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.”

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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.

Slaying the Scale Monster!

The scale can be a real monster sometimes. Using it to know where you are and if you are going in the right direction is helpful. However, it can also be a real kick in the shorts when you are sure everything is doing well, you step on the scale and it attacks—giving you a number far above what you expected. It is hard to not get worried. There are so many things that can cause a scale fluctuation—inflammation, dehydration, etc. But one can still get quite scared and even emotional when that scale doesn’t say what you want it to say.

To prevent this, you can weigh infrequently. Rather than weighing every day you could pick a day of the week to weigh. If that day, you happen to be in a small scale fluctuation it is likely to be after a week of weight change so even a number higher than it should be will be welcome. This is a good method when doing the same thing over a period of months and you are confident it works. When you are weighing like this, you aren’t trying to figure out if your plan is working. You are just checking to see where you are. This isn’t as helpful when transitioning or changing things up. During these times, it may be necessary to weigh every day—as I have been doing over the last few weeks.

Recently, I transitioned over from trying to lose the maximum amount of weight in the shortest possible time, to trying to build muscle. I reached one goal and now have set another different one. Because of this I transitioned over from MediFast on the Take Shape for Life program (which saved my life and set me on a good path), to using Carb Cycling with a combination of weight and cardio days. Unlike the earlier program, in which everything was so well laid out and easy to follow, the new program takes a lot of study, practice and learning to know what to do. This means there are more chances of screwing up. Since this program means eating more carbs, and I have a history of carb cravings, there is a great deal of apprehension when adding in new things, and watching the scale helps to tell if I am going the right direction, and weighing each day has become part of this.

To handle this I adopted a practice similar to a skill learned in the Army. In the Army I served as an Infantryman for eight years. One skill that you learn is calling in artillery on a target. Artillery is an area target, meaning that you aren’t trying to hit a target on the nose. You are trying to get a special projectile within a certain distance of a target (within the effective area). In the days before laser guided and smart munitions, you began by calling in initial coordinates; then, the gun bunnies fire a shell; the observer sees where it hits, calls in corrections and then another shell is fired. The observer tries to walk the shell impact onto the target with a technique known as bracketing. For example, the first shell lands 100 yards north of the target. Call in a correction and the next shell lands 100 yards south of the target. Correct the next shell back to the north for 50 yards and see if it hits.

When I use the scale I have an area that is acceptable: “If I weight between A and B, then everything is fine.” I also want this area to slowly move down. I notice over time that the lower number of my acceptable range slides down and the upper number is lower and lower. This way, scale fluctuations are built into the expectation. If I am supposed to weigh 260, then anything between 255 and 265 is acceptable. Slowly over time this becomes 250 to 260. For some it might be a ten pound spread. For others it might be five.

In my new program, big week to week changes in the scale just don’t happen—this really makes me miss being on the full TSFL program. Seeing that big drop of pounds each week was nice. However, my goal now is muscle building and changing my body fat percentage by both reducing fat and raising lean mass. One thing that helps to monitor now, is regular tape measuring. For example, my weight hasn’t changed much over the last three weeks. However, my clothes are loose. My muscles seem to be tightening. In my arms and legs I can start to see some new definition. Now I still weight regularly, but I find a tape measure a far more useful tool. Besides measuring various locations, I like to give myself regular tape tests. I use the military tape test because it is the easiest. I know it is not the most accurate, but it gives me a good picture of direction and change that the scale may not see. I found an app for my phone so I simply enter the measurements and it gives me my range.

Even though my scale hasn’t registered any big changes—just a very gradual movement—the tape shows a different story. According the tape I am now out of the obese range and into the acceptable range. This means I am not yet “fit” but would pass a military tape test. That is progress. If you are working and working but not seeing change where you expect then look somewhere else. Are the scales not moving? Well, are your clothes looser? Are your body dimensions changing? Have things disappeared? For example, one day it seemed I wasn’t making progress until it dawned on me that my “moobs” were gone. Yesterday, I realized my “love handles” were gone. One day I looked down and realized I could see the bones in my knees. The fat that usually surrounded them was just not there.

There are health targets to shoot for other than numbers on a scale.