Don’t Stop Believing: A Weight Loss Journey in Three Intervals

Over the last few months, I have been training to be a Spin Instructor.   The thought that I could be a spin instructor a few years back was unimaginable.  Cresting at 358 lbs., I could not ride a bike for more than a few minutes without one of two things happening.  Either I would throw out my back, or so much pressure would be applied to a certain area that it would become numb, worse yet.

Guy on Cycle
I am on the Edge of Glory

I only started to do spin after I had dropped some weight.  Then, I fell in love with spinning.  Part of it was the music, part of it was the exhilaration, but most of it was my instructor, Corey Ellis.  You can read more about this hero of health in this blog. Heroes of Health Series, Episode 2 – Corey the Cycling King

I knew I had to go that extra step after finishing 4 hours of spinning during Lifetime Fitness St. Jude’s Fund Raiser – Ride for a Reason.  I decided to get certified as a Spin Instructor.  The added benefit is I get to be trained to Corey.  See the picture of me, Corey, Kaisa, and another cyclist after the Race for the Cure.

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On October 20th, I will get the chance to teach part of a Spin Class for the first time and I am totally stoked.   I have come up with my Simple Set (a series of spinning intervals timed to a music) that speaks to both my weight loss journey and obstacles that we all need to overcome in life.

I have come up for a title and a subtitle for my Simple Set.  The main title is For Excellence We Strive.  The secondary title is called “Don’t Stop Believing, Even When You Are Living on A Prayer, Because You Could Be on The Edge of Glory” (a careful read will tell you the name of my songs!).  Here is the meaning of the two titles.

The main title is “For Excellence We Strive” for two reasons.  First, it is the motto for my class at West Point, the class of 85 (more later).  The second reason is during the training, the cyclist will have three opportunities to strive for excellence only to be beat it in the next interval.  Why?  Because the excellence of today is the mediocrity of tomorrow.  You must always strive for excellence, and when you achieve your goal, it is not time to revel and become complacent.  No, it’s time to strap on your cycling shoes, clip in, and race to beat your previous best!

I will not repeat the second title but instead tell you why I picked the three songs:

  • Don’t Stop Believing – Journey. This first song represents the start of my weight loss journey and simulates climbing up a hill that slowly ascends.  As you make the first few steps on the path to health, it is important not to stop believing you can do it.  Even though the climb is getting harder after the first few moments of success, you need to keep pushing.
  • Living on a Prayer – Bon Jovi. This second song is prefect for the mid part of any weight loss journey.  Three times in this song, you climb up as you pray that you overcome the next obstacle that is in your way.  And three times, you reach the exhilaration as you find success; only to meet the next hill.  I also picked this song because it has the lyric “Oh your half way there, oh Living on a Prayer”.   I remember my half way there moment on my weight loss journey.  It was at my 30th West Point Reunion when I had lost one half of my weight goal (see picture below)
Picture of Classmates
Half Way There – West Point Reunion

Also, many times as I got stuck, I was Living on A Prayer.  Praying that I would not give up.  Praying that I could do it.  Praying for a New Life!

  • On the Edge of Glory – Lady Gaga. I will not lie.  I picked this last song as a tribute to Lady Gaga after seeing her performance on a “Star is Born”.  But, then I realized how well it fit.  Ask any Lifetime member of Wellness that Works (the organization formerly known as Weight Watchers) and they will tell you the last few pounds to your goal are the hardest.  But it is essential not to stop when you are on the Edge of Glory.  The song is perfect for this last set because during the verses you climb large hills but then at the end you feel the exhilaration of the chorus as you spin out at 110 RPMs!

So, there you have it.  I am on the Edge of Glory and hopefully I will achieve it on October 20th.  If interested, message or text me when we solidify the exact time.  It will be at Lifetime Fitness Austin (still trying to figure if it is North or South).

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!

America the Beautiful But Broken: A Prescription and a Promise

Today I was in church and as in every week before July 4th we sang America the Beautiful.  This time I really looked at the words and as I sang at the top of my lungs (anyone who ever heard me sing knows that is the only way I do it), I choked up.  You see I could sing some of the lyrics like spacious skies by rote.  But other parts I should read and remember.  And on this July 1 as we head into the celebration of our nations birth, I want to convey the words that choked me up.  In this time of uncivil discourse, I think it is necessary to remember what binds us together as a nation.  It is not military might or economic strength but rather the belief of liberty for all, freedom from oppression, and most of all, the steady march of progression toward a more perfect union.  So, let’s dissect the versus focused on the bolded sections.

1. Verse 1. O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!

America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Commentary.  We are truly a blessed nation.  We have resources and the freedom to pursue happiness and the means to do it.  So why the vitriol and the rancor on both sides.  We need more brotherhood and sisterhood and less tweeting on both sides.  We do not have a problem, we have an opportunity!  We have people that believe in our country coming to our borders for a better life.  True, it is not all of them.  We cannot take in those imposters who want to harm us.  But most people escaping from the south just want a better a life.  Surely the country that rebuilt our enemies with the Marshal Plan, sent people to the moon, and built a nation of immigrants can discern the sheep from the goats. We have done it before and we can do it again.  Instead of protesting, roll up your sleeves.  This immigration problem is solvable and we a nation built on immigrant citizens and a history of practical solutions to thorny problems can do it.  The President and Congress can do it if they put down the iPhones, look up to the Heavens, and realize how blessed we are.  Call me naïve, but I think at the end of the day, we all want a fair but firm response to the immigration crisis.  Heck we may even consider a new Marshal Plan for the South.

2.Verse 2.O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern impassion’ d stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America! God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

Commentary.  This is by far the most consequential verse.  The first line “O beautiful for pilgrim feet” speaks to how the pilgrims escaped religious persecution and later civil strife to find this beautiful country.  Like the pilgrims of yesteryear, the pilgrims of today are seeking the same thing – liberty and the ability to reach their human potential.  We must be a resting place for those men and women of good intent to find their home free from persecution.  Note I said good intent.  There are some with ill intent but we need a humane process and procedure to discern who they are.  Those of good intent have and will protect our nation, build innovation, and will progress us on our path to a better nation.  Which brings us to the later stanzas of this verse.  We have flaws as a nation but we are the best thing going.  Do not kid yourself.  But we will lose our leadership status if we neglect self-control as one stanza of the song points out.  As one President and a famous Saturday Night sketch pointed out we must practice prudence and self-control.  All of us, especially the President, need to stop the late-night twitter rants and practice prudence and self-control.  Lastly, our liberty is built in law.  We somehow need to figure out a way to expedite legal immigration and provide asylum for those who need it and an opportunity for those that want it!  Laws do that and where the law stops or hinders it we need to change it.

3. Verse 3. O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine

Till all success be nobleness,
And ev’ry gain divine!

Commentary:  It is a disgrace to those men and women that laid down their lives for this beloved country, that we cannot stop the bickering, and the twittering, and find a solution to this immigration issue (and other issues facing our nation).   We are to be refined, refined by the blood of patriots, and anyone who does not look in their hearts to find a middle way does the soldiers that fought and died for this country dishonor.  We also must show mercy to those like us are seeking a better life and freedom. I ask everyone to rise-up, roll up their sleeves, and put on their working boots to solve our issues.  And our President and Congress need to lead the way or get out of the way!

4. Verse 4. O Beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam,
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Commentary:  The patriots dream is that their country continues to press for a future!  One that sees beyond the years and today’s expediency to understand the nation’s imperative is to welcome those decided in the course of liberty and freedom.  In the end, America is not a nation but an idea.  An idea that those with the will and the drive can escape to a new beginning where the tears will stop, the freedom will flow, and the nation will prosper!

Flag on July 4th
Photo by Stephanie McCabe on Unsplash

Stop the Negative Talk and Take A Walk

Some say the key to weight loss is reducing calories while others say exercise is the key.  Both are important but for me be the key to weight loss is controlling negative thoughts.  A positive outlook and a can-do attitude works wonders on both your body and your soul.   It has in my case!  In the past three years, I have been able to shed over 170 pounds and a lot of mental baggage by doing three simple things.

1. Stop Negative Talk. The very first thing you should do when striving to lose weight and be a better leader is stop the negative talk.   You need to replace the words can’t do with can do.  Also, you need to stop the practice of “worst casting”.  This is the racing voice inside your head that blows the simplest setback into a full fledge downward spiral.  Here is an example of thoughts in my head before I learned how to tackle it.

“This project is not going well. But I am the only one that can do it.    I need to work to at least 10 PM to pull it out or it will not get done.  I am so tired.  Need some energy.  But if I take a break I will never pull it out.  And then everyone will come after me.  How can I get some energy to keep going?  Grab a cup full of peanut M&M’s and another cup of coffee and I will make it.  I am still too tired but worth a shot”.

This my friends is how I gained over 80 lbs. in less than a year.  I worst casted myself into weight gain!  I reveled in being the Iron Man that could beat Murphy and stop disaster from coming down upon us.  But in truth, Murphy’s law (Everything that may go wrong will go wrong) was not in play.  Instead, I was being both a pessimist and an arrogant leader not trusting of the collective wisdom of the team.   It was only when I had faith in myself, a clear realization of the situation, and the belief in my team that I could break the cycle of worst casting.

So here is how the sound of the voice in my head is now.  “The project is having some problems but we can tackle them.  But I am still so tired.   I will call up my team to see if they have some ideas.  Then I will take a walk and clear my head.  We will then be able to solve this tomorrow. [Don takes a walk].  I came up with three ideas that will solve this by leveraging the ideas from my team.  I am energized.  I write an email, set the plan for tomorrow and go to bed!”

See the difference.  When I let the negative talk dominate, I worst casted myself into eating M&M’s, sitting in a chair, losing sleep, and not engaging my team.  I was still able to overcome Murphy’s Law because it was not really in play!  Also, I did it by force rather than smarts.  When I stepped back and stopped the negative thoughts, I exercised, engaged my team, got some sleep, and came up with a better solution with a cleared head.  First rule to weight loss and leadership – stop the negative thoughts in your head.

2. Take a Walk. I already alluded to this in rule 1.  When your mind is raising and your feeling stressed, don’t reach for a Whataburger – take a walk!  Preferably outside.  It will do three things for you.  First, it will destress you and calm you down.  Especially if you are out in nature and you can hear birds singing and smell the flowers.  Second, it will allow you to catch up with your thoughts and put them together in coherent patterns.  One thing that really helps on this second one.  Listen to a relevant audio book.  I cannot tell you how many times I solved the latest problem or come up with a blog story.  Third, it will allow you to capture ideas in a less rushed manner.  Nearly half my blogs and many of my work solutions start the same way.  I am walking around Town Lake listening to a self-help or sometimes a philosophy book.  An idea or a solution pops in my head.  I press the button on my iPhone and say Siri Take Note.  Then I record the idea and use it when I get home.  It is a great way to solve problems and write great blogs (and often to scare the person walking beside you!).

3. Be Kind. The last thing to defeat negative talk, work inefficiency, and weight gain is KINDNESS.  Be kind to yourself.  You are doing the best you can.  Be kind to others.  Often, they are doing the best they can and if they are not, you need to help them achieve their potential.  I will not lie to you.  Kindness is something I am still working on.  It is hard to tackle 50 some years of being a driver and a bit of curmudgeon.  But more often than not, you can kill the problem with kindness.  And shed the weight by being kind to yourself as you move to a healthier you.

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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.

Paths: Meandering and Meaning at 2 AM

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

 

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!).