Five Accenture Wellness Programs that Saved My Life

Last Thursday I had the pleasure to attend the Austin Chamber of Commerce Business Awards with some of my Accenture colleagues from the Austin office.  We were finalists for two awards – the Employee Wellness and Environment award for large offices.  Here is the group at our table.

Table Celebration
Austin Chamber of Commerce Business Awards

Smiles abounded at the table even though we did not win.  Why were the smiles so broad?  I can’t speak for my friends, but I can speak for myself.  I was smiling because Accenture’s wellness programs helped save my life!

This may sound like an overstatement.  I promise you it is not.  Before I became an active participant in Accenture’s wellness program I was on a downward trajectory.   Too much stress and not taking care of myself drove up my weight and ruined my fitness.

The bottom hit at halftime at my son’s senior homecoming game.  My son was nominated as Homecoming King and I and my wife were to escort him on the football field.   Carrying over 300 lbs. on a hot Texas evening, my calves became so tight I could barely move.  I had to momentarily move behind the bench and stretch out my legs.  Luckily, just before I took the field my legs stretched out enough so that I could hobble onto the field.

Homecoming picture
Nearly missed homecoming

My wife and son were kind but that was a close call with my health and only one of many.  I had to do something.  So, I explored Accenture’s wellness programs and they came to the rescue.  Specifically, these five programs helped me to lose over 170 pounds, restored my health, and improved my outlook on life and ability to handle stress.

 

  1. Wellness check-up – Each year our company provides for a free wellness checkup for employees and their spouses.  The wellness checkup is followed up by recommendations and assistance as well as a discount on your insurance.  The wellness checkup indicated that I had a health issue.  I was contacted and followed up with a more complete physical (also discounted through the company) that verified the issue and provided the proper diagnosis.  With the treatment prescribed, my shoe size shrunk back down two sizes.  It also helped provide me with enough energy to seriously attack my weight problem.
  2. Employee Discount Program for Weight loss program – I now had the immediate health issue under control, so I looked around for a weight loss program.  I was toying around with a liquid-based diet since it worked in the short term in the past when an email appeared in my email box offering half off on Weight Watchers for a year.  With that single email and discount, my life was forever changed.  Those who regularly follow my blog know the impact Weight Watcher’s has had on my life; leading me to lose over 170 pounds in a year and a half. The Why’s of Weight Watchers!  I still attend every week.  But the first step to this life changing program was the Accenture discount email that I received on January 1, 2015 (Yes, I kept the email as a memory!).
  3. Accenture Active – Another program that was key to my transformation was Accenture Active.  I was one of three leadership journeyers during the first year of the program.  In this role, I was afforded weekly sessions with the other journeyers and a fitness coach.  In addition, I had the opportunity to blog on a weekly basis as a means of encouragement to me and to others.  Also, the program provides a Fitbit to each employee and their spouses as well as a program called JIFF that allows you to get prizes for meeting wellness goals and tasks.  With the Fitbit and the encouragement of JIFF rewards, I went from being able to walk 1000 steps a day to 10,000 steps or more daily.
  4. Mindfulness Training – With my fitness on the right trajectory, I had to tackle the underlying problem for my health issues in the first place – my reaction to stress. Accenture again came through with a program.  My boss worked with a local company to provide mindfulness training for leaders.  In the class, I learned the practice of meditation and mindfulness that I use daily.  I may still have some moments, but this program has really helped me in focusing on the now and not worrying unnecessarily about the future.
  5. Truly Human Campaign – I had my head and body half way in order, so I now had to turn to my heart. Accenture has a program for that also called “Truly Human”.  It provides programs and advice on how to leverage the unique talents of individuals.  It provides exercises and  tips on how to be kind to both yourself and your colleagues.  I wrote about the importance of taking care of your heart as well as your body in this previous blog.  Feed your soul, heal your body The Truly Human campaign helped reinforce my daily practice of thankfulness journaling and capturing positive events in a happiness journal.

I want to thank Accenture for my new lease on life.  To end, I will close with a catchphrase from my time at Accenture Active – Life’s Attractive When Your Accenture Active!

I’m Back, Right on Track

I was temporarily derailed on my Weight Loss maintenance program the last few weeks.  So much so that my Lifetime standing was potentially threatened.  The first two weigh-ins this month I was off by two lbs. Not the worst thing but I really cherish my Lifetime distinction.

What got me slightly off track?   It was not dramatic.  I did not suddenly binge eat a bunch of M&M’s or stop exercising.  Nor did I stop my other good habits (in fact they saved me – more on that later!).  No, it was three items that without the habits that I learned at Weight Watchers would have derailed me permanently.

I think of these external items as the Weight Gain Axis of Evil!   Before the discipline and training I received at Weight Watchers, this Axis of Evil caused me to balloon up in a matter of weeks.  The diagram below shows the three elements of the Axis:

The Weight Gain Axis of Evil
The Weight Gain Axis of Evil

Here is how they impacted me in my temporary setback.

  1. Travel woes.  Both weeks I was traveling for work out of town and had a delay on some of the flights.  Plus traveling two time zones away.
  2. Work Stress. I was taking on more work responsibility while still retaining my current work.   In addition, I had a packed two-week schedule with deadlines and planes to catch.
  3. Lack of Sleep. I could not sleep for the most part driven by the first two elements of the Axis.  First, I kept thinking it was 5 am when it was 3 am because of the time zone difference.  Second, I had to catch planes early in the morning and late at night.  Third, the work stress and the tight schedule made me anxious making it difficult to fall asleep.

I caved in the past before Weight Watchers when I confronted the Weight Gain Axis of Evil.     I would wake up too early or go to bed too late causing Cortisol to race through my veins.  Then the stress  elevated the cortisol level and the fatigue factor, making me eat more and exercise less. The result in the past; easily a five-pound weight gain in a week with additional weight gain until I could get of the loop.

This time however I was able to recover from the fleeting set back with the lessons I learned from Weight Watchers.  Here are the 5 items that helped me.

  1. Don’t Panic! – Like the Hitchhiker traveling the Galaxy (one of my favorite books), Don’t Panic!  I remembered the rough patches I had before and how I eventually was able to overcome them.  I was not going to let a two-week setback remain permanent.  Remembering my Weight Loss Journey when I lost 170+ pounds, I knew if there were fits and starts in weight loss, there would also be partial setbacks in weight maintenance.
  2. Look beyond the Scale – There are more things to Weight Watchers than just the scale. According to the Lifetime member rules, I only need to weigh in once a month to maintain my status.  But comradery and the friends I have gained at my Round Rock class means more to me then a temporary loss of Lifetime status.  THEY WERE THERE FOR ME AND I WILL BE THERE FOR THEM.
  3. Listen closely at Class – While you are at class enjoying the comradery, listen! Two lessons from the last two classes helped me get back on track.  One was the practice of mindfulness (see 4).  The second was the discussion of the “The Power of Habit”.  After class, I reread excerpts from that book and tweaked a few of my habits that had grown stale and needed tweaking!
  4. Mindfulness – Weight Watchers has teamed with Mind Space to teach members the practice of mindfulness and meditation to overcome stress. After attending and participating in the recent mindfulness exercise that was introduced recently, I restarted my practice to handle the extra stress of the last few weeks. With the calming effect of mindfulness, I increased my sleep and it was deeper also.
  5. Blue Dot Focus – I never lost my habit of tracking even during my set back.  But I did lose the focus of trying to get a blue dot award (staying in a recommended point zone for a day).  I had become astute at using every one of my weekly points and some of my activity points.  In so doing, I had been paying less attention of hitting a blue dot 5 out of the 7 days in a week.  This week, I went back to that goal and in so doing retained some of my weekly points.

My 5 ways to defeat my Weight Gain Axis of Evil may be different from yours.  Indeed, you may have a different Axis.  The point is to examine and to attack your weight gain nemesis with optimism, pluck and the lessons of Weight Watchers.  In closing:

I’m Back,

Right On Track,

Come and Give my Hand A Smack,

Weight Watchers All the Way!

Weight Watchers All the Way!

5 Weapons to Win the War on Weight

Ready for weight loss
Ready for battle with my weapons in weight loss!

For many, losing weight and keeping it off is akin to warfare.  It was for me.  Many days during my year and a half journey to lose a 178 lbs.  I felt like I was in the Battle of the Bulge.  I was pummeled on all sides by my enemies –  junk food, worry, and inactivity.     I needed the right weapons to beat back the break in my defenses and drive to victory.  And I found them in these five key weapons in Weight Loss warfare:

  1. Bananas – The banana is the ultimate weapon in defeating junk food cravings for several reasons.  First, they are very discreet and compact.  You can hide them in your backpack or briefcase and pull them out whenever a junk food frenzy hits!  Indeed, they were my weapon of choice in defeating my arch nemesis – Peanut M&M’s.  Second, they come with their own protection a removable skin that keeps them clean and ready to eat in all sorts of terrain – Nature’s MRE.   Lastly, they sustain for the long haul with their fiber and potassium.  Eat one and you can drive past a full candy bowl without slowing down.
  2. Sneakers are the ultimate weapon against our next enemy of health – inactivity. Sitting and remaining dormant are two of the most powerful armaments in our foe’s arsenal. There are more expensive tools to defeat them – gyms, the latest exercise equipment, etc. – but I have found the trusty sneaker to be the most effective.  Sneakers are like the famous Kalashnikov rifle that the Soviet’s used in WW II.  You could drop the Kalashnikov in the mud or march in the rain and it would always fire when you pulled the trigger.  Likewise, sneakers are a lost cost, effective way to beat inactivity.  For example, when I am out of town for work and know I will be away from the gym, I find a hotel about a mile or two from the workplace, lace up my sneakers and take a twenty-minute walk.  I then switch into my shoes and put them in my backpack; along with my trusty banana that replenishes my potassium!  There they remain until ready for access with my next bout with inactivity – lunch!
  3. Audiobooks – Two other enemies in the struggle against weight gain is lack of knowledge and boredom. Audiobooks are the perfect antidote to both.  Take them on a trek while walking on a trail and you will forget the foes trying to drive you away from your objective.  I have whiled away the hours listening to James Patterson as I worked off the weight.  Next, audiobooks provide you inspiration and knowledge to counter the enemy’s every move.  For example, The Power of Habit taught me how to counter the triggers to eating.  Walking with audiobooks strikes fear in our nemesis to health!
  4. Weight Watchers – An effective game plan and strategy is the greatest force multiplier on the battlefield.  Weight Watchers provides that game plan with its program Freestyle.  The program provides you the structure, support and tools to defeat cravings and the disinformation campaign that our modern lifestyle deploys.
  5. Your Mind – The most powerful weapon in the weight loss struggle is your mind.  The harbingers of weight gain use worry, negativity and self-loathing to distract you and bring you down.  To counter them, practice mindfulness and positive thoughts.  This will counter the senseless eating that often accompanies worry and restlessness.

The winning combination of the five weight loss weapons will bring you success.  Use them and drive to victory and a new you!

Vanquish Weight Gain During Vacation!

I have just come back from a week of vacation and was able to maintain my Lifetime Goal weight at Weight Watchers when I weighed in the week following.  How was I able to vanquish weight gain during vacation?  I was able to maintain the hard fought 175 lbs. (actually lost a pound) using 6 simple tricks!

Washington Monument
Washington at Night
  1. Wherever I Went I was Walking! One of my favorite movies is Forest Gump and the line I love the most is when he starts the jogging craze in the 70’s – “From that day on, if I was going somewhere, I was running!”.  Being on the backside of fifty and with somewhat creaky knees, I modified Forest’s plea to walking.  It is low impact and allows you to take in your vacation at a more leisurely pace.  Almost all the tours I took in Washington and Virginia historical areas were walking tours – averaging over 15 k steps a day with the peak day over 30 k.  Walking the streets of Williamsburg and the hills of Monticello and Montpelier allows you to take in the sights and sounds of our Founding Fathers and Mothers the way they did.  It also allows you to eat some more food and counter it with exercise.
  2. Indulge but count. Which brings me to point to.  You should indulge a bit on vacation.  The new Weight Watcher’s program allows you to do just that.  While on Vacation, I shared a few deserts with my wife for the first time in a long time.  But I was also careful to track everything I ate to know that I was in striking distance for the week.  By tracking and not attacking the buffet line, I was able to enjoy some of the colonial recipes and comfort foods in Virginia in a controlled manner.  I was able to indulge and avoid the bulge!
  3. Drink water to counter the beer. One thing that I indulged in during the trip was beer. I love microbrews and the beer recipes from earlier times (Williamsburg has beer based on 300-year-old recipes that are off the charts!).  Besides counting the points for each beer, I was careful to drink water to remain hydrated and trigger my metabolism.  Beer dehydrates you, so it is important to balance your beer with water that is clear!  (A little Dad joke for you all!)
  4. Destress, rest and learn something new.  This fourth point is a critical one.  You are on vacation and the purpose is to destress and rest.  It is therefore important to put work on hiatus or at the very least plan the times people can reach you if critical tasks are at hand.  Here is a case in point.  I really needed to take a work call but there was a show about Martha Washington that I wanted to see which overlapped the call.  I got to the show early to get a seat that would allow me to listen to the first hour of the show and then sneak up to a hill that had a great view of Williamsburg but was isolated enough to take the call.  It is better to turn off on Vacation but in my case, I get more stressed if I do not balance critical work with fun. By planning, I was able to destress by learning about Martha Washington for the first hour and still was able to take a critical call.  A little planning on vacation goes a long way!
  5. Vacation with someone that has your back. It is also important to vacation with someone who understands how far you have gone on your weight loss journey and wants to help you.  My wife Colette is great in this respect.  She has always been able to maintain her weight (I envy her metabolism).  When we go out to eat, she is very accommodating in the places we select and does not push me to eat something that would push up the points.  On the flip side, she does not nag me not to eat something if I make a choice to indulge.  Lastly, she knows how important it is to me to track my Smart Points, so she allows me to use my phone while at dinner.
  6. Wait to weigh in. This last point is the most important one.   The best way to maintain your weight on vacation is to not obsess about the scale.  I did not weigh myself until the Sunday evening after I returned.  In addition, I was mentally prepared to be higher than I normally am on a Sunday evening prior to my next Saturday weigh in.  In this case, I was 3 lbs. higher than my normal Sunday weight but had confidence when I hit Weight Watchers the next Saturday, I would be at the goal weight I needed to maintain.

So, there you have it.  Vacations are for fun!  You can control and ultimately vanquish the vacation pounds by applying these and other simple rules from Weight Watcher’s Freestyle and other lessons learned.

Heroes of Health Series, Episode 2 – Corey the Cycling King

This is the second of my heroes of health series which recognizes people that helped me and others to be healthy and happy. You who follow my blog know that there have been two institutions that were critical in restoring and now maintaining my health: Weight Watchers and Life Time Fitness.  In my first of this episode, I wrote about my foremost hero at Weight Watchers – Julie Faircloth (read here Heroes in Health Episode 1: MOTHER of Weight Loss and a Freestyle Life).  In this one, I write about a guy who has not only encouraged me to take my health to another level but soon will be my instructor in doing so for others – Life Time’s Spin master Corey Ellis.

On a whim back in November 2017, I decided to try my hand (or better yet my bottom) at Spin Class.  Back in 2015, when I topped out at 358 lbs., riding a bike would have been unthinkable.  I could only sit on a bike seat for a matter of moments before my back (and other things) would become compressed. You can read more about those times, my first small steps at fitness with Water Aerobics, and the role Life Time played in getting fit enough to spin in this blog.  Forward to F.I.T – The Tale of Pam *2

Now with my health tenuous but restored, I decided to shake it up and try something different from the usual elliptical training and walking that I did.  I walked into the 11:15 Sunday Spin class, not knowing what to expect but eager to start my next fitness addiction.  Little did I know how hooked I would get.

I was staring at the bike not knowing how to size it or stick my feet in the cages and up walks a guy that looked like a linebacker from the Cowboys – Corey.  He offered to help me which I thought was a nice gesture from a fellow classmate.  He sized the bike and showed me how to strap in.  While he was doing it, I noticed a bunch of people coming up to talk to him and say hello.  I soon realized that he was not a fellow classmate, but the instructor.  Not only a Spin class teacher, but one of the most accomplished at Life Time, certified in all three types of Spin Class, EDG, Power, and AMP (essentially dancing on a bike).

Corey is a phenomenal motivator, teacher, and Spin instructor (as well as all around good guy).  I cannot explain the exhilaration that I and the rest of the packed class feels at the end or the fun we have during it.  But I am going to try to distill down into three points why I consider Corey to be a hero in health.

  1. The Ultimate Professional – Corey is the ultimate student of spin and he takes his craft very seriously.  He is always attending conferences and training sessions to bring best practices to work out more efficiently and bring the latest and greatest to the class.  Just today, he took us through a new technique that he learned while at a conference in Houston.  In addition, he demonstrates his professionalism through he pre-class preparation.  Each song is selected for its timing and the rhythm is matched to the needed RPM and Watts.  When he says the next interval will be 1 minute from the press of the stage button, it is!  In addition, he explains exactly the method to his madness, so you understand the reason for the workout.
  2. An Innovator – Corey also has a background as a music DJ and producer. He uses this background to bring innovation both to our exercise routine through precise timing and rhythm.  Also, the music itself is innovative.  He has a saying that Brittany Spears goes with anything and proves it.  He has made mixes with Brittany and other artists that you would never think would go together.  He also has made whole spin session sets aligned to a theme.  I loved his session during the Super bowl when he had competing music from Philly and Boston.
  3. Making Fitness Fun – The best part of the spinning with Corey is that it is fun. He always interjects humor while we are sweating away.  He is a Master of Music and will throw in several interesting points about each singer.   He also throws in some jokes about the theme of the day. Also, he knows almost every person by name and brings out interesting facts about your fellow classmates.  We also have interesting competitions like who can get to a mile first.  Lastly, he shares his life with us.  We all had the pleasure to meet his mother who is his biggest fan and who on occasion calls in or attends the class.

Because of Corey’s professionalism, innovation, and proclivity for fun, I have reached new goals.  See below the picture of me, Corey, Kaisa and another participant after the St. Jude Challenge.  This was a 4-hour spin class that Corey and others led, and I was pleased to finish!  Lastly, Corey has inspired me so much that I have signed up to take Spin Class certification.  Not sure if I can match my hero but I am going to try.

lifetime

Don’t Sweat the Summer: 5 Ways to Stay Healthy and Beat the Heat

The summer officially starts in a few weeks but here in Austin, Texas, the heat index yesterday topped 105 and is edging upward.  So, in our Saturday Weight Watchers class the topic naturally came up about how the summer heat is a convenient excuse for ditching your exercise routine.   Our Weight Watchers leader made us all answer in our whiniest voice that common rebuttal when one faces the oppressive Texas Summer when trying to exercise – Waa, it’s too hot.

Indeed, it is!  How hot is it? So hot that when Annika, a German exchange student visited us during the 2015 – 2016 school year that the whole family adopted saying the temperature in Celsius.  She could brag to her family about the heat in Texas (and other things like rattlesnakes and bats) and we Americans all felt cooler.  100 degrees Fahrenheit is a cool 37.77778 in Celsius! This little trick however dissolves in the baking Texas Sun.  There are 5 more practical ways to beat the Texas heat and keep up your exercise routine this summer:

  1. Exercise early or late – The best advice to enjoy the summer sun without being consumed by it is exercise in the early morning or late in the evening. The good thing about summer days are that they are long!  The sun rises at about 6 or earlier and sets at 8 or even later.   There are several reasons that commend an early morning trot.  First, the temperature even on those days that later will turn into a scorcher is 78 or 79 at the tops in the morning. Enough to break a sweat but not too much to be dripping in it.  Second, you get your workout out of the way and have the whole day in front of you to sit in an air-conditioned office or a movie theater if on the weekend.  Last, but not least, it is a great time to see wildlife.  On two subsequent days while walking in the morning, I got to see a snake and a bunny up close. See the pictures below.  While we are on the topic of wildlife, don’t forget the domesticated kind.  Our dog Boots is a furry Bernese Mountain/Chow mix.  His coat is very beautiful but not conducive to the summer heat.  So, it is important to take him on his daily walk in the morning or he get down-right grumpy!  On other side, he gets ecstatic if we take him on a 6 AM trot around the neighborhood.
  2. Stay Hydrated – It is common sense to drink water when partaking in summer fun. But sometimes common sense is not so common, especially when it comes to yours truly.  Thankfully I have a wife and fitness partner who is imbued with good old Minnesota common sense.  She always remembers to bring water when we are walking together or remind me when I am walking out the door.  I have even taken up the practice of drinking water on my famous beer walks. Referring to recommendation 1, I sometimes exercise later in the day after work around 7 PM by taking a beer walk in Austin.  I walk along town lake until I get to Rainey street and head to Bangers to get the best IPA in the world “Electric Jellyfish”.  I do however change my routine during the summertime.  I switch out my whiskey (or second beer) chaser with water!  First it keeps me hydrated and second it keeps my legs from turning into Jelly(fish).  Had to weave that in!  Enough of the jokes.  Staying hydrated is serious business.  According to OSHA, outside workers should during 3 to 4 cups of water when the heat index soars to 103 to 115.  See the link OSHA Guidance .  I thank OSHA for the advice and thank the city of Austin for having restrooms every 1 mile on Town Lake to keep up with all the water (and other) drinking!
  3. Play in the Pool – I can’t say I love the water except for the summer.  I never really was a great swimmer as being assigned to Rock Squad during my freshman swimming class at West Point attests.  But you do not need to swim to stay cool while exercising in the pool!   Water aerobics is a fun, low impact exercise for getting your heart rate up and temperature down in the summer heat.  It is especially good for people just starting out on their weight loss journey.   That is exactly what I did when my bathing suit was a hefty XXXL.   Read about how I gave up my fear of the water to begin exercise when I could do little else.  Pam and the Pool. For those more advanced, besides swimming (a great exercise regimen that I have yet to conquer), Life Time Fitness has just started a boot camp routine in the water.  I am going to brave the water and do this class next week! Finally – if you can’t go to the pool, revel in the rain!  One thing I like to do when it is drizzling and not a downpour, is do my best Gene Kelley and sing, dance and run in the rain!
  4. Spin to win with indoor activities.  But there is no need for a pool to cool off.  You can exercise indoors in either your air-conditioned house, mall or gym.  For instance, I started out my day today walking around Kohl’s and other mall stores and closed my exercise routine with a Spin class.  But you do not even need to leave the confines of your home.  Get a good exercise video and do it in your home.  Or if you do not have a video, turn on music videos on YouTube or MTV and just dance.  You will look cool (if you dance like me) and feel cool (with your air conditioner at full blast).
  5. Nurture your mind and soul while helping others. My last bit of advice is a double whammy.  You can lose weight, engage in exercise, and feel good about yourself while helping others.  Serve in a soup kitchen or engage in activities in an elder care home.  Relieve stress, talk with friends, and learn good values by seeing a family friendly play.  I and my wife did so this week when we went to see “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” performed by high schoolers at a church.  80% of weight loss is in the mind.   If you engage with others, you nurture your soul and in so doing feel better about yourself and less prone to stress eating.

So, there are the 5 ways to escape the summer heat.  And if all this does not work, take a trip to a cooler location for vacation like Colorado or Canada!

Go Big to Get Small – The Art of Improbable Goals

For the followers of my blog, this is the short form of this blog.  The longer form is here. Long Form

My son Kyle turned me on to Tim Ferriss, the podcast king, a few years back.  What I love about Tim and the stories he tells is he always strives to do something new, something impossible.  Just to name two of the incredible things he has done is teach himself to swim a mile in one week and to become Jujitsu World Champ in a few months!  You can listen to more of Tim here! Tim Blog

Another one of my favorite podcasters is Father Mike Schmitz.  Recently he did a series on the definition and examples of courage.  According to Father Mike, “Fear is not taken away, courage is given!”  To paraphrase, you cannot be truly courageous without fear.  Courage is striking out even when you have that dry pit in your stomach.   Indeed, being fearless is a bit of a misnomer.  You must drive through your fears to become a better person, a better you.

To be like Mike and to take on Tim, I started the practice a few years back to declare improbable goals and then set out a plan to accomplish them.  I used these goals and the efforts to reach them to overcome fear, gain confidence, and lose weight.  The best example of this is finishing a Kennedy Walk – 50 miles in 20 hours or less.

When I started my weight loss journey in 2015, walking 50 yards was hard enough.  I was 358 lbs. with a distinct fear of throwing out my back even walking around the block.  I tell you all this to understand just how impossible this goal seemed at the time.   To me, it was just short of climbing Mt. Everest.

I needed something big to compel me forward, something with my back history was just a bit scary.  I wanted to walk a long distance.  I started to research on the internet what was equivalent to a marathon but for walkers.  And I found it –  the Kennedy Walk.  The Kennedy walk was established by John F. Kennedy to demonstrate the fitness of the Armed Forces.  It must be completed in 20 hours.  Bobby Kennedy famously completed the walk one winter’s day in his loafers walking along the Potomac.

One key element for establishing a large goal was done, I now had the target.  But I needed a second element – a reason.  The reason in this case was more important than the goal.  I wanted to honor a former colleague in the Army who was lost while serving this country in Afghanistan – Richard McEvoy and to raise money for returning vets.  Dick was KIA in Afghanistan on August 22nd, 2015 while training the Afghani police. He was a contractor after serving 28 years in the service. Col McEvoy (then Captain) and I served together in the 3-60 Infantry Battalion. He was the epitome of the USMA motto: Duty, Honor, and Country. In honor of Dick, the walk served as a fund raiser for the Merivis Foundation, a non-profit that trains returning veterans in Austin for the IT industry and the Young Marines, a service group in Austin.

With a worthy cause and a goal firmly established, I set out to complete a 50 mile walk in 20 hours or less.  But I could not do it all at once.  So, I broke it out in sizeable chunks.  I also picked a venue – the Lady Bird Lake trail in Austin – that could be walked 5 times to equal 50 miles.   So, in the spring of 2016, I started to train for the first Annual McEvoy Memorial Kennedy Walk.

Every Saturday, I took an increasingly longer walk.   Lady Bird Lake trail was the perfect venue.  It is shaded much of the way, had adequate rest rooms and water and the city was immediately reachable.   I started breaking up some of my longer walks by stopping at a restaurant or store to eat some healthy food/snacks (and ok a beer).  Slowly, I went from 3 to 5 to 10 to 30 miles!  I was ready.

I finished the 50 miles, McEvoy Memorial, Kennedy Walk on Nov. 5, 1986.  Here is a video of me introducing it.  Kennedy Walk

Here is me at the finish.

cropped-don-finish-e1514210274247.jpg

I made it in approximately 16 and a half hours.  The drive to finish the walk gave me the impetus to reach the Lifetime distinction at Weight Watchers.  As I walked along the path, I thought about how striving for big goals helped me to serve a great cause and to become smaller in weight and more confident in my health.  I came up with these three major elements that commend the art of setting improbable goals.

  1. Compelling Purpose to Move Forward – Setting a major goal that seems improbable gives you added motivation to stick with the day to day difficulty of staying on track.  Once I set the goal, I could not let myself, the Veterans, and the memory of my colleague down.  Life is indeed 90% perspiration, but you need the 10% of inspiration to compel you forward to a better you.
  2. Decomposable into Smaller Chunks – You cannot achieve monumental goals in a day or a week (unless you are Tim Ferris who makes a living out of it).  For ordinary people such as myself, the only way to achieve something big is to plan to break it down into smaller chunks.  In this case, the selection of the Lady Bird Lake loop was the perfect venue.
  3. A Cause Worthy of the Effort – When you are selecting an improbable goal, it is important to back it with a worthy cause. In this case, the cause was worthier that the effort.  Our Veterans, both the fallen and the living, protect us and sacrifice for a greater purpose themselves – the freedom and liberty of the United States.  50 miles is not nearly enough to walk for sacrifices they have given.

On Memorial Day, I will do a five-part sequel to this blog with the words that I spoke at each 10-mile mark in 2016.  Never forget our soldiers and service people this Memorial Day.

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