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.

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!