I love data

I usually think of myself as a liberal arts kinda girl — all about poetry and language and music and history. But back in high school, I took the ASVAB (the military’s aptitude test) in order to get out of class and (this is the real reason) because I always liked taking standardized tests. (I know! I’m sorry!). Anyway, the results of this test weren’t wildly surprising except one: I aced the code-breaking section. According to the military and my fuzzy 15 year old memory, I was unusually good at translating one list to another. It indicated that I might be a capable computer programmer. I scoffed.

And here I am, a computer programmer. Go figure. I guess what I’m saying is that my image of myself as a words only person is just that: an image. I actually do have this well of unappreciated ability in the less subjective. One of the places this shows up most is in data sets.

I just cannot resist real numbers. If it can be measured, it makes me happy. For example, as you may recall, I carefully measured and calculated my milk production while pumping at work, doing my best to note and avoid problems with my data set. Why? Um, because data is cool? And of course, halfway through you think of other data you should’ve collected (time spent pumping, quality of audio book being listened to, frigidity of server room and impact on milk production).

So for Christmas my brother bought me a Wii fit. It plays exactly into my weakness. Oh, the Wii throws off fantastic data! It has charts and graphs. How much of the time I spent in my workout was done using strength training exercises? How consistent have I been? How many calories did I burn doing X activity? What is my BMI, with a precision of 2. Love! Love love! Data! It gets even better for me, because I find data highly motivational. Give me a measurable objective and watch me make it and then exceed it by a little bit because, um, that’s just how I roll. So fantastic, right?

Well…. there’s just one problem. Let’s say I have half an hour to workout (aka: a miracle has occurred). Which activity is likely to produce the best fitness results: Wii fit, or a half hour fitness workout (I have a Bollywood dance workout DVR’d I’m dying to try)? Chances are the non-Wii workout will get my heart rate higher longer. But! But but! It won’t provide me with the delicious, delicious data I crave. I’ll have to go by estimates and feelings! Bah!

Exercise isn’t the only place where I face this conflict between the measurable and the likely more effective. This happens all the time in food. For example, which one of these is probably all-over better for you: the delicious turkey-burgers my husband made for dinner last night, or a frozen Healthy Choice dinner? Right. Homemade food from actual ingredients has numerous benefits over prepackaged “food” products – not the least of which is taste. Now, which one of these is easily quantified? That would be the prepackaged one, of course. On the other hand, this “from scratch” food may have nutritional surprises. I’m pretty sure that the turkey-burgers were pretty healthy, but what about the chili that I make about once every two weeks? I think it’s pretty decent nutritionally, but I could be wrong.

So I can rigorously and accurately count calories, or I can make my food from scratch.

The last time I set about losing baby-weight, I accomplished it through rigorous calorie counting in both intake and output. I believe that I switched the way I ate from a mostly home cooked to more prepared. That’s harder now, because there are more people eating the food we cook. I don’t think I’m willing to do that again. (Also, the site I used for calorie counting is still stuck in Web 1.0 and has a painful interface. Oh, for an iPhone with a food and exercise log app!) It will be interesting to see whether I can pull this off: reduce calories and exercise regularly without constant data streams and numbers. So motivational do I find numbers, I’m actually not entirely sure I can.

What about you? Do you love data or find it irrelevant or constrictive? What pointless data sets do you obsessively maintain? What are other circumstances are there conflicts between an optimal outcome and a measurable outcome? Which one do you pick when they are in conflict: optimal or measurable?

What mirror? Where?

I’m still walking to daycare when the weather is nice. It’s just about two miles. I’m working on getting my body back to a place I’m comfortable staying. After I had Grey I realized that my body wasn’t going to miraculously return to prepregnancy state. Nursing, my normal amounts of exercise and food, none of that was going to get me back to where I used to be. I was convinced that it must be hormonal or thyroidal or otherwise not because of my actions, but before I called my doctor to discuss the possibility I figured I’d track my calories to prove just how virtuous I was.*

This was, shall we say, eye opening.

So I spent several months tracking what I ate and how much I exercised (doing a lot less of the former and a lot more of the latter) and I got back to what I consider my “set weight”.

Well, Thane is almost 9 months old. In another few months I’ll be into Thanksgiving and Christmas and the cold, dark times of year. It’s a lot harder to diet/exercise when it’s freezing out and there’s no fresh fruit to soften the blow. So I’ve resumed running an intentional calorie deficit. By Thane’s first birthday I hope to be back at my set weight, and from here on out only make sure I don’t gain weight.

But man, the reason people don’t usually do this successfully is because it’s hard. When you eat fewer calories than you burn, you (shockingly) end up hungry. Your body tells you that something is wrong. You get grumpy, cranky and fragile. My worst time of day is when I’m preparing dinner — I often haven’t eaten since lunch 6 hours ago and the kids require patience and handling and there’s traffic and I’m like-as-not on some sort of deadline and several times a week I’m doing it alone. Not only that, but I’m trying hard to make sure Grey doesn’t notice I’m dieting, because I do not want him to think that it is normal or necessary to count calories on everything he puts in his mouth.

Anyway, this is less about the woe of dieting than it is about today’s walk. My quest to return to pre-pregnancy has been working. I’m wearing the jeans I wore pre-Thane. Today I have on a rather fitted shirt which shows off my, uh, nursing-supplemented assets. And I got no fewer than four friendly catcalls during my two miles. Including one “Hey, you’re gorgeous!”

I know that I’m supposed to mind catcalls and find them 1) degrading 2) insulting 3) threatening. I must admit that I’ve never managed to do so. Here on my walk I find them … welcoming and appreciative. Welcoming because the guys (usually young to middle aged Latinos) doing the catcalling don’t seem to see me as outside their community — not some stuck up gringa, but a part of their town and their warm summer days. Appreciative because they’re usually saying NICE things. Their comments feel quite friendly. They are an invitation with no hard feelings if I don’t take them up on it (which, obviously, I don’t).

And I have noticed that certain outfits are much more appreciated than others.

Now that I’ve managed to terrify my mom and horrify my husband (“Are you sure it’s SAFE to walk to daycare?”), I’ll move on. It’s very hard, after you have had a child, to find yourself in your own skin again. I used to be a blonde. Now I’m truly a brunette. I’m a brunette with silvery threads wending through my darkening hair. The dimensions of my body shift and change with the demands put upon it. Very few of my blouses, for example, can contain my abundance, even though most of my pants fit. I haven’t been able to wear a regular summer dress in two years. My body has been swollen, shared, deflated, inflated, strangely hard, shockingly soft, blurred around the boundaries. And now it is coming back to me, to be mine again. I am the sole occupant, again. I may control my body with concern only for myself, after a long period where that was not true. (Well, coming up. I’m still nursing so there are still constraints, but they are more limited than they were.)

This requires a re-understanding of how I relate to my body — how it works, what it looks like, what I see when I look at myself, what others see when they look at me. This, too, is hard work.

The only picture of me among the 141 currently on my camera
The only picture of me among the 141 currently on my camera

*I know that intentional weight loss and dieting can be controversial. I know plenty of people cannot lose weight for good reasons, ranging from eating disorders to hormonal imbalances. I have also learned that I do not have any of the conditions that would make losing my pregnancy weight unusually problematic.