Weight Report and Some thoughts on Depression

IMG_20150913_070233When I returned to my program, on September 6, 2015, my weight had gone back up to about 278 lbs. (about a 23 lb. increase, with most of it after rotator cuff surgery). I remember it being within a pound or so of that, but didn’t take a photo. Part of the reason for not taking a picture is that I wanted to get back into fat burn and properly hydrated before reporting my weight. The reason for waiting until properly hydrated over several days is because (as I reported in the past) my weight will differ by as much as 5-7 lbs. Inflammation, as joints and organs hold water to maintain proper function adds weight. There is also the additional weight of a full bowel—sorry to share that.

This past Sunday (September 13) I weighed in at 266.8 lbs. This might seem like a large drop for just one week—which it is—except that it likely includes additional loss for the above reasons. However, I usually lose very fast on this program, at least for the first few months. After several months my metabolism will slow down to compensate for the long term calorie count. But in the first few months my body happily burns major fat.

A couple days in, I stopped feeling any hunger pains. There was the occasional grumbling tummy, but that will come and go any time. After three days, I was in fat burn and my energy levels were back up. My motivation is high and I am very pleased with the program. This actually brought up some thoughts about another time I tried to go back on program.

Last spring, for various reasons I decided to go back on program and, a week or so in, I became terribly depressed. It really came on suddenly. It was also quite extreme. That is one of the reasons I dropped off the radar blog-wise. It got bad enough, that I thought I might need to seek help. I’ve used traditional and over the counter methods for years to counteract depression, and they usually work very well (I’ll share some later). This past spring nothing seemed to work, except for dropping off of program. Even that only brought me out of “the deep dark”, into the “not as deep and dark.” I was still fairly depressed. There was an element of it that continued until recently. This helped me to figure out what happened.

Low Carb diets can affect our serotonin levels and cause lowered moods—and for some even a depressive mood.  I don’t want to say it can cause depression, because depression is something medical. If you suspect depression, see the doctor. I can talk about moods and recommend ways to improve those, but really am not offering advice on depression. I am only offering what I have learned about myself. Please take it in that spirit.

I went back on program right about the same time that there were some new stresses in my professional and personal life. Those stresses and the program joined up with it being the time my doctor lowered my testosterone dose by a third to see if my body would make up for it. It didn’t. Instead I got very low on T-level, and only recently found that out by my latest blood tests (I’ll share some of what I’ve learned about testosterone later). The doctor recently raised my dose back up and confirmed this as the cause of my symptoms.

One problem with health, and trying to return from an unhealthy state, is that there are so many different factors. One thing good for you can actually compound with something else. These together can have an undesirable effect. Throw in three or four changes together and your world can seem to come apart. Take things slow. Don’t try to improve everything at once. We want everything to be undone immediately and to return right away to that healthy young man or woman we once were. The thing is, I didn’t get to be over 400 lbs. with all the health issues I had overnight. It took decades to get there. I hope it doesn’t take decades to fix it—especially since I am not so sure how many decades I have left. The thing to remember is that my goal may be total health. But that is long term goal over the distant horizon. My goal today is to be healthier than I was yesterday; healthier than I was last week; healthier than I was last month; healthier than I was last year…

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Renewed Determination

The five months since my last post have been full, interesting and educational—and some of it depressing. You may have noticed that I dropped off the radar, blog wise. Actually, I’ve had many things going on and several reasons for not posting on this site. Well, I’m back. I have a specific reason for coming back. One thing important is that I’ve learned much about maintaining weight and the difficulties of going from unhealthy to healthy.

In April, I dropped off of program. It wasn’t intentional. My first plan was to lose the weight, which I did pretty well through Medifast. I lost the weight quickly and learned a great deal about myself. Then I switched, in the fall, to lifting weights to build muscle mass—to continue the weight loss from the other direction, gaining muscle to increase fitness and metabolism.

My job changed in ways that made it difficult to get to the gym regularly. This was more of an excuse. Had I truly wanted to make it, I could have. Of course, there were two reasons for not wanting to make it to the gym. One was an issue with my testosterone level (which I’ll address further down page) and the other was arm pain—not only when lifting, but constantly. Having spent several years in the military, my instinct was to just work through it. This had worked in many other situations. But, no matter what I did the arm only deteriorated.

So, I thought if I laid off a few weeks my arm would get better and I could just go back to it. Instead, I discovered that it didn’t get any better—it continued to get worse. During this time I lost the habit of going to the gym. A good habit must be reinforced just as strongly as a bad habit must be resisted. If you don’t go, you develop the habit of not going.

In June, I received confirmation of what I suspected. I had a torn rotator cuff. I had learned a lesson too late. That lesson was to always always always (perhaps I should say ‘always’ a few more times) lift with proper form. If you’re not going to take the time to learn and use proper form, then don’t lift! On June 23rd, I had corrective surgery to fix the rotator cuff and remove a bone spur from my shoulder. I have been in recovery since hen—I suppose physical therapy is a form of gym, right? It really stinks going from lifting weights in the quest to build muscle to working with pulleys and bands trying to regain the ability to raise my arm above my waist. If you haven’t had rotator cuff surgery, please take it off your bucket list. I assure you it isn’t fun.

During the first few months, even without the gym, I maintained my weight with little effort. Some habits were easy. I still avoid most sugars. I try to limit carbs on most days, but allow myself splurge days. I also avoided those foods which are simply not good for maintaining health (notice the past tense in that sentence). This will bring up another lesson learned, later.

I kept telling myself I was going to go back on program later and I’d go back to the gym as soon as my arm was good enough. This morning (Sunday, Sept 6, 2015), because of how my shirt no longer fit, I said to my wife, “That’s it! I’m back on program right this minute!” I went in and ordered more supplies and notified my coach. Fortunately, I have enough Medifast supplies stored to tide me over until the new shipment comes.

The issue of my testosterone was less of a lesson and more of a discovery. Early in the year my endocrinologist tried lowering my testosterone lower than ever. I was doing well, with lots of energy and motivation. This all changed with the new dosage. It took me several weeks to put the lower dose and my newly acquired lack of energy and motivation together. Then it was a couple months until my next round of tests. A couple weeks ago my doctor found that my low levels matched my symptoms and raised my dosage back up to the higher level. We did an MRI to see if there was a pituitary tumor causing problems. This showed my pituitary gland is fine. The doctor and I agree that the problem is that I still have too much body fat (more on this and testosterone in a later post). I should have continued with the Medifast to continue reducing fat and waited to start weight training. Lessoned learned.

Now with my T levels adjusted and my renewed intent, it’s time to get going back on the path of healthy choices. An important part of this will be this blog. The blog gave me accountability. When facing decisions, it helps to consider what I’ll report in this blog—good news, bad news, success or failure.

If you have dropped off your program of health, get back on program. Don’t let anything keep you from it. “When it comes to health, tomorrow never comes and later is a lie.”

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.

Looking Back While Thinking Ahead

New me, old pants

New me, old pants

Well, today is December 31, the last day of 2014. While I didn’t start my quest for a healthier me on New Year’s Day, it has defined most of my year. For this reason, I thought no other picture was as illustrative of the past year as one of today’s me wearing my old pants from this time last year. The waist is 54 inches (and not the largest I’ve had to wear). I now wear a waist size of 38.

I’m still working on building lean mass with weight training. Funny thing is, I find I have a problem unlike any I’ve previously experienced. I am having a hard time eating enough to fuel the gains. I find myself either unable or unwilling to eat enough. Part of this is because my tastes have changed—as have my normal volumes. Another part is because, while I want to have the gains, it is normal for those building muscle to also put on some extra fat. Body builders alternate gaining and cutting routines, where they go through a time putting on muscle and then switch up to burn off the fat that accrues. While I am not Body Building, I have to keep this in mind. The problem for me is twofold. One, losing fat is far harder than putting it on. I don’t want to go back to struggling to take off a fresh layer of fat. I already have some to lose once I build up. I switched over to building, not because I was down to my body mass goal, but to approach the goal from the lean side for a while. I’ve always planned to go back and finish the fat burning process afterwards. The second part of the problem is that I am an old acquaintance of carb craving and insulin resistance. I don’t want to undo any of the chemical balances I’ve worked so hard to maintain.

This concern has brought on a different form of obsessing. I was warned that I would likely see an increase in the scale numbers with weight training as I increase muscle mass. I know this is natural, and inevitable. Muscle weighs more than fat, so as I put on more—even if a bit of fat is consumed in the process—I will go heavier on the scale. Also, the different hormones involved in each process—anabolic for growth and catabolic for fat burning—can swing the scale while keeping one from losing much fat while building muscle. I don’t pretend to understand all of this—I’m still learning—but I am trying to get a grip on it. However, even knowing this, it feels a bit discomfiting to see the scale edge back up to around 270 lbs. I plan to give myself one more month on weights and then switch back to a cycle mixing cardio/low carb days with weights/regular carb days. After a few weeks there, I’ll lay aside the weights (other than for maintenance) and switch to all cardio/low carb for a few weeks to burn fat and try to hit my final goal by Easter 2015.

It’s been an interesting year where I have come to know more about myself. I also at times find myself saddened by all the years of ill-health and lack of energy suffered due to undisciplined eating. I try not to imagine the things I could have accomplished if I had protected my health from an earlier age. But, this is no time for regrets. I am quite happy with the transformation, thus far.

Weird Changes, and New Challenges

It’s interesting that after so many years of eating too much, and of eating all the wrong things, I find I have a new problem. Like I shared before, I have started lifting to increase muscle mass. While my weight has stayed almost identical since the change over, I am slimming and firming. My waist has gone down from 40 to 38, and now those pants are starting to feel loose. My muscles are more defined, and my stamina has greatly improved. The problem that I mentioned is a very new one for me. I find that I am not eating enough. I need to raise my caloric intake—while maintaining a nutritious blend. My metabolism has gone up enough that I just burn everything off. I have had to increase the frequency of my meals from every 3 to 4 hours to one every 2 to 3 hours.

Fortunately, I now find that I like the things that were once hated. I love healthier foods and find them quite tasty. Part of this is likely from my getting off of sugar. I was so used to processed sugars impacting all my foods that I couldn’t stand fruit because the sweet just didn’t “taste quite right.” I’ve grown to love sweet potatoes and various fruits. My wife recently bought a small container of snack sized little tomatoes. A few months ago, if you had told me I would enjoy eating them straight as a snack, I would have said you were dreaming.

Something like this happened years ago when I quit smoking. I noticed that after a while, after all the tar had been cleansed from my taste buds that everything tasted differently—flavors were more intense. It is amazing to think of all the simple pleasures we are robbing ourselves of simply because of unhealthy choices. We are used to considering the impact on length of life (due to early death) and quality of life (due to health problems). However, we seldom consider how many of the simple things we lose because of unhealthy choices.

The Dieter’s Challenge

Lamar's Donuts

Yesterday I faced a particularly strong temptation. It was Sunday, and every few weeks the ladies will bring in a selection of donuts for everyone to enjoy with coffee. I have always loved donuts—particularly the cream-filled, chocolate covered bundles of happiness.

Of course, on my program I avoid simple carbohydrates especially sugars. Usually such things hold no temptation for me, after so long on program. For example, for the last few days we’ve had a box of Christmas cookies on the counter brought home by my wife from a volunteer project at her work. I pass those several times a day and have not the slightest desire to eat a single one. Now, if they were Girl Scout Thin Mints that would probably be a different story. I’m probably the only man who would run away screaming if approached by a Girl Scout because I know those little chocolate mint cookies are like crack cocaine—try just one and you wake up surrounded by green boxes with a serious sugar hang-over.

Most Sundays when the church has donuts I am not fazed. However, for several reasons that combined perfectly yesterday I found myself strongly tempted to have one. I found them talking to me every time I entered the kitchen for a refill of coffee. Now, I’m no stranger to talking food. Food has spoken to me most of my life. Bacon often speaks to me and I am quite fluent in bacon. My wife will make a plate of bacon and give me three pieces—like that could ever be enough bacon. But then she leaves the rest there on the counter and the conversation begins:

“Hey Ken. Look at us down here.”

“No. I don’t want to look.”

“Oh. Come on. You know you want some.”

“No. I can’t. I’m on a diet.”

“Come one guy. Do us a favor. We’re lonely just sitting here.”

“Sorry. I can’t help you.”

“Come on. Please. Please eat us.”

“Well….maybe just one more piece.”

Then when my wife enters the room I hear: “Where’d that whole plate of bacon go?” To which I can only be honest and respond, “They were lonely and made a convincing argument that I should send them all to be with their friends in my belly.”

I speak fluent bacon, and yesterday I discovered that I am also conversant in donut. So what is a guy to do when faced with such a temptation?

I handled the temptation by approaching it as a challenge. I knew I would be faced with the donuts for several hours and would often be alone with the little tempting fiends. I decided to challenge myself to make it the whole morning without having a single one. I dared myself, if you will, to not have any. I saw this as a chance to prove to myself that I had changed and would not just resort back to unhealthy eating habits. The good news is that I made the whole morning without eating a single donut. When you find yourself tempted with foods you should not have, remind yourself of why you should not have them and then challenge yourself to not give in to the temptation.

Of course, bacon is such a superpower that it always wins the challenge. If challenged by bacon the only choice is to run, or surrender. I’ve actually had a piece of bacon forcefully open my mouth and jump in. Bacon suicide is not a pretty thought, but a real phenomenon. Don’t believe me? Neither did my wife.