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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Tempting Fate or Stretching my Resolve

Empty PlateSometimes our resolve bangs against the realities of life. At such times, how do we stay on plan? One example lately has been my resolve on eating out. When first choosing to take control of my health, I set a one year schedule of losing weight, and setting new healthy habits. My wife and I both assumed our lives over the next year would not include the inside of a restaurant. However, my occupation includes duties that sometimes require me to meet in a restaurant.

Over the last few weeks, I started thinking about how a person could eat out while staying on program. While my program has a method used once weight has been brought down to goal, I was wondering about how to do this while still in weight loss. This last Saturday I asked my wife to join me for an experiment. We went to one of our favorite local restaurants—Huhot’s Mongolian Grill. For those unfamiliar this means you select from an assortment of fresh raw meats, vegetables and noodles, and add various sauces. This is all cooked on a round steel griddle. I wanted to see if I could have a nice meal out, limited to allowed items. To do this, I went in with a plan.

I would limit myself to one plate. As an all-you-can-eat place my usual practice has been to have two and, at times, three plates of food. I did this in the past, not because I was still hungry after the first plate, but simply because it was “All you can eat” and I was going to get my full money’s worth and have “all I could eat.” This practice springs from two mistaken thoughts. One mistaken thought: if the food is there and available, I should eat it. But such bad thinking is what this year is meant to reverse. I’m choosing health which includes eating because I choose to eat, and not because the food is there. The second mistaken thought is the idea that getting my money’s worth means eating massive amounts. The amount of food is not the only measure of a nice meal out. Yes, I got filled up, but there was much more to the meal than the amount of food that went down my gullet. For one, I got to treat my wife to a nice time out. I got to sit across the table from my beautiful wife and enjoy her company while sharing a nice healthy meal. I left feeling satisfied instead of stuffed like a tick. I enjoyed each bite of the food instead of shoveling it in and down. Put together the food, the atmosphere, my wife, the time spent together and the good feeling of making a healthy choice and I got more than my money’s worth.

The next part of my plan was to monitor what went on the plate. At this restaurant you fill bowls with raw foods which you take to the cooks. I used two bowls—one for meats and the other for veggies. I would allow myself no noodles, no beans, no water chestnuts (one of my favorites), no baby corn, etc. I limited my vegetables to broccoli, celery, bean sprouts and white mushrooms limited to no more than 1.5 cups (three half cup servings) in the veggie bowl. For meats I planned to favor the lower fat meats. My primary meat was chicken, augmented with Mahi Mahi, crab (probably Krab), with a small addition of beef for added flavor. I have to admit I had a bit of leeway in this because I have been instructed by Nutrition Support to bump up my daily protein by adding three extra ounces per day. To these I added the sauces, avoiding the sugar or salt bombs, of course.

The nicest thing was realizing that eating healthy, even out on the town, is possible. I can choose what to eat, and still enjoy the pleasure of a meal out with my wife. Staying on program is easy when everything falls into a schedule and nothing happens to throw that off, but real ownership comes when learning to remain in control when the world does not follow your program or your schedule.

This experiment was a success. It actually helped me the next day, Sunday. An official from my denomination was in town for our services and took me and my wife out to lunch at a local eatery. After a careful look at the menu, I found a nice little steak meal that fit my plan, satisfied my hunger and gave me plenty of opportunity to share about the changes I have made. It was funny, because the meal was a bit of a reversal; I ordered the small healthy meal; my wife ordered a bacon cheeseburger with fries and fried curly onions. The burger was almost as big as her head! In the past I would have had the huge burger and then would have ‘helped’ her finish her plate. I saw the bacon, the beef and the potatoes (three of my former food groups) and wasn’t even slightly tempted. My satisfaction came from my resolve to stay on program.

Saturday night—between lunch on Saturday and lunch on Sunday—was another chance to experiment with my resolve and with the program. I went to another town to ordain a friend at his church. While there, I had no temptation for any of the snacks, but settled for a decaf coffee. However, the night went longer than I expected and I had failed to bring another meal replacement with me (I usually carry a bar for just such an occurrence). It was going to be an hour to an hour and a half later to get home. I stopped at a gas station to find something to snack on—permissible only! After a few minutes looking I found a small bag of raw almonds, which I purchased. In the car, I handed the bag to my wife, who counted out a proper snack portion and put the rest away. I had this snack and upon getting home went ahead and had my meal replacement bar before bed—as my coach told me to do. It would have been easy to say, “Well there is just no way to stay on program. I’ll just have this one bag of chips for the ride home—it’s a small bag.” The problem is that I know me. If I allow myself one lapse, then temptations to lapse will become legion and my entire resolve will have to be rebuilt. Just this once, turns quickly into just this hundredth once.

It’s nice to be able to choose health. I plan to be healthy and enjoy the next forty plus years with my lovely wife. I plan to grow old old peopleand gray, sit in a rocking chair with her and bounce grandkids on my knee. I also plan to be healthy enough to chase her around the nursing home and gross out all the visitors.

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!

What do you have to live for?

2014-05-14 11.21.49-1Earlier this week my coach asked how I was doing and if my program has had any impact on my work life. I got to share with her some of my thoughts and now want to share them here.

I’ve noticed these few weeks on the program have improved my mental acuity and mood. When I was at my heaviest, I was convinced I was waiting to die. I am 47 years old, and this is about the age many in my family have their first (and on occasion final) heart attack. To be honest, at times I found myself wishing I could just get it over with. My beliefs help me not to fear death. What I feared was a long unhealthy miserable existence. I also feared being a burden to my family.

It took a long time to finally take to heart something that I had told many troubled couples over the years:

“You may think it is easier to just give up and move on, but your problems show a great deal of personal work is needed for you to have a healthy relationship. You can either do the work in this marriage or do it in the next one. Either way, the work will have to be done, so how many other lives will you wreck before you do the work?”

It finally clicked one day that this same advice applied to what was going on in my health. I was on the verge of altering the lives of my wife and kids with my bad choices. In enjoying the momentary pleasures of my bad choices I would be leaving them with major problems—my wife a widow and my children fatherless. I see death as nothing to be feared or even shunned. As far as I am concerned death is just going home. However, the same God who gave me this assurance also gave me a responsibility to be the best and do the best for my wife, family and church.

This latter is also important. Over the years I have gotten to where I no longer enjoyed being a pastor. I had no energy to go beyond the barest requirements of my job—and great effort was needed to even do those. I had little desire to do much of anything but sit in my office chair or on the couch. My weight and health had left me unfit for the service to which I was so committed. It left me only a shell of the servant I have been called to be. My prayer could have been, “I’d love to follow you Lord, but you will have to go slowly and only on the easiest road since I am so heavy and unhealthy.”

I have now been on program about a month. I have lost almost 40 pounds and my mind and body have undergone considerable changes from this time last month. I was shocked how much has changed with such a small difference in weight.

I am fitting into clothes that have been too tight for years. I will attach to this a picture of me wearing jeans that are baggy. Just about a month ago, I could barely close those jeans and the legs were as snug as spandex. A few years ago, I wore suits every day in a sales job. These suits have all been too small for about five years. I now find myself with a fairly nice wardrobe that I have “backed into.” Over the last few years I have taken to wearing shorts and sandals because tight pants are uncomfortable, and replacements at my size are expensive (Walmart does not carry 54W with a 32 inseam). It was cheaper to stock up on shorts, and blame my wardrobe on the heat of South Texas. Now I am back to wearing jeans and boots—now this is comfortable!

My mind has also changed. Since I am losing weight, I can see myself with a future and realize new opportunities are around the corner. I have energy to get out and work, to plan and to carry out. I had gotten to the point where I didn’t want to meet anyone new. Anyone who knows my personality knows this is out of character. I have always been that guy who got to know everyone, and if you acted as if you didn’t want to get to know me, I would find a way to make you. I find now that I have become more gregarious. Part of it—and we all have to admit we think this way—I think I look pretty good for a 47 year old fat redneck!

Finally, there is one more thing that excites me. I always loved preaching. I would jump at any opportunity to preach and was quite animated and passionate in the pulpit. Over the last few years the luster wore off and I found myself rambling and having a hard time concentrating. I have always preached without notes (or very minimal notes), so mental sharpness was essential. For a long time my mind has been cloudy and I would get out of breath. All of these impacted my preaching. Lately, I notice the old Ken (or at least a pretty close facsimile) in the pulpit. I am more animated. I find new illustrations, quotations and applications coming quicker. I find myself looking forward to stepping into the pulpit each week.

If you have given up and feel it is just easier to die—as I had—you are absolutely right. Death is the easy way. But how often is the easy way the right way? Is there anyone in your life for whom your death will be hard? Are there others who are going to suffer and be impacted either by your death or by extended health problems? Do others count on you but have to do without because you are not healthy enough to meet their needs? If you won’t change for yourself, change for them.

Choosing health involves more than diet

stressAs I spend the next year making my health a priority, I have to come to terms with other choices that have undermined my health and well-being. One of these is work habits. Since 1998, my work schedule has been mine to control. One of the great benefits of being a pastor of a small church is that no one is monitoring your schedule. So long as you are prepared for the public meetings and programs of the church everyone assumes you are doing your job. There is an old joke that pastors work on Sunday and fish the rest of the week. Well, I have never learned that trick—which is a myth, anyways. Besides having this free schedule, I also have my office at home. I like this arrangement because I waste little time commuting and, if I get a sudden inspiration, my office is right in the next room.

Many would assume this amount of freedom would lead to laziness. Actually the first thing pastors in such situations must learn is the discipline to do their jobs without supervision. Being passionate about your work helps, and years before becoming a pastor Theology, Philosophy and the study of the Word became my passions. This keeps me from being lazy, but also drives me to overwork—a tendency I’ve always had. Before being a pastor I ran my own contracting business and worked 14-16 hour days, 6 days a week and even worked between services on Sunday. My problem is not laziness. My problem is exactly the opposite. I usually get to my desk by 5:30 AM. My work day usually lasts until 4:30 PM, if not later. I eat at my desk, while working. On top of this, I have evening meetings. Monday is supposed to be my day off (it is the traditional pastor’s day-off). However, over the years my biggest lack of discipline been taking a day off or taking my vacations. I am supposed to have four weeks of vacation each year and have taken perhaps a total of eight weeks in the last six years. Funny thing is, I often end up working during my vacation as well.

One thing the workaholic never realizes is this behavior is counter-productive. Look at your own work practices, your productivity, and your efficiency. When you do not take days off, when you work more hours than you should and skip vacations, you actually become unproductive and inefficient during the days and hours you are supposed to be working. Then, to get things done you have to skip days off and work longer hours and forgo vacations. Everything comes full circle and what used to be done because you were passionate, now must be done to make up for the bad choices. Passion can quickly turn to frustration and the joy you once felt gets choked out.

When you get to the burnout stage you start to lay things aside, perhaps finding reasons to run an errand, or take an extended break. You reason that this will give you some time to refresh, but all it does is torpedo your efficiency, which increases frustration.

It is important to take a day off each week. We need a chance to refresh. We need a chance to regroup and get our mind off the frustrations, and reconnect with the joy we once received from our vocations. It is also important to take vacations. These times allow an extended rest and a chance to refresh over several days. The cobwebs can be swept out of our heads, the knots of pressure can be relieved and we can regain our energy and passion. By the end of vacation, if your job is what you should be doing, then you will be chomping at the bit to get back to the office.

These choices also manifest physically. One thing contributing to weight and health problems is stress and its impact on the endocrine system and from that to eating choices. As stress build your body alters its chemical profile to handle the stress. This throws everything else off as the body looks for energy sources. You eat to meet this need, but the stress encourages you to eat for stressed desertscomfort rather than for health. What foods do you go to for comfort? Chocolate? Potato chips? Stress leads to a cascading effect by chemically forcing you to need food, then encouraging you to make bad eating choices, further altering your chemistry, and making you need to eat, so on and so on.  Do you see the circle of bad choices this locks you into as you slowly spiral down to worse and worse health?

Since I am on a one year journey of healthy choices, it has become time to make another choice. I must refrain from all work (except for emergencies, of course) on my weekly day off—my people need me healthy all week. I must also start taking my vacations. Of course, this means taking an actual vacation—even if a “staycation”—meaning no office work during that time.

If you find yourself stressed at work; if you find yourself inefficient; if you find yourself eating unhealthy foods to feel better during the work day; if you find you have lost the joy and passion you once had then rethink your work habits. Take time off for yourself. Take time to refresh and regroup. Clear your head and think about something else for a time and come back fresh. This is an important choice to make for your own health.