How Can Someone Who Hates Exercise Lose Weight?

This was my main concern and my first question to my cousin Sarah, a physician assistant, over five years ago when she approached me about the need to lose weight. In her professional opinion, I was at the beginning of a decline that would lead to my early demise if I didn’t do anything to stop the trend. All the data was right before my eyes, yet I ignored or disbelieved all of it to continue to live in a world of denial. However, the walls were crashing in around me as symptom after symptom began to appear, shattering the myth of, “Everything’s okay being obese.”

Me after losing about 15 lbs over a two-year period just before I began Whole30. I weighed around 312 lbs here.

Fatty liver disease. Tingling in the lower extremities. Bleeding gums. Rapidly decreasing eyesight. Type-2 Diabetes. Cholesterol levels rising. Circulation problems in my big toes. Inability to tie my own shoes without holding my breath. That last one is the one that finally got me to consider losing weight. Why? I don’t know why that’s the one that made me realize I needed to make changes, but if I pinpoint a single moment, that was it. The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

So when my cousin asked me if I wanted to lose weight, I told her I didn’t think it was a realistic possibility for me because not only was I unable physically to do any meaningful exercise, but I hated it. I disliked discomfort, especially the discomfort of an obese man trying to exercise. She then followed up my question with another question: “What if I told you that you can lose weight and get healthy without exercise?” I answered, “Then I would think you’re lying or that it’s not possible. But I’m interested; go on.” And go on, she did. She told me about Whole30 and Paleo and how they had been so successful for her and many people she knew. That she was friends with the people who started the Whole30 program was an interesting aside, but not necessarily important to me. Well, okay; it was a little important knowing that it was developed by people in the medical community. But while I’d actually read about Paleo, I hadn’t heard about Whole30. As she explained it to me, it made sense, and sounded like both something I needed, and something I could actually do. The seed was planted, and I began doing my own research.

A week’s worth of voracious reading led me to talk to my wife Sherry. After some back and forth, we decided to start a Whole30. I’ve talked about this part extensively before in this blog, so I won’t go into it again, but while it took a bit of convincing to get her on-board, she’s been the biggest ingredient to my success. We went through the process of getting rid of non-compliant foods, stocked the refrigerator and pantry with whole foods, and never looked back.

After about six months of Paleo, people began to notice my weight loss. Then they began asking me: “How much do you run?” “How much time in the gym do you need to spend to do what you’ve done?” “Wow, you must be so disciplined to spend all that time in the gym to lose that much weight? I could never do that!” Imagine their surprise when my answer was always, “I’ve spent no time in the gym and haven’t set a foot on a road or track to run. This was all accomplished with diet alone!” Most simply didn’t believe me, thinking I was trying to be modest or humble. Others assumed I had gone to a doctor for surgery to lose the weight so rapidly without exercise. Both of these groups of people were wrong. My weight loss was entirely and solely due to Whole30 and the Paleo Diet, which is to say, solely based on changing my diet.

I had lost around 110 lbs here, but I hadn’t started any exercise plan. Yet.

What makes Whole30 and Paleo so different? They cuts out unneccessary foods that are high in carbohydrates and anti-nutrients, or nutrients that work against our bodies and promote inflammation and work against proper digestion. They also get rid of pre-processed foods and anything with added refined sugar. That last bit is, in my opinion, the most important one: cutting out added sugar, because our appetite is driven so much by our sugar intake. The more you have, the more your body wants, which drives more sugar intake, and the cycle continues.

So, when someone tells me that they’d love to lose weight but they hate exercise, I tell them, “I understand; I did, too!” They then jump to the assumption that I hated it until I bit the bullet and started exercising to lose weight, but that’s where they’re wrong. I started exercising because while I had lost a bunch of weight, I was weak. Since I had lost enough weight to get back into the military’s height and weight standards, I thought I might try to get back in the reserve or National Guard, so I began an exercise program to allow me to meet and exceed the minimum physical training standards. I can’t say I’ve ever grown to really love exercise, but I have come to enjoy it from time to time, and the more I’ve gotten into it, the less I find it annoying or boring. There are those days when I’d rather do anything else, but there are also days when I can’t imagine feeling any better, and that’s due in large part to my exercise regimen.

I wasn’t very fast, but I put in the work to get fit and exceed Army standards.

I have a saying I use often on this blog: You lose weight in the kitchen; you get fit in the gym. It’s why I hate seeing people, friends, or family concentrate so heavily on exercise to lose weight while ignoring their diet. You can’t out-exercise a bad diet. A proper and reasonable diet is absolutely essential to losing weight and getting healthy. That’s not to say someone can’t have a slice of pizza here or there if they want. I only eat Paleo foods 99% of the time, but every now and then, when at a work function or social gathering and no Paleo options exist (my military training is a prime example), then I will eat what’s available. I just eat in moderation and try to mitigate the damage by making the best choices possible. But no matter how many calories I exert after those meals, the effects become apparent on me very quickly through bloating and water weight gain.

So, I’ve lost 150 lbs from my heaviest. I lost the first 130 lbs without any exercise at all, and lost (and gained) the last 20 lbs with exercise. I say I also gained it back because I replaced a lot of fatty tissue on my body with bulkier, heavier muscles. While my waist size has decreased, my weight has increased from its lowest point and has held steady for three years. As I continue to get stronger and faster, my waist size keeps getting smaller, my shoulders and arms keep getting bigger, and my weight is staying the same. I went from a person who despised exercise (an opinion I earned the hard way while on active duty in the Marines for 11 years) to someone who faithfully adheres to a strict exercise regimen. I won’t lie and say I love it; I don’t. I’d much rather be able to be fit and strong without it, but that’s not reality. To achieve the strength and fitness I want to have takes work, and at this point in my life, I’m willing to do the work to sustain this level of fitness I’ve reached. Heck, I’m still striving for more strength and speed. But I do it out of necessity, not because I love exercising.

I was fortunate to build a home gym before the pandemic. I use this at least three times a week before my runs.

If you have studied for a test when you didn’t want to but got it done anyway, it’s much the same thing, in my opinion. We do many things, not because we like them, but because we have to. We weigh the benefits with the efforts to determine whether it’s worth doing something. In this case, the efforts are well worth the benefits to me. My wife and I have not only lost weight and gotten healthier, but we have become much more active people; hiking, mountain biking, ziplining, kayaking, and I even flew a WWII biplane trainer; all things we could never imagine doing before Whole30, Paleo, and in many cases, exercise. My ability to serve this great nation as a Soldier in the National Guard is also something that would not be possible without a strict and vigorous exercise regimen. The new Army Combat Fitness Test is not easy, and requires a lot of pre-work to be able to pass even with a minimal score let alone to do well on it.

Pre-Paleo Lifstyle vs me, five years later.

In closing, I know many people do not like seeing, “If I can do it, you can too!” but that’s what articles like this are really about, aren’t they? That’s what reading blogs are for versus reading mainstream articles. Blogs are personal, and are based on our perspectives and experiences. When I read a blog, it’s because I want to gain insight from someone who has been there or done that. In this case, I went from a person who flat-out rejected the idea of exercise to being a person who weightlifts and runs at least three times a week. I told you how I did it, and I told you why I did it. Now, it’s up to you to find your “Why” and then for you to “Do.” If you need any help with that, let me know, or reach out to someone at your local gym or running track/park. Even those of us who are not “Exercise people” can find a happy balance between the benefits and the effort. But there has to be effort. That part can’t be skipped if you want to be fit.

For the podcast version of this post, visit my Patreon page for more information.

Five Years Paleo

It has now been over five years since Sherry and I transitioned from Whole30 to the Paleo Diet for the first time. We’ve done a number of Whole30’s from time to time (and we are currently in the process of doing one), but we owe our success and longevity in staying healthy to the Paleo Diet.

Me in 2015, 2016, and 2019.

When we first started with Paleo, there were many who told us it was too restrictive or that it wouldn’t be sustainable long-term. There were those who told us we would grow tired of the lack of variety in the food we eat, and those who said that we would find ourselves malnourished because we didn’t have a “Balanced diet.” Even my primary care physician was doubtful and cautioned me against any dangerous “Restriction diets.”

For all the naysayers, there were few who believed in our long-term success. My close friends were supportive and hopeful, but realistic (just like Sherry and I; we hoped for the best but were a little skeptical that we would succeed as well as we did) while I had family members who flat-out doubted what we were doing would have any success, and when we did start losing weight, wondered if the weight loss wasn’t due to illness or some other source.

Throughout the process, I had many physicals, blood tests, stress tests, and other medical examinations that unanimously came to the same conclusion: my health was greatly improved since adopting the Paleo lifestyle. In the very first blood test while still on my first Whole30, my blood sugar went back into the normal range which was the greatest improvement early-on as I was diagnosed as a Type-2 Diabetic and was taking Metformin (which I had stopped taking when I started my Whole30). My cholesterol levels also were normal, and one of the first obesity-related issues I had, fatty liver disease, was considered to be no longer detectable within 6 months of adopting the Paleo Lifestyle. What were some of the other health improvements?

  • Improved vision (which had been affected by the Diabetes)
  • Improved gums (also affected adversely by Diabetes)
  • Improved circulation in lower extremities (Caused by Diabetes)
  • Reduction in nerve “tingling” in extremities (Diabetes related)

A funny aside is that during my first annual physical upon re-entering the military, while reviewing my blood test results, I commented to the physician that it was amazing that my blood sugar was so low considering I was diabetic when I was morbidly obese. He actually got mad at me and said, “Nobody stops being diabetic! You were never diabetic. It’s impossible!” I said a lot of, “Yes, Sir’s” and left his office smiling.

Me in 2020.

After two years, my primary care physician, the same doctor who cautioned me against restrictive diets, after my stress test, admitted to me that I was the impetus for his reevaluating Whole30 and the Paleo Diet. He said he had begun recommending them to patients, and that my results were not as unexpected or rare as he first thought. That made me happy; I was helping change people’s perspectives about the Paleo Diet.

Throughout my health and fitness journey, I’ve had the pleasure to meet a lot of people whose lives have been changed by Whole30 and Paleo. From friends, family, and others who have all learned from our experience to the many people online who have emailed me, messaged me, or even caught up with me in-person, it’s become clear to me that the Paleo Lifestyle is not only sustainable, but when followed with sensible portion sizes and some exercise, is an excellent diet that has allowed not only Sherry and me, but countless others regain control of their health.

Five years. That’s a long time, but on the Paleo Diet, it doesn’t feel like it. For us, it feels normal. In the past five years, the popularity of Paleo has grown immensely, and it’s easy to find Paleo alternatives to many food items in nearly any mainstream food store which makes it easy for us to enjoy a wide variety of foods which keeps our diet varied and exciting (not to mention delicious!). I never feel like I’m missing out on anything, and more often than not, the fresh and whole ingredients of our meals has actually improved the flavors and we often comment on the restaurant quality meals we have (even when camping!).

If you’re thinking about making a change in your diet, I urge you to do the research. Whole30 and Paleo have worked for my wife and me (and millions of others), but everyone is different. My diabetes has disappeared, but that might not be the case for everyone. I wasn’t Type-2 Diabetic for long, and there’s a good chance that since it was so new, my body was able to recover and heal more quickly than someone who’s been Diabetic for years. But even if you don’t reverse your diabetes, one thing I am certain of is that your health will improve in many ways. I have yet to meet someone whose health hadn’t improved in some way on Paleo.

“But what about what you had to give up?” This is always the first and most common question I reveive after telling people about Whole30 and Paleo. It seems people get hung up the most on having to sacrifice certain foods. I get it. Foods are one of the foundations upon which human culture rests. When discussing a culture, one of the first images we have is of the foods that culture eats. When you have to give up certain foods to adopt the Paleo lifestyle, many people balk or outright refuse to consider it because of these strong bonds, ties, and memories or emotions that are tied to certain foods. I had the very same ties, memories, and emotions tied to certain foods, and while that will never change, I have been able to successfully transition with giving up very little of the foods I love. The only exception so far has been croissants. There is no way to make a Paleo croissant. But literally every other food, from spaghetti to pizza to fish and chips are all possible on Paleo.

I’ve written at length about the different mind hacks, tips, and yes, even tricks I’ve used to succeed in my new healthy lifestyle. This blog, over the past five years, has been not only a sounding board for my journey, but I’ve tried to give as much insight into my thought processes, my motivations, and what kept me going. If you are just seeing this blog for the first time, I suggest using the search feature to find answers to specific questions or topics. Some people have read in chronological order, starting back in 2015, to follow along as I progressed from over 312 lbs to 170 lbs (and back up to a much stronger 185 lbs through running and weightlifting). I have talked about not only my successes, but also the difficulties and even failures along the way. Through it all, I’ve kept my head up, trusted in the process and the plan, and so far, I’ve persevered.

Weightlifting in January, 2021.

What does the future hold for me? Hopefully, more of the same. I intend to continue in the Paleo lifestyle, I will continue to exercise through weightlifting and running for as long as my body allows, and I will continue to advocate for, help with, and guide people on their own healthy journeys. I thank you all, whether this is your first PaleoMarine article, or those who have been along for the ride for the past five+ years. I look forward to many more years of posting here, and of helping people who want to get healthy, stay healthy, and live longer.

For the podcast version of this post, visit my Patreon page for more information.

Skin Reduction: The Time Has Come

So, I’ve made a pretty big decision regarding my body, and it’s a reversal of something I’ve thought for five years. The thought had crossed my mind a few times after losing all the weight, and people have asked me about it all the time, but I always said, “Nah, that’s not for me,” or, “I’m not that vain,” but it turns out that maybe I am. Maybe the Michelin tire of spare skin around my waist really does bother me, and maybe I do need to have it removed.

I wear a lot of sweaters, vests, and jackets to hide the skin roll.

There are a few additional reasons I’ve decided that I will likely go this route. First and foremost, no matter how fit I get, that roll of skin around my waist makes me not only look sloppy, but hurts me in the Army height/weight calculations. Since I started lifting weights, I’ve not only gotten much stronger, but my muscles have grown and make me weigh more than the max allowed for my height. The Army uses measurements at the neck and waist to calculate body fat, and that roll of skin throws off the calculations; not enough to make me fail, but it’s close. The muscles in my lower body are completely hidden by the huge roll of skin that won’t go away. Also, I can’t wear a nice shirt or t-shirt without looking dumpy. I know it shouldn’t matter, and for a long time, it didn’t, but now it annoys me. Deeply.

Second, I’m in the National Guard, and when I have to wear my service uniform, I look like a sack of potatoes regardless of how fit I am. I work out, I lift weights, and I run, yet in uniform, I still look unfit. That’s not a good look for a leader, and it’s not the image I want to portray to my subordinates. That’s unacceptable to me.

Third, the skin literally hurts when I run. It moves around a lot, regardless of how much I try to wear clothes that mobilize it. I think I might understand just a little bit how women feel running. No matter what you do to hold the extra tissue close to the body, it still moves up and down a lot and is extremely uncomfortable, especially over long distances.

Finally, I want to really like what I see in the mirror. This is the most selfish of reasons, but it does matter to me now. I’m not getting any younger, and I want to be able to like what I see in the mirror for as long as I can. As I turn more gray and more wrinkles appear around my eyes and in my face, I can accept those changes as natural. But the tire around my waist? It makes me angry every time I see it. Accepting it at first was easy because I no longer had a huge gut. But now? After all that work, effort, and time? I want it gone.

So, I’ve made an appointment with a plastic surgeon for a consultation to discuss the skin removal. It won’t be cheap, and it is an invasive procedure that will require anesthesia as well as a lengthy recovery, but I have the time coming up after I graduate WOCS in May, so the perfect time is coming. I’ll have the ability to take time off from my civilian job and the military to recover, and when I go back to my military duties in October, I will go back with a much more professional look. I will also have time to get fit after my recovery which will be important.

So, at some point, I will have more information and first-hand experience with this aspect of extreme weight loss. It’s not something I particularly look forward to, although the benefits will definitely be many. Like the initial process of adopting a new, healthy lifestyle followed by adding fitness to my life, this procedure will also give me many benefits. It will, like the fitness plan that got me here, be painful and will require following pre-op and post-op instructions carefully, but I think it will be well-worth it in the end.

No Cardio or Weightlifting for a Shredded Body?

This is one of my pet peeves in the health and fitness industry, especially aimed towards men over 50: a photo of an older, gray-haired gentleman with a killer body promising you can look like him with “No cardio or time in the gym.” Of course, you won’t find out how to do this unless you sign up for his program after watching a video about an hour in length. Then, when you get the program, guess what? It’s cardio and lifting weights.

Surprise.

Disclaimer: I did not buy the program or watch the entire video, but I did read many reviews of the program by people who have.

Then, after reading some of the reviews of the program, I kept seeing this phrase: “…for staying fit past 50.” Hmmm. Staying fit. So, the idea is that for people who were already fit before 50, this program will allow them to stay fit past 50. Aside from the fact that it’s not possible to get big, ripped muscles without lifting weights, what about the majority of us who were not fit? What about the vast number of people who are finally doing something about their health and fitness and don’t already have amazing gym bodies? What are they to do?

I’m pretty sure that this fitness plan, aimed at older men, promises the same results to unfit men as it does for those who are already fit, but that’s disingenuous. First of all, there’s only one way to get big muscles and be ripped: lots of high-rep weights and a lot of protein. Second, it dismisses the very real problem of excess skin, something I suffer with. Finally, and most importantly, it dismisses the fact that later in life, it’s harder to build muscle and get toned without a lot of time and effort. In fact, it takes longer, because as we get older, we need more recovery time.

Are there those out there who have gotten incredibly ripped and huge after age 50? Sure. But they’re anomalies. They’re not the “Everyman” that the older gentleman is appealing to. That’s what makes me sad. There is no shortcut to better health and increased fitness. There are no tricks. There is only one way to get muscular, ripped, and fit: do the work.

DO. THE. WORK.

If a fitness plan says you can forego cardio, weights, or that their plan “Burns fat,” they are easy indications that the plans are B.S. There is no such thing as “Burning fat.” Sweating is not an indication of fat going away, and the more you sweat is no more indicative of fat loss than is going to the bathroom. Fat takes a long time to go away and regardless of the amount of exercise you do, fat cells slough off when your body feels like it. Some people lose faster than others, but there is a lot of interesting reading available on how fat cells are deflated and eventually are sloughed off that dispels the fat burning myth.

Admittedly, I do not want to be ripped. I do want to be strong and I want to be able to run miles in the 8 minute/mile range, but that’s about it. I want to be healthy and fit. At my age, that’s more important to me than having an amazing beach body. While I want to do something about the excess skin around my waist (what I disaffectionately call my Michelin Man tire), I do not want to look like Conan the Barbarian or some superhero. So, I stick with eating healthy, Paleo foods, and I stick with my weightlifting and running. I have nothing against people who body build. Heck, I admire their determination and hard work. It’s not easy to build huge muscles, and takes a lot more discipline than I have and a lot more work than I’m willing to do. If you want to go that route, DO IT! But don’t think you can get there using shortcuts or without doing the work. That’s just not realistic.

I’ve said it many times: getting fit happens in the gym/on the road, losing weight/getting healthy happens in the kitchen. What you eat has more bearing on your health than anything, and exercising only makes your body stronger, faster, leaner, and better able to handle stress (sickness, physical challenges, etc). You have everything to gain by eating right and exercising and only some discomfort to pay for it. In my opinion, it’s well worth it.

Paleo is Unsustainable?

I just read a blog post by a fellow health/fitness blogger where he asserts that the Paleo Diet is not a lifestyle and is not sustainable because it’s restrictive. This is the most common criticism I hear when someone pushes back on the Paleo Diet. The root of this criticism lies in the “Balanced Diet” fallacy. This is the idea that to be healthy, we need to eat foods from all the “Food groups,” and that cutting out any group means you are not getting all the vitamins and minerals you need to survive. The problem is that the idea of a balanced diet comes from a food industry-funded government campaign in the early 1970’s to get Americans to buy more subsidized dairy and grain. Neither dairy nor grain need to be a part of the human diet.

Another reason people criticize Paleo is because they don’t have the discipline to stop eating grains, dairy, or legumes: plain and simple. I’ve literally had people excited about the weight loss results and health and fitness gains I’ve made over the years and when I tell them about Paleo, they immediately respond with, “Oh no; I could never get rid of grains, dairy, or legumes.” When I explain to them that it’s not nearly as restrictive as it seems on the surface, it falls on deaf ears. Once a person’s mind is made up that a diet is restrictive, no amount of evidence to the contrary or to the efficaciousness of the diet will ever suffice.

It’s fashionable to criticize successful lifestyles. I could criticize Calorie Counting, but I don’t. Even though I disagree with it and it didn’t work for me (at least on the 10 or so times I tried to lose weight counting calories), I know that it works for some people, and that’s more important to me than tearing down anyone else’s lifestyle. I always make a point to mention that while Paleo and Whole30 have worked for me and my wife (and many other friends and family members), it may not work for everyone. We all need to find what works for us, and when we identify that, stick to it! That’s the most important piece of advice I can give, and that I try to give on a regular basis. My plan is best for me and may not be best for you. That’s why I try to post so much about motivation, dedication, accountability, perseverance, etc. Those are diet or lifestyle agnostic.

So, why do health and fitness bloggers criticize other plans, diets, and lifestyles? Well, it’s click bait and brings like-minded people to their blog. In my case, I was intrigued enough by the assertion that Paleo was an unsustainable lifestyle that I read the article. I posted that I disagreed with that assertion and carried on with the knowledge that he is wrong and that this lifestyle not only works for me, but I actually enjoy it, and I foresee myself sticking with it for the rest of my life. I feel THAT much better on Paleo than any other diet. But these bloggers like to tear down other diets and lifestyles to create content that pulls in readers, or maybe (and this is a big maybe) it makes them feel better.

Have I talked smack about other diets in the past? Well, I do talk smack about the diet INDUSTRY that sells pills, powders, patches, smoothies, and pushes medical procedures to help people lose weight. This diet industry puts a huge emphasis on weight loss instead of on healthy lifestyles. On the other end of the spectrum is the group that believes being obese is a natural and healthy body type, and I’ve attacked that idea as well. However, in so doing, I tried to be careful with not judging the individuals. I know that they are victims of an industry and the advertising/marketing.

So, is Paleo sustainable? Yes. Is it possible to partake in another lifestyle or diet and for it to be sustainable even if it isn’t or wasn’t for me? Of course. Find what works for you, and stick to it. Work hard at it. Persevere! But don’t build yourself up by tearing something positive down for others. That’s just not productive, and it’s not honest.

Showing Off vs. Self Motivation/Accountability

My most recent fitness selfie after a 4-mile run.

I, like many others in my place before me as an obese person who is now a healthier weight and fit, have been called out from time to time for “Showing off” when we post pictures of us working out, running, exercising, or otherwise showing ourselves getting fit. What, I think a lot of people don’t understand, is that, at least in my case, I’m not posting those photos for you; I’m posting them for me. Please indulge me and allow me to explain by taking you back to the beginning of my journey.

When I took this photo, I remember thinking, “I don’t look that overweight.” Oof.

You see, I had given up on myself once a long time ago. I decided to forego caring for my health and eschewing all fitness, and as a result, I ended up morbidly obese and with fatty liver disease, Type-2 Diabetes, gum disease, declining vision, circulation and nerve issues with my lower extremities (all a result of the Diabetes), and with an alarming lack of physical fitness. I couldn’t climb the stairs in my home without being winded enough to take a break at the top of the staircase. On a vacation in Hungary, I scared my friends and my wife after climbing up some large hills where I had to sit down for a few minutes to recover from the lack of breath. I had all but accepted that there was no way I could ever be a healthy weight again, and physical fitness was beyond the realm of imagination for me. But then came a perfect storm of events and people that changed my life.

You would think that all of those health issues would be enough to make me think that I needed to make serious changes in my lifestyle to reverse the trend leading me to an early grave, but you would be wrong. Like I said; I had all but accepted my fate. That was until one morning, I found that I could no longer tie my shoes without holding my breath because the girth of my stomach was so large, it physically impeded my ability to bend over. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and the impetus for change I needed, but I still didn’t know how to get there. By chance, my cousin Sarah, a Physician Assistant, was staying at our house and visiting, and one day she sat down to talk to me about my health. “You know, you can’t sustain this weight forever. You are literally going to end up in an early grave unless you do something right now to reverse the trend.” I looked at her sadly. “I know this, but there’s nothing I can do. I can’t exercise. My knees hurt to much to do anything.” That’s when she dropped the bomb on me that changed my life. “What if I told you that you could lose weight just by changing your diet? Without exercise, and without any weird programs or pills?” I said I was incredulous, but asked her to explain, and that’s when she told me about Whole30 and Paleo.

Now, to be fair, I’d heard of both, and I had even read up a bit on both, but it never occurred to me that I could do both to lose weight without exercise. The Marine Corps had hammered into me the false pretense that to lose weight, you need to exercise. This is false. To get fit, you need to exercise. Does exercise help with weight loss? Of course; creating calorie deficits is the core of weight loss, but it’s nearly impossible to out-exercise a bad diet. That’s why literally every weight loss program, whether it’s shakes, pills, powders, patches, or food plans tell you, “This program coupled with a sensible diet and exercise…” What they don’t tell you is all you need is a sensible diet and exercise to get healthy and fit; you don’t need their products. I’m living proof. But I digress.

She told me about how she lost weight on Whole30 herself, and how she had transitioned into Paleo and how she continued to lose weight and get healthier. While I was still a bit incredulous, I decided to give it a go, but there was one big hurdle; my wife. I needed to enlist her help and support in this, because I knew that my chances for success going it alone were slim. When I first broached the subject, I was immediately met with a hearty, “No way am I doing that.” I expected the response, so I had one of my own armed and ready to go. It was the nuclear option, but I felt like this was literally my last chance at getting healthy. “Ok, then we seriously need to go to a lawyer and get my will done and make arrangements for what happens when I die, because I won’t live long at this weight.” She blinked a few times and stared at me and my audacity, but she didn’t respond with anger. I told her, “Look. I know this is a big change, but with the reading I’ve done, I read that Whole30 is restrictive, but it can be done in a way that doesn’t make you hate food. Paleo is even better. If we do this, I promise I won’t let our food get boring. I don’t want that either.” After looking at me silently for a little bit, she finally said, “I’ll think about it.”

Think about it she did. She did a lot of research, reading, and thinking before getting back to me about it. Finally, she said one day, “Ok. I’m in. Looking at the recipes made me realize a lot of these foods actually look really good. I’ll give it a try.” This was in August 2015 and we set our start date soon thereafter. There was no reason to wait for January; we needed the change to happen ASAP. We set our start date for two weeks from that day, and we set about getting rid of all the non-Whole30 compliant food we could (and gave away the rest) as well as purchasing all the new staples we would need to take on our new lifestyle. We finally started our Whole30 in September 2015 and by the end of that 30 days, I had lost 20 lbs and Sherry lost 10 lbs. We were both convinced and while we transitioned to Paleo, we both continued to steadily lose weight. By the end of the first year, I had lost 130 lbs and Sherry lost 65 lbs. While looking at some photos of us before and after the weight loss, I noticed that she looked a lot better than I did in regards to not just her weight, but her fitness. She was running regularly while she lost weight while I was adamantly and defiantly against all exercise. I looked soft, pudgy, even at 130 lbs less. I realized that I needed to do something different. It was only then that I decided to add fitness to my daily routine.

I had lost a lot of weight, but I was still pudgy.

I started slowly and with very little exercise; push-ups. I did as many as I could one day until my arms began to hurt and then I stopped. I did 3. But I didn’t let that tiny number discourage me. The next day, I did 3 again, but the following day, I did 5. I worked at my push-ups daily until I was doing 50. Then, I started walking. I would try to make the walk as brisk as possible to get my heartrate up, and I walked for 30 minutes. Then, one day, while walking around the lake in front of our home, I found that I was walking as briskly as I could but I wasn’t feeling like it was enough to raise my heartrate. I needed to do more; I needed to jog. So, I picked up the pace and jogged the rest of the time. I kept up this jogging routine until one day I realized I was no longer jogging at a leisurely rate; I was running. My run times went from 11 minute miles to 10 minute miles to 9 minute miles and then to 8 minute miles. None of these increases were due to any hard work; it was a natural progression. I did discover that running every other day really helped with not only the recovery of my muscles, but it also helped with me making real gains in speed and distance. As I ran faster, I was running farther in that same 30 minute window.

Starting with the push-ups. It wasn’t easy, but I got better and stronger.

After running for 6 months, being in the best shape I’ve been in since being on active duty in the Marines, I had a crazy thought while running; what if they let me back in the Reserve to finish my 20 years of federal service in the military? Later that day, I called the Marine Reserve who said they’d accept me, but I would have to drill in Minnesota due to my MOS. My next call was to the Army National Guard who said I could drill 8 miles from my home but I’d need a new MOS. I decided to join the ARNG, and I am still a National Guard Soldier today.

A selfie at annual training in 2019.

About a year after joining the National Guard, I decided to add weightlifting to my routine because while I was getting pretty fast at running and I was doing well with my sit-ups and push-ups for the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT), I didn’t feel very strong. I decided on the StrongLifts 5×5 program because it’s focus was on functional strength and balance versus bodybuilding. I didn’t care about getting bulging muscles; I just wanted to be stronger to handle the increased responsibilities I had as a Fire Direction NCO.

It’s been over two years since I started weightlifting, and I have made some incredible gains in strength. I have found that my joints hurt less, I struggle or strain less to lift and carry things, and even my ability to do fun stuff like mountain biking or kayaking have been directly impacted in positive ways due to my weightlifting. Even my wife Sherry began weightlifting a few months ago after seeing the changes in me and my fitness.

Doing squats in my home gym wearing my favorite pink Chuck Taylor’s. They are great weightlifting shoes.

So, now we’re all caught up. That’s the journey I’ve been on over the past five years that brings us up to speed. Now, back to the topic at hand: fitness photos. In the case of this blog, I post photos for many reasons including hoping to motivate others, showing the changes in me since my morbidly obese times, and evidence to back up my words. But some reasons others might not consider is that I also post photos here and on social media for myself. I post them as a sort of accountabilty to put myself out there. A source of motivation for me is staying true to my word; if I said I was going to do something, I work hard to keep my word. By posting fitness selfies, I’m putting it out there: “I am working hard to stay fit and I’m not going to give up or quit.”

Sherry and me at my birthday dinner in 2019

I know that when some people see a fitness selfie, they get upset because they infer that I’m bragging or pushing my success into their faces. Some folks even project their own dissatisfaction with their health and/or fitness with criticisms of my diet or my fitness. And you know what? That’s okay! I used to do the same thing. I recognize what’s going on, because I’ve been on the other side. It wasn’t until the stars aligned and the perfect storm happened before I changed my lifestyle and it took even a year longer before I accepted fitness into my daily routine. So I’m not mad. It does, however, make me sad. I remember how I felt back in my morbidly obese days. How hopeless it felt to surrender. I don’t wish that on anyone, and I do anything I can to help.

That should bring you up to speed, and give you all the background into why I post the occasional fitness selfie. It’s not all for you; it’s mostly for me. And I hope that’s okay.

Playing the Pendulum Game (Losing Size vs Losing Weight)

On this Whole30, just like every other one before it, my weight loss is not linear; It’s like steps on stairs. I can go for a few days without losing any weight and all, and then all of the sudden, 2-3 lbs are gone. It’s been like this for me every time I’ve done a Whole30, and it was this way for an entire year when I lost my first 130 lbs on the Paleo Diet.

This past weekend, I did EVERYTHING perfect: portion sizes, Whole30 compliant food, got enough sleep, and even exercise. How much weight did I drop? 0.0 lbs. BUT, and this is the most important part: I had to pull my belt in an inch. A FULL INCH. I am certain that there are scientists or physicians who can tell me the science behind this, but it seems to me that I’m either losing size or weight. My guess is that you don’t actually lose fat cells; they just “Deflate” for a while until the body decides that they aren’t needed anymore and THEN gets rid of them. The result is the weight or size pendulum.

I can already see a difference in my face and in my abdomen. I look less bloated and I’m beginning to see more definition in my abs (which is something, because I have A LOT of spare skin there). I’m starting to feel much better now that the first week is over. The first week on Whole30 is always pretty rough, and this one was no exception. I had the headache, the soreness, the lack of energy, and feeling otherwise not well. Today, I awoke feeling much better than even yesterday which, I thought, was my best morning yet.

I always say, and firmly believe, that weight should not be the sole measure of success for a healthy diet. It is, however, a data point to be considered in a holistic approach to one’s health. By holistic, I am refering to the textbook definition: “Characterized by comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.” So, when we say that we’re improving our health, we are talking about many different areas that are interconnected and are part of the whole. One part in and of itself does not define the whole. I have known plenty of people who were considered, “Thin” and appropriate weight and still had heart disease, fatty liver disease, Type-2 Diabetes, and high cholesterol while I’ve known people who are considered overweight to have none of these issues other than high weight. Which of these individuals would be considered healthier?

What are some other metrics I use to gauge my health?

  • How do I feel? Do I feel more alert? Did I get better sleep? Is it easier to concentrate on things? I always see improvements in my general mood and alertness as my health improves.
  • How well do my clothes fit? Do I need to wear a size M or size L t-shirt? As I lose weight and size, I feel more comfortable in my clothes.
  • How do my joints feel? Do I have any soreness? As I get healthier, and lose weight, there’s less stress on my joints, ligaments, and tendons.
  • How is my skin? Any rashes, dryness, or other issues? The healthier I eat, the better my skin seems to get.
  • How are my bowel movements? Normal? I have written about this at length in the past, and while I won’t get too much into it here, let’s just say that things are MUCH better when I’m eating healthy.
  • How easy is it to run 3 miles? The less I weigh, the easier the runs are (and yes, I can feel the difference 5 lbs makes!).
  • How flexible am I? The less bulk I have, the more flexible I seem to get.

So, while weight is not the primary measure of health, it is one of the easiest to comprehend. We like numbers, and it’s easy for us to equate lower numbers with high quality of health, although this is not always true. I want to dispel one thing, however, before I end this post: being obese and fit is a myth. I know there are people out there who are obese and can run 5k’s, 10k’s, and even a few who run marathons, but being obese is most definitely not healthy and is taxing the body’s systems at a much higher rate than if they weighed less. It’s not about being thin, but it’s about not carrying so much extra weight that your body is working overtime.

I am happy with my results so far, and I’m looking forward to the end of this month and the end of this Whole30. I asked Sherry about Paleo Pizza, and she reminded me that it’s not Whole30 compliant. I love Paleo Pizza… mmmmm… Pizza….

The First Things to Happen on a Whole30

I joked a few days ago about starting a non-Whole30 Whole30. The reason for the joke was that my wife and I have done so many of them, at this point, they’re just another facet of our health and fitness journeys. Sunday comes every week; our Whole30’s come after every holiday cluster. So, I’m in week one right now, and have experienced some of the same symptoms I always get on Whole30:

  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Feeling tired
  • Anxiety
  • Cravings and increased appetite

Those are the negatives that everyone is afraid of, and quite frankly, that most people focus on. However, there are also some positives I’ve exerperienced not only this week, but every time I’ve done a Whole30. So far this week:

  • Pants already feel looser due to decreased bloating
  • Face feels less puffy (also due to decreased bloating)
  • Day 5 brought increased energy and mental clarity
  • Already noticing that smaller portions fill me up

That last bullet surprised me the most. I thought it would take longer for the smaller portions to feel like they’re enough, but it’s already happened. Yesterday at dinner, I had a standard Whole30 portion of a dish Sherry meal prepped for us on Sunday, and afterward, I was not only satisfied, but not craving any follow-up food or dessert. For the previous 4 days, I had to augment dinner with an apple to make up for some bulk to make me feel full. Last night? Not needed.

The one major Whole30 rule I always break (since the very first one) is to not weigh yourself. However, I don’t prescribe to the “One size fits all” approach to this rule because for me (and many other people I know), daily weighing allows for immediate feedback and better/closer analysis of how the foods we eat impact our bodies and in turn, our health. I weighed myself on my first day on the Whole30, and already, I’m down 5 lbs. I know it’s water weight, but that’s important, because that’s what the decreased bloating was. That’s why my pants have gotten a little looser, and my belts need to be brought in another belt hole.

I’ve been getting more sleep, sticking to my exercise, and eating only the meals we have prepped and not eating beyond the suggested serving sizes. I’m not feeling starved, hungry, or wanting more food. Admittedly, coffee helps, but I switch to tea in the afternoons to help me sleep through the night. I’ve found that I’m no longer able to drink coffee into the night and sleep soundly. If I cut off the coffee by 1 pm daily, my nightly sleep is much more restful. Since sleep is so important to not only weight loss but to our general health, I’ve placed a higher priority on getting the sleep and making sure I can get the best quality sleep possible.

So, my first week of Whole30 is going exactly as planned. My goal for the first week of any Whole30 is to lose the 5 lbs of water weight and to drop an additional 5 lbs over the following three weeks. I also aim to reduce my intake of foods with higher carbs (even if Paleo), and to reduce the volume of food I eat (which is the root of my problem with my weight/health). I know that my chances of getting my weight back down in the 170’s may be unattainable, but I’m not backing down. I want to get back to that weight as I felt my best there. It will take me some time, but with some hard work and perseverance, I’ll make it. Maybe not this month or even next month, but I will get there. I’m playing the long game; no need to rush or hurry things.

“You’re So Disciplined.”

I have been told on more than a few occasions when discussing my health and fitness journey that I’m lucky that I’m so disciplined. The implication is that my achievements in health and fitness are due in large part to my being disciplined, and because most people lack the discipline of a servicemember, my results are not typical. Well, as the cartoon says, “That’s where you’re wrong, kiddo!”

Discipline is important, for sure, but something my grandmother told me once helped me turn my health around years after her passing. One day, I remarked to her that as long as I could remember, she was always so disciplined and hard-working. I noticed that she always made her bed in the morning, always did chores, and worked hard all day cleaning and cooking. She laughed and said, “That’s silly. I’m actually a very lazy person, but these things need to get done, so I get them done so that I can enjoy being lazy later.” That’s how I see my health and fitness. I do the work of eating right and getting my exercise in, even when I don’t feel like it, because I enjoy being lazy later, and I enjoy the benefits of eating healthy and the exercise.

Are there days I skip a workout? Yes, but it’s not typical. I usually will press on and do my weightlifting and run regardless of how motivated or unmotivated I am. The only thing that usually stops me is injury or inability to workout (like being at military training, on vacation where it’s not reasonable to exercise, etc). Otherwise, I just get it done because it needs to get done. I am no more disciplined than anyone else. I think the real reason I have been successful in changing my lifestyle is that I’ve placed a higher priority on my health and fitness than most people. I sacrifice for my health and fitness.

We spend more time and energy on our priorities, and we sacrifice for them. If someone’s priority is getting good grades as a student, they will sacrifice going out and having a good time with friends to study and get the best grades they possibly can. If someone’s priority is to get good at a sport, they will spend more time practicing and less time socializing. The same holds true for someone who wants to become a programmer. They will spend more time with a computer than with a pint glass in a pub.

You need to make your health and fitness a priority. That means sacrificing some things, or in my case, sacrificing pasta, bread, pizza, and desserts. These are all things I love, but I love being healthy more. I enjoy being able to go up the stairs in my home without getting winded. I enjoy being able to sit on the floor and play with my dog. I like that I’m no longer diabetic. Being lazy and not exercising was very easy, but that ease was a long death.

I made fitness my priority; so much so, that I schedule my life around my exercise times. I have delayed plans to get my exercise in, and I’ve declined meetings that extend into my exercise time in the evenings. Not once have I come to regret doing so as my health and fitness are my responsibility, and nobody else is looking out for them. It’s solely up to me to make it happen.

My success in health and fitness are not solely the result of discipline; it’s priorities. And until you make your health and fitness your priority, you will always have difficulty “Finding the time” to exercise or finding the motivation to eat well. It’s easier to cheat (or, as I call it, sabotage) when your health and lifestyle are not your priority. Making health and fitness a priority breeds the discipline necessary to succeed.

Exercise is a Gift

When I was on active duty in the Marines, exercise was a way of life and a big part of our jobs. We had “PT,” or physical training at least once or twice a week with the platoon, once every other week with the Company, and about once per quarter with the Battalion. We were also expected to conduct “Personal PT,” or to exercise on our own for another three times a week to stay in peak condition. I have to admit that I rarely did personal PT, and when I did, it was usually not something I enjoyed. As an NCO, I had to conduct PT one-on-one with troops who needed extra help to pass the physical fitness test (PFT) or whose PT standards were slipping, but otherwise, I relied on the resilience of youth to see me through the regular PT sessions we had.

Once I left the Marines, I left behind exercise. It was a conscious rebellion; I wanted nothing to do with exercise ever again. This lasted almost 20 years as evidenced by my refusing to do any form of exercise during my first year in my new healthy lifestyle where I lost 110 lbs. I abstained from exercise not only because I wanted to see how much weight I could lose without any exercise, but because I truly disliked it. The Marine Corps had killed any enjoyment I possibly could have gotten out of exercise. It’s not because the Marine Corps doesn’t do fitness right (it does), but because past boot camp, I was never really fit, and my exercise sessions were filled with soreness and a lot of effort. There was the occasional fun run where we ran as a large group around the base, and we actually enjoyed ourselves, but those were few and far in between for me. As a whole, I didn’t enjoy exercise or fitness.

After leaving the Marines, I thought that exercise was what a person did to counter-act caloric intake or what a person did to get all muscled-up (aka ripped, jacked, swoll, etc). I felt like exercise was a punishment for eating unhealthy or too much food. In other words, every association I had with exercise was negative. That made it hard for me to ever get into a good routine, to make any lasting habits of an exercise routine, or to realize any real benefit from exercise. I did actually try for the sake of improving my fitness and (mistakenly) to try to lose weight, but no plan or routine ever stuck.

After losing 110 lbs, I began to see the need for exercise. I had lost a lot of weight, but I still looked soft. I wanted to look healthy, and I came to realize that the only way to accomplish that goal was to exercise. I actively thought about how I had succeeded with the weight loss and also thought about how I had repeatedly failed to sustain an exercise regimen. I came the the following conclusion: mindset was the key. I was able to stick to my new lifestyle (diet) through a very positive mindset and believing in the process. With exercise, I had always done the exact opposite and the results were exactly the opposite of the results from my diet. A lightbulb went off in my head.

In the Marines, we used to say, “Fake it ’til you make it,” whenever we had to do something we were uncomfortable with. Leading PT for the first time? Act confident even when you aren’t, and eventually, you will be. Need to teach classes to the platoon and you’re nervous about coming off as scared? Pretend to be confident, and eventually, you will be. I decided that I would fake excitement for exercise until it became a reality. I reasoned with myself that if a positive attitude could have such a positive impact on my weight loss and overall health, perhaps it could carry over to my fitness.

Every day, when I awoke, I would start telling myself, “I get to workout today,” or “I get to run today.” I framed it as a gift because I know so many people who want to run or exercise but cannot. As a veteran, I know more than my fair share of men and women who are no longer with us that would likely rather be runnning or working out. I began to think of the many veterans who are physically disabled due to their service who would do anything to have one more run. I began to see myself as fortunate, and my ability to exercise as a gift. Even though I felt it was cringey at first to say, “I get to run today,” a strange thing happened; I began to believe it. The reasons behind the mantra became very real and evident to me, and instead of being an abstract statement, I began to see the faces of the many people I know who can’t run anymore. I began to think about people I knew and missed.

I took it a step further, and sometimes on runs, when things got tough or I felt like it was too hot to be running or that maybe I was too worn out, I would think of someone in particular who was no longer with us, and dedicate my run to them. It was a different person every time, but I felt like they were watching me, and since I dedicated my effort on that run to them, I was not going to let them down. It would lead me to pushing harder and pushing through the barrier.

Now, it’s become second nature to me. Every day that I wake up, I tell myself, “I get to exercise today,” and it makes me smile. At my age, my body still lets me exericse. I am still able to get out there, to lift weights, to do pull-ups, push-ups, and then run 3+ miles without pain afterwards, and that’s truly a gift. It wasn’t something that was given to me or that I inherited; I had to work for it, and in another sense, that’s what makes it truly valuable.

I have a 4 mile ruck (road march) coming up in three weeks, and if it’s like any of the other rucks I’ve done in the past few years, it’ll start with a shuffle, which is a sort of run you do with a 48+ lbs rucksack on your back while wearing a helmet and carrying a rifle. It’s not easy, but you do it to give yourself as much benefit to complete the ruck within the allotted time (under 17 minutes/mile). That sounds slow, but trust me; with all that weight on your back, on your head, and carrying a rifle while in full uniform wearing combat boots, it’s not that easy. But, strangely enough, typically about a mile into each ruck, there’s a moment when it hits me: I get to do this. There are so many people I know who would give anything to be in my boots, doing what I’m doing, discomfort and all. That makes me fortunate. And then it happens: I smile and I pick up the pace and shuffle some more.

Your mindset is the single most important thing as it pertains to your success in health and fitness as it is in any facet of your life. You’ve heard the saying, “You reap what you sow.” The same holds true for attitude. If you believe you’re going to fail, or that you have no chance for succeeding, the likelihood of success is greatly diminished. Sure, overconfidence is also a bad thing, but confidence is not. A positive mindset can never hurt you. Believe that you can do it, trust in the process, harness your motivations, and no matter what, remember that your ability to exercise is a gift that countless others would give anything for. Don’t squander it.