Latest trip to the doctor

Yesterday (January 15, 2015), I saw my endocrinologist for the first time in four months. It was an interesting consultation because rather than see the one I’ve been with for two years the clinic put me with a new doctor. Since I wanted the doctor to have a full view of where I’ve come from (and because I know doctors are often too busy to read a new patient’s entire chart) I laid out my weight and condition a year ago so she would have a proper perspective on my condition today. She found it hard to believe that I had ever been 425 lbs. I did this partly because I was a bit worried about the blood results since I have had to change my diet so much from where I was several months ago.

You see, when I was doing the Medifast program through Take Shape for Life the diet was very low carb, low fat, high protein, and nutrient rich. I was easy to maintain this because the prepared foods conveniently provided all but one meal a day. However, since dropping off the program in September and switching to carb-cycling it has not been so easy. But, my emphasis was different so I had to switch.

When I first started, I was in terrible shape. I’m talking about even after I lost the weight. No part of the previous program included conditioning. But that is to be expected. I needed to lose weight far more than I needed to get in shape. Besides, I was in bad enough shape that any attempt to exercise before losing the weight would have just caused injury (425 lbs. is a lot of weight for your body to move—or stop, once it starts moving). Because of this, while on Medifast, I did little or nothing to build muscle, but only concentrated on burning fat.

After getting my weight down to a place where I could exercise without injury, I was still very out of shape and decided to slowly start changing that. For a couple months I rotated weight machines with cardio, doing higher carb on weight days and lower carb on cardio days. My cardio day was usually either an hour on the treadmill or 45 minutes in the pool. My weight days included doing a full spectrum of weight resistance machines so every major muscle group was hit each time. As my weight kept lowering and everything began tightening and toning, I started adding in some free weights.

After a couple months of toning and tightening, I decided it was time to start building lean muscle to attack my body’s BMI from the lean side. This would increase testosterone, raise my metabolism, and in this way burn fat faster when I returned to cardio and fat burning later. I have spent the last couple months doing a hard regiment of weights to build muscle. I’m in the gym five days a week. Saturday and Sunday are rest days for my body, because it is when you are at rest that your body repairs and builds muscle. Overworking causes problems as your body releases cortisol which will undo what you work hard to build. Tuesday and Thursday are leg days. Since these days are very hard on my back because it includes squats and stiff-legged deadlifts, I only go for about 45 minutes or so. Besides, the weights being moved on those days are much higher than on upper body days. I also do kettlebell goblet squats and kettlebell Turkish get-ups on those days to strengthen form and to build core. Monday, Wednesday and Friday I hit upper body (arms, shoulders, back, etc.). I have really been hitting shoulders, back and biceps hardest. This day is all free weights, along with kettlebell swings, and kettlebell snatch. Upper body days are 1 ½ hours in the gym—except on Friday which I hit extra hard so it gets close to 2 hours. I really want to deplete my muscle glycogen reserves before going into the weekend, and also give my muscles lots to repair. Besides, this makes it possible for my wife and I to go out or do something special on Friday, if we choose. If I’ve really thrashed my muscles, I may move slowly but I don’t have to be as careful about what I eat on dates with my wife because high carbs and even simple sugars will largely be gobbled right up replenishing muscle glycogen stores—at least much of it will.

This liberty on carbs was a bit of a hard learned lesson. I had such good results on low-carb and have had such a history of carb addiction and its related problems that I had developed a carb phobia. Unfortunately, when building muscle one the primary fuel is carbs. Because of my fear of carbs I tried staying “lower carb” without any simple sugars or starches while trying to build muscle. I was getting very minimal results. Once I learned the lesson about this I started cranking up the carb intake as an experiment. I did some study and tried hard to get most of my carbs from foods with a lower glycemic index and a lower glycemic load to regulate insulin. This too can go too far, because I learned that along with testosterone and human growth hormone, there is one other essential ingredient needed by your body to build muscle—insulin. It is insulin that tells your body whether to convert carbs into fat for later use or to push them into your muscles as glycogen. This means I had to actually undo habits I had developed over months and allow myself foods higher in sugars and carbs. Of course, it’s best to go with foods that are metabolized slowly to cause a more gradual and manageable uptick in insulin secretion rather than super simple sugars that will cause a major dump of insulin along with the sugar crash afterwards and trigger the cycle of carb craving.

It was this new addition to my diet that I found the most frightening as I waited in the doctor’s office wondering about my lab results. So, what were the results? Well, I’ve been on testosterone for over two years because my weight and sleep apnea trashed my endocrine system. Now, after losing the weight I can sleep without the C-PAP, and last visit the doctor decided to try lowering my testosterone injections. Now, the doctor has decided to try weaning me off of it, so it was reduced even further. We have to go slow, because my pituitary gland has become totally non-responsive because I was bringing in the testosterone from outside and it had no need to order my body to make it. Now, we have to slowly reduce it, and hopefully the pituitary will return to functioning normally—we find out in my next visit three months from now. I was pretty sure my T levels were getting better—and so was my wife—so there was no fear here.

My fear was about what my A1C would look like. When I started this quest for health, I was pre-diabetic. My doctor had warned me I was just a hairs breath from going into full blown diabetes, and would someday be insulin dependent if I didn’t make a change. My family has quite a history with diabetes and heart disease so I knew what these would entail. I wanted nothing to do with them. I feared that my higher carb consumption had brought this number back into bad territory. My prior time with the doctor showed me to be out of danger for diabetes. My latest numbers show my A1C unchanged—even with the higher carb intake. In her words, “You are in no danger of diabetes; your diet is right where it should be.” This was good to hear. I don’t think I’ve ever heard more beautiful words spoken by a doctor.

I still have things to work on. My plan is to switch from weights to cardio with low carb to move from an anabolic (muscle building) to a catabolic (fat burning) state and burn off the rest of my excess fat. I know I need to do it, but a couple things make me wary. One, I don’t want to lose any of the muscle that I’ve built. Two, I’ve developed an iron addiction—I absolutely love lifting weights! People told me that if I ever started working out I’d get addicted. I always told them they were high, because I hated working out, and had tried over and over but never enjoyed it. The secret was first losing the weight. Now I look forward to getting to the gym each day. If my day is busy enough to keep me from the gym I get very irritable. Often I’ll run into the house from my last appointment or meeting, quickly changed just to run back out the door to get to the gym. I even carry my weight belt, gloves and straps in the car, and if wearing workout pants and sweatshirt is appropriate, I’ll just dress for the gym all day and run straight there after any appointments. One day, my daughter said, “Oh my Gosh, Dad! You’re turning into one of ‘those guys’ at the gym.” Funny thing is she’s right.

Lose the weight! Start now! Forget about just making another New Year resolution to be abandoned at the first offer of a brownie or the first sight of a candy bar in the checkout line. Get into a program that works! But don’t just approach it as “a program” for now. It has to be a life change. Think of it as making a change for life, because if you are heavy and unhealthy as I was that is the only way to actually have a life.

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Actions work where Magic fails

magic-hatThis recent New Year’s Day I found myself thinking about the mindset behind the celebrations. Why do people expend so much energy and emotion celebrating the changing of the page on a calendar? We get so worked up and excited because the imaginary numbers with which we mark the earth’s solar circuit has a new final digit.

The usual inspiration for the celebrations is two part: (1) relief that we made it through another year, and (2) anticipation that we will do more in the next year than just make it through. “We survived this year, hoorah!” “We’ll do more in the next year than in this, hoorah!”

But will this be anything more than an empty celebration? Anything more than an exercise in silliness and futility? The only reason to bother celebrating the changing of the year is to actually make January 1st and beyond differ from December 31st and before. This only happens if you make it happen.

Many people make New Year’s resolutions. These resolutions are so commonly made and commonly broken that it is a running cultural joke. People may resolve to be a better person, a better parent, a better (fill in the blank). These can be defined in various ways. Some may see being a better person as being a lighter one who has lost weight. Some may define it as being someone who does not have a certain bad habit, like smoking or drinking. After a few days, they lose their resolve and go back to being what they always were. The problem is not the definitions. The problem is that we forget the importance and power of the word “be.”

This “be” is a form of the phrase “am/are/is.” When I tell you “I am so-and-so” it means the qualities that define the ‘so-and-so’ define me. They define me in the same way and to the same extent that they define the ‘so-and-so.’ When we say I will be something, it means the characteristics that describe the something will equally, and in the same way describe me. The “I will” makes it future tense—something that is going to happen. It is a way of saying, those characteristics will define me someday, though they may not define me at present. But this statement can be either wishful thinking or a statement of intent. If it is wishful—they will hopefully define me someday—then it is not going to happen, unless you believe you will be transformed magically into a better, skinnier, wealthier, happier you.

To actually change, the “will be” has to become the “am.” I have to take the future tense and move it to the present. This only happens if you take intentional action to make it happen. You have to change the qualities that define you. To do this you have to know those qualities, what they look like, and how they compare to your current qualities. If you want to be skinnier, then you have to know what a skinny person does (how they eat, how they exercise, etc.) then do those things. If you want to be financially secure you have to know what financially secure people do (what they spend their money on, how they make a living, etc.). If you want to be a better parent, then you have to know what good parents do.

Once you know the target qualities, you have to take an honest inventory of your own qualities and see where you fall short. If a skinny person eats lower carb, lower fat and lower calories each day than you do, then you have to change the way you eat. If a skinny person works out more than you do, then you will have to get off the couch. If a financially secure person spends less than they make, but you spend more than you make, then you have to change either your income or your spending habits. The same is true of any change you want to make.

This is why resolutions fail. They are too often grounded in magical thinking—“Saying I am going to be (fill in the blank) transforms me into that.” No, it doesn’t! If you want to actually change in the New Year, the first thing to change is the reliance on magical thinking. Understand that positive changes only follow intentional positive actions. Yes, those actions begin as positive thinking, but the thinking must inspire action. Until the action happens, no change is possible—neither will it ever be possible until you take action.

If you made a resolution take out a sheet of paper and write it down. Think about the goal (happier, skinnier, nicer, wealthier you). On one side of the page write down qualities that define that goal and on the other side write down your qualities that do not match up. For example if you want to be thinner, perhaps on one side you write, “A thinner person exercises regularly.” Across from this you may write, “I don’t exercise regularly.” Now you have a list of change you must make to transform yourself.

Once you have the list of necessary changes, it’s time to decide how to make those changes. For example, a financially secure person spends less than they make. If you spend more than you make, but your goal is to be more financially secure, then you have to change this. You have to look at your own life, understand the only options are spend less or make more. You have to decide which is possible for you. It’s the same with losing weight. If I want to lose weight, I either have to burn more calories and carbs through activity or reduce the amount that go into my body. There are no magical options!

You can either waste time making meaningless resolutions, or you can act upon them and make real changes to your life. The choice is yours.

Looking Back While Thinking Ahead

New me, old pants

New me, old pants

Well, today is December 31, the last day of 2014. While I didn’t start my quest for a healthier me on New Year’s Day, it has defined most of my year. For this reason, I thought no other picture was as illustrative of the past year as one of today’s me wearing my old pants from this time last year. The waist is 54 inches (and not the largest I’ve had to wear). I now wear a waist size of 38.

I’m still working on building lean mass with weight training. Funny thing is, I find I have a problem unlike any I’ve previously experienced. I am having a hard time eating enough to fuel the gains. I find myself either unable or unwilling to eat enough. Part of this is because my tastes have changed—as have my normal volumes. Another part is because, while I want to have the gains, it is normal for those building muscle to also put on some extra fat. Body builders alternate gaining and cutting routines, where they go through a time putting on muscle and then switch up to burn off the fat that accrues. While I am not Body Building, I have to keep this in mind. The problem for me is twofold. One, losing fat is far harder than putting it on. I don’t want to go back to struggling to take off a fresh layer of fat. I already have some to lose once I build up. I switched over to building, not because I was down to my body mass goal, but to approach the goal from the lean side for a while. I’ve always planned to go back and finish the fat burning process afterwards. The second part of the problem is that I am an old acquaintance of carb craving and insulin resistance. I don’t want to undo any of the chemical balances I’ve worked so hard to maintain.

This concern has brought on a different form of obsessing. I was warned that I would likely see an increase in the scale numbers with weight training as I increase muscle mass. I know this is natural, and inevitable. Muscle weighs more than fat, so as I put on more—even if a bit of fat is consumed in the process—I will go heavier on the scale. Also, the different hormones involved in each process—anabolic for growth and catabolic for fat burning—can swing the scale while keeping one from losing much fat while building muscle. I don’t pretend to understand all of this—I’m still learning—but I am trying to get a grip on it. However, even knowing this, it feels a bit discomfiting to see the scale edge back up to around 270 lbs. I plan to give myself one more month on weights and then switch back to a cycle mixing cardio/low carb days with weights/regular carb days. After a few weeks there, I’ll lay aside the weights (other than for maintenance) and switch to all cardio/low carb for a few weeks to burn fat and try to hit my final goal by Easter 2015.

It’s been an interesting year where I have come to know more about myself. I also at times find myself saddened by all the years of ill-health and lack of energy suffered due to undisciplined eating. I try not to imagine the things I could have accomplished if I had protected my health from an earlier age. But, this is no time for regrets. I am quite happy with the transformation, thus far.

Weird Changes, and New Challenges

It’s interesting that after so many years of eating too much, and of eating all the wrong things, I find I have a new problem. Like I shared before, I have started lifting to increase muscle mass. While my weight has stayed almost identical since the change over, I am slimming and firming. My waist has gone down from 40 to 38, and now those pants are starting to feel loose. My muscles are more defined, and my stamina has greatly improved. The problem that I mentioned is a very new one for me. I find that I am not eating enough. I need to raise my caloric intake—while maintaining a nutritious blend. My metabolism has gone up enough that I just burn everything off. I have had to increase the frequency of my meals from every 3 to 4 hours to one every 2 to 3 hours.

Fortunately, I now find that I like the things that were once hated. I love healthier foods and find them quite tasty. Part of this is likely from my getting off of sugar. I was so used to processed sugars impacting all my foods that I couldn’t stand fruit because the sweet just didn’t “taste quite right.” I’ve grown to love sweet potatoes and various fruits. My wife recently bought a small container of snack sized little tomatoes. A few months ago, if you had told me I would enjoy eating them straight as a snack, I would have said you were dreaming.

Something like this happened years ago when I quit smoking. I noticed that after a while, after all the tar had been cleansed from my taste buds that everything tasted differently—flavors were more intense. It is amazing to think of all the simple pleasures we are robbing ourselves of simply because of unhealthy choices. We are used to considering the impact on length of life (due to early death) and quality of life (due to health problems). However, we seldom consider how many of the simple things we lose because of unhealthy choices.

The Dieter’s Challenge

Lamar's Donuts

Yesterday I faced a particularly strong temptation. It was Sunday, and every few weeks the ladies will bring in a selection of donuts for everyone to enjoy with coffee. I have always loved donuts—particularly the cream-filled, chocolate covered bundles of happiness.

Of course, on my program I avoid simple carbohydrates especially sugars. Usually such things hold no temptation for me, after so long on program. For example, for the last few days we’ve had a box of Christmas cookies on the counter brought home by my wife from a volunteer project at her work. I pass those several times a day and have not the slightest desire to eat a single one. Now, if they were Girl Scout Thin Mints that would probably be a different story. I’m probably the only man who would run away screaming if approached by a Girl Scout because I know those little chocolate mint cookies are like crack cocaine—try just one and you wake up surrounded by green boxes with a serious sugar hang-over.

Most Sundays when the church has donuts I am not fazed. However, for several reasons that combined perfectly yesterday I found myself strongly tempted to have one. I found them talking to me every time I entered the kitchen for a refill of coffee. Now, I’m no stranger to talking food. Food has spoken to me most of my life. Bacon often speaks to me and I am quite fluent in bacon. My wife will make a plate of bacon and give me three pieces—like that could ever be enough bacon. But then she leaves the rest there on the counter and the conversation begins:

“Hey Ken. Look at us down here.”

“No. I don’t want to look.”

“Oh. Come on. You know you want some.”

“No. I can’t. I’m on a diet.”

“Come one guy. Do us a favor. We’re lonely just sitting here.”

“Sorry. I can’t help you.”

“Come on. Please. Please eat us.”

“Well….maybe just one more piece.”

Then when my wife enters the room I hear: “Where’d that whole plate of bacon go?” To which I can only be honest and respond, “They were lonely and made a convincing argument that I should send them all to be with their friends in my belly.”

I speak fluent bacon, and yesterday I discovered that I am also conversant in donut. So what is a guy to do when faced with such a temptation?

I handled the temptation by approaching it as a challenge. I knew I would be faced with the donuts for several hours and would often be alone with the little tempting fiends. I decided to challenge myself to make it the whole morning without having a single one. I dared myself, if you will, to not have any. I saw this as a chance to prove to myself that I had changed and would not just resort back to unhealthy eating habits. The good news is that I made the whole morning without eating a single donut. When you find yourself tempted with foods you should not have, remind yourself of why you should not have them and then challenge yourself to not give in to the temptation.

Of course, bacon is such a superpower that it always wins the challenge. If challenged by bacon the only choice is to run, or surrender. I’ve actually had a piece of bacon forcefully open my mouth and jump in. Bacon suicide is not a pretty thought, but a real phenomenon. Don’t believe me? Neither did my wife.

Health Horror on the Holidays!

The holidays are a major cause of diet failure. Various studies confirm that people tend to gain weight over the holidays. One study I found cited an average of 1 lb. for the season, and one study went as high as 5 lbs. on average. I’ve experienced it myself in the past. Ten years ago I lost a lot of weight on a low-carb program. When the holidays came around I figured “The program has been so easy and I don’t want to try to stay low-carb over the holidays.” I decided to drop off program for the holidays and start again for the New Year. Unfortunately, I went into carb craving since I didn’t transition off and quickly gained the weight I’d lost along with a lot extra. I craved carbs so bad that I could not get myself back onto program.

Built into this is an argument I want to dissect. I will present it here as:

Healthy eating requires deprivation.

Celebrating the holidays requires over-indulging.

Over-indulging causes one to gain weight.

Therefore, holiday celebrants inevitably gain weight.

We have three premises and a conclusion. The form of the argument given is such that if the premises are true, then the conclusion must be true. So our only choice would appear to be skimp on the holidays or gain weight. But is this our only choice? Is the argument above true? It can only be false if one or more of the premises are false, and I believe one could argue that all of them are false.

Healthy eating is not deprived eating

To eat healthy is not to deprivation, but appropriate eating. One who wants to eat healthy takes various things into account: food available, preferences, nutritional need, etc. One eats what the body needs and then stops when the body is provided for. Actually, it is deprivation that is unhealthy. To be deprived nutritionally does harm to the body. Yes, healthy eating can feel like deprivation to one who has spent years eating unhealthy. However, this is actually a symptom of prior bad choices. I want comfort food that is fatty and sugary, not because my body needs it. Our systems are adapted to prefer easy high energy sources. Tie this adaptation for survival to a psychological makeup that ties these foods to some pleasurable memory or makes them into a medicine to cover some bad memory and we have a double whammy telling us to eat what is bad for us, and to do it in copious quantities. It is this that makes such eating unhealthy. It is also this psychological component that makes healthy eating seem like deprivation.

Celebrating the holidays does not require over indulging

When we celebrate the holidays, we are spending time with our friends and loved-ones (and, often, some not-so-loved-ones).  The food is actually there to encourage closeness. The history of feasting and shared meals is one of relationship building. In ancient times, when people shared a meal they established a covenant relationship. To share someone’s food and then turn on them was considered an exceptional level of evil. This was all part of ancient hospitality—“We have shared food and now we are bound to one another.” It is this that was behind the ancient feasts in the Old Testament and is also the root of the New Testament Lord’s Supper. This was, originally, a full meal shared by the congregation. Sharing food brings people together. When there is food between us, we relax. This is a primary reason for the food. There is nothing requiring you to actually consume a certain amount of food—at least not in our culture. Of course, there are some cultures where you must eat a certain amount or you will offend the host. At times it may even be necessary for you to have a bit of everything—even those things you shouldn’t have—in order to spare someone’s feelings. While that person should care more about your health than their contribution to the meal, this is not always the case.

Shared meals are actually common in church, and as a pastor I have attended more than most. We even use the word ‘fellowship’ in church to mean a potluck meal. I’ve been in churches where the ladies would bring their favorite dishes to the church potluck and if I didn’t try every dish someone would get their feelings hurt. I had to develop a tactic to help me with this. I’ll even share it with you and you can use it at church or at your Aunt Gertrude’s house over the holidays. No one actually kept a record of what I or anyone else actually did eat, so when someone brought something that either I shouldn’t eat, or that I even didn’t want to eat, and they would ask me, “Pastor, did you have some of my (fill in the blank)?” I l would look them right in the eye and say, “Why yes! I did and it was great!” That’s right. I lied! Do I feel shame over it? Absolutely not! Was it the right thing to do? Absolutely! By the way, if you think that a person should never under any circumstances tell anything untrue then you are either naïve or uninformed about the realities of life—you are at the least not married.

Over-indulging does not have to cause one to gain weight

Now I understand that what I just said may seem heresy to the dieting crowd. However, please let me explain. Let’s say I am on a strict diet that I follow religiously. I lose weight steadily. One day I decide to allow myself to have more than I should—I over-indulge. Will I gain weight? Probably not! Understand that it takes around 3500 calories to add a pound of fat. This means that in order to gain any appreciable weight I have to consume a very large amount. Recently, an article ran about a man said to have gained the most weight in a single Thanksgiving meal. Everyone at their dinner weighed themselves before eating and again after eating. The article went on to say that he had “gained” 7.5 lbs. in that one meal. Well, this is just patently false. Much of the food he is actually water and will pass; much of it was fiber that will not digest but will pass. That is not weight gain. That is just bulk gain. Much of it will pass out within a day and, he will gain some weight, but not the full amount.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying over-indulging is a healthy choice—especially for someone trying to lose weight. If you are on a diet, then over-indulging should be avoided. However, if something causes you (like your own choices, lack of will-power or that nice little aunt who insists you have just one more piece of her cheesecake) it’s not the end of the world. You may not even register any weight.

You see, the problem is not having too much at one meal. The problem comes when we use the holidays as an excuse to permit ourselves a season of bad eating. From Halloween through New Year most homes are full of bad eating opportunities. We are constantly exposed to the less healthy foods in copious amounts. We show up to work and in the spirit of the holidays a salesman has brought a whole tin of cookies. Everyone is given the giant drums of caramel coated popcorn. Unhealthy beverages are readily available in giant helping. And when facing such temptation the tendency is to say, “Well it is (Christmas/Hanukah/Thanksgiving/etc.).” Most often this is a lie. Thanksgiving is one Thursday in November. Halloween is one day in October. Christmas is two days in December (if you count Christmas day and Christmas Eve). New Years is one night of revelry. Let’s assume first of all that culture dictates that you over-indulge on all of these days. That still means you are having more than you should on five days out of ninety. You see, the problem is not what we eat on these special holidays. The problem is what we eat in between that we blame on these holidays. Halloween through New Year has become a season of excuses to binge eat. This is the problem.

Let’s look at some numbers for a moment. It takes about 3500 calories in excess to gain one pound. In the average Turkey Breast, four ounces has about 126 calories. This means you would need eat over six pounds of Turkey to gain a single pound. Don’t get me wrong. I understand there are other factors: carbs, potatoes, sweets and fats all being consumed. But my hope is that you will at least realize if you gain weight over the holidays it is not because of the actual holiday. It is because of what you use the holiday to excuse.

I have, for several months, being in a carb cycling rotation with an attempt to increase muscle mass. We had our Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesday because of other family responsibilities—my wife and daughter both work healthcare. In our house, I do most of the Thanksgiving cooking and wanted to make all the things I traditionally have. I also wanted to experiment with imbibing in all of it, with the goal of gaining no weight. Here was the menu:

14 lbs. Turkey, smoked

10 lbs. Goose, smoked

Sweet potatoes, with lots of brown sugar and marshmallows

Green Bean Casserole

Dressing

Mashed Potatoes with Giblet Gravy

A giant loaf of homemade Swedish Almond Bread

Bourbon Pecan Pie

Sweet Potato Pie

Pumpkin Pie

Sangria

Wine, Syrah

Now, you may think looking at this that we had a huge family gathering of dozens of people. We could have fed them, but instead we only had eight people. Everyone ate their fill. I denied myself nothing—which includes three pieces of pie (two with the meal, and a third later).

The day before this, I spent about an hour in the gym working out and did the same the day after. We handled leftovers in a special way as well. We kept a small amount of turkey for sandwiches, and froze a small amount of goose to use for something later. Every last bit of the rest was given away. We kept none in the house (except for a small plate my wife had made for her lunch the next day). The day before the meal I was on a low carb, low calorie day. The day following I went very low carb—almost none the whole day. Prior to this and after, I went back to my program religiously. We are now one week later and I have lost five pounds.

One of the purposes of my blog and the title is because I believe that if one makes a lifestyle of healthy choices, then one is free on occasion to make a choice to eat in an unhealthy way, for whatever reason. Health does not have to be drudgery. Health does not mean denying myself everything good. However, it means taking control of your choices and using them to your benefit.

I want to add a warning to those reading this. You have to understand that what I did fit with my current program. Carb Cycling actually recommends an occasional undisciplined day because hormone changes can occur with long term low carb and low calorie consumption—I don’t need my T level dropping. However, if I were still in my prior program which is ketogenic, I wouldn’t have dared do this. In such a program one must stay long term in fat burn and getting back into fat burn can take days in the early stages of these programs. That one meal would have led to days of misery trying to get back into fat burn. However, after months of being carefully on program and making healthy choices, my body goes in and out of fat burn rather quickly. For example, the day before yesterday I was in a high carb cycle on a weight day. Because of a celebration, I actually allowed myself to have far more carbs than I intended—including too many simple carbs. Yesterday I went back low carb (I do this on my two cardio days each week). Yesterday evening I checked with a Ketostix and I was already in a good level of fat burn.

First off, follow your program. Second, if you allow yourself too much on a special meal during the holidays don’t lose your mind with guilt and grief. Third, don’t use the holidays as an excuse for a season of indulgence. Fourth, don’t allow others to set the agenda on what you eat because making someone else feel good about their favorite food is not worth more than your health.

Pi$$ Poor Prior Planning

We’ve all heard the saying, “failure to plan is a plan to fail.” In the Army we referred to The Four P’s: Pi$$ Poor Prior Planning. Today at the gym I found myself thinking about the importance of having a plan in striving for health and fitness.

Since I’ve switched from weight loss to mass gain I am doing less cardio, more weight training and eating larger portions to fuel the gains which are my current goal. When I started out in the gym I found the easiest way was to go to a line of machines and do a full course from the first in that line through the end. This is easier since the machines are usually laid out to work one muscle group and then the next. It was easy because I knew where to start, where to go next—and very important—when I would be done. This latter point is paramount when just starting a workout routine and not being in the habit of hitting the gym.

Now, because I kind of reached the limits of where the machines would take me, I am moving more to free weights. The reason for this is core conditioning and practical strength issues. While the machines are great for concentrating on a specific muscle or muscle group, they work only those muscles and usually hold your body fairly stable. Free weights are very different. While working one muscle group you must also use others to support your body and maintain proper form. In this way you work on the muscles you target but you reap the benefit of strengthening the surrounding areas.

The problem with doing this though is a lack of a plan. The machines were laid out in order: start here, go here, finish over there, and go home. The free weights are a jumble of steel and benches often laid out haphazardly. There is no direction, no actual plan built into the area. This means I can either wing it, doing whatever I feel like at the moment, or I can lay out a plan ahead of time. If I don’t take the time to plan, it is too easy to get discouraged, bored, or side tracked. It is especially hard since, unlike the machines, the weights have no little picture telling you what to actually do. Without a plan the favorite things get worked on and everything else gets neglected. Before long, discouragement creeps in and you fall off the fitness bandwagon.

These thoughts came to mind today while talking to a friend about her health and weight and thinking about my own experience. One major help for success is having a plan. Too many approach their health and their weight with the mindset of “I’ll try this and see what happens; then, I add this; perhaps I’ll do that.” We trade the food buffet for the fad diet buffet. Someone tells us the answer is Apple Cider Vinegar so we add that. We are told “Juicing is the answer.” Others claim, “You will never lose weight without (fill in the blank).” One nice thing about a plan is that we can tell people “I’m on a program and will stay with it. Thanks for the advice but it doesn’t work with my program.”

I had people tell me, “You don’t need a diet! You just need to watch how much you eat.” To which I responded, “Isn’t that what a diet is?” You see a diet or a weight loss program is a plan for how to go from heavy to light, from fat to slim, from unhealthy to healthy. It is a roadmap. It is not a master. It is a guardrail keeping you from falling off into the abyss of another failure.

Can you lose weight without a plan? Yes, you can. You can also lose weight without even trying, but how many of us can rely on that fact to get healthy. A plan (a formal program, if you will) helps in the following ways:

  1. It allows you worry less about each step.
  2. It allows you to think long term without getting discouraged by what is right in front of you.
  3. It allows you to know the path to the goal—where you are going is useless information without knowing how to get there.
  4. It allows you to be more disciplined.

This last is very important. One of the things I did was set a reminder on my phone for every time I was supposed to eat. This way I always knew when to eat, but also knew when not to eat. If I just wanted something I could say, “Nope. The alarm hasn’t gone off yet.” I could also look to see just how long until my next meal. Resistance is easier when you know it’s only three hours between meals (part of the plan). It is also easier to be disciplined when you know what your next meal is going to be (the plan, again). When you have planned it ahead of time, and maybe even done the largest part of the cooking ahead of time, it is easier to not eat just out of convenience—“I need to eat something but have nothing prepared, so I’ll pick up a hamburger just this once.” One thing I did was to cook a whole roast and portion it out for meals so each day I could just grab a piece of roast and add some proper green veggies to have my meal if time was short. No temptations from convenience.

The first point about knowing the next step is also important. Do I need to eat 30 grams of carbs, and then some protein this meal? Did I have too many carbs in the last meal? Did I get enough protein today? All of these can be a problem without proper planning. A good program takes care of most of these things for you. Forget about the fads your skinny friends will all regale you with and find a clinically studied and prepared program that works for your health needs.

My program was Medifast meals on the Take Shape For Life Program. It worked for me. I recommend it highly to anyone. Does this mean I believe this is the only program? Of course not! There are others. I want to encourage you to make a plan, to chart a course to health. For many, like me, the best course is one that many before have taken.