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?
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Hard work, but worth it!

Before-afterI promised to cover some of the difficulties of traveling while dieting. I don’t like to point out a problem without offering solutions, so I’ll also offer some thoughts on how to prepare and deal with taking a trip. Whether you use them or not is up to you. What I share here will be what has helped me.

On my latest trip, since I was flying for the first time in almost a year—and the first time on this program—I wasn’t sure if my bars and other supplies could be taken in a carryon bag. I didn’t want to check a bag since it was a short trip and I always pack as light as possible. I decided I would have to leave my supplies behind, and see how I would deal with “living off the land,” if you will.

In doing this, let me first share the difficulties. It is important to keep your metabolism active and well fueled with small, appropriate meals (really more like snacks) every 3 hours or so. Since I did not carry them with me, I decided to limit myself to what was available. Neither was I able to prepare my own Lean & Green meals to make sure I stayed within the limits of my program. A third problem can be difficulty with proper hydration. It is essential, in a low-carb program, to get enough fluids (spelled w-a-t-e-r) to keep everything operating efficiently. Well when you are in meetings where copious amounts of coffee are available it can be easy to overdo the caffeine, underdo the water and get dehydrated. A fourth problem of such a meeting filled trip can be the temptations on location. Donuts, sugar-filled fruit bars, chips and candy are often abundant. Our table in these meetings always have small bowls filled with mini-chocolate bars. In the past, I would consume almost a whole bowl by myself. I have to admit chocolate can be tempting still today. This problem of temptations can also be compounded when trying to find food in an airport. The gate for my flight home was right across the hall from a popular chicken place with glossy displays of fried chicken, fried shrimp and fried potatoes, promising great pleasure from their Cajun spices.

An important part of my program has been schedule and structure. An alarm on my phone goes off every 3 hours of the day reminding me to eat something. It can be hard when the alarm goes off and there is nothing for you to eat, or everything available will torpedo your program.

So how can we deal with these? One of my interests is ethics, and I’ve been reading a book called Blind Spots: Why we fail to do what’s right and what to do about it, written by Max H. Bazerman and Ann E. Tenbrunsel. It discusses situations where we know what is ethical (the right thing to do), but fail to either notice that we are facing an ethical choice or simply fail to choose the ethical action. An important point in the book is the difference between what we know we should do and what we want to do. Many who give one answer when asked what they should do, will often do the exact opposite when faced with what they want to do. The authors offered several ways to help with such tempting times and to prepare for doing better. I could easily see many of these applied quite well to the situation I found myself in on this trip—the temptation to eat what I know I should not.

One recommendation is pre-planning, as I have spoken about in the past. However, preplanning for a meal out at a restaurant and preplanning for a two day trip away from home are very different. However, the preplanning here goes beyond simply “I will eat this and not that”, since I have no way of being sure what will and will not be available. The authors recommend thinking through the reasons a course of action will be tempting. I knew I would face temptations to break my diet. I could easily foresee that. However, rather than simply accepting the fact of being tempted, I thought about why these temptations would be so powerful, and what would actually cause them. Let me list a few reasons this trip would be fraught with temptations:

  1. I would be spending two days with friends who were in no way limited in what they ate. It would be wrong to expect them to choose restaurants, snacks, etc. based on my dietary needs. The temptation comes from thinking, “It would be easier on my friends if I just broke my diet—after all I can just go back on it later.” I could cheat for the good of my friends.
  2. There is no way to eat only what I should in the amount and at the times I need, so it would be better to just drop the whole thing during the trip and pick it up later.
  3. “I’ve done so well for the last few months, lost lots of weight, so I deserve a break; I deserve a treat; I can relax and enjoy what I’ve already done.”
  4. “Nothing encourages good conversation and good fellowship like a meal shared, so it would be better to just eat like my friends.”
  5. There will be piles of candy, sugary bars, and cans of soda and juice.
  6. “Hey! Juice is healthy! Right?” This one is quite common when others don’t understand the impact of sugars—“Oh, you’re on a diet? We have juice (or fruit, or…).” It would be easier to just eat whatever is offered rather than dealing with all the questions that come up.
  7. “I’m going to break my diet one way or the other. Either I won’t eat on schedule, or I won’t eat the right things. Doing without will be harder.”
  8. “This diet has been so easy. I can just drop it for a couple days and pick it up later.”

There were others as well, but these are a good sample of why we are tempted to eat what we know we shouldn’t. So how does one prepare for facing them? There are steps to take and decisions that must be made before the temptations hit.

After considering all these, I made some decisions:

  1. When faced with either eat something not permitted or eat nothing even though my schedule says I am supposed to eat something, which will I choose? I decided that eating something forbidden meant dropping out of fat burn, risking carb cravings, and then dealing with days of trying to white knuckle my way back into fat burn. Refraining from eating when supposed to meant slowing my metabolism (and weight loss), but this could fairly quickly be corrected upon returning home. Because of this I decided when making such a choice I would choose right foods over right schedule.
  2. Is it worth risking my choices and returning to unhealthy practices for a few hours of enjoyment with my friends? Absolutely not! On this trip, my diet would take priority over my friends.
  3. I am not done with weight loss, so I do not deserve a break. Besides, the very thought that I can take a break and eat what I want shows I have not fully integrated these choices as a way of life. Since this is true, I cannot choose to break my program. If these were my way of life, then the things I am not supposed to eat would no longer be as appealing.
  4. It is better to deal with the questions about why I can’t have ‘healthy’ things like juice, rice or fruit than to deal with the difficulty of turning my own mind, emotions and body back to good habits.
  5. The diet may have been easy, but this does not mean it will be easy going back on it. Besides, this thought itself shows I have not fully integrated these choices as a lifestyle. If I break it now, I am starting over and it will take even longer to ingrain these habits in my life.

On the trip, I stayed as close as possible to permissible things. Believe me, when you go out and chicken fried steak is available (in a place you know makes a good one) it is hard to order grilled fish. It is also hard to scrape the rice off of that fish—since everything healthy in that restaurant included rice and the fish was laid over the top of a pile of rice.

I often went many hours without eating any real food or what I should. Right next to the bowls of candy there was a bowl of pistachios. I ate pistachios to curb my appetite and to try to keep my metabolism where it should be. I had more coffee than I should and tried to force myself to grab the occasional bottle of water—I did better some times than others.

In the hotel breakfast I stuck with scrambled eggs and sausage. I figured if I was going to splurge on sugar/carbs or on fat, it was better to have too much fat and not deal with carb cravings or with falling out of fat burn. I was burning fat, so it made since that it would just mean it was better to have more of what I wanted to burn than what I didn’t want to burn.

So, you might wonder how the trip went. When I got home, the first thing I did was check my urine with a Ketostix to see if I was still in fat burn. I was. This hadn’t changed even though I had just spent two days with very limited resources and making careful choices while traveling and sitting in meetings. This morning I weighed myself and between the day before the trip and the first weigh-in after the trip I had lost one pound. Better to lose just one in two days than to gain one. My energy level is fine. I was quickly able to get back to schedule and will continue on.

Dieting is hard. Keeping on plan takes effort and hard work at times. But it’s worth it. If you don’t think it is, then look at the pictures of me before I started and where I am right now. It is hard, but that change took me 3 and a half months. Am I glad I did the work? You had better believe it!

Small Plane, Smaller Me

airline-seatsIt’s always ‘interesting’ traveling on a diet. “I can’t have this, that or even the other thing,” can be a common lament. Many things make it hard. When trying to eat low-carb it seems everything is either high-carb, full of sugars, or breaded and fried. It can be even more difficult when you add the need to eat every 3 or so hours.

I have spent two days traveling and in meetings in Arlington, TX. On Tuesday I flew up from San Antonio. Today (Wednesday), as I write this, I am sitting on the runway waiting for my flight home to take off. Before I mention some of the difficulties of the trip, I want to share a great positive.

I have avoided flying for the last few years because of my size. When you are 425 lbs. as I was, it is embarrassing to fly for several reasons. For one, you need a belt extension. Asking for this never felt good. Then when boarding the plane, you could see the looks on the faces of your fellow passengers and knew they were each thinking, “Please God! Don’t let him sit with me.” You can hear them exhale in relief as you pass their seat. Then there is the worst part—the seats. Airline seats have never been designed for the large, and these days they seem to be finding new ways to torture passengers with less and less space. I expect, someday soon, an airline to come out with a way to load passengers in the overhead compartments to maximize seating. In the past I would squeeze myself into the seat and hope for enough blood flow to my legs to prevent the need for in-flight amputation. I also had to get an aisle seat on every flight. For one, it was just cruel to try to put me in a middle seat between two smaller people—cruel for them. But I couldn’t fit in a window seat either because my size made it quite difficult to fit in the curve of the cabin wall.

This trip from San Antonio to Arlington is one I make a few times a year as a member of a committee for my church district. I have looked forward to this trip for a couple months. I decided to fly primarily to see how things have changed on a plane now that my weight is down to 285 lbs.

Unless you have experienced it the other way, you have no idea how nice it is to walk down the aisle being ignored by your fellow passengers. It is also an amazing feeling not needing a seat belt extension and not being stuffed into a seat. I was able to take my place easily and to actually stretch out my legs—as must as a coach seat allows. I could lower the table to use (as I was doing as I wrote this).

If you aren’t sure it is worth the effort to change your life and lose weight—especially if you have a large amount of weight to lose—believe me, you will not regret it. Start today! Start now! Set a goal, make a plan and work it until you reach the goal.

In my next post I’ll deal with some of the difficulties of travelling while on a diet.