Pi$$ Poor Prior Planning

We’ve all heard the saying, “failure to plan is a plan to fail.” In the Army we referred to The Four P’s: Pi$$ Poor Prior Planning. Today at the gym I found myself thinking about the importance of having a plan in striving for health and fitness.

Since I’ve switched from weight loss to mass gain I am doing less cardio, more weight training and eating larger portions to fuel the gains which are my current goal. When I started out in the gym I found the easiest way was to go to a line of machines and do a full course from the first in that line through the end. This is easier since the machines are usually laid out to work one muscle group and then the next. It was easy because I knew where to start, where to go next—and very important—when I would be done. This latter point is paramount when just starting a workout routine and not being in the habit of hitting the gym.

Now, because I kind of reached the limits of where the machines would take me, I am moving more to free weights. The reason for this is core conditioning and practical strength issues. While the machines are great for concentrating on a specific muscle or muscle group, they work only those muscles and usually hold your body fairly stable. Free weights are very different. While working one muscle group you must also use others to support your body and maintain proper form. In this way you work on the muscles you target but you reap the benefit of strengthening the surrounding areas.

The problem with doing this though is a lack of a plan. The machines were laid out in order: start here, go here, finish over there, and go home. The free weights are a jumble of steel and benches often laid out haphazardly. There is no direction, no actual plan built into the area. This means I can either wing it, doing whatever I feel like at the moment, or I can lay out a plan ahead of time. If I don’t take the time to plan, it is too easy to get discouraged, bored, or side tracked. It is especially hard since, unlike the machines, the weights have no little picture telling you what to actually do. Without a plan the favorite things get worked on and everything else gets neglected. Before long, discouragement creeps in and you fall off the fitness bandwagon.

These thoughts came to mind today while talking to a friend about her health and weight and thinking about my own experience. One major help for success is having a plan. Too many approach their health and their weight with the mindset of “I’ll try this and see what happens; then, I add this; perhaps I’ll do that.” We trade the food buffet for the fad diet buffet. Someone tells us the answer is Apple Cider Vinegar so we add that. We are told “Juicing is the answer.” Others claim, “You will never lose weight without (fill in the blank).” One nice thing about a plan is that we can tell people “I’m on a program and will stay with it. Thanks for the advice but it doesn’t work with my program.”

I had people tell me, “You don’t need a diet! You just need to watch how much you eat.” To which I responded, “Isn’t that what a diet is?” You see a diet or a weight loss program is a plan for how to go from heavy to light, from fat to slim, from unhealthy to healthy. It is a roadmap. It is not a master. It is a guardrail keeping you from falling off into the abyss of another failure.

Can you lose weight without a plan? Yes, you can. You can also lose weight without even trying, but how many of us can rely on that fact to get healthy. A plan (a formal program, if you will) helps in the following ways:

  1. It allows you worry less about each step.
  2. It allows you to think long term without getting discouraged by what is right in front of you.
  3. It allows you to know the path to the goal—where you are going is useless information without knowing how to get there.
  4. It allows you to be more disciplined.

This last is very important. One of the things I did was set a reminder on my phone for every time I was supposed to eat. This way I always knew when to eat, but also knew when not to eat. If I just wanted something I could say, “Nope. The alarm hasn’t gone off yet.” I could also look to see just how long until my next meal. Resistance is easier when you know it’s only three hours between meals (part of the plan). It is also easier to be disciplined when you know what your next meal is going to be (the plan, again). When you have planned it ahead of time, and maybe even done the largest part of the cooking ahead of time, it is easier to not eat just out of convenience—“I need to eat something but have nothing prepared, so I’ll pick up a hamburger just this once.” One thing I did was to cook a whole roast and portion it out for meals so each day I could just grab a piece of roast and add some proper green veggies to have my meal if time was short. No temptations from convenience.

The first point about knowing the next step is also important. Do I need to eat 30 grams of carbs, and then some protein this meal? Did I have too many carbs in the last meal? Did I get enough protein today? All of these can be a problem without proper planning. A good program takes care of most of these things for you. Forget about the fads your skinny friends will all regale you with and find a clinically studied and prepared program that works for your health needs.

My program was Medifast meals on the Take Shape For Life Program. It worked for me. I recommend it highly to anyone. Does this mean I believe this is the only program? Of course not! There are others. I want to encourage you to make a plan, to chart a course to health. For many, like me, the best course is one that many before have taken.

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Stumbling into Health–Not Likely!

latest before and afterIt’s been a while since I posted a before and after photo. I took a selfie this morning and edited it into an old photo that was taken right around the time I started my program. Over the last few weeks I’ve transitioned off of the weight loss regiment I was on, and am now concentrating on weights and increasing muscle mass. Once I get where I want to be there, I’ll go back to burning fat down to my desired weight.

The changes, both physical and psychological, are hard for me to take in. I compare today to back then and I can’t fathom how I ever got that way. Even though I am no longer in fat burn, I don’t have cravings like before. Yes, at times I just want something to eat. However, I don’t want sweets or crave carbs. When I was heavy, my Kryptonite was Ice Cream. The only ice cream I’ve had since Easter was about a month ago when I was experimenting with Bananas Foster and I had it twice, with no need to have it again. Personally, I don’t care if I ever have it. I used to love beer. I still love the taste of it. But it dawned on me that I no longer care if I ever have another.

I have to admit that at times I have to eat things I would not ordinarily eat on my current eating plan—or any healthy eating plan. For example, a few days ago I was at a meeting where the choice for lunch was sandwiches or sandwiches. So I figured I would have to order a sandwich. However, there was a problem. I shouldn’t have bread. I don’t want to go back to the carb cravings. About 10 years ago I lost a lot of weight on the Atkins diet and when I dropped off I went into major carb consumption mode, eating so much bread, pasta and sweets that I quickly gained the lost weight back with an additional 25 lbs. I see where I am now, and where I used to be and I do not want to go back. So, you might be saying “Then eat the filling and throw away the bread.” I have always had a hard time doing that. I can give you several reasons why I went ahead and ate the bread, but none of that really matters. I chose to eat the whole sandwich—I chose a 6” rather than a 12”, at least.

The nice thing is that I find at such times, when I allow myself to eat things that aren’t the best choice, I don’t enjoy them. I find myself thinking about what could happen. I find myself wondering what it might be doing to my hormone balances and what I may have to do to bring things back into proper state. Will I start craving bread? Will I need to go into Ketosis again to balance things back out?

I know many reading this will take exception to that. Most people don’t want to give such thoughts to their food and their health. We want to be healthy, but we want to be mindlessly healthy—no work, no thought, no learning; just “eat, drink and be healthy,” if you will. The problem is that with our lifestyles and the foods available to us, this is just not possible.

We live in the most blessed time ever in human history—especially if we live in the United States. If I wanted something to eat at 2 AM and had nothing in the house, I could get out in my car and drive to any of a hundred places in our city that will still be serving. We have 24 hour a day groceries and fast food. Food is everywhere. Neither are our foods today really tied to seasons. I’ve walked in the grocery store in February and found piles of watermelons for sale. When I was a kid this just wasn’t possible. You got certain foods when they were in season and you wouldn’t see them again until the next harvest.

I remember in 1989, when my wife was expecting our middle child, she wanted watermelon and asked me to go get her some. Problem is that we were in Korea, it was March, and it was the middle of the night. I got out and scoured the village market finally finding a small shop with some small (tiny) watermelons. The shop owner was not happy to be woken by a big American banging on his door wanting a watermelon—good thing I spoke enough Korean. That little bitty watermelon cost me hours of searching and $20 (in 1989!!!!). Not to mention the cost of the taxi because it was freezing outside. But my wife got her melon. We no longer have these problems. If I really want anything, it can probably be quickly and easily found.

Not too long ago, most communities only had a few ethnic selections. I grew up in Fort Worth and there was our food or Mexican food. If you wanted something really special there was also a German restaurant in town. Of course, there were likely others. But we just did not have the exposure to other foods like we do today. We can find the richest, most decadent, most enticing foods from all over the world and drive no more than a few minutes.

This ready access to abundant foods is not the only change. Few of us work as hard as our ancestors did. I spend most of my day working behind a desk. My father spent his days roofing. My maternal grandfather spent his days behind a plow. Yes, some still work hard. But even our hard jobs today are easier with the many labor saving devices we have created. I still remember watching a home improvement show with my wife years ago. She had never seen a nail gun before. She asked what it did. She thought maybe it made a hole for the nail. When I told her it actually shot a nail into the boards like a gun so there was no need to swing a hammer, she said, “Americans! Always finding an easier way to do everything!” Well, it’s true. We do find the easiest and most efficient way to do things. Even when we work hard, we don’t work as hard as our ancestors and don’t burn as many calories as they, so what makes us think we can eat like they did?

Back when food was limited to what was readily available and when work was hard and toilsome we could simply eat whatever was available and whatever amounts we felt like eating. Some foods had to be intentionally carb and fat heavy in order to get enough sustenance. This is no longer the case for us. We have to think differently about our foods. We have to think differently about what we put into our bodies.  We need to learn about our bodies, and our needs. We need to understand what each bite can do to us.

I am a detail guy. I overthink everything. I like to know ‘the nuts and bolts’ of things. I find articles in magazines and online. I read books on the subject. I am trying to lay down a foundation of knowledge that will help me to make quick healthy choices in the future. In time, these choices become second nature.

Don’t just let your health (or ‘un-health’) happen. Take control of your body and of your life by first taking control of what you eat. However, you cannot control what you eat unless you first understand what you eat. You have to know what is healthy and what it unhealthy and, if you are like me, it is helpful to also know why. Commit yourself to controlling your food and not being controlled by it. For most of us health is not going to just happen. It takes effort to attain, and effort to maintain.

Concentrating on Your own Positive

Since changing my goals and concentrating on gaining muscle, I have been in a Carb Cycling macrocycle (meaning more than one day per week consuming higher carbs and lifting weights). I find myself wanting to get my scale weight down. But I can’t build muscle and worry about the scale at the same time. Building muscle can push weight up, since muscle actually weighs more than the same volume of fat. I have to keep reminding myself that I have an end goal to reach. I want to raise my lean body mass and then lower my fat content down to reach a specific BMI.

One reason for doing this is my testosterone. When I was at my heaviest, my weight and sleep apnea all worked together to create a perfect storm against my endocrine system. My body was making so little testosterone that it was practically useless. On top of that, the testosterone I was making was of no use. Fat cells around the abdomen actually convert testosterone to estrogen. My sleep apnea reduced the production of testosterone, and then my excess fat took what was produced and converted it to a hormone that would do even more harm to my system.

Losing weight has helped my sleep apnea. I am no longer using my C-PAP. My testosterone levels are great, but not perfect so the doctor has started reducing my weekly dosage—which is nice because it is a painful, self-administered shot and the lower the dose, the less pain.

I decided to concentrate on weights and muscle gain in order to increase my natural testosterone production. The problem is that I spent so many months thinking about the scale and looking for lower numbers, it is hard to see the scale make no changes in over a month.

I have to remind myself of my current goal—get off the T-shot, and increase lean mass. This means looking at the tape and skin pinch more than scale numbers. I have increased my chest by around 3 inches. My calves have increased from 18 inches to 20 inches. My thighs have trimmed to 27 inches at the widest and tightened considerably. My waist has stayed almost the same. My shoulders are expanding and widening. All of this in about a month and a half. Funny thing is that my shirts had gotten down to XL size, but these are now too tight in the chest and I need to move back up to XXL. Of course this is much better than the 5X I used to wear. My chest was 56 inches back then. It went down to 44 inches (I list 12 inches of fat around my chest)—the smallest I remember it being since high school. It is now up to 47 inches.

I have to keep in mind the goals that matter are mine. Others would look at my scale number and say, “You have to get that down.” They don’t know anything about my actual lean mass (which is heavier than what the traditional BMI chart says should be my healthy weight). They don’t know about the need to gain muscle to increase T production. Worrying about what someone else thinks you need is useless. Set your own goals and work towards them. If others can’t support the goals you set for yourself, don’t talk to them about this area of your life. Even after all this time on program, I still have friends whom I know not to speak to about my weight or health. I know their contributions are useless, so I protect the friendship by ignoring the stupid advice and silly statements. I try to concentrate on my own goals and remind myself constantly of what I am working towards. Since my weight is unchanged but my muscle mass has increased, this means I am “exchanging” fat for muscle—a positive. Concentrating on the positive is always helpful.