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.”

Changing Relationships Through Changing Self

Since losing so much weight, my personal interactions have changed. People seem to smile more, approach me more and want to interact more. While it is easy to assume that this is because they “like” me better now that I am lighter, that assumption would actually be too easy. There are several possible reasons for such an experience, some external, some internal, but all positive.

First off, it is possible that some find it hard to be friends with someone weighing over four hundred pounds, as I was. There are those who are repulsed by such people. I know, because I’ve had people tell me my weight repulsed them. Because of this I know some in the past may have been unable to be friendly with me. In that case, reducing my weight so that I do not repulse is a good thing—especially for someone whose calling in life involves trying to attract people to a faith community. Being overweight handicapped my career for years. It got in the way of personal interactions, because some people would be repulsed by my weight. I even had one couple tell me they were leaving our church because I was so fat. Now, don’t feel I am being too harsh with myself and try to make me feel better about how heavy I was. It was understanding exactly what I had done to myself that inspired me to work so hard to lose the weight. It was the problems my weight caused me professionally and personally that caused me to really want to get rid of it. Jesus said, “The truth will set you free.” This includes painful truth—actually painful truth is probably the most freeing truth out there.

Another issue that weight can cause on a professional level is that it can be hard to take an overweight person seriously. Discipline, self-denial and energy are important professional qualities. When one wears their lack of discipline and self-denial on their face and frame, as every overweight person does, it can be hard to take them seriously. How can one believe you will deny yourself and discipline yourself enough to act in a professional way, if you will not deny yourself and discipline yourself enough to not eat too much? Or to exercise enough? I know that one thing helping me in some professional relationships is seeing that I went from 425 lbs. to 260 lbs. in a few months. This is an obvious and undeniable act of discipline and self-denial. It would have been far easier to just keep eating myself to death. Please don’t see this as a boast. I had a lot of help and over twenty years of self-loathing to inspire me. I am simply expressing what others have said to me. It is also simple truth that we know another person’s ability for discipline and self-denial by seeing examples of it. The obvious examples of failing in this area are what speak loudest. Often our weight can be the loudest proclamation others “hear” about us. Losing weight allows others to take us seriously. “If you can exercise that level of self-control in such a difficult area, what are you capable of in other areas?”

The previous thoughts all touched on the effect of weight loss on other’s perception of you. However, there are also internal reasons for a difference in relationships that are impacted by weight. The biggest would have to be self-image. I am a very outgoing, and very friendly person. I love to talk, to laugh, to tell jokes and stories. Actually, being a Texan means I have a license to stretch the truth into any form I want so long as it makes for a better story. It is a skill learned at the feet of our elders, and as such is an honored practice to be honed to perfection. However, over the years, as my weight ballooned higher and higher I found friendly interactions harder. When you do not take yourself seriously and cannot see yourself as anything but repulsive it is hard to interact with others. You find yourself wondering what that person must be thinking of you. You find yourself questioning that person’s motives for every action. This problem then works itself out in your actions and expressions. You often hear that animals can smell fear. Well, humans are pack animals used to interacting in very subtle ways. We give facial, pheromone, and body language clues even when we do not speak. Then when we open our mouths we give clues with speech cadence, pitch, tone, and voice that share how confident we feel (or do not feel). These spring naturally from our self-image. For example, some studies show that when two males converse, the voice of the more dominant will deepen and the voice of the more submissive will rise. This is unconscious and deeply ingrained. Even picking up on the difference is automatic—even the youngest children respond without knowing why.

This means that much of my perception of problems with personal and professional interactions when overweight sprang from my own self-perception. One, it would cause me to question the response of the other person—which only served to reinforce that negative self-image. It would also cause me to speak and act in ways that reinforced their poor image of me. Losing weight has caused me to see myself very differently. This causes me to respond differently to others—which is really responding to my own self-image.

Losing weight can radically change personal and professional interactions. These interactions and relationships are part of human health. Having a healthy body helps to have healthy relationships. You will be taken more seriously. You will be seen as self-disciplined. You will project a different image to others. You will project this different image because you will be different. Don’t wait. Start now to transform yourself and your future. Do it for yourself, but also do it for the impact you can have on the lives of other people. I am sure you have something positive to add to the lives of those around you. By losing weight you give them more reason to listen and give yourself more opportunities to speak into their lives.

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.

Update on Hydration

Water_glassOver the last two weeks, I had a bad problem (as I reported on Friday) with getting dehydrated over the weekend. I figured this was the cause of my weird scale results. I’d weigh on Friday and be lower than the previous week showing my weight moving steadily, though slowly, down. However, on Monday I would weigh as much as ten pounds heavier and this number would only slowly lower over the week, until I was once again on Friday or Saturday below my previous weight.

As I reported previously I assumed it was likely due to getting dehydrated over the weekend. I noticed during the week the weight going back down seemed to be tied to water intake. This weekend I set myself the goal of staying well hydrated all weekend. It can be a bit hard on Sunday morning—leaving the pulpit during my sermon to pee would not look good, after all. However, I was able to get plenty before church and after.

I’m happy to report there have been no great scale fluctuations over the weekend and this morning I am one pound lighter than I was on Friday. This brings me down to 274 lbs. I’m not counting on this weight too much though because my official weigh-ins are still on Friday. However, since I changed nothing over the weekend but the amount of water I consumed, this confirms—in my mind—the importance of, and benefits of, proper hydration. Make sure you are getting plenty of water. If you see weird things happening on the scale or in your body, look first at your hydration to see if you need more water.

This week’s weigh-in and thoughts

IMG_20140718_133538This week’s official weight is 296 lbs. The last time I was less than 300 lbs. was in 2004. I am now 53% to my goal having lost 88 lbs. on my current program. From my lifetime highest I have lost 129 lbs. total. This number (approximately 130 pounds) has got me to thinking about one of the major problems that comes with being so overweight. I used to hear people often say that all one had to do to lose weight was to eat less and get up and exercise. This is easier said than done.

I was carrying an extra 130 pounds around in fat. Think about what else in this world weighs that much. My wife weighs around 120 lbs. or so. Imagine her carrying a 10 pound weight and me carrying her everywhere I go, every moment of every day. Bricks weigh somewhere around 4 lbs. each. That means I was carrying the equivalent of 32 bricks everywhere I went. Sit in a chair and place 32 bricks in your lap (the general area where most weight is carried) and try to stand up. This should make it obvious that telling a fat person, “Just get up and do something” is either insensitive or cruel. It shows a serious lack of understanding (or caring about) their situation. It is easy for the skinny person to say this, because he has much less to lift.

Now imagine this weight being placed on you whether you want to carry it or not. You can’t escape it. Dropping a brick each week, might look attractive when you only have four or five bricks to carry, but when carrying 35 this looks like it will take forever. It is like looking into a tunnel that is too deep to see the light at the other end. This makes the overweight person depressed. What do people want when depressed? They want comfort. What is the overweight person usually drawn to for comfort? He wants food. It is often the attempt to assuage emotional lack that got the person overweight to begin with.

While it is true that the only way to successfully lose weight and get healthy is to decrease intake of food and increase the burning of calories, telling this to a fat person is like dangling water in front of a parched man. A plan is needed. Support is needed. When those small steps seem to be taking too long, someone needs to help draw the attention to how far the person has come, not how much farther they have to go. Perhaps that person can’t get up right now—you might not be able to if you were carrying along a whole other human being in weight—but can start with decreasing intake. Perhaps instead of telling that person that all he needs is more discipline, or he just needs to do it, you can encourage him to not look to food for comfort. Perhaps you can be a comforter in the place of the food.