Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year! Agenda for 2012

Happy New Year to all of my friends, family and readers of this blog. I hope the New Year brings you good health and everything you're hoping for.

For me, here is the agenda for 2012:

I still want to lose 100 more pounds. At the rate of 8 1/3 pounds per month, I could lose it all by this time next year. But, I'm in more a maintenance mode now. I continue to lose weight, but if it's only 4 pounds lost one month, I don't care.  I'm looking at the big picture.

March 31, 2012 is the Cooper River Bridge Run.  I want to improve on my time from the last race...2 hours and 41 minutes.  I should be able to easily knock an hour off of that. We shall see.

I have also committed to the 2012 Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon in Savannah, GA on November 3, 2012.  It's going to take me that long to train for it.  13.1 miles is a long way.

I imagine I'll probably also participate in assorted other 5K races along the way...The American Heart Association Heart Walk, Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and Turkey Day Run will be back around.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Get up and move

Imagine one day you are experiencing shortness of breath.  Suddenly, small tasks where you really aren't exerting yourself have you completely out of breath. Walking to your front door makes you feel like you have run 10 miles.

"I must be tired," you tell yourself. You decide to go to sleep.

You wake up the next day, only this time it's worse.  Gasping for air, you go to work anyway.  Then you get to work, walk all the way up to the door of your job and drop to your knees, grabbing your chest.  You're breathing in and out as fast as you can, but not getting any oxygen.

You make it to the emergency room and you live.  But when they find out what's wrong, it's something you never thought would happen to you. You have a pulmonary embolism, or blood clots in the lungs.  The arteries in your lungs have become blocked with blood clots and you are slowly suffocating.

That was exactly what happened to me...but I was lucky: I survived.  The same can not be said for Dwight Arrington Myers, better known by his stage name "Heavy D."  Today his cause of death was announced: pulmonary embolism. 

This is very sad because he had actually lost a bunch of weight and was on the way back to good health.  But a long flight in an airplane, along with that extended period of sitting, did him in.  

About 15% of sudden death cases are caused by pulmonary embolism.  A large number of those people just drop dead with no hope of being saved. And going to the doctor or hospital often doesn't help.  The symptoms are so non-specific, they are often missed.  I went to the doctor a couple weeks before my episode complaining that I didn't feel right.  My doctor missed it.

The only way to detect a pulmonary embolism is to scan the lungs and look for it.  So what can you do?  If you ever have shortness of breath, go to the emergency room and demand a CT scan on your lungs. But here's a better idea:  avoid having it happen period.

If you have a job where you sit for long periods of time, get up and move.  At least once an hour, get up and walk around.  Same if you are on a long plane ride. Get up and go to the bathroom once an hour, even if just to look in the mirror. Move around.  Most of the time, the blood clots form in the legs due to being immobile and travel to the lungs. 

I'm surprised we don't hear more about this, because it happens all the time.  Serena Williams, the famous tennis player, was operated on to remove a pulmonary embolism.  She was lucky.  In 2003, NBC News TV reporter David Bloom died while being embedded with a military unit in Iraq.  The long hours sitting in a tank caused his fatal pulmonary embolism.  

I now take blood thinners every day, probably for the rest of my life.  Don't let this happen to you: get up and move.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Before you buy that treadmill....

Happy New Year! Thanks to everyone that checked out my blog in 2011.  Somehow, this blog has managed to reach 7,896 page views.  That's pretty incredible to me considering this all started out as an online journal where I was talking to myself.

Also, thanks to everyone that has come up to me, including people I have never met before in my life, to tell me how my journey has inspired them.  I almost never know what to say, except "thank you."

Thanks also to everyone who has not offered me any food. I appreciate it.

Now on to the reason for this post (and for the title.)

A few people have advanced to me the idea that they are going to get into shape next year and they will do this by purchasing a treadmill.  The thinking goes that they will do this because:

1.) They can work out in the privacy of their own home.  They don't have to worry about other people in the gym staring at them and judging their appearance.

2.) It will "just be there" to use anytime they need it, so that means they'll work out more.

3.) They will save on a gym membership because they will own their own equipment.

What a great idea!  Well, except....allow me to inject a little reality into the treadmill-purchasing dreams of others with a new list:

1.) Your $500 treadmill (or $1,000...or whatever you spend) will make a great clothes-dryer.

2.) Because it is always available, you will never use it.  If you can do it anytime you want, that makes it ripe for procrastination.  Imagine if you had a homework assignment with no due date...would you ever do it?  Nope.

3.) Unless you drop multiple thousands of dollars, the home version treadmills are nothing like the ones at the gym.  They break easily and will need to be serviced.  So much for the savings.

The reason I always took off like a rocket at the beginning of the year, but then fizzled with my New Year's resolutions to lose weight was because there was no accountability.  There was no follow-through.  Like a lot of people, instead of starting off slowly, I would overdo it.  Then I would give up because I injured myself or thought I had to maintain a ridiculous training schedule of working out 20 times a week.

The whole reason for having a personal trainer is accountability.  The reason I make an appointment then actually follow through with it is because I know that person is there waiting for me to come to the gym.  If you don't have access to a personal trainer or can't afford one, find an accountability partner.  And make it somebody that will actually hold you accountable, somebody you know that already works out.

Also, slow down.  Slow way down.  Don't expect to go from doing no exercise to being an Olympic athlete in 2 days.  Try walking 3 times a week around your neighborhood for 15 or 30 minutes.  Then maybe incorporate 2 gym visits a week.

And save that treadmill cash for something treating yourself to a new wardrobe when you lose 30 pounds after following the advice above.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

1 1/2 years ago today

It was exactly 18 months ago today, June 20, 2010, when I was rushed to the hospital, unable to breathe.  This kicked off my lifestyle change.  All at once, it was the worst thing that happened to me (I almost died) but also the greatest thing that ever happened to me. Here is a picture from that miserable 6-day hospital stay to remind me of where I never want to be again.

 As I kept telling myself over and over, night after night, stuck in that hospital bed: there will be no more of this.  It motivates me to this day!

Just Say No

One of the things I've had to realize as I learn to manage my food addiction is that some people will not take no for an answer.

Well-meaning, good-intentioned, good-hearted people who think they're being nice and doing you a favor when the reality is, they're doing the opposite.  Of course, they don't realize this and couldn't be expected to know this.

You know what I'm talking about.  The person who wants to buy you lunch to "celebrate" some one thing or another.  The person dropping off candy in your office.

If there is one thing I wish I could shout from the mountaintops to the entire world, it would be this: never offer food to a food addict.  And if you do, when they say "no thanks," walk away.

If somebody were a recovering alcoholic, you wouldn't try and convince them to have "just one" or try a healthy version of alcohol.  Or try and convince them that one visit to the bar won't kill them.

I make it from one day to the next by carefully planning out and bringing with me what I am going to eat. It's what I have to do to get by.  It's one of the only reasons for my success thus far and the only way it will continue.  I need that control to get by.

So about 80% of the people who offer me food take no offense and simply move on when I say "no thanks."  Thank you, 80%.  I love you.

Then there's the 10% that says "are you sure?"  This 10% is semi-persistent, but gives up after the second "no thanks."

And then there are the people I call the "force feeders."  The final 10%.  The force feeders will stop at nothing to get you to eat the food they want to make/buy/bring for you.

Declining doesn't get me anywhere with these people. They never give up. In the end, my answer remains the same, but somebody's feelings are always going to get hurt.

So why am I so inflexible?  Because it works for me.  But food can be an emotional subject with people.  Our society, for hundreds of years, has made food into a gift, a celebration, a reward, a show of respect, a sign of love, etc.  Sometimes, when you turn down food being offered in this spirit, people are genuinely hurt and offended.  And to those people I say: I'm sorry, but I just can't.

To me, food is none of those things and can never be again.  It is just fuel for my life.  That's all. So when I say "no thanks," don't take it personally.

It's just how I roll these days.

Paralysis by Analysis

At my workplace, they're having a weight loss contest. Whoever loses the most weight in a set period of time wins a prize.  The idea is that people will be motivated to join and will pursue a healthier lifestyle as a result.

Figuring I'll be losing weight anyway, I joined up.  Today I weighed in for the final time.  I told the person weighing me that I did not want to know what the scale said. I explained why.

When I first started my journey 18 months ago, I knew from experience not to get addicted to the high that the scale provides when you're first losing weight.  You start to have so much success so quickly, you think that's always going to be there.

So I knew that how much I lost or how quickly I lost it wasn't really important.  But, I wanted to be able to chart my progress reasonably.

So I weighed once a month.

I know what you're thinking: "Once a month?  Are you insane?"  Hear me out.

There are simply too many variances in body weight to weigh every day.  Or every week.  I actually have settled on once every 2 weeks, but I think once a month is perfect when you're just starting.  Here's why: when the weight loss starts to slow down, or isn't as much as it was last time, you will get disappointed, be discouraged and give up.  Not gaining any weight from one time to the next is a roaring success, but you will convince yourself that it is failure.  And that is a tragedy.

And so here is what I found myself doing the other times I would lose weight: when it wasn't as much as I thought it should be, I would begin to analyze.  And over-analyze.  And analyze again.  I would literally analyze why I didn't lose a half a pound in 3 days to the point that I worked myself up in such a depression I got discouraged. So I was explaining this to my trainer in the gym today and he had a great line that is the title of the blog post: "paralysis by analysis."

What a perfect description of what happens.  I would analyze the scale and worship that number to the point that I would be paralyzed into inaction.

So if you're considering a lifestyle change, use the scale carefully. My advice: weigh once when you get started, then once a month at first.  As you begin to fine-tune your workouts and your nutritional requirements, maybe every 2 weeks, but no more than that. Weigh on your own terms, with your own scale, always at the same time of the day, in the same place, under the same circumstances.

The scale can be a tool that leads you to great success and it can also be a weapon that sends you down the slippery slope to failure.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Good Health is the Greatest Gift of All

One of my greatest accomplishments to date has been the improvement in my health.

When I started all of this, I made it a long-term goal of mine to get off all medication I was taking.  I hate taking pills.

I am proud to report I am now down to 2: Diovan 160mg for high blood pressure and Coumadin 7.5mg, a blood thinner.

My high blood pressure meds have been cut 4 times and I am waiting for the final cut.  It looks like it won't be long.  This was a blood pressure reading I took today, 24 hours after last taking my high blood pressure medication:

Oh, and the 48 resting heart rate is not a mistake. That's really what it is.  It was once almost 100.  In the end, all we have is our health. It doesn't matter if you're rich, poor, famous or not...nobody has successfully cheated the reaper.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

3 Weight loss myths

This coming Tuesday marks the 1 1/2 year mark for my lifestyle change and I'm in a reflective mood.  It has been a lot of ups and downs, some incredible successes, a lot of struggling and a lot of work.  Since we're at the holiday time of year, I've read a lot of "tips" for losing weight online.

I believe many of them are myths. I've made a list like this in other blog postings, but I'll make a new one. So here we go.

1.) Eating in the car, eating in front of the television, or eating in front of the computer is wrong and you're a bad person for doing it. 

I always enjoy reading this one. I am pleased to report it is complete nonsense.  In the last 18 months, I have lost 262 pounds committing the following sins according to the "experts:"  I eat breakfast every day in front of the computer.  I snack all day at work in front of a computer.  I eat dinner and watch TV at the same time,  Sometimes I eat dinner, watch TV and surf the internet all the time.  That's talent, right?

I eat in the car.  I eat and drive at the same time.  Sometimes I eat in the grocery store parking lot, right from the package.  This whole idea that we should only eat at the dining room table is a complete fantasy in 2011.  I don't even have a dining room table (that I know of.)

It's not where you're eating your food, it's what you're eating and how many calories you're consuming.  Trying to follow unrealistic rules about where you should eat takes your eye off the ball.  It's a popular rule, however, because humans are addicted to making things more complicated than they need to be.

The bottom line: Mindless eating can occur anywhere.  As long as you know how much you're eating and you keep track of it, you can lay in bed and have dinner if you want.

2.) Eating at night is bad and will make you fat. 

If eating at night made you fat, I would still weigh 577 pounds.  The truth is, I eat around the clock.  As long as the total amount I am consuming is right for me, it doesn't matter when I eat it.

Some days I have 3 meals a day.  Sometimes I eat 6 meals a day.  Sometimes I eat dinner at 5pm.  Sometimes I eat it at 9pm.  I've had dinner at 11pm. 

Once, I woke up at 2 in the morning once so ravenously hungry, I could've eaten the wallpaper off the walls.  I made myself a bowl of oatmeal with a piece of fruit and ate it. And you know what?  I still lost weight that week.  I just added it to my food diary for that day, ate the food and went back to bed.  And lived to tell about it.  Imagine that!

But...doesn't everything you eat turn to fat if you go right to bed after you eat it?  No, it doesn't.  Think about the nonsense of this oft-repeated statement.  If I eat an apple, which has practically zero fat, how is that going to turn to fat in my stomach just because I am asleep?  Please. 

The bottom line: As long as the total calories of what you're eating doesn't exceed your requirements for that day, eating at night will not make you fat.

3.) To lose weight, I have to starve myself.  I can eat no more than 1,500 calories.

I don't know about you, but I could never get by on 1,500 calories. The truth is, everybody's calorie requirements are different. It all depends on how much physical activity you engage in during the day.  Somebody that sits at a desk all day won't be able to eat as much as say, a delivery driver who runs up and down stairs all day.

Starvation is one of the biggest reasons I believe people fail at weight loss.  They completely overdo it trying to pursue a quick fix, get discouraged and quit.  This is very sad. Only eating 1,500 calories a day is as extreme as trying to work out in the gym 20 times a week is.  It's not sustainable.

There are different calorie calculators available online and there are differing methods for determining the appropriate number of calories you should consume.  Factors such as your desired goal weight, age, height, activity level, etc. all play a part.

For myself, in the beginning, I was eating 1,500-1,600 calories a day.  When I boosted that to 2,400 calories, I started losing weight faster.  I believe it was because my body was in starvation mode, conserving resources instead of using them.  It worked for me.  Everybody is different.

The bottom line: you need food to live.  You can starve yourself or stop eating to lose weight temporarily, but only for so long. 

Tell me what you think at and I'll respond in a future blog posting.

Friday, December 16, 2011

2012...and beyond

In just 16 days, it will be 2012.  A new year.  New beginnings, new possibilities.  This will set off perhaps the greatest yearly waste of time in our lives:  the new year's resolution.

I've done it so many times.  Each year, I would pig out for 2 months straight at the holidays, all justifying it with that eye on the artificial January 1 deadline.  I actually convinced myself that as soon as the clock struck midnight on New Year's Eve, I would magically start eating right and start going to the gym.

Sure, I would go to the gym....and that gym sure would be full.  But by about the 3rd week in January, the gym would be empty and I would be back in the fast-food drive-through.  So from my vast experience in failure, I'd like to offer some suggestions to the new year's resolution crowd.

Instead of getting your hopes up that you are going to somehow magically turn your life around based on the calendar, take an honest assessment of your lifestyle.  Forget losing a certain amount of weight by a certain time.  If you have a lot of weight to lose like I did (and still do,) the weight isn't the problem.  That word "lifestyle" encompasses many things.  Our lifestyle is how we live our lives, including:

-How much stress we are under

-The quality of our relationships

-How much sleep we get on a daily basis

-Our overall happiness level with our lives

-The quality and frequency of the meals we eat

-How much physical activity we get on a daily basis

My weight problem was just a symptom of an unhealthy lifestyle.  What I ate and how much I ate was just one part of that.  I've realized this as I've had a chance to reflect on my life and try to figure out why I overeat, what triggers it, what I can do differently, etc.

So for 2012, resolve to look at the big picture.  And if you must make a resolution, make an actual resolution that you can follow through on.  Something like "I am going to pack my lunch and eat it every day."  Or how about "I am going to walk 15 minutes a day, 3 times a week."

If I've learned one thing in all of this, it's that if you cannot do it for the rest of your life, it's not worth doing.  Sure, you might be able to work out 10 times a week in the gym and lose 50 pounds in 3 months, but what about the long-term?  What about the disappointment that will come when you burn out  and can no longer maintain that maniacal level of exercise?

Instead of setting yourself up for that unhappy crash back to reality, take the long view. Make 2012 a year of change, but only changes that will carry you into 2013 and 2014.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Why losing weight is a bad idea

I was telling my story to a group of people today and the conversation turned to the question of "how much weight did you lose and how long did it take you?"

I always answer, it's a perfectly normal question.  But now that I've had time to think about it, I'm realizing losing weight isn't the point. When someone says "I need to lose weight," that's really the last thing they need to do.

What I have to keep doing the rest of my life is to keep living a healthy lifestyle, which will cause a lower, healthier weight.  For me, this means:

-Eating breakfast consistently

-Packing a lunch every day and eating it

-Going to bed early and getting up early

-Getting some sort of exercise 3 to 5 times a week

-Measuring my portions and keeping a food journal

-Staying out of the drive-through

Losing weight with no plan, just for the sake of losing weight is what I have done in the past and always experienced failure. Without doing the daily work that comes with a lifestyle change, the temporary success always fades.

This is why lost weight is almost impossible to keep off.  The old habits come back.  *That* is going to me my greatest challenge.  Living that lifestyle that causes me to have a lower weight.  And trying to do it for the rest of my life.

And really, that has nothing to do with "losing weight."

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Concept of Planned Eating

The one thing that has really helped me in my weight struggles has been embracing the concept of planned eating.

What is planned eating?

Just what it says...if you didn't plan on eating it, then don't eat it.  This has helped me stay away from tempting, surprise sources of food that I didn't count on. This could be anything, such as free lunch, or a free snack at the office you weren't planning on being given.

At the beginning of the day, I map out what I am going to eat that day. I eat breakfast at home.  Then, I pack my food for the day.  It's a lot of food, too.  It has to last me about 12 hours, so it's really 2 meals and a couple snacks rolled into one.

Then, if it's not in that lunch cooler, I do not eat it. This is hard work, because temptation is all around us, especially this time of year.  Holiday meals, extra treats, homemade baked goods, etc. are all over the office.  But politely declining doesn't usually cause too much lasting damage between friends and co-workers.

Occasionally, you will run across what I call a "force feeder," which is someone who no matter how many times you nicely decline their offer for free food, doesn't give up.  They mean well, but their persistent attempts at sabotage seem to know no limits.  Statements like "come on, just a little won't kill you." are the norm.

But my new comeback will be "sorry, it's not in the plan."

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Food is not a reward

It starts out when we're young.

You do a good job in school, you behave when your parents need you to, you do a good job with your potty training.

And you're rewarded. Your parents give you candy.  Or maybe a dessert. Maybe since you behaved during the time your parents shopped in the store, you're rewarded with a candy bar at the checkout stand.  You make student of the month and your parents take you out for ice cream, or to your favorite fast-food restaurant. 

We don't know it at the time, but these seemingly harmless, otherwise innocent acts are sewing the seeds for the obesity epidemic that is rampaging throughout society today.

This is the habit that creates the association in our minds from a very young age: if I do something good, my body will receive food.  Food is no longer a source of nourishment, a source of fuel for your body.  It becomes a reward.  Then what happens is this: as you get older in life, having had this reward system with food established, you begin to "treat" yourself.

You can see how this pattern continues for the rest of our lives.  Do a good job at the office? Receive a pizza party.  The company had a great quarter!  Let's wheel in the junk food parade.

This is a disaster and it should stop, even though it never will.  It's too ingrained in our psyche, but that doesn't mean we can't recognize it for what it is and seek to minimize it.

Well-meaning people have often asked me if I am going to celebrate weight-loss milestones by rewarding myself and eating something "special" or "a little extra."  This is the exact cycle of behavior that got me into trouble in the first place, so why would I keep doing it?

So how do we stop the food-as-a-reward insanity?  The solution is simple: just don't do it.  There are other ways to reward people.  How about money?  Non-food gifts?  A trip?  Anything but food. Because as long as we as human beings believe food is a reward, we are going to strive to seek it out as much as possible and the weight struggle will continue forever. 

It's time to break the association.  Food is not a reward.  Food is what we eat to survive.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Stay humble, my friends.

I recently saw a presentation where a woman was talking to her audience about how she had lost 400 pounds.  What an amazing accomplishment.  She did it all on her own, using basic common sense, just like I have. Only hers was more.  I was blown away by her results.

And then I saw it.  The cocky attitude. The arrogance.  It became obvious to me watching her video that she believed she had the one and only true answer.  If everyone wanting to lose weight would just do what she did, the world would be perfect.  To hear her talk, you would think she was cured.

Only she's not. And neither am I, or anyone else. You see, my friends, that is the great lesson of weight loss.  When you're losing weight, you have to realize that there is a very specific reason that greater than 9 out of 10 people who lose weight gain it all back.

It's hard.  It's very, very, very hard.  Nothing anyone has been doing, will be doing, has discovered or has yet to discover will change that.

I was once where she was. 14 years ago when I was losing all this weight once before, I was on top of the world.  I thought I had all the answers.  I would talk endlessly about my weight loss and how I was doing.  How I had it all under control and no one else did.  I thought I had found the secret.  I had cracked the code.  I was cured of my obesity forever.  I used to go around telling people "I'll never go back."

2 years later, I had fallen from that lofty perch straight back down into the deepest depths of my food addiction.  I didn't just fall of the wagon....I dove headfirst off of it at 100 miles an hour.  I went from having an almost zen-like ability to control everything I ate to eating non-stop, as much as I could, as fast as I could.  Total control to zero control in 24 months.

Failure is a great teacher.  I think about what I went through every day.  And so I don't talk about my weight loss unless somebody brings it up.  I don't offer my opinion about what anyone else is doing unless asked.  I don't outwardly celebrate my weight loss.  I do celebrate in private with people that are close to me, but that's it.

Why?  Because I have to stay humble.  I know what could happen.  I know the deck is stacked.  I know that I am only as good as my last workout.  My last exercise. My last healthy meal.  It will never end. The struggle will go on forever, only it will get harder.  Temptation is always all around me.  I'm very confident I have the right attitude this time, but I don't have all the answers.  No one does.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: some days I feel like Superman.  Other days, it is a struggle.  On those days, I hate going to the gym.  Some days I am hungry all the time and I have to take it one meal at a time.  One snack at a time.  I pound the water just to get through the day.  It is a struggle.

So if you're losing weight, just remember: there is no need to spike the ball.

Monday, December 5, 2011

On turning 39

Today is my 39th birthday.

It used to be I dreaded getting older. For whatever reason, 29 was especially hard. For me, birthdays were depressing. They represented another year lost, another year of lost opportunity, another year of the same life I had been living.  Another year of limitations.

But no more.  Birthdays are now a celebration of life.  I'm excited about 39. I can't wait for 40.  And 41.

A year and a half ago, laying in the hospital, I did not believe I would see 38, much less 39. This is why I made the changes that I made to my lifestyle.  This is why I go to the gym when I don't want to.  This is why I walk 15 miles a week.  So that I can add more years to my life....and more life to my years.  So that there will be more birthdays.  That is all that sustains me, all that propels me forward.  The motivation, the will and the desire to live.

A friend asked me if I would be celebrating today by eating something special.  Absolutely not.  There will be no cake, there will be no ice cream.  And it's not because there is anything wrong with the cake or the ice cream.  I just choose to celebrate in other ways besides eating.

I think today I'll go to the beach.  Happy Birthday to me!