Concentrating on Your own Positive

Since changing my goals and concentrating on gaining muscle, I have been in a Carb Cycling macrocycle (meaning more than one day per week consuming higher carbs and lifting weights). I find myself wanting to get my scale weight down. But I can’t build muscle and worry about the scale at the same time. Building muscle can push weight up, since muscle actually weighs more than the same volume of fat. I have to keep reminding myself that I have an end goal to reach. I want to raise my lean body mass and then lower my fat content down to reach a specific BMI.

One reason for doing this is my testosterone. When I was at my heaviest, my weight and sleep apnea all worked together to create a perfect storm against my endocrine system. My body was making so little testosterone that it was practically useless. On top of that, the testosterone I was making was of no use. Fat cells around the abdomen actually convert testosterone to estrogen. My sleep apnea reduced the production of testosterone, and then my excess fat took what was produced and converted it to a hormone that would do even more harm to my system.

Losing weight has helped my sleep apnea. I am no longer using my C-PAP. My testosterone levels are great, but not perfect so the doctor has started reducing my weekly dosage—which is nice because it is a painful, self-administered shot and the lower the dose, the less pain.

I decided to concentrate on weights and muscle gain in order to increase my natural testosterone production. The problem is that I spent so many months thinking about the scale and looking for lower numbers, it is hard to see the scale make no changes in over a month.

I have to remind myself of my current goal—get off the T-shot, and increase lean mass. This means looking at the tape and skin pinch more than scale numbers. I have increased my chest by around 3 inches. My calves have increased from 18 inches to 20 inches. My thighs have trimmed to 27 inches at the widest and tightened considerably. My waist has stayed almost the same. My shoulders are expanding and widening. All of this in about a month and a half. Funny thing is that my shirts had gotten down to XL size, but these are now too tight in the chest and I need to move back up to XXL. Of course this is much better than the 5X I used to wear. My chest was 56 inches back then. It went down to 44 inches (I list 12 inches of fat around my chest)—the smallest I remember it being since high school. It is now up to 47 inches.

I have to keep in mind the goals that matter are mine. Others would look at my scale number and say, “You have to get that down.” They don’t know anything about my actual lean mass (which is heavier than what the traditional BMI chart says should be my healthy weight). They don’t know about the need to gain muscle to increase T production. Worrying about what someone else thinks you need is useless. Set your own goals and work towards them. If others can’t support the goals you set for yourself, don’t talk to them about this area of your life. Even after all this time on program, I still have friends whom I know not to speak to about my weight or health. I know their contributions are useless, so I protect the friendship by ignoring the stupid advice and silly statements. I try to concentrate on my own goals and remind myself constantly of what I am working towards. Since my weight is unchanged but my muscle mass has increased, this means I am “exchanging” fat for muscle—a positive. Concentrating on the positive is always helpful.

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Stress and Sleep Impact Health and Weight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday Weigh Day! More Good News!

2014-05-30 06.29.27This week has seen more non-scale victories, more lessons learned, and more weight lost. I’ll give the weigh-in results first and then the others. This morning I weighed 331 pounds. That is 53 total pounds lost on this program (in 6 weeks). I have reached 32% of my goal. If you look back over the past few weeks this one’s numbers are far less dramatic. I lost four pounds from last week. While this may not be nearly as impressive as the ten plus pounds lost in the earlier weeks, it is a far healthier and normal amount to lose on this program. I’ve learned that it is normal to start out with quite impressive losses and then balance down into a healthier rate of loss.

One thing I did this week was create a tool on Excel to help me record each step and predict possible outcomes. There is a table where I enter each week’s numbers and it compiles total pounds lost and calculates the percentage of goal. I can also query how many weeks to expect to reach goal if a certain weekly loss is maintained. For example, it tells me that from where I am now, if I average this week’s four pounds per week then it will take me just over 27 weeks, or 6 ½ months to reach my goal weight. I wanted to have this so that a few weeks from now, if I have some unreal expectations I can look back and see that I am actually right on track—it will also help me to see a problem early enough to fix it.

This brings up a lesson learned this week. Like most people, I have a problem with unrealistic expectations. One such expectation is the amount of weight to be lost each week. Recently I fell into the habit of looking to the scale each day—sometimes multiple times per day. The problem is that our weight can fluctuate all through the day and from day to day. I would look at the scale and see either the same weight as days before, or even a couple times it would look like I might have gained weight. However, I’ve learned to look at other things than the scale. While it is nice to see those numbers progress lower and lower, there are other benefits to losing weight that don’t involve a scale.

One way to overcome this ‘tyranny of the scale’ is to look for non-scale victories and not let the numbers dictate your mood. Also understand that, while it is nice to lose huge amounts (10 lbs. or more per week), such loss over an extended period is not healthy and can cause great problems. If you are like me, it took years to get overweight and unhealthy and such problems will not go away in a few weeks or even months. It can take a lifetime of good choices to correct a lifetime of bad choices. Go slow, have real expectations and look for good results that don’t just involve numbers on a scale.

I’ve had several good non-scale victories. Some I have shared before, like being taken off of meds for prediabetes. This week I found out I no longer need my C-PAP machine to sleep. I had discovered I could sleep without it, but the doctor insisted I use it until I had another sleep test. The latest sleep test shows I still have apnea, but it is mild enough to be treated with sleeping position and continued weight loss. Yesterday I had another such victory. Just a couple weeks ago I fit into old pants that had been too clothing racktight. I also cheered when I was able to go buy shorts off the shelf at a department store—instead of spending an arm and a leg at a Big & Tall specialty store. Then I was able to buy shirts there as well. Now, I have lost even more weight and had to go shopping for new pants. I was able to buy jeans off the shelf at the same department store. Let me explain why this is such a victory. Right now I am wearing several items of clothing including undergarments, a button down shirt, denim jeans and a leather belt—aren’t you glad to know I don’t write these in my birthday suit? All of these items were purchased off the shelf at a local department store. The reason this is exciting is that the combined cost of all of them was significantly less than a single pair of shorts at the specialty store I had to buy clothes from just over a month ago. I will always cheer loudly about stretching my budget and getting more for my money.

Weigh-in Friday, Week Three

2014-05-09 07.37.00Today is another weigh-in Friday. I also have another non-scale victory to report as well as a nice way to get visual encouragement on my diet without being a slave to the scale.

First, the weigh-in report. As I’ve said before, I am careful to weigh in the same location, in the same state of dress and physical condition, and at the same time of day. This morning my weight was 350 lbs. That is 8 lbs. down from last Friday; 34 lbs. lower than when I started the program; 70 lbs. from my lifetime highest (worst). I lost 36 lbs. with the help of a prediabetes medicine and then stuck around 384 for over 8 months. I’ve lost 34 lbs. in three weeks with Take Shape for Life and the help of my coach. I was a little concerned at first about the cost of the program, but we no longer eat out and most of my meals come out of the program, so our food costs have gone down considerably. There is also the investment in my health. This program is the best investment I’ve ever made.

Now, I’ll touch on my non-scale victories. First there is my clothing. I am shrinking right out of my clothes and, even with my belt as tight as it will go, my pants keep falling off—I don’t mean sliding off slowly. I was going to go buy new pants today, but instead will wait a bit and simply go pick up some suspenders and a new belt to cinch everything up better. A friend recommended tying a beverly1rope around my waist, but since I have a couple missing teeth (and am bad about forgetting to wear my partial plate) I can only go so far before people start asking me to play the banjo. Another non-scale victory was just noticed yesterday. My wife’s car has grown! She drives a small Hyundai and I usually fit in it quite ‘snugly.’ Last night driving home from a meeting I realized my belly was not even close to the steering wheel (a good six inches away) and my knees and thighs were touching nothing. I was shocked and realized I had shrunk quite a bit. My wife’s Hyundai feels as roomy as my old Lincoln Town Car did when I was heaviest.

Another non-scale victory I reported earlier in the week was being able to sleep without my C-Pap mask. Well, due to the insistence of my doctor I am once again sleeping with the mask. I managed to pull together parts from different masks to make one fit enough not to make loud leaking sounds. However, this too is a victory. I am able to sleep comfortably and restfully without the mask, but can choose to wear it. My whole thing here is making health my choice. I choose to follow the doctor’s recommendation. He is ordering another sleep study to see if I still need it, or if I need an adjustment in my pressure setting.

KetostixFinally, I spoke before about a different way to get visual encouragement without constant weighing and worrying about spinning numbers on a scale. I did, for a while, get trapped into constantly weighing. It doesn’t help that my wife would insist I weigh so she could see. The problem is that one’s weight fluctuates throughout the day—and I’ve been told it can fluctuate as much as ten pounds in some people. There were times it looked as if I had gained a bit of weight, which can be discouraging. What I do now is use Ketostix to test my urine for evidence of fat burn. I know if I am in fat burn, I can rest assured I am losing weight. I test each day with a stick rather than jumping on the scale. This tool has been used by low carb dieters for years and it was something I used when I was on Adkins many years ago. For me it has been especially helpful, since I have switched from 4-2-1 over to the more demanding 5&1, which means I am back to being tired and a bit hungry for a few days. The Ketostix assure me that I am still burning fat. That way I am able to motivate myself to keep moving forward. Of course, my wife doesn’t like it because she claims I miss enough without trying to pee on a stick. Sorry honey!never-miss

Change can be a good thing!

Changes come quickly some times. Over the last couple weeks, I’ve lost about thirty pounds in a two and a half week period.  I’ve shrunk down to fitting in an old wardrobe that had long been too small—even getting to the point that even those pants fall off if not careful, which could be quite embarrassing while preaching. I have dropped a medication I was placed on for prediabetes. I have also been having problems with my C-Pap mask.

I never had a problem with my mask before and always slept quite comfortably with it. However, some air always leaked through the seal because of my beard. Recently, at my wife’s request I shaved the beard to give it a better seal. Now instead of leaking through my beard, every few minutes the air will come out where my fat cheek used to be and make a loud farting sound, which wakes me up. I even changed to a smaller mask, to try to fix it, but that one farts all night as well. I went about three days getting almost no sleep, and finally decided to try sleeping without the c-pap. I slept quite soundly, woke only when something started to hurt forcing me to roll over, and show none of the other signs of my previous sleep apnea. My wife also says I no longer snore.

Of course, I still have to run some of these changes by my doctors. I see my specialist in a few weeks to check my sugar and hormone levels. I am also waiting to hear from my sleep specialist. This payday I plan to get a Jawbone Up to monitor my activities and sleep patterns.

Things are looking up and the positive changes in my life encourage me to keep going.

I spoke to my coach today and after consulting with a nutritionist I am switching from the previous meal plan of 4-2-1 (four meal replacements, 2 Lean & Green meals and 1 snack per day), that I was on because of prediabetes, over to the regular 5-1 plan (five meal replacements and 1 Lean & Green meal per day). This means going through a few days of tiredness and hunger, but I am starting this today so my energy can return before I have to stand up and preach on Sunday—something which takes far more energy than you would imagine.

Finally Starting my Journey

BeforeI’ve always been large—at least since a major growth spurt between sixth and seventh grade. Of course, it is a common joke about overweight people claiming to be “big boned.” For me it is not a joke. Recently I was in a new doctor’s office being lectured about my weight—as usual. She paused for a second looking at my arm, reached up and tried to put her hand around my wrist and exclaimed, “Wow! You really are big boned.” But the problem is not my bones. The problem is all the fat hanging off of them.

If you had told me as a young man that getting this way was in my future I would have laughed at you. I went in the Army right after High School and spent the next eight years as an Infantryman—including a couple years on Jump status with the 82nd Airborne Division. I always loved to road march. I was the guy who would walk everyone else into the ground. I was a speed marching machine—often volunteering to carry the heaviest items. Weakness was despised and fat was just a physical manifestation of weakness.

Things changed over time. I married a beautiful young woman who loved to cook wonderful large meals. Which, I was happy to consume. Not long after marriage I had a conversion experience and also sensed a calling to leave the military for the ministry.

After 8 years I got out of the Army and spent years supporting myself in construction—which helped to keep the weight down. However, the lack of organized disciplined exercise could be seen around my growing middle.

Now years later, after spending the last 15 years in fairly fulltime ministry—an occupation that requires little actual physical labor—I am not only overweight but shamefully fat. I can point to some factors other than lack of discipline. I struggled with the weight for many years and even tried to lose it. At one point I went on the Atkins diet and lost 50 pounds in two months. When I dropped off of the diet, I gained it all back along with an extra 25 pounds—I was worse than before.Current Me

Even with all this, I had managed to keep my weight under 300 pounds. But a few years ago I started packing on weight fast. I was going through something seriously wrong with my body. I was waking up a dozen times each night to urinate; I was flop sweating all night; I was having bad heartburn; I was having a hard time controlling my blood pressure; I developed gout; I gained over a hundred pounds in a little over a year.

When I got the point of being unable to concentrate or think clearly and falling asleep constantly I finally went to the doctor expecting the worst. After several weeks of testing it was determined that my long time problem with sleep apnea had gotten so bad it had torpedoed my endocrine system (I was stopping breathing and waking 85 times an hour so I was never entering into REM sleep). My body had stopped making testosterone. I was also told that my apnea was slowly making me insane and killing me. Unless I got my hormones and sleep patterns fixed I would die.

Now, after a year and a half taking regular injections and using a C-pap machine, I have lost a few pounds, but very slowly. I have decided to make a major life shift. I started looking for options when I found out a neighbor of mine was on a weight loss program that was being quite successful for him.

I have decided to use the Take Shape for Life program by Medifast. I have a coach, and have just received my first box of food. This is a program where you use meal replacement products purchased in place of regular food and snacks.

Of course, a program is only effective if you follow through and use it. To quit in one month or two would do me no good. I currently weigh 385lbs. I have sleep apnea, testosterone issues, gout, and problems with blood clots. I am also pre-diabetic with high blood pressure. I didn’t get this way overnight and won’t fix it overnight. Though I am looking long term at the rest of my life, I am starting with the first step of getting myself down to 250 lbs. My first step is to commit to a year on this current plan. While that will likely not be enough time to lose the 135 lbs. of my first step, it is a start. I decided on my current time and duration because I work well with starting times and end goal times. Right now is Easter season—an important time in my year—and will continue until next Easter. After that I will look at the next step.

In order to discipline myself I decided to blog here about my journey. I want to share my story. I want to document it. However, more important than this is the accountability it gives me. By letting the world see what I am doing the world will also know if I fail or surrender. So feel free to keep me accountable. Watch my journey and consider your own.

I post this right as I eat my first meal replacement.