Battle of the Buffet

Last night my wife and I went to a restaurant we have frequented for years. Raising kids on a limited pastoral salary meant learning to economize. One way to do this was to eat at buffets like Country Buffet or Golden Corral. This gave everyone a wide selection of their favorites and we could be sure everyone would get plenty.

A problem though is the difficulty with overeating. Being on a weight loss and health journey, meant either not going, or finding tools and techniques to help. In the past I have worked hard to only eat what was allowed and quantities that were appropriate. Avoiding carbs was always pretty easy. However, it was not uncommon to find at the end of the meal that I had consumed more meat than I should have. Also, to avoid having too much often required white knuckling it through the last few minutes of the meal—resisting temptation while waiting for my wife to finish her latest plate.

While in the past I’ve found personal techniques and tools to help get through such situations, lately I’ve been reading Brian Wasink’s book Mindless Eating: Why we eat more than we think. It’s been a fascinating read and is filled with suggestions and tools to help with changing our eating habits. The book talks about the reasons we overeat and the things which contribute to this, though most of us may be totally unaware of them.

Rather than sharing all of the ideas, I’ll concentrate on ones I used at the buffet. When going, I have learned to start with a salad. In the past my usual plan was “eat the meat and dessert first, then if there is room pass slowly by the salad on the way to seconds on sweets.” Now I make myself a fair sized salad first and finish it. This gives me my greens and I work hard to keep it low carb—as low carb as possible. This time, inspired by my recent reading, I started with two differences: (1) I took time to talk to my wife and ask her questions about her day. Over the many years of being married we spent so much time monitoring the kids we got used to not really conversing when eating. Talking slowed me down and turned my focus off of shoveling food into my mouth. However, do not just mindlessly eat while talking. Before you know it you will have overeaten without paying attention. Instead, from time to time, put down your fork or spoon and talk for a few moments. Then return to your food. (2) I ate my salad slowly while talking to slow down, but also stopped after the salad and waited five minutes before getting my entre. This gave my body and mind time to register the eating and to sense that though my hunger was not satiated it was lessoned. Since it takes about twenty minutes for our mind to recognize satiety, this gave my mind time to catch up to what was happening in my body.

After my salad and the short break between courses, before getting my entre I walked through the buffet area, without a plate, looking at all the foods to decide what I wanted and what I could or should have. I had already decided before going in that I was going to allow myself more carbs, because today was a weightlifting day. My body needs more calories and more carbs on lifting days because material and energy are needed for building muscle. However, I was going to avoid the simple sugars, grains, fried foods and starchy foods. I looked for everything that offered protein, but was not breaded or fried: roast chicken, broiled fish, etc. I also looked for foods that offered more complex carbs: sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes, etc. Then there was low carb greens, like broccoli. No bread, no pasta and no other grain products would be allowed. So, without a plate I walked through thinking, “I can have that, but not that. I could have that but should avoid it because I already had X today. That will be OK, but should be limited. A nice side benefit was that this slowed down my eating more. With my plan and decisions made beforehand, I grabbed a plate and went back through grabbing the foods I’d already selected.

After that plate was finished, I sat for a few minutes talking to my wife and having a decaf coffee. It was then that it struck me that I didn’t want anything else to eat—my hunger was fully satisfied, but I was not stuffed. Also, by doing it this way, I didn’t have to sit there telling myself “I must not have more; I must not have more.” I didn’t want more.

So, here are my steps for dealing with the buffet:

  1. Start with salad.
  2. Eat slowly, by enjoying the company of others—occasionally put down the fork and talk.
  3. Wait between refills to give time for the brain to sense the body’s sensations.
  4. Browse through the buffet foods without a plate to prepare a plan of action.
  5. Get only the foods you planned in the amounts you planned.
  6. Repeat step 2.
  7. If still wanting more, repeat step 3, then reevaluate.

One goal reached, on to the next!

Transitions can be rough

Recently, I changed my program. There were various reasons. (1) I had lost enough weight to adjust my goals and my focus. (2) Our personal funds are fairly limited, like for most families. My daughter takes after her dad, which means she has concerns about her weight. We wanted to pay for her to go on the program, which meant I had to find another direction for myself. The final reason: (3) I wanted to try other options to see how they work as I spend this year making healthy choices.

Goal and Focus Changes

I have been very happy (ecstatic) with my results using Medifast products through the Take Shape For Life program. In just over five months I went from 384 lbs. down to 268 lbs.  That is almost 120 pounds. I have stopped using my C-PAP machine. I have dropped my prediabetes medicine. I have stopped using one of my blood pressure medicines. My A1C is perfect. My cholesterol is right where it should be. My testosterone has risen and my weekly injection has been reduced. My energy levels are great. My personal outlook is positive.

After adjusting my goal for actual body fat measurements, I had to decide if I wanted to keep going on program to lose an additional 38 pounds and then start working out to tighten, tone and increase muscle mass. Another option was to start building muscle and toning right now. The only problem is that the TSFL program does not recommend a hard workout regimen while on program—for various reasons. It is well balanced to maintain health and to make it possible to lose a large amount of weight quickly without causing the health problems that can result from other extreme weight loss programs. But it is recommended that you not workout hard while on the program. Moderate exercise is suggested, but I wanted to start building lean muscle mass.

Options Considered

I’ve been around diet programs—either trying them, studying them, or being recommended them—for most of my adult life. When you have a tendency to weight gain, and fail to practice the proper discipline to maintain then you get heavy and everyone has their recommendation to ‘help.’

I did Atkins years ago. I stayed on the most restrictive level of the diet (30 grams of carbs per day). At first it was great being on a diet that allowed you to eat bacon, and a good amount of meat. However, that was long before the days when there were Atkins bars and supplements, so it took a bit of effort to stay properly fueled. The big problem was some of the strong cravings. When you find yourself hallucinating about pasta or fruit something is just not quite right.

When I dropped off that program, I didn’t do it properly. I was fooled by how easy it was, so I thought I had not need to transition—I’d just drop off for a few months, during the holidays, then ‘drop’ back on. Instead, I went into major carb craving and couldn’t stop sucking down carbs. I had lost 50 pounds in two months, but ended up gaining 75 pounds quickly. That put me into a psychological funk that helped me to slowly ratchet higher and higher. This is why I didn’t consider Atkins this time.

Friends and relatives had recommended the Paleo diet. I have to admit the idea of eating like a caveman was fascinating. This would be another diet that would allow me to eat lots of meat. However, I tend to be a bit anal about facts, and underlying premises. It became obvious pretty quick that this diet was not really designed to “eat the way we were evolved to eat,” as it claims. It was really just marketing shtick for another controlled carb diet. Don’t get me wrong! I know it works. I’ve seen it work with enough people to have lots of confidence in it. It is also one of those diets meant to be a lifestyle change, which is also good. However, I was not sure I could see myself spending the rest of my life eating this way—forbidding myself some things I truly enjoyed.

I won’t go into the fad, freak show diets—eat only spinach, eat only cabbage, eat only (fill in the blank). Eat enough spinach and you’ll lose weight. Of course, it will mostly be in the form of little rocks that you piss out from all the kidney stones. Eating enough cabbage will also help you lose weight. But who will care? No one will want to be around you from all the methane seeping out your backside—I already have this problem in spades!

After listening to my friends and seeing what was working with them (the same way I discovered Medifast and Take Shape for Life for my initial high weight loss) I settled on moving into a carb cycling regimen. Since I want to lose fat and also build muscle (I am at a point where the muscle is more important than focusing on the fat, because of my testosterone deficiency), I chose to go this way. Keep in mind; this is not an indictment of my earlier program. Take Shape for Life is highly recommended to anyone to lose weight—especially to lose it in a quick and healthy fashion. However, it is not designed to start working on muscle mass until after the goal weight is reached. I wanted muscle building to be a final part of reaching my goal. I also wanted to be able to use the money I was spending on that program to help my daughter start that program. We could only afford for one of us to be on it, so we chose her.

My New Program

With my new program, I go through the week with a rotation of carb levels and exercise routines. For now, I am introducing weight training in slowly and working up. Most of my exercise is cardio. I do two days of weights a week (upper body on Wednesday; lower body on Saturday). I do four days of cardio (one hour on treadmill, exercise bike, etc.). Each day in the gym I shoot for burning 500 to 700 calories. I take Sunday as a day off, because my duties with the church just make it too hard to get to the gym. Besides, muscle building requires rest for the muscles. Since I work legs on Saturday (the largest muscle groups) I take a break the next day. I don’t do this on Thursday, because the previous day I work upper body and most of my regular cardio involves legs—therefore, my arms get a rest anyways.

With carb cycling you rotate the amount of calories and carbs eaten according to whether a day is committed to fat burning or muscle building. Cardio days are fat burning, low carb days. Weight training days are muscle building days, requiring even higher protein, higher carbs, and even some refined carbs for rapid glycogen replenishment.


Making this change has caused a bit of a weight rebound as my metabolism adjusts to the new calorie level. I last weighed 268 lbs. on the original program. Within a week I was weighing 275 lbs. Of course, I don’t think I gained that much weight. For one thing, on the older program there is so little food going in that the bowels get very empty. With the new one, this is not the case. No, I’m not saying I was full of seven pounds of (insert your favorite name for it here). But add that, along with some rapid fat gain that would happen when calories are first increased, but metabolism hasn’t quite adjusted. Then there may have been some inflammation from the quick changeover.

You will notice that I haven’t posted a new weigh for a while on my blog. This is because I have been in that rebound stage working to get my weight back down to where it was. There was a bit of discouragement along the way, wondering if the change was the right thing to do. However, I was able to take some comfort in seeing muscle areas tightening up and continuing to see the loose fatty areas shrink. Now, it appears I am back on track for weight loss. It took almost two weeks, with constant fluctuations up and down. However, this morning I weighed 266 pounds.

My New Goal

My new goal is to add enough lean muscle to my frame that with around 15% body fat, my weight should be around 250 lbs. I’ve already explained why I can’t work toward the BMI chart—I’d have to lose muscle and all body fat to get close. I’ll shoot to get to and stay between 250 and 255 lbs. This means I am about fifteen pounds from my weight goal—but far from my actual finished goal, because muscle needs to increase considerably (somewhere around 20 to 30 lbs. of muscle needs to be added). This is a large goal, for muscle building, but I’ll get there. It is already a huge change in attitude and in outlook.

Great Lessons Learned on a Family Trip

IMG_20140906_170218522This week, my son has been home from Colorado and we went to visit family in Fort Worth, TX and North Eastern Oklahoma (also known as God’s country). The trip was a great deal of fun and my wife was beside herself getting to spend so much time with our son. I always joke that, “I know my place in the family. My wife keeps me around in case she needs to sell me to buy our son shoes.” We all loved the trip, and I learned great lessons to share here.

As I shared last week, I was a bit apprehensive about the trip, wondering how I would stay on program eating meals prepared by various relatives, as well as eating on the road. I prepared in advance before going. I also set myself three goals in order.

My goals were:

  1. To stay in fat burn.
  2. If knocked out of fat burn, to keep carbs low enough to prevent carb cravings.
  3. If knocked out of fat burn with no choice but to eat excessive carbs, to not eat enough to gain weight.

I didn’t really expect to lose any weight during the week. I would have been happy with just being 274 lbs. as I was the previous week. For one, I would be spending long hours in the car not really moving. My UP 24 kept vibrating telling me to get up and do some activity—hard to do at 80 mph (yes, I drive 80; this is Texas so don’t judge me). Also, I would need to stop for food for my wife and son. I chose to switch over to a 4&2 system of eating so I could enjoy more meals with the family. This means that instead of one Lean & Green meal and five meal replacements a day, I would do two Lean & Greens to enjoy eating with others and four meal replacements. We also carried some olives (yum!!!!), pickles and almonds in case I wanted snacks. I didn’t limit these exactly, and never was able to make all my scheduled meals.

During the trip I was knocked out of fat burn twice. We left on Wednesday and came back home on Saturday. Wednesday night, I ate some food that I didn’t know had added sugar until I had already eaten it. That night I could feel my energy levels drop and knew I was out of fat burn. The next day (Thursday) on the way to Oklahoma, we stopped for some “Mexican” food. I didn’t catch the beans and rice in my meal until I had eaten half of it. Since I had already been knocked out of fat burn I went ahead and finished it and thought I would work to get back in when I got home. I decided to just watch my eating the rest of the time to keep down carbs without much thought about fat burn. I wasn’t going to let obsessing over my diet ruin the fun with my family—that is not a lifestyle; that is a chain.

Friday morning I checked again, just curious, and was surprised to find I was already going back into fat burn. I was elated. About four hours later I sat down to lunch at a pretty good Mexican restaurant (in Northern Oklahoma—if you can believe that). Being a Texas boy I have a true appreciation for Mexican food (actually Tex-Mex). When I lived in Colorado, years ago, some tourists asked me where they could find a good Mexican restaurant. I asked where they were from and they said, “Texas.” I pointed south and said, “About 300 miles that way!”

I was sitting in the restaurant with my son and my Uncle. Now understand, my Uncle is the kind of man that when he speaks, you listen because it will be worth more than gold. So I was really listening to him when I started eating my meal. I ordered a taco salad. I saw the Spanish rice—which I forgot to ask about—and, while avoiding it, didn’t notice the refried beans until I had already eaten them. Sure enough! When I checked later, I was totally out of fat burn, again! Back to just paying attention to carbs until we got back home.

The next morning, when I checked with my Ketostix I was surprised to find myself back into pretty healthy fat burn. Since Saturday was on the road, where I could pretty well control what I would eat, I stayed on program and did well the rest of the day. Now back home I am religiously on program again.

The lesson I learned was to not give up when things beyond your full control torpedo your program. I also verified that one does not have to put a lot of pressure on friends and family to conform to your dietary needs—unless it is an allergy, of course. Some of my family would ask about my needs. I would answer and some would seem to get uptight and worried about fixing the wrong foods. I simply told them, “Don’t worry about it. My diet is mine, not yours. If I can eat it, I will; if I can’t eat it, I’ll pass.” They all did wonderfully and really were caring about it. Everyone was excited to see how much I had changed. It also felt great to be able to have the energy to go down to the ditch and shoot my handguns and rifle. To walk over and see my uncle’s soy bean field. I also had enough energy I was tempted to sneak off one evening and see if I could shoot a nice fat wild hog. I decided not to. I figured my wife wouldn’t be very tolerant of hauling the smelly thing home in the car.

Each time I fell off of fat burn it was tempting to just give in and eat whatever—pasta, bread, potatoes, etc. However, I had already set goals. The first didn’t last long, but I could hold to the second and control my carb intake. I stuck with this, hoping (almost beyond hope) that I would at least not gain any weight.

This morning when I weighed in I was shocked. I was hoping and praying that I was at least no heavier than the previous 274 IMG_20140907_083038lbs. I was blown away when I looked down and the scale said I was down to 268 lbs. In a week that I fell out of fat burn twice and ate far more than I probably should, I lost almost six pounds (I was actually 268.8). How did this happen?

IMG_20140907_092629900I credit it to three things. One, I was fairly active when we were there visiting—it was hot enough I probably sweated out a good pound or more. Two, though many things were off plan I still kept down the carbs and bad stuff. Three, (sorry to preach the same sermon again) I stayed properly hydrated. For this last I have to share the second best investment I’ve made in my health. The first was the program itself. The second best investment was a water bottle purchased from Walmart for this trip. It holds 20 ounces, so I need seven of these a day for proper hydration. The bottle has a numbered ring so I can track my water consumption. On the trip I would buy gallon jugs of water and just keep refilling the bottle. It was never more than a few feet from me most of the trip so I could stay hydrated. If I had to be away from water for any length of time (such as when visiting one museum) I would drink the full 20 ounces when I got back to it.

So the lessons learned or reinforced by this experience:

  1. Stay hydrated, at all cost.
  2. Don’t obsess and drive others crazy. Just take life as it comes and make corrections as needed.
  3. If something happens beyond your control, or a mistake happens, don’t throw up your hands and surrender to the temptations to eat whatever.
  4. Preplan for how to handle things beyond your control. This doesn’t mean, “I’ll do this if someone does that.” It means simply knowing, “If something knocks me down here, I’ll do this to reduce the damage to my program, and just keep going.”
  5. Did I mention hydration?

Body Fat Percentage?

IMG_20140829_071627This morning is another weigh-in Friday. I’m now down to 274 lbs. This gives me a total loss of 110 lbs. on program (150 lbs. from my beginning weight). This loss is 67% of my original goal of 220 lbs. This brings me to some other research from this week and some changes to my goal.

I have always been large. I don’t mean fat. I mean large build. In 8th grade I went over 6 feet tall and weighed 210 lbs. While fat was a problem that I had to watch, I had enough musculature to throw off the traditional BMI chart. Being told to shoot for 198 lbs. makes me laugh. Now, don’t take this as my saying to ignore the BMI chart. For many builds it is quite accurate and from what I’ve heard it is more accurate for women than for men. However, for anyone with a large amount of muscle the chart will be unrealistic. For those with very little muscle, the chart may show you at an acceptable weight, but you could still have enough actual body fat to be unhealthy.

This week I’ve done some experimenting. Mostly, it was to figure out my final goal to shoot for. I started out by simply choosing to shoot for 220 lbs. or so. The intention was always to get down close and then fine tune that figure once it was easier to make proper measurements. I downloaded an app to calculate body fat with various methods. First, I did a standard military tape test. This is the test used in the military to calculate body fat for anyone over the mandated weight charts. I spent eight years in the Army and always had to be “taped.” One time the First Sergeant screamed, “Cluck! You’re fat! You’re only supposed to weight 198 lbs.” I responded, “Then you should have recruited me in seventh grade!” He was not amused. I passed the tape and laughed as Top walked off grumbling. Funny thing is the tape method used in the military is extremely inaccurate. After running the military tape test, I purchased some body fat calipers and did a proper “pinch test.” Then, this morning, I used a more advanced tape test method (reportedly accurate within 2%). The military tape test showed one set of results. The other two methods had almost identical results to each other—less than 1% difference between them—and both were very different from the military method.

The main interest for me was not my present fat percentage. This number is of little value. It is little more than asking, “How fat am I?” Well a simple look in the mirror could pretty well tell me that. What I wanted to know was my lean weight. When testing for body fat, you get both a percentage of fat, but also get a lean body weight—muscle, bones, organs, etc. With this number you can simply calculate a target weight by adding the desired fat percentage. I figured I would select the fitness level of body fat and shoot for 15%. I selected this because for men this level is not the lowest possible, but the recommended amount for someone who is physically fit. Women should shoot for a higher level, because most professionals recommend 15% as the minimum body fat for women (other than competition body builders). The female body needs a higher fat percentage for hormonal requirements.

When I took the military tape measurements, it showed 198 lbs. of lean mass. Interesting, this is the exact weight the BMI chart tells me I should be. This means to make the chart, I would have to have zero percent body fat. In other words, I’d have to be dead! With this, however, I can calculate 15% body fat would bring me to a goal weight of 227 lbs. (198 * 1.15). This is pretty close to my original goal, and fortunately does not require death to attain.

Of course, the military tape is probably little better than a guess—when compared to other methods. I wanted to double check. A lot of careers have been ruined by the military insistence on inaccuracy. I purchased a set of calipers and did a Jackson & Pollock 4-site pinch test. This showed me to have 210 lbs. of lean mass. So I would have to lose 12 lbs. of muscle and all of my fat to make the BMI chart—“No!” Fifteen percent body fat would make my weight goal 241 lbs. Ok. So this is a big difference. I needed something else to back it up.

I found another tape measurement system online. It claims to be accurate within 2 percentage points. I did the test and it showed me as having 22.6% body fat. This means I am somewhere between 20.6 and 24.6 %. It gives me a lean mass of 211 lbs. (notice this is within a pound of the caliper test). This would give me a goal weight of 242 lbs.

The first method shows me that my original goal was not quite right, and that the BMI chart is not even close for me. The two latter methods, both being considered far more accurate, being in such close agreement gives me confidence in them. Because of this, I have changed my goal weight from 220 lbs. to 240 lbs. I’m not doing this because it is an easier goal to attain, but because looking at the numbers it appears to be a more realistic weight for my body. Assuming the latter two to be accurate, 210 lbs. of lean mass would require 5% body fat to reach 220 lbs.—a fat percentage sought by cut and defined body builders. That goal is unreal for me. I am shooting for health, not trophies.

This doesn’t end it. I plan to get tested by other methods. I at least want to use the electrical resistance method. It is considered accurate since fat has a different resistance to current than tissue. We’ll see if that changes me back to a lower figure or helps to refine my goal in other ways.

Measuring body fat to know your percentage isn’t very helpful. However, to set a proper goal you have to know what you are building on. It helps to know where zero is. Then you can shoot for optimal weight based on this knowledge. Do you have to do all this? No. For many the BMI chart is the best tool. For others it is unrealistic. Don’t just reject it because you don’t like the number, though. Check into it. Make sure you are basing your goals on reality and not simply on preference, or bad information.

Weight-loss as Lifestyle

IMG_20140801_072619This is my first official weigh-in after changing my program a little over a week ago. About a week and half ago my doctor asked me to drop off the diet program I was on because of some abdominal pain. He thought I either had gallstones or right-side diverticular disease. Since the purpose of this journey is to build habits through healthy choices, I chose to follow his advice. I decided to drop off the actual program but keep following the principles it taught (eating small meals every 3 hours, low carb, with controlled levels of fat, and lots of fluids, etc.). A couple days later I had continued to lose weight and that was last Friday. I also discovered that my pain was caused by several factors combining with some strong antibiotics the doctor had placed me on. These had given my liver a hit and it had become inflamed. Everything is better now, no more pain.

After that point, I still had a choice—go back fully onto the previous plan or stay where I was to experiment with using the principles I’d learned, without the foods purchased through the program. I chose to keep experimenting with choices to see what would and would not work. The danger was that one of my experiments would drop me out of fat burn and it would take several days of very low carb to get me back into it. I decided to check at least twice a day for a couple days with my Ketostix after each addition. The questions I wanted to answer were several. When I tried and then dropped off a famous low-carb diet back 10 years ago I quickly went on a carb bender and gained back all the weight I had lost as well as an additional 25 pounds. Because of this I wanted to see if I would do the same this time when introducing some new carbs into my routine. I added carrots, Greek yogurt, bananas, as well as the occasional onions. I also wanted to learn how the principles worked with regular store bought food. If the principles are sound, then they should not be material dependent. If the principles work with regular food then the principles are sound (and key to being healthy). If the principles did not work without the packaged foods then the foods were primary and the principles played only a supporting role. Another question I wanted to answer was whether I could actually treat this as a lifestyle rather than a formula. With a formula you follow A to B to C to D and do not waver from this. With a lifestyle you make choices naturally and easily at each step deciding the best route to get from A to D. With a lifestyle you make choices because they fit with the life you are living. With a formula your choices are limited to following the formula or wavering from it. A formula is very effective, especially when first making changes. But it can only be kept up for so long before some variety is desired.

I have been living the principles I learned as a lifestyle for about a week and a half. I have used no packaged foods from my program, but only what I can buy in my local grocery store. Last week I weighed 292 pounds. This week I weighed 286 pounds. I actually weighed lower earlier in the week, but I only take whatever happens on Friday as my official weight. I lost six pounds this week only using the principles I learned and living them as a new lifestyle.

Before you jump to conclusions and think there was no need for any of the other elements of my program—coaching, packaged foods, support network—you are wrong. It was these that helped me to learn the principles I now follow. It was these that made practicing them easy. To try to jump straight into this without that step would have lasted about a week—if that long. I know me well enough to know that early on, if I didn’t have a little box where I could go and take out a package and eat it when the alarm on my phone went off I would have given up long ago. Will I stay off of the packaged items? I don’t know. They are awfully convenient. Besides, I know if following the formula with the packaged foods there is no danger of falling out of fat burn. As it is right now, when I add something new it takes several hours to discover if I screwed up. This wait and the anticipation can be quite discomfiting. I choose to continue this way because I have questions I want to answer and because I want to practice making choices for my health.

I’ve noticed after eating this way for over three months that I no longer crave the things I once craved. I don’t crave potatoes, pasta, bread (though I would still, occasionally, be willing to trade one of my children for a flour tortilla), etc. Last night my wife made chicken for our supper. I asked her how she was going to fix it (in the past she would have fried it). She said she’d bake it because of my diet. I came in the kitchen as we were getting ready to sit down and saw the chicken. It was breaded. I asked her if she had put flour on the chicken. She responded, “No. It’s not flour. It’s bread crumbs.” I got a bewildered look on my face and told her they were ultimately the same thing. She responded, “Well I can’t bake it without putting something on it. I thought you would just scrape it off.” So there I stood over the sink scraping and washing my chicken before I could eat it, even though I was hungry. The interesting thing is that I considered just eating it breading and all, but knowing it would make it harder to make my goal the idea of eating the breading actually repulsed me. I have a weight I want to get to, a level of health I want to return to, and anything that gets in the way of that is not really attractive.

Weekly weigh-in, a bit late

IMG_20140714_072034This week was a wild roller coaster ride for weigh-ins. On the Fourth of July, I visited a friend’s house for some celebratory fun. The place was full of food and drinks—almost all of which forbidden on my program. I decided before going, that even though I had already eaten my Lean & Green meal for the day, to allow myself a splurge, but only items that had zero carbs. High fat would be allowed, but not carbs because I wanted to have some relaxed fun with my friends, but did not want to pay for it for several days trying to get back into fat burn. Though the table was spread with delicious food, I limited myself to several pieces of brisket—this is Texas after all, and we have special dispensation from the governor to include brisket on any diet plan and it doesn’t count against you, neither will it ever make you gain weight. That last was a joke, but I might talk to my representative to get that law passed in the next session.

However, during the week before I hadn’t been hydrating properly. To be honest I just didn’t want to drink that much water. I should have made myself though, because my weight loss suffered, and so did my body. Dizziness, constipation, etc. all were my rewards for not drinking enough fluid. All of this was stacked on top of not losing much weight during the week. Of course, the weight could have been because I am down lower and going into a more normal weight loss pattern.

The important thing to keep in mind though is that all of this happened with my free choice. I chose to eat far more fat one day, and that is fine. It just means I have to make adjustments to my expectations. There is no guilt; no concept of having cheated; no making up for it.

Friday I weighed 302 lbs. which would be a one pound loss from the week before. However, a couple hours later I weighed 300 lbs.IMG_20140714_071954 That would be a three pound loss. I’ll take the latter as the official weight for the week, since (1) it was closer to the usual time for me to weigh each week; (2) it was in exactly the same physical condition in which I weigh each week, while the earlier one was not; (3) it’s my program and I can do that.

I have over the last few days been very careful to fully hydrate—or as close to it as possible. I have also reevaluated to make sure I am exactly on program. My program has been altered by the nutritionist because of my own body conditions—for example, I am to have 3 more ounces of protein a day than usual in the program because of my build and certain other health concerns.

IMG_20140714_072110This morning I weighed again and was at 296 lbs. We’ll see over the next few days how accurate that number is and if I am lower than this by Friday—my next weigh-in day. The nice thing to consider is that this is the first time I have been under 300 lbs. since 2004.

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.