buy depending on various goals.  I also want to say that though I shoot Canon and know its lineup of SLRs and lenses pretty well, Nikon is also very well regarded and has similar offerings.

Do you need the best gear?  Learning on what you have
My current set-up, which I've acquired over the 5+ years I've been doing photography, is definitely not for those who are just starting out or on a budget.  Nor is it necessary to get great photos.  I've heard from several well-known photographers that you should wait to upgrade your gear until you know what it is your current gear is lacking and what new features the gear you want will bring to you.  This really requires that you get to know the gear you have and work within it.  If you are a basic mom who shoots all your photos in "auto," it makes no sense to get the kind of gear I have because the quality of pictures I'd get if I shot in "auto" is about the same as you would with an entry-level DSLR.

Another thing to keep in mind is that a lot of getting the shot you want, especially with landscapes, is all about the technique and the processing.  I shoot in RAW and then develop all my photos in Lightroom.

For example, here are the side-by-sides of some recent landscapes.  The first is of the Provo temple, what I got straight out of camera, then the second is my final edit.  You'll notice the first one is pretty dark.  The reason for that is that there were a lot of really bright things in the scene and I knew that if I didn't want blown out spots (parts where the scene has no detail because it is all white), I needed to underexpose.  I also knew that because I shoot in RAW, those dark portions had a lot of detail in them just waiting to be pulled out when I did my final edit.

As shot
Final Edit

This next one is from our trip to California.  The one from the camera is nice, but it lost a lot of the detail and the color that was in the original scene.
As shot

Final Edit
The same thing happens when I shoot portraits.  It sure helps to have good gear, but a lot of going from mediocre snapshot to stunning portrait has more to do with knowing how to read light, positioning, posing, and post-processing rather than having good gear.

That said, if you don't have any gear to begin with, how do you know what to buy?  To help answer that question, I'll start with what I have, then what I recommend for beginners and hobbyist photographers.

What I own & Use Most

For Professional Work and Landscapes:
Camera Body:  Canon 6D
Main Lenses:  Tamron 24-70 2.8 , Canon 70-200 2.8 L II
I also on occasion use: Canon 50mm 1.8 II a.k.a "the nifty fifty."  I did the vast majority of my photography with this lens for several years until I had the money saved up to buy my 24-70.
And for fun landscape work:  Rokinon 14mm 2.8

I'm not going to post photos taken with this set-up because honestly, the vast majority of what I post are taken with these lenses and this camera body.  I absolutely love it all and feel no need to upgrade at this point.  I only recently bought the Canon 70-200, which will probably be the most expensive lens I ever own.  It is amazing, but it it also heavy and built like a tank.  I got a great deal on it used from another photographer who needed the cash fast so he could upgrade his gear.  The only thing I may be buying in the next year is a good macro lens, probably a 100mm one.

My other set-up:
For hiking with my kids, walking around on a vacation, and other situations where it would be a pain to bring my big camera, I use my old camera with a good all-around lens.  That way, I still get decent pictures (in RAW so I can still process them the way I want) but I don't worry so much about theft or damage.

Camera Body:  Canon Rebel T1i  (This is an older version -- the T5 is the current offering)
Camera Lens:  Sigma 18-250 Macro f3.5-6.3  To be honest, this lens isn't that amazing.  We bought it because it has an amazing zoom range that means you don't have to constantly switch lenses when you are wanting to focus on something close by or far away.  It can take in a whole landscape or focus on a small bird at the end of the pier.  It isn't especially sharp or fast, but I get good results from it.  It's also my only "macro" lens, meaning it can focus when you are very close to the object you are photographing, so I use it for that type of work with great results.

My camera came with two lenses, the 18-55 and a 55-250.  Of these, the 18-55 was really soft and I prefer the Sigma.  The 55-250 was all right but not amazing.  It's quality is probably on par with the Sigma as well.

The following photos are taken with the Sigma and with the Rebel:

Gear Recommendations for those Just Starting Out

If you're just starting into photography, you'll be very happy with either the Canon Rebel Series or the equivalent in Nikon.  If you get a kit, you'll get the experience of using different lenses, figure out how your camera works and be very happy with the immediate improvement in your photography over any kind of point-and-shoot camera.

I did a bit of looking around and here are the deals Costco has:

Amazon has both cameras in various bundles.  Nikon's 3200 with two kit lenses is $500  but I wouldn't recommend this one because neither lens has vibration reduction (image stabilization). What I would recommend is one of the following:

You could also scour Craigslist, Ebay, or your local classifieds for used versions of these kits.  A lot of photographers start with this kind of entry-level DSLR and then upgrade, selling their old gear for good prices.  There's also forums on Facebook for selling old photography gear.  I'm a little squeamish about buying used from someone I don't know and I like the peace of mind of knowing Amazon or Costco will make it right if there is something wrong with my camera or lens, but if you are on a budget, the price difference can be huge.

Additional Purchases for the Hobbyist

If you simply want better photos and the experience of using a DSLR, the above will be fine.  But if you really want to learn photography and take your photos out of "auto" and into "awesome," you can spend just a little bit more and get much better results.

I recommend that in addition to the above kits, you also buy:

1.  The Nifty Fifty.  The best news is that this is the least amount you'll ever pay for a professional quality lens.  But the image quality is miles above the kit lens.  This is a prime lens, meaning there is no zooming in and out on your subject.  If you want to frame a whole family with this lens, you must step back.  If you want to take a picture of just a face, you have to step forward.  It's called "zooming with your feet."  :)
  • Canon's version is here  this is a 1.8 lens for about $125.  There is also a 1.4 version that is $400 but I don't think the extra f-stop is worth the difference in price.
  • Nikon's 50mm is here.  Same deal, this is a 1.8 lens for $150.  There's a 1.4 version for $450 but I think this one is the best bang for your buck.

2.  Lightroom (and maybe Photoshop) You'll also need, need, need Lightroom.  I would buy it even before any version of Photoshop, including Elements.  It's just the gold standard for photography processing.  You can't head-swap or combine two or more images or do the refined cloning you can in Photoshop, but it processes RAW images fast, multiple images at a time faster, and organizes and makes your workflow wonderful.  I use it on 100% of my images and then only pull an image into Photoshop about 5% of the time.

  • Lightroom can be purchased on its own for $115 from Amazon.  Photoshop Elements is $65.  From my experience, Elements does everything you need Photoshop for, for a lot less money.
  • If you really plan on getting into photography, however, it is absolutely worth it to buy the $10 a month plan from Adobe.  For $10 a month, or $120 a year, you get full access to the full-blown Photoshop, Lightroom, and Bridge.  This is what I use and I love it.  Amazon has a deal where if you sign up for a full year, you get $30 in Amazon credit.  
I hope that was helpful, Sarah.  Photography is so much fun.  I'm happy to answer any other questions about gear, technique or processing anyone might have.  


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