One goal reached, on to the next!

Transitions can be rough

Recently, I changed my program. There were various reasons. (1) I had lost enough weight to adjust my goals and my focus. (2) Our personal funds are fairly limited, like for most families. My daughter takes after her dad, which means she has concerns about her weight. We wanted to pay for her to go on the program, which meant I had to find another direction for myself. The final reason: (3) I wanted to try other options to see how they work as I spend this year making healthy choices.

Goal and Focus Changes

I have been very happy (ecstatic) with my results using Medifast products through the Take Shape For Life program. In just over five months I went from 384 lbs. down to 268 lbs.  That is almost 120 pounds. I have stopped using my C-PAP machine. I have dropped my prediabetes medicine. I have stopped using one of my blood pressure medicines. My A1C is perfect. My cholesterol is right where it should be. My testosterone has risen and my weekly injection has been reduced. My energy levels are great. My personal outlook is positive.

After adjusting my goal for actual body fat measurements, I had to decide if I wanted to keep going on program to lose an additional 38 pounds and then start working out to tighten, tone and increase muscle mass. Another option was to start building muscle and toning right now. The only problem is that the TSFL program does not recommend a hard workout regimen while on program—for various reasons. It is well balanced to maintain health and to make it possible to lose a large amount of weight quickly without causing the health problems that can result from other extreme weight loss programs. But it is recommended that you not workout hard while on the program. Moderate exercise is suggested, but I wanted to start building lean muscle mass.

Options Considered

I’ve been around diet programs—either trying them, studying them, or being recommended them—for most of my adult life. When you have a tendency to weight gain, and fail to practice the proper discipline to maintain then you get heavy and everyone has their recommendation to ‘help.’

I did Atkins years ago. I stayed on the most restrictive level of the diet (30 grams of carbs per day). At first it was great being on a diet that allowed you to eat bacon, and a good amount of meat. However, that was long before the days when there were Atkins bars and supplements, so it took a bit of effort to stay properly fueled. The big problem was some of the strong cravings. When you find yourself hallucinating about pasta or fruit something is just not quite right.

When I dropped off that program, I didn’t do it properly. I was fooled by how easy it was, so I thought I had not need to transition—I’d just drop off for a few months, during the holidays, then ‘drop’ back on. Instead, I went into major carb craving and couldn’t stop sucking down carbs. I had lost 50 pounds in two months, but ended up gaining 75 pounds quickly. That put me into a psychological funk that helped me to slowly ratchet higher and higher. This is why I didn’t consider Atkins this time.

Friends and relatives had recommended the Paleo diet. I have to admit the idea of eating like a caveman was fascinating. This would be another diet that would allow me to eat lots of meat. However, I tend to be a bit anal about facts, and underlying premises. It became obvious pretty quick that this diet was not really designed to “eat the way we were evolved to eat,” as it claims. It was really just marketing shtick for another controlled carb diet. Don’t get me wrong! I know it works. I’ve seen it work with enough people to have lots of confidence in it. It is also one of those diets meant to be a lifestyle change, which is also good. However, I was not sure I could see myself spending the rest of my life eating this way—forbidding myself some things I truly enjoyed.

I won’t go into the fad, freak show diets—eat only spinach, eat only cabbage, eat only (fill in the blank). Eat enough spinach and you’ll lose weight. Of course, it will mostly be in the form of little rocks that you piss out from all the kidney stones. Eating enough cabbage will also help you lose weight. But who will care? No one will want to be around you from all the methane seeping out your backside—I already have this problem in spades!

After listening to my friends and seeing what was working with them (the same way I discovered Medifast and Take Shape for Life for my initial high weight loss) I settled on moving into a carb cycling regimen. Since I want to lose fat and also build muscle (I am at a point where the muscle is more important than focusing on the fat, because of my testosterone deficiency), I chose to go this way. Keep in mind; this is not an indictment of my earlier program. Take Shape for Life is highly recommended to anyone to lose weight—especially to lose it in a quick and healthy fashion. However, it is not designed to start working on muscle mass until after the goal weight is reached. I wanted muscle building to be a final part of reaching my goal. I also wanted to be able to use the money I was spending on that program to help my daughter start that program. We could only afford for one of us to be on it, so we chose her.

My New Program

With my new program, I go through the week with a rotation of carb levels and exercise routines. For now, I am introducing weight training in slowly and working up. Most of my exercise is cardio. I do two days of weights a week (upper body on Wednesday; lower body on Saturday). I do four days of cardio (one hour on treadmill, exercise bike, etc.). Each day in the gym I shoot for burning 500 to 700 calories. I take Sunday as a day off, because my duties with the church just make it too hard to get to the gym. Besides, muscle building requires rest for the muscles. Since I work legs on Saturday (the largest muscle groups) I take a break the next day. I don’t do this on Thursday, because the previous day I work upper body and most of my regular cardio involves legs—therefore, my arms get a rest anyways.

With carb cycling you rotate the amount of calories and carbs eaten according to whether a day is committed to fat burning or muscle building. Cardio days are fat burning, low carb days. Weight training days are muscle building days, requiring even higher protein, higher carbs, and even some refined carbs for rapid glycogen replenishment.


Making this change has caused a bit of a weight rebound as my metabolism adjusts to the new calorie level. I last weighed 268 lbs. on the original program. Within a week I was weighing 275 lbs. Of course, I don’t think I gained that much weight. For one thing, on the older program there is so little food going in that the bowels get very empty. With the new one, this is not the case. No, I’m not saying I was full of seven pounds of (insert your favorite name for it here). But add that, along with some rapid fat gain that would happen when calories are first increased, but metabolism hasn’t quite adjusted. Then there may have been some inflammation from the quick changeover.

You will notice that I haven’t posted a new weigh for a while on my blog. This is because I have been in that rebound stage working to get my weight back down to where it was. There was a bit of discouragement along the way, wondering if the change was the right thing to do. However, I was able to take some comfort in seeing muscle areas tightening up and continuing to see the loose fatty areas shrink. Now, it appears I am back on track for weight loss. It took almost two weeks, with constant fluctuations up and down. However, this morning I weighed 266 pounds.

My New Goal

My new goal is to add enough lean muscle to my frame that with around 15% body fat, my weight should be around 250 lbs. I’ve already explained why I can’t work toward the BMI chart—I’d have to lose muscle and all body fat to get close. I’ll shoot to get to and stay between 250 and 255 lbs. This means I am about fifteen pounds from my weight goal—but far from my actual finished goal, because muscle needs to increase considerably (somewhere around 20 to 30 lbs. of muscle needs to be added). This is a large goal, for muscle building, but I’ll get there. It is already a huge change in attitude and in outlook.


Cheating and Deserving

IMG_20140910_083912675Last night, my wife made a Korean dinner in honor of our son. Whenever we have all our children home she feels a strong desire to feed them her cultural cuisine. I understand that and always encourage her—especially since I love Korean food and truly love my wife’s cooking. Now to understand the rest, you have to know that my wife is the best cook on planet earth as far as I’m concerned. When making food she’s passionate about, no one can beat her. She cooks Korean, of course, traditional southern American cuisine, Italian, Mexican and some French. I’ve described my wife’s cooking skills by telling people, “If you make something and my wife likes it, she’ll ask you what’s in it and before long will make it better than you.” This is important to understand, because if my wife pours her whole heart and a whole day into making a single meal (she literally started cooking at 8 AM for a meal to be eaten at 6 PM), I am not going to pass any of it up—diet or no diet. These meals are rare, and deserve to be enjoyed—my wife also deserves to be honored.

Keep in mind that when I started this journey I was so unhealthy I no longer had choices. I had to choose to change or die. I wanted to get down to a low enough weight and healthy enough condition that I would be free to make real choices about what to eat and when. I wanted to free myself of the fat to be free, not to be chained to a freakish inhuman way of eating for the rest of my days (some of the diets out there are bizarre). I wanted to be healthy enough that if I chose one day to indulge in something less healthy—or even flatly unhealthy—I was free to make that choice. The problem with most people today is the false belief that they have this freedom. If your body is craving unhealthy foods then you are not choosing them freely.

I have done well on my program. I’ve lost about 150 lbs. from my lifetime highest (110+ lbs. from my starting point on program). My blood sugar, cholesterol and other numbers look great. Keeping all this in mind I had to decide how I would approach my wife’s special meal. There is a great deal of talk among various diet programs about “cheat days”, etc. Many will also convince themselves that they have done so well they “deserve” to splurge. Both ideas are poisonous. Both show a different view from mine.

A cheat day implies “forbidden fruit.” I am bound. I am chained to a program, but choose to cheat—“Just once, I can come back to it tomorrow.” The idea of cheating makes the program something bound upon me by someone else. I owe that someone else loyalty and am cheating with a special forbidden meal. Giving yourself permission to cheat does not change this. But if I have chosen my program and do so every step of the way, nothing I do is cheating. I cannot be tempted by forbidden fruit because there is no forbidden fruit. I can have any of it. I just have to understand and remind myself that I can have food A and a fatter body or I can have food B and a lighter body. The laws of science make it impossible to have both—I have to choose. That is part of our problem as Americans. We want to have both. “Cheat days” are a stupid concept. I make my choices and cannot “cheat” on myself—when I try I only end up cheating myself. If I choose to eat foods that slow my weight loss then I have chosen and should live with the results—or look for alternatives.

As for deserving a splurge or something special for all the hard work, “deserving” is a special concept that is often misused. Think about what you actually deserve in life. If you define the term properly then we deserve very little. We deserve what we have earned—because that is how an exchange works. I agree to work for you for 1 hour and you agree to pay x dollars. After one hour of labor the dollars are no longer yours, they are mine. I deserve them because they are mine. If I opt to not work for you for that hour, and find no one else to offer more then I deserve my empty pocket. Another similar concept is the respect we deserve from others. Why do we deserve respect? Years ago I had a fellow teacher challenge a student to ask me a hard question she could not answer. The student said, “Mr. Cluck, why is it wrong to be disrespectful?” I answered, “Because the respect is owed to that person because of either whom they are in relation to you or what they have accomplished. It is theirs. If you refuse to give them respect, you are stealing from them.” So let’s say I work hard for six months to lose weight by closely following a diet. What do I deserve? If I follow the program and lose weight then what I deserve is the weight loss—I earned it. It is reaching the goal itself that one deserves when striving hard for a goal. To say I deserve a special fatty high carb meal for all my hard work dieting implies something that violates simple science. It would be more accurate to say, “I’ve worked so hard making good choices so I will allow myself to make a different one tonight.” But that is far different from saying I deserve it. The only reason one would say it this way (deserve) is to either alleviate guilt or to prevent the judgment of others. But if you are free to choose moment by moment, meal by meal, bit by bite, then why feel guilty? Why worry about the judgment of others? Your program is your business. Claiming “I deserve a splurge meal” is a lie. Stop using lies. I can choose a “splurge meal” but I can’t deserve it. I will still reap the results of any choice I make.

All this came up because my wife’s traditional meal, being Korean, includes a large number of carbs that I have to avoid on my program. Quite a few of these carbs are actually refined carbs. Also, the meal is being served as a feast in honor of family and friends. Eating copious amounts is expected.

Most of the food was perfectly fine for my program—beef and pork Bulgogi. I could simply avoid the onions and the carrot IMG_20140910_085037100slices. There were also two kinds of kimchi—turnip and cabbage. Then there were bean sprouts and fish slices, called O Daeng (I love the name because, “Oh dang! This stuff is good”). I could have simply skipped all the other stuff and grazed off of these. However, I wanted to do an experiment to see if there was another option. I’ll explain what I actually did in a moment.

Besides the foods that fit fine, there were several that were not going to work with the program. We had Kimbap. This is what many Americans know as Sushi rolls. It is white rice, carrot, spinach and turnip rolled inside of seaweed wraps. I could eat for a year on nothing but Kimbap and never get tired. One other food takes a bit of explaining. One day, when my wife and I were dating, I went by her house and saw she wasn’t home. The landlady told me that she had gone to the market. Understand that the market was a huge area with various stalls, like the Asian open air markets you may have seen in movies. She was shocked when I snuck up behind her at a stall where she was having lunch. She ordered me some Duk Madu Guk (wonton soup) and we shared some Sun Dae. That was about the time I started feeling very deeply for her, so Sun Dae holds great comfort for me. Any time we find it at the market we get it and eat it together. It is also an important part of any celebratory Korean meal served to our friends. Sun Dae would not be allowed on my program. Now as I explain what it is, I already know what to expect from the average American reading this. Keep in mind that we eat stuff that Koreans think is gross, too. Sun Dae is a wonderful traditional sausage. It is a mixture of ground pork snout, beef blood and sweet potato noodles stuffed into a natural sausage casing. It is cooked, sliced and eaten dipped into a mixture of salt and other spices. The blood, meat and casings would be fine with the program, but the noodles blow it right out.

I had a choice to make. I could ignore the meal and have a regular Lean & Green then simply enjoy my family while they ate—but I had invited friends over. I could stick to the foods that would fit with the program and skip those high in carbs. I could choose to eat any and all of it, and simply roll the dice to see what happens to the rest of my program—would I start craving carbs or get knocked out of fat burn? Another option was to prepare in advance to blunt the effect of the carbs.

I decided to do the latter as a test. I have been reading lately on the effect of carbs and how they are metabolized. When eating carbs they are transformed into glucose. This is burned as energy, and any excess if pushed into fat reserves. It is false to think this works as a sort of balance system and when you get to end of the day your body decides whether it is in a negative or positive balance. Actually this works moment by moment throughout the day. If you eat a high level of carbs and your body at that moment does not need the excess, it immediately stores the excess. The idea that I can have one huge high carb meal now and really cut down for the rest of the day is fallacious. Our bodies are much more efficient at storing fat than at removing it. Everyone who has tried to lose weight knows it goes on easier than it comes off.

However, there is one part of carb metabolism I decided to experiment with. You see, besides fat, the largest carb storage in our body is as glycogen in the muscles and liver. This muscle storage is used when those muscles move. Glycogen stored in the liver is slowly released between meals to keep blood sugar from crashing when no food is being digested. One option for preparing to eat a meal with excessive carbs—especially refined carbs—is to eat them within a couple hours of an intense workout. After the workout! We were going to eat between 5:30 and 6:00 so I went to the gym and worked out hard for over an hour. I wanted to drain my muscles of as much glycogen as possible so my body would take those refined carbs—like the white rice and the sweet potato noodles—and move them into muscle glycogen instead of fat. I also wanted my body to be forced to keep burning fat because the carbs were going into the muscles. This was my preparation for the meal.

During the meal, I ate everything. I ate smaller than I would have in the past, mostly because I did not want more—I get stuffed so much easier. I also enjoyed the items with refined carbs, but kept them to a minimum. For example, I only had three pieces of the Kimbap and a few of the Sun Dae. I also passed up on the traditional bowl of rice. This still honored my wife’s hard work and our guests without blowing my goals.

I checked twice during the night and again this morning. I am still in fat burn. While this will not be a regular practice, it is good to know there is another option for those times when I either need to have something I otherwise would not, or even for those times when I really want those items. Once again, it makes my choices my own. It liberates instead of binding. By the way, doing this also helped to drive something home. It helped to show just how costly on the system such a meal can be—I worked hard for over an hour to make room in my muscles for the meal. Everything has a cost!

“’Everything is permissible,’ but not everything is helpful. ‘Everything is permissible,’ but not everything builds up (1 Cor 10:23 HCSB).”

Great Lessons Learned on a Family Trip

IMG_20140906_170218522This week, my son has been home from Colorado and we went to visit family in Fort Worth, TX and North Eastern Oklahoma (also known as God’s country). The trip was a great deal of fun and my wife was beside herself getting to spend so much time with our son. I always joke that, “I know my place in the family. My wife keeps me around in case she needs to sell me to buy our son shoes.” We all loved the trip, and I learned great lessons to share here.

As I shared last week, I was a bit apprehensive about the trip, wondering how I would stay on program eating meals prepared by various relatives, as well as eating on the road. I prepared in advance before going. I also set myself three goals in order.

My goals were:

  1. To stay in fat burn.
  2. If knocked out of fat burn, to keep carbs low enough to prevent carb cravings.
  3. If knocked out of fat burn with no choice but to eat excessive carbs, to not eat enough to gain weight.

I didn’t really expect to lose any weight during the week. I would have been happy with just being 274 lbs. as I was the previous week. For one, I would be spending long hours in the car not really moving. My UP 24 kept vibrating telling me to get up and do some activity—hard to do at 80 mph (yes, I drive 80; this is Texas so don’t judge me). Also, I would need to stop for food for my wife and son. I chose to switch over to a 4&2 system of eating so I could enjoy more meals with the family. This means that instead of one Lean & Green meal and five meal replacements a day, I would do two Lean & Greens to enjoy eating with others and four meal replacements. We also carried some olives (yum!!!!), pickles and almonds in case I wanted snacks. I didn’t limit these exactly, and never was able to make all my scheduled meals.

During the trip I was knocked out of fat burn twice. We left on Wednesday and came back home on Saturday. Wednesday night, I ate some food that I didn’t know had added sugar until I had already eaten it. That night I could feel my energy levels drop and knew I was out of fat burn. The next day (Thursday) on the way to Oklahoma, we stopped for some “Mexican” food. I didn’t catch the beans and rice in my meal until I had eaten half of it. Since I had already been knocked out of fat burn I went ahead and finished it and thought I would work to get back in when I got home. I decided to just watch my eating the rest of the time to keep down carbs without much thought about fat burn. I wasn’t going to let obsessing over my diet ruin the fun with my family—that is not a lifestyle; that is a chain.

Friday morning I checked again, just curious, and was surprised to find I was already going back into fat burn. I was elated. About four hours later I sat down to lunch at a pretty good Mexican restaurant (in Northern Oklahoma—if you can believe that). Being a Texas boy I have a true appreciation for Mexican food (actually Tex-Mex). When I lived in Colorado, years ago, some tourists asked me where they could find a good Mexican restaurant. I asked where they were from and they said, “Texas.” I pointed south and said, “About 300 miles that way!”

I was sitting in the restaurant with my son and my Uncle. Now understand, my Uncle is the kind of man that when he speaks, you listen because it will be worth more than gold. So I was really listening to him when I started eating my meal. I ordered a taco salad. I saw the Spanish rice—which I forgot to ask about—and, while avoiding it, didn’t notice the refried beans until I had already eaten them. Sure enough! When I checked later, I was totally out of fat burn, again! Back to just paying attention to carbs until we got back home.

The next morning, when I checked with my Ketostix I was surprised to find myself back into pretty healthy fat burn. Since Saturday was on the road, where I could pretty well control what I would eat, I stayed on program and did well the rest of the day. Now back home I am religiously on program again.

The lesson I learned was to not give up when things beyond your full control torpedo your program. I also verified that one does not have to put a lot of pressure on friends and family to conform to your dietary needs—unless it is an allergy, of course. Some of my family would ask about my needs. I would answer and some would seem to get uptight and worried about fixing the wrong foods. I simply told them, “Don’t worry about it. My diet is mine, not yours. If I can eat it, I will; if I can’t eat it, I’ll pass.” They all did wonderfully and really were caring about it. Everyone was excited to see how much I had changed. It also felt great to be able to have the energy to go down to the ditch and shoot my handguns and rifle. To walk over and see my uncle’s soy bean field. I also had enough energy I was tempted to sneak off one evening and see if I could shoot a nice fat wild hog. I decided not to. I figured my wife wouldn’t be very tolerant of hauling the smelly thing home in the car.

Each time I fell off of fat burn it was tempting to just give in and eat whatever—pasta, bread, potatoes, etc. However, I had already set goals. The first didn’t last long, but I could hold to the second and control my carb intake. I stuck with this, hoping (almost beyond hope) that I would at least not gain any weight.

This morning when I weighed in I was shocked. I was hoping and praying that I was at least no heavier than the previous 274 IMG_20140907_083038lbs. I was blown away when I looked down and the scale said I was down to 268 lbs. In a week that I fell out of fat burn twice and ate far more than I probably should, I lost almost six pounds (I was actually 268.8). How did this happen?

IMG_20140907_092629900I credit it to three things. One, I was fairly active when we were there visiting—it was hot enough I probably sweated out a good pound or more. Two, though many things were off plan I still kept down the carbs and bad stuff. Three, (sorry to preach the same sermon again) I stayed properly hydrated. For this last I have to share the second best investment I’ve made in my health. The first was the program itself. The second best investment was a water bottle purchased from Walmart for this trip. It holds 20 ounces, so I need seven of these a day for proper hydration. The bottle has a numbered ring so I can track my water consumption. On the trip I would buy gallon jugs of water and just keep refilling the bottle. It was never more than a few feet from me most of the trip so I could stay hydrated. If I had to be away from water for any length of time (such as when visiting one museum) I would drink the full 20 ounces when I got back to it.

So the lessons learned or reinforced by this experience:

  1. Stay hydrated, at all cost.
  2. Don’t obsess and drive others crazy. Just take life as it comes and make corrections as needed.
  3. If something happens beyond your control, or a mistake happens, don’t throw up your hands and surrender to the temptations to eat whatever.
  4. Preplan for how to handle things beyond your control. This doesn’t mean, “I’ll do this if someone does that.” It means simply knowing, “If something knocks me down here, I’ll do this to reduce the damage to my program, and just keep going.”
  5. Did I mention hydration?

Challenges to Come!

drunkenclamsThe next couple weeks are going to be a challenge for staying on program. My son is home from Colorado for two weeks. This of course puts us into a celebratory mood. For example, yesterday I made a nice surf and turf supper of “drunken” (cooked in white wine) clams, mussels and shrimp with grilled boneless beef ribs. Paired with a salad, it was fine on the level of carbs and only a bit over my on my daily protein for a Lean & Green meal (keep in mind I was instructed to have an extra 3 ounces of protein each day because of my build).

I did splurge in a way that could have been almost catastrophic. I enjoyed a glass of mead with my supper. The residual sugar could have been enough to push me out of fat burn. However, I checked last night and this morning and I am still going fine. Now, do I feel guilty for having the mead? Not a bit. The whole purpose of my journey is not to deny myself any good thing. The purpose is to build a life on healthy choices and there is a time to drink and a time to abstain. While it would probably be better for me to abstain until my program is over, I allowed myself to choose differently. This was a choice—it was mine to make. While I would never recommend it for anyone else trying to lose weight, the idea that I can only do things I would recommend to others is a fallacy. Recommending something is saying, “You should do this.” Instead, I would tell others, “You must decide for yourself.” It would be different if I told someone, “While on black currant melomelprogram you must not have mead,” and then turned around and had mead while on program—that would be hypocritical and unethical. I encourage each person to choose for themselves, and choose wisely with good information. If you want to stay on program and not risk getting bumped out of fat burn then you must not follow my example in this—the fact that it didn’t knock my body out of fat burn does not mean it will have the same effect on you. There are some things that will definitely have a certain impact on your health—regardless of the person involved. Then there are things that may have one impact on one and a very different impact on another. You must weigh your options and decide for yourself what is best. You must also decide if the enjoyment of your choice is worth the potential impact. Every choice in life involves exchanging one thing or benefit for another—if I do this, I will not be able to do that, etc.

Now, for the reason the rest of this two weeks will be hard. We are taking two trips. One will be to see several relatives in another state. This trip will be hard to stay on program because my relatives will not be on program, and I swore from the beginning not to make others submit to my new lifestyle—that is not fair to them. There are going to be times I must make a decision that will not be best for staying on track. My biggest goal will not be losing a certain amount over the next couple weeks. My primary goal will be keeping myself in fat burn and not making a choice that could spiral me down into carb cravings. After that my goal will be staying as close to program as possible. Beyond that will be the goal of losing something (weight wise) and staying fully hydrated the whole trip—not an easy proposition.

The second trip should be easier. We will be going to Galveston, TX for two nights. While there we will be eating out quite a bit—Gaido’s is hard to pass up! Then there are tourist activities that usually involve sugary snacks and drinks everywhere you look. These will be a temptation. I know it. I expect it.