Change Your Environment, Change Your Life!

The key to improving your health and losing weight is your environment.  We in the 21st century live in a toxic environment.  Artificial food, false friends, and feelings of discontent lead to stress, weight gain and self-medication.  To embark on a journey toward health, we need to put away the fast food, vitriol and anxiety of everyday living to embrace real food, real experiences, mindfulness and thankfulness.

Man in field of bluebonnets
55 Bday Picture

I know I lived in that environment up until a few years back and experienced its negative consequences.   With ready access to Quarter Pounders, Diet Cokes, and M&Ms, I doubled my size and diminished my disposition.  These unhealthy eating practices were exacerbated by too much face time at work and Facebook for leisure.   The result was an unhealthy, grumpy middle-aged man who could not walk around the block.  Something had to change!  Only when I started to change my environment did I change my life!

There were three aspects to my environment that I decided to change in January 2015.  Weighing more than all but three of the heaviest players in the NFL with a goods deal less muscle tone and height, I had to take the following actions to change my environment and restore my hearth:

  1. Changed my food environment.  The first aspect that I set out to change was my pantry.  There were several nemeses that I had to swap out.  The first was Ice Cream.  I was an absolute ice cream fanatic.  So much so that I created an acronym for my Ice Cream addiction – ICR.  This is how it is used.  Once my kids could drive, I would call out – “Hey, Kyle can you go on an ICR.  Get me a large M&M blizzard and get something for everyone else.”   ICR if you have not figured out yet is Ice Cream Run and it supplemented the ice cream I already had in the freezer.  In addition to Ice Cream, I kept a pantry well stocked of chips, peanut M&Ms, and a big 1-gallon plastic container of mixed nuts.  All available for ready access whenever I became stressed.  This had to change so I sought out alternatives. 

I initially replaced my DQ Blizzard with Skinny Cow Ice Cream sandwiches and eventually Non-Fat Greek yogurt with Banana’s (I still stay away from Ice Cream totally since it is a trigger food).  I replaced peanut M&M’s overtime with WW Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie flavored bars that are individually wrapped, the same calories of a two peanut M&M’s and less likely to gouge on by the cupful!  I replaced chips with a crunchy, healthy alternative that absorbs Salsa just as well – Broccoli.  I dealt with my Mixed Nut affliction in a similar way that I did Peanut M&Ms.  I swapped out the tub full of Mixed Nuts from Costco with individual packets of smaller size that are less likely to gouge on in fits of stress eating.  These and other food changes got me one third of the way to a better environment.

  • Changed my social and work environment.  The next thing I needed to do was change up how I spent my time.  During the day and into the early evening I was spending time locked to a desk in conference calls or directing my team.  At night, I read the latest political debates late into the night on Facebook and Twitted.  Both resulted in too much work time and not enough downtime.  Additionally, the constant diatribe of uncivility on social media was stressing me out.  I could feel the cortisol racing through my veins as I dealt with the next work issue or latest political debate.

I decided to take two measures to change my social and work environment.  First, I vowed to get up and move for 10 minutes each hour and to block out 1 hour for working out in the morning.   Additionally, I vowed to leave no later than 7 PM unless the world was ending.  At first, I thought these actions would detract from my work effort, but I was wrong.  Instead, it fostered communication between my team and I and provided me with the respite to come up with better actions.

The second thing I did was make a determined effort to spend less time on social media and to spend that time on positive feeds.  I accomplished this in two ways.  I monitored and reduced my time reading social media.  When I could not reduce it as much as I hoped, I decided to change my feeds and to listen to mindful podcasts.  I actively sought out positive Facebook groups such as Spreading Positivity and liked their content.  Over time, my Facebook feeds have changed because of this determined effort from politics to positive messages.  Many of these serve as inspirations to my blogs!  I have switched my environment from Trump to Tranquility!

  •  Changed my internal environment.  The most important environment to change to get healthy is the internal dialogue running through your head.  The change in the social and work environment helped a lot in this endeavor, but I was still having negative thoughts.  To counter them, I took up meditation and mindfulness.  I have used the Headspace application as well as the Christian Meditation blog to get mind off the problems running in my head to the progress I am making in my heart!

Changing your environment is the first step to changing to the new you!  I did it and so can you!

Baby It’s Cold Outside, But Exercise Anyway!

Recently there has been a lot of controversy on the song “Baby It’s Cold Outside”.  Now, I am not going to get into the controversy.  No. Instead, I decided to use the melody, which I love so much, and make new lyrics that are appropriate for those losing weight! 

Here is the song with the lyrics directly below:

I really should go play,

But it’s cold outside,

I got to get away,

But it’s cold outside,

I need to exercise,

So, I don’t get fat,

What do you think of that?

I have to go, go, go,

But my body says no, no, no,

I really should go and do my exercise,

But I despise,

The cold, the cold, the cold, THE COLD!

Most of us hate to exercise when it is cold outside.  But it is a necessity if we are going to keep on our weight loss journey.   So, how do you get your exercise in, when you don’t want to go out?  Here are five tricks of the trade.

  1.  Bundle up and play!  A key to good health is getting sun.  So, the first thing is to layer up and get outdoors.   Winter is a good time for high calorie burning especially if you are in Minnesota which I will be in a few weeks.  So, layer up and have some fun with winter sports such as cross-country skiing, and sledding (as long as you are climbing up the hill after sledding down!)  Take advantage of these great sports that are only available in the winter (or early spring and late autumn when you are in the frozen tundra up north). 
  2. Romp around in your romper!  Those Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Jack LaLanne fans out there know the power of the romper. The founding father of exercise, Jack, and Abe Weisman, Tony Shaloub’s character on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel show us how it is done old school with simple calisthenics.  Whether you are in the warmth you are home or in the Catskills as Abe, old school calisthenics can get your heart pumping.  If you have YouTube,you might even want to one of Jack’s old TV routines shown here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y4A3mdG5zbQ
  3. Spin to win! Biking outside is not always available or inviting when the roads are slick.  But you can always do inside cycling and learn from the best!  Read my recent blog on the King of Cycling! https://weightlossleadership.com/2018/06/10/heroes-of-health-series-episode-2-corey-the-cycling-king/   
  4. Take your Dog for a walk!  Some dogs are conditioned to walk in the cold.  Boots, our Bernese Mountain Dog, gets way more active when its get’s colder.  As you can see from his thick coat and bear like appearance, Boots loves the cold and can walk a lot further when it is 30 degrees than 100 degrees in Austin.  So, take care of your body and take your dog on a walk to escape that pesky cat. 
  5. Dance fever. This last one comes from my daughter Kate the Great.  When she gets done from a tough day teaching high school, she goes home, turns on the X-Box and “Just Dance”s.  Whether with an X-box game or to some Venmo videos of Taylor Swift (I personally love “Shake it Off”, dancing is an excellent way to shake off the pounds!
Boots and that Pesky Cat!

These are just five ideas to keep in shape during the winter months.  There are many more like chopping wood for your own fire or hot yoga, but these will suffice for now.  Bottom line:  Don’t get old, just because it is cold.  Exercise and have fun!

Boy It is Cold Outside

Wellness that Works

Wellness and work usually are not thought to go together.  Phrases such as “You will work yourself to death” and “work/life balance” have slipped into our lexicon.  The Japanese even have a word for it  – Karōshi which translated literally means work yourself to death.    Beyond these terms,  most have experienced stress eating or skipped workouts because we were either too tired or had an early morning call.

I used to think like that!  I was the literal work iron man or so I thought.  Before I changed my ways, I would work 16 hours days while eating Plucker’s fried wings and macaroni washed down with cupfuls of peanut M&M’s and Starbucks.  I thought I was masterful but I was being mastered.  It did not work out.  By the end of 2014, I was an over-stressed, overweight, and disgruntled man trying to keep my head above water.  I was neither felt well or worked well.

I began to realize that it was neither work over wellness or wellness over work.  The key to working at your peak is to enact wellness that works!  What do I mean by wellness that works (beside it being the new name for Weight Watchers)?  It is the synergistic effect that wellness and work can have on each other.  Get more healthy and you can work more efficiently.  Work more productively, then you have more time for wellness.  Sounds too good to be true?  Well, my story is a testament to the potential positive effects that wellness and work have on each other.

Let’s roll back to where I started off – the end of 2014.  I had put work over wellness for many years.  The end result of this exercise occurred in October, 2014.  I was walking out of the delivery center at 3 AM – the last man out the door.  Tired and sleepy, I missed a step, tripped and was knocked myself out.  When I came to, I could not lift myself off the ground with all the weight I was carrying.  I ended up crawling until I could get to the bumper of my car and use it as leverage.

Then and there I vowed that I needed to do something different.  So among other things (joining WW, going to the doctors), I enacted Don’s four rules for wellness that works:

(1) Well rested, well tested, never bested! – The first thing that I did was to get more sleep.  Sounds easy?  It wasn’t.  At first, I thought I would miss something if I was not on each and every late night call.  I was driven to be in the know and show the “manager’s flag” on every call.

But that attitude was making me unhealthy and also was not the best leadership style.  Sure it is important to get on critical calls at critical times for support of your team and to add to the solution.  But not every call and not all the time.  Hovering over everyone makes them think you do not trust them and may even detract from the solution.   It also makes you tired and unable to think.

It was really hard at first checking off the phone after providing guidance.  But when I did, three things begun to happen.  I sometimes came up with the answer as I rested and slept on it.   My team realized I trusted them but was there when they needed me.  Lastly, I was overall less stressed and unkind during the day.  My team appreciated my new disposition and I appreciated feeling better.  Bottom line: when anxiety starts to creep, go to sleep!

(2)  Workout and Work Go Together! –  I used to know this back in my Army days but forgot it as a consultant.  As a soldier, we were paid to work out each morning.  It was a necessary and important part of our job.   Being fit helps you not to quit!

But as a leader in the private sector, I forgot that important point.  My convenient excuse was that I couldn’t work out because I had to go to work.  It was only after I again realized that you can work out while working and that working out helps you work that my life begun to change!  I begun to block out time at least three times a week to workout and refused to take calls at that time.  Also, I got an app on my iPhone that notified me every hour to do a simple set of exercises for 3-5 minutes.    The best way to get rid of stress is to sweat it out.  It also helps you stop the negative talk in your head as I wrote in this previous blog  Stop the Negative Talk and Take A Walk.

(3) Work Hard, Play Hard!  This is an old saying and a good one.  But I give it a slightly different bent.  Most people think you first must work hard to get to play.  Others note that when you play too hard, you can’t go to work the next day!   But you can have fun at work and playing hard can make you work harder.  Take sometime to talk and joke with your team to break up the day.  Find a hobby that helps you unwind.  For me, I love Karaoke.  I sometimes even sing in the woods, as this blog attests Why Not? I’m Singing in the Woods!

(4) Join Wellness that Works for wellness that works!  The last rule is perhaps the most important.  If you want to learn additional ways to increase your wellness and you work productivity, join Wellness that Works (the organization formerly known as Weight Watchers and still goes by WW).  The weekly meeting provide more lessons on how to mix wellness with work such as mindfulness and goal setting.  I could go on and on about WW (and I did in this blog The Why’s of Weight Watchers!), but rest assured it is wellness that works!

I will end with a picture that shows that work and wellness can go together.  Here is me at Devil’s Lake in Wisconsin taking a call that ultimately resulted in us getting additional work.  The old Don would have take the call in the hotel and skipped the time with my daughter.  Instead I took it from the top of this mountain.  If I was not well I could have not climbed up to get reception and do my work!  Be well, do work!

Man hiking at a scenic location
Getting my walk in while working at Devil’s Lake

 

 

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).

Five Accenture Wellness Programs that Saved My Life

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

Table Celebration
Austin Chamber of Commerce Business Awards

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

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

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

Homecoming picture
Nearly missed homecoming

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

 

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

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

I’m Back, Right on Track

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

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

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

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

Here is how they impacted me in my temporary setback.

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

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

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

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

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

I’m Back,

Right On Track,

Come and Give my Hand A Smack,

Weight Watchers All the Way!

Weight Watchers All the Way!

5 Weapons to Win the War on Weight

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

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

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

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

Vanquish Weight Gain During Vacation!

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

Washington Monument
Washington at Night

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

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

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.