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.

lifetime

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).

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!

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

Manage Your Energy – Change Your Life

To jump start my weight loss journey in 2015, my first task was not so much about managing my eating but more managing my energy.  What does that mean?  A book recommended by my company business unit was key to this –  The Power of Full Engagement  located here Power of Full Engagement

The Power of Full Engagement talks about ways to manage energy to be a more effective leader. Based on training for athletes, the premise of the book is that we need to have cycles of stress and relaxation in order to increase energy and performance. There are four quadrants of energy and the first is physical. Let’s just say that in this area before my successful weight loss journey, I had a bit too much relaxation and did not take a respite from the daily grind to schedule in physical activity.

In previous big pushes at work, I reveled in seeing how long I could stay at my desk and how much work I could produce in a day. My only respite was the Philly Cheese Steaks at Jersey Mike’s. Let’s just say I was not building physical energy or releasing stress (or enough of it – only that amount that is released in a cheese steak coma).  People who know me know I like to be the iron man of work.  But my interaction with my team was suffering and so was my health.  The nadir of this period was the day I tripped outside my Delivery Center at 3 am, and hit the ground!  It took more than a few minutes to get up.

After reading the book and not wanting to repeat a face plant on the lawn of the delivery center, I established a physical routine and healthy eating to bolster my physical energy.  Here is what I did.

  1. Get out of my chair at least once an hour.
  2. Switched from prodigious amounts of coffee to hot tea.
  3. Do at least 30 minutes of exercise a day which I put in my schedule.  Yes, I now do Yoga, water aerobics, and Zumba.
  4. Changed from Philly cheese steaks to smoothies, salads, and our healthy snack machine when pressed for time.
  5. Increased sleep from an average of 5 hours or less to at least 6.
  6. And went to prescribed doctor’s appointments instead of toughing it out.

The result was my energy increased, my disposition improved (ok I know I can still be a bit imposing on occasion), and I am getting more work done in shorter time. You can see the difference in managing energy.  The first picture is of me is me in 2015 just before I started this routine.  The one next to it is me yesterday is me as one of 2 people to finish 4 hours straight of spinning class in support of St. Jude’s in Life Time North’s “Ride for A Reason”.  There is still time to donate so if you want to here is the link to my donation site!  Help us drive to knock out childhood cancer.

Ride for A Reason FundRaiser

 

Two Essential Ingredients to Weight Loss – Family and Friends (Part Two)

Two key ingredients to sustained and maintained weight loss are family and friends.  They are just as important to your weight loss journey as healthy food, careful tracking, water, and exercise.  I wrote about the first of these ingredients – family – in Part One of this blog here Two Essential Ingredients to Weight Loss – Family and Friends (Part One).   On this one, I tackle Part Two – friends – in this blog.

There have been three categories of friends that have helped me as I lost 170 plus pounds and kept it off.    Here is how Work Friends, Facebook Friends, and Fitness Friends at Weight Watchers and Lifetime Fitness have helped me along the way.

1.       Work Friends – My friends and colleagues at Accenture have encouraged me on and challenged me over these last two years.  First, my company has a program called Accenture Active where I had the good fortune to be one of 30 selected Journeyers when we initiated the program.  As a Journeyer, we had bi-weekly meetings to touch base and learn from each other.  We also had access to special lectures to inspire.  One particular one was given by Diana Nyad who told us how she trained to be the first person to swim from Florida to Cuba.  She accomplished it at 64, after several previous tries.  Her story a long with the Accenture Active group inspired and made it easier to keep on plan.  If someone can swim to Cuba, I can lose a 100 lbs.  Here is a link to Diana’s wiki page if you want to learn more. 

Diana Nyad

Second, my office friends and colleagues formed a Fitbit group.  I cannot tell you how the many contests drove me to exercise more!  I actually walked the halls of the Columbus Sheraton to pull ahead of my colleagues.  My friends also helped me accomplish a long-term goal of walking 50 miles in one day.   My friends from our sales team that walked 10 miles with me with their kids, partly in the rain!  That is what I call support! Below is a the Fitbit badge to prove it. 

Image of FitBit 100,000 step sandal
50 miles in one day!

2.Facebook Friends – My friends on Facebook were also a great help in my Weight Loss.  First, they gave me Likes to my corny workout rhymes (Example:  Today I did the typical, 5 miles strong on the elliptical!).  They also gave me Likes and a few Loves as I hit my weight loss milestones.  Along, with individual friends on Facebook, I was helped immensely by some of the Facebook groups.  Four groups in particular, Weight Watchers Saturday Round Rock Group, Sheri’s FIT (my sister-in-laws great workout group), Spreading Positivity, and the West Point Class of 85 site.  Each site gave me helpful hints and encouragement.  For example, yesterday I learned that I could get Center Cut bacon which was only 2 Weight Watcher’s Smart Points for 3 pieces!.  That made my day and helped me get my bacon fix while reducing calories and keeping the pounds off. 

3.       Fitness Friends –  I already discussed my fellow Journeyers at Accenture Active.  There are two other fitness and weight loss friends I want to give a shout out to.  First is Weight Watchers in Round Rock Texas.  This group literally changed my life.  I love meeting with them every Saturday to trade tips, words of encouragement, and recognition.  I also found out for me as a guy it was a good fit, so do not let anyone discourage you guys out there.  I found that it had the accountability and recognition of the scale while it taught me to be more empathetic and listen more. Here is a link to the meeting if you decide to join us!

Weight Watchers Round Rock

The second group is my exercise groups at Lifetime Fitness.  As I got more fit, my fitness classes changed from Water Aerobics to the Spinning AMP course.  I even have done Zumba and Yoga!  In all the classes I loved the friendship, exhilaration and fun!  I want to give a special shout out to Corey’s Saturday EDG class at Life Time Austin North.  I now know as many hip-hop songs than some of my kids (although I will never beat my son!).  I also know I can get over 130 RPMs (wait till I get my cycling shoes this Tuesday).  Spinning is Winning!   Here is the link to Life Time North Austin location.

LifeTime North Austin

 

In closing, weight loss is not an individual sport.  It takes family and friends to help you to reach your milestones.