Lifestyle Change Isn’t Just About Food or Exercise

I went into my current lifestyle journey with the knowledge and expectation that I had to let go of nearly everything I knew about eating and exercise and learn everything from scratch to start over. The lifestyle I had been living left me with Type 2 Diabetes, morbid obesity, fatty liver disease, tingling in my extremities, and poor circulation in my feet, among other things. I could not sustain that lifestyle for much longer before my body was going to fail beneath that load of bad decisions. I had to do something drastic, and that meant changing everything. I had to rebuild my lifestyle from the foundation on up.

I began with getting rid of any notion of diet or nutrition I had learned in the past. I knew that everything I’d been told had to have been wrong, or else I wouldn’t have found myself in such poor shape. I set out to learn everything I could about nutrition and eating right. I settled on Whole30 and the Paleo Diet. They sounded like the most reasonable and logical paths to a new diet, and the science is pretty solid. I not only read as much as I could about them, but I knew people first-hand who had adopted the Paleo Diet and who had done a Whole30, and their experience inspired me.

The next thing I did was to adopt a new mindset of discipline, motivation, and perseverance. I threw out the thought of attaining big changes in small amounts of time. I had to come to terms with the fact that this was going to be a long-term, never-ending process. I had to be okay with that. I had to give up certain foods that I’d been eating all my life, and that had to be something I was okay with. I also had to accept that going back to eating those foods once I reached any kind of weight goal was not something I could do sustainably. Sure, I could indulge every now and then once I hit my target weight, but I could never go back to eating pasta, pizza, and breads on a daily basis long-term.

Finally, the work began. Sherry and I got rid of all the non-Whole30 and non-Paleo foods in the house by donating them to others who could use it. We purchased all new staples and supplies, and we compiled a list of recipes. We began doing food prep on Sundays to prepare for the week’s meals. I began doing push-ups and taking 30 minute walks every other day. I put out of my mind any concept of cheating, as I viewed it (and still do) as sabotage.

In short, I changed my entire lifestyle as it pertains to eating and fitness. I also had to change the way I viewed life itself, and I took control of my life in every aspect. I found that I gained a lot of confidence and discipline in other aspects of my life as a result of changing my eating and fitness routines. I honestly feel like I’m living a different and better life now.

Lifestyle change is all-encompassing. The more you commit to it, the better chance you have of being successful. It takes more than just eating right for the short-term; you need to commit to a lifelong journey of eating better.

Perseverance is the key

Yesterday, I was feeling a bit down. I was up more pounds than I could believe, and was at my highest weight in two years. It was depressing to see the scale read exactly the same weight two days in a row despite my doing everything right the day before. I should have lost at least half a pound, or so I thought. Well, in thinking about the lack of progress after a day, I realized a few things.

First, there’s no way I could expect to see any real progress after just a single day of eating right. Second, I needed to remind myself of the advice I lay out on this blog week after week: I’m in this for the long game. I also thought about what I need to do to ensure I lose the weight as quickly as possible. The formula is as follows:

  1. Eat Paleo food
  2. Eat proper portions
  3. Get enough sleep
  4. Try to get some sort of exercise

Now, I’ve lost 130 lbs in a year before without a single step of exercise, so I know that losing weight doesn’t require it. However, among the first three, I realized that I didn’t get enough sleep the night before. I can’t stress enough how important proper sleep is for weight loss. Even if you do the right things, day after day, and week after week, unless you get enough sleep, you will be hampering your progress. Slowing it, at best, and halting it at worst. So, I set out to get enough sleep last night. The result? I lost over 5 lbs since yesterday morning’s weigh in.

Impossible? Not really. Considering all the food and drink I’ve been having for the past four days prior, it’s no wonder I was as bloated and holding on to water. The increased sugar in my diet made me hold on to a lot more water than usual, and I could actually see it in my face and in my skin. This morning, before I stepped onto the scale, I already knew I was going to weigh less. I didn’t expect five pounds less, but I knew it just from how my stomach looked. There was definition again, not just pudge.

Now, I’m back to where I will see a very dramatic decrease in the rate of loss: probably (hopefully) in the area of 2-3 lbs/week. I am perfectly fine with this. I also possess the key ingredient to make the progress: perseverance. I know that it’s going to take around 2-3 months for me to get back to where I want to be with my weight, and it’s okay. 2-3 months goes by far too quickly, and in that time, I won’t be suffering. I’ll be eating delicious Paleo foods, and I will be getting enough sleep. I’ll exercise, too, although I’m still waiting on a medical condition to clear up before I can really get back into it. But, as I’ve said many times, you lose weight in the kitchen and get strong in the gym, so since I’m primarily after weight loss right now, I know I can get it done.

I’m the turtle

I wrote yesterday about how I went hog wild in Toronto and ate and drank anything and everything in sight. The result is a horrifying number on the scale, and a serious increase in the roundness of my face. I need to fix that; I am fixing it. Now, I have to deal with the toughest part of losing weight: the wait.

I didn’t pack on the weight overnight. It took months of poor eating habits and being lax on my own rules. No, this is all my fault, and it’s a cumulative result. Now, as I reverse the trend, I have to realize that it will take time to get rid of this extra weight. I skipped exercise yesterday due to a medical condition that may sideline me for the next two weeks, but I am going to try to do something tonight after work to get the heart pumping a bit. Even if I can’t run, I can at least do some kettlebells or maybe some push ups.

I have to be patient. Perseverance is key. Motivation isn’t enough; I have to be able to wait out this process. I also have to trust the process. I’ve done this before, and I was very successful with it. As long as I make sure I eat the right foods in the right amounts and get enough sleep, I should be able to repeat my success.

I am reminded of the turtle and the hare. We all want to be the hare; lose that weight as quickly as possible! How often do you see advertisements that promise a weight loss of 20 lbs in a month? 10 lbs in a week; guaranteed! Well, I won’t say it’s impossible; I’ve done both! But I did both when I weighed over 300 lbs, and it’s pretty easy to drop that first 20 lbs just by eating right. Right now, I’d be happy with 10 lbs off my first month, but I’m not sure I’ll make it. I am also not putting too much emphasis on the speed of weight loss; I want it to be slow, steady, and permanent.

I can’t say, and I won’t say that this won’t happen again. I recognize that every now and then, I eat too much or drink too much and weight creeps back up. What I do know, however, is that I won’t just ignore my weight and health, and that I won’t allow it to get anywhere near where it was before I started. I also won’t let it get this high again; it’s way too much. The amount of work I have before me is pretty big, but it’s not insurmountable. I’m not tackling it all in one day or even in one month. I have an open timeframe to reach my goal, and I’m literally taking it day by day. I did everything perfect yesterday. My goal is to do the same today. If I’m successful, then I might see some result when I step on the scale in the morning. Heck, maybe I won’t, but I know that if I keep doing the right things, the weight will eventually come off.

Today, I will do everything right. Tomorrow is a new day, and I will worry about it when I get there. Today, I just need to take it easy, eat right, and try to get a little exercise in. And definitely getting to bed on time. That’s a big one.

Oh boy, did I go nuts

My wife Sherry, my daughter Gelli, and me in Toronto.

I was up in Toronto visiting my daughter for her birthday this past weekend, and I decided to go ahead and just eat and drink whatever came across the table. I ate, and ate, and ate. I also drank. A lot. The net result is that I had an amazing and great time with my wife and my daughter, but on the scale, I saw the scariest thing in years: a weight I haven’t been in over two years.

Ugh.

It’s all my fault, but I’m not going to wallow in misery. I’m not going to over-analyze what happened, how I got there, or what bad decisions I made because nearly every single meal was a bad decision (yet tasted incredible). Memories were made, laughs were had, and in the end, every morsel and every drop was worth the pain I am now going to endure.

This morning, I was back to IF, and my lunch was strictly Paleo. Tonight’s dinner will also be strictly Paleo. No going off-plan for me with the exception of perhaps a dinner on Christmas Day with friends, or New Year’s Eve. The rest of the time, I’m back to my Paleo diet, and I’m back to exercising five days a week.

I am taking this one day at a time. I’m not looking at how much progress I can make every day, nor have I set a target date by which I have to lose all the weight I’ve gained over the past year (and the past four days!). I’ve decided that I will make steady and slow progress without the stress. I have a goal/target, but that’s just in weight and size, not in time. That doesn’t mean I will allow myself to take forever to get to my goal. To the contrary, I want to make steady progress, but I will do so without stressing out if it’s just a pound a week or so. If I can make 3-5 lbs a week, well then great. If not? That’s okay too. I’m going to make sure I eat right, exercise, and get enough sleep.

I’m sticking with the IF/Paleo combo. On January 2nd, I’ll likely be back to another round of Whole30. But for now? It’s just being strict and doing what needs to be done. I wouldn’t trade the experiences of the past four days for anything. I’m not happy with how I look, feel, or weigh right now, but these will all pass as I get back to where I need and want to be. It’ll be okay. And I’m fine with that.

Strict Works

On Monday this week, I weighed in at the highest I’ve been since returning from Scotland earlier this year. Monday morning’s weigh in confirmed a few things to me. First, I’ve been eating too much in quantity and allowing too many non-Paleo foods to creep into my diet. Second, I was imbibing too much alcohol. I have severely restricted myself from both, and the results are telling: nearly six pounds gone in three days.

I know: a lot of that is water weight. I wouldn’t be surprised if 4 lbs of that is water weight. But the fact remains that any bloating or water retention I experienced as a result of my getting lax in my normal eating habits is now gone, and I’m back on track.

Every time I do the right things, I get the same results: weight loss. I make sure to eat the right foods in the right amount, avoid alcohol, get enough sleep, and even without exercise, the weight comes off. It’s so simple that I often can’t believe it’s really happening. It feels like a cheat code, except this one is for life and not a video game.

I know this appears to be in direct opposition to yesterday’s post about not being so strict over the holidays, but it isn’t. I also mentioned mitigating the damage done by the non-Paleo foods and alcohol by making smart decisions. Right now, while I’m not eating out with friends and family and not attending parties, I do my best to stay as strict as possible. The net result is that I will not gain nearly as much weight as I would if I decided to go completely off the rails until January 2nd. That’s just something I cannot and will not do.

It’s nice to have a mental reminder that starting January 2nd, when I get back to eating right, I will be able to drop the weight I’m invariably going to pick up over the next few weeks. It WILL go away.

Making it through the holidays

My plan is simple: survive the holidays with as little weight gain as possible. I’m going into the holiday season knowing I’ll be eating and drinking foods I typically avoid, and that’s okay. I suggest you make peace with this and do the same. Why? Because life is short, and friends and family are precious, and the time we spend with them should be joyous. I’m not advocating throwing all caution to the wind, but I am suggesting you enjoy the season with its unique foods and drinks.

Mindset has a lot to do with this. Sure, you can be “Good” through the holidays. I’ve done that before, and yes, it’s possible, but at what cost? Your family and friends will be somewhat distressed by this, and while that is troublesome in and of itself on some levels, ultimately, is it worth the strange looks and uncomfortable conversations to avoid a cookie and some gluhwein? Also, if you enjoy yourself, you’re making indelible and lasting memories full of joy, happiness, and love. That is worth it right there.

Sure, if you’re like me, you’ll feel a little grumpy about not losing any weight, or worse, gaining some weight. Make peace with it beforehand. Know that it’s coming. When you expect it, it’s not as bad when it comes to fruition. You know what it takes to get back on track, how to lose weight, and you know how to be disciplined. You have a plan that you can put into place once the holidays are over. Get over it, and enjoy yourself!

My plan is to do another Whole30 starting January 2nd. I know it’s coming; I need it. While my weight isn’t out of control, it’s higher than I would like it to be. I know I can lose it all within a month, but right now is not the time to do it. Instead, I’m going to enjoy the holidays with some simple coping mechanisms I’ve written about in the past. To summarize those, I will:

  • Limit the amount of alcohol I consume
  • Limit the amount of non-Paleo foods I consume
  • Try to make healthy choices where possible
  • Continue Intermittent Fasting (IF) through the holidays

This will mitigate the impact the holiday food and drinks will have on me, my health, and my weight. It’s worked in the past, and I am certain it’ll work for me again.

I actually look forward to the Whole30 in January. I look forward to getting back down to a more comfortable weight for me, even if it is mostly a psychological issue for me. It’s just a number: I’m not overweight or fat by any stretch of the imagination, but some of my favorite clothes don’t fit just right anymore. I know that losing 10 lbs will fix that, and will also make me feel better.

Enjoy the holidays. Enjoy being with family and friends. Live your life, and make the best decisions you can without guilt. Pledge to get back to it after the holidays. I am.

Jingle Bells 5k Run (Complete!)

On Saturday, Sherry and I took part in the Jingle Bells 5k to raise money for Arthritis research, and boy was it a crummy morning: 46 degrees and raining. I was already not looking forward to it because I hadn’t had the time to prepare as much as I wanted to. Between my foot injury that kept me from running for a few weeks to the chest/head cold I had last week, I felt unprepared for this run. Regardless, I knew I could do it fairly well, so I did it anyway.

The weather was miserable, to say the least. It wasn’t the coldest; the previous two years were far colder. But this time, to add to the misery, it rained. Not a downpour, mind you, but a steady rain throughout the entire run. I felt pretty good for the entire run, however, and while my time was only my second best out of the three times I’ve run this event, I had a surprise: I came in third for my age group. I didn’t realize I’d done so well and went straight to my car. I didn’t think I did well enough to check the results, so I missed out on getting an actual third place medal and standing up on stage to receive my medal. Oh well. Sherry contacted the race organizers to find out if I can get that medal somehow.

So, I’m pretty happy with the run. Sure, it was slower. Yes, it was miserable. But I did it, regardless of how much I complained to my wife about it, and I got it done.

Where Motivation Lives

People attribute my success in changing my life and becoming healthy to my ability to motivate myself. They posit that this has to be a military thing, something I learned in the Marines. While it’s true that I grew up in the Corps, in many ways, the fact of the matter is that for over 20 years, I didn’t use any of that motivation to be healthy. In fact, I did pretty much everything in my life on whims based on which direction the winds of my life was blowing.

I have written in the past about finding motivation, but I think people inferred that somehow, you will find the motivation in external sources. This is very wrong. Motivation comes from one place alone: inside. Sure, there are things that can bolster or support your motivation, but ultimately, it’s something you have to dig deep down inside for, find, and nurture. Like anything else, you have to use it to grow it.

Can a scary diagnosis or admonitions from your doctor or health care professional scare you into eating better? Sure. But ultimately, it’s your own motivation that drives you. Can something like being unable to tie your own shoes push you to make better decisions with your health? Yes, but again, it’s your own motivation that makes this happen.

We all have motivation. It’s that drive behind what we do. Some people don’t recognize their motivation, or worse, they dismiss their having any. These are the people who think they can’t live without certain foods (Spoiler: yes you can!). These very same people have no problem getting up on time, getting to work on time, paying their bills, getting their kids to school on time, making swim practice on time five days a week, getting the desserts together for that pot luck at work, and many other things. These all take motivation, yet people dismiss it because these are all things that “Need to be done.” Well guess what: eating right, being healthy, and losing weight all need to be done, too. Heck, I’ll be bold enough to say that focusing on your health, weight, and fitness should be everyone’s primary concern. Staying healthy, within our control, should be something we all strive to do. It’s what allows us to be mobile, to work, to play, and to live longer to love longer.

Motivation is within you. It’s within me. It’s within all of us. You have to harness that power and use it. Think of all the things you get done on a daily basis. Think of those things you hate doing, but you do them anyway. Make a list. Seriously; take out a pen/pencil and a piece of paper (or for you tech-savvy people, grab your phone and make a list in the Notes app) of all the things you do that you don’t like but you get done anyway because you have to. Look at that list. Do you see how long it is? That’s your motivation getting you through!!! You can use that very same superpower and eat right. You can avoid the high-sugar foods. You can avoid the grains and the carbs. You can make progress and get healthy again.

But, as always, it’s up to you. Without you making the effort, nobody can get it done for you. This rests solely on your shoulders. Good thing you have that motivation to rely on!

Like a Broken Record

I’m going to say this again: it’s never okay to accept poor health caused by being overweight. YOU are in control of what goes into your mouth. YOU are the person who has the final say in what you eat. YOU can be stronger than whatever appetite or craving you experience.

I’m really tired of hearing, “I just can’t stop eating bread,” or “I could never stop eating rice and beans.” Yes you could! You can do ANYTHING you set your mind to! I see people day after day eating food that is making them unhealthy and they continue to gain weight. These same people say to me, “You’re so lucky you have the strength to not eat donuts and bad foods,” and when I tell them that they have the very same power, they disagree. Yet somehow, they get to work on time day after day. They pay their bills. They take their kids to activities, day after day, and on-time. They do all these other things that require discipline, yet they can’t control what they eat? That’s a load of you-know-what.

It’s a cop out, is what it is. It’s easier to say you are powerless than to admit the truth: that you’re too lazy to even try. You’ve failed before, and instead of trying again, you surrendered and decided to just let your health be what it is, regardless of how bad it gets. 

I get it. I’ve been there. I surrendered for a long time until I got so fat I couldn’t even tie my own shoes without holding my breath. My health was failing, and my family and friends were afraid for me. I made the choice to change my life. I did a lot of reading, and I asked a lot of questions from people who knew nutrition and health. I made the decision to change my lifestyle, not for the short-term, but forever. I wanted to get healthy and to stay healthy. It’s a never-ending process. I can’t say I’ve reached my goal, because my goal is to stay as healthy as I can and at a healthy weight until I die.

Stop saying it’s too hard. Stop saying you can’t do this. Stop thinking you can’t stop eating foods that are hurting you. Like any relationship, your relationship with food is in your hands. Break up with sugar and start eating better today. I don’t care what method you use; pick a healthy one, adopt it, and live by it. No, you won’t be perfect, but if you strive to improve for the long-haul and adopt a healthy lifestyle, you will find yourself much happier, much healthier, and with some luck and discipline, much lighter. But stop saying you can’t do this. It’s like a broken record.

Never Stop Trying

There are times when, regardless of how hard we try, we just can’t seem to get a good, solid start to eating right. Sometimes, even those of us who have had great success with being very strict and motivated have a tough time getting back up on that horse. It’s not something to be ashamed of; we’re all human. Heck, over the past few weeks, I’ve not been nearly as diligent as I’d like to be in eating right. The result: my weight is up. But I won’t let it get me down, and I’m not going to stop trying.

I ate right yesterday, and not just for a meal or two; I ate right all day. I didn’t drink any alcohol, either, which has been a big part of my diet lately due to the holidays and gatherings. I also ran, which is something else I need to get back into the habit of doing regularly. I’ve been running 1-2 times a week instead of the 3-4 times that I prefer. I will continue to work on this as best I can through the holidays, and I’ll be doing everything I can to stay motivated.

It’s easy to give up. It’s easy to not even start, but once you’ve made progress and fall off the wagon, it’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security that you can return somewhat to your pre-diet eating habits. Then, you see the scale report back the toll all this bad food is having: increased weight. To be fair, I’m not up that much. But, it’s enough to trouble me, and enough to cause concern. Heck, I have lots of pants that are tighter than I like them to be, and they don’t feel as comfortable anymore. I got rid of all my larger pants, and I refuse to buy new larger pants, so getting back to eating right is my only option.

I know it’s not easy; if it was, we would all do it without effort, and I wouldn’t be writing about my journey in getting healthy and losing weight in an attempt to help others. I’m experiencing the challenges myself, and I’m right there with you. What defines successful people is their ability to get back up, dust themselves off, and get right back up on that horse after a fall. I may fall day after day, but I will never give up getting back up on that horse. I will continue to eat right and to get some exercise. You can do this, too.