“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.

My Motivation Fuel

I’ve seen many takes on motivation; where it comes from, how to capture it, and why it’s important. Of course, I have even written about it on occasion, but after reading someone’s take on it today (they say that they aren’t motivated by others but rely solely on self-motivation), it made me reflect on my own journey through not only health and fitness, but throughout my life as a Marine and now as a Soldier.

It took a lot of motivation to go from the guy on the left to the guy on the right.

I would define motivation as a source of strength that pushes you past barriers and obstacles. That motivation has to come from somewhere, though. Much like any other form of energy, it can’t be created out of thin air. Some people say their motivation comes from within; from their own love of self, from a strong desire to continually challenge themselves, or from competing with the person they were the day before. That’s cool, and if it works for them, more power to them! My sources of motivation are a little different.

My motivation comes from many sources, and I have found them all to be valuable at different times. When I was losing weight and working on improving my health, my primary motivators were my wife, my kids, and a fear of dying and leaving them alone before they were ready to be without me. My health was very poor and declining, and unless I did something drastic to change the course of my health, I was headed for an early grave. This is not hyperbole; the signs were all there. Type 2 Diabetes, fatty liver disease, circulation issues in my lower extremities, nerve tingling, gum disease (due to the Diabetes), failing eye sight (also due to the Diabetes), and morbid obesity. I was a ticking time bomb that I needed to diffuse. Taking back responsibility for my health was the only way to do that, and my family motivated me. Once I began the journey, the motivation to succeed came from within; I was fueled by a desire to do better every day, to be the best me that I could be by sticking to the diet and resisting all temptations. I wanted to succeed for my family, but the motivation was stoked by the love of my family.

My wife and I at our first Marine Corps Birthday Ball together, and my first time back in uniform in over 20 years.

When I began my fitness journey a year after my health journey began, my motivation was a desire to get back into my Marine Corps Dress Blues uniform for the Marine Corps Birthday Ball later that year. I had lost a lot of weight, but my body was soft. I decided to add exercise to my daily regimen to get fit and to lose the last bit of weight to get back into height/weight standards and to fit into my uniform. My wife always wanted to attend a military ball, and I wanted to give her that experience. Once I began exercising, I learned that it was still possible for me to serve in the military, even after a 20-year break, as long as I could pass height/weight stnadards and pass a physical fitness test. My motivation for fitness became a strong desire to get back into the military to complete my 20-year career. I had already completed 11 years on active duty in the Marines and it always felt like unfinished business for me to not complete 20 years. Every day, the thought of being able to crush the Army Physical Fitness Test burned in my mind and pushed me to run faster, to do more push-ups, to get a stronger core.

Me after my assessment and selection to the Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB). I needed every source of motivation I could muster for this gruelling event.

Throughout my second military career (what I have come to call my time in the Army National Guard), I continued to eat healthy and stay fit. Even though I sustained some injuries, I made sure I kept my weight within standard and got right back to fitness as quickly as possible. Currently, as I am in Warrant Officer Candidate School (WOCS), I am especially dilligent with my fitness and I have recently hit new personal bests in deadlift, squats, and overhead press. I’m also running at nearly my fastest pace ever, and it’s only getting better.

Me after a particularly tough workout. I strained so hard, my beard popped out of my cleanly-shaved face!

My motivation to get through WOCS comes from many places.

Soldiers. I have received many messages and well wishes from Soldiers who are all counting on me to make it through and to become a Warrant Officer because they know I will work hard to empower them to receive better training and to lead them with compassion and fairness. I work hard to make sure they are as lethal as possible while giving them the skills needed to be as resilient and to survive whatever harm’s way we are put into. It’s humbling to have Soldiers higher in rank than me tell me that they are rooting for me because they know I will do great things.

Friends. I have countless friends, both military and civilian, who know what I’m doing and are cheering me on. I’ve received lots of words of encouragement from them, and they continue to cheer me on as I work my way through WOCS.

Family. Once again, it comes down to my family. My wife Sherry and my kids, Gelli and Brendon. At the end of the day, these three people mean the most to me, and I cannot let them down. I must not let them down. For my kids especially, I always want to be an example of what’s possible when you are motivated and when you persevere.

My sources of motivation are external, and I use those external sources to fuel the motivation that burns within me. Sometimes, motivation from within isn’t enough. I’ve had many moments where I wanted to quit, even if just for a moment. Each time, I heard the voice of someone who told me they believed in me. I thought of someone I was doing it all for. I remembered some encouragement or words of advice I was told. Those external forces pushed me farther than I could have done so myself.

Regardless of where your motivation comes from, whether it’s from within or from external sources (or both), it’s important to find it. Identify it and use it. Harness it’s power to propel you to new successes and to keep improving.

Day 1 of the non-Whole30 Whole30 2021

This is an older photo from when I put some fresh bacon bits on top, but it’s otherwise the same breakfast I had this morning.

Last night, I noticed Sherry reading a long article on her iPhone and I asked her if she was reading anything interesting. She said, “Your last blog entry; I want to see what you’ve committed me to.” I had to laugh. I actually went out of my way to not commit her (or us) to anything beyond what we already agreed upon. Maybe it wasn’t a formal handshake agreement, but as far as I was concerned, we had a good plan, and there was no reason for me to add to that.

This morning began our first day of our non-Whole30 Whole30 for 2021. We started with smoked salmon on scrambled eggs with a coconut cream and avocado mayonnaise ranch dressing with sliced avocados on top. This has been a staple breakfast of ours for the past few months, and I have to say I really enjoy it. We ate bacon and eggs for breakfast for over five years with rare exceptions, and while I enjoy it, I have to admit that the salmon still feels like a treat. The fact that it’s so incredibly healthy for us is bonus.

Sherry meal prepped our food for the week, and (surprise!) it’s all Whole30 compliant, so I’ll be good in that department. I will be working out later today which means I’ll have my banana half before and the other banana half afterwards. A tip given to me by a TAC Officer at Warrant Officer Candidate School was to eat half a banana before my workout and follow the workout with the other half. I wasn’t sure if it would make a big difference, but I swear I can feel when the sugar hits my blood as I feel like I have more power as I lift. After my run is complete, eating the other half of the banana seems to reduce my muscle pain. This may all be in my head; I don’t care. It feels like it works and that’s all I need.

Some things for me to remember for today and the next few days:

  • Sugar withdrawls are going to be tough, but they will be over in a few days.
  • No snacking; keep yourself busy!
  • Portion sizes; you want to eat more because it feels good. Don’t. Stick to the normal portions, and soon, the normal portions will be enough.
  • No desserts. There’s no need for them. After the sugar cravings are gone, the desire for desserts will also subside.
  • Whole30 works (even if this isn’t a Whole30). Trust it like you have before and you will get the same results.

Who am I kidding. We’re doing a Whole30. There’s a lot of pressure on us every time we do one, though, but honestly, I need that. I picked up a few pounds over the past two weeks that I need/want to get rid of, and I need my fitness level to elevate as I prepare for this month’s WOCS drill where I will need to do a 4-mile ruck (what we call a road march). I will likely do a 4-mile ruck of my own this Wednesday to prep for it mentally. Last month, I did a 2-mile ruck after a really hard run two days earlier and I learned that it was a mistake to run so hard two days before a ruck. I made it with a lot of time to spare, but my legs were far more worn out than they should have been or than they were when I did the 3.1-mile ruck in October. This time, I’ll make sure to skip my Wednesday run before my weekend drill to make sure my legs are as fresh and ready as possible.

So, that’s where I am as we start 2021. What are your plans? Did you make any resolutions? Are you continuing on any gains from 2020? Let’s crush 2021 together and get it done!

Buckling Down After the Holidays

Just like many, if not most people, I overate over the holidays. Even though most of what I overate was Paleo, the fact remains that I ate more than usual, and much of that food contained more sugar/carbs than I usually allow in my daily calorie intake. Again, these sugars were natural sugars and the carbs were in the form of honey or fruits within treats, the excess still took its toll. While I didn’t gain a lot of weight, I did gain a bit of size in my waist.

So, what does that mean? It means what has become the new normal for us after the holidays is that it’s a time to buckle down and get back to eating right. In the past, we would do a Whole30, but this year, we’re not necessarily doing a Whole30 although we will be very close to it. We will be very strict Paleo with an emphasis on keeping the carbs and portion sizes low and eliminating desserts, snacks, and anything sweet for the sake of sweetness.

I have been keeping up with my fitness during the holidays, but a slight spasm in my back after my last weightlifting session sidelined me for 5 days. I resume my workouts again tomorrow (Monday), and honestly, I can’t wait. I’m de-loading a bit (10%) since I was at what I consider to be my max weight in deadlift and squats (and probably overhead press, too), but I’ll keep pushing on my bench press and barbell row (neither of these have me really straining yet). I also plan on continuing on raising the milage of my runs. Currently, I’m at 3 mile minimums, and I’d like to hit 5 mile runs by the end of January.

Buckling down isn’t easy, but I know what I’m up against and what to expect. I have done this before. I will have sugar withdrawals and increased appetite for snacks and dessert after meals. Coffee will help, as will keeping myself busy. It will also require avoiding snacks and desserts, but again, this is just a matter of finding something to occupy my mind. I definitely find myself snacking when I’m bored and have a lot of time on my hands, and this holiday break, I had a lot of spare time where I sat around and did nothing.

Some people make resolutions to diet, get fit, or get healthy. If that works for them, that’s great! Personally, I don’t do that anymore; I just recommit to my healthy habits and get back to basics. Sherry and I knew going into the holidays that we would relax our strict habits and get back to them after the holidays. In effect, we’re just following our plan.

If you’re making a resolution, then stick with it. Set realistic goals, and break your goals into chunks so that you can make progress that you can measure. Whatever you do, don’t make your only measure of success your weight. Non-scale victories (NSV’s) are what fueled my weight loss journey, as many weeks, I didn’t lose weight but I did notice I lost sizes in pants and shirts, or I noticed more flexibility or that I felt better.

Find social media groups that are doing the same thing you’re doing, whether it’s a new diet or a new fitness plan. Talk to others and learn. Listen. Watch. Emulate those who are successful. If you find that something isn’t working, seek new ways to approach the problem to make more progress. Everyone is different, and part of the journey is finding what works best for YOU and then sticking with it.

Success is within your grasp. You just need to want it badly enough to see it through, regardless of the discomfort. I am buckling back down and getting back to basics. I will get back to my healthy eating and discard the snacks and desserts.

The Two Sides of New Year’s Resolutions

This is an article written for two very different audiences. I’ve been on both sides of this, and I hope to shed some light on some positives to help both groups of people in the New Year.

“I made a resolution to get fit/healthy this year.”

Congratulations! Now that you’ve made a resolution, it’s up to you to follow-through. Some things to remember:

  • Eating healthy will make you lose weight; exercise will make you strong/fit.
  • Don’t use the scale as your only measure of success; how you feel, how well your clothes fit, how you look, how clear your skin is and other non-scale victories are all very important measures of your progress and success.
  • Cheat days are a myth and should be avoided. They are more like sabotage days.
  • Perseverence is the key. You will face difficulty and challenges. Meet them head-on and keep going.
  • You may slip and fall off the wagon. That’s okay. What defines successful people from those who fail is getting back up and on the right path.
  • You may feel silly in the gym on the first day/week/month. That’s okay; all the other people in the gym felt the same way.
  • The first meals you make in your new lifestyle may not be that tasty or delicuous. It’ll get better as you learn to cook within the new lifestyle.
  • There is pain and discomfort in changing your lifestyle. Embrace it and know that the discomfort means you have chosen to do something about your health and fitness.
  • The pain of fitness is better than the pain of regret (of not starting a fitness routine).
  • Seek the advice/guidance of others who have started a similar journey as you, whether it’s people at the gym who are more fit and stronger, or people who have lost a lot of weight or gotten healthy.

“Oh no. It’s New Year which means new ‘Resolution’ people in the gym.”

Try to remember that you were new to the gym once, too. Whether these new people succeed or not may, in large part, be a result of how welcoming and helpful you are in the gym.

  • Smile. The power of a simple smile is greater on someone who is scared, nervous, and feeling out of place is more powerful than you can imagine.
  • Be helpful. If you see someone struggling with an exercise, a lift, or equipment, give them a hand and show them the right way to do it.
  • Don’t be judgmental; don’t laugh at them. We all start somewhere. Some of us have to start with more of a handicap than others.
  • Resolution people can turn into gym partners and friends if you let them. Just be a good person and foster comraderie in the gym.
  • Share your enthusiasm for fitness with the new people. Give them tips/pointers. Get them pumped up.
  • Be patient. The new people won’t know gym etiquette and explaining it to them nicely will make sure they get the message and follow the unwrtitten rules. Being mean or snippy about it only breeds resentment and hostility.

For both groups, remember that we’re all people looking for the same thing, just at different junctures of our journey. While some of us are more fit than others, we are all wanting to be on the same path: healthy and fit. Let’s help each other get there together. You never know when the tables may turn and those you helped are the ones who will help you.

Happy New Year!

PaleoMarine in Men’s Health Online

I was interviewed late last year for a series of stories debuting in the New Year to help motivate people making resolutions to get healthy and/or fit. The article is written first-person with the answers I gave to the questions I was asked.

It’s still incredible to me that a journey I started over five years ago continues to inspire others. It’s been an fun journey for me so far, and I can honestly say that I look forward to the new adventures my healthier and more fit body can take me on.