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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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.

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.

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.

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.