Sneaky, sneaky!

Anyone on a regimented diet program; like Medifast, Atkins or various others; quickly learns to read labels looking for hidden little diet bombs that will blow any hope of progress. One such item is sugar in its various forms.

Many people think, “Time to get healthy.” So, they switch to “fat free” and “diet” items. They also decide to eat more veggies and fruits. Changing what you eat to reduce your intake of fat is admirable, and expanding your diet to fill up on healthier options, like fruits and veggies, is also fine. The problem is what the food producers do to these.

Most “fat free” items have sugar in various forms added. This is because it’s the fat which makes foods so satisfying. Without it, they would be bland and unsatisfying. Of course, since our bodies crave the simple fast energy provided by sugar, they can fool us into thinking the food is still as tasty by putting in sugar.

The most surprising for me was learning that many “healthy” foods are doused with sugar as well. Most canned green beans, for example, have added High Fructose Corn Syrup. So here you are trying to get healthier by eating more greens and you get torpedoed by hidden sugar. And it helps no one to start eating fruit only to also consume it with sugary syrup. In this case it would be better to take a vitamin supplement and fiber instead of the fruit.

Look for fresh and frozen greens, and fruits that are either fresh, frozen or packed in water alone. Always check the label. It is that little unexpected addition used by the processor that can just destroy your diet. Their bottom line and your waist line have very different needs.

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Progress so far–with pictures

IMG_20150123_063350Today I return to a previous practice. I will probably only do it for a couple weeks, and then return to weight lifting, but for now I’m posting weekly weight measurements. As my readers know I switched from my previous program (Medifast with Take Shape for Life) over to carb cycling. I did this not because the prior one didn’t work. Actually, it worked miraculously and I would have happily stayed on it until at my final goal weight. However, my medical situation is such (I have been taking testosterone for years) that I wanted to attack my BMI from the lean side for a while, in order to (1) increase my metabolism and (2) increase my own output of testosterone. This required weight training, so, as I’ve reported previously, I switched over to carb cycling. For the last couple months I’ve been on a purely weight training and higher carb cycle, and decided last Friday to switch over to low carb with cardio. I’ve been back on it for a week, and today’s weight was 260 lbs.

I had changed over around 264 lbs. and started lifting. My weight over the next couple months went up to 271 lbs. (my weight last Saturday). Now, before you think this was all fat increase, and was going backwards, understand that my clothes were all starting to fit looser, and everything was getting trimmed up—except for areas I was working to enlarge. This means I was gaining muscle. Body composition and form are far more important than numbers on a scale. The scale can only tell you “how much” is there, but has no idea “what” is there. Gaining fat is bad; gaining muscle is good. However, it is inevitable that one also puts on some fat while building muscle because of the need to consume higher carbs and even some simple sugars and starches to fuel the gains.

I decided it was time to change over for a bit to give some tendons and joints a chance to heal. I had been having problems on occasion with my right wrist, right elbow, right shoulder, left hip and right ankle (Good Lord! How did I get old?). I was able to work around these when it was just one at a time, however, at my last gym session all were making it very hard to work out. I decided to give them a break and concentrate, once again, on burning fat.

An old before and after picture from several months ago.

An old before and after picture from several months ago.

me at heaviest

An old before photo of me before starting this journey.

Now, some people are going to see the number 260 lbs. and think that is still extremely fat. Remember that each person carries fat in their own way. I am not a small guy. The last time I was small was sixth grade, when I had a huge growth spirt and became head and shoulders taller than the guys who had picked on me the year before—a nice turn of the tables. Keep in mind that I came from 425 lbs. lifetime highest, and was 385 lbs. just last Easter (nine months ago). I’ve lost 165 lbs. from my highest and, of that, 125 lbs. was lost in the aforementioned nine month period. I am going to post some pictures to show what I look like now in comparison to before. Understand that I have few pictures from before because I hated taking them. Also forgive me for some of the pictures. I have my shirt off in the latest. While I know in our culture it is acceptable for a man to go shirtless, there are three reasons I am very uncomfortable with it. My wife’s culture and that of many of my friends do not view this the same way. My wife will be very embarrassed by the photo because her family can see them and in her mind they are shameful. Also, I am a pastor, and many will see such displays by one in my position as out of place. I apologize—I assure you, God’s not shamed by this display. The third reason I am so uncomfortable, is that I am not a young man. I am almost fifty and when older men want to show themselves without a shirt on the internet the best answer is “Just say no,” (Geraldo Rivera, for example). The pictures are not meant to show off. They are meant only to show my current condition—to show progress. Wearing a shirt covers many details. Please excuse them. Think of them as medical images only. (I removed one).

So, I’ve dropped from 271 lbs. to 260 lbs. in a week. Keep in mind that only part of this is fat. A great deal will be from a loss of weight lifting inflammation and from reduction in muscle glycogen stores from being low carb.

Starting to see some abs.

Starting to see some abs.

Changing it up a bit–back to fat burning!

I’ve been debating over the last few weeks the best time to lay off the weights and go into a high cardio, low carb cycle—known as a micro-cycle. In carb-cycling you go back and forth between building muscle and burning fat. The two processes are dependent on different hormones and require different fuels and different amounts of consumption.

A micro-cycle involves a catabolic state. In this state the body is breaking tissue down into components—it breaks down fat if fueled and worked properly, but if not managed well will also break down muscle and other tissue. In this state you eat low carbs, do cardio exercises and maintain a calorie deficit (eating fewer calories than you actually burn) so your body burns fat stores.

A macro-cycle involves an anabolic state. In this state the body assembles components into tissue—building muscle and other tissues. It requires higher carbs—including some simple carbs—as well as a calorie surplus (eating more calories each day than your body actually uses). The problem is that anabolism will also deposit a certain amount of fat on the body. So, one rotates between the two states to keep down the fat while increasing lean muscle mass.

For the first few months I went back and forth doing a macro-cycle on Monday, Wednesday and Friday with weight training; and a micro-cycle on Tuesday and Thursday accompanied by cardio. I saw improvements to my core and some increases in muscle mass, with no actual increase of the scale. Then about a month ago, I switched to a purely macro-cycle (weight training and higher consumption). I did about an average of 6 hours a week in the gym on weights and core training with no cardio. This brought my weight up about five pounds over where it was, but I have also built muscle mass, especially in areas I had emphasized—chest, arms, shoulders and back. I also tightened up my legs, glutes and abs.

There have been problems. At one point I over did it on my lower back and had to work around that for a while. Now I am having some problems with tendons in my right ankle and right elbow as well as something hurting from time to time in my right shoulder. I have been working around these when needed, but have for a while thought it might be time to drop off weights back to burning fat to get closer to my final goal weight before Easter (2015)—my original target date. This will also have the benefit of allowing these hurting areas to mend for a while.

The other day I decided to finish out the month of January on a micro-cycle to burn fat. As I remove some more fat from my frame, I should get a better idea of just where I need to concentrate my efforts. This means I am back in a low carb cycle and going to replace weights with cardio (rotating between bicycle, treadmill and pool workouts). I’ll switch my five days of weights for five days of cardio (Saturday and Sunday will still be rest days. At the end of January I’ll decide whether to go back to the weights or continue in a fat burning stage (I will still have some weight to lose at that time).

Last Friday (today is Monday) I made this choice and finished out my final higher-carb, weight training day. Because I’ve been on this journey for just under a year, I wanted to test and see how quickly my body would switch back into fat burning mode–having been out of it for over a month. On Friday night, I allowed myself to go wild with carbs and calories. My wife and I went to see a movie and we shared a large tub of popcorn (to be honest my wife had some and I had the rest). We followed that with supper at Fuddruckers. I had fries, and a half pound burger (yes, I ate the bun) with cheese, mushrooms, and bacon (Mmmm! Bacon!). I also ate most of my wife’s fries (I love that woman)…in the name of research, of course. Those of you who’ve read my blog know I’ve discussed the importance of making eating choices before entering the restaurant. I did this on this trip as well. I went in intent on loading down with calories and carbs to see how quickly a low carb regimen would put me back into a catabolic fat burning state—without exercise over the weekend. The next morning I started a strict low carb eating pattern. By that evening, I was already registering mild fat burn on my Ketostix. I’ve monitored since and continue in that state.

I intend to stay in low carb to burn fat for the next two weeks. My plan is, as I said, to do daily cardio during the week (Saturday is for rest and recreation while, as a pastor, Sunday is a very busy work day). However, I don’t want to lose any muscle or reduce my newly developed core strength in any way so I intend to continue hitting certain muscle groups from time to time and doing regular kettlebell routines.

This means I’ll be back to posting weekly weight reports this coming Friday. I look forward to seeing what happens and where I end up. Saturday morning when I weighed, the scale registered 271 lbs. So I still need to lose about 40 lbs. to reach my personal goal.

Latest trip to the doctor

Yesterday (January 15, 2015), I saw my endocrinologist for the first time in four months. It was an interesting consultation because rather than see the one I’ve been with for two years the clinic put me with a new doctor. Since I wanted the doctor to have a full view of where I’ve come from (and because I know doctors are often too busy to read a new patient’s entire chart) I laid out my weight and condition a year ago so she would have a proper perspective on my condition today. She found it hard to believe that I had ever been 425 lbs. I did this partly because I was a bit worried about the blood results since I have had to change my diet so much from where I was several months ago.

You see, when I was doing the Medifast program through Take Shape for Life the diet was very low carb, low fat, high protein, and nutrient rich. I was easy to maintain this because the prepared foods conveniently provided all but one meal a day. However, since dropping off the program in September and switching to carb-cycling it has not been so easy. But, my emphasis was different so I had to switch.

When I first started, I was in terrible shape. I’m talking about even after I lost the weight. No part of the previous program included conditioning. But that is to be expected. I needed to lose weight far more than I needed to get in shape. Besides, I was in bad enough shape that any attempt to exercise before losing the weight would have just caused injury (425 lbs. is a lot of weight for your body to move—or stop, once it starts moving). Because of this, while on Medifast, I did little or nothing to build muscle, but only concentrated on burning fat.

After getting my weight down to a place where I could exercise without injury, I was still very out of shape and decided to slowly start changing that. For a couple months I rotated weight machines with cardio, doing higher carb on weight days and lower carb on cardio days. My cardio day was usually either an hour on the treadmill or 45 minutes in the pool. My weight days included doing a full spectrum of weight resistance machines so every major muscle group was hit each time. As my weight kept lowering and everything began tightening and toning, I started adding in some free weights.

After a couple months of toning and tightening, I decided it was time to start building lean muscle to attack my body’s BMI from the lean side. This would increase testosterone, raise my metabolism, and in this way burn fat faster when I returned to cardio and fat burning later. I have spent the last couple months doing a hard regiment of weights to build muscle. I’m in the gym five days a week. Saturday and Sunday are rest days for my body, because it is when you are at rest that your body repairs and builds muscle. Overworking causes problems as your body releases cortisol which will undo what you work hard to build. Tuesday and Thursday are leg days. Since these days are very hard on my back because it includes squats and stiff-legged deadlifts, I only go for about 45 minutes or so. Besides, the weights being moved on those days are much higher than on upper body days. I also do kettlebell goblet squats and kettlebell Turkish get-ups on those days to strengthen form and to build core. Monday, Wednesday and Friday I hit upper body (arms, shoulders, back, etc.). I have really been hitting shoulders, back and biceps hardest. This day is all free weights, along with kettlebell swings, and kettlebell snatch. Upper body days are 1 ½ hours in the gym—except on Friday which I hit extra hard so it gets close to 2 hours. I really want to deplete my muscle glycogen reserves before going into the weekend, and also give my muscles lots to repair. Besides, this makes it possible for my wife and I to go out or do something special on Friday, if we choose. If I’ve really thrashed my muscles, I may move slowly but I don’t have to be as careful about what I eat on dates with my wife because high carbs and even simple sugars will largely be gobbled right up replenishing muscle glycogen stores—at least much of it will.

This liberty on carbs was a bit of a hard learned lesson. I had such good results on low-carb and have had such a history of carb addiction and its related problems that I had developed a carb phobia. Unfortunately, when building muscle one the primary fuel is carbs. Because of my fear of carbs I tried staying “lower carb” without any simple sugars or starches while trying to build muscle. I was getting very minimal results. Once I learned the lesson about this I started cranking up the carb intake as an experiment. I did some study and tried hard to get most of my carbs from foods with a lower glycemic index and a lower glycemic load to regulate insulin. This too can go too far, because I learned that along with testosterone and human growth hormone, there is one other essential ingredient needed by your body to build muscle—insulin. It is insulin that tells your body whether to convert carbs into fat for later use or to push them into your muscles as glycogen. This means I had to actually undo habits I had developed over months and allow myself foods higher in sugars and carbs. Of course, it’s best to go with foods that are metabolized slowly to cause a more gradual and manageable uptick in insulin secretion rather than super simple sugars that will cause a major dump of insulin along with the sugar crash afterwards and trigger the cycle of carb craving.

It was this new addition to my diet that I found the most frightening as I waited in the doctor’s office wondering about my lab results. So, what were the results? Well, I’ve been on testosterone for over two years because my weight and sleep apnea trashed my endocrine system. Now, after losing the weight I can sleep without the C-PAP, and last visit the doctor decided to try lowering my testosterone injections. Now, the doctor has decided to try weaning me off of it, so it was reduced even further. We have to go slow, because my pituitary gland has become totally non-responsive because I was bringing in the testosterone from outside and it had no need to order my body to make it. Now, we have to slowly reduce it, and hopefully the pituitary will return to functioning normally—we find out in my next visit three months from now. I was pretty sure my T levels were getting better—and so was my wife—so there was no fear here.

My fear was about what my A1C would look like. When I started this quest for health, I was pre-diabetic. My doctor had warned me I was just a hairs breath from going into full blown diabetes, and would someday be insulin dependent if I didn’t make a change. My family has quite a history with diabetes and heart disease so I knew what these would entail. I wanted nothing to do with them. I feared that my higher carb consumption had brought this number back into bad territory. My prior time with the doctor showed me to be out of danger for diabetes. My latest numbers show my A1C unchanged—even with the higher carb intake. In her words, “You are in no danger of diabetes; your diet is right where it should be.” This was good to hear. I don’t think I’ve ever heard more beautiful words spoken by a doctor.

I still have things to work on. My plan is to switch from weights to cardio with low carb to move from an anabolic (muscle building) to a catabolic (fat burning) state and burn off the rest of my excess fat. I know I need to do it, but a couple things make me wary. One, I don’t want to lose any of the muscle that I’ve built. Two, I’ve developed an iron addiction—I absolutely love lifting weights! People told me that if I ever started working out I’d get addicted. I always told them they were high, because I hated working out, and had tried over and over but never enjoyed it. The secret was first losing the weight. Now I look forward to getting to the gym each day. If my day is busy enough to keep me from the gym I get very irritable. Often I’ll run into the house from my last appointment or meeting, quickly changed just to run back out the door to get to the gym. I even carry my weight belt, gloves and straps in the car, and if wearing workout pants and sweatshirt is appropriate, I’ll just dress for the gym all day and run straight there after any appointments. One day, my daughter said, “Oh my Gosh, Dad! You’re turning into one of ‘those guys’ at the gym.” Funny thing is she’s right.

Lose the weight! Start now! Forget about just making another New Year resolution to be abandoned at the first offer of a brownie or the first sight of a candy bar in the checkout line. Get into a program that works! But don’t just approach it as “a program” for now. It has to be a life change. Think of it as making a change for life, because if you are heavy and unhealthy as I was that is the only way to actually have a life.

Actions work where Magic fails

magic-hatThis recent New Year’s Day I found myself thinking about the mindset behind the celebrations. Why do people expend so much energy and emotion celebrating the changing of the page on a calendar? We get so worked up and excited because the imaginary numbers with which we mark the earth’s solar circuit has a new final digit.

The usual inspiration for the celebrations is two part: (1) relief that we made it through another year, and (2) anticipation that we will do more in the next year than just make it through. “We survived this year, hoorah!” “We’ll do more in the next year than in this, hoorah!”

But will this be anything more than an empty celebration? Anything more than an exercise in silliness and futility? The only reason to bother celebrating the changing of the year is to actually make January 1st and beyond differ from December 31st and before. This only happens if you make it happen.

Many people make New Year’s resolutions. These resolutions are so commonly made and commonly broken that it is a running cultural joke. People may resolve to be a better person, a better parent, a better (fill in the blank). These can be defined in various ways. Some may see being a better person as being a lighter one who has lost weight. Some may define it as being someone who does not have a certain bad habit, like smoking or drinking. After a few days, they lose their resolve and go back to being what they always were. The problem is not the definitions. The problem is that we forget the importance and power of the word “be.”

This “be” is a form of the phrase “am/are/is.” When I tell you “I am so-and-so” it means the qualities that define the ‘so-and-so’ define me. They define me in the same way and to the same extent that they define the ‘so-and-so.’ When we say I will be something, it means the characteristics that describe the something will equally, and in the same way describe me. The “I will” makes it future tense—something that is going to happen. It is a way of saying, those characteristics will define me someday, though they may not define me at present. But this statement can be either wishful thinking or a statement of intent. If it is wishful—they will hopefully define me someday—then it is not going to happen, unless you believe you will be transformed magically into a better, skinnier, wealthier, happier you.

To actually change, the “will be” has to become the “am.” I have to take the future tense and move it to the present. This only happens if you take intentional action to make it happen. You have to change the qualities that define you. To do this you have to know those qualities, what they look like, and how they compare to your current qualities. If you want to be skinnier, then you have to know what a skinny person does (how they eat, how they exercise, etc.) then do those things. If you want to be financially secure you have to know what financially secure people do (what they spend their money on, how they make a living, etc.). If you want to be a better parent, then you have to know what good parents do.

Once you know the target qualities, you have to take an honest inventory of your own qualities and see where you fall short. If a skinny person eats lower carb, lower fat and lower calories each day than you do, then you have to change the way you eat. If a skinny person works out more than you do, then you will have to get off the couch. If a financially secure person spends less than they make, but you spend more than you make, then you have to change either your income or your spending habits. The same is true of any change you want to make.

This is why resolutions fail. They are too often grounded in magical thinking—“Saying I am going to be (fill in the blank) transforms me into that.” No, it doesn’t! If you want to actually change in the New Year, the first thing to change is the reliance on magical thinking. Understand that positive changes only follow intentional positive actions. Yes, those actions begin as positive thinking, but the thinking must inspire action. Until the action happens, no change is possible—neither will it ever be possible until you take action.

If you made a resolution take out a sheet of paper and write it down. Think about the goal (happier, skinnier, nicer, wealthier you). On one side of the page write down qualities that define that goal and on the other side write down your qualities that do not match up. For example if you want to be thinner, perhaps on one side you write, “A thinner person exercises regularly.” Across from this you may write, “I don’t exercise regularly.” Now you have a list of change you must make to transform yourself.

Once you have the list of necessary changes, it’s time to decide how to make those changes. For example, a financially secure person spends less than they make. If you spend more than you make, but your goal is to be more financially secure, then you have to change this. You have to look at your own life, understand the only options are spend less or make more. You have to decide which is possible for you. It’s the same with losing weight. If I want to lose weight, I either have to burn more calories and carbs through activity or reduce the amount that go into my body. There are no magical options!

You can either waste time making meaningless resolutions, or you can act upon them and make real changes to your life. The choice is yours.