Do Mantras Work?

What’s a mantra?

man·tra/ˈmantrə
noun

  1. (originally in Hinduism and Buddhism) a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation.
  2. a statement or slogan repeated frequently.

I think of it as my mental cheat, or mind-hack, to get me motivated into doing something that could be framed as a negative. That negative, for me, is running.

I’ve never been a fan of running. I get bored. That, and doing something repeatedly that keeps me sweating, makes my legs moderately sore, and takes up time that I would rather be spending in other ways doesn’t seem natural to me. Often, I find myself thinking about “Run Day,” and my mind will say, “Ugh. Today is a run day.”

Something I discovered three years ago when I started running was that by framing the run as a gift instead of something compulsory, it not only improved my performance, but how satisfied I felt when I finished the run. Reading the book, “Red Platoon” by Clinton Romesha had a huge impact on my frame of mind as well. I read that book and my heart wrenched at the ordeal that his platoon endured during one of the most intense battles the US Army has experienced in the past 20 years or more. Certain individuals stuck out to me, and one day on my way home, I reflected as I was dreading a run that any of those fallen Soldiers would likely relish the opportunity to run again. That thought snow-balled into thinking of all the Marines and Soldiers I knew who had fallen, and how they would likely rather be running than lying in a grave. The thought moved even further to those who have lost limbs and the ability to run. I started seeing that I was very fortunate, especially at my older age, to be able to go out and run three miles. The next day, I told myself, “I get to run today!” and while it felt a bit artificial, the effect was immediate. I smiled without thinking about it. As the day went on, I’d keep saying it to myself, and each time, the excitement built. Even though it was fake in the beginning, I began actually getting psyched up for the run.

This morning, my mind went down the old familiar route: “Ugh. It’s run day.” But this time, I remembered my mind-hack. I changed it very quickly to, “Screw that. I get to run today!” You know what happened? Sure enough, a smile. I have been repeating it all day every time my mind wanders to the thought of my run later today. Each time, I say, “I get to run today.” Now, as I write this, it’s after lunch, and in about 4 hours, I’ll be running, and I’m actually looking forward to it.

The hardest part for me about running is getting started. It’s a bump I have to get past every time I run. Most days, I get past that bump by mindlessly changing into my running clothing, going into my gym, and just running. Some days, however, I try to talk myself out of it, and very rarely, it works. However, when I used to tell myself, “I get to run,” I never talked myself out of it. I didn’t want to miss out on the experience.

On a deeper level, when I remind myself that I get to run, I am honoring those who are currently unable to run: all the vets, injured and fallen, who have paid a high price with limbs and lives. When I feel tired, like I want to stop early, I remind myself that I get to run. When I feel like doing anything other than running, I tell myself, “I get to run.” It’s powerful. It hits me hard every time. I may be weak, but I will not let them down. I cannot.

As a leader of Soldiers, it’s my job to be in shape. Not just barely, but in good physical fitness. For them, I work hard. For them, I strive to improve every time I hit the treadmill, the sidewalk, or the road. For them, I endure soreness in my legs as I get stronger and faster. For them, I keep running. Because I get to run.

Do mantras work? I think so, and I think they are far more powerful than people give them credit for. It’s a powerful tool in your arsenal of motivation.

Numbers aren’t all created equally

I have a favorite Liutenant in the Guard who has a catch phrase I adore: “Words mean things.” Being eloquent is of no use if the word you’re using isn’t the right one. When it comes to numbers, people think 10 is 10. They wouldn’t be wrong (another thing the LT says: “You’re not wrong,” meaning you’re also not right). However, when considering weight loss as a measure of success in regaining a healthy lifestyle, percentage of weight is a much better way to look at it.

Me, walking the dog after a run on the treadmill.

Consider this: when I did my first Whole30, I had lost 20 lbs in one month. People hear that and say, “Wow! That’s an incredible amount of weight to lose in one month.” And you know what? They’re not wrong. That was 6.41% of my total body weight at the start, and that’s a serious start to a trend that continued uninterrupted for a solid year culminating in 110 lbs lost. I won’t go into all the NSV’s (Non-Scale Victories) I also achieved; there are many posts on my blog about that. This post is about numbers.

On this fifth Whole30 (I counted; it’s only my fifth and not my sixth as I previously thought), in two weeks, I’ve lost 11 lbs. Again, that sounds pretty good, and puts me on-pace for the same kind of weight loss as I experienced on my first Whole30. Or does it? So far, I’ve already lost 5.37% of my starting weight. How is that possible considering I was allegedly much healthier this time around?

I don’t really understand. I was pretty certain that the percentages would align, and that I would have lost around 5 lbs less at this point, yet here I am. I know a good 3-5 lbs of it in the beginning was water weight that I lost, yet the same thing happened when I weighed 312 lbs. The only difference this time around is that I’ve added exercise to the mix.

Do I think that I will lose another 10 lbs in the next two weeks? Hardly. I figure I’ll be lucky if I can sustain a 2.5 lbs/week rate for the next two and a half weeks. A little optimistic part of my brain hopes for more, but the analytical side of my brain (which is the bigger side) says, “Nope. Not gonna happen.” 20 lbs would be 9.76%, and that’s highly unlikely and I believe, unsustainable.

Sherry has lost more weight than me already. This is backwards from our first Whole30 where I quickly overtook her rate of loss and ended up losing more weight. However, when looking at percentages, she actually lost around the same percentage from total body weight. They say men lose weight more easily than women, yet we lost the same percentage. Why? The difference: she was exercising and I was not.

This time, I’m running. I still can’t get back to my weightlifting due to my shoulder (which seems to be healing, but ever so slowly!), but I’m running at least 3 times a week. My goal is to run 4-5 times a week, but I’m not quite there yet.

Numbers mean things, and they’re not all created equally. Don’t get caught up on numbers of pounds lost. I’ve said time and time again that the scale is not the best measure of your health, but if you must use it as a data point, keep in mind the percentages. That’s where it’s really going to give you meaningful data when comparing to others.

Whole30 Week Two Recap

This post discusses some things that some people may consider disgusting: body functions. If you don’t want to read about that, you may want to skip this post.

Week two of my Whole30 is over, and I am doing as well or better than I’d hoped for.

The one thing I do that’s against the rules is I weigh myself. Not every day like I used to, but every other or third day. I did weigh myself yesterday, however, and found that I’ve lost 11 lbs in two weeks. That’s fantastic progress, and it puts me on-track to the results I’m looking to get.

As for fitness, my running is getting easier, and although my speed isn’t really getting better, my endurance definitely is. I figure I will work on speed in another week or two. For now, it’s all about getting back to being able to run for 30+ minutes without it wrecking me afterwards. I’m close.

The one difficulty I’ve had is poop. Once again, being more protein-heavy than usual, my stool got really hard and made it difficult to pass. Thankfully, I took some Swiss Criss, and holy smokes, that cleared me out! I took two of the pills, and I think it was only about 30 minutes before I had to go. And then go again. And again. For two days. I think I’m finally past the power-pooping, but holy smokes was that a relief! There’s nothing worse than running when you’re full up and can’t go.

Hunger hasn’t been an issue, and I’ve found that the amount of food I eat is getting smaller, and less volume fills me up quicker than before. This is one of the main things I was looking to get out of this Whole30: A reset in the amount of food I eat.

I haven’t had the Whole30 flu this time, and neither has Sherry. We discussed it, and we think it’s because our bodies have adapted to Paleo so well that going off-plan was the anomaly and not going on a Whole30. That’s why we felt so cruddy before we started this Whole30 and we felt so much better almost immediately after starting.

So, week two is down, and we’re half-way to our 30 days. I’m happy with the progress so far, and I’m definitely thinking I will be able to reach my personal goal by April.

You Don’t “Burn” Fat

You exhale it.

What? Am I serious?

Yes.

A study published in the British Medical Journal found that of 10kg (22 lbs) of fat lost, 8.4 kg (18.5 lbs) was exhaled as carbon dioxide while 1.6 kg (3.5 lbs) is lost as water, either through water vapor in breath, sweat, or urine.

Think of it this way: when your body metabolizes fat, it’s the same as your car burning fuel in its cylinders. The exhaust is filled with carbon monoxide and other molecules. As our bodies metabolize the fat to use as energy, the resulting waste is carbon dioxide and water.

What is the burning process in the body? It’s actually an exothermic oxidation reaction to lipolysis, or the breaking down of fat to be used as energy by the body when it is not getting enough through glycolysis.

When I hear people talking about, “Burning fat” through exercise, they’re kind of right, but mostly wrong. Your body doesn’t burn fat. The more you sweat doesn’t equate to more weight lost. You can sweat a lot without losing weight. Also, just because you sweat a lot doesn’t mean you’re losing more weight.

Guaranteed way to lose weight: consume fewer calories than you use during the day. Method of consuming fewer calories: cut out the grains, dairy, legumes, and alcohol. Foods like meats and vegetables have fewer net calories and will fill you up better and faster with more nutrients per calorie which will allow you to have a calorie deficit without feeling hungry or wanting to over-eat.

Fat burning is a myth. Don’t fall for tricks or gimmicks. There’s only one way to lose weight, ever, and that’s a caloric deficit. You can never out-exercise a bad diet where you exceed your caloric intake.

Pro Tip: Mindhack to Success

I grew up being a very lazy kid. I didn’t want to do chores, I didn’t want to study, and I hated doing anything that wasn’t “Fun.” I know most of us don’t like doing anything that isn’t fun, but I vehemently resisted anything that didn’t bring me some kind of pleasure. It wasn’t until later in life that I began to appreciate doing work for the reward of a job well done, yet that never translated into my health or physical fitness.

Me just after a run in my home gym. That’s why I look confused.

I had dieted many times before finding Whole30 and the Paleo Diet. I tried low-fat, Atkins, South Beach, counting calories (aka Calories In/Calories Out, or CICO), and the “Exercise so much your entire body wants to die” plan. Repeatedly, I failed. Each time, I quit within 2 weeks or within about 3 months. Each of those plans left me feeling hollow, sore, or deprived. No matter what I did, I was met with failure. But, as they say, failure is the bridge to success.

When I was told about Whole30 and Paleo by my cousin Sarah, I was as doubtful as before I started any other program or plan, but one major thing was different. This time, I decided that I wanted to embrace the process. I wanted to embrace the new lifestyle. I had come to realize that my failures of the past were unacceptable moving forward. I was still doubtful that I’d see any real progress, but I was hopeful and open to it.

When I completed my first Whole30, I had lost 20 lbs in four weeks. I didn’t suffer, and to the contrary, I felt great. That was all the fuel I needed to push me to the next level, so to speak. At that point, I decided that I would detach my measure of success from the scale and add non-scale victories (NSV’s) to the metrics I use to determine my progress. I also decided that every NSV was a reward of my hard work, and I would celebrate with a ridiculous little dance. Down 2” on my waist and fitting into smaller pants? Little dance. Shirt size shrunk from XL to L, or L to M? That’s right; little dance. Down 10 lbs? Little dance for that, too.

I turned the lifestyle into a game, and each victory brought me pleasure which in turn fueled my desire to continue making progress. Of course, as I lost weight and got smaller, it got harder to make these victories. One would think that would demotivate me, but instead, it made the victories only that much more special. The harder the goal, the sweeter the victory. Perseverance keeps you going when everything your body and mind is saying is telling you to quit. “This is uncomfortable.” “That apple pie looks too delicious to pass up.” “It would be much more comfortable to sit on the couch than to run 3 miles today.” I get these thoughts as much as anyone else, but I decided long ago to ignore them, and to persevere. I got addicted to winning, even if it was in a race against myself and my internal voice telling me to take it easy.

I’m not a super-achiever. I am not one of those people who take on 22,000 things and accomplish them all. I try to take on a few and succeed in as much as I can. I do push myself to succeed and complete anything I set out to do, and I don’t accept discomfort as a reason to quit (the caveat to this is if I’m running and I feel like an injury is coming on, I’ll back off and error on the side of caution. I’ve pushed it too hard before and ended up hurt).

Want to succeed at losing weight or getting fit? Make it fun. Turn it into a game. Make hitting goals reward-worthy. Come up with a ritual to help you celebrate those successes. I will warn you, though; it is addictive, and you’ll find yourself working hard and gaining a single-minded vision to succeed. I guess that’s not a bad thing, though.

Any Progress is Good Progress

I’ve written in the past about the different measures of success when taking on a new lifestyle and as I was thinking about my own progress on this most recent Whole30, I found myself relying on a lot of the information I posted then.

A 52-year old citizen soldier who needs a shave.

Non-Scale Victories, or NSV’s as they’re known in the community, are cues we use to gauge our success beyond a simple number on a scale. Why is that so important? Well, because the scale isn’t the best indicator of our progress in getting healthy. It’s the most often used, and it’s very simple to interpret (high number vs low number), but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Here are some NSV’s I use to help me better gauge my progress:

Size. As my waist shrinks, my trousers get bigger. The same for my shirts; they feel looser. I know I’m doing the right thing when I’m shrinking.

Mental clarity. When I’m eating good, whole foods, my brain feels faster, clearer, and better able to process things. I find myself able to handle complex issues more easily, and I can concentrate without getting distracted.

Mood. My wife notices this more than I do, but I’m in a much better mood when I’m eating right. I’m generally happier and calmer when I eat right. Sugar and grains tend to make me crankier, according to my wife. I think my mood is connected to how well I’m feeling when I eat, and eating good quality whole foods always make me feel much better, hence the better mood.

Blood sugar. I used to be Type-2 Diabetic. Since doing my first Whole30 and losing over 110 lbs, I was no longer diabetic. I haven’t had high blood sugar in over four years now thanks to losing weight.

Fatty liver disease. I no longer suffer from this either. This is something that is directly linked to my obesity. Now that I’m no longer obese, neither is my liver which was suffering from reduced function due to fat in the liver.

Sleep apnea. I’m one of the fortunate who no longer suffer from sleep apnea now that I lost the weight. I continue to sleep well through the night without snoring or without breathing stoppages. This allows me to get good, restful sleep, and it allows me to wake up feeling fresh and ready to take on the day.

Buying clothes off the rack. This is a pretty big one that was a really big deal when it first happened. Now, four years in, it is completely normal for me to shop anywhere and find clothing for me (or at times, I even have the problem where I can’t find clothes because I’m “average” size now). I remind myself that this is a good thing and special every time I go shopping. Not being able to find a shirt in size M is a good problem to have.

Being able to run. I wasn’t able to run when I weighed over 300 lbs not only because I would get winded so easily, but it was physically dangerous for me to do so, and my doctors advised against it due to not only my heart, but my joints. Now, I can run and the only real limitation is my dedication and motivation.

Being in the military. It’s one thing to serve in the military when you’re over 50, but doing so after being obese for nearly two decades is quite a big deal. Every time I put on the uniform, I am reminded that I’m doing something that, for me, was unthinkable just 5 years ago. I feel honored to wear the uniform and to be able to serve our country and my community. Being in the military is also an added motivation for me to continue eating right and exercising. Often, it’s the sole motivation.

Right now, my weight loss is progressing steadily, but I find myself wishing it would go faster. We all wish that. But I have to remind myself that it took a year for me to get to this weight, and getting rid of it will take more time and effort as well. I think back to my first big weight loss effort with my first Whole30 and adopting the Paleo lifestyle, and I’m reminded that while the progress was steady, it was slow. I remember thinking to myself, “I wish this would go by faster,” and then the next thing I knew, six months and 70 lbs had passed. I know that the next three months will fly by, and by the end of it, I will be back to where I want to be. It will just take time, effort, and patience.

We all hit plateaus. Reaching a goal means overcoming obstacles. Don’t let obstacles define your process. It’s easy to quit; it’s hard to push through. That’s why reaching your final goal will have so much meaning and be such a huge reward. Perseverance is key. Do not accept surrender, sabotage, or defeat. Keep going. You’ve got this!

My Week 1 Status

This is overdue by a few days; my apologies. My first week actually concluded Sunday night, but I wanted a few extra days to think about how it’s gone. Here’s my assessment: it went very well.

Weight lost: 7.3 lbs
Size lost: maybe 1” (trousers/pants/shirts feeling slightly looser)
Emotional state: improved
Sleep quality: OK (lots of waking up to go to restroom)

So, the easy metric to address: weight. YES, I KNOW YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO WEIGH YOURSELF ON A WHOLE30. I DO IT ANYWAY. With that said and out of the way, I am aware that the majority of the weight lost was temporary water weight that I gained due to the increased sugar content of my diet prior to starting this Whole30. That’s okay. But it’s legitimate in that now that the sugar is cut out of my diet, I’m not carrying that water weight.

Size lost: I didn’t (and won’t) measure my waist. I use a more important metric: how do I feel in my clothes. Right now, I already feel more comfortable in my clothes which translates into a more confident and happier me. It reinforces the work I’m doing, and lets me know that I’m making progress, even on the days the scale doesn’t move.

Emotional state: I think it’s improved. I’m happier since I’m eating right, merely because I know what’s going into my body is better for me. I know there are emotional rewards for exercising, and perhaps that’s playing into it as well, but honestly, when I’m eating healthy, I’m always in a much better state of mind.

Sleep quality: this is interesting. I think that because I’m losing weight, part of that process includes me going to the restroom more often in the middle of the night. I try to ensure I don’t drink too much liquid after dinner, yet I still wake up at least twice a night to go to the restroom. If this is something that’s necessary for my body to shed weight, it’s a small price to pay.

Another thing I’m noticing which I’ve experienced every time I’ve done a Whole30 is that my body doesn’t lose weight and size at the same time; it’s always one or the other. One day (or two, or three), I’ll lose some weight, while the next couple of days, my clothes will get noticeably looser. It is what it is. I’m used to it know which is why the scale doesn’t bother or scare me.

As for the Whole30 flu, I don’t think I experienced it. Maybe I’m just more prepared for it now, or perhaps my body doesn’t react as adversely as it had in the past to removing sugar from my diet. Either way, I feel pretty good so far, and I’m looking forward to the next three weeks of eating well.