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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Weight-loss as Lifestyle

IMG_20140801_072619This is my first official weigh-in after changing my program a little over a week ago. About a week and half ago my doctor asked me to drop off the diet program I was on because of some abdominal pain. He thought I either had gallstones or right-side diverticular disease. Since the purpose of this journey is to build habits through healthy choices, I chose to follow his advice. I decided to drop off the actual program but keep following the principles it taught (eating small meals every 3 hours, low carb, with controlled levels of fat, and lots of fluids, etc.). A couple days later I had continued to lose weight and that was last Friday. I also discovered that my pain was caused by several factors combining with some strong antibiotics the doctor had placed me on. These had given my liver a hit and it had become inflamed. Everything is better now, no more pain.

After that point, I still had a choice—go back fully onto the previous plan or stay where I was to experiment with using the principles I’d learned, without the foods purchased through the program. I chose to keep experimenting with choices to see what would and would not work. The danger was that one of my experiments would drop me out of fat burn and it would take several days of very low carb to get me back into it. I decided to check at least twice a day for a couple days with my Ketostix after each addition. The questions I wanted to answer were several. When I tried and then dropped off a famous low-carb diet back 10 years ago I quickly went on a carb bender and gained back all the weight I had lost as well as an additional 25 pounds. Because of this I wanted to see if I would do the same this time when introducing some new carbs into my routine. I added carrots, Greek yogurt, bananas, as well as the occasional onions. I also wanted to learn how the principles worked with regular store bought food. If the principles are sound, then they should not be material dependent. If the principles work with regular food then the principles are sound (and key to being healthy). If the principles did not work without the packaged foods then the foods were primary and the principles played only a supporting role. Another question I wanted to answer was whether I could actually treat this as a lifestyle rather than a formula. With a formula you follow A to B to C to D and do not waver from this. With a lifestyle you make choices naturally and easily at each step deciding the best route to get from A to D. With a lifestyle you make choices because they fit with the life you are living. With a formula your choices are limited to following the formula or wavering from it. A formula is very effective, especially when first making changes. But it can only be kept up for so long before some variety is desired.

I have been living the principles I learned as a lifestyle for about a week and a half. I have used no packaged foods from my program, but only what I can buy in my local grocery store. Last week I weighed 292 pounds. This week I weighed 286 pounds. I actually weighed lower earlier in the week, but I only take whatever happens on Friday as my official weight. I lost six pounds this week only using the principles I learned and living them as a new lifestyle.

Before you jump to conclusions and think there was no need for any of the other elements of my program—coaching, packaged foods, support network—you are wrong. It was these that helped me to learn the principles I now follow. It was these that made practicing them easy. To try to jump straight into this without that step would have lasted about a week—if that long. I know me well enough to know that early on, if I didn’t have a little box where I could go and take out a package and eat it when the alarm on my phone went off I would have given up long ago. Will I stay off of the packaged items? I don’t know. They are awfully convenient. Besides, I know if following the formula with the packaged foods there is no danger of falling out of fat burn. As it is right now, when I add something new it takes several hours to discover if I screwed up. This wait and the anticipation can be quite discomfiting. I choose to continue this way because I have questions I want to answer and because I want to practice making choices for my health.

I’ve noticed after eating this way for over three months that I no longer crave the things I once craved. I don’t crave potatoes, pasta, bread (though I would still, occasionally, be willing to trade one of my children for a flour tortilla), etc. Last night my wife made chicken for our supper. I asked her how she was going to fix it (in the past she would have fried it). She said she’d bake it because of my diet. I came in the kitchen as we were getting ready to sit down and saw the chicken. It was breaded. I asked her if she had put flour on the chicken. She responded, “No. It’s not flour. It’s bread crumbs.” I got a bewildered look on my face and told her they were ultimately the same thing. She responded, “Well I can’t bake it without putting something on it. I thought you would just scrape it off.” So there I stood over the sink scraping and washing my chicken before I could eat it, even though I was hungry. The interesting thing is that I considered just eating it breading and all, but knowing it would make it harder to make my goal the idea of eating the breading actually repulsed me. I have a weight I want to get to, a level of health I want to return to, and anything that gets in the way of that is not really attractive.

Celebrating my Weight Independence Day!

IMG_20140704_072449Today is another weigh-in Friday. My official weight this morning is 303 lbs. This means I am 49% of the way to my goal weight, and have lost 81 lbs. on my program, and 122 lbs. from my highest weight. I’ve been on the program for 11 weeks, so I have averaged 7.36 lbs. lost per week. At this rate I can expect to be at goal weight in the next four months—though it will likely slow more as I get lower. After that, the rest of the time in my year-long journey will be spent transitioning and learning to maintain my weight, while building up my activities to once again enjoy many of the things I loved when younger.

Today is Independence Day, and I have new reasons to celebrate. I thought for this day, I would share some of the things I am celebrating this year as a result of losing so much weight.

While looking at the scale is fun and interesting—and occasionally stressful—I have to say this is not the best part of losing weight. The best part of losing weight is really hard to put my finger on. The benefits are such that it is hard to measure them to see which one is the single best. So many things about losing weight make me happy that I don’t think I can look at one and say that is the best part, with the possible exception of two things. One is my wife’s smile when she sees how much I’ve lost. She has been my greatest cheerleader in this. Whenever she hears a lower weight she cheers. When I make a choice to stay on program she commends me. When anyone else encourages me to do something that would break my program or knock me out of fat-burn she gets very protective. Second (though only in order reported but not in the level of joy given) is the hugs of my daughters. When my daughters hug me and comment on how far their arms go around me it lifts my spirits. One of my daughters has mentioned several times just how thin my arms are getting. Don’t hear that wrong. I didn’t say skinny. There has never been anything skinny about me. However, I have lost weight all over, especially my arms, legs and face. My abdomen is taking a bit longer, but this is normal.

There are other joys that I get to experience now. When I enter an office waiting room, I don’t have to consider the strength of the chairs. I have destroyed many chairs in my life. This last week I was at the local University. The University has a huge flight of stairs that I used to avoid. Now I take the stairs, easily. I no longer dread shopping for clothing—at least no more than the average guy. I look forward to seeing my new pants size, or shirt size. I love that I had to have my watch resized to fit my arm. It feels good to sit in my wife’s car and not have my belly almost touching the steering wheel. The car is a small Hyundai, and now I can sit in the seat and move my legs side to side. I like the fact that I can sit in a chair to read and actually cross my legs and rest the book on my legs rather than on my belly. I can do this with my computer too, making it a laptop computer rather than a belly-top computer.

Next month I have a meeting in Arlington, and rather than drive I chose to fly. I love flying, always have, but have hated planes being as heavy as I was. It had gotten to the point that I had to force my hips down into the seat and ask for a seat-belt extension. No more! I can’t wait for this flight. One other thing about flying: when at my heaviest, I had to make sure to use the bathroom before getting on the plane. If I had managed to get in the plane’s facilities, they would have needed a tub of butter to get me out.

Another benefit is only experienced when going out to dinner. For years when we went out I had to ask for a table, because I didn’t fit in booths. It’s hard to eat when the booth table is cutting you in half and the only thing that can bend is your neck. Well, booths are more private and encourage better and more intimate conversation. Now, when entering a restaurant we can sit in a booth and I have yet to find one that doesn’t fit. For those who have never had a weight problem you have no idea how great this one is. Imagine this scenario: a morbidly obese man enters a restaurant with his little tiny wife (as mine is). They sit at a table and order their food. It is natural for those around to judge that person the entire time he is eating. Yes, I’m sure most of you are mature enough not to do this; but one, it does happen; and two, that man is sure it is happening even if it is only in his imagination. This makes it very difficult to enjoy what should have been a nice night out with a loved one.

me at heaviest

Me prior to weightloss.

This brings up another benefit to celebrate this year. The psychological impact of being greatly overweight is immeasurable. You feel everyone is judging you. You feel every eye on you at times. You know when you sit in a chair it might break, making a scene. You have to sit where you fit, making it apparent how large you are. In a waiting room, you know it will take you extra effort to remove your bulk from the chair. You make a joke of it, to cover, but the eyes haunt you deep down inside. On a flight you have to request a belt extender while publicly squeezing yourself into a seat. You also audibly hear the release of breath in relief when people on the flight realize you are not going to be sitting next to them. It gets frustrating when looking for clothes and no store seems to have your size. When the only thing in a store that fits is socks, it does something to you inside. When you meet a new person, you notice their eyes scanning your belly and you know you have just been sized up—in more ways than one. When you go to a job interview, if you don’t get the job you can never be sure if it was your skills, your resume, or your bulk that prevented it. When you are shopping for certain things, you find yourself looking for something others never look at—the tag showing the weight limit, which more often than not means you can’t buy it. It can also be very depressing when you go to the office of the doctor who is supposed to help you lose weight and you discover none of his scales go high enough to weigh you.

There is one other thing that truly hurts when being as large as I was: when my wife would cut my toenails. If this had been due to a bad back or an injury it would have been different, but doing it because I couldn’t easily reach over my belly was shameful. She always did it with a smile, but I knew it was just not right and was a result of my own choices.

Now, many may see this post as being very depressing. Actually it is a celebration because by making healthier choices these no longer describe me. I am free from them. While I still have a ways to go—a long way to go—I am moving forward.

Celebrate your Independence Day to day. If you are struggling with your weight, it is time to declare your own Independence and do something about it.

Down to 309, and thoughts on Temptations

IMG_20140627_071455This morning the scale reported my weight as 309 lbs. This is 75 lbs. lost on my program (45% of my goal) since Easter. It is also 116 lbs. lost from my highest about a year ago. I still have another 86 lbs. to lose and am plugging away at it.

I have to admit, it gets hard some days to resist the temptations in my house. My wife buys plenty of snacks when she shops, and though she has reduced the amount it can be hard to eat a bar or drink a shake from my program with a bag of potato chips sitting on the counter taunting me. It can be even harder when I turn around from the stove while cooking my Lean & Green to see my daughter standing behind me dipping those same potato chips into French Onion dip–&^#@$&#(!*&#!

Actually, there have only been a few times when I’ve had to remind myself what I was trying to accomplish and the benefits of choosing right in the face of temptation. More often than not, the frequency of my meals (every 3 hours) has made temptations either very mild, or nonexistent. Of course, when I open the fridge and see a pack of flour tortillas sitting under the bag holding the meat portion of my next Lean & Green, nothing stops that temptation! It would be so easy to wrap that meat in a tortilla, since a flour tortilla makes EVERYTHING better!

In such times, it helps to remind myself of the things I want to do once I am back down to a healthy weight. This helps, because when tempted the potential of momentary satisfaction and pleasure comes to the fore. You can see the junk food; taste it; remember the aroma; know the pleasure it would give. Of course, these sensations can come on so strongly it takes intentional effort to overcome. It helps to remind oneself of the better feeling of completing the goal. I have gone from a lifetime of bad unhealthy eating choices to committing myself to building better habits over the next year (9 ½ half more months to go). To complete a yearlong journey is an accomplishment and will bring more satisfaction than diving head first into a can of Pringles.

Another help is remembering how far I’ve come. It helps to remind myself as I feel so much better, and look so much slimmer that I once felt horrible as I slowly ate myself into an early grave. It also feels good that my daughters and wife can hug me with their arms completely around me with some room left over. There was a time when my wife couldn’t get her arms around me. It also feels good when people tell me how much younger I look or how much healthier.

Another help to resisting temptation is self-understanding. While some might be able to give in for a weekend or a short time and just come back and pick it back up afterwards, I know this is not possible for me. If I simply give in, even once, I will have to go through some major psychological work to refocus and get back to the program. Like an alcoholic who must not allow himself even the slightest backsliding, I can’t allow myself to backslide into unhealthy habits again. This doesn’t mean an anal attention to the slightest detail. It means making sure that what I do at each step is because I have chosen that step out of the possible alternatives. If I am going to eat something that is not best for my program, how will I make up for it and make sure it doesn’t cause any damage? If I am going to break the program for a day, what is the reason, the goal, and the justification for doing so? I have to be careful that anything done is carefully thought out and is the best choice for the circumstances. Allow me to give an example of what I mean. If I were visiting a friend who offered me something not permitted on my program, I might choose to accept or decline. If I will offend that person by declining, and feel it is important to accept, then I have made a choice to do this for the benefit of my friend. I would then find it easy to return to the program as soon as I am out of that situation—even if it means going out of fat burn and suffering while getting back in. However, that is very different from walking into the kitchen, seeing something and, on the spur of the moment, surrendering to temptation. In such a case, no choice was actually made. My action would simply be a reflex of “see food, grab food, eat food, repeat.” Though some can do this and pick up the program the next day, I know such surrender would be disastrous for me. Returning to my “food sobriety” would be hard fought. So why risk it? The pleasures of chips and dip, etc. are nothing compared to the pleasure I get out of my move to health.

A final thing that helps is knowledge such restrictions are not a life sentence. While I must “deprive” myself now (that term is not really appropriate because I do not feel deprived but others have expressed it that way), in the future I will be able to make wider choices. I will still have to make healthy choices, but with a healthy weight, balanced blood sugar and an active life, there will be many more options I can choose—including the occasional chips and dip. So in effect I am putting off the enjoyment of having them for another five years or so, until a heart attack, diabetes or a stroke takes me; to enable myself to enjoy such foods wisely for the next several decades. The first step is getting my weight down. But it is still just a first step. There are many more to follow.

Anticipating Scale Sticker Shock!

I used to work in a retail flooring store. We would calculate prices and then always round down. The reason for this is the psychological difference between a price of $4.00 and a price of $3.99. While the difference is only a penny, the lower dollar amount is more attractive to a buyer. The same is true of selling your home. When people search for homes on a database, far more will stop to look at a $149,000 home than one that is $150,000.

This same phenomenon works with weight-loss. If I step on the sale one week weighing 319 pounds and then the next week weigh 313 pounds, it does not feel as impressive as going from 320 pounds to 315, even though the first pair is a greater weight-loss. Because of this fact, I’m preparing myself in advance for my next weigh-in even though it is still days away. I weighed 318 at last week’s weigh-in and am expecting to weigh around 314 or so this week. I know ahead of time to expect a bit of let down because it will be another week at least to go under 310.

It is interesting how our expectations can have more impact on our feelings than reality. If we simply looked at such weight-loss realistically we would be happy to losing any weight—one pound is an achievement in itself. However, we too easily fall into the trap of, “If only it would have been a little more.”

Up and Moving, Lump No More

couchpotatoThis last Friday, after posting my weekly weight, I decided to ride my bike to get a bit of exercise. In the past I would have been pretty tired after a ride, but this time I rode farther than ever and felt less tired.

Later, while sitting down to my office work I decided to take a few minutes to complete a little honey-do project my wife wanted done. I work out of my house so it is easy to take a few minutes off from my day, here and there, to get things done around home. From that choice the rest of the day got weird—at least weird for me. The weirdness came from the amount of energy I had. I much more energy than I’ve had in years. I’ll try to describe what it was like. The next bit of this post may seem a bit frenzied and hard to follow but that is intentional.

“Bye honey! Have a nice day at work!

“Before I get to work I better hook that TV up in the other room for my wife; I have to clean up that space for it; that belongs in this drawer; this drawer is a mess, I’d better straighten it out; no, I better rearrange all of these drawers to get them straight; why are those in here they should be in the closet? The closet has all these things we will never use; I better clear them out; I’ll make a pile of things for the Salvation Army and a pile of sentimental things to box up; now that everything is cleared out I should put these boxes up into the attic; hey, the attic is a mess! I’d better straighten it up. Now I should run those boxes over to donate; while I’m out I should run to the store for batteries for that old flashlight I found. I really should stop by Lowes to pick up a new doorbell to fix ours and take my wife’s watch to the jeweler for a new battery; I also need to head to the office store to order new cards; nope, I don’t like their selections so I’ll order some online; I should install the new door bell, etc.

“Oh, hi honey! You’re home! Guess what I did all day.”

I’m enjoying the new me. I enjoy wanting to get up and move. My wife is happier and often brags to people about the changes. Oh, and for any husbands considering losing weight, with all this energy, when I chase my wife, she’s easier to catch!

A Name Change

Since I have started this blog on my commitment to make healthy choices, starting with a year on Take Shape for Life’s program, I have wondered about a domain name. Nothing seemed to work. Those that were available weren’t a good choice for what I wanted to say. Those that fit well with my theme weren’t available. Of course, there was still the question of refining my theme. Why and I writing this blog? Is it only to hold me accountable? I could do that with a thousand other ways. Is it to assuage some narcissistic need? I sure hope not.

Over the last few days I have considered this question. Yesterday’s post helped me to cement the idea and this morning I discovered the perfect URL was available—which I quickly bought and configured.

The purpose of this blog is to journal about the changes made by someone with a history of bad health choices. I don’t just want to share “This is what I ate,” “This is how I felt,” or “Look how much I weight now.” Though there is nothing wrong with these. They are important and can be helpful.  I want to share the decision making process, thoughts on choices good and bad.

The new URL for this blog will be: myhealth-mychoice.com