The Essentialist’s Playbook for Weight Loss

Most people try anything and everything to lose weight when first starting.  They will try the latest supplements, liquid diets, eating only select foods (cabbage soup anyone), the hottest fitness craze, eating at only certain times – you get the picture.  Let’s do A through Z and sticks to the wall and un-sticks my diet.

I was a proponent of the more is more approach for years and it didn’t work.  Over the years as my weight climbed and my hope failed, I tried everything, many simultaneously, from being a vegetarian (failed because M&M’s are not meat!), popping Green Tea pills, cleansing in various ways, the latest exercise craze, and on and on… Then I discovered two things.  Weight Watchers (WW) and the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18077875-essentialism .  Both teach the same thing – Do less, but better.   The key to weight loss and a better, more successful life is by correctly assessing the few important priorities, focusing on these priorities exclusively, and dumping the rest.  Mr. McKeown provides how to do this in his book and WW in its classed for a Essentialist’s Playbook for Weight Loss.

 You can lose 170+ pounds like me by not doing everything but these three things:

  1. Track everything you eat or drink.  The best way to know how to lose weight is to track what you eat.  By consciously tracking your food intake, you will better understand portion control and the trigger foods you need to avoid.  You use this along with weekly weight tracking to find out what works and what foods to avoid.  That way you focus on what works, rather than trying everything that doesn’t!
  2. Be kind for yourself.  You can’t focus on what is important if you are unhealthy in body or your soul.  It is therefore important to focus on your health both mentally and physically.  Take time to journal positive thoughts, rest, and relax.  A few minutes a day of being kind to yourself will not only help you lose the stress that sabotages most people’s health.
  3. Take time to exercise.  Study upon study have shown that sitting is the equivalent or worse to smoking for health.  It does not take much to get the exercise your body needs and craves.  Get up for 10 minutes every hour and take a walk.  Also, block out 30 minutes in the morning to recharge and energize. 

Bottom line:  You do not need to do A through Z to lose weight and be a better you!  All you need is the essential 1-2-3!  Go out and practice Essentialism to gain a new body and soul.

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!

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!