The honest truth: warts and all

Life isn’t all ponies and rainbows. It’s full of difficulty, challenge, and warts. That’s why I don’t post only my successes here, but also my challenges. There are days I eat too much, eat something I’m not supposed to, or just feel down. I try to minimize those days, but they do happen because I am human.

I know some sites always present a positive, cheery, and a “Success is easy to attain” face. That’s well and good for other sites, but I just can’t do that. I have to present the truth.

I used to be the fat guy reading websites trying to figure out how to lose weight safely and without a lot of exercise. I would find websites that had all the answers. There was never any failure, no setbacks, and it was easy! Only after reading some more did I find out that those sites were being disingenuous and misleading. Then I read about Whole30. What made me really think it was possible was that they were up-front about how difficult the first week or two can be. That was a wake-up call for me: it wouldn’t be easy, and here they are telling me so. Why would they do that? Honesty goes a long way with me, and if they were presenting the bad along with the good right up front, maybe there was some veracity to their claims.

Paleo is much the same way. The more I read, the more I found that it wasn’t all ponies and rainbows, but a challenge. However, if you rose to the challenge and were able to adapt to it, it would reward you with great health, weight loss (if you were overweight) and more energy than before.

So, there you have it: why do I post my challenges and difficulties. I call them my warts posts. I don’t hide ’em. I figure if you can learn from my challenges, and see that it’s not all super-easy, it’ll help you either get started or get past those difficult times that you, like I did, will face eventually. It won’t be a surprise. We all go through it, only some of us aren’t willing to disclose it. I am.

A New Chapter: National Guard

file_000-53Today, I took an oath of service, known as swearing in, to the National Guard. I am now a Staff Sergeant (SSG) in the Texas Army National Guard. This is a big day for me, as it was a goal of mine since around this time last year. I wanted to once again be able to serve my country, and to complete my 20 years of military service. I will be a 29E which is an Electronic Warfare Specialist, and I will be assigned to a local unit that is located just 7 miles from my home: 1st Battalion, 133rd Field Artillery Regiment.

Taking the Oath of Service, also known as swearing in.

When I realized that I had lost enough weight and was getting very close to the military standards for height/weight and fitness, I hoped that I would one day be physically fit enough to join the Guard, but I didn’t hold out much hope for it. I was optimistic, but since I’d tried so many times in the past to lose weight and get fit and failed, I didn’t hold out much hope. Yet here I am.

Signing my enlistment papers.

Today, met the  Army’s height and weight standards, my body fat percentage was far below the standard, and I can pass the Army’s physical fitness test with a 1st class. I was a SSgt in the Marines, and they have allowed me to keep my rank/grade. I have passed every extra test and jumped through every hoop presented to me. I am looking forward to serving my community, my state, and my country again. It’s a great feeling to be giving back to a country that has given me so much.

I’m especially proud to be in a position to do this. As a 49 year-old man, it’s not common for someone my age to go back in. It’s almost unheard of, from what the people in the recruiting office told me. I will be able to complete my 20 years of service and receive my retirement at age 60.

So, there  you go. Nothing is beyond your grasp if you want it bad enough. You just have to do the work.

Yes, it’s kind of embarrassing. I was a failure.

2014vs2016edgefacePeople say I’m brave, bold, or have no modesty because I share photos that show me at my fattest or without much clothing on. While it may be true that I’m not very modest (never was, probably will be even less so as I get older), I am not necessarily brave or bold. I just want people to see with their own eyes the transformation I was able to make in my life from being very fat to being a more healthy size (and yes, I said healthy and not thin because thin isn’t necessarily healthy and I don’t think I’m thin). However, it’s also embarrassing, but I try to not think of that.

Featured Image -- 5668
One year of difference: 2015 vs 2016

You see, as a Marine, we are taught from Day 1 to take responsibility for our actions, to stay in shape, to be always ready for action. We are taught that we are the example for the rest of America for what a prepared and strong American should be. I know, it sounds kind of corny, but we Marines take that kind of stuff seriously. So, when I look back and see myself so grossly out of shape, overweight, and weak, it means I failed on some basic levels. I let myself go. I didn’t care enough about myself to keep the weight down and to at least engage in some physical activity.

2014 vs 2016

Now, when I see pictures of myself at my largest, I cringe a little. Not because I was fat, but because I was deluding myself into thinking everything was okay, ignoring all the signs of my obvious poor health, and all the discomfort I was experiencing. I was a failure at keeping myself healthy and physically able to do even the most basic things like put up shelves or help paint a wall.


Now, as I struggle to lose the last 7-10 lbs, I look back and see a man who was lying to himself, to everyone who knew him, and who failed at being ready for life. I see a man who gave up on ever being fit again, and was resigned to poor health and an early death. That is no longer the man I am, and I hope that by showing the pictures of myself before and after I made the leap into the Paleo lifestyle, I’m able to motivate others to do something. Anything. Just get healthy.

I had great muscles hiding under all that fat (And why I didn’t need to exercise to keep muscle mass)

After I’d lost 100 lbs, something amazing happened: muscles started to appear. Most notably, in my legs, but also in other places like my abs. No, I don’t have a washboard yet because of loose skin that has yet to shrink enough, but it’s getting there. I can see my ab muscles already. My arms are another place where my muscles are very visible. This is because when I was fat, my body had to carry all this weight all the time. It’s why it was so hard to move and do simple things like crouch or climb stairs.

The result is now that I’ve lost a significant amount of weight, these muscles are still there. My leg muscles are the envy of every runner I meet. “How did you get such amazing calf muscles,” is the most common question I get from other runners. “I used to weigh over 300 lbs. I built them up over a long period of time.” More than once, they respond with, “I need to gain a lot of weight, then!” I tell them I don’t recommend it as a muscle building exercise, but it made me think.

There are people I see online who talk about diet to lose weight and exercise to sustain muscle mass. I think this advice may be a little misguided. You don’t need exercise to maintain muscle mass. Your muscles will shrink at a much, much slower rate than the fat will. Also, just by being a little more active, you will maintain a lot (if not all) of the muscles. The exercise should be to make your heart stronger and to help with strength and stamina. Muscle mass will take care of itself.

Now that I’m within 7 lbs of my final goal, it’s nice to see muscles popping out from behind the fat. I always look forward to my runs to continue building up my legs, arms, abs, and most importantly, my heart.

The latest comparison photos (what a difference a few years makes)

On February 4th, Sherry and I went on the Bluebonnet Wine Trail and sampled a variety of wines from local Texas wineries. We had a great time. It was also our fifth time to do this, and I remembered that I had taken a photo at one of them when I was at my heaviest. I asked her to re-take the photo from the same spot so I could compare the two. I couldn’t believe the difference.


First of all, I still like to wear caps and jeans. Second, I still like to sit on the patio at the winery and check my email, check into Swarm, and catch up on any missed texts from my kids. Oh, and then there’s the third: look how much smaller I am now! Not just the size of my stomach, but even my arms and legs and heck, even my head! The hat I’m wearing on the right didn’t fit me when I was on the left. I had to give it to Sherry to wear because my head was too big. Now? Fits perfectly.

Change is possible. It takes time, effort, and discipline. All you have to do is eat right. If you don’t want to do the exercise, that’s okay too. You don’t have to. I got from being the guy on the left to being the guy on the right just by eating good, delicious, and filling foods and not working out. Look into Paleo and Whole30.

Buffalo Turkey Slow Cooker Meatballs

Some epic wins in the Paleo meatball department! These are some of my favorite Paleo lunches.

Our Daily Bacon

I mentioned in my last post that I’ve been looking for more recipes with ground meats because they reheat so well in the microwave.  It seems that I’ve always got at least one in rotation each week – chili, meatloaf, shepherds pie, etc always make great lunches because they’re hearty and they reheat nicely without losing too much flavor or texture in the process.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been continuing that research by diving into the diverse world of Paleo meatballs.  If you look at my Favorite Recipes page, you’ll find several versions that have received enough high marks to be listed:

And now I’ve got a couple more to add to the list.  This week I made these Spicy Chipotle Meatballs  with canned chipotle peppers which gave them a real kick, with a nice flavor profile.  And last…

View original post 43 more words

How do I eliminate stress eating?

This is something I think all of us do to an extent: when we are stressed out, we tend to eat more. This is because eating is, in and of itself, a pleasurable experience. It’s hard-wired into our heads that we enjoy eating. When we are uncomfortable from stress, a quick and easy way to feel better is to eat something. It doesn’t solve problems, but within our brains, it sure does make us feel better. The problem is for people who are under a lot of stress, this can equal a lot of eating.

I haven’t had to deal with too much stress eating like my wife Sherry has. Not because I don’t get stressed nor is it because I don’t feel stress; I most certainly do. It’s because I have used another coping mechanism for stress relief: video games. I escape into video games to solve problems. The more stress I’m feeling, the more I dive into games. Or read books. Or research things online. Either way, I use escapism to relieve stress.

The key to cutting stress eating is to identify the cause. I’m not talking about identifying the cause of the stress. It is likely out of your power to get rid of stress altogether. But once you realize that the cravings are coming from stress, you can find something else to do to get your mind off of it. Something to give you a feeling of satisfaction or comfort. I’ve found running is an excellent way to get rid of stress.

Find something that will occupy your mind and allow you to feel a sense of satisfaction when you’re done. Maybe knitting, quilting, engraving, wood working, gardening, reading, playing basketball, playing video games, biking, running, hiking, or even walking. The list is endless. But when you are feeling stressed, and then you find yourself craving some foods to comfort you, engage in one of these activities to get your mind off the stress or to help relieve it.

When being good pays off, it feels good

Sherry and I did a wine tasting tour a few weeks back. The sugar in the wine made my weight spike for a few days, but afterward, it went right back down to the normal range.

I’ve been monitoring my portion sizes and I’ve actually increased them in recent weeks in a bid to lose more weight. My theory was that I wasn’t eating enough, and that my body was in conservation mode. Well, it turns out that I was right. This Saturday morning, I weighed in at 172.2 lbs, my lightest since active duty. Heck, I think I haven’t been this light since I was promoted to Staff Sergeant.

Most people look for scale victories (SV) and don’t place as much importance on the non-scale victories (NSV). I try to take any victory where I can find it, but I have to admit that SVs are more satisfying at times. It’s a relatable and quantifiable measure of our success toward getting healthy. Everyone uses a scale to measure their overall health level. It’s universal.

I’ve had lots of NSVs over the past six months including getting into shape, hitting sub-9:30 miles regularly, doing 80+ push ups, and even a shrinking waist despite my weight hovering between 174 and 177. Now, that trend is lower as my new normal is between 172 and 174.

The main difference has been the volume of food I’ve been eating and some small changes to certain specific foods. As I said earlier, I eat a little bit larger portions, but only slightly. It turns out I was barely under-eating. As for what I’ve been eating more of, the biggest area has been Protein. Also, I’ve been laying back on the sweet potatoes where I know I have a propensity toward overeating. I still eat them, but I try to eat smaller amounts of it. I’ve had some salads here and there as well to give me some fiber without a lot of nutritional value (eating lettuce is like barely eating from a nutritional sense) and to help fill me up.

Last night’s dinner, for example, was 10 chicken wings followed by a small chicken thigh that I was taste testing (Paleo Chicken Adobo: I need to tweak this more). The result was being down a pound from yesterday.

Hitting a plateau doesn’t always mean it’s time to eat less. It can mean just the opposite. You need to do the work and approach your weight loss scientifically and log data to analyze. I know, that seems like a lot of work, but if you want to be serious about losing weight and getting healthy, then you need to do the serious work and do it right. Otherwise, the benefits won’t last long. The last thing you want is to gain back everything because you undertook an extreme bandaid method to drop some pounds.

It’s been a very long time since I posted this, but here it is (and it feels good!!!):

Current stats:
Weight: 172.2 lbs (Started 289.9 lbs on 9/1/15)
Body fat: 14.1% (Started 47% on 9/1/15)
BMI: 27 (Started 45.4 on 9/1/15)

A note on the body fat and BMI measurements: I am using Fitbit’s calculations for both, and in the case of the body fat measurements, I am not using tape or water immersion. It’s an estimate. I’m pretty certain that the actual body fat percentage is a little higher (closer to the low 20’s), but I’ve been using their calculations since the start (when it was at 47%).

How do you keep from getting cravings between meals?

This is a common concern for people who are trying to adopt a healthy lifestyle. In my experience, when Sherry and I began our Whole30, the first few days were the toughest not only because of the change in the food we were eating, but because of cravings. Our brains were going crazy with wanting to eat foods with sugar and carbs in them. These cravings, at times, were pretty severe. I had to snack on nuts a few times in the first few days. Fortunately, that passed and I no longer feel like snacking between meals.

Here are the things that helped me get over being hungry:

  • Got rid of sugar and carbs. These are what really drive cravings.
  • Adjusted serving sizes. I no longer was eating for calorie targets, but to sate my hunger.
  • Along with the previous point, eat foods that are high in satiety. These are foods that make you feel full quicker.
  • When I do get to feeling a little hungry, I think about it. Am I hungry because I need food or because I’m bored? I find something to do to take my mind off the hunger. If I’m still hungry, then it’s time to get some food. Normally, though, the hunger passes and it was just boredom hunger. Protip: Exercise is great for getting rid of a craving.
  • Drink some water, tea, or coffee. If I’m within an hour of a meal time and I’m genuinely hungry, I will drink some tea or a cup of coffee to hold me over.

You can employ those tips to help you get past cravings. It works best when you limit your sugar and grain intake and adopt a Paleo lifestyle, but it’s not necessary.


Focus on Foods, not Calories

I don’t count calories. Sometimes, I will look at a label because I’m curious, but I don’t look at calories in food anymore. I look for sugar and I read ingredients to make sure there aren’t any that are bad for me.

When I hear people say that counting calories and moderation are the keys to weight loss, I feel that they miss the mark. Even at its most basic level, calories in < calories expended misses the mark. The quality of those calories is every bit as important because of the way the body handles and processes those calories.

I eat foods that are heavy on protein and nutrients. I avoid foods high in sugar, contain artificial trans fat, contain additives, have grain, soy, or beans, and that contain dairy (for the most part). Fats are not the enemy as long as they are saturated contain omega-3’s. Eggs are GREAT for you!

Here’s something novel: I eat meals that would fit into both my hands if I cup them. It doesn’t seem like a lot, and compared to how much I used to eat, it’s not, but it’s enough to fuel my body from meal time to meal time. I eat three times a day, not all through the day. I don’t snack or eat between meals unless I am going to have to delay a meal by a few hours. Then, I’ll eat a snack and eat that much less at the following meal.

I focus on eating food that fills me up, not on meeting some calorie number. Calories are typically underestimated for foods anyway, so it’s not even a good starting point when trying to determine how many calories you’re eating. Then there is the fact that different foods have different satiety regardless of caloric content. That means there are high calorie foods that don’t fill you up versus foods with a reasonable amount of calories that will. Natural foods (meats and vegetables) are typically higher in satiety, and (who’d a thunk it!) are better for you overall.

Skip the calorie counting and concentrate on eating quality foods. You will be surprised at how much better it is for you, how much better you will feel, and how much more filling it is.