Skin Reduction: The Time Has Come

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Cardio or Weightlifting for a Shredded Body?

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

Surprise.

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

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

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

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

DO. THE. WORK.

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

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

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

Paleo is Unsustainable?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Showing Off vs. Self Motivation/Accountability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A selfie at annual training in 2019.

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

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

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

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

Sherry and me at my birthday dinner in 2019

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

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

“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.

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.

Buckling Down After the Holidays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Two Sides of New Year’s Resolutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year!

PaleoMarine in Men’s Health Online

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

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

My Role is Easy; Yours is Hard

My wife Sherry and I kayaking last month. All the hard work we’ve done gives us the freedom to do fun things like this.

My wife and I had an interesting discussion this morning over breakfast (smoked salmon, eggs, Paleo ranch sauce and avocados, or what she calls a Portland Slam) this morning. I was telling her that yesterday, I received a bunch of messages, texts, and even calls from people telling me how I inspire them, how I’ve motivated them, and how I’ve provided them with information to change their lives for the better. The part that was strange to me was how difficult it was to receive those compliments, and I couldn’t put my finger on why that was. Don’t get me wrong; it’s very nice and humbling to hear people say nice things like that. I do like it, like anyone else does. It feels good knowing you’ve made a positive impact on the lives of people. But yet, there’s a discomfort in it.

Sherry came up with a possible explanation, and I think it hits the nail on the head; “It’s because they are the ones who have to do the work. You just say or write things that they then have to put into action.” (Just so you know, I’m paraphrasing even though I put that into quotes) I agree with that, and I think that’s why I feel a little uneasy or embarrassed. I’ve done my heavy lifting. I’ve done the work. I’m now in maintenance, and although I still work hard at maintaining my health and fitness through diet and exercise, it’s relatively easy compared to the up-hill challenge I faced when undertaking this new lifestyle. Writing about it helps wrap my head around all of it, and helping people is my ultimate goal. I want people to be able to succeed without all the excessive products, pills, patches, procedures, and painful exercising by doing two simple things: change of diet, and mindful exercise.

Change of Diet

For me, it started with Whole30 and transitioned into the Paleo Diet. My wife and I have done six Whole30’s over the past five years to reset ourselves as we find it’s necessary from time to time to get back to basics. While Paleo works for us, others find that the Keto diet, Intermittent Fasting, One Meal a Day, or counting Calories In/Calories Out works for them. My site is heavily Paleo-centered, but that’s due to me writing from my own experience. Interchange Paleo with any other healthy diet, and you could possibly see the same results. Our bodies are all different, and it’s up to you to find what works best for you.

Mindful Exercise

This is the one many people miss. There’s still a misconception (fueled by the massive fitness industry) that if you exercise enough, you will lose weight. While this is technically true, you have to exercise A LOT to burn more calories than you take in if you don’t change your diet. How much exercise do you need to burn off a Big Mac? My average 2-mile run burns about 250 calories. The Big Mac has 563 calories. So, that’s over 4 miles necessary to burn off one Big Mac. Add in an entire days’ worth of calories (if you live on fast food or high-carb diets), and you can see where I’m going with this.

Mindful exercise is starting slowly and without pushing to your limits. Studies have shown that most people quit exercise programs due to discomfort. The way I started had no discomfort at all; I started with push-ups. I did as many as I could on the first day and stopped as soon as they became hard. How many push-ups was that? Three. Then, the next day, I did three more. On the third day, I could do five. Two months later, I was doing 120 push-ups in two minutes. Oh, and I did it without excessive arm pain.

Doing those push-ups led me to taking 30-minute walks. After three weeks, I found my pace had increased to the point where it was no longer difficult for me to walk quickly and I tried to jog to see how it’d feel. To my surprise, it felt incredibly good, and my body was ready for it. I never tried to improve my pace; I let it all happen naturally. Over the course of a month, I found that my pace had increased from a jog to a slow run. My times were getting sub-10 minutes per mile, and I wasn’t smoked or burned out afterward. I just ran for 30 minutes without paying attention to distance. After three months, I started running for distance instead of time, and my milage increased to over 3 miles per run (up to just around 5 miles).

Another key to mindful exercise is the concept of rest days. Too many people try to exercise five and six days a week. This is okay when you’re young (under 40, or so), but gets troublesome as we get older. Studies have shown that rest days are incredibly important for growth and recovery. I typically exercise 3 or 4 times a week, but I try to keep it at 3 minimum. The weight training I do (StrongLifts 5×5) is a whole-body workout, so I rest for a day after each workout. I also run after StrongLifts, so my legs get that rest day afterward as well. For younger people, as long as muscle groups are rotated, exercising 5-6 days a week can be fine, but resting those different muscle groups is very important to recovery and development.

80% max workouts are a final key to mindful exercise. Military special forces soldiers found that 80% workouts provide the same benefits as a 100% workout, and in some cases, more benefits for muscle growth, strength, and mobility. The reason they went to 80% workouts is to reduce muscle strain and to be able to answer the call of a mission after a workout. Working out to 100% makes your muscles weak, wobbly, and leaves you unable to perform basic tasks. Imagine a 100% leg day workout followed by a combat mission. You literally could get yourself or someone else killed because you’re no longer able to operate at peak efficiency. 80% workouts allow you to resume your normal life at normal operating strength and allows your muscles to heal and recover quicker. It also keeps pain away which is the number one cause of people quitting exercise programs.

Throughout this process, I never had excessively sore legs or muscle pain that made me want to quit. To the contrary, I found that if I skipped a run day, my legs would buzz and feel like they needed to run. I learned a lot of my process the hard way, and I am in no way saying that my way is the only way. I’m an older guy (53 years old as I write this), and for me, this plan has kept me in good physical fitness and at a healthy weight. I’m able to perform my tasks proficiently and to-standard in the National Guard, and I am within the height/weight regulations.

Final Thoughts

So, circling back around to receiving feedback; it’s welcome, and it’s appreciated, but honestly, YOU are the one who needs to be congratulated. If I’ve made a difference and inspired or motivated you to get healthy, to change your diet, and/or to get fit, then YOU did the work. YOU got past the negative thoughts, the doubts, and the discomfort of changing your lifestyle and YOU made that change happen. So CONGRATULATIONS TO YOU! Keep up the good work, and keep it up! YOU will be the one inspiring and motivating someone else to make that positive change in your life, and then the cycle will continue.