The Dream is Free: Hustle Sold Separately

I saw a cool mug design at this site today (not an affiliate link; I make no money from that site) that really hit home: “The Dream is Free: Hustle Sold Separately.” If what I’ve accomplished in my healthy living journey hits home the most, it’s that it requires work. You’ve got to hustle.

In the past, I made all kinds of goals, had all kinds of plans, and yes, even dreamed about losing weight and getting healthy. That part was easy. The problems started for me when it came to the hustle. It required discipline, motivation, perseverance, and dedication. It required me to stick to the plan TO THE LETTER and to not allow myself to sabotage any progress I made. It required me, for fitness’ sake, to get into a gym and out onto the pavement and move. In short, it required me to hustle, and for me, that was the part I just couldn’t get through.

What changed? For me, there was a “Straw that broke the camel’s back” moment when I tried to tie my shoelaces one morning and found that I could not do so without holding my breath. My gut’s girth was so large that I was unable to bend over and tie my own shoes. That did it for me. Of course, there have been the health scares, the tingling in my toes, the liver enzymes off the charts, my cousin (a PA) telling me that the chances of an early death were elevated due to my obesity, and the diabetes that all contributed to that decision, but looking back, I find it sad that it took physical discomfort to get me to the point where I would actively hustle to get into better health. As if declining health, Diabetes, and the prospect of a shortened life expectancy weren’t enough on their own.

Now, I hustle daily. I hustle by staying motivated. I hustle by being dedicated to eating right and exercising regularly. I hustle by persevering through any adversity put in front of me. I refresh my discipline by looking back at photos of myself and remembering not only what I looked like, but more importantly, how I FELT being obese and unfit. I never want to feel like that again, if I can help it. I will hustle and do what it takes to stay fit and at a healthy weight.

Stop dreaming and start doing. It’s well within your power to find the strength inside you to make your dreams a reality. If you were able to get through high school, get a college degree or an advanced degree, get through boot camp or basic training, attain a certification, or raise amazing children, then you have the power within you to do this. Stop making excuses, stop planning, and stop putting it off. Start now. You won’t regret it; that, I can promise you.

Whole30 Completed

Just before yesterday’s run.

My sixth Whole30 concluded officially last night, although I’m still eating Whole30 foods for the foreseeable future. What’s the end tally?

  • 10 lbs lost
  • 2” lost in waist
  • Broke bad habits that crept back in
  • Feel amazing mentally
  • Shirts fit better/the way they used to

Notice that only one of those is weight-related. I also did something on this Whole30 I’ve not been very good at in the past; I didn’t weigh myself daily. This time, I weighed three times during the entire Whole30. That’s three times more than you’re supposed to, but for me, it’s a huge accomplishment.

Whole30’s aren’t specifically designed for weight loss, but for me, it always tends to give me 10 lbs of loss the first month (not counting the first one we did where I lost 20 lbs, but I weighed nearly 320 then, so…). The more important aspect of the Whole30 was to get me to stop eating large portions and foods with lots of carbs. Carbs, in and of themselves, is not bad, but when you eat a lot of them, even if they’re natural, it adds up as calories. At the end of the day, calories in has to be equal to or less than the amount of calories expended.

As a 53 year-old man, I do not exercise daily. It’s not good for the joints, and our older bodies rely more on recovery time to build. I’m not exercising to burn calories; I exercise to get faster and stronger. So, sure, my focus may be different. But it’s working for me. I’m running faster, and I’m lifting more. And now, I also weigh less in the process.

I advocate Whole30 for anyone who wants to get healthy. Don’t do it to lose weight; do it to break the sugar addiction. All our bodies are different and will respond differently to a Whole30. I know people who did one and didn’t lose weight and gave up completely on eating better. These people miss the point, and probably missed other data points like wearing smaller pants, fitting into clothing better, feeling better, increased mental sharpness, etc. Most importantly, even if many of these things weren’t realized, the most important is that the body’s reliance on sugar gets broken. But, and this is a big butt (hehe), that’s only if the person ACTUALLY did a Whole30 without cheating and by sticking to the plan 100%. I’ve found many who told me it didn’t work actually allowed cheat meals or days in. That’s not a Whole30.

So, another Whole30 down. I feel great, my body feels better, and I’m back on the right track. I have some very stressful weekends coming up, and a very tough physical fitness test to take tomorrow, but I feel more ready for it all now thanks to this last Whole30. I’m going to do my best to stay on it for the foreseeable future, although the Army’s high-carb diet is going to make that challenging this weekend.

Setting Goals: How Much Do You Want It?

I remember hearing somewhere that to truly succeed at something monumental or difficult, you have to want it as badly as a person who is underwater for a long time and wants air. If you’ve never been under water too long, it’s a horrible feeling of anxiety coupled with an unbelievable desire to get to the surface. But while it’s frightening to be underwater and needing air, that strong desire is something you need to feel when working toward a goal. That desire, that almost instinctive yearning; you need to channel that into any goal you want to achieve.

I feel that strong desire when I’m lifting weights or when I’m running. I feel that as I’m about to embark on what is most like going to be the most difficult training experience I’ve ever had in the military: WOCS. As a 53 year-old, it’s going to be challenging physically trying to keep up with the much younger candidates. But, my desire to get through it is very strong, so as long as my body can handle it, I will push.

When I started my first Whole30, my mindset was that it was my last chance at changing my life and losing weight, and that failure wasn’t an option. No, I didn’t use that just as a catchphrase; I actually believed it wholeheartedly. That’s important to note. Catchphrases can help motivate people, but saying it or repeating it doesn’t confer any magic abilities or power to you. Words are just words unless you grasp the meaning and take it to heart.

No surrender. No sabotage. No failure.

Those three danced through my consciousness throughout my entire first year into my new lifestyle. They are what kept me from drinking alcohol, eating large portions, or eating foods that weren’t Paleo (or Whole30 when I was on a Whole30). They are how I’ve been living my life for the past 29 days (today is day 30 of my latest Whole30).

What happens when you lose sight of the goal, or lose focus? This is an easy one to answer. Re-focus. When I’m running and realize that my breathing is too easy or that my pace has gotten too slow, I pick it up and push harder. The same holds true when I find myself doing something I shouldn’t in regards to my diet. There’s no need to beat yourself up. It’s not productive, and can actually lead to you not getting back on the horse, so to speak. Brush yourself off, refocus, and go.

How badly do you want to succeed? How sick are you of your current situation, either with your weight or your fitness? Get mad! How excited are you at the prospect of wearing sexy clothing? Get excited! Let those emotions flow! Use them to empower you to set realistic goals, and then do not accept failure from yourself. Promise yourself that you’re going to do this. You will not sabotage yourself. You will reach your goal, and you will take on this new lifestyle for your health and for the benefit of those who need you in their lives. You can do this.

Life is Hard: Choose Wisely

Rest between sets.

Yesterday, while weightlifting, I hit a new milestone: I lifted more than my current body weight in a deadlift. I’ve tried to get to that weight for over a year, but three non-exercise related injuries sidelined me and delayed me. Now, I am finally there.

Why do I mention this? Because I’m bragging? No. I am proud of my accomplishment, but I am not putting it out there to make anyone feel bad. To the contrary, I’m putting it out there because it coincides with something I saw my mom post on Facebook this morning:

“Being obese is hard. Being fit is hard. Pick which hard you want, because life is hard no matter how you do it.”

I hadn’t thought of it this way, but it is so true. When I was obese, EVERYTHING was difficult. Getting up out of bed, tying my own shoes, or (heaven forbid) going up the stairs. They were all hard. I decided that I would rather deal with a more disciplined lifestyle and exercise than with the discomfort and pain of being obese. The disciplined lifestyle and exercise are not easier; in many ways, they are harder. But the benefits outweigh the cost, and when I get done with an exercise block, I may be tired, but I always feel satisfied with the work I did.

After yesterday’s great weightlifting session, my run was very “Meh.” My legs were tired from the deadlift, and it was hot out, which led me to a slower runtime than the past three times I’ve been out. That’s okay. There will always be days like that were things just feel harder than other days. Again, I’d rather choose the hard life of exercise and eating right than the hard life of being obese, not being able to be comfortable, and all the illnesses I kept getting due to my degraded physical condition.

You have choices to make. Life is hard, no matter what you choose. Make the hard you choose benefit you.

How To Get Started With Exercise

I received this message this morning from a former fellow National Guardsman regarding exercise and getting back into a successful regimen:

Hey so I know you’ve posted about it before, but I was curious about your exercise routine? I’ve been out of the Guard for a year and a half now and it shows haha. I’m mainly just looking for some pointers on getting started again with exercising.

I started with push-ups and walking. Don’t do the push-ups until you can’t. Do them until you start to feel like it’s getting hard and stop, even if it’s less than 10. Then, every other day, just do them until it gets hard. In 3 months, I went from doing 8 to doing 100. Same with walking/jogging/running. Go for 30 minutes. Start with fast walking (like ruck march pace) for 30 minutes. Then, take a day off. Then, walk again. Eventually, your body will feel like walking is too slow, and you will start jogging, and then, running. Doing this does two things. First, it lets you get back into shape without pain, and second, the rest days ensure you actually make improvements faster than exercising daily which wears your body down under fatigue.

After 3 months, I added Stronglifts 5×5 which is super-easy weightlifting that builds functional strength. If you have access to free weights, it’s an excellent way to get strong without the muscle fatigue and pain.

Awesome! I definitely have been going until exhaustion recently haha, but taking time and doing it at my own pace sounds way smarter lol. I don’t have access to weights yet but hopefully I will soon.

I’ll be honest; the weightlifting isn’t as important, but it does help you get stronger which makes your joints safer as you get older (I know you’re not old like me, but you’ll be in better shape when you get to be my age if you start doing some functional strength training now).


My famous pink Converse shoes. These are great for weightlifting.

Getting back into good physical fitness doesn’t have to be horrible. In the past, we were taught to exercise “Until it hurts,” but it turns out that that’s not the best way to exercise. Special Forces Operators and elite Soldiers and Marines have found that the 80% workout is far more successful in improving strength while maintaining readiness.

As I understand it, some of these elite forces found themselves unable to perform to 100% of their capabilities when called out on a mission after a workout session, and they realized something had to change. They needed to maintain their top conditioning while also being able to respond immediately when called upon, even after a workout. The 80% workout turned out to be a huge success, and the Soldiers and Marines found that not only did these workouts allow them to remain ready for the call, but they made improvements faster than when they used to train to failure.

The reasons for this appear to be the way in which the muscles respond to load and recovery time. When you “Work it ’til it hurts,” you are creating a large amount of micro-tears in the muscle. These not only take time to heal, but are painful. When you work to 80% of your load, you don’t create as many tears (which are necessary for muscle to grow). The rest time between workouts allows the body to bulk the muscles to get ready for the next workout.

I’ve been doing StrongLifts 5×5 for over a year now, and while I’ve had to stop a few times due to non-exercise related injuries, I find myself in less pain daily and better able to lift things in my day-to-day life. Just yesterday, lifting a 20 lbs bag of smoke pellets for my smoker seemed so easy I questioned whether the bag I picked up was full. More importantly, being stronger helps your back and joints stay straight, issues that are compounded as you get older.

One last thing to consider about fitness: it’s not a race. There’s no need to try to make progress too quickly. Do your exercise for a day, and then take a rest. Repeat. Keep this up. Before you know it, your run times will improve, your number of push-ups will increase, and if you added weight training, you will see those plates start to add up on the bar.

I started exercising at age 49. I’m 53 now, and I’m in much better shape and in much less pain than I was five years ago. The greatest improvement in my quality of life has come from adding exercise to my weekly regimen. I don’t spend hours in the gym daily sweating. I spend an easy hour and a half every other day in the gym followed by a run. I make it a priority in my schedule because the benefits of that exercise far outweigh any benefit I would receive from doing anything else during that time.

Avoid Diet Burnout

These smoked ribs are delicious and even Whole30 compliant!

One of the main resons people stop eating healthy foods is because they get bored of the food they are eating. When I see people “Eating healthy,” I often see people eating lots of baked chicken breast and salads.

Ew.

Before Sherry and I did our first Whole30, we agreed that having a variety of foods on the menu was imperative. I specifically called out baked chicken breast and salads which had a hilarious consequence: Sherry avoided chicken breast and salad recipes for a year! When I once suggested a baked chicken recipe, she said, “I thought you said you didn’t like baked chicken breast.” I laughed and told her that I liked baked chicken which is exactly why I wanted to avoid over-eating it on our healthy food journey. We both had a good laugh about that one.

There are many reasons why we succeeded in changing our lifestyle and eating habits, but one of the keys was, in our opinion, the variety of foods. We avoided diet burnout by having a wide array of foods to choose from. We have learned over the years how to make healthy, Whole30 and Paleo foods that are not only good for us, but delicious and filling. It’s the last two that matter the most: delicious and filling.

Delicious foods make you happy. They feed not only your body, but your emotional well-being. When you enjoy the food you eat, you do run the risk of over-eating, but when you’re eating healthier foods, your body will respond and tell you when you’re full. I think the benefits of delicious foods outweighs the downsides.

Filling foods are important because it’s easy to over-eat. That’s one of the biggest problems with high-carb foods; they are very easy to over-eat. Take rice. In and of itself, it’s actually not really that bad for you, but it’s very easy to get way too many calories from it. That’s why we avoid it (as it’s also a grain which is not Paleo).

I can honestly say that in the five years we’ve been Paleo and doing Whole30’s, I’ve never gotten bored with the food, and I’ve never looked at a meal thinking, “Ugh. Not this again.” When you enjoy your meals, you are more likely to stick with a healthy diet.

Who Can Make You Get Healthy?

Can your spouse make you get healthy?

Can your children or grandchildren make you get healthy?

Can your friends, gym coach, co-workers, or anyone else make you get healthy?

Maybe they can motivate you, support you, or assist with meal prep, but ultimately, none of them can make you get healthy. Only YOU can do that.

You are the beginning, the middle, and the end of your healthy journey. Only you make the final decisions for the food that goes into your body and the amount of physical activity you can get. (Protip: you don’t need exercise to lose weight. You only need that to get fit). You can get all the positive reinforcement in the world and still get nowhere. You can have a great support team and still get nowhere.

Why?

Because YOU are the most important link in the chain of attaining your goals and success.

This all sounds kind of obvious, right? If it does, it’s because it is. The work towards being healthy begins and ends with you. You have to do the work. You have to make the decisions on your food. You have to put on those gym shoes and get out there and actually run.

It’s not easy.

Well, the process itself is easy. Calories – effort/used calories = calorie deficit aka weight loss. Also, effort + time = increased fitness. However, the hard part is getting past the hump of, “I don’t feel like it.” That’s the most difficult part of the entire process. Coming in a close second is getting past, “I’m still sore from yesterday’s workout. I’ll just skip today.”

Excuses are easy. Everyone has them. Getting over the hump is the hard part, and it’s why people admire those who succeed. Successful teacher, successful nurse, successful doctor, successful engineer, successful professional sports athlete, military NCO’s and senior officers, professional musician, artists, and the list goes on. These are all people who had to put in a lot of time, effort, and sacrifice to make it to the elite. None of these people were given their status. They all earned it.

I have lost 150 lbs total. I gained back 20 here and there and went on to lose that last 20 again a few times. I’m currently on another Whole30 working towards undoing some of the damage I’ve done over the past year. I’ve increased my physical activity to prepare for Warrant Officer Candidate School in the Army. There are many days where I just want a cookie, or I want to skip a workout, but I don’t let that happen. I drop those thoughts as soon as I have them. Why? Because I have goals I feel more strongly about than any short-term gratification of a cookie or a skipped workout. If anything, the guilt and disappointment in myself is far greater if I were to eat the cookie or skip the workout that it’s not worth it to me. I would rather feel discomfort in muscle pain than the emotional discomfort I always get after a skipped workout.

Ultimately, reaching my goals is MY responsibility. Sure, some can help get me there, but at the end of the day, it’s my accomplishment because I’m the one who pushed past the little voice that suggests cheats or skips. I keep reminding myself that those are the voice of sabotage, and that little voice can go to hell; I’ve got things to accomplish and goals to reach.

The Pendulum: Weight/Size

This is what my scary workout face looks like. Happy Halloween?

This weekend, I was lamenting the fact that my weight loss has stalled at 7 lbs when Sherry reminded me that I’d recently gotten back into my size 32 inch jeans. She also reminded me of something I learned back when I lost my first 130 lbs: I usually lose weight OR size, never both at the same time.

I’m glad that she’s here to remind me of these things when I’m feeling down. Losing weight and getting fit is an emotional rollercoaster. There are days when I feel like I’m killing it and doing a great job, and then there are the days when I feel like nothing I’m doing matters or is making any progress. Usually, when I feel like I’m not making progress, it’s because I’m not looking at the right data points to find that progress. The truth is that as long as I’m doing the work, there are changes happening even if I cannot see them.

I’m definitely smaller now. My shirts fit better (the way they used to a year ago). I’m wearing my smaller pants again. And more importantly, my fitness is improving as I’m running faster, lifting heavier weights, and finally being able to do more than a few pull-ups. This is huge for me.

People I know have had difficulties in getting started with or staying with the healthy lifestyle. I get it. I’ve been there before. The key for me was to make small goals and not beat myself up when I can’t follow the plan perfectly. When trying to change your lifestyle, set a goal of one day of eating right. When you accomplish that goal, make the next goal of making it another full day of eating right. After a few days of this, set a goal of making a second week. “But what if I fall off the wagon?” It’ll happen, and it’s okay. You definitely want to try to not do that, but if it does happen, be defined by getting back on the wagon and keeping at it rather than throwing your hands up and surrendering. Do you know how many missed at-bats even the best baseball players have? We don’t count those; we count their home runs. How many lost games each NBA team has had? Nobody cares; we count championships. Missed passes by quarterbacks in the NFL? Not a stat we care about; we count completions.

Losing weight/size is like a pendulum for me. I either lose weight or lose size. I am fortunate that I have a supportive partner who reminds me of these things when I’m feeling down. She motivates me to keep going.

Comfort is Slow Death

This is a slogan I saw in an advertisement for t-shirts, and it’s become a sort of mantra for me these past few weeks as I ramp up my exercise and work-outs in preparation for my attending Warrant Officer Candidate School. In that school, I will have to perform the new Army Combat Fitness Test which replaced the tried and true Army Physical Fitness Test. The new ACFT is much harder than the APFT, and requires more cross-discipline fitness than the latter test. But I digress.

Comfort is something we all crave. It’s the goal of every human to achieve a state of less work/effort for more comfort. The problem we have in our modern world is that comfort is too easy to attain, just as calories are too easy to attain. We are able to eat thousands of calories a day without any energy expenditure which leaves us obese. I was in that category for two decades. Then, Sherry and I got out of our comfort zone, embraced our first Whole30, and five years later, we’ve kept the weight off, kept up with the new lifestyle, and kept up with our fitness.

Are we comfortable? Can we ever rest and stop exercising? Well, I can’t speak for Sherry, but I will not stop. I am no longer comfortable being stationary. I need to be moving; I need to exercise just to feel right. I become uncomfortable when I’m not exercising for too long.

Funny aside: every year, we take a two-week vacation. My biggest lament is that I lose my ability to lift weights and run properly when we are traveling. This year, we went camping/Overlanding, and there was no way for me to run or lift weights at all. That was two weeks of lost progress, and two weeks of feeling my legs get jittery with anticipation for a run.

I take comfort in knowing that by exercising regularly, I’m keeping my heart, muscles, and bones strong. I take comfort in knowing that when I get sick, my body is at it’s strongest to fight off whatever bug I’ve contracted. I have found that small cuts even heal faster (like they did when I was younger). I take comfort in knowing that my weight is more easily controlled when I’m using calories at a higher rate than when I’m sitting at a desk all day.

So, while comfort may be slow death, it’s easy enough to find comfort even when you’re undertaking the uncomfortable like exercise. Right now, as I push myself (gently, I must add) to greater physical fitness, I take solace in the fact that I’m getting stronger, faster, and more prepared to get through the next year and a half of schools that I’m required to attend. Afterwards? I can relax my standards a little bit, but the reality is that I likely won’t. I hate giving back fitness gains I’ve worked so hard for, and I want to give my body the best chance it has to keep going for as long as it can. I’m sort of addicted to breathing.