When I left for training two weeks ago, I weighed a lot more than I wanted to. A LOT MORE. 200 lbs, to be exact. That’s the heaviest I’ve been in nearly 7 years. How did I get there? A vacation to Hungary and Christmas/New Year. I let myself eat anything and everything and the toll it took on my body was immense.
At the end of December, my wife and I resolved to do a Whole30 (we decided it wasn’t going to be a real Whole30, but more of a strict Paleo with Whole30 rules). I don’t know why we decided that, but here we are. The sticky part was that I was having to attend military training for two weeks in January which would make it difficult for me to eat Paleo. The food in the military is notoriously carb-heavy and MRE’s are the least healthy thing you can imagine putting in your body, so I had to think back to how I kept my Paleo diet during training in the past.
Enter the EPIC Bars, RX Bars, and Lara Bars. Between these three products, I had lunch every day that was clean and healthy. As for breakfast and dinner, I only stuck with foods that didn’t have grains, legumes, dairy, or added sugar. On the days when I couldn’t escape those things, I ate from my own lunch stash or I was fortunate enough to go out of the training area to get food from the local economy.
I was fortunate that the vendor who was catering our exercise noticed that I was ignoring certain items and after about the fourth day, if they had something very carb-heavy or completely un-Paleo, they would make me an option I could eat. It was very nice of them, and it was greatly appreciated.
What was the end result of the January not-so-Whole30 Whole30? I’ve lost around 14 lbs. I want to lose another 20 before May, so I’m sticking with the diet. I’m sticking with my exercise which consists of running and StrongLifts 5×5.
Consistency and dedication got me to where I am today, and it’ll keep me going towards my next goal.
Different people succeed in getting healthy through different diets due to many factors including genetics, culture, beliefs, preferences, etc. For my wife and me, Paleo works.
My biggest challenge is portion size. Even if I eat the right food, I’m always tempted to eat a lot of it. The reason is that I derive pleasure not only from the flavor or texture of foods, but also the quantity. This is incredibly hard to control, but it’s something I work on with every meal.
My wife and I had a conversation last night and she told me that she knew her portion sizes were right when she only got hungry right around mealtime and was slightly hungry at bedtime. I never thought of it, but she’s right.
Eating a healthy diet is important, but so is the amount. The most basic rule of weight loss is a calorie deficit = weight loss. Healthy foods in excess can still be unhealthy. This is something I need to remind myself of all the time.
Strategies for eating correct portions is something I’ve had to learn. First, I try to eat only as much as would fit into a bowl created with both of my hands. If it fits into that, then it’s the right size; any less, and it’s not enough. Any more, and it’s too much.
I also needed to learn to eat slower. I tend to eat very fast; it’s something I picked up from a childhood of activity where I tended to hurry through meals to get back to doing what I was doing prior. It was cemented at Marine Corps boot camp where we had to eat entire meals as quickly as possible. This didn’t do me any favors in controlling my portion sizes.
A strange psychological barrier I also face is that if it’s on my plate, I MUST eat it. I can’t just leave food uneaten on my plate. This is due to my childhood and being punished for not finishing everything on my plate. I know a lot of kids grew up with this same experience, and I honestly think it’s partially to blame for obesity.
My wife helps me with portion sizes by giving me my meals and during meal prep by packaging our meals in proper portion sizes. Somehow, when I receive my meals this way, I don’t have problems eating the right amount. I see the portion size and I try to slow down to enjoy it as much as possible and also to possibly allow my body to register the meal to eliminate hunger.
When I’m left to my own devices, I tend to over-size my portions. Following the “Hand bowl” rule helps, but I’ve been known to cheat. This is where the final ingredient to eating proper portion sizes comes into play: self-control. I have to be in the right mindset to use self-control, and right now, I’m there. I am very motivated to get back to my healthier weight and to increase my fitness levels. Motivation is strong, and fuels my self-control with portion sizes.
These are my challenges and how I overcome them. I’d be curious to learn how you deal with portion size.
OK… so it wasn’t THAT big of a run, but I started off 2023 with a three-mile run. This may sound minor to most people (especially runners), but I haven’t run three miles since at least last February. Instead, I rode mountain bikes almost exclusively with the exception of two-mile runs every other morning while on active duty at Fort Sill.
I decided yesterday just before my run that I’d go back to three+ miles for my runs because I remember how much better I felt running that distance. Also, the ACFT (Army Combat Fitness Test) is a two-mile event, and I prefer to train longer distances to make the ACFT seem like a “Short run.”
I will start integrating some sprints sometime in February as my next ACFT is in March prior to an upcoming deployment, and I don’t want to do poorly on it. A lot of eyes are always on me due to my age, and I can’t let my age group down!
Today is a rest day, but tomorrow I’ll be back in the gym for my StrongLifts 5×5 followed by my next three-mile run. I’m actually not dreading it, as I thought I’d be really sore today but I am happy and surprised to find that I am not. To the contrary, I feel more energized and ready to take on my day, my week, and to keep working toward better fitness.
Today is my rest day. I started my workouts yesterday, and as predicted, I’m sore. This was to be expected (it’s not my first rodeo), and I knew it was coming. But, I also know how important rest days are to the growth and development of new muscles, and how important it is for the healing process of the body moving forward as I get back into the swing of things.
When I was younger, it was easy to go day after day. Heck, I plan on getting back to that once my body is accustomed to it again. But for now, I’m implementing rest days to help keep injuries at bay and to allow my body a chance to gently glide back into exercise.
When I went to USMC boot camp, we didn’t run every day; we did it every other day. Why? Because running every day is counter-productive for people who are new to exercise. Once we got in shape (about three weeks in), the tempo of our exercise became greater, and the distances longer. But in the beginning, they were especially careful to keep us from being injured. Nothing good comes from injuring recruits.
I take that experience and use it today to get the same effect: conditioning the body to get used to exercise before turning up the volume and distance.
The weightlifting went great; it’s funny how that’s not what made me sore. It was the run. It doesn’t help that I’ve never been a fan of running, although I have to admit (grudgingly) that I do love the feeling after I’ve completed a run. Even though my legs are worn out and I may be sweaty and out of breath, that rush afterward is pretty sweet.
So, even though it’s rest day, I did do a few rounds of push-ups. I can’t stay completely still… or leave well-enough alone.
It has been quite a while since I’ve written on this blog, because my journey to being fit and healthier had hit a point of maintenance. I no longer felt I had much to say that hadn’t already been said, and I didn’t want to start sounding like a broken record player. But, here we are at the end of 2022, and I’m about to hit it hard again. Why? Because I’ve not worked out in three months due to injury, training, vacation, injury, and another vacation. Life was conspiring against me staying fit, and now, I need to get back into the swing of things.
I will start today by doing my weightlifting: StrongLifts 5×5. I’m starting almost from scratch, so I’m not expecting to lift any heavy weights. I also believe strongly in starting light and ramping up gradually to avoid injury, as it takes much longer for me to overcome injuries at my age.
I will likely finish up with some cardio. While I would love to go out for a run, it’s raining outside, and it’s also cold: a combination I HATE running in. So, I will likely torture myself on the treadmill (which I despise because it bores me to death).
I’ve been eating well for the past week. Prior to that, I was on vacation in Hungary where I dropped all Paleo rules to enjoy the food of my culture and my childhood. That led me to a rapid weight gain, but thankfully, it’s already started to come off thanks to eating healthy. The hardest part was coming off the sugar. It was like a Whole30 experience earlier this week.
So, if you’re new to this site, or if you’ve been following for years, you’re going to start seeing more consistent content again because I’m at it again. I need to hold myself accountable, and I need to get back in shape. As I’m in the Army National Guard, I have an ACFT (Army Combat Fitness Test) coming up in March, and I need to be able to pass that. I’ve never failed a PFT/APFT/ACFT, and I’m not going to.
A lot has happened in the past year. I became a Warrant Officer in the Army National Guard, and then I attended the Warrant Officer Basic Course at Fort Sill, OK and graduated as a certified Field Artillery Targeting Technician. It took a lot of hard work, both physically and mentally, but I got through it, and I’m now ready to move on with the training I’ve received and keep pushing forward.
I was fortunate that I lived in a small apartment on-post, and I was able to cook my own meals and to meal prep. I typically ate my usual breakfast: two slices of uncured/no-sugar added bacon with two locally-sourced farm fresh eggs. On the days I was short on time, I’d have a bowl of Keto cereal with Califia Farms “Better Half” which is a half-coconut milk/half-almond milk creamer for coffee that happens to be amazing with cereal.
My lunches were usually my meal-prepped boxes with something like Paleo Carnitas, roast beef, or pork roast with some sweet potato, vegetables, or in the case of the carnitas, Paleo tortillas (from Siete).
Dinners were usually something I made fresh in the apartment like steak with sweet potato or some other grilled meat with vegetable, but I would also often eat dinner with fellow warrant officers and when out, I’d eat a 6 oz filet with sweet potato or a cauliflower crust pizza with lactose-free or dairy-free cheese. Every now and then, I’d treat myself to a burger at S&B Burger in Lawton, OK with the gluten-free bun. It was likely not Paleo, but after all the hard work and studying, I needed it!
I stayed physically active. Aside from the morning work-outs (either running, weightlifting, or riding my bike), I did a lot of mountain biking. The trails around Mount Scott near Medicine Park were my most visited trails, but I really loved the trails in Wichita Falls, TX, as well as the trails at Lake Thunderbird State Park in OK. There were a few others we visited as well, but those three were my favorites.
Staying fit and healthy wasn’t difficult. Actually, it was easier than I thought, and I had a great time with it. I was fortunate that the Commissary on post had a lot of healthy food options, and I was pleasantly surprised with the Paleo options as well as the amount of organic and free-range selections. There was also a healthy food outlet off-post called Green Acres Market that kept me stocked with harder to find Paleo items. For anything I couldn’t get locally, Amazon was a solid backup.
So, that sums up eight long months of military schooling. I’m glad to be done with it, but I also miss my classmates and the active duty environment. I feel fortunate to have been able to complete this course at my age, and I never take it for granted.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.