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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Renewed Determination

The five months since my last post have been full, interesting and educational—and some of it depressing. You may have noticed that I dropped off the radar, blog wise. Actually, I’ve had many things going on and several reasons for not posting on this site. Well, I’m back. I have a specific reason for coming back. One thing important is that I’ve learned much about maintaining weight and the difficulties of going from unhealthy to healthy.

In April, I dropped off of program. It wasn’t intentional. My first plan was to lose the weight, which I did pretty well through Medifast. I lost the weight quickly and learned a great deal about myself. Then I switched, in the fall, to lifting weights to build muscle mass—to continue the weight loss from the other direction, gaining muscle to increase fitness and metabolism.

My job changed in ways that made it difficult to get to the gym regularly. This was more of an excuse. Had I truly wanted to make it, I could have. Of course, there were two reasons for not wanting to make it to the gym. One was an issue with my testosterone level (which I’ll address further down page) and the other was arm pain—not only when lifting, but constantly. Having spent several years in the military, my instinct was to just work through it. This had worked in many other situations. But, no matter what I did the arm only deteriorated.

So, I thought if I laid off a few weeks my arm would get better and I could just go back to it. Instead, I discovered that it didn’t get any better—it continued to get worse. During this time I lost the habit of going to the gym. A good habit must be reinforced just as strongly as a bad habit must be resisted. If you don’t go, you develop the habit of not going.

In June, I received confirmation of what I suspected. I had a torn rotator cuff. I had learned a lesson too late. That lesson was to always always always (perhaps I should say ‘always’ a few more times) lift with proper form. If you’re not going to take the time to learn and use proper form, then don’t lift! On June 23rd, I had corrective surgery to fix the rotator cuff and remove a bone spur from my shoulder. I have been in recovery since hen—I suppose physical therapy is a form of gym, right? It really stinks going from lifting weights in the quest to build muscle to working with pulleys and bands trying to regain the ability to raise my arm above my waist. If you haven’t had rotator cuff surgery, please take it off your bucket list. I assure you it isn’t fun.

During the first few months, even without the gym, I maintained my weight with little effort. Some habits were easy. I still avoid most sugars. I try to limit carbs on most days, but allow myself splurge days. I also avoided those foods which are simply not good for maintaining health (notice the past tense in that sentence). This will bring up another lesson learned, later.

I kept telling myself I was going to go back on program later and I’d go back to the gym as soon as my arm was good enough. This morning (Sunday, Sept 6, 2015), because of how my shirt no longer fit, I said to my wife, “That’s it! I’m back on program right this minute!” I went in and ordered more supplies and notified my coach. Fortunately, I have enough Medifast supplies stored to tide me over until the new shipment comes.

The issue of my testosterone was less of a lesson and more of a discovery. Early in the year my endocrinologist tried lowering my testosterone lower than ever. I was doing well, with lots of energy and motivation. This all changed with the new dosage. It took me several weeks to put the lower dose and my newly acquired lack of energy and motivation together. Then it was a couple months until my next round of tests. A couple weeks ago my doctor found that my low levels matched my symptoms and raised my dosage back up to the higher level. We did an MRI to see if there was a pituitary tumor causing problems. This showed my pituitary gland is fine. The doctor and I agree that the problem is that I still have too much body fat (more on this and testosterone in a later post). I should have continued with the Medifast to continue reducing fat and waited to start weight training. Lessoned learned.

Now with my T levels adjusted and my renewed intent, it’s time to get going back on the path of healthy choices. An important part of this will be this blog. The blog gave me accountability. When facing decisions, it helps to consider what I’ll report in this blog—good news, bad news, success or failure.

If you have dropped off your program of health, get back on program. Don’t let anything keep you from it. “When it comes to health, tomorrow never comes and later is a lie.”

Progress so far–with pictures

IMG_20150123_063350Today I return to a previous practice. I will probably only do it for a couple weeks, and then return to weight lifting, but for now I’m posting weekly weight measurements. As my readers know I switched from my previous program (Medifast with Take Shape for Life) over to carb cycling. I did this not because the prior one didn’t work. Actually, it worked miraculously and I would have happily stayed on it until at my final goal weight. However, my medical situation is such (I have been taking testosterone for years) that I wanted to attack my BMI from the lean side for a while, in order to (1) increase my metabolism and (2) increase my own output of testosterone. This required weight training, so, as I’ve reported previously, I switched over to carb cycling. For the last couple months I’ve been on a purely weight training and higher carb cycle, and decided last Friday to switch over to low carb with cardio. I’ve been back on it for a week, and today’s weight was 260 lbs.

I had changed over around 264 lbs. and started lifting. My weight over the next couple months went up to 271 lbs. (my weight last Saturday). Now, before you think this was all fat increase, and was going backwards, understand that my clothes were all starting to fit looser, and everything was getting trimmed up—except for areas I was working to enlarge. This means I was gaining muscle. Body composition and form are far more important than numbers on a scale. The scale can only tell you “how much” is there, but has no idea “what” is there. Gaining fat is bad; gaining muscle is good. However, it is inevitable that one also puts on some fat while building muscle because of the need to consume higher carbs and even some simple sugars and starches to fuel the gains.

I decided it was time to change over for a bit to give some tendons and joints a chance to heal. I had been having problems on occasion with my right wrist, right elbow, right shoulder, left hip and right ankle (Good Lord! How did I get old?). I was able to work around these when it was just one at a time, however, at my last gym session all were making it very hard to work out. I decided to give them a break and concentrate, once again, on burning fat.

An old before and after picture from several months ago.

An old before and after picture from several months ago.

me at heaviest

An old before photo of me before starting this journey.

Now, some people are going to see the number 260 lbs. and think that is still extremely fat. Remember that each person carries fat in their own way. I am not a small guy. The last time I was small was sixth grade, when I had a huge growth spirt and became head and shoulders taller than the guys who had picked on me the year before—a nice turn of the tables. Keep in mind that I came from 425 lbs. lifetime highest, and was 385 lbs. just last Easter (nine months ago). I’ve lost 165 lbs. from my highest and, of that, 125 lbs. was lost in the aforementioned nine month period. I am going to post some pictures to show what I look like now in comparison to before. Understand that I have few pictures from before because I hated taking them. Also forgive me for some of the pictures. I have my shirt off in the latest. While I know in our culture it is acceptable for a man to go shirtless, there are three reasons I am very uncomfortable with it. My wife’s culture and that of many of my friends do not view this the same way. My wife will be very embarrassed by the photo because her family can see them and in her mind they are shameful. Also, I am a pastor, and many will see such displays by one in my position as out of place. I apologize—I assure you, God’s not shamed by this display. The third reason I am so uncomfortable, is that I am not a young man. I am almost fifty and when older men want to show themselves without a shirt on the internet the best answer is “Just say no,” (Geraldo Rivera, for example). The pictures are not meant to show off. They are meant only to show my current condition—to show progress. Wearing a shirt covers many details. Please excuse them. Think of them as medical images only. (I removed one).

So, I’ve dropped from 271 lbs. to 260 lbs. in a week. Keep in mind that only part of this is fat. A great deal will be from a loss of weight lifting inflammation and from reduction in muscle glycogen stores from being low carb.

Starting to see some abs.

Starting to see some abs.

Changing it up a bit–back to fat burning!

I’ve been debating over the last few weeks the best time to lay off the weights and go into a high cardio, low carb cycle—known as a micro-cycle. In carb-cycling you go back and forth between building muscle and burning fat. The two processes are dependent on different hormones and require different fuels and different amounts of consumption.

A micro-cycle involves a catabolic state. In this state the body is breaking tissue down into components—it breaks down fat if fueled and worked properly, but if not managed well will also break down muscle and other tissue. In this state you eat low carbs, do cardio exercises and maintain a calorie deficit (eating fewer calories than you actually burn) so your body burns fat stores.

A macro-cycle involves an anabolic state. In this state the body assembles components into tissue—building muscle and other tissues. It requires higher carbs—including some simple carbs—as well as a calorie surplus (eating more calories each day than your body actually uses). The problem is that anabolism will also deposit a certain amount of fat on the body. So, one rotates between the two states to keep down the fat while increasing lean muscle mass.

For the first few months I went back and forth doing a macro-cycle on Monday, Wednesday and Friday with weight training; and a micro-cycle on Tuesday and Thursday accompanied by cardio. I saw improvements to my core and some increases in muscle mass, with no actual increase of the scale. Then about a month ago, I switched to a purely macro-cycle (weight training and higher consumption). I did about an average of 6 hours a week in the gym on weights and core training with no cardio. This brought my weight up about five pounds over where it was, but I have also built muscle mass, especially in areas I had emphasized—chest, arms, shoulders and back. I also tightened up my legs, glutes and abs.

There have been problems. At one point I over did it on my lower back and had to work around that for a while. Now I am having some problems with tendons in my right ankle and right elbow as well as something hurting from time to time in my right shoulder. I have been working around these when needed, but have for a while thought it might be time to drop off weights back to burning fat to get closer to my final goal weight before Easter (2015)—my original target date. This will also have the benefit of allowing these hurting areas to mend for a while.

The other day I decided to finish out the month of January on a micro-cycle to burn fat. As I remove some more fat from my frame, I should get a better idea of just where I need to concentrate my efforts. This means I am back in a low carb cycle and going to replace weights with cardio (rotating between bicycle, treadmill and pool workouts). I’ll switch my five days of weights for five days of cardio (Saturday and Sunday will still be rest days. At the end of January I’ll decide whether to go back to the weights or continue in a fat burning stage (I will still have some weight to lose at that time).

Last Friday (today is Monday) I made this choice and finished out my final higher-carb, weight training day. Because I’ve been on this journey for just under a year, I wanted to test and see how quickly my body would switch back into fat burning mode–having been out of it for over a month. On Friday night, I allowed myself to go wild with carbs and calories. My wife and I went to see a movie and we shared a large tub of popcorn (to be honest my wife had some and I had the rest). We followed that with supper at Fuddruckers. I had fries, and a half pound burger (yes, I ate the bun) with cheese, mushrooms, and bacon (Mmmm! Bacon!). I also ate most of my wife’s fries (I love that woman)…in the name of research, of course. Those of you who’ve read my blog know I’ve discussed the importance of making eating choices before entering the restaurant. I did this on this trip as well. I went in intent on loading down with calories and carbs to see how quickly a low carb regimen would put me back into a catabolic fat burning state—without exercise over the weekend. The next morning I started a strict low carb eating pattern. By that evening, I was already registering mild fat burn on my Ketostix. I’ve monitored since and continue in that state.

I intend to stay in low carb to burn fat for the next two weeks. My plan is, as I said, to do daily cardio during the week (Saturday is for rest and recreation while, as a pastor, Sunday is a very busy work day). However, I don’t want to lose any muscle or reduce my newly developed core strength in any way so I intend to continue hitting certain muscle groups from time to time and doing regular kettlebell routines.

This means I’ll be back to posting weekly weight reports this coming Friday. I look forward to seeing what happens and where I end up. Saturday morning when I weighed, the scale registered 271 lbs. So I still need to lose about 40 lbs. to reach my personal goal.

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.

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.