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!

Heroes in Health Episode 1: MOTHER of Weight Loss and a Freestyle Life

This is the first blog of a many part series called Heroes in Health. Each series episode will be composed of two parts.  In the first part, I will introduce a person that I and others consider a hero in health.  Someone whose life, teaching and inspiration drives us forward to a healthier living and a better life.  The second part will be an actual interview with the person.  I am going to start off with a blog/transcript but hope to change it overtime to a podcast. The subjects that I hope to include are everyday heroes in health like spin instructors, football coaches, chiropractors, and health care practitioners.

I telegraphed this blog series a few weeks back in this blog when I mentioned one of the top ten influences in my life Julie Faircloth (see here The Why’s of Weight Watchers! ). Julie is the Weight Watchers coach/facilitator for me and hundreds of other team members in Round Rock/Central Texas area (WWW Round Rock ) She has been a Weight Watchers leader for many years and a member for even longer.   We will get to more on that in Episode 1b.

By way of introduction, I would like to use an appropriate acronym for this Mother’s Day, 2018 – MOTHER in Weight Loss and a Freestyle Life.  I use Mother not in a chronological way – Julie is more like a sister in that respect – but rather in terms of the way she guides both me and others in our Saturday class.  Her teachings and inspiration have nurtured me and countless others during her career to our weight loss goals (she was my coach through my entire 170+ weight loss journey).  In addition, she leads us not through a fad diet or intense Biggest Loser like competition, but an inclusive, instruction-based program at Weight Watcher’s called Freestyle.  Unlike other programs based on the whim of the day, Freestyle focuses on the latest learning on the three pillars of health: Nutrition, Exercise, and Joyful living.   The program uses weekly lessons on these pillars to provide team members the Freedom to Style their own, lifelong path to health living!

Mother both as a concept and an acronym is a good way of explaining why Julie is my and other’s hero in health.  A mother teaches and nurtures her family to be the best rendition of themselves.  Julie does this in her vocation as Weight Watcher’s leader daily.  MOTHER also serves as a useful acronym to further expound on this concept.

Makes us better!  –  Julie makes us better through weekly lessons on the three pillars of the Weight Watcher’s program.  I have learned so many things that have helped me change my life to be a better person.  Here are just a few.  I now use mindfulness and meditation to remove stress.  I have transitioned from peanut M&M’s, pizza and chicken nuggets to apples, grilled chicken and other healthy staples.  Indeed, I can now call up Smart Point and nutritional content for foods like a pastor can quote chapter and verse!  Finally, I have rediscovered that exercise and fun are not antonyms!

Other Focused.  Julie conducts her classes in an other-focused manor.  She does not lecture but calls on all to participate with inciteful questions and empathy.  Unlike coaches on shows like Biggest Loser, Julie does not cajole or berate, but instead provides a shoulder to lean on and an ear to listen.  She provides guidance in a non-judgmental manner and allows the team to teach each other

Teacher.   Julie is a teacher at heart.  She is always prepared with the latest information and is patient in helping others learn the ways of healthy living and a health life.

Helpful and Hopeful.  You cannot force someone to change through cajoling or force of will.  Instead, like a mother you need to help them to learn on their own.  Julie provides guidance in a helpful manner.  A mother also inspires hope in her children and is always hopeful of their success.  On several occasions, Julie inspired me to hope for a healthier life even when I was stuck on a plateau.  I see her do this for others at each meeting.

Everyday Living.  The Weight Watcher’s Freestyle program and Julie’s teaching is focused on everyday living.  You are given the tools to make healthy choices and when you on occasion decide to deviate (which you are free to do) to get back on track.  You learn how to get healthy and lose weight using the style that is best for you!

Renew and Rejoice.  Each week I attend Weight Watchers even though I have reached my Weight Loss goal.  I go there because of the environment that Julie fosters among our team members.  We are renewed through sharing lessons and trials of the week and rejoice in seeing our friends reach their goals!  I love the awards and seeing people rejoice in their new health!

To close, Julie is a true Hero in Health.  Like a MOTHER, she nurtures and leads her team to a better life and healthy living!  Thank you, Julie!

Every Journey to Health Starts with the First Step!

Today I was starting my normal Saturday practice that I initiated about two years ago.  Each Saturday, I get up about 5 AM and go to Life Time Fitness in North Austin followed by a Weight Watchers meeting in Round Rock (read more about this practice here The Saturday Texas Two Step!).   Normally I half groggily climb the steps to the gym in a daze.  But today I noticed something different.  On each step there was one word which when put together made this sentence: Every Journey Starts with the First Step!

Those words brought back to mind my first tentative steps in beginning my weight loss journey.  3 years later, I am 170 lbs. lighter and a whole lot happier and healthier.  But when I first started out I felt a little like Bilbo at the start of The Lord of the Rings when he left the Shire and hummed:

“The Road goes ever on and on,

Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,

And I must follow, if I can,

Pursuing it with eager feet,

Until it joins some larger way,

Where many paths and errands meet.

And whither then? I cannot say.”  J.R.R Tolkien

Indeed, the first steps of any journey are exciting but a little scary.  Here are a few hints for you that are starting out on the Road to Health:

1. Get a good check-up before the Journey:  Most people before they take their car out on a long trip get the oil changed or a tune-up.  Before embarking on a weight loss journey, it is important to get a check up of your own.  For me this was my first step.  I, like most guys I know, hate to go to the Doctor.   And when they do, they do not follow up.  But in my case, I could not avoid it any longer.  My shoe size had increased from a size 11 to a 12 ½ in a little over three months.  I also was feeling tired.

What was shocking was when I first got my checkup, my blood work all came back great.  Hard to believe but at 350+ lbs.  my cholesterol and sugar levels were normal.  But I knew something was wrong and my Doctor provided me with referrals to specialists that correctly diagnosed what was wrong.  A few weeks, and a few appointments later, I had the medication and the CPAP machine that I needed.  These two items collectively helped to get my shoe size back down to an 11 and take off 20+ lbs. of water that was slogging around.   My advice to all new weight loss journeyers:  Before starting out, get a checkup and take action on recommendations.

2. Play “Body May I?”: When I was young kid, back before video games (or even videos), we used to play the game “Mother May I?”  For those unfamiliar with the game, one person (it could be Mom) stands facing away from a line of kids.  Each child the takes turns asking, “Mother may I take . . . steps?”  And the child who is mother replies yes or no. The game ends when the first person makes it to Mother.

Now it was up to the person that played Mother to allow the step or not.  And there were different strategies to win.  One strategy was to go big first and ask for “Two Giant Steps”.  Often this strategy would fail because the Mother did not want the game to end and even if they granted you two giant steps at first, would decline the next few requests.  Another strategy was to ask for some crazy, wacky step that the Mother wanting to see it, would grant.  My favorite was the double twisty, flip flop step, which would be two cross over of my legs, followed by forward roll (my version of a flip/flop).  This may win the first game on a good day, but usually Mother would disallow it or never allow it again.

No, the strategy that usually worked were a series of baby step requests, followed by a medium step or two to win the game.  Mother would allow it because you were not being greedy.  I would ask for it like this “Mother May I take one little, bitty baby step please”.

Now what the heck does this have to do with Weight Loss.  Here is the metaphor.  When you are starting out, instead of Mother May I, you need to ask Body May I.  If you ask for two Giant Steps out of the gate before you are ready, you are likely to not be able to take any other steps due to injury.  Likewise, if you go on a fad diet or exercise routine (the equivalent of the double twisty, flip flop step), you may lose weight for awhile but in the next part of the journey it all comes rushing back.  No, when playing Body May I, you need to start off with Baby Steps and then progress to Medium Steps.  That is what I did.  I could not walk far because of my joints so I did low impact water aerobics.  I then progressed to the medium step which for me was the elliptical trainer.  By the end of the journey, I was doing 4 hours of Spinning non-stop or walking 50 miles in one day.  Remember start out with baby steps and then progress.

3. Pack the Right Provisions: Before you embark on any journey, it is necessary to pack the right provisions.  This is doubly true when trekking to your weight loss goal.  The first thing that I did after learning about healthy foods from Weight Watchers is clean out my pantry of Peanut M&M’s and Cheeto’s and replaced it with fruit and other healthy snacks.  These nutritious, yet energy packed foods, helped me grow stronger along the way.

4.  Bring a Buddy: A trip is always better if you take it with others.  Continuing on with the Lord of the Rings theme from earlier, Frodo did not face the Black Riders by himself.  No he brought Sam, Merry and Pippin!  When I started out, I had several groups that traveled with me along the way.  These groups include Weight Watchers Saturday Morning group, my Sister in Law Sherri’s fitness group, and my company group Accenture Active.  

In closing, you can’t complete the journey until you take the first step.  So like another old 80’s Christmas Show, “Just Put One Foot In Front Of The Other, And Soon You’ll be Walking Out the Door!”

one foot 2

Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking ‘cross the floor.
You put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking out the door.

You never will get where you’re going
If ya never get up on your feet.
Come on, there’s a good tail wind blowin’
A fast walking man is hard to beat.

If you want to change your direction,
If your time of life is at hand,
Well, don’t be the rule, be the exception
A good way to start is to stand.   Rankin/Bass

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!).

The Why’s of Weight Watchers!

On January 9th,2015, I walked into my first Weight Watchers class at Round Rock, Tx and my life was transformed.  Back in May 2014, I have made my first steps at getting my health back, but I had been stuck after losing a quick 20 lbs chiefly due to medication.  I had started to fall back into my old ways with my weight creeping back due to too much food and too little sleep.  So, it was time to do something different.

At first, I contemplated what I had done when I was younger when dealing with my weight.  Back in the day I could jump on some fad diet or drink some nutrition shakes and quickly shed some weight.  But I was 50 now and had been stuck in this quagmire for a good 10 years.  It was time to change.

Luckily, I noticed an email from my company offering a discount to Weight Watchers on January 1st.  I will be forever grateful to my company Accenture for that email, the discount, and their internal program Accenture Active.  With nothing to lose, I clicked on the link and signed up for my first class at Weight Watchers.

I did not know what to expect initially.  I had heard that Weight Watchers was more appealing to women and was a little nervous. I am not the silent, quite type but at times can struggle with my feelings or asking for help.  Despite this skepticism, I took the leap and encountered one of the greatest organizations that I have ever known!  I don’t throw the word greatest around lightly.  I consider Weight Watchers up there with my alma mater West Point and the US Army when it comes to comradery and being a purpose-built organization to accomplish a specific mission.  The Army is built to protect our country and battle against our enemies.  Weight Watchers is no less purpose-built, designed to protect your health and win the long-term battle against the bulge!

As a guy who lost 170+ lbs.  with Weight Watchers, I could write a hundred reasons why Weight Watchers rocks!  But I am going to stick to the top ten.

  1. It is evidence based, data driven. As an IT professional, I know that the best systems get better through the proper application of research and data analysis.  Amazon uses data to help you find products that appeal to your preferences, Google to find the information you need based on your search patterns, and Weight Watchers to find the combination of food and exercise to restore your health.  Since joining Weight Watchers, the company has tweaked their Smart Point algorithm based on data and research.  Each time the change pulled me out of a rut and took me to a new level of fitness.  I love the fact that you can track your food and activity and then Weight Watchers applies an algorithm to show you where you stand.  In addition, its website is a treasure trove on the latest research on losing weight but also on being healthy and happy!
  2. The WW application is top-notch. The latest craze in the IT world is Design Thinking and the Weight Watcher’s online application has it in droves.  It is purpose-built with all the tools you need to stay active, fit and lose weight.  It has a scanner to tell you when the wrap or other food item you are about to eat has more Smart Points than you might think!  I once used it to stop myself from eating a seemingly healthy turkey wrap from a popular restaurant.  What I though was a maximum of 8 Smart Points was 19 Smart points (half a day’s allowance) due to being loaded down with cheese and mayo!  It also has charts that tracks your weight loss journey, a social media site called Connect with like minded persons with inspirational stories, and a Chat Help feature which allows you to connect with a Weight Watcher’s coach 24*7.  I once used it to get someone to talk me down from eating a late-night Quarter Pounder (one of my old habits!)
  3. It’s habit forming! – The only way to beat a bad habit is replace it with new habits that change the direction between stimulus and reward.  Through food tracking, journaling, and weekly meetings, Weight Watchers teaches you new habits to replace the old!
  4. The people, the people, the people! I love my Saturday class at Weight Watchers chiefly because of my fellow journeyers.  The coaches are great (more on that next) but you learn equally as much from the other people in the class with you.  Also, we have our own Facebook group where we share inspiration outside of class (this blog is going up there momentarily).  Each person in the group is concerned with sharing and caring.  I have formed fast and long-lasting friendships with my team members.  We celebrate each other’s successes and we help each other pull through their hardships!
  5. Caring, knowledgeable coaches! The coaches who facilitate the weekly meetings at Weight Watchers and are their throughout for you are true heroes in health.  They can quote Smart Points and the latest Weight Loss research like a Pastor can quote Chapter and Verse! But more importantly, they are engaging, humble and inclusive.  They strive to pull everyone into the meeting discussion knowing that you learn more through sharing than lecture.  I rank my coach Julie Faircloth at Round Rock as one of the top 10 influences in my life.  But more on the specifics in a forthcoming blog series Heroes in Health.  For now, let me just thank Julie from the bottom of my heart.
  6. The bling! Ok sounds a bit crazy from a guy but I do love the charms that you get after passing each weight loss milestone.  Pictured at the top of this blog and here are my rings of honors.  And on second thought, maybe it isn’t so strange that a former soldier likes the charms.  They are like military awards given for achievement in this case for weight loss and staying with the program.  Indeed, one of my favorite awards in my life is my lifetime key that I received by staying at target weight for now over a year.IMG_3401
  7. Balanced approach encapsulating eating right, being active, and feeding your soul. Too many weight loss programs are focused on eating certain foods or the foods that a company is selling.  Weight Watchers knows that long term, weight loss and maintenance is based on a tripod of right food, exercise, and the nurturing of your soul and your friends.  Some of the best Weight Watcher classes are focused on giving you ideas on how to reduce stress, vision goals, or simply to have fun.  You need to transform your thinking just as much your eating in long term weight loss.  And Weight Watchers shows you how.
  8. Not a gimmick. Takes weight off slowly with approaches based in medicine!   Too many of the weight loss programs and shows like Biggest Loser is focused on rapid weight loss.  But that is not health.  Extreme Weight Loss even offers excess skin removal as a prize!  During my Weight Watchers journey, I lost over 170 lbs. in 2 lbs. increments.  Slow and Steady wins the Weight Loss journey and the race.
  9. Not trying to sell you a bunch of proprietary food. Along the same lines, Weight Watchers does not try to sell you a bunch of proprietary food.  Too many programs push their products that once you get tired of them or run out of money, you gain the weight back.  Weight Watchers has products but that is not their primary or even secondary focus.  Instead, the program teaches you to each real food in the real world.
  10. It is located everywhere! Weight Watchers has locations everywhere, so you can keep up with the program. I have been to WW meetings in Houston, New York, Salt Lake City, Denver, Columbus, just to name a few.  This is fantastic for those that work (or play) on the road.  You keep up with the program and meet new friends!

I said I was going to tell you the ten Why’s of Weight Watchers.  Let me add one other.  It works!   This means both when you are losing the weight and when you are maintaining your new lifestyle!  I am prouder of keeping the weight off for over a year now then when I was losing 170 lbs.

 

And there you have it.  I have given you 10 Why’s if you are struggling with Weight Loss to join Weight Watchers.  My question to you if you are still contemplating it is Why Not, try?  You will not regret it.

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”.

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.

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!