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.

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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.

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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!”

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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.