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.
Advertisements

Cheating and Deserving

IMG_20140910_083912675Last night, my wife made a Korean dinner in honor of our son. Whenever we have all our children home she feels a strong desire to feed them her cultural cuisine. I understand that and always encourage her—especially since I love Korean food and truly love my wife’s cooking. Now to understand the rest, you have to know that my wife is the best cook on planet earth as far as I’m concerned. When making food she’s passionate about, no one can beat her. She cooks Korean, of course, traditional southern American cuisine, Italian, Mexican and some French. I’ve described my wife’s cooking skills by telling people, “If you make something and my wife likes it, she’ll ask you what’s in it and before long will make it better than you.” This is important to understand, because if my wife pours her whole heart and a whole day into making a single meal (she literally started cooking at 8 AM for a meal to be eaten at 6 PM), I am not going to pass any of it up—diet or no diet. These meals are rare, and deserve to be enjoyed—my wife also deserves to be honored.

Keep in mind that when I started this journey I was so unhealthy I no longer had choices. I had to choose to change or die. I wanted to get down to a low enough weight and healthy enough condition that I would be free to make real choices about what to eat and when. I wanted to free myself of the fat to be free, not to be chained to a freakish inhuman way of eating for the rest of my days (some of the diets out there are bizarre). I wanted to be healthy enough that if I chose one day to indulge in something less healthy—or even flatly unhealthy—I was free to make that choice. The problem with most people today is the false belief that they have this freedom. If your body is craving unhealthy foods then you are not choosing them freely.

I have done well on my program. I’ve lost about 150 lbs. from my lifetime highest (110+ lbs. from my starting point on program). My blood sugar, cholesterol and other numbers look great. Keeping all this in mind I had to decide how I would approach my wife’s special meal. There is a great deal of talk among various diet programs about “cheat days”, etc. Many will also convince themselves that they have done so well they “deserve” to splurge. Both ideas are poisonous. Both show a different view from mine.

A cheat day implies “forbidden fruit.” I am bound. I am chained to a program, but choose to cheat—“Just once, I can come back to it tomorrow.” The idea of cheating makes the program something bound upon me by someone else. I owe that someone else loyalty and am cheating with a special forbidden meal. Giving yourself permission to cheat does not change this. But if I have chosen my program and do so every step of the way, nothing I do is cheating. I cannot be tempted by forbidden fruit because there is no forbidden fruit. I can have any of it. I just have to understand and remind myself that I can have food A and a fatter body or I can have food B and a lighter body. The laws of science make it impossible to have both—I have to choose. That is part of our problem as Americans. We want to have both. “Cheat days” are a stupid concept. I make my choices and cannot “cheat” on myself—when I try I only end up cheating myself. If I choose to eat foods that slow my weight loss then I have chosen and should live with the results—or look for alternatives.

As for deserving a splurge or something special for all the hard work, “deserving” is a special concept that is often misused. Think about what you actually deserve in life. If you define the term properly then we deserve very little. We deserve what we have earned—because that is how an exchange works. I agree to work for you for 1 hour and you agree to pay x dollars. After one hour of labor the dollars are no longer yours, they are mine. I deserve them because they are mine. If I opt to not work for you for that hour, and find no one else to offer more then I deserve my empty pocket. Another similar concept is the respect we deserve from others. Why do we deserve respect? Years ago I had a fellow teacher challenge a student to ask me a hard question she could not answer. The student said, “Mr. Cluck, why is it wrong to be disrespectful?” I answered, “Because the respect is owed to that person because of either whom they are in relation to you or what they have accomplished. It is theirs. If you refuse to give them respect, you are stealing from them.” So let’s say I work hard for six months to lose weight by closely following a diet. What do I deserve? If I follow the program and lose weight then what I deserve is the weight loss—I earned it. It is reaching the goal itself that one deserves when striving hard for a goal. To say I deserve a special fatty high carb meal for all my hard work dieting implies something that violates simple science. It would be more accurate to say, “I’ve worked so hard making good choices so I will allow myself to make a different one tonight.” But that is far different from saying I deserve it. The only reason one would say it this way (deserve) is to either alleviate guilt or to prevent the judgment of others. But if you are free to choose moment by moment, meal by meal, bit by bite, then why feel guilty? Why worry about the judgment of others? Your program is your business. Claiming “I deserve a splurge meal” is a lie. Stop using lies. I can choose a “splurge meal” but I can’t deserve it. I will still reap the results of any choice I make.

All this came up because my wife’s traditional meal, being Korean, includes a large number of carbs that I have to avoid on my program. Quite a few of these carbs are actually refined carbs. Also, the meal is being served as a feast in honor of family and friends. Eating copious amounts is expected.

Most of the food was perfectly fine for my program—beef and pork Bulgogi. I could simply avoid the onions and the carrot IMG_20140910_085037100slices. There were also two kinds of kimchi—turnip and cabbage. Then there were bean sprouts and fish slices, called O Daeng (I love the name because, “Oh dang! This stuff is good”). I could have simply skipped all the other stuff and grazed off of these. However, I wanted to do an experiment to see if there was another option. I’ll explain what I actually did in a moment.

Besides the foods that fit fine, there were several that were not going to work with the program. We had Kimbap. This is what many Americans know as Sushi rolls. It is white rice, carrot, spinach and turnip rolled inside of seaweed wraps. I could eat for a year on nothing but Kimbap and never get tired. One other food takes a bit of explaining. One day, when my wife and I were dating, I went by her house and saw she wasn’t home. The landlady told me that she had gone to the market. Understand that the market was a huge area with various stalls, like the Asian open air markets you may have seen in movies. She was shocked when I snuck up behind her at a stall where she was having lunch. She ordered me some Duk Madu Guk (wonton soup) and we shared some Sun Dae. That was about the time I started feeling very deeply for her, so Sun Dae holds great comfort for me. Any time we find it at the market we get it and eat it together. It is also an important part of any celebratory Korean meal served to our friends. Sun Dae would not be allowed on my program. Now as I explain what it is, I already know what to expect from the average American reading this. Keep in mind that we eat stuff that Koreans think is gross, too. Sun Dae is a wonderful traditional sausage. It is a mixture of ground pork snout, beef blood and sweet potato noodles stuffed into a natural sausage casing. It is cooked, sliced and eaten dipped into a mixture of salt and other spices. The blood, meat and casings would be fine with the program, but the noodles blow it right out.

I had a choice to make. I could ignore the meal and have a regular Lean & Green then simply enjoy my family while they ate—but I had invited friends over. I could stick to the foods that would fit with the program and skip those high in carbs. I could choose to eat any and all of it, and simply roll the dice to see what happens to the rest of my program—would I start craving carbs or get knocked out of fat burn? Another option was to prepare in advance to blunt the effect of the carbs.

I decided to do the latter as a test. I have been reading lately on the effect of carbs and how they are metabolized. When eating carbs they are transformed into glucose. This is burned as energy, and any excess if pushed into fat reserves. It is false to think this works as a sort of balance system and when you get to end of the day your body decides whether it is in a negative or positive balance. Actually this works moment by moment throughout the day. If you eat a high level of carbs and your body at that moment does not need the excess, it immediately stores the excess. The idea that I can have one huge high carb meal now and really cut down for the rest of the day is fallacious. Our bodies are much more efficient at storing fat than at removing it. Everyone who has tried to lose weight knows it goes on easier than it comes off.

However, there is one part of carb metabolism I decided to experiment with. You see, besides fat, the largest carb storage in our body is as glycogen in the muscles and liver. This muscle storage is used when those muscles move. Glycogen stored in the liver is slowly released between meals to keep blood sugar from crashing when no food is being digested. One option for preparing to eat a meal with excessive carbs—especially refined carbs—is to eat them within a couple hours of an intense workout. After the workout! We were going to eat between 5:30 and 6:00 so I went to the gym and worked out hard for over an hour. I wanted to drain my muscles of as much glycogen as possible so my body would take those refined carbs—like the white rice and the sweet potato noodles—and move them into muscle glycogen instead of fat. I also wanted my body to be forced to keep burning fat because the carbs were going into the muscles. This was my preparation for the meal.

During the meal, I ate everything. I ate smaller than I would have in the past, mostly because I did not want more—I get stuffed so much easier. I also enjoyed the items with refined carbs, but kept them to a minimum. For example, I only had three pieces of the Kimbap and a few of the Sun Dae. I also passed up on the traditional bowl of rice. This still honored my wife’s hard work and our guests without blowing my goals.

I checked twice during the night and again this morning. I am still in fat burn. While this will not be a regular practice, it is good to know there is another option for those times when I either need to have something I otherwise would not, or even for those times when I really want those items. Once again, it makes my choices my own. It liberates instead of binding. By the way, doing this also helped to drive something home. It helped to show just how costly on the system such a meal can be—I worked hard for over an hour to make room in my muscles for the meal. Everything has a cost!

“’Everything is permissible,’ but not everything is helpful. ‘Everything is permissible,’ but not everything builds up (1 Cor 10:23 HCSB).”

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.

Rough Week! Important Choices!

This week, I don’t have a weigh-in to share. As I shared before, I followed my doctor’s orders to drop off my original plan because of some issues with abdominal pain. We now know the pain was not from the program, but from the doctor—or at least from the strong antibiotics he had put me on for an ear infection. The antibiotics worked with some other stuff to inflame my liver. After some changes and the ending of the series of antibiotics the pain is gone.

After it cleared up, I decided to experiment and see how my weight loss would do without going back on program. For about a week and a half I did fine. However, this week, according to my scale I am two pounds heavier than last week. This convinced me to once again make a choice for my health and go back on the original program.

This brings me to two experiences this week I want to share that have to do with temptations and with managing food intake. Earlier in the week, my daughter came over for supper and I really felt like doing something special. I grilled steaks. For the three ladies (my wife, my mother and my daughter) I picked thin steaks—as they prefer. Of course, I like manly steaks—at least 1 inch thick and grilled as rare as possible. If a steak doesn’t leave red in the plate it was ruined.

Of course, a thick porterhouse is going to be much larger than I am supposed to have in one meal. After I grilled the steaks, my daughter reminded me that it was too much for me to have right now. She was right. I appreciated her telling me—though part of me wished she had just shut up. I begrudgingly cut the steak in half to save for later. I enjoyed one half that night. I could still enjoy the thickness, but just had to reduce the size to make up for it. Eating to lose weight does not mean eating garbage. I didn’t have to choke down a “shoe leather” steak. Sometimes it just takes a bit of effort to make good foods fit.

The second episode happened the day I decided to go back on program. That day I had some errands to run around town. I kept feeling stronger temptations to eat unhealthy foods—stronger temptations than I have had since starting. My mind kept saying, “Oh go on! You are off program. You’re going back on tomorrow. Just enjoy today and tomorrow you can restart.” At one point I was passing by a small chicken shop that I knew carried really good fried gizzards. At that moment I just wanted some gizzards—those glorious breaded, chewy, chunks of fried chicken flesh! I could taste them from a hundred yards. I had to have them, so I whipped the car into the store and ran in to order. I was, at that moment so tempted I ordered a double order (16 gizzards). It took about ten minutes for them to get my order done. I’m glad it took that long.

While I stood there waiting, I kept thinking about what I was about to do. Yes, I could go back on tomorrow. I didn’t feel any guilt because I was making a choice that I had a right to make—there was no moral failing. However, I thought about when I dropped off of another famous low-carb program, years ago. I was on that program for two months and lost 50 pounds. I dropped off, because it was so easy, I figured I’d drop off for the holidays and then just restart later. Unfortunately, I went into major carb binging and just stuffed myself. I gained all the weight back and an additional 25 pounds over the next few months.

As I stood there in the store I kept thinking about this and feared I was setting myself up for a bad failure. I didn’t want to start gorging on carbs and lose control. I didn’t want to risk being unable to finish my yearlong commitment to healthy choices. I also did not want to get back to that old fat, lazy, tired, dying self that I once was. I feel good. I enjoy being told how much better I look. I love knowing I have a future and hope for a healthy life. Did I really want to risk all that for a sack of greasy gizzards? Why yes, I did! But I wouldn’t. Instead, I took the sack and gave it to someone I knew would appreciate them. I didn’t eat a single one. Instead I went back home and ate a meal replacement. Did it taste as good as the gizzards? Don’t be silly. But it was chosen by me.

Self Image, True Image

IMG_20140808_075551This week was a full one. If I hadn’t lost weight, I wouldn’t have really been surprised. Still, I stepped on the scale this morning for my official weekly weigh-in time. I weighed 281 pounds. You’ll notice on this and past weigh-in reports that I ignore the decimal (.6 in this case). I do this because it is easier to simply round down to the nearest whole pound. Worrying about fractions of a pound would just be even more anal than I can already be (I have a maddening touch of OCD). I do use these however through the week. It can be helpful when weighing the same over several days. This would easily be a worry, but then looking at the decimal helps (for example), “Oh! I did lose weight. I lost 8/10ths of a pound.” It can be a great assurance that the program is still working and a reminder not to worry too much about the numbers on the scale.

I am finding something interesting about my mental state. I still see myself as being that fat guy I was at the beginning of this diet. (I know many will be offended by the use of the word “fat.” I wasn’t hefty! I wasn’t big-boned! I was fat and saying anything else is a hurtful lie, meant to make the one speaking it feel better. A lie helps no one but the liar!) People often ask me what I currently weigh and out of habit I keep accidentally adding an extra 100 lbs. to it. It is hard to think of myself as being under 300 because I was above that number for over a decade.

This is helpful though. For a long time I never could lose any weight. Actually, I didn’t try very hard. Mental self-image can be very powerful. Eating disorders are closely tied to self-image. We hear often of those suffering from anorexia, though little more than skin and bone, who still see themselves as fat. They may look at the same image we see and they will see that image very differently. If you don’t think self-image is fragile and yet very powerful just try telling a pregnant wife that she is getting heavy. Get ready for water-works, and then be prepared to spend the rest of that pregnancy apologizing and complimenting her. I was lucky because in my wife’s culture heaviness in a woman, especially when pregnant, was seen as a good thing. She was pregnant and I would tell her, “Look how fat you are getting,” and she would break out a huge beaming smile. It would just make her day, because her cultural self-image completely changed the way she felt about herself in this regard. Of course, Western media has changed that even in her homeland.

Self-image can have powerful effect. All the time I was so heavy, I only saw it when looking in the mirror. When I walked away from the mirror, my mental self-image was the young trooper I once was. I didn’t see myself as fat. It wasn’t until I finally developed a more realistic self-image that I was able to come to term with my need to lose weight. A false self-image can be quite destructive. If you see yourself as worse than you are then you are handicapped. If you see yourself as better than you are then you simply have a different handicap.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not espousing the modern self-image (“You’re OK; I’m OK; we’re all OK”) garbage. The self-image that is needed is not a false bad image or a false good image. What is needed is a truthful self-image—one that sees the self truthfully and without distortion. “The truth will set you free” includes the truth about yourself, good or bad.

A few years ago, my self-image finally changed to what I actually saw in the mirror. It was a crushing blow. I looked at myself one day and said, “What the hell did you do to yourself!” I was ashamed. Before you do what many others have done and say, “Oh, don’t be ashamed. Don’t be so hard on yourself,” understand that shame is a very powerful and necessary force in human interaction. There is a place for it. I am not one of those people who try to spare everyone from ever feeling bad. Some people should feel bad and doing so is the only way a change will happen. I am not saying that others should heap shame on another (thought there is a time for that), but am saying that it is important for an individual to be able to look at themselves and experience shame when appropriate. Imagine if a young man willfully hurt someone and felt no shame about his actions. Such a child would be monstrous. Shame is helpful and useful. To deny that is just another lie.

I had to get to where I was ashamed by what I saw in the mirror before I would change my eating habits. If you have a friend or family member who has an eating problem, I would never recommend you try to shame them into changing—that can be very cruel. However, if they are developing their own sense of shame over what they have done to themselves, do not be the nice guy who says, “It’s OK. You don’t look that bad. But you have such a nice personality.” Let them experience the shame and ask them, “OK, you feel this way about yourself. Now what are you going to do about it?”

I simply wallowed in my shame for a long time. I felt I couldn’t do anything about my weight or my health because it was just too far IMG_20140807_203728619gone. I had problem on problem and felt all I could do was live a miserable existence until God mercifully ended my life. To be honest I even wondered if it was better to end it myself. What I needed was to find a way to turn my shame into action. Wallowing in shame is no better than pretending it isn’t there. Encourage the person to turn their shame into a course of action. I had to find a program that would work and work quickly enough to give me hope. I thank God I found that. Interestingly I found it through a friend who was himself on it.

You can help your loved ones who struggle with weight, not by shaming them into it, or by pretending they don’t have a problem. You help them by being honest with them, and by offering solutions.

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!