Lessons on Weight Loss and Life from the Royal Wedding – The Redemptive Power of Love

Like so many previous blogs, this one was inspired by my morning workout with two added kickers – the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and the memory of my son’s college graduation the night before.  I was watching the wedding while walking on the treadmill at 6:00 AM in the morning.

The pomp and circumstance were amazing and the pastoral introduction that Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury invoked was moving.  It talked to the power of love in marriage and the foundation of family as a society.  Then Bishop Curry, the Episcopal Head of the Episcopal Church in the United States, took us all to church and expanded on the redemptive of power of love to renew the world.  In his words, he said:

“If you don’t believe me, just stop and think and imagine, think and imagine, well, think and imagine a world where love is the way. Imagine our homes and families when love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way. Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce when love is the way. Imagine this tired old world when love is the way.”  Bishop Michael Curry

He then tied marital love to the great commandment as proclaimed by Jesus.

“But love is not only about a young couple. Now the power of love is demonstrated by the fact that we’re all here. Two young people fell in love and we all showed up. But it’s not just for and about a young couple who we rejoice with. It’s more than that. Jesus of Nazareth on one occasion was asked by a lawyer the sum of the essence of the teachings of Moses and he went back and reached back into the Hebrew scriptures and Jesus said, ‘you shall love the lord, your god, with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength. This is the first and great commandment.’

And the second is like it. Love your neighbor as yourself. And then in Matthews’ version, he added, he said on these two, love of god and love of neighbor, hang all the law, all the prophets, everything that Moses wrote, everything in the holy prophets, everything in the scriptures, everything that god has been trying to tell the world, love god. Love your neighbors. And while you’re at it, love yourself.” Bishop Michael Curry

Now, we have not yet realized the redemptive power of love as a society as what happened yesterday in the high school in Santa Fe can attest.  But one thing I can speak to you from the heart and from experience is the redemptive power of love as it applies to my own experience and my weight loss journey!  Love of yourself, Love of your neighbor (and the Love of your Neighbor for you), and Love of God were the keys to becoming a healthier and happier person and hopefully projecting that to joy to those that I encounter.   Let me illuminate each point as it pertains to my own experience in weight loss and life in ascending priority order and relate it to my son’s graduation

  1. Love of self – Loving yourself is the first step to loving others and becoming a healthier, happier person.  Prior to 2015, I did not often practice self-love.  Grumpy, griping and overweight, I dwelled on what I didn’t do rather than focusing on what I could or would do.  Chewed up by self-centered anxiety and stress, I overate and overcompensated for my failings.  The nadir in self-doubt and recrimination came sadly on a day that should have been one of my joyful one – the graduation of my third child and only son from high school.  Over 330, unfit and unhappy, I was not an example that I wanted my son to uphold.

I said this was the nadir but really was not.  This graduation and the picture taken their drove more self-loathing and more weight gain, although it did sow the first seeds of change.  I idolized my Father and thought to myself of the example I was setting for my son.  And it was not just an image thing.  I was so worn out from the little exercise walking to and from the car to the graduation, that I nearly did not have the energy to get in the picture, let alone look happy in it.  I truly wondered if I would make it to the next one.

It was only when I joined Weight Watchers and started to see small victories that I could slowly stopped beating up myself.   I no longer focused on the past or had anxiety for the future but started to focus on myself and today.  Our Weight Loss lead Julie has a saying that echoes those of flight attendants, “You first need to put your own mask on before putting on the mask of others”.  By first focusing on loving yourself, you are then able to get on the right track and ultimately get place to help others.

2. Love of others – The love of others from my friends, family, and team members in Accenture Active and Weight Watchers were key to my renewal and in redeeming myself in my own eyes and perhaps those of others.  I cannot tell you the number of times that a kind word from someone lifted me up and drove me forward.  I learned so many lessons from their love and experience!  Countless times a thoughtful word or suggestion helped to pick me up and get back on track to becoming a healthier person. I am now trying to pay their love forward by helping others with the lessons and gifts given to me.  The impetus of this blog is to help others struggling with weight loss and anxiety with words of encouragement, useful information and love.  You help yourself by helping others!

  1. Love of A Power Greater than Yourself – The last and most important element in the recipe of love is the unconditional love of a power greater than oneself.  In my case that power is Jesus Christ as proclaimed by the Catholic Church.  For others, it may be different, and I am certainly not here to proselytize. But what I am here to tell you is there is a power in moving beyond ourselves and being thankful for what was given to us from up above. The power of prayer and thankfulness transform!.  It was key to renewing my body and to refreshing my soul and for other.  But more importantly, it affords the opportunity to have a closer relationship with God and to give thanks for both joys and sorrows in life.

My personal favorite prayer is the Rosary because it reflects the love of God for us and a Mother for her son.  I started the practice to say at least a rosary a week.   Likewise, I keep a daily, thankfulness journal to remember all that God has done for me.

In closing, love has the ultimate power to redeem and renew.  Yesterday. I attended our son’s college graduation a 150+ lbs. lighter with a renewed body and improved soul. If the power of love can renew a curmudgeon such as I myself, it can do it for you and in time the world!

Paths: Meandering and Meaning at 2 AM

scenic view
View from the mountaintop of life
We wonder, wish and wait,
For a life full and great,
While time goes floating by,
In all our efforts and sighs,
But faith will see us through,
To a purpose winding but true,
For our path is not a clear one,
And only known by the Son.
So be thankful everyday,
For the small role you play,
In God’s ultimate design,
Where all hearts and souls shine!

 

A Mother’s Day Memorial: The Leader of the Family

My site is about weight loss and leadership. And today, midway between the day of my Mother’s passing (May 7th) and the day to honor her (Mother’s Day), I feel called to write about the lessons of leadership and life that I learned from my Mom.

Just as my Dad was known as Big D for his size and hailing from Dallas, my mom was known as Big Pat. I of course was little D or little Donnie.  My Mom’s counterpart was Pat Buckland, one of our great friends who was smaller in height and a member of the club.  (Two side notes.  The club was a group of family friends who all worked at DeLaval  in Jersey and little Pat who barely reached 5 feet could match my Mom’s stature in the 70’s with her boufant hairdo that was at least 5 – 6 inches high!  Little Pat was also a great role model).

My Mom was the secret leader of the family.  Dad was the external leader and I have wrote a few blogs about him already – here Lessons from Leaders – How to Get the Iron Out the Door (and not have it come back in!)  and here Life’s Game Changers – The Power of Thanksgiving .   But Mom was the internal leader of the family.  She was the soul and the heart who taught us how to laugh, love and get along in the world.  I learned many lessons from my mom but here are just five with appropriate antidotes.

  1. How not to take myself so seriously!  Anyone who knows me knows that I am an intense guy.  Part of that is from my Dad who always said this or that is the greatest or the best thing ever.  And part of that is just my anal retentive self.  Mom was the opposite.  She used to loosen me and my Dad up.  Here is an anecdote.  My mom went with me to back to school day back in my junior year when we moved to Texas.  Every 15 minutes we would have to switch classes and meet the teacher.  I walked directly to class while people were trying to flag me down and say high.  My Mom in her Jersey accent would say Donn…nie, why didn’t you say hi to those cute girls that were saying hi to you!  I said something like Mom we have to get to class and I do not want us to be late.  As always, I was too focused on the mission and what was next.  My Mom tried to focus me on relationships and what was now.
  2. If Before the Gospel, Everything is OK.  My mom was a Catholic and my Dad a back sliding Baptist (although always supportive of my Mom).   Although she was never intense in her religion, she always took us to Church and had us go to religion school.  She  also taught me that God loves you no matter your sins.  Another anecdote and an additional example of how she calmed my intensive nature).  With three siblings and a host of other activities, we were habitually late to church.   I would be stressing in the car as we drove to our parish (which surprisingly enough had the same name as the church I go to now – St. Vincent De Paul!).  She would say “Donn…ie, if we make it before the Gospel we will be alright!”  And truer words could not be said.  Half the battle in life and with your relationship with Jesus is showing up and making the effort to love and serve.
  3. Do not be a GOM!   Don…nie, Garry, David, Lori don’t be a GOM was a common phrase.  I knew what it meant from context.  Do not be hoodwinked, naive, tricked.  But I did not not know were it originated until I looked it up.  A GOM is Irish slang for a fool.  It was one of my Mom’s favorite terms (believe it or not in an endearing manner).  It must have come from my Grandpop Henry and his Father Charles who came over from Ireland during the potato famine.   Mom would use this term in one of two ways:  1.  Ewe, Don..nie don’t be a GOM.  When I said something humorous or silly. 2.  Donnie, don’t be a GOM they are trying to trick you!.  I liked the former better than the latter, but was appreciative of both.   No one could ever pull one over on my Mom.  She was not so silently shrewd and no one could pull one over on her eyes.
  4. Sing from your heart.  My love of singing and whatever literary skills I have come from my Mom.  She loved Debbie Reynolds and old Irish songs.  I grew up with the songs “Tammy”, Irish tunes, and “Frankie and Johnnie Were Lovers” running in my mind.  She taught me to sing from your soul, from my heart.   She also was quite a writer herself as was my Mother In Law Audrey.  To this day, I can never hear the song Tammy without weeping out loud.  It was the song of my childhood and is cemented on my soul!
  5. Love, love, love to the End!   What is it with Mothers?  They love us always and to the end.  My Mom was the same way (as was the Mother of all, the blessed Mother).  Two anecdotes stand out.  I remember back in Jersey being bullied by some kids.  I was the nerdy kid.  Heck my nickname was Richie Cunningham.  My Mom one day tracked them down and chewed them out.  They never bothered me again!
  6. Last thoughts.  The last memory of my Mom is the most meaningful.   I was sitting in the hospital in Richmond, Texas.  My mom was on a respirator and the Doctor asked me and the rest of the family if we should pull her off the respirator.  Even though she pointed to it to stop, we were struggling to give our OK.  We sat there and finally gave our OK.  But Mom had saved us.  She knew her time and had passed.  I will never forget her final act of love.  How she protected us from that decision.

In closing, there will never, ever, ever be someone as great and more deserving of your respect than your mother.  Love them!  Bless them! And, thank them for what you are and what you will be!

THINK Yourself to Weight Loss and a New You

Several, seemingly unrelated events conspired to inspire this latest blog.  About eight months back, I listened to the audiobook the Power of Habit while doing my Saturday long walk.   I mentioned this book in previous blogs that you find here. Fat to Fit Again! The Power of Habit

In the book, the author provides insights on how to change habits in individuals, companies and lastly cultures. After hearing the last part on cultures, I had an inspiration about how we all can change our current social media culture.  Immediately upon returning home, I got the idea “Let’s make Kindness viral! Let’s infect the culture with love! Think before you speak or write! Click like for love. Hide posts that discourage.”

So immediately upon coming home, I started clicking like on every inspirational quote I could find in Facebook.  Also, I wrote a whole bunch and joined inspirational Facebook pages such as Spreading Positivity. Over the next few weeks, I kept it up until my Facebook feed was flooded with positive messages!  You really can make the algorithm work for you!  And if enough of us do it, like the Ice bucket challenge did to raise money for a worthy cause, we can collectively help change the culture from one of sarcasm and discord to kindness and positivity.

 

So, Saturday, because of my positive Facebook feed, I received the following image related to an acronym on thoughtful communication – THINK.  kindIn addition, our Saturday Weight Watcher’s class was on self-kindness.  Lastly, Facebook declared Saturday “Pay it Forward” day asking us to show random acts of kindness.  All three of these together, made me think that I should explain how I used the THINK acronym to help guide both my external dialogue but more importantly my internal one.

By using the THINK process, you can shape the running dialogue in your mind to inspire self-kindness and in so doing drive weight loss.

So, let’s impact the acronym with some examples.

  1. T – Is It Truthful? Here is one of the thoughts that ran though my head when I was 358 lbs.  “I do not have any will power and I am too tired to break out of this rut!”  That statement was not truthful and on second thought I realized it.  I had jumped out of planes at Airborne school and passed the tough discipline of the black hats.  Heck, I even passed West Point’s Indoor Obstacle course despite not having natural coordination and brought to successful closure many projects both in school, the Army, and my current employment.  I definitely had the will power so it was not a truthful statement.  And by dwelling on it, I had gone away from the truth – I was depressed, had a medical condition, and was overworked/overstressed. If you focus on falsehood, instead of the truth, you attack yourself, others, and the wrong problem.
  2. H – Is it Helpful? Do not dwell on the mistakes of the past.  It is not helpful to dwell on the Quarter Pounder that you just ate.  Instead, it is helpful to think about what triggered the momentary lapse (or not if you planned it as a treat) and plan on how you will do better.
  3. I – Is it Inspiring? I cannot tell you how much reading inspiring books and quotes have changed my inner dialogue and fashioned my outer dialogue.  Don’t preach to the choir, Be Inspired both when you communicate to yourself and others!
  4. N – Is it Needed? Both in our inner and outer dialogue, too many random, negative thoughts clutter the message:  Each day I am getting healthier and happier!  Do not cloud your thoughts with unneeded worries or fears, focus on what’s now and needed!
  5. K – Is it Kind? This is the most important part of the acronym, Be conspicuously kind to yourself and others.  A kind act to yourself will allow you to drive to greater health when you have a momentary setback.  Being kind to others will have a double whammy.  It will bring you joy, lower stress.  But more importantly, it will bring joy to others. Above all else – Mentor do not mangle!

So, there you have it!  THINK your way to weight loss and health!  THINK yourself to a new you and a new society!

I want to close with a quick end-note.  Most of my blog ideas come from Saturday morning walks from 5 – 7:30 AM while listening to audiobooks or podcasts.  If you are ever at Austin North Lifetime Fitness, you will see me on the treadmill lost in thought walking and listening to my iPhone.  Then all of sudden you will see me talk to Siri and say take Note and ask her to transcribe a blog idea.  It often gives the person on the treadmill near me a shock to hear a guy suddenly talk to his phone out of the blue.  It doesn’t help that Siri sometimes mangles my most profound thoughts!  Example: “Sheer was not taken away, Kurt was given” for an upcoming blog called “Fear was not taken away, Courage was Given”.  (Siri really needs a grammar checker!).

Not What’s Next, but What’s Now: The Key to a Fit and Happy Life

I had an epiphany about weight loss and quite frankly life in general while listening to my favorite podcast from Father Mike Schmitz.  Father Mike who ministers to Catholic College Students (and some 50+ year men like yours truly) has a new series of podcasts for the end of the school year called What’s Next.  The first of the series was about the anxiety that is sometimes associated when contemplating what’s next in this world.  As soon as I heard that, I got an inspiration.  The key question for weight loss and life in general is not What’s Next but What’s Now.  I think Father Mike may go there on the next one of the series but since he did not hit this exact point on this first one (listen to it here Fr Mike’s Podcast ), I will!

Too often, we are filled with anxiety about what is going to come next.  We set goals, or we face hardships and we worry what is coming next.  Will I achieve the goal for which I strive, or will I sink under the weight of some difficulty that is hard to bear?  In weight loss terms, we set a path and a timetable to lose 75 lbs.  before your reunion and now have only lost 20  lbs with the reunion 3 weeks a way.  Or you have a difficult project for which the outcome is uncertain, so you stress each out and eat  too many Quarter Pounders with cheese.  I am not saying stop setting goals or bearing the crosses of everyday life.  What I am saying is the proper question is not What’s Next, it is What’s Now.

There are three variations on that phrase which are insightful when losing the baggage of everyday life whether it is weight or worries:

1.       Be thankful for Now and not anxious for what’s Next.  When I was losing over 170 lbs. in a year and a half, the times when I went off track were normally related to not being thankful for the strides that I had made that day.    Revel in the success of today and don’t worry that the pounds may not be coming off fast enough to hit your goal in a certain timeframe.  The weight will come off.  Likewise, be thankful for a beautiful sunset or a hug from your child rather than whether you will hit your next sales target.  The first two brings well-being, the latter could lead to a rush of cortisol and a palpitating heart!

2.       Don’t let the goals of tomorrow, get in the way of doing good today.  There is a body and soul connection.  In the rush of making the next goal, we miss the chance to help someone out and show a little kindness.  When you help someone else out, you feel good about your self and maybe get a little exercise (e.g. helping someone move, etc.)  Likewise, when you are kind to yourself, instead of beating yourself up, you are less stressed and less prone to binge eating.   Stop striving and help someone. 

3.       Don’t put off until tomorrow, what you can do today.  I know it is a little cliché but maybe this insight into the phrase is not.  Sometimes when we are thinking about what we desire to do tomorrow (like run a half marathon), we get frustrated with what we can do today (like walk a half block).  When I started off on my weight loss journey, I could walk a few laps in the kiddie pool (because regular walking of any distance would hurt my back).  If I had stopped because I was frustrated, I would have never been able to walk the 50 miles in one day that I did a year and a half later.  Do what you can do now and do not stress if you are behind in your progress.

In closing, one popular song title said, “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow”.  I say STOP and do what you can do in fitness, weight loss, and life today!

Fat to Fit Again! The Power of Habit

My last blog told the story of how I went from a fit Army officer to a 358 lbs. behemoth sprawled faced down after tripping leaving work at 3 AM with broken glasses and bruised pride.  You can read it hear. Fit to Fat: Lessons Learned While Doubling My Weight

At basically the nadir of my 50+ years, I decided to turn my health and my life around somehow, someway.  I did not get all the way at once.  I still had the bout with my colleague when I was gasping for breath after climbing a set of two sets of stairs. Read it here.  But at least at that point I decided to do something, somehow.  This is the story of how I went from Fat to Fit Again by killing the 7 deadly habits that explained in my most recent previous blog.

Before I discuss that let me talk to you a bit about Habits. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg linked here  The Power of Habit is a must read for anyone that is seeking to change the habits that caused them to gain weight (or any other nefarious thing).  I listened to the audiobook half way through my 178 lbs. weight loss journey (wish I read it earlier).

If you are struggling with any bad behavior DROP EVERYTHING AND READ IT NOW!  The proposition from the book is we are creatures of habit.  The book can be summed up by this quote “There is nothing you cannot do if you get the habits right!”   On any given day, you do at least 40% of anything by habit.  For example, you get up, your breath is sour, and you smell so you brush your teeth and take a shower.   Depending on what is more important to you (I brush my teeth first), your habit is consistently the same.  Every habit is triggered by an event (halitosis from sleeping with your mouth closed), followed by the habit (brushing my teeth for 45.7 seconds followed by mouth wash) to gain a reward (the ability to hopefully kiss my wife without her turning away!).

First you must realize your trigger, then the habit to give your reward.  If you can realize the trigger (sometimes it is deceptive so use root cause analysis) and the resulting reward, you can change the intervening habit to get a similar award.  We are not Pavlov’s dog, but we are sure close.  The key things with humans is you can discern the trigger, change the habit, and earn the same or similar award.  So now I will tell you how I dealt with the 7 deadly habits that changed me from Fit to Fat again.  In all seven, I list the bad habits I had, the trigger that caused it, the habit that I changed and the reward that I still got even though the habit was changed.

  1. Bad Habit: Binge Eating of Peanut M&Ms. New Habit: Eating filling fruit.  I told in the last blog how I would drink cup full of Peanut M&M’s to sustain me from long nights of driving my team to create software.  I changed this habit in three ways.  First, I tracked the number of Weight Watcher points associated with a cup of peanut M&M’s (27 WW Smart Points per cup– more than 4/5 my daily allowance).  Then I figured out the trigger.  It was at approximately 3 hours after lunch when I felt tired and needed to get out of the chair.  The habit was to walk to the front desk and fill a coffee cup with Peanut M&Ms and the reward was a burst of energy from sugar.   What I did once I realized the trigger and the reward, I just changed the habit to get a similar award.  An Apple has natural sugar but is zero points.  So, I walked a similar distance to the break room and grabbed an apple.
  2. Bad Habit: Overworking New Habit: Delegating and mentoring. One of the main reasons that I gained weight is I tried to do everything myself and ended up working 16+ days.  The trigger was an overwhelming sense of responsibility to my job and the satisfaction of a successful project.  Beyond the ancillary consequence of gaining weight since I put my health secondary, I was not fully utilizing my team or giving them a sense of accomplishment on their own.  So chiefly for selfish reasons, I realized I could no longer be an iron man and started to delegate.  I adopted an approach of Mentoring and not Mangling with dictates and proclamations.  This not only gave me time to focus on my health, it also allowed us to accomplish the mission, thus fulfilling my sense of responsibility.
  3. Bad Habit: Not Sleeping New Habit:  Sleeping more (but still not enough!).  Delegating helped me to get more sleep.  But I also took other measures.  Instead of working or listening to books on one of the many plane trips that I took, I did a mindfulness exercise (in my case as a Catholic I said a Rosary), then calmed I went to sleep on the plane.  Also, exercise helped to induce me to get more sleep.  I also monitored my sleep habits with a Fitbit.  Despite all these efforts (and another effort I will mention later), I was only able to up my average sleep to 6.2 hours from a paltry 5.1.   But it is progress.  Sleep by the way is one of the most important factors to weight loss.  Almost every week I failed to lose weight on my weight loss journey it was due to a lack of sleep.
  4. Bad Habit: Stressing out New Habit: Working out.   Stress was one of the triggers to so many of my bad habits.  Depression and binge eating are too in particular.  There are two ways I countered the trigger of stress.  When I felt it coming on, I made sure I planned a Beer Walk after work.  That is where I would make a 2-3-mile trek to the Banger’s Bar that is just off trail in Austin Town lake.  I would have a beer and then walk back.  Here is a picture of me returning from my most recent beer walk and enjoying an Austin sunset!   IMG_3391The other thing I do is I sing Karaoke with an app called Sing Smule.  I don’t do it in the office (well at least not normally).  But singing a few tunes is a great way to get the stress and the fat invoking Cortisol down!
  5. Bad Habit: Not going to the doctors New Habit: Doing exactly what the doctor told me.  In my previous blog, I talked about how I skipped going to the doctors because of work and paid for it.  I paid for it in two ways.  I had Sleep Apnea and an undiagnosed condition that caused me to retain 25+ lbs. of fluid.  Once I finally went to the doctors, I kept going.  And I did what they told me.  That meant living with a CPAP for a year and taking it to all my favorite Midwest states for work (don’t try to get distilled water at midnight in Topeka).  I also took my meds.  These two simple things took off 25+ lbs. in water weight and reduced my shoes size by 21/2 sizes.
  6. Problem: Depression Antidote: Being Thankful and Grieving. I had a lot of things go wrong in 2012 most importantly losing my Mother – my last parent.  I drove on and tried to work myself out of the grief.  Bad idea.  After a year of trying that, I pulled myself out of my funk by taking time to grieve and being thankful for all the good things that were coming my way (Kid’s graduation, daughter’s wedding).  When you are sad, look for something for which to be thankful but more importantly take time to remember the person you lost!  Here is the blog I wrote about the thankfulness I felt on another sad moment. Life’s Game Changers – The Power of Thanksgiving
  7. Bad Habit: Not drinking water and drinking Coke. New Habit: Drinking flavored Sparkling Water.  This sounds weird, I do not like drinking water.  But I love carbonated drinks.  Once I realized I was drinking a lot of calories, I decided to try zero calorie, sparkling water.  To save money, I got a soda stream machine and I buy flavor pods available in the store.  Water along with sleep.

And there you have it.  I changed my habits and transformed my life.  178 lbs. gained and then lost and never, ever coming back again.  You can go from Fat to Fit like me with the Power of Habit.

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”.

The Lessons I Leaned When Running Away

When I was 16, I made the rash decision to run away.  I was distressed that I was moving away from my home in New Jersey and losing my friends.  It was understandable in some respects.  I was half way through my junior year and was tied to my school and in particular my first girlfriend.  I thought the world was ending but really it was only beginning.

I remember the day as it is almost yesterday.  My Dad was a bit steamed after my Grandpop, Uncle, Aunt and cousins came over to wish us off.  As to be expected, everyone was sad to see us leave and a lot of tears were shed.  I remember my Dad saying something to the effect that he could not take another person crying (my Mom’s family was Irish and as the stereotype goes a bit emotional).  I just got upset and belligerent after hearing that.  I told him “Well, I am half my Mom’s side and I am not crying and promised to take off.”  He half dismissed it but I did not.  At that moment, I decided to run away.

My great idea was I would run as fast as I could the 5 or 6 miles to Yardville to my Uncle Johnny’s house and hide out in the woods.  Then when my family left for Texas heartbroken, I would have my cousin bring me food while I lived out in the woods behind their house (I said the idea was rash!).  Just to show what crazy things teen age love can do, I decided then and there to take off.  I ran with all my might and with the stuffed toy Dog (Little Rascal) my girlfriend gave me.  I set off to Yardville to hide out in the woods.

Back then I could run fast.  I ran out of Crosswicks out past Ocker’s Barrel where my Dad worked when on strike (which you see below).  I got 4 and a half miles and was just about to turn off the main street to my Uncle Johnnie’s house when my Dad in the car caught up to me.

Ocker's Barrel
Ocker’s Barrel as I ran past

I do not know how he knew where I was going.  I will never forget it.  He told me that he was sorry and that I and all of my Mom’s side were tough.  He then explained that we needed to move to Texas to make a better life.  Part of the steel mill was moving down South and as a result he was not reelected as union Vice President.  He got an offer in Texas for his work and we needed to move to make a new life.  He then hugged me and I got in the car.

My brothers and my sister (although she was a bit young) can attest that I was not a happy camper on the way to Texas.  I sat sullen and made sure that I never took a turn in the middle seat.  My brothers adjusted better.  Each chance I could I would either write or try and call my girlfriend.  Let’s just say I was not a happy camper.

But I should have been!  Texas turned out to be a great place to complete my High School years.  And we literally were still in Jersey (not New Jersey but Jersey Village, outside of Houston)!  I learned four valuable lessons on my attempted run away and capture:

  1. I was self-absorbed. Yes, I lived 16+ years in New Jersey but my Mom had lived 38!  She was leaving the family and friends she grew up with for the family she nurtured and loved.  I still remember my Granpop’s hands shaking and my Mom tearing up on the day we left. My Dad, although a Texan by birth, was also leaving behind more. He had lived in New Jersey for 20 years and was now had ties as deep there than in his native state.  Known as Big D, he was leaving his friends, co-workers and the community where he was the coach of the Red Sox, the Cubmaster of Pack 55, and institution at NBC wresting matches and football games.
  2. Moving to a new place meant new friends. After a few months adapting (boy the football coaches had fun with me and my brother’s accents!), I met new friends, dated new girls and created lasting relationships that still endure.
  3. I learned a lesson that I covet as a Father. Sometimes when you are providing for your family you have to make a hard decision.  My Dad would have liked nothing more than to stay in New Jersey where he built so many bonds.  But the steel mills were moving South (and later off shore).
  4. The last lesson from him is the power of apology.  I should have apologized to him not the other way around! I will never forget when he caught up to me in the car and took me home.  It takes a big man to apologize to angst filled son!

It takes Grit to Lose Weight and to be Born to Run!

I have just finished two books that reflect some lessons that I learned on my Weight loss journey.  Both are about that sometimes-elusive quality called Grit (not Grits which would be, especially the buttered type, counter to Weight loss).

The first book tied to Grit is obvious.  It is called Grit by Angela Duckworth.  It is a study on what constitutes Grit and why Grit is so important to success of all type.  Grit in her definition is the combination of passion, perseverance and persistence (the three P’s).  Her book opens with why one third of the cadets at West Point even after passing the rigorous entrance exams, drop out after the first 6 weeks period known as Beast Barracks.  There departure was not related to their ability as demonstrated by their recruiting scores, academic prowess or military bearing.  Indeed, some that scored the highest in the entrance criteria were the first to fall out when the going got tough.

What Professor Duckworth determined that the quality of Grit had the closest correlation of any factor in determining who would make it through those first few brutal weeks.  Those with the passion for an Academy diploma, combined with the ability to bounce back after failure were the ones that made it.  Some of the people that scored high on entry had other options so simply did not have the passion.  Others who had the passion, did not have the faith – the crux of persistence and perseverance – to make it through the four years.  The rest of the book goes through a scientific and psychological study of what constitutes Grit and why it is so important to success of all kinds.

The second book is a case study on Grit.   It is Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography Born to Run.  The Boss was not blessed with a great singing voice, natural guitar playing ability, or writing skills.  What he was born with was an overwhelming passion for playing Rock and Roll after falling in love with the playing of Elvis, the Beatles and other early pioneers.  He simply loves what he does with a passion that is consuming and will not be distracted from writing music from his soul.

He also has perseverance.  He played in 3 bands from 16 to 25 before he made it big with the Born to Run album.  He honed his sound playing both in NJ, Virginia and California.  You can hear his progression of music when hearing the rudimentary sounds of the Castilles, the heavier rock of Steel Mill, the Dylanesque ramblings of the Bruce Springsteen Band until if finally congealed into Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.  He was driven to pursue the Music he loved and would not get sidetracked by the drugs, loneliness or carousing that has claimed so many talented stars before they fully reached their potential.  I commend the book Born to Run to everyone and think it is one of the five best books I have ever read.

So, what does this have to do with Weight Loss.  Grit is the only way I know to lose weight and more importantly to keep it off.  When I began my weight loss mission at 358 pounds, I had an overall passion to become the image of an inspiring leader that I had seen in so many of my West Point classmates that had made it to General and the higher ranks.  Even though I had been out of the military for a good 25 years, I built in my mind an image of a fit, 50+ leader that others would be inspired by and follow whether on the battlefield or in my case, the next IT project.  Next, I had to have perseverance and persistence.  It was a long way from the days when I could put on my ruck and run 13 miles as I did back in the day.  But I vowed that despite the obstacles and setbacks, I would pick myself back up and continue.  At one point, I was stuck at the same weight or slightly higher for over a month.  But I kept at it and tried different things until I hit on the correct tweak that would bring my passion to realization. Champs like Us Maybe we were Born to Run! So keep at it and show some Grit!

Leading Up Front – Lessons from Leaders

I learned from many leaders as I grew up through the ranks in the 9th Infantry Division, Motorized – whoo-ah (see my graduation photo from Airborne School in Fort Benning, below).  I had the pleasure to talk to General Schwarzkopf as he pumped iron at the gym (he was strong!!!)  and General Shalikashvilli (former Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff) when I was Deputy Division G3, but the best leader hands down in my book was Colonel  Dolan.

Man on Parachute Jump
Picture at Ft. Benning

I first served under Colonel Dolan when he was the Commander of 3/60 Infantry as his Battalion Military Intelligence Officer (oxymoron).  I would like to relate two of the many things I learned from him with some brief stories:

  1. Be confident in your area of expertise.
  2. Lead Up Front

Be Confident, You are the Smartest Person in the Room!

Let me set the stage.  I had just had a successful command as the Platoon Leader of a Tactical Intelligence Platoon.  Although part of an Infantry Division, my platoon of Korean Linguists and military intelligence analysts were more akin to the doctor’s on MASH (the famous TV show), then the gung-ho ground soldier.   They were more Hawkeye Pierce than GI Joe.  I was now moving from being the officer of a platoon of unconventional but brilliant, Military Intelligence soldiers, to being the only non-Infantry Staff Officer for a battalion of battle hardened soldiers that just came back from a tour in the Mid-East.  And the person that I had to provide intelligence on the enemy among other things had the reputation of being the toughest one of all – Colonel Dolan.

I was in Military intelligence reason for two reasons.  The good reason is I had a reputation of being able to analyze intelligence and figure out what the other side was doing.      The not so good reason is I am not as adept with typical military tasks such as firing a weapon, so being in the infantry now was a bit intimidating.

I was about to give my first briefing with the rest of the staff to Colonel Dolan and I was nervous.  I had studied my presentation the night before and could tell you the number of people, the deployment tactics, and the weaponry of the enemy battalion down to the last detail.  I also prepared a detailed briefing book.  But when I got in front of Colonel Dolan, I became nervous and spoke too fast on those few occasions when my dialog was not punctuated by um’s and ah’s.   But worse yet, in my eyes,  I forgot one fact that I wanted to present.  Altogether, not a good start.

Colonel Dolan called me in later the day and now I was scared.  I felt certain that he found out about the one fact I missed.  Instead, he started off by saying he read my briefing packet and thought it was A+.  He then asked me a few questions that I responded to.  Relieved, I was ready to go when the boss told me he had one more thing to say.  “Lt. Grier that briefing book and the content of your briefing were excellent, but the whole time you were speaking you acted like I was going to fire you.  You are the smartest person in the room when it comes to Military Intelligence.  So let me be clear.  The only time I will fire you is if you do not act confident when you are the smartest person in the room.  Now go out and do great things.”

These words are still ingrained in my mind more than 25 years later and I try to remember them each time I need to give an important presentation.  Many of us discount how well prepared we are in our area of expertise when we need to manage up or speak to leadership.  We try to remember every detail instead of being confident in the knowledge ingrained in our mind.  The bottom line is each of us our paid to be an expert in something.  Those things that you are expert in don’t be scared of missing a fact.  Do not hug a tree and miss the forest. Be confident.  You are the smartest person in the room.

Lead Up Front

The commander of a Battalion is sometimes affectionately know as the Old Man or Woman.  That is primarily a term of endearment, believe it or not, and is based on respect for the knowledge and prowess they gained over the years.  Only secondarily is it based on age.

Colonel Dolan was the quintessential Old Man.    He proved his prowess on the battlefield where he was awarded a Silver Star. He was also old in terms of Army standards having just turned 40.  Due to this milestone, the Brigade commander made him get a physical before he could run in the Brigade run.  This did not sit well with the Old Man much to our chagrin as you will see.

The day after he got his physical, we had a report by the equivalent of the battalion HR lead that a bunch of the enlisted guys and an officer or two did not do well on the practice Army Physical Readiness Test.  The APRT is the equivalent of a java certification for a developer.  You had to pass it to do your job.

The day of the Brigade run arrived bright and early.  I liked Brigade runs, normally (this was in the days when I myself was not an old man).  The only hard thing is that being an MI officer and the only non-Infantry officer on the staff I got the duties that the Infantry staff officers did not want.  In this case, I had “fall out” monitoring duty.  This meant I had to circle around the four companies in our battalion (each with about 150 people) the whole time we were running.  I had to report to the Old Man how the companies were hanging.  Usually this was not too hard because I was many pounds lighter then and a great deal faster.  Also, Colonel Dolan kept a steady pace and he usually was not so fast.

But today was a different story.  A perfect storm had hit with Colonel Dolan’s physical and the report of soldiers being out of shape.  The old man was out to prove a point.  He began at a brisk pace and proceeded from there.  On my first lap around the battalion, the Captain  of C Company yelled out, “Hey, Don what is the Old Man doing?”  I said, “I don’t know but let me check”.

As I ran around the battalion, some of the more out of shape soldiers were getting winded.  I myself was breathing hard especially since I was running double the distance.  Back at the front of the battalion, I told the Old Man that several of the company commanders had asked what was going on.  All he said with a face of sheer determination was “The Go Devils (our nickname) are meant  to go fast”.

So on a subsequent lap around the battalion  as I was gasping for breath, I told Captain Gerras that I did not know what the Old Man was doing.  He yelled to me “Tell him to slow down, a quarter of the battalion is falling out”.  I yelled back, “Sir, you are welcome to tell him.  I am just trying to make it back around.”

I made it back up front just as we were nearing the gate of the parade field.  Now custom is you stay in formation behind the battalion in front of you.  Not today.  Colonel Dolan decided to pass the Second Battalion!  He yelled Go Devils Coming Through and he passed Second Battalion in a dead sprint.  Colonel Dolan asked me how the battalion did.  I told him one gasp at a time “Not …..(Gasp) ….all ….made….. it, but ….there …… will…… not……. be………anyone…..failing…… the ……. APRT … any …. time … soon. “

And those gasping words rang true.  The Battalion got the point and for weeks all the soldiers could talk about was how fast the Old Man had sprinted. And he still had it!

The lesson in leadership is that sometimes the Old Man or Woman has to show the team how it is done.  In the Army, being fit is a work necessity.  Colonel Dolan showed the team how it was done.   He led by example.  This does not mean that every time when a team member needs an extra boost to complete a task, the leader has to do it for them.  No! What it means is that at some critical junctures it is important that the Old Man or Woman lead the way and show the prowess that got them to the position in the first place.  It is not enough to manage a spreadsheet.  You need to lead up front and pass the competition.  Go Accenture!  Lead the way!