Weight Report and Some thoughts on Depression

IMG_20150913_070233When I returned to my program, on September 6, 2015, my weight had gone back up to about 278 lbs. (about a 23 lb. increase, with most of it after rotator cuff surgery). I remember it being within a pound or so of that, but didn’t take a photo. Part of the reason for not taking a picture is that I wanted to get back into fat burn and properly hydrated before reporting my weight. The reason for waiting until properly hydrated over several days is because (as I reported in the past) my weight will differ by as much as 5-7 lbs. Inflammation, as joints and organs hold water to maintain proper function adds weight. There is also the additional weight of a full bowel—sorry to share that.

This past Sunday (September 13) I weighed in at 266.8 lbs. This might seem like a large drop for just one week—which it is—except that it likely includes additional loss for the above reasons. However, I usually lose very fast on this program, at least for the first few months. After several months my metabolism will slow down to compensate for the long term calorie count. But in the first few months my body happily burns major fat.

A couple days in, I stopped feeling any hunger pains. There was the occasional grumbling tummy, but that will come and go any time. After three days, I was in fat burn and my energy levels were back up. My motivation is high and I am very pleased with the program. This actually brought up some thoughts about another time I tried to go back on program.

Last spring, for various reasons I decided to go back on program and, a week or so in, I became terribly depressed. It really came on suddenly. It was also quite extreme. That is one of the reasons I dropped off the radar blog-wise. It got bad enough, that I thought I might need to seek help. I’ve used traditional and over the counter methods for years to counteract depression, and they usually work very well (I’ll share some later). This past spring nothing seemed to work, except for dropping off of program. Even that only brought me out of “the deep dark”, into the “not as deep and dark.” I was still fairly depressed. There was an element of it that continued until recently. This helped me to figure out what happened.

Low Carb diets can affect our serotonin levels and cause lowered moods—and for some even a depressive mood.  I don’t want to say it can cause depression, because depression is something medical. If you suspect depression, see the doctor. I can talk about moods and recommend ways to improve those, but really am not offering advice on depression. I am only offering what I have learned about myself. Please take it in that spirit.

I went back on program right about the same time that there were some new stresses in my professional and personal life. Those stresses and the program joined up with it being the time my doctor lowered my testosterone dose by a third to see if my body would make up for it. It didn’t. Instead I got very low on T-level, and only recently found that out by my latest blood tests (I’ll share some of what I’ve learned about testosterone later). The doctor recently raised my dose back up and confirmed this as the cause of my symptoms.

One problem with health, and trying to return from an unhealthy state, is that there are so many different factors. One thing good for you can actually compound with something else. These together can have an undesirable effect. Throw in three or four changes together and your world can seem to come apart. Take things slow. Don’t try to improve everything at once. We want everything to be undone immediately and to return right away to that healthy young man or woman we once were. The thing is, I didn’t get to be over 400 lbs. with all the health issues I had overnight. It took decades to get there. I hope it doesn’t take decades to fix it—especially since I am not so sure how many decades I have left. The thing to remember is that my goal may be total health. But that is long term goal over the distant horizon. My goal today is to be healthier than I was yesterday; healthier than I was last week; healthier than I was last month; healthier than I was last year…

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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.

Slaying the Scale Monster!

The scale can be a real monster sometimes. Using it to know where you are and if you are going in the right direction is helpful. However, it can also be a real kick in the shorts when you are sure everything is doing well, you step on the scale and it attacks—giving you a number far above what you expected. It is hard to not get worried. There are so many things that can cause a scale fluctuation—inflammation, dehydration, etc. But one can still get quite scared and even emotional when that scale doesn’t say what you want it to say.

To prevent this, you can weigh infrequently. Rather than weighing every day you could pick a day of the week to weigh. If that day, you happen to be in a small scale fluctuation it is likely to be after a week of weight change so even a number higher than it should be will be welcome. This is a good method when doing the same thing over a period of months and you are confident it works. When you are weighing like this, you aren’t trying to figure out if your plan is working. You are just checking to see where you are. This isn’t as helpful when transitioning or changing things up. During these times, it may be necessary to weigh every day—as I have been doing over the last few weeks.

Recently, I transitioned over from trying to lose the maximum amount of weight in the shortest possible time, to trying to build muscle. I reached one goal and now have set another different one. Because of this I transitioned over from MediFast on the Take Shape for Life program (which saved my life and set me on a good path), to using Carb Cycling with a combination of weight and cardio days. Unlike the earlier program, in which everything was so well laid out and easy to follow, the new program takes a lot of study, practice and learning to know what to do. This means there are more chances of screwing up. Since this program means eating more carbs, and I have a history of carb cravings, there is a great deal of apprehension when adding in new things, and watching the scale helps to tell if I am going the right direction, and weighing each day has become part of this.

To handle this I adopted a practice similar to a skill learned in the Army. In the Army I served as an Infantryman for eight years. One skill that you learn is calling in artillery on a target. Artillery is an area target, meaning that you aren’t trying to hit a target on the nose. You are trying to get a special projectile within a certain distance of a target (within the effective area). In the days before laser guided and smart munitions, you began by calling in initial coordinates; then, the gun bunnies fire a shell; the observer sees where it hits, calls in corrections and then another shell is fired. The observer tries to walk the shell impact onto the target with a technique known as bracketing. For example, the first shell lands 100 yards north of the target. Call in a correction and the next shell lands 100 yards south of the target. Correct the next shell back to the north for 50 yards and see if it hits.

When I use the scale I have an area that is acceptable: “If I weight between A and B, then everything is fine.” I also want this area to slowly move down. I notice over time that the lower number of my acceptable range slides down and the upper number is lower and lower. This way, scale fluctuations are built into the expectation. If I am supposed to weigh 260, then anything between 255 and 265 is acceptable. Slowly over time this becomes 250 to 260. For some it might be a ten pound spread. For others it might be five.

In my new program, big week to week changes in the scale just don’t happen—this really makes me miss being on the full TSFL program. Seeing that big drop of pounds each week was nice. However, my goal now is muscle building and changing my body fat percentage by both reducing fat and raising lean mass. One thing that helps to monitor now, is regular tape measuring. For example, my weight hasn’t changed much over the last three weeks. However, my clothes are loose. My muscles seem to be tightening. In my arms and legs I can start to see some new definition. Now I still weight regularly, but I find a tape measure a far more useful tool. Besides measuring various locations, I like to give myself regular tape tests. I use the military tape test because it is the easiest. I know it is not the most accurate, but it gives me a good picture of direction and change that the scale may not see. I found an app for my phone so I simply enter the measurements and it gives me my range.

Even though my scale hasn’t registered any big changes—just a very gradual movement—the tape shows a different story. According the tape I am now out of the obese range and into the acceptable range. This means I am not yet “fit” but would pass a military tape test. That is progress. If you are working and working but not seeing change where you expect then look somewhere else. Are the scales not moving? Well, are your clothes looser? Are your body dimensions changing? Have things disappeared? For example, one day it seemed I wasn’t making progress until it dawned on me that my “moobs” were gone. Yesterday, I realized my “love handles” were gone. One day I looked down and realized I could see the bones in my knees. The fat that usually surrounded them was just not there.

There are health targets to shoot for other than numbers on a scale.

One goal reached, on to the next!

Transitions can be rough

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

Goal and Focus Changes

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

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

Options Considered

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

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

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

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

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

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

My New Program

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

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

Rebound

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

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

My New Goal

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