Exercise and Diet on Active Duty

As I’m currently on active duty in the Army (I’m a Warrant Officer in the Army National Guard currently attending the Warrant Officer Basic Course on Fort Sill), my nutrition is completely dependent on my own choices and preparation, and as an officer, the exercise regimen is largely left to our individual judgment. This is very good for me, as I’m 54-years old, and undertaking a physical fitness plan designed for Soldiers in their 20’s would likely leave me injured or worse.

As I live in an apartment on-post/on-base, I do meal prep on the weekends to make lunches and dinners. There are occasions where I will eat dinner with friends and classmates, but even then, I do my best to make the most healthy choices I can. Steak, sweet potatoes, grilled salmon, and pizza with cauliflower crust are my go-to’s.

Back to my fitness; I lift weights in the gym here in the mornings (Mondays/Wednesdays/Fridays, currently) and I run or ride air bikes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. When weather and time permits, I also mountainbike in the afternoons. Just today, I rode my mountain bike with a friend in Wichita Falls, TX.

I thought maintaining a healthy diet would be difficult here, but it has been surprisingly easy with a crock pot and healthy ingredients I get from the commissary or a local health food store. I am fit, I am healthy, and I’m getting stronger/faster.

Whatever your situation, don’t let your environment affect your healthy plans. There are always creative ways around the problem, and it’s up to you to find them and to put them into action. Your success belongs solely to you.

Knowing You’re On The Right Path

What I’m doing is hard. It causes me to be tired and sometimes sore. There are easier paths in life, but the one I chose was the hard path.

The easy path led me to being morbidly obese. The easy path led me to Type 2 Diabetes, fatty liver disease, worsening vision (due to the Diabetes), tingling in my legs and feet, and circulation issues. The easy path left me breathless after a single flight of stairs and it led me to a mostly sedentary life.

But then I decided that enough was enough when I found I could no longer tie my own shoes without holding my breath. My stomach was too large and got in the way. This coincided with my cousin, a PA, who told me frankly that I didn’t have long to live unless I changed my lifestyle.

So, I chose the difficult path. The path where I had to be accountable to myself for what I ate. This was the path that led me to losing weight. I then continued on that path which led me to becoming physically fit enough to go back into the military after a 20-year break.

The path I am on isn’t easy. The path I’m on often leaves me tired, worn out, and wondering what the heck I’m doing at my age. But as soon as those thoughts creep in, I remind myself that anything worthwhile takes effort. The better the payoff, the greater the effort. It’s not easy, and that’s the point.; that’s how I know I’m on the right path.

Well Begun is Half Done

Marcus Aurelius proved that absolute power doesn’t necessarily corrupt absolutely. He had immense power, and yet when he became the leader of Rome, what’s the first thing he did? He appointed his brother to co-lead with him.

Meditations is nothing more than his personal journal, something he wrote into morning and night. He literally said in his journal that he didn’t want to get up out of his warm bed every morning, but he felt that we are meant, as humans, to do more than the lay in bed, warm and comfortable. We are meant to work.

One of my favorite things that he said, aside from “The obstacle is the way,” is “Well begun is half done.” This talks to me, today more than ever. The thing I have always struggled with most is just getting started. Not just with exercise or fitness, but with anything. Huge report? Long list of people to add to a security group? Edits on a novel? Just getting started is always the hardest part. But here’s the rub; the mere act of starting something properly is half the battle, and you’re already, in that instant, half done.

This morning, I went to the gym on post and as I walked over to the power rack, I wasn’t sure how motivated I was to get started. But, I was already at the gym, I was already dressed up, and I was there with fellow Warrant Officers. There was no way I was going to not get started. So, I began with stretches and started laying out my plan for the workout (StrongLifts 5×5 does this for me, mostly). I retrieved the weights I’d need, and I setup the rack as I’d need it for my workout. And then I started.

Me, after getting back to my little apartment on post after my workout.

I put everything into it. I started properly. I started by giving it my all, and by doing everything right. I made sure my stretches were long and deep. I made sure I was thoughtful with my movements. Being mindful during lifting keeps you from injuries (I’ve done lifts where my mind wandered before and it resulted in a pulled back muscle that took months to heal).

Before I knew it, I was done. I looked at my watch; 35 minutes had elapsed. That’s 35 minutes of good, solid work. That’s 35 minutes that all started with a simple decision: START.

My grandmother always said that everyone knows how to lose weight and get fit. If thoughts alone were good enough, everyone would be thin and would be fit. There would be no obesity and everyone would have six-pack abs. Anyone can do it. Everyone has the same ability. There are those with natural gifts, but even those people need the same thing the most unfit and unhealthy person needs: the desire to start.

Today is your day. It doesn’t matter what tomorrow holds. Tomorrow never comes; today is here. So what if the morning has passed. You have the entire day to fit in some exercise. You can start eating better with your very next meal. These are all things within YOUR power. The only person holding you back is YOU. Don’t be the cause of your inability to succeed. Be the force that propels you forward. Live each day as if it were your last.

Sacrifices

Me as a Sgt in the Marines in 1991 vs me as a WO in the ARNG in 2021.

I’ve been doing this military thing for a long time now. Well, not all at once; I took a 20-year break between my 11 years of active duty in the Marines and the last 5 years in the Army National Guard. But, this entire military thing is ingrained into me now. It’s not just part of who I am; it is who I am.

Sometimes, this military service requires me to do things that are against my individual best interests, but when you are part of something bigger than yourself, and doing something for the greater good, sacrifices must be made. I am proud to make those sacrifices, even though they often affect those I love in ways I would prefer to shield them from. In this most recent case, I will be away from my wife for eight months at a time when she needs me around for not only companionship, but counsel. Fortunately, technology will aid us here, but the strain on her will be greater than it is on me.

I took this on, knowing the hardships and knowing what it’s like to deploy, to be away from family and friends, to miss home. I’ve done it before, and knowing the difficulties, I chose to do it again. But my wife did not. She never expected to be an Army Wife, and despite my assurances that serving in the National Guard wouldn’t take me away for extended periods of time, I never expected to become a Warrant Officer or to have to go to a school that lasts 8 months. But here we are.

In the end, it is my sincere belief that the sacrifice of me being away for eight months will yield a lot of positive results. My military career demands it; I cannot remain a Warrant Officer without becoming fully qualified in my occupational specialty as a Targeting Officer. My retirement, which will benefit my wife as well, will be more substantial as a Warrant Officer. The benefits I receive and will receive for the rest of my life once I retire will also be beneficial to both my wife and me. Sacrifice, by definition, means giving something precious to be lost in exchange for something important. In this case, I am exchanging time (something that is a finite resource) with my wife, family, and friends for my military career and retirement.

To prepare for this training, I have been exercising as regularly as I could. I had to take a break when my wife and I went on a two-week vacation in September, and afterward, that period of non-exercise extended two weeks due to some lingering abdominal pain I was experiencing. Once the pain was gone, I started back with weightlifting and running only to hurt a tendon in my right arm. Fortunately, I can still continue all my weightlifting and running; I just need to lay off the leg tucks for the next few weeks.

I have been sacrificing comfort for being fit, and sacrificing eating foods I grew up with and have always loved and enjoyed for eating healthier. Fortunately, my wife is a master of making facsimile foods (foods typically made with non-Paleo ingredients) and has infinitely improved our standard of living. But what I have given up has yielded a life so much more full than I could have ever imagined.

Eating well led me to exercising, and exercising led me to thinking that I might want to get back into the military. I never imagined that I’d actually be able to do it, let alone to become a Warrant Officer. And now, after sacrificing all that time and expending great effort into being fit and healthy, I am on the cusp of an eight-month stint on active duty attending a military school.

As I prepare to depart my comfortable civilian life to enter the active duty military world, I am left thinking about all the decisions that led me to where I am today and to where I am going. I think of all the sacrifices not only made by me, but of my wife. She gave up a lot to help me get to where I am, and she has been my biggest supporter. She has sacrificed just as much as I have, and in some ways, more. She never signed up for this. This wasn’t part of the deal we made when we met, but when presented with the choices, she agreed. She not only agreed, but did so through never ending love and devotion.

I’ve said it time and time again on this blog: anything worthwhile is going to take effort. I’ve also learned that the most precious things in life sometimes require sacrifice. The amount of sacrifice determines the impact of the result and its ultimate value. In this case, our separation will, I believe, only make us stronger.

Believe in yourself. Make the hard decisions and don’t you dare accept good enough or fine. We only get one life, and time is precious, but sometimes it’s necessary to sacrifice some of that time for something worthwhile. In my case, it’s my military service and attending a military school, but for you, it might be sacrificing comfort for better fitness, or sacrificing your love of pasta for better health. We all have it in us to make these sacrifices; you just need to decide how much the end result is worth to you. You just might surprise yourself with what you can do when you set your mind to it.

Celebrate the Changes

My most recent selfie. I should have taken the pen out of my pocket.

It’s easy to forget how far we’ve come, or how much progress we’ve made unless we remind ourselves. This is important, not for vanity’s sake, but for motivation. It’s hard to work at something that has no real end state when you don’t have feedback on your progress. This is especially true for me, as I’m not working toward a target weight, a target strength goal, or a target run time. I am working toward the never-ending and always-moving target of staying fit, staying healthy, and keeping old age at bay.

What I’ve found does help me, however, is to take any small victory I can and celebrate it. This morning as I got ready for work, I walked into the closed to pick out a shirt to wear for the day as I do every day I go into the office. This time, my eye was drawn to a shirt I always liked to wear, but have been unable to due to weight gain/swelling after my surgery. I tried to put this shirt on about a month ago and could barely get it buttoned over my midsection. It made me sad, and honestly, left me kind of depressed for a few weeks afterward. I was terrified that this new body shape might become a new normal.

Well, after seeing the changes in how my trousers fit, I decided to give the shirt a try. I pulled it off the rack and took the shirt off the hanger. As I put my arm into the sleeve, I braced myself for disappointment. I watched carefully in the mirror as I buttoned each button, and to my surprise and pleasure, I was able to not only get the shirt buttoned all the way, but it fit properly. Not too loose, not too tight; just as it used to fit prior to my surgery. There was one change, however, but this is one that I will happily accept: my arms fill out the upper sleeves a bit more. If I flex, my arm fills the shirt completely and actually stretches it.

So, I’m gaining access to much more of my wardrobe. Fortunately, I like the clothes in my closet, so I will actually wear them all again. It’s amazing how much better I feel about myself, my health, my fitness progress, and life in general. I shouldn’t be so concerned with my body shape, but honestly, as someone in the military whose career partly depends on my physical fitness and adherence to height/weight regulations, it is always in the back of my mind.

I had an outstanding lifting session and run yesterday, and afterward, Sherry and I went out to eat some Indian food and I ate a spicy Vindaloo that was phenomenal. This morning, I tried a new Paleo-friendly cereal with a coconut/almond milk blend, and it was quite tasty (although I ate too much of it; a little bit of this “cereal” goes a long way).

I am actually looking forward to my lifting and run tomorrow afternoon, as it’s getting fun again. I finally got past the “Getting back into it” phase and I think I’ve psychologically and physically moved into the “This is fun; let’s keep building” phase.

Seeing and feeling the fruits of my labors realized by being able to wear this shirt really has helped me immensely. I’m glad I took a chance on this shirt. Oh, I think it looks pretty snazzy, too, so there’s a bonus.

Getting Stronger, Slightly Faster, and Definitely Leaner

It’s funny. Progress is slow and hard to see until you see it. In my case, until I feel it.

When I look in the mirror, I see myself as overweight. I know it’s a problem in my head, and I fight against it, but the fact is that I’m about 20 lbs heavier than I should be. I struggle with that, and I’m working on it. I have some plans I’ll be implementing soon, but it’s too early to discuss now. With that said, I have felt depressed about my physical condition since my surgery, but it’s been getting better.

I’ve been getting stronger. Using StrongLifts 5×5, I’ve been making steady progress. I’m finally getting into weights that are heavier and the workouts are no longer easy, but they’re not too difficult, either. I feel happy with my progress, which has been steady and on-schedule. If I have any disappointment, it’s that I don’t always get 3 sessions in each week.

I’ve been getting slightly faster on my runs, too. I’ve been sticking to 2-mile runs because I want to concentrate more on strength and body composition than on my run times, but also because my run times are now at a point where I can pass an ACFT. I won’t blaze the track, but I will come in before the time limit.

As for how I feel, I have to admit that I am feeling better. I still have the old man pains in my shoulders every now and then, and a weird pain in my back on the left side, but they are very intermittent. When I wear my jeans, they fit well. I’ve gone in a belt hole on my belt, and I’m close to closing in another belt hole soon. My shirts aren’t as tight as they were after my surgery which means that the swelling is down, but also that my waist is shrinking. I’m not back in my 32’s just yet, but I can squeeze into them if necessary.

So, progress is happening… it’s just taking it’s sweet time. As an impatient fellow, it’s not an easy pill to swallow, but the bright side is that progress continues to happen. I’m not stagnating. Any progress is good progress.

Dedication and Starting Over: Don’t Overthink it

People say that it is hard to start a new lifestyle. I used to believe that it’s even harder to restart when you had a good run but had to stop for some reason. While I never stopped eating well and paying attention to my diet, I did have to stop exercising for two months as I recovered from my surgery and that led me to some serious anxiety over my ability to get fit again.

My silly grin after a great bike ride.

Going into the surgery, my biggest fear wasn’t the pain, the discomfort, or even the recovery. I wasn’t even afraid of dying. I was most afraid of the hard work it would take to get back into shape, to get back to being able to pass the ACFT.

I realized too late that our thoughts are very impactful on the outcomes of our efforts. I made it out to be so hard and difficult, and that progress would be slow and cumbersome. And, to no surprise, it was. But the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that it was only being slow and cumbersome because I had predisposed my mind to believing it was so. I seemed to forget that I didn’t get into top physical form in mere weeks; it took months of hard work, day after day.

I wish I could say I realized this sooner than I did, but honestly, it’s something that came to me today. I was looking back on my progress (I write down and track my physical fitness results) and realized that I’m making progress at the same rate I did the first time I decided to get fit again. I’m not making slower progress; I am making progress.

After my run on Monday. It wasn’t fast, but it was faster than similar runs before it.

I also made another realization: even if that progress was, in fact, slower, it’s better than no progress. Every bit of progress is movement in the right direction and preferable to no progress. Seeing the lines in the graphs trending upward was a good wake up call for me to stop being negative and start embracing the progress and how awesome that is.

Right now, my goal is to lift weights, do my crunches, pull-ups, and run three times a week. On the “off” days, my plan is to ride my mountain bike for about 45 minutes to an hour (at an easy pace that keeps my heart in the 140-145 bpm range). The reality is that I’ve been lifting about twice a week and riding my bike once or twice. I need to fix that with re-dedicating myself to my fitness, and to motivate myself to keep going.

I lifted/ran on Monday, and rode my bike yesterday (without a crash for the first time in four bike rides). Tonight, after work, I will lift and run again. I know it’s going to be tough, and I will be a little tired, but I am motivated by my progress thus far considering the lackluster effort. When I think back on the progress I made before, it was because I was very strict about the 3x a week lifting/running regimen. Now, adding the biking in at least twice a week in conjunction with the 3x lifting and running, I should be just fine for my military service this fall.

I’ve come a long way, and I will never go back to being unhealthy and unfit without a fight.

It’s easy to think negatively. Starting anything at all is the hardest part of doing it. A fellow blogger said that long runs were much better after they were done, and it’s true; I typically don’t really enjoy running while I’m in the act of running. I sometimes even dread running before I start. But once I start, it’s just a matter of time and effort before I’m done, and once the run is over, I feel great.

Minor Setback and Motivation

This is the picture I took of myself on Monday after my run.

I felt defeated, angry, and upset. It was the first time in five years that I had to cut a run short due to pain. I was annoyed and I had negative thoughts almost all the way home. I felt like a failure.

After about a half mile of walking, I decided to try running again to see if the pain was still there; it was not. But I stopped running and continued walking that last mile home. I didn’t want to re-injure it, or make it worse. I figured I’d give it time to heal for my next run.

I thought about it a lot on that walk home, and after I let the anger and frustration go, I thought objectively about where I was in my fitness journey. I was still just weeks into getting back into it after a major surgery. I was pushing myself harder than I should again; something I told myself I wouldn’t do. I needed to dial it back a bit and allow my body time to adjust and strengthen at it’s own speed.

My next scheduled run was supposed to be yesterday, but a lack of sleep the night before kept me from exercising. I have found that every time I’ve injured myself in the gym or on the road has been after nights where I didn’t get enough sleep, so I’ve learned that it’s better to skip a day if I’m not rested than to push it and risk an injury which could set me back.

Last night, I still got to bed later than I wanted to, but I felt rested when I woke up. I feel motivated to lift weights and to run later today, and I’m actually looking forward to it. I’ve been making great progress with my pull-ups and sit-ups. I’m up to 10 assisted pull-ups and 125 sit-ups. For someone who had their abdominal muscles sewn back together just two months ago, that’s pretty good.

My strength in weightlifting has also been improving steadily and safely without discomfort. StrongLifts 5×5 really does work, and it’s a great beginner program. Coupled with my own fitness program, I will definitely be ready for WOBC in October/November.

Setbacks happen. Sometimes they’re serious, and other times, they’re minor. Either way, the hardest part is getting over the psychological damage those setbacks cause, and getting “Back up on that horse.” We’ve all heard the motivational phrases, so I’ll spare you that here. But, I do use those motivational phrases on myself. I start repeating them over and over until I believe them. I motivate myself by reminding myself how lucky I am to be able to exercise, to be able to lift weights, to be able to get out on the road and run. There are so many people who can’t do that for one reason or another, especially at my age. But here I am, suiting up, hitting the gym, and then going out in the heat and getting it done. Even if I’m slow, I’m not on the couch. I haven’t surrendered, and I never will.

I will always work to be better today than I was yesterday, whether that’s in how I deal with people, my diet, or my fitness. I just want to continue to be better. Sure, I’ll hit roadblocks and setbacks, but I’ll never quit. I may lose a battle, but I will not lose the war. I may have cut a run short this week, but that won’t be my last run. I will keep going, and I will keep running.

Really, REALLY Didn’t Want to Do It

Me after my latest run.

I really didn’t want to work out or run today. I was actually dreading it. I had ZERO motivation, and all I could think about was not doing anything. But the more I thought about skipping today, the worse I felt. I didn’t want to deal with the guilt of skipping my workout, and with allowing myself to skip it.

Because the guilt would eat me up, I went ahead and suited up and went upstairs and did my usual StrongLifts 5×5 workout along with 8 assisted pull-ups, one unassisted pull-up, and 80 sit-ups.

After the gym workout, I hit the road for a three-mile run. I wasn’t fast by any stretch, but I was consistent and I got it done. I was tired, but again, not sore. I didn’t feel bad, just worn-out.

I showered and relaxed for a bit and then had dinner with Sherry. She made Paleo Pizza, and afterward, we split a Crave 007 cupcake. It was the perfect dessert for one of my favorite dinners.

The most rewarding part? Knowing that I got my workout and run done. I didn’t allow myself to skip, and I stayed consistent with my workouts. I have to make sure I’m ready for my military training in October, and I lost a bit of my speed and stamina due to the surgery, so consistency and determination are going to get me back to where I need to be.

The hardest part of working out is getting started; getting past the self-doubt, the laziness, and the ease of sitting around and not working out. I get it. I am there more often than not lately because it’s hard to get back into shape. But my health and fitness are more important to me than the slow death of comfort. I prefer the active lifestyle, and I prefer staying fit. It was totally worth the effort today.

Non-Scale Victory: Waist

Like I said in an earlier post, this time around with my fitness and diet, I decided to forego weighing myself. While before it motivated me, lately, it’s been demotivating. Ever since I started weightlifting, my weight has gone up even though I was much stronger, getting slimmer, and smaller in the waist. Whenever I would weigh myself, I would feel bad, even though every other indicator said I was doing great.

My attire is confusing to veterans who don’t know me.

So, no more scale.

I’ve been back at exercising for three weeks now, and back to weightlifting for two weeks, and I finally was able to comfortably go down a belt hole. I also notice my pants feel better. My stomach still has a weird bulge to it due to the sewing of the muscles together, but I’m told this will go away as I continue to do my workouts.

Speaking of workouts, I’m making steady progress in the amount of weights lifted, number of sit-ups, and number of assisted pull-ups. The progress I’m making right now is actually very refreshing, and I actually enjoy my workouts. My runtimes are still not great, but I’m still making slight progress every time, which keeps me motivated.

I am sure I’d be making better progress if I were to be stricter with my diet, but once again, I’ve been sidetracked with social events where alcoholic beverages are imbibed by all in attendance. Not wanting to be rude, or to draw attention to my diet, I just partake. Since I’m working out daily, I know I can withstand some increased caloric intake from the alcohol with minimal impact, so I’ve allowed it. It’s not ideal, but it is what it is. As a friend says often, “Decisions were made.”

I’m finding victories all the time right now, and it’s motivating. Not looking at the scale helps a lot, too. I’m not starving myself which helps with the exercise. I’m trying to get enough sleep and to keep my body fueled for the workouts, and so far, it feels like it’s working.