Listening to your Body

If we take the time to listen to what our body is telling us, we can learn a lot, and in the process, keep ourselves from further pain, injury, or more. This week, I started running after a two-month absence due to a minor knee injury. I wanted to give my knee time not only to heal, but to get past the possibility of an easy re-injury. I think I got there, and my run on Monday was really good. However, while I didn’t push the pace, I pushed the distance, and as a result, I have excessive muscle burn. Some people thrive on that feeling; I’m not one of them. To me, there’s nothing worse than sore muscles (beyond a point). I was planning on running on Wednesday, but the pain was still too much, and I decided to run on Thursday (not remembering that I had a show scheduled with my wife that precluded running). Then there’s today, and I have plans with friends. I may still have time to knock out a run before they come over, but it will really depend on what time I get home. But I digress.

What did I have to gain by pushing through the excessive pain? In past experience, when I’ve done that, one of two things happens: either I’m able to get past it and the pain goes away, or I develop an injury because I run in a way my body isn’t used to, and I end up pulling a muscle, ligament, or tendon. I wasn’t willing to risk it, so I decided to sit it out. While I didn’t get the benefit of exercise on Wednesday, as I sit here and type this, I am not injured.

The same holds true for hunger. Since I cut out added sugars and grains, I haven’t had to cope with cravings or false appetite. What that means for me, however, is that when I get hungry, I have to listen to my body and feed it. It’s also feedback on the size of my meals. Last week, when I had an exceptionally large lunch, I wasn’t hungry again until the next day at lunchtime. I skipped dinner that night because as I was getting ready to prepare a meal, I realized that I was still not only not hungry, but stuffed. I listened to what my body was telling me, and the next morning I went into my regular Intermitted Fasting (IF) routine without issues. I was hungry about an hour sooner than usual, but it was fine. I ate a little early that day, but ended up having no ill effect.

Every time I eat, I make note of not only what I ate, but the volume so that I can make adjustments to later meals. Feedback is worthless if you ignore it. Our body is telling us things all the time, not only through muscle pain or hunger, but also through things like our weight, our size, how our skin looks, the bags under our eyes, etc. There’s a lot to take in and consider if you just open your eyes and allow yourself to see it. Don’t ignore those feelings. Don’t ignore the data. Use it all to analyze where you are at, how you’re doing, and use it moving forward to monitor your progress and guide you to your goals and beyond. Our body wants to help us: we need to listen.

How much exercise is too much?

I am asked this every now and then by people my age (50+) because as we get older, it gets harder to maintain a high level of strenuous physical activity. I have found this to be true, but I also didn’t exercise for a 20 year stretch. However, I know some people who maintained a daily exercise regimen well into their 80’s (my grandmother swam daily in the Atlantic Ocean year-round until she was 84).

My own experience has been that an every-other-day plan works best for keeping me relatively healthy and I’ve been able to keep away from injury and excessive soreness. The only time I’ve been injured in the past three years has been when I pushed it too hard or too fast. This is because as Clint Eastwood says in one of his movies, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” I know them; I need to abide by them.

How much exercise is too much depends on a lot of factors. Age, weight, overall health, fitness level, and goals. When you take all those things into consideration, you build a criteria for your limitations. Staying within them will generally be helpful while exceeding them won’t necessarily mean a bigger payoff. In my case, it led to a knee injury.

When I began my exercise journey, I started with push-ups. Nothing more. I did somewhere around 7 or 8 on my first day. I didn’t push myself until I couldn’t do anymore. I just stopped when my arms started feeling stress. Then, I took a day off and did the same thing the next day. That day, I did 10. Fast forward three months and I was up to 120 push-ups in two minutes. The crazy part is that I got to that level without any arm pain or soreness. It was a very natural progression. Could I have made it to 120 in two minutes in less than three months? Possibly. But the probability of injury was also greater, especially considering my age.

Don’t overdo exercise. Take it easy. There’s no reason to push yourself or to lift until you can’t lift anymore. Unless you are wanting to be a bodybuilder or Olympic weightlifter, there’s no reason to push to failure. Get that 30 minutes in every other day. If you can do it every day, more power to you. Just know your limitations and abide by them.

Physical Activity Makes a Difference

One thing I am adamant about is making sure people understand that you don’t need to spend hours a week in a gym to lose weight. That’s one of the top fallacies when it comes to weight loss that most people fall prey to. Gym memberships are, in large part, due to this misinformation. What makes it especially sad to me is when I see people working out, doing good, solid, hard work and then not seeing the results they crave. Most people give up and stop trying, while the persistent few keep going and going. Some in the last group will even see some success because they continue to raise their level of physical activity until they see some results only to eventually realize that the extreme amount of physical activity is not sustainable. Then, they succumb to their poor diet and gain the weight back (and in most cases, even more than before). That’s why I advocate changing your diet; it works.

I lost 130 lbs in a year without a single step of exercise. However, for me to get the last 20 lbs, I needed to do some exercise. I ran for 30 minutes three times a week and did a single set of push-ups prior to each run. That’s it. That got me 20 lbs more lost.

What happened to my weight when I was unable to exercise due to a knee injury? It went up 20 lbs. Literally the extra weight I lost with exercise came back. It seems that with a lack of physical activity coupled with the amount of food I feel comfortable eating, my weight will hover in the low 180’s. But that’s not where I want to be. I like the 160’s better (and so does the military, whose standards I need to adhere to).

Enter physical activity. Coupled with a GOOD diet (in my case, that means low-carb Paleo), losing weight happens readily. In my case, adding physical activity back to my daily routine has already given me the results I’m looking for and even a bonus: better sleep. I typically sleep well, but the nights after a run, I sleep solid through the night. I don’t wake up at 3 am looking at the clock and wondering why my brain won’t stop. I sleep WELL.

As for my weight loss, I am scheduled for another run today after work. My legs are VERY sore, as the three-mile run I did on Monday was likely too far too soon, but the pain is just muscle soreness, not actual injury pain, so I’ll try to run again this afternoon. If I make it past 2 miles, I’ll be happy. In the past, running with sore legs typically starts off rough but after 1/4-1/2 mile, the pain goes away until after the run. I’m hoping for that today.

But please understand: you don’t need to exercise to lose weight, but exercising with a good diet will lead to better/faster weight loss, and in my case, it led to weight loss+.

Weight Loss Strategy: Who Can You Trust?

I dislike the title of this article, but it’s meant to reach the most number of people trying to get healthy by way of losing weight. When I began this journey, I did so with the mindset of losing weight. Only along the way did I change my perception of what it is to be healthy and focused on being healthy vs being lighter. Don’t think for a second, however, that being thin means being healthy. I have relatives in my family who were all thin and died before the age of 65 from maladies associated with being overweight: high cholesterol, hypertension, and cancer. None of these men were anywhere near what could be considered overweight. Heck, they’d be described as, “Thin as a rail.” That’s why focusing on being healthy is so much more important than being lighter or thinner.

With that said, what makes advice worth listening to? Some people go to the gym to seek assistance with losing weight because most of the people who are instructors at gyms tend to be in good physical shape. Most of these people were never overweight, and if they were, only slightly so (notice I said most, not all. I know a few instructors who were obese, but they are the exception). Just because someone is thin does not mean they have healthy habits nor have they had to go through the labor of losing the weight. The same can be said for millionaires. Just because someone has a lot of money doesn’t make them an expert at making more of it. Some people inherit it while others started with nothing and made fortunes. Which of these two individuals has better advice to give?

I used to get nutrition advice from a good friend. Everything he said to me made sense, but I have to admit I never really let any of it sink in. Why? Because he was always thin. He was never obese, never struggled with overeating, and never had to deal with taking on a lifestyle that is drastically different from the one he was used to. Or so I thought. While it is true that he was never obese, he did have to change some habits due to health concerns, and it was those very changes to be healthy that led him to the knowledge he was sharing with me.

When my cousin talked to me about the very same concerns my friend talked to me about, I heard much the same information from her, but this time I listened. What was difference? My cousin always struggled with weight, and when I saw that she had conquered the problem, I thought that I might have a shred of a chance of doing the same. I listened intently and worked hard to learn as much as I could about Whole30 and Paleo. Over three years later, I’m in maintenance mode and much healthier in every regard.

I’m not writing to this to say that I am smarter, wiser, or more knowledgeable than anyone else on the subject of losing weight or getting healthier. I’ll be the first person to tell you that you shouldn’t listen to just me. But I was obese. I did lose the weight, and I did so without starving, using patches, pills, products, and any weird programs. I did so while eating natural, healthy foods, and my health has greatly improved and allowed me to live a life that was only a dream to me just four years ago.

Stop believing the mainstream nutrition industry. They are there to make money. They want to sell you as much as they can, even if that means selling you products that are only marginally effective (if at all). There is a lot of good, peer-reviewed science out there about the benefits of low-carb diets, and more than a small mountain of anecdotal evidence that it works. I am living proof it works, and I’m a regular person just like you. The only difference is that I have this blog, and I started over three years ago. You can do this, too! (I’m not telling you to start a blog, but journaling was actually something that has helped me through the journey from obese to healthy).

Finally Back to Running

It finally happened: I was able to get out there and run three miles yesterday after work. Yes, I was very slow, and yes, it was painful near the end. While running, I even contemplated shortening my run to 2 or 2.5 miles, but I haven’t run less than 3 miles in over two years, so I kept going and when I hit 3.01 miles, I stopped.

I walked another 3/4 miles as a cool-down, and yes, when I sat down, my muscles ached. But what didn’t hurt was that tendon on my right knee. Yes, it does hurt a little this morning, but that was to be expected. It’s been two months since my last run, and I made sure to not push it too hard, but I did expect a little bit of soreness.

I will take today off as a rest day and I will run again tomorrow. If the past is any indication, tomorrow’s run will be even slower than yesterday’s, and I’m okay with that. My goal right now is to get back to 3x a week running and to hit 3+ miles every run. I don’t care how slow I am or how long it takes; I just want to get back to a rhythm of running 3x a week. When I ran 3x a week two years ago, I got down to 160 lbs. It felt great, I looked great, and running was easy! I’m 20 lbs heavier now, and my legs feel it when I run. I want to be back in the 160’s, and I believe that through my diet and running, I’ll get back there.

Oh, and there’s this matter of the new Army Combat Fitness Test that’s replacing the current Army Physical Fitness Test. If that plan goes through, then I will have a lot of work to do to be able to pass it. My goal is to pass, not ace. I’m too old to ace it now. But as of this moment, I couldn’t pass it. That will change.

So, I’m happy to be back to running. I can’t (and won’t) say it was a pleasurable experience to run yesterday, but it wasn’t bad either, and I felt accomplished afterward.

The Holding Pattern

UH-1E that Sherry and I flew in this past weekend.

I have been absent for a while here because I’ve been in a holding pattern of sorts. My weight has been hovering back and forth within a 3 lbs window, and no matter how hard I try to be good, life has been throwing me little diversions that keeps me from getting lower than 183 lbs for good. It’s aggravating, but here’s the kicker: I’ve allowed it to happen.

My weight is very much under control. I only wish I could get it under 180 lbs and keep it under control there, but the problem for me has been a lack of physical activity. I’ve been dealing with a hurt knee (and the other knee was beginning to give me trouble, as well!) and I haven’t been able to do the exercise I need to get below 180 lbs. I know that I say all the time, “You lose weight in the kitchen; you get fit in the gym.” This is true for 90% of weight loss (which I also have said many times). 90% of my weight loss leads me to 180 lbs. For me to get lower, I need to burn more calories or eat a lot less. The problem is that I have difficulty eating less. I like eating. I eat healthy food made from whole ingredients, but it’s something I enjoy immensely, and while I have greatly limited my portion sizes and obviously the content of my meals, I still like to eat more than a cup of this and a cup of that. It’s partly why I do IF: it allows me slightly larger meals through the day.

When I run, my weight stays on the low side of the 170’s. It’s easy to maintain the weight there, and I can eat and even have the occasional drink or two without great effect. When I’m not running? Ugh.

So, the good news for me is that I am getting back to my running today. It’s been a solid two weeks since I have experienced any pain in my right knee, and I think I can get back to it. The trick will be to go slow and take it easy. I have a tendency to let the old Marine in me out when I run and go all-out. I need to really rein it in and take it easy.

So, here’s to breaking the holding pattern. Here’s to making some solid progress again. But here’s also to having been able to weather the holding pattern and to see it for the success that it is/was: I didn’t gain weight, I didn’t abandon hope, and I never gave up.

Losing those inches

This morning, I noticed that my belt needed to be closed one hole farther in than it has been for a long time. This is a huge victory, and one I’ve been waiting on for a while. You see, I’ve found that in my experience, I either lose weight or size; never both at the same time. While I’ve dropped a good 7 lbs or so in the last few weeks, I hadn’t noticed my belts needing to be tightened. Now that the weight loss has stalled, sure enough, another belt hole is being used.

It’s funny how this yo-yo between size and weight happens for me, and it’s also funny how predictable and consistent it is. I’m doing all the things I know to do to lose weight/size, and sure enough, it’s just coming right off/down. I think the biggest factor right now is the amount of sleep I’m getting: I’m averaging a solid 8 hours a night right now. That’s about .5 to 1 hour more than I used to get, and not only do I feel more rested and motivated during the day, but it’s helping me lose the weight I’m wanting to lose. I’m still unable to run (but I think I’ll be back to it soon; I do feel the knees are healing nicely!), so I have to be extra good with the food and rest. It’s the only way I can make any progress.

Like I always say: perseverance. It works.