Fit to Fat: Lessons Learned While Doubling My Weight

I have written a lot about my weight loss journey.  But I have yet to tell the story of how I gained the weight in the first place.  Also, I have posted plenty of Before and After pictures once I got back to my fighting weight.  But I have yet to post the “Before the Before” picture.

You see from this picture I was fit first! I was a West Point cadet and then a well-toned Army officer.  It has been said that you learn more from what you do wrong then what you do right.  So, this is the story of how I went from a Fit Captain in the US Army that could pick up a ruck and jog 13 miles on any given day to a 358 lbs. behemoth that could barely walk 13 yards without getting winded.

skinny elvis

My weight gain story starts as a slow progression to a rapid decline into morbid obesity.  It is not a fun story and I would rather tell the other blog (that will be the next).  But it is a story that needs to be told nonetheless for others who may be dealing with this problem now.

Growing up until my teen years, I did have some struggles with my weight.  I and the rest of my siblings have a predilection to being bigger.  But by the time, I was 15 I shot up like a weed.  I was no longer chunky and my high school sports of football, wrestling, and track/baseball kept my weight under control.

I also could keep my weight under control in the Army and West Point.  I did, on occasion, have to pick up a ruck on the day of weigh ins at the Army to jog a few miles to keep my weight down (I did have a big build).  But it was no problem.  When I left the Army at 175 lbs., I could run a half marathon at the drop of a hat and had no problem with any physical activity.

Over the next 25 years, my weight however more than doubled!  It did not happen all initially.  For the first 20 years, I fluctuated from being 220 to 260 and could push my weight back down easily. The first slow weight gain over the 20 years were the result of three things:

  1. I was not exercising as much.  In the Army, you are paid to do PT and it is part of your job description.  If you did not do it, you could not perform your job function.  But as much as my current company does commend fitness, they do not require you to do it.  I still worked out but not as much.  However, despite this decline in activity, I continued to take on the same number of calories.
  2. I was prone to Yo-Yo dieting. I was adept at driving my weight back down through a series of the latest diets – Slimfast, Protein only diet, etc.  I also would up my exercise in brief bursts that was unsustainable. I would go from zero to 60 on the Stairmaster or equivalent and think that I could keep it up.
  3. My metabolism slowed from aging. I was no longer eating the 4 Suzy Q’s in one sitting as I used to do at the academy, but I was still eating 2.  And my raging metabolism from back in the day had significantly slowed.

Still until about 2010 and 2011, I was still in a redeemable place.  Then two singular events caused my weight to progress in a non-linear fashion as you see in the graph.  From 2011 – 2014, I put on over 100 lbs.  Not a pretty site.   There were seven habits that drove this prodigious weight gain.  But before we discuss the habits, let me discuss the two triggers that started this “hockey stick” moment in weight gain.

  1. I took on too much responsibility at work and the work that I was driving also had a “hockey stick” moment. Not being able to say no I took on three roles, two of which have now been taken over by my peers or superiors.  In addition, the business that I was helping to drive grew from 60 people to nearly a 1,000 at its height.
  2. I lost my last parent, my Mother, at the same time of this growth. I did not take time to grieve nor did I take time to get her estate in proper order.

These two triggers caused seven bad habits that I have since conquered in part.  Some I still struggle with but am in a better place.

  1. Binge Eating – During the time I was working crazy hours or in moments of grieving, I went on unmitigated eating binges. I had three nemeses.  First, there was a tray full of peanut M&M’s kept in our office.  When I was pulling a late nighter, I would drink cup full of peanut M&M’s to keep my sugar high up.  Next, I would usually not make it home for dinner, so I had a McDonald two-way fix.  On the way home from work, I would have a Quarter Pounder and a milk shake.  On the way to work, to break up the Austin traffic, I would eat two sausage McMuffins (I would the skip the egg in the crazy idea of cutting calories!).  Lastly, on the weekend, I would get a bottle or two of Barefoot Wine (because it was cheaper) to keep me going through weekend work.
  2. Overworking – My binge eating was mainly a symptom of me not being able to say no and overworking.  I fashioned myself as the Iron Man, that could work anyone into the ground.  No time for exercise, no time for eating, no time for sleeping, no time for getting a check-up.  I had to lead by misshapen thoughts of being an example.  How could I ask my team to work if I was not always in the trenches with them?  This is really the root of the other bad behaviors.
  3. Not Sleeping – I pushed those two years on very little sleep.  Here is a true story.  One day I was on a call at 3 AM in the morning trying to adapt to some changing direction.  I suddenly realized I was in danger of missing my 6 AM plane since I was still at work.  I continued the call on the hour drive home.  Threw some clothes in suitcase and remember praying I could get on the plane without crashing the car and getting some sleep.
  4. Stress, stress, stress – I put a lot of stress on myself.  Some of it could not be avoided but most self-imposed.  I had in my mind I could not let the team down and the only way to do it was to lead up front.  I also did not want to let my siblings down with my Mother’s estate.  By working so hard, not taking care of myself, and insufficient delegation, I let myself down and at times both work and my siblings.  Also, stress led to two medical conditions that leads us to bad behavior 5.
  5. Not going to the doctors – During this two years, I had a constant nagging cough and several bouts of walking pneumonia. I also had two undiagnosed issues that were directly contributable to 30 lbs. of the weight gain.  I did not have time for the doctor and let it ride.  As a result, my shoe size went from a 10 ½ to a 12 ½ (and sometimes I needed a shoe horn).   Lesson learned – never, never, never let a medical problem go undiagnosed.
  6. Not taking time for grief and not recognizing Depression – I spent the two years busy but depressed. I never took the proper time to recover from the loss of my last remaining parent.  That in turn fueled my overeating and my stress.  TAKE TIME TO GRIEVE!
  7. Not drinking enough water – This bad habit sounds like the least one of the seven discussed so far.  But it cannot be discounted.  I drank “Leaded” Coke and coffee and very little water.  I went for the sugar and caffeine rush and skipped drinking water.  I now know that being tired was in part from being dehydrated.

 

So now it is time to unveil, the “After” picture. This is a picture of me at a conference after attempting to dance.  I got it from one of my colleagues, as a reminder after I made the turn around.   A few weeks after this picture was taken, I tripped while leaving work and landed knocked out on the ground at 3 AM in the morning.  After an unspecified time knocked out, I was able to crawl back to an upright position just barely getting into my car.  I keep my smashed glasses to this day in memory of this painful memory.

Large guy attempting to dance
After Picture

So, there you have it.  How a once fit Army officer, doubled his weight and ended sprawled on the ground literally clinging to life.  I have told this story so that you can learn from my bad habits and stop them if you have them, before they become out of control. The next blog will be titled Fat to Fit Again and discuss how I learned to tackle the 7 bad habits.  As Paul Harvey use to say that “Is the Rest of the Story”.

Walk Yourself Into A New Body!

Walking is great exercise for weight loss!  There is no need to pull a Biggest Loser Last Chance Workout to shed the pounds.  Doing an intense workout too early can get you injured and lead to a setback.  Instead be like Forest Gump lite and say, “From that point everywhere I went I was walking!”  Here are eight reasons walking is the penultimate exercise for weight loss.

 

  1. You can get in touch with nature. Since I started my walking practice two years ago, I have been at all the great trails around Austin.  I have used the app AllTrails to find trails off the beaten path and to discover new haunts.  I have visited the seven lakes in and around Austin and also Lake Georgetown.  My favorite trail of all time is in Georgetown Texas followed closely by Lady Bird Lake and Brushy Creek trail which is next to my house. I have a backway path to access Brushy Creek Trail which I affectionately call “Secret Passage Way”
  2. Walking allows you to destress. You can listen to music, a good book or the sounds of nature all around.  It is calming and relaxing without overexerting yourself (unless you are walking in Hill Country in Texas in mid-August!)
  3. It can be done everywhere and it is easy to get 10,000 steps in or 5 miles. When on a work trip, walk from your hotel to the office and walk to dinner.  You can also take breaks at work and walking around the office to talk to your colleagues instead of Skyping them.
  4. It is usually low impact but there is a bit of caution here. It was definitely not low impact when I started or even after losing the first 50 or so lbs.  First, lugging around 300+ lbs. initially caused me often to throw my back out.  Then when I lost a good chunk of weight, my gait changed causing more back issues.  I eased into walking longer distances with comfort after first preparing myself on the Elliptical trainer.
  5. It is a good way to learn new things. I always listen to audiobooks and podcasts when not walking with someone.  I have listened to over 300+ books on my walks and have learned about Ulysses S. Grant, the Power of Habit, and the latest crime solutions from Alex Cross and James Patterson!  I use the app Overdrive and Podcast to get free books from the library and podcasts, respectively.
  6. You can catch up with loved ones both human and pets! I have had awesome conversations with my wife and family while taking a hike or walk.  I also make Boots our dog extremely happy especially when he can walk off leash at Turkey Creek.
  7. You get to see new things that you would have missed at the Gym. I have been on the Appalachian trail, walked through Central Park, strolled along the river at Columbus and got familiar with the hill country around Austin.
  8. Related to number 4, when you lose significant weight, your body structure changes. It takes time to adjust to your new body and higher impact exercises can really injure you, until you get to steady state.  Even changing your walking gait can be a challenge.  It took me a few weeks to adjust to each significant weight milestone.  Walking allows you to adjust to your new body.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Weight Loss

A weight loss journey is accompanied by good, bad, and ugly moments.  The good and the ugly moments are easy to discern.

Ugly – Trying to exercise for the first time in a long time in an extra, extra large swimsuit doing water aerobics.  You struggle to kick your feet or do simple strides in the pool.  Besides the apparent ugly moment (a person in a still too small swimsuit), there are those less apparent (the grimace on your face as you do the extra flutter kick).  These early ugly moments soon turn into good moments if you stick with it, but can not discount the early difficult first steps to health.

Good – Being able to complete a 50 mile walk one and a half years later in one day after earlier being able to walk only 50 yards without getting winded.  Or trying on your old suit jacket that now could set you aloft if you caught a good wind!

Man showing weight loss in oversized suit jacket
Don swimming in a jacket that used to be too snug

Surely the good outweighs the bad and the ugly after a successful weight loss journey.  But even after losing over 170 lbs, there are still some bad moments.  Momentarily losing restraint and eating an extra burger is an obvious one.  One that is not so obvious is the issues you have going through the body scanner at airports!  The first thing that you need to do after buying a new wardrobe (or regaining your old, see me in my 30 old flight jacket below) is TSA pre-check.  Prior to getting TSA pre, everytime I walked through the scanner, I had to be patted down because it looked like I had something hidden in my stomach area.  Indeed, on one occasion, the TSA agent actually exclaimed “You are lit up like a Christmas tree!”.   Then came the bad (or perhaps the ugly).  I said yes, I know.  I lost a 170 lbs and can’t help that you all cannot adjust your sensors.  Did not go over well but I submitted to the pat down and the TSA agent and I had a good laugh later.  And then I registered for TSA pre.  Even with precheck you still at random times have to go through the scanner.  That was what happened two weeks ago and again I lit the thing up!  But this time it was a Good memory of how far I come.

Full body airport scanner
Full body scanner picture copyright Time

The moral of the story, a weight loss journey is a series of good, bad and ugly moments.  Endure the bad and ugly and revel in the good!  And get TSA pre-check 🙂

Manage Your Energy – Change Your Life

To jump start my weight loss journey in 2015, my first task was not so much about managing my eating but more managing my energy.  What does that mean?  A book recommended by my company business unit was key to this –  The Power of Full Engagement  located here Power of Full Engagement

The Power of Full Engagement talks about ways to manage energy to be a more effective leader. Based on training for athletes, the premise of the book is that we need to have cycles of stress and relaxation in order to increase energy and performance. There are four quadrants of energy and the first is physical. Let’s just say that in this area before my successful weight loss journey, I had a bit too much relaxation and did not take a respite from the daily grind to schedule in physical activity.

In previous big pushes at work, I reveled in seeing how long I could stay at my desk and how much work I could produce in a day. My only respite was the Philly Cheese Steaks at Jersey Mike’s. Let’s just say I was not building physical energy or releasing stress (or enough of it – only that amount that is released in a cheese steak coma).  People who know me know I like to be the iron man of work.  But my interaction with my team was suffering and so was my health.  The nadir of this period was the day I tripped outside my Delivery Center at 3 am, and hit the ground!  It took more than a few minutes to get up.

After reading the book and not wanting to repeat a face plant on the lawn of the delivery center, I established a physical routine and healthy eating to bolster my physical energy.  Here is what I did.

  1. Get out of my chair at least once an hour.
  2. Switched from prodigious amounts of coffee to hot tea.
  3. Do at least 30 minutes of exercise a day which I put in my schedule.  Yes, I now do Yoga, water aerobics, and Zumba.
  4. Changed from Philly cheese steaks to smoothies, salads, and our healthy snack machine when pressed for time.
  5. Increased sleep from an average of 5 hours or less to at least 6.
  6. And went to prescribed doctor’s appointments instead of toughing it out.

The result was my energy increased, my disposition improved (ok I know I can still be a bit imposing on occasion), and I am getting more work done in shorter time. You can see the difference in managing energy.  The first picture is of me is me in 2015 just before I started this routine.  The one next to it is me yesterday is me as one of 2 people to finish 4 hours straight of spinning class in support of St. Jude’s in Life Time North’s “Ride for A Reason”.  There is still time to donate so if you want to here is the link to my donation site!  Help us drive to knock out childhood cancer.

Ride for A Reason FundRaiser

 

Two Essential Ingredients to Weight Loss – Family and Friends (Part Two)

Two key ingredients to sustained and maintained weight loss are family and friends.  They are just as important to your weight loss journey as healthy food, careful tracking, water, and exercise.  I wrote about the first of these ingredients – family – in Part One of this blog here Two Essential Ingredients to Weight Loss – Family and Friends (Part One).   On this one, I tackle Part Two – friends – in this blog.

There have been three categories of friends that have helped me as I lost 170 plus pounds and kept it off.    Here is how Work Friends, Facebook Friends, and Fitness Friends at Weight Watchers and Lifetime Fitness have helped me along the way.

1.       Work Friends – My friends and colleagues at Accenture have encouraged me on and challenged me over these last two years.  First, my company has a program called Accenture Active where I had the good fortune to be one of 30 selected Journeyers when we initiated the program.  As a Journeyer, we had bi-weekly meetings to touch base and learn from each other.  We also had access to special lectures to inspire.  One particular one was given by Diana Nyad who told us how she trained to be the first person to swim from Florida to Cuba.  She accomplished it at 64, after several previous tries.  Her story a long with the Accenture Active group inspired and made it easier to keep on plan.  If someone can swim to Cuba, I can lose a 100 lbs.  Here is a link to Diana’s wiki page if you want to learn more. 

Diana Nyad

Second, my office friends and colleagues formed a Fitbit group.  I cannot tell you how the many contests drove me to exercise more!  I actually walked the halls of the Columbus Sheraton to pull ahead of my colleagues.  My friends also helped me accomplish a long-term goal of walking 50 miles in one day.   My friends from our sales team that walked 10 miles with me with their kids, partly in the rain!  That is what I call support! Below is a the Fitbit badge to prove it. 

Image of FitBit 100,000 step sandal
50 miles in one day!

2.Facebook Friends – My friends on Facebook were also a great help in my Weight Loss.  First, they gave me Likes to my corny workout rhymes (Example:  Today I did the typical, 5 miles strong on the elliptical!).  They also gave me Likes and a few Loves as I hit my weight loss milestones.  Along, with individual friends on Facebook, I was helped immensely by some of the Facebook groups.  Four groups in particular, Weight Watchers Saturday Round Rock Group, Sheri’s FIT (my sister-in-laws great workout group), Spreading Positivity, and the West Point Class of 85 site.  Each site gave me helpful hints and encouragement.  For example, yesterday I learned that I could get Center Cut bacon which was only 2 Weight Watcher’s Smart Points for 3 pieces!.  That made my day and helped me get my bacon fix while reducing calories and keeping the pounds off. 

3.       Fitness Friends –  I already discussed my fellow Journeyers at Accenture Active.  There are two other fitness and weight loss friends I want to give a shout out to.  First is Weight Watchers in Round Rock Texas.  This group literally changed my life.  I love meeting with them every Saturday to trade tips, words of encouragement, and recognition.  I also found out for me as a guy it was a good fit, so do not let anyone discourage you guys out there.  I found that it had the accountability and recognition of the scale while it taught me to be more empathetic and listen more. Here is a link to the meeting if you decide to join us!

Weight Watchers Round Rock

The second group is my exercise groups at Lifetime Fitness.  As I got more fit, my fitness classes changed from Water Aerobics to the Spinning AMP course.  I even have done Zumba and Yoga!  In all the classes I loved the friendship, exhilaration and fun!  I want to give a special shout out to Corey’s Saturday EDG class at Life Time Austin North.  I now know as many hip-hop songs than some of my kids (although I will never beat my son!).  I also know I can get over 130 RPMs (wait till I get my cycling shoes this Tuesday).  Spinning is Winning!   Here is the link to Life Time North Austin location.

LifeTime North Austin

 

In closing, weight loss is not an individual sport.  It takes family and friends to help you to reach your milestones.  

 

 

Two Essential Ingredients to Weight Loss – Family and Friends (Part One)

Two key ingredients to sustained and maintained weight loss are family and friends.  They are just as important to your weight loss journey as healthy food, careful tracking, water, and exercise.  Family and friends inspire you to be healthy, console you when you go off plan, and applaud you as you meet milestones.  It has been said that it takes a village to raise a child.  I say it takes your family and friends to take off the pounds and keep them off.

This has certainly been the case as I lost 170 plus pounds and kept it off over the last two + years.  Here are just a few of the ways that my family have helped with my weight loss.  Part two will focus on friends.

1.       My wife has provided great support and companionship.  She has listened patiently as I droned on about how many more Weight Watcher points a chicken thigh had compared to a chicken breast!  She has kept the cabinets and fridge stocked with healthy food and has hidden away any indulgences that she likes so I can’t find them.  She has asked each week how I did with my battle with the scale.  Most important, she has gone on numerous hikes with me.  Last year when I did my first Kennedy Walk (50 miles in one day), she walked with me for the first 10 miles at O dark thirty and finished the last 10 miles with me at 10:30 PM.  Here is a picture of us before walking the Bix 7.

Running the Bix 7
Running the Bix7

2.       My kids encouraged me and listened to all my Dad anecdotes about my latest struggles as I turned away from my Peanut M&M addiction.  They showed their support by giving me Likes on my countless Facebook posts (especially my son-in-law). They also did not gripe when our family outings changed from pizza to Brussel sprouts.  Lastly, they turned me on to the latest self-help gurus like Tim Ferris that inspired me (thanks Kyle). 

3.       Family Pets – Boots the dog joined the weight loss journey with me.  I remember that initial walk when he and I were at peak weight as we trudged up a hill on what I called our last chance workout! We both made it thankfully for Colette since she did not have to carry us up the hill (although Boots stopped for 10 minutes mid-way through)!  As we lost weight together on the trails of Turkey Creek, he shared my victories and my steak.  You can read more about Boots and me in this blog.  The two cats have been helpful because they wake me up at 4:30 AM to let them out, thus making sure I get to the morning work out on time!

A little help from friends: Striding Subbu and Boots the Dog

4.       Extended Family – My siblings and my in-laws have been companions and inspired me on my weight loss journey.  My brother also took on the weight loss challenge and has lost over a 100 lbs.  We really should have gone on the biggest loser and won the cash (but our health is way more important).  My other brother and sister have also encouraged me with Facebook likes and encouragement.  As for my wife’s family, they have been key to establishing an exercise regimen.  One of my sisters in law established a monthly challenge group on Facebook.  Together our team walked across Texas and challenged ourselves in fitness.  One of my nieces made a group called Spreading Positivity which was a key to keeping me up when I was down!