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.”

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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.

Depletion of Will Power

A great deal of my reading, both professionally and personally is in the area of ethics. Ethics is often described as “The study of ‘How should I live?’” It delves into issues of honesty, propriety, temptation, etc. It is fun when this interest sheds light on my own struggles with weight and food temptation. Don’t be surprised, because if it is unhealthy and harmful to eat to excess, then isn’t doing so unethical? If I should eat in moderation, then eating immoderately is to behave unethically.

One book I’ve been reading is Dan Ariely’s “The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty: Why we lie to everyone—especially ourselves.” It’s a fascinating look at honesty and the things that trip up our efforts to live as we believe we should. In a chapter I read this morning, Dan discusses Cognitive Depletion and its effect on temptation. It can be quite enlightening for those of us struggling with dietary temptations.

Just as a muscle can be worn out through use, our will power can be worn out through activity. We live stressful, tempting lives. All through our day we face temptations and make decisions. We exercise our will to overcome these temptations. Funny thing is we do this with all sorts of activities, not just our diet. We face decisions at work. Often there is a temptation to cut corners and we have to will ourselves to resist. We might face decisions on the road home and have to resist the temptation to react to other drivers. With each use of our will power ‘muscle’ it becomes depleted and by the end of the day we may find ourselves without the strength to overcome the next temptation. Often this “bridge too far” temptation is dietary. We know we shouldn’t have it. We know we will do better without it. We know we are healthier without it. However, we quickly find ourselves giving in to temptation and eating what we should not.

How can we overcome this? There are a couple ways. If you can manage your day to have the most stressful events in the morning or right after breaks when you are refreshed, this might help. But let’s be honest, if stress could so easily be managed we wouldn’t really be stressed, now would we? A better way is to be aware of what is going on. Be aware that after stressful times temptations take on new dimensions and what was once easy to overcome becomes harder. Prepare for this beforehand. For example, you can empty the tempting foods out of your house. Remove the sweets, the chocolates and the ice cream. Don’t keep them around to tempt. Perhaps you should remove the Pizza place’s magnet from your refrigerator door so you don’t get tempted to just dial up a large with everything—including double guilt. Keep a selection of healthy options quickly available so the choice is made beforehand. If you find it difficult to pass by a certain restaurant then on stressful days you may need to drive home a different way.

One of the best defenses is being able to recognize a problem coming on. Highly stressful days with lots of choices can deplete your ability to make good decisions. Be prepared. The good thing, also like a muscle, as you overcome temptations and get used to eating healthy it can become easier to make those good choices over time. However, it is unlikely you will ever be beyond the siren call of certain foods and free of any and every temptation. So make a plan and keep an eye out on those really stressful days.

Emotional Eating

Before I started this journey, my doctor recommended meds to encourage weight loss. I have always been one who disliked being dependent on anything, especially something that come from a pill bottle that will almost always have unwanted side effects. Because of this, I asked him, “What does the medicine do?” He said it would reduce my appetite to help me be less hungry, reducing the amount eaten and lowering weight. I pointed out that I knew myself well enough to realize that my problem wasn’t eating when hungry. My problem was eating when not hungry. Even when starting a meal because of hunger, I seldom stopped when no longer hungry. I asked, “What will the medicine do for this eating problem?” He responded that it would be useless and that the only thing to help me would understanding why I was eating. This is why I declined the meds and eventually found a way to lose weight naturally. Many people use food, not to assuage hunger, but to soothe their emotions, or to cover other needs.

Recently I’ve been reading Mindless Eating: Why we eat more than we think. The book has been very informative and I have put several things to practice. The author shares some guidance on emotional eating from the book Think Thin, Be Thin. Many of us think we are hungry, when we actually have some emotion inspiring us to eat. Many find it hard to tell the difference. The following list (from the book) shows information on each and offers a way to know if hunger or emotion is driving you to eat:

Physical Hunger Emotional Hunger
Builds gradually Develops Suddenly
Strikes below the neck (e.g., growling stomach) Above the neck (e.g., a “taste” for ice cream)
Occurs several hours after a meal Unrelated to time
Goes away when full Persists despite fullness
Eating leads to a feeling of satisfaction Eating leads to guilt and shame

Eating is supposed to nourish the body and encourage health. It cannot medicate other problems and should not be used as a poultice applied to every hurt feeling or every bad mood.