The New Normal

Me resting between sets of squats. Buddy is on the floor and keeps me company while I work out.

For me, the new normal is eating food that complies with The Paleo Diet and weightlifting. Four years ago, my new normal was my first Whole30.

What’s amazing to me about this entire process is how much I’ve learned not only about diet and exercise, but about myself and my ability to do things I set my mind to. I’ve greatly exceeded my own expectations, and I’m still taken aback when people refer to what I’ve done in the past four years as extraordinary.

I’m not super man. I’m not super-human. I didn’t use any mind tricks or mind hacks I learned in the Marines. I wasn’t born with some innate ability to power through difficulties. This was all learned. Through it all, one thing I read has echoed through my head. “If you really want something, you have to ask yourself if that desire matches the desire you would have for air if you were held underwater for two minutes. If the answer is no, then you don’t want it badly enough.”

In July 2015, I had reached the point where I wanted change in my life as much as a person being held underwater for two minutes wants air. I wanted to breathe. I wanted to live. And I knew that if I didn’t change something (and soon!), I would die. This was my last, best chance at reversing a life-long trend of eating without any concern for my health and mortality. This was my Hail Mary pass.

It worked.

After completing my first Whole30, I found myself clean from a sugar addiction (don’t think it’s real? Try to go without eating anything with sugar in it for three days and get back with me) and 20 lbs lighter. My head was the clearest it’d been in many years, and for the first time, I found that I didn’t feel hungry, angry, or bored with my diet. I had found hope.

Within three months, my wife and I accepted our new normal. It included food prep, eating foods made from whole ingredients, and thinking about food as fuel. We talked about exercise and fitness, and while she started walking and doing some exercise programs, I held out. I wanted to wait until I lost 100 lbs to save my joints (doctor recommended, actually). But I kept to the diet and portion sizes and continued losing 10-12 lbs a month steadily.

Once I lost 130 lbs, I started walking, then jogging, and eventually running. I had implemented exercise as part of my new normal, and it felt great. I had a goal to work towards: getting back into the military. That meant losing more weight and getting in shape to pass a physical fitness test. Once again, I did it.

My home gym continues to grow much to Sherry’s chagrin.

Three years later, my new normal is weightlifting and The Paleo Diet. In October, I’ll be back to running again (I’m really hoping my Achilles heel injury is healed by then) when I do a 5k in Montreal and continue to prepare for a 5k we do in December every year (another new normal). These are all things that I never could have imagined would be normal for me at all.

Keep your mind open. Seek out and search for ways to live healthier and fitter. Don’t accept feeling tired and lethargic. Don’t accept being overweight. Don’t accept not being able to climb stairs without becoming winded or having to hold your breath while tying your shoes. Find your new normal. A new healthier normal. Your life will be richer (and likely longer) for doing so. I did it, and I’m not special. I’m a regular person just like you who found a reason to find a new normal.

Use the Energy You Need to Succeed

Right now, I’m angry. I looked at myself in the mirror this morning, and I saw something I didn’t like: my stomach isn’t as firm as it has been for years. It’s not that I’ve gained a lot of weight; I haven’t really gained anything in the past year. But, for the past year, I’ve been heavier than I like. Regardless of how much effort I’ve put into getting back down into the 160’s, it just hasn’t been working.

I’m making great progress with my weightlifting, but I’m losing progress with my running due to the Achille’s heel injury (and running being incompatible with the beginning weightlifting plan I’m doing right now). So, I’m not sweating off 350-400 calories per run.

Anger. It’s fueling my discipline. I feel like a Sith because I’m embracing my anger, but it’s an energy I’m harnessing for good.

Motivation comes from energy. Whether it’s positive, whether it’s not, it’s all something you can use to make progress. Think of it as fuel for success.

I’m making sure to eat proper portion sizes (the bane of my existence lately) and I’m going to continue keep working at weightlifting and focusing on my fitness. I will eventually get back to running when the heel heals, but until them, I need to make sure I keep eating right. The anger I feel at getting soft will help get me through.

The Journey to Better Health has Ups and Downs

I was thinking about this as I looked in the mirror this morning. I had a big meal last night and I’ve had somewhat bigger meals lately. I need to manage my portion sizes back down, but coupled with my inability to run (Achille’s heel injury) coupled with my recent weightlifting has left me looking a little less defined. It’s okay, I told myself, because another 5 weeks in the gym and I’ll see changes.

It’s a constant battle fighting against the doubt fairies that run amok in my mind. These are the same fairies that told me at the beginning of this journey four years ago that I’d never succeed. 130 lbs later and those same fairies told me I’d never be able to run fast enough to pass an APFT (Army Physical Fitness Test). The same fairies are telling me that this weightlifting thing is silly.

Like any journey, rarely is it all downhill or even a flat course. There are ups and downs, and it’s always easy to keep going when you’re coasting down-hill, but when you’re facing obstacles or a long climb, that’s when your determination and perseverance are tested. Much like when I was on my 6-mile ruck march earlier this month, seeing a big hill was a test of my will. I knew physically I could do it, but the question was could I do it quickly enough? I didn’t allow my brain to keep analyzing it and quickly diverted all processing power to another thought: was I going to take a long shower or a long bath when I got home from the SFAB assessment?

This morning, as I feel a bit pudgy and like I’m making progress in the wrong direction, I put my trust in the diet that’s brought me so much success and in the weight training plan I’ve been following. I know that results are never immediate; health and fitness are rarely a short-term gratification. You have to invest time and energy, and I’m at the very beginning of the process with weightlifting while well into it for overall health. I’m healthy, and I’m pretty happy with my weight, but I could stand to lose about 20 lbs. Yes, I said 20 lbs. Why? I felt most comfortable at that weight, and I’d like to get back to it. I will not starve myself or do anything stupid, though. I’m experienced enough to realize that sometimes goals aren’t realistic and our bodies change over time and decide what an ideal weight is based in food intake and physical output. I’m hoping that the weightlifting coupled with my healthy eating results in some changes in my appearance, namely getting rid of some of the extra skin in different areas around my body. I know I can’t make the skin go away, but perhaps muscle structure under it will improve its appearance.

I’m heading up-hill right now, but that’s okay. I know that eventually, I’ll reach a crest and then I can coast a bit. Or, as I found out during my last ruck, I can run down-hill to make up time. No need to rest when you can double-down on your energy investment!

Making Your Health Your Priority

How often do you hear people say, “I’d do that, but I just don’t have time?” Most often, it’s in reference to an exercise program or regimen. I get it; we’re all busy, and it’s a convenient excuse. Heck, when my kids were in activities and I was working full time as a single parent, there literally wasn’t a spare moment for me to spend away from home in a gym, and I certainly didn’t have the expendable income to build my own gym like I recently did. I get it.

But the problem with my thinking was that the only way for me to stay healthy and to not be obese was to work out in a gym. I didn’t realize that all I had to do was eat right, and that didn’t take much more time out of my day than making normal food. Sure, it removed the fast food option, but honestly, I could have purchased a few lbs of fajitas and put them in the refrigerator for a healthy and quick meal. The same could have gone for some rotisserie chicken or smoked meats. The problem was that I didn’t know any better.

Is eating healthy more time consuming than eating junk? Absolutely. The junk is available easily, it’s fast, and it’s even inexpensive. The problem is it’s horrible for us, leads to obesity, and will eventually kill us. The solution is to spend more effort and time to make good, healthy food. The problem is, as the meme says, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” Another meme has an answer: “That’s where you’re wrong, kiddo!”

Making food should NEVER be something that you don’t have time for. Unless you live in a prison or are going to boot camp, you own your schedule. Sure, there are priorities, and certain things out of your control (like when the kids to go to school, when you have to be at work, when the kids have their activities after school), but I’m fairly certain that you own the rest of your day’s time. It’s up to you to set your priorities and to fill the time with tasks. The problem is that you haven’t made your health a priority. If you have, you would be making your own food or finding ways to supplement your diet with healthy options. Instead, you just don’t have the time and can’t make the time for it.

That needs to end right now. Make your health your top priority. You say your kids are your top priority? Great. What happens if your health takes a turn for the worse because of your horrible diet? Who will care for them then? So much of your life and all of the people who depend on you rely on your health remaining good. If you’re constantly eating junk and not exercising, you are not doing what’s in their best interest. To the contrary, you’re taking dangerous shortcuts that will lead to nowhere good.

It will take time. It will force you to make decisions that aren’t easy. It will make you expend extra energy to make food and to prep it for those times you can’t take the time to make it from scratch. But you will become healthier, you will lose weight, and you will ensure that you’ll be there in the future for your family, your kids, and your friends. If that isn’t reward enough, then do it for yourself. You are the master of your universe. Act like it.

Be Thankful and Get Excited About Your Health

I have found that I succeed much more easily when I’m hyped and excited about whatever it is I’m trying to achieve. Lose weight by eating healthy? YES! LET’S DO THIS! Get fit by running? HECK YES!!! That’s why I recommend you get yourself psyched up and excited about your health. Whether you’re just starting out with eating healthy and getting some exercise or you’ve been at this for a while; be excited about it!

Just me at work.

Being thankful is something that also helps motivate me when I find it difficult to get excited. I think of all the people I know who cannot do what I’m doing. Whether it’s age, disease, physical condition, or people I served with in the military who sacrificed limbs, mental health, or even their lives; they motivate me to keep going and to be excited by the fact that I am doing the things I can. I have the ability. I have been known to recite the names of fallen service members while I run to push me through challenging times. If I can’t do it for myself, I do it for them. I’ve also thought of my wife and her love for me and how I don’t want to let her down by failing to accomplish anything I set out to do. She looks to me for strength, and I can’t give up. She never gave up on me; I can’t give up on being her rock.

What about those people who cannot do the physical things? Be excited that you have it within your power to make decisions about the food you eat. You have the ability to chose what you eat, when you eat, and how much you eat. There are literally billions on this planet who cannot do that. They must eat whatever is available, in whatever amount, and whenever they can find it or get it. Be thankful you’re not in that position and use your fortune to do something great for yourself. Reward yourself with making good decisions about your nutrition by eating healthy foods.

It’s easy to find excuses to not start a workout or to eat something that’s not within your diet. Justifications are easy; sticking to a plan is hard. But that’s okay. It’s the hard things that change us, make us better, and propel us forward. It’s the hard things that bring us the results we crave. Be excited and thankful that you have it in your power to take on those hard things to make the changes you’re looking for. Not everyone can do this; you can.

How the Food Industry is Killing Us

A photo from the early 1970’s, location unknown.

Take a look at that picture carefully. Look at it. What do you see? Or more importantly, what do you NOT see? A lot of obese people. That’s a photograph taken at a beach in the 1970’s, before the low-fat diet was introduced to the world. At the time, people were still eating a normal diet consisting of fats, meats, and vegetables. Carbs came in more natural forms with the worst being bread or pasta. But in contrast to today’s high-carb diets, the eating of grains when the majority of your diet is meat, fats, and vegetables is mitigated by the benefits of the former.

Another photo, this one from 1976 in England.

We’ve been taught for decades that the key to health is a low-fat diet, yet our population continues to careen towards morbid obesity. Diet plan after diet plan has been developed around a low-fat diet, and the success rate is under 30%. The health industry continues to push low-fat diets for heart health (allegedly), yet heart disease continues to be a leading killer. Type 2 Diabetes, once thought to be a disease of middle-aged and old people is now being diagnosed in children as young as 8 years old (Type 2 Diabetes is almost always caused by obesity). In this glorious age of modern technology, how did we get here?

Bad science. Greed. A lack of understanding the most basic biological processes of the human body, or rather, a disregard for understanding them. Or all of the above in varying degrees. Regardless, it doesn’t take a genius to conclude that whatever we are doing as a civilization isn’t working, and is in fact killing us slowly. More damning is that obesity is a Western Civilization issue. If you look at many developing countries, you’ll be hard pressed to find obese individuals. Sure, you can find them, but they are (as they were in our past) rare.

I was trapped in the obesity cycle. I had to break free, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. In fact, compared to all previous attempts at losing weight and getting healthy, doing my first Whole30 and then adopting the Paleo Diet have been the easiest health and weight loss experiences I’ve ever had (and I’d tried dozens of times in the past to lose weight, all with no lasting success). I’ve lost 150 lbs and kept off the weight for four years and I’m still enjoying the food and feeling satisfied between meals.

We don’t have to starve ourselves or become gym rats to be healthy. We just need to eat healthy food. Drop the fast-food and the low-fat trash and start eating meat and vegetables and fruit. Your body will reward you by being healthier and thinner.

Completed First Weightlifting Workout

…and I now have spaghetti legs. The rest of me is only slightly sore, but those squats? Holy cow! That’s a serious exercise. I followed the plan perfectly and while I wasn’t nearly as sweaty as I am after a run, I’m definitely spent. I can feel the after effects of the session, and I can see why a day’s rest is so important.

I don’t feel confident in my form yet, but I enjoyed working out. I honestly did. I enjoyed it more than I like running; that’s for sure. I think it has to do with the fact that I get so bored during a run, whereas in the gym, I get to do many different things. I get to listen to music, or even watch videos on the TV! I can’t wait to be much stronger, though, and to start making some serious progress in my pull-ups. I want to be able to get back to running at some point, too. I just need to make more progress with the weights for a while.

It’s a beginning. I did it. I hit the gym, I hit the weights, and I’m on my way. The next chapter in my health and fitness journey began today.