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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Depletion of Will Power

A great deal of my reading, both professionally and personally is in the area of ethics. Ethics is often described as “The study of ‘How should I live?’” It delves into issues of honesty, propriety, temptation, etc. It is fun when this interest sheds light on my own struggles with weight and food temptation. Don’t be surprised, because if it is unhealthy and harmful to eat to excess, then isn’t doing so unethical? If I should eat in moderation, then eating immoderately is to behave unethically.

One book I’ve been reading is Dan Ariely’s “The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty: Why we lie to everyone—especially ourselves.” It’s a fascinating look at honesty and the things that trip up our efforts to live as we believe we should. In a chapter I read this morning, Dan discusses Cognitive Depletion and its effect on temptation. It can be quite enlightening for those of us struggling with dietary temptations.

Just as a muscle can be worn out through use, our will power can be worn out through activity. We live stressful, tempting lives. All through our day we face temptations and make decisions. We exercise our will to overcome these temptations. Funny thing is we do this with all sorts of activities, not just our diet. We face decisions at work. Often there is a temptation to cut corners and we have to will ourselves to resist. We might face decisions on the road home and have to resist the temptation to react to other drivers. With each use of our will power ‘muscle’ it becomes depleted and by the end of the day we may find ourselves without the strength to overcome the next temptation. Often this “bridge too far” temptation is dietary. We know we shouldn’t have it. We know we will do better without it. We know we are healthier without it. However, we quickly find ourselves giving in to temptation and eating what we should not.

How can we overcome this? There are a couple ways. If you can manage your day to have the most stressful events in the morning or right after breaks when you are refreshed, this might help. But let’s be honest, if stress could so easily be managed we wouldn’t really be stressed, now would we? A better way is to be aware of what is going on. Be aware that after stressful times temptations take on new dimensions and what was once easy to overcome becomes harder. Prepare for this beforehand. For example, you can empty the tempting foods out of your house. Remove the sweets, the chocolates and the ice cream. Don’t keep them around to tempt. Perhaps you should remove the Pizza place’s magnet from your refrigerator door so you don’t get tempted to just dial up a large with everything—including double guilt. Keep a selection of healthy options quickly available so the choice is made beforehand. If you find it difficult to pass by a certain restaurant then on stressful days you may need to drive home a different way.

One of the best defenses is being able to recognize a problem coming on. Highly stressful days with lots of choices can deplete your ability to make good decisions. Be prepared. The good thing, also like a muscle, as you overcome temptations and get used to eating healthy it can become easier to make those good choices over time. However, it is unlikely you will ever be beyond the siren call of certain foods and free of any and every temptation. So make a plan and keep an eye out on those really stressful days.

Emotional Eating

Before I started this journey, my doctor recommended meds to encourage weight loss. I have always been one who disliked being dependent on anything, especially something that come from a pill bottle that will almost always have unwanted side effects. Because of this, I asked him, “What does the medicine do?” He said it would reduce my appetite to help me be less hungry, reducing the amount eaten and lowering weight. I pointed out that I knew myself well enough to realize that my problem wasn’t eating when hungry. My problem was eating when not hungry. Even when starting a meal because of hunger, I seldom stopped when no longer hungry. I asked, “What will the medicine do for this eating problem?” He responded that it would be useless and that the only thing to help me would understanding why I was eating. This is why I declined the meds and eventually found a way to lose weight naturally. Many people use food, not to assuage hunger, but to soothe their emotions, or to cover other needs.

Recently I’ve been reading Mindless Eating: Why we eat more than we think. The book has been very informative and I have put several things to practice. The author shares some guidance on emotional eating from the book Think Thin, Be Thin. Many of us think we are hungry, when we actually have some emotion inspiring us to eat. Many find it hard to tell the difference. The following list (from the book) shows information on each and offers a way to know if hunger or emotion is driving you to eat:

Physical Hunger Emotional Hunger
Builds gradually Develops Suddenly
Strikes below the neck (e.g., growling stomach) Above the neck (e.g., a “taste” for ice cream)
Occurs several hours after a meal Unrelated to time
Goes away when full Persists despite fullness
Eating leads to a feeling of satisfaction Eating leads to guilt and shame

Eating is supposed to nourish the body and encourage health. It cannot medicate other problems and should not be used as a poultice applied to every hurt feeling or every bad mood.

This week’s weigh-in and thoughts

IMG_20140718_133538This week’s official weight is 296 lbs. The last time I was less than 300 lbs. was in 2004. I am now 53% to my goal having lost 88 lbs. on my current program. From my lifetime highest I have lost 129 lbs. total. This number (approximately 130 pounds) has got me to thinking about one of the major problems that comes with being so overweight. I used to hear people often say that all one had to do to lose weight was to eat less and get up and exercise. This is easier said than done.

I was carrying an extra 130 pounds around in fat. Think about what else in this world weighs that much. My wife weighs around 120 lbs. or so. Imagine her carrying a 10 pound weight and me carrying her everywhere I go, every moment of every day. Bricks weigh somewhere around 4 lbs. each. That means I was carrying the equivalent of 32 bricks everywhere I went. Sit in a chair and place 32 bricks in your lap (the general area where most weight is carried) and try to stand up. This should make it obvious that telling a fat person, “Just get up and do something” is either insensitive or cruel. It shows a serious lack of understanding (or caring about) their situation. It is easy for the skinny person to say this, because he has much less to lift.

Now imagine this weight being placed on you whether you want to carry it or not. You can’t escape it. Dropping a brick each week, might look attractive when you only have four or five bricks to carry, but when carrying 35 this looks like it will take forever. It is like looking into a tunnel that is too deep to see the light at the other end. This makes the overweight person depressed. What do people want when depressed? They want comfort. What is the overweight person usually drawn to for comfort? He wants food. It is often the attempt to assuage emotional lack that got the person overweight to begin with.

While it is true that the only way to successfully lose weight and get healthy is to decrease intake of food and increase the burning of calories, telling this to a fat person is like dangling water in front of a parched man. A plan is needed. Support is needed. When those small steps seem to be taking too long, someone needs to help draw the attention to how far the person has come, not how much farther they have to go. Perhaps that person can’t get up right now—you might not be able to if you were carrying along a whole other human being in weight—but can start with decreasing intake. Perhaps instead of telling that person that all he needs is more discipline, or he just needs to do it, you can encourage him to not look to food for comfort. Perhaps you can be a comforter in the place of the food.

Stress and Sleep Impact Health and Weight

Businessman with the World on his ShouldersMost of my posts on this site have been about my weight loss program, but there is more to being healthy and choosing health. There is also more to losing weight than just the types and amount of food you eat. One other dimension of health is proper sleep. Getting enough sleep so that your body can rest is very important.

We may think nothing is getting done while sleeping. This thought has been my problem for years. All my life I have been the early riser. I have always woken up with a head full of things that need done. Since my office is in my house, getting to my desk is one of my first steps each morning. For years I would get up sometime between 4 and 5 AM (my wife’s alarm goes off at 4), then stop off for coffee in the kitchen and go straight to my desk and start my day. I would usually start work within ten minutes of waking up. This morning I’ve have had my first meal replacement, have checked the church’s social media sites, have checked church’s email accounts, have laid out plans for the day, and have started this blog post. I got out of bed only a half hour ago. This is the best part of working at home.

Being this way, I often saw sleep as unproductive time. When I woke, my mind would spark on ideas and I’d jump up and go to work—I’m sure those who barely crawl out of bed want to shoot me right about now. On top of this, I’m not very good at taking naps. I seldom enjoy them. However, I had to learn to see sleep as something other than unproductive, do-nothing time. During sleep is your body does a great deal of housekeeping: waste disposal, endocrine balancing, muscle building, etc. If you don’t get enough sack time these things don’t get done well. One choice I’ve made is to get enough sleep each night, shooting for 7 to 8 hours. Of course, this is not always possible, especially when under stress.

Stress related sleep problems can be a triple threat to losing weight and getting healthy. Under stress your body releases cortisol. This causes your body to desire carbs and sugars. It also causes you to store more of your intake as reserves. This is fine if stress involves possible running from a sabre toothed cat on the Eurasian steppe or a leopard on the Serengeti, but not so good for an overweight man who sits in an office chair all day. One way your body gets rid of cortisol is through good deep sleep. The more you sleep, the more cortisol is removed from your body. The less you sleep the less is removed and the more problems this can cause. Then stress, which makes your body produce this cortisol, makes it hard to sleep. So, this very system meant to help becomes a source of defeat. Cravings go up; need for caffeine increases; less sleep is possible as you worry; more cortisol is produced and less is removed; and you end up in a downward spiral. The most insidious part is that, for men at least, the hardest fat to lose is around the midsection (abdominal fat). Guess where cortisol packs it on? Cortisol contributes to abdominal fat—right there, where it is hardest to remove.

I decided early on to change my waking time to around 6 AM. I’m still in my office within 5 minutes, so it makes little difference for productivity. However, it gives my body between 7 and 8 hours each night. Lately though, I’ve been under a lot of stress with several personal and professional choices. This has made falling asleep, and staying asleep more difficult. One of the great things about losing weight has been the loss of my C-PAP machine. I no longer need it for sleep. However, over the last couple weeks stress has started affecting my sleep. For a while I found myself unable to fall asleep for long periods of time and then sleeping very lightly. I wear a Jawbone UP24 which monitors my sleep patterns telling me how long I spend in each sleep stage (light or sound sleep) and how often I awaken. I noticed it becoming harder to fall asleep, harder to fall back asleep when waking during the night, and harder to stay in bed after my wife’s alarm went off at 4 AM. I also noticed that what time I did sleep was being reported as less and less sound sleep and more light sleep by the Jawbone app.

The biggest problem has been thoughts that just won’t leave my head. I was finding it harder and harder to disengage my mind. Then I would finally fall fitfully asleep and then seemed to wake continuously through the night. If I didn’t find a way to undo this, it would sabotage all the healthy choices I was trying to make. A couple nights ago I decided upon a strategy to try, which I’ll share here for others who may be struggling.

I have for years practiced various forms of journaling. I usually have four journals going at once. One is a small notebook that I carry in my pocket to jot down quick thoughts and ideas. Many of my blog ideas get written down in there to work on later. Another is a journal where I write down personal thoughts and conclusions on various scripture passages—it will contain Greek and Hebrew word studies, outlines of passages, etc. A third journal is where I write down my thoughts on various theological and philosophical problems, etc. For example, when I jot down my thoughts on arguments about the existence of God, or the problem of evil those thoughts go in the philosophical journal. My final journal is the traditional type. It is a bound book with lined blank pages where I record my deepest thoughts and meditations. I’ve always slept with the small journal next to my bed with a pen in case an idea struck during the night—I could write it down and put it aside until morning.

A couple nights ago I decided on an experiment. I had noticed that after journaling on a problem I usually felt better. I decided to move the journal to my nightstand and, every night before bed, write down my thoughts, fears, apprehensions, emotions, etc. Then when I lay my head down, anytime something would creep in to remind me of a stressful situation, I would tell myself, “It’s already in the book. I can’t fix it tonight, but will work on it in the morning.” Then I would try to think about something comforting or relaxing. In this way I could put off thinking about those things, knowing I could go back to them in the morning. Upon waking, I open the journal and look through what was written the night before and use it as part of my planning the day. This way, when trying to sleep, I have assurance things will still get taken care of.

Over the last two nights, I’ve gotten an average of eight hours sleep and most of that has been deep sleep (an average of over 5 hours each night) according to my monitor. I feel much more rested. Hopefully cortisol levels will be helped. Now, I know this is not scientific. I also know it is only two nights. However, my personal experiences tell me it works for me. Try it if you want and see if it helps you to get better sleep.

Anticipating Scale Sticker Shock!

I used to work in a retail flooring store. We would calculate prices and then always round down. The reason for this is the psychological difference between a price of $4.00 and a price of $3.99. While the difference is only a penny, the lower dollar amount is more attractive to a buyer. The same is true of selling your home. When people search for homes on a database, far more will stop to look at a $149,000 home than one that is $150,000.

This same phenomenon works with weight-loss. If I step on the sale one week weighing 319 pounds and then the next week weigh 313 pounds, it does not feel as impressive as going from 320 pounds to 315, even though the first pair is a greater weight-loss. Because of this fact, I’m preparing myself in advance for my next weigh-in even though it is still days away. I weighed 318 at last week’s weigh-in and am expecting to weigh around 314 or so this week. I know ahead of time to expect a bit of let down because it will be another week at least to go under 310.

It is interesting how our expectations can have more impact on our feelings than reality. If we simply looked at such weight-loss realistically we would be happy to losing any weight—one pound is an achievement in itself. However, we too easily fall into the trap of, “If only it would have been a little more.”

What are your triggers?

triggersIt is interesting to see how many things we do, not because we want to do them, but because something else has triggered a desire within us. Anyone who does counseling learns to help people identify the triggers which tempt them to negative behavior.

Among men the problems caused by pornography addiction can be quite destructive—damaging relationships, and hurting the women who love these men. I have seen more than my share of marriages in trouble because of a husband’s inability to control this. Just like all addictions there are triggers which can lead a man, even one determined not to stray, to seek comfort in glossy photos and downloaded images. For some men it is arguments with their wife, trouble with their boss or their finances, and even a simple sense of being out of control that can trigger these behaviors.

Smoking is another addiction that has triggers. I used to smoke five packs a day and for me almost everything was a trigger. Some triggers for cigarettes can be arguments, stressful relationships, food, sex, exertion, worry, drinking. Many who have smoked for a long time may find the initial quitting easy, but finding themselves assailed by temptations caused by a trigger event—like an argument with a spouse. Once when my wife and I both tried to quit smoking, we started arguing and about three hours into quitting I said, “I’m going to go buy a pack of cigarettes before we kill each other!” Did the cigarette stop the fight or fix the problem? No. The most it did was relieve some of the agitation making us sensitive and ready to fight. The fighting was a trigger—and like most triggers, offered an easy excuse.

Unhealthy foods, as a source of comfort, can also have triggers. Have you ever noticed that these comfort foods never seem to be fruit, vegetables or other healthy options? It is the unhealthy foods we turn to when triggered. Some of this can be blamed on childhood memories. For many of us food was offered to comfort. Perhaps we were given ice cream when sad. We may have been given candy when we scraped our knee. Most of our memories about holidays and childhood happiness involve large meals of fatty, high carb, very sweet foods—the fattest cuts of meat, the gravy, the sweet tea, the multiple deserts, etc. When we think of childhood pleasure and happy times, these are often central.

But is there anything wrong with such foods, for special events? Of course not! This becomes a problem when I seek to replicate the fond memories and good feelings through the foods of that time rather than through the atmosphere. It is also a problem when such actions endanger my life rather than enriching it. When I am heavy and unhealthy and get into a stressful situation I can handle the stress in a healthy way or in an unhealthy way. Perhaps I could choose to go ride my bike, or go for a walk. Perhaps some time meditating, praying, listening to music or doing something creative could relieve the stress. I could also choose to medicate the stress and bad feelings with food, fooling my body into thinking it is feeling better for a brief time and fooling my mind into recalling happier times eating those comfort foods. However, after such a meal, the old stress comes back and is likely compounded with feelings of guilt for making an unhealthy choice and feelings of ill health as blood sugar spikes and falls, with various systems of my body trying to make up for my bad choice.

The trigger happens, but we must still choose. When we sense such triggers we have three options. We can ignore the trigger and try to knuckle through. This can be hard with the most ingrained and deepest seated of triggers. Some triggers have been experienced for so long and the response has been so steady that one has developed almost a muscle memory habit. You see this when a trigger occurs and the next thing you know you find yourself eating (or doing other behavior) and never really thought about doing it—you were almost on automatic pilot. However, in time
and with practice, some triggers can be overcome (for more on the role of habit in addiction see Kent Dunnington’s Addiction and Virtue: Beyond the models of disease and choice.). Our other options are to respond to the trigger. One can choose to respond in a healthy fashion or an unhealthy.

Earlier I mentioned that many men struggle with pornography. A negative response to the triggers in this would be to turn to porn and risk hurting a beloved and faithful spouse. What positive options are there for such a husband when facing this choice? One option I have recommended to such men is to carry a picture of their wife. I have my computer set, so that when I log on, the first thing I see is a picture of my wife smiling at me. I also recommend that such men, when fantasies creep in, turn their thoughts and fantasize about their wife. Believe me guys, no woman minds learning that her husband of ten, fifteen or more years still fantasizes about her. Remember the thoughts about her that filled your mind when you were dating—if you are male you had these thoughts; she had them too but is less likely to admit it. I don’t care if you have been married for thirty years—you should still have fantasized about your wife. And men, you will find that such a practice in directing your thoughts will quickly change your feelings about your wife.

I share this because it is related to the choices faced by one whose triggers lead to a desire to eat. The person can choose to eat the unhealthy foods and suffer the consequences. The person can also choose a healthy option, or may even choose to eat nothing for a time to try to knuckle through the trigger and overcome it.  One thing I have resolved to do while on my program is to set a timer for every three hours telling me to eat something. I make it a practice to not eat anything between these times. When I desire something strongly in between I do a self-check. Is it hunger or has something triggered a desire for comfort manifesting as a desire for food? I find that when I argue with my wife, worry about finances or stress over my job, there is a strong desire to eat something. However, knowing this is a trigger I know the desire is not real. It has no true power over me, beyond my own power to choose to surrender or resist. In such cases it is not that I truly want food, it is comfort that I want. I then try to find out how to get that comfort in a healthier way. One thing I want to do over this next year on program is to reprogram myself to not seek comfort from food but find it in more constructive and healthy places.

Why is it, many of us knowing the bad we will reap from giving in to temptations still do so? Why are we willing to accept a tomorrow with poor health as the cost of a today filled with momentary pleasures and comfort? One cause of this can be assumptions having little to do with the food itself. When the trigger is something another person does, we can feel like, “I’ll show her!” This is why many men struggling with porn will turn to it when fighting with their wife. When the trigger is a feeling of being out of control, we can seek control in the bad behavior—“I have no choice in that, but this makes me feel in control.” Another problem can be feelings of hopelessness, “Why am I trying to lose weight, if nothing is going to change?”

We need to come to grips with these and realize that when we seek control through eating unhealthy foods we are actually losing more and more actual control as our body succumbs to ill health. We also should not be losing weight or getting healthy because we expect it to change others. It will not! We must do it because of the impact it has on our own lives, on our own experiences, on our own body. My losing weight it not going to make my wife’s personality or my bosses personality change. My losing weight is not going to make the world a rosier place where everyone is happy. However, my losing weight will make me better at my job (which may improve the relationship with a boss), more emotionally stable for dealing with others (which could improve the relationship with a spouse) and healthier so that I can finally make choices from a position of health rather than being forced into courses of action by illness (which gives a sense of true control).