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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Ending the Year, Continuing the Journey

Before

Before the Journey

Well, it’s been a while since I posted anything on this site. That is my oversight, as I have been very busy with changes at work, and with some new projects in the works. This week is the end of my annual goal of making healthier choices. I’ve had many victories, some failures, and quite a few lessons learned.

I thought I would post the changes that have happened. I am also going to come back to discipline myself to post about lessons learned. This post will concentrate on the changes. Future posts will concentrate on the lessons learned—those learned in the past, or new ones as they are learned.

My weight is the biggest change—but not the most significant. My lifetime high was 425 lbs. Of course, I’m not sure if that is the actual highest. That was my weight when visiting my sleep specialist for the first time. He was the only one of my doctors with a scale high enough to measure me. It was still several months of bad eating, and poor choices after that visit before I actually did anything to change, so I may have weighed much higher.

After

After a year on the journey

My first step was going on meds for my pre-diabetes under doctor’s orders. Supposedly this medicine would also cause weightloss. I started taking it, almost expecting a magic bullet effect—“Take this daily shot and get healthy and skinny.” Of course, there is no magic bullet. I lost weight down to about 385 lbs. but stopped there. Nothing else happened. I knew 385 was not really healthier than 425, so I resolved it was time to rethink my whole outlook on food, exercise, health, etc.

The rest of my journey is described elsewhere on this site, so I’ll skip to today. Starting at 385, I am now down to 258 lbs. today. My clothes are very different. I was wearing size 56 pants at my largest. I just bought my first pair of 36 waist jeans today. My shirts were 5X a year ago. Today they are XL.

The C-pap is gone. I sleep unassisted and, according to my wife, don’t even snore. I am no longer pre-diabetes. As a matter of fact, my doctor has described my A1C, cholesterol and heart rate as ideal. I now take only one pill a day for blood pressure—but we have not fully dialed in the dose yet, so this might change. My back problems have all but disappeared.

I am anxious to see my blood work this coming Wednesday. I was on Testosterone for so long that my doctor says my Pituitary became virtually non-responsive. She lowered my dose to see if my body starts creating hormones again. I pray my pituitary kicks in and I can stop taking the shots.

In the coming posts I’ll describe the lessons learned and what I plan to do for the future.

New Doctor and Med Changes

Visiting the doctor is very different from what it was a year ago. It used to be that the doctor would look at his chart, look at me, look back at the chart, shake his head and mumble before beginning the lecture of how I was shortening my life and how badly I needed to lose weight. It was always the same. Today, I had to see the doctor to get some meds refilled. Because of insurance changes I was changing doctors so this was a new one. As part of getting my medical history, it was necessary to walk her through everything that has happened over the last few years and the changes that have occurred during within the last ten months. I just love the shocked look on people’s faces when I show them the photo on my license which was taken when I was still over 400 lbs.

The interesting thing was when we went through the usual questions about current condition. My A1C and cholesterol are fine. I am off my C-PAP. I went off of one blood pressure medicine months ago. My testosterone shot volume has been reduced. I am lighter, healthier, and much more energetic. All these are things I’ve shared here before. I haven’t even had a gout flare in a couple months. During the conversation, the doctor asked if I have any medical complaints I needed to talk to her about. This was the first time that I had to think for quite a while to come up with something. I finally remembered the pain in my elbow from lifting, and she recommended an over-the-counter cream—I just used it and it worked wonders. There was really nothing else to discuss but the changes she was making to my final blood pressure medicine—my blood pressure had dropped lower than it should, showing I was now overmedicated.

I’ve been on Lisinopril for years. My dosage kept creeping up until they added HCTZ to it. Then they doubled my intake to twice a day. About a year before starting my health journey, the doctor added Amlodipine once a day, trying to keep me from stroking-out. Then came the change—no, not menopause. I started my health changes and after a few months the doctor dropped the Amlodipine. Today, my new doctor removed the HCTZ and cut my Lisinopril dosage by twenty-five percent.

I don’t remember doctor visits ever being so fun. We talked and I shared what I’ve experienced and learned over the last few months. I also shared the way my life has changed from losing the weight. The doctor paid me two great compliments—I could get used to this. She said I should hang around and talk to her other patients who just don’t seem willing to make changes. She also, when handing me the obligatory reading material, said, “Here’s some information for you to read, but based on our conversation, you could probably write it.”

It is amazing the difference in doctor visits when you take control of your own health and make positive choices. Most doctors go into medicine to help people. They can only help those who listen. They are also greatly limited when so much of our health is determined by our life choices between visits. There is no magic pill/drink/food/shot/operation going to make you healthy. The only thing that will either sustain your health or rebuild it is wise choices. These choices about what you take in (diet) and how much you burn (exercise) have to be made day by day, moment by moment. You have to develop a habit of choosing health.

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.

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.

Stumbling into Health–Not Likely!

latest before and afterIt’s been a while since I posted a before and after photo. I took a selfie this morning and edited it into an old photo that was taken right around the time I started my program. Over the last few weeks I’ve transitioned off of the weight loss regiment I was on, and am now concentrating on weights and increasing muscle mass. Once I get where I want to be there, I’ll go back to burning fat down to my desired weight.

The changes, both physical and psychological, are hard for me to take in. I compare today to back then and I can’t fathom how I ever got that way. Even though I am no longer in fat burn, I don’t have cravings like before. Yes, at times I just want something to eat. However, I don’t want sweets or crave carbs. When I was heavy, my Kryptonite was Ice Cream. The only ice cream I’ve had since Easter was about a month ago when I was experimenting with Bananas Foster and I had it twice, with no need to have it again. Personally, I don’t care if I ever have it. I used to love beer. I still love the taste of it. But it dawned on me that I no longer care if I ever have another.

I have to admit that at times I have to eat things I would not ordinarily eat on my current eating plan—or any healthy eating plan. For example, a few days ago I was at a meeting where the choice for lunch was sandwiches or sandwiches. So I figured I would have to order a sandwich. However, there was a problem. I shouldn’t have bread. I don’t want to go back to the carb cravings. About 10 years ago I lost a lot of weight on the Atkins diet and when I dropped off I went into major carb consumption mode, eating so much bread, pasta and sweets that I quickly gained the lost weight back with an additional 25 lbs. I see where I am now, and where I used to be and I do not want to go back. So, you might be saying “Then eat the filling and throw away the bread.” I have always had a hard time doing that. I can give you several reasons why I went ahead and ate the bread, but none of that really matters. I chose to eat the whole sandwich—I chose a 6” rather than a 12”, at least.

The nice thing is that I find at such times, when I allow myself to eat things that aren’t the best choice, I don’t enjoy them. I find myself thinking about what could happen. I find myself wondering what it might be doing to my hormone balances and what I may have to do to bring things back into proper state. Will I start craving bread? Will I need to go into Ketosis again to balance things back out?

I know many reading this will take exception to that. Most people don’t want to give such thoughts to their food and their health. We want to be healthy, but we want to be mindlessly healthy—no work, no thought, no learning; just “eat, drink and be healthy,” if you will. The problem is that with our lifestyles and the foods available to us, this is just not possible.

We live in the most blessed time ever in human history—especially if we live in the United States. If I wanted something to eat at 2 AM and had nothing in the house, I could get out in my car and drive to any of a hundred places in our city that will still be serving. We have 24 hour a day groceries and fast food. Food is everywhere. Neither are our foods today really tied to seasons. I’ve walked in the grocery store in February and found piles of watermelons for sale. When I was a kid this just wasn’t possible. You got certain foods when they were in season and you wouldn’t see them again until the next harvest.

I remember in 1989, when my wife was expecting our middle child, she wanted watermelon and asked me to go get her some. Problem is that we were in Korea, it was March, and it was the middle of the night. I got out and scoured the village market finally finding a small shop with some small (tiny) watermelons. The shop owner was not happy to be woken by a big American banging on his door wanting a watermelon—good thing I spoke enough Korean. That little bitty watermelon cost me hours of searching and $20 (in 1989!!!!). Not to mention the cost of the taxi because it was freezing outside. But my wife got her melon. We no longer have these problems. If I really want anything, it can probably be quickly and easily found.

Not too long ago, most communities only had a few ethnic selections. I grew up in Fort Worth and there was our food or Mexican food. If you wanted something really special there was also a German restaurant in town. Of course, there were likely others. But we just did not have the exposure to other foods like we do today. We can find the richest, most decadent, most enticing foods from all over the world and drive no more than a few minutes.

This ready access to abundant foods is not the only change. Few of us work as hard as our ancestors did. I spend most of my day working behind a desk. My father spent his days roofing. My maternal grandfather spent his days behind a plow. Yes, some still work hard. But even our hard jobs today are easier with the many labor saving devices we have created. I still remember watching a home improvement show with my wife years ago. She had never seen a nail gun before. She asked what it did. She thought maybe it made a hole for the nail. When I told her it actually shot a nail into the boards like a gun so there was no need to swing a hammer, she said, “Americans! Always finding an easier way to do everything!” Well, it’s true. We do find the easiest and most efficient way to do things. Even when we work hard, we don’t work as hard as our ancestors and don’t burn as many calories as they, so what makes us think we can eat like they did?

Back when food was limited to what was readily available and when work was hard and toilsome we could simply eat whatever was available and whatever amounts we felt like eating. Some foods had to be intentionally carb and fat heavy in order to get enough sustenance. This is no longer the case for us. We have to think differently about our foods. We have to think differently about what we put into our bodies.  We need to learn about our bodies, and our needs. We need to understand what each bite can do to us.

I am a detail guy. I overthink everything. I like to know ‘the nuts and bolts’ of things. I find articles in magazines and online. I read books on the subject. I am trying to lay down a foundation of knowledge that will help me to make quick healthy choices in the future. In time, these choices become second nature.

Don’t just let your health (or ‘un-health’) happen. Take control of your body and of your life by first taking control of what you eat. However, you cannot control what you eat unless you first understand what you eat. You have to know what is healthy and what it unhealthy and, if you are like me, it is helpful to also know why. Commit yourself to controlling your food and not being controlled by it. For most of us health is not going to just happen. It takes effort to attain, and effort to maintain.

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.