Progress and Perspective

Everyone has days when they’re down for some reason, whether they’re down on themselves, or just down in general. Sometimes, I get down on myself for not making more progress, faster progress, or sometimes not making any kind of progress that I can see at all. That’s why it’s important to keep track of things so you can look back and see for a fact that you’re making progress. Just because the scale hates you doesn’t mean you’re not doing the right things. It just means you have to keep doing them. Case in point: my weightlifting.

I was down on myself for having to deload a little bit after not being able to lift for 10 days. Then, yesterday, I got back to (and in some areas, past) the levels I was at before I had to take the break. This morning, I looked at actual numbers and was pretty blown away by my progress:

Squats
Starting: 45lbs
Current: 150lbs

Bench Press
Starting 45 lbs
Current: 90 lbs

Deadlift
Starting: 95 lbs
Current: 185 lbs

Overhead Press
Starting: 45 lbs
Current: 90 lbs

Barbell Row
Starting: 65 lbs
Current: 105 lbs

I’m pretty proud of the progress, and in many ways, surprised. I had the best of intentions with this program, but I didn’t think I could actually continue to make the progress I keep making. Every time I feel like I’m about to hit a wall, I get past it.

Seeing the numbers gives me new resolve and reenergized my motivation. Any self-doubt I had about doing the right thing melted away. I just can’t wait to get back to running as well. THEN, I will be complete.

244 Years Old

This weekend, my wife and I attended the Houston Marine Corps Coordinating Council’s 244th Marine Corps Birthday Ball. This was our third time attending in four years (I had to miss last year due to drill at Fort Hood), and we had a great time.

Sherry and I at the 244th Marine Corps Birthday Ball.

My uniform was slightly tighter than in past years, and I attribute that to my not being able to run since early August when I injured my Achilles heel. I’ve been doing stretches and some light physical therapy for it, and it’s helping, and soon I think I will be able to run. In the meantime, I’m lifting weights, and after taking 10 days off from lifting while on vacation in New England and Canada, I’m finally back to lifting the weights I was lifting prior to going on vacation.

It’s good for me to attend the Birthday Ball every year. It’s good to be reminded of the things we were taught as Marines, and the tenets we live by. Leaving active duty or the reserve doesn’t relieve us of our duty to our fellow Marines, our country, and ourselves. I am currently a Soldier in the Army National Guard, and I feel fortunate to be able to continue to serve at my age. Being among fellow Marines who were close to my age (some younger, many older), I was the only one who was still active in the military in some way.

I used to be one of the many people online who used to say they’d love a chance to go back, to serve again. It’s not always easy, and it’s not always fun, but when it is fun, it’s incredibly fun. Most of all, it satisfies the desire to serve; to answer the calling. Before I took control of my weight, my health, and my fitness, I thought there was no way I could ever return to the service. I lamented my situation, my poor health, my lack of fitness as I climbed a single flight of stairs only to find myself winded for minutes.

I finally got sick of being down on myself and was reminded of a conversation with my brother-in-law, Robert. He helped me at a time when I was really down on myself, and he walked into the room where I was laying in bed, under the covers, and he didn’t yell. He didn’t insult me. He stood there and said, “Look, Marine. I know things might not be what you wanted or expected. But you’ve got this. You’ve tackled tougher. You’ve handled worse. You just need to reach down, grab a hold of that courage you have inside you, and use it to get past this. You’re a Marine. You can do anything you set your mind to. Don’t let the Marines of the past down. Don’t let me down. Most of all, don’t let yourself down. Get up, get to it, and attack whatever problems you have with everything you’ve got. You can do this.”

It took a lot for me to finally get my mind in the place where I needed to be to get healthy, so I started doing research. Then, my cousin Sarah talked to me about weight loss and Whole30. After a successful first round of Whole30, my wife Sherry and I transitioned into Paleo, and fast-forward four years, I’m still 130 lighter than I was when I started, although I will admit that I have 15 to 20 lbs to lose until I’m at a weight I am comfortable at. Not being able to run has really taken a toll on me.

It was after I lost 130 lbs that I began thinking about the service. I wondered if they would take me back. I called the Marine Reserve, and they said they would allow me to join, but due to my rank and MOS, I would have to join a unit in Minnesota. Being that I live in Texas, I took a pass on that offer and called the Army National Guard who accepted me and allowed me to train into a new MOS as a Fire Direction Control NCO. I was able to enlist in February of 2017, and I recently extended my current enlistment for another three year period.

We can all sit back and accept our fate and watch life go by. Or we can decide that watching and doing nothing is unacceptable, and we can reach down and grab a hold of our strength and courage, and we cam make the changes necessary to avoid slipping away into poor health and being unfit. If you want to lose weight and get fit, you can! It’s not easy (it never is), but it is possible. It will take a long time, but results can be seen typically within a month. For me, it took about three months before I could see it in the mirror, but the scale was rewarding me almost daily.

Change is possible. Change is within your grasp. You just have to reach for it and accept the workload it will take to make it happen.

You Will Either Get On Board, Or You Will Be Left Behind

I am frustrated. I had a civil and short conversation with someone yesterday about obesity and its causes. The person I was speaking to believes that childhood obesity rests solely on the lack of physical activity today. He based his claims on the fact that he drinks a lot of sodas and eats donuts and sweet every day and isn’t obese. In fact, he claims, he’s lost 40 lbs in the past year. Well, I doubt that (because I have eyes), but more importantly, just because you’re thin doesn’t mean your arteries aren’t clogged with cholesterol (see Thin Outside/Fat Inside aka TOFI). I’ve known people who were thin and yet died of high blood pressure and had plaque in their arteries.

I tried to tell this person about how sugar is easily processed, how the liver can create so much more fat from refined sugar vs natural sugar that has to be broken down because it typically contains some kind of fiber. I took a lot more time than I’m taking now in explaining the processes in the body that produce fat, and that our bodies actually need fat for our brains and arteries/veins. Despite all that, he fell back on, “Well, I drink a lot of sodas and eat sweets and I’m not fat, so I will believe what I believe.”

Fair enough; I stopped the discussion, and quite frankly, was taken aback. When faced with facts, irrefutable molecular processes, and physical science, he decided instead to go with, “Well, I’m not fat, so…” The problem and danger of this argument goes back to TOFI.

People who are TOFI are often of normal weight. However, they have low levels of lean muscle, but excess amounts of visceral fat. Excess levels of visceral fat is associated with Insulin Resistance, which can lead to type 2 diabetes and heart disease as well as many other related diseases.

Dr Chatterjee (https://drchatterjee.com/skinny-fat/)

People who cannot see past their own experiences are doomed to repeat their mistakes and when we are talking about health and fitness, can end up with dire results. I tried and tried, over and over, to lose weight and never could until I considered something I didn’t know anything about and was quite skeptical about. Whole30 and Paleo were foreign concepts to me, and I didn’t really believe they would work, yet they did. And they continue to work for me and millions of others. What doesn’t work? High carb diets.

Either you get to a point where you have to accept ideas that are not your own and perhaps even beyond your comfort zone, or you stay in your little cocoon of bad information and watch your health and mobility decline at a rapid rate. The choice is yours. Do the research and open your mind, and you just might surprise yourself with finding that gem of information that will transform your life for the better.

The Need to be Dedicated

It’s not enough to decide to do something. It’s the first really important step to take: commitment. But then, you have to persevere. You have to work through adversity. You have to keep going even when your face setbacks. That’s why you need to be dedicated to the change you want to see, the change you want to feel, and the change you want to realize.

Me on my last trip to Portland, ME.

I’ve allowed myself to slowly gain weight. It’s not all my fault: this Achilles heel injury has been a larger setback than I gave it credit for. I’m back to my pre-running weight, but holding steady. That has been really good for one important reason: it shows me that my initial weight loss plateau was no fluke and that the diet I eat is good to get me to 185 lbs. It also reaffirms to me that to get lower than 185 lbs, I need to run.

I’ve been lifting weights and getting very strong, but I haven’t lost a single pound of weight (although I also haven’t gained any while gaining muscle size). I know: muscle weighs more than fat, body reconfiguration is more important than weight, etc. I get it. BUT, my gut is bigger than I like. My pants are tighter than they were. I need to slim back down more, and running gets me there.

I’m starting a physical therapy plan for my Achilles heel that I’ll begin tomorrow, and I’m also going to start the stationary cycle on Wednesday since I’m doing my standard weightlifting and push-ups tomorrow.

I’m dedicated to doing what it takes to get back to where I want to be with my weight, strength, and cardio. It’s going to be a long and hard road, but I’m up to the task. This isn’t my first or even second time climbing this hill, and I know I can do it.

Stop Making Excuses for Breakfast

When people ask me about breakfast, I tell them what I’ve been eating 99% of the time since starting my first Whole30: I eat two eggs, sunny side up, and two slices of bacon. EVERY SINGLE PERSON has responded with, “It must be nice to have enough time in the mornings to make breakfast.”

My breakfast for success (delicious and quick!).

Sigh.

Today, I timed myself. It took less than 4 minutes to make breakfast.

Let that sink in. 4 minutes.

How? Well, it does require a little prep on Sundays (or whatever day you prefer to do some food prep). Sherry bakes the bacon in the oven until it’s about 80% done and then lets it cool before putting all the bacon into a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Then, we have bacon to use all week long for breakfast.

I take the 80% cooked bacon and put it on a plate which I microwave for 30 seconds (or a full minute if I want crunchy bacon, like I did this morning).

How I make it happen in 4 minutes

First, I turn on the burner (set to high) with my cast iron skillet oiled with a light coating of coconut oil.

Second, I take two slices of bacon out of the bag, put them on the plate, and put the plate into the microwave for thirty seconds.

Third, I crack two eggs and put them into the skillet.

Fourth, I walk over to the coffee maker and make a cup of coffee. Yes, I use a Keurig. It’s not a forever solution, but it’s what I use right now. It also allows for a quick cup of coffee.

About the time I push the button to make the coffee, the microwave signals me that the 30 seconds are up. I walk over to the microwave and take the plate out and set it next to the stove. I then wait for the eggs to cook, about another 2 1/2 minutes, and then put the eggs onto the plate with the bacon.

Seriously: that’s about 4 minutes of time. I remember it used to take me more time to make oatmeal (waiting for it to get goopy enough to enjoy).

There is no excuse to skip breakfast. On the days I can’t even spare the 4 minutes, I will grab a 200 calorie nut-based grain-free breakfast bar which does a surprisingly good job of keeping me sated until lunch time.

Now that the vacation is over…

It’s time to get back to our healthy lifestyle. Although all the non-Paleo foods and all the ciders were delicious, the fact of the matter is that I needed to get back on the wagon. It’s weird: Sherry and I actually look forward to getting back to eating right.

This is a photo we’ve taken at the end of every vacation since our first trip together back in 2003.

What you eat affects your body and your mind in many ways. If I eat a bunch of sugar or carb-heavy foods, I find myself more irritable, I feel physically hot, and mentally and physically sluggish; as if I were in a sort of quicksand. When I eat healthy foods, my mind is clearer, I don’t get hungry between meals, and I somehow just feel more energetic.

I watched the first game of the World Series last night, and I decided to have a few ciders and some popcorn. Neither of those are Paleo, but it was the World Series, I reasoned to myself. Well, I’m paying for it this morning. I had just gotten rid of the post-vacation bloating and mental fuzziness that I now have this morning. I have a work out scheduled for this evening after work that tends to help, but I also have Sherry’s amazing food prepped lunch ready to go and I’m sure dinner will be the same.

I never thought I’d be the guy who looks forward to eating healthy foods, but after four years, it’s amazing how much of an impact changing what I put into my body has made on not just my physical health, but my mental health. The same goes for running. I was just telling Sherry on Monday about how much I look forward to getting back to running. Not because I love running, but because I love how I feel when I’m running. Ok, not WHILE I’m physically out running, but how I feel when I am running 3-4 times a week. I just feel stronger and more fit. As much as I actually enjoy weightlifting and the benefits to my strength, it hasn’t done anything for my cardio, which I need to get back to as soon as I can.

I am going to try to start riding the stationary cycle on my non weightlifting days, but I’ve yet to actually do it. Maybe tomorrow. Tonight is for moving weight up and down.

Vacation was Great

A lighthouse as seen from my drone. I had FAA Clearance to fly here.

Vacations can be many things: fun, busy, relaxing, stressful, miserable, memorable, or an experience you would rather forget. In my case, this last vacation was relaxing, memorable, and full of new experiences and best of all, a lot of time with my wife. Unfortunately for her, she spent the last 2/3 of the vacation with a horrible cold, but she soldiered on and did her best to keep up despite my wanting us to relax and take some down-time. She said she wasn’t going to spend her vacation in a hotel or Air BnB sitting inside. Fair enough.

The USS Constitution in Boston.

In terms of places we visited, it was great. We went to Boston (visiting my cousin Andras and his wife Carol and spending some time in the city going to many historic sites), New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, and up into Canada where we went to Montreal and Quebec City.

Downtown Montreal, Quebec.

I took my drone and got some great photos and videos that I’m still working on. I did not fly in Canada because I am not licensed in Canada, and flying there would have been illegal (and I don’t like doing illegal things unless it’s speeding).

In terms of food and drink, let’s say there was very little restraint. I didn’t say that we were unrestrained: we did try to make some healthy decisions to mitigate the impact, but I did imbibe a lot of ciders and sweet things I otherwise don’t allow myself. In terms of food, I ate as best as possible with some exceptions (how can you go to Canada and not eat poutine, or go to Legal Seafoods in Cambridge and not have clam chowder?!?!?!?!).

From a culinary standpoint, I had some amazing foods. Some healthier than others, but all delicious. I had some amazing (and some just ok) ciders. The breakfasts in Montreal were some of the best I’ve ever had outside of Scotland and Ireland.

Lobster Tots in Maine. What the?!?! Who the?!?!? These were AMAZING!!!

The biggest challenge for me was finding gyms to work out in. I did find a gym in Cambridge when we first went on vacation, but in Montreal, I never go to lift any weights and my Achilles heel was still too sore for me to run. Once we got back to the US, I didn’t find any gyms in Portland, ME that I could drop into, either, so my lifting took an 8 day break which I regretted, but there wasn’t anything I could do about that.

I’m back now, and I’m also back to eating right and exercising. I’ve already had two lifting sessions, and I’m dealing with some DOMS right now, but it’s not as bad today as it was on Sunday. My next weightlifting session is tomorrow, and I’m sure by the end of the week, my muscles will be right back into the swing of things. As for lost progress, I was pleased that I only lost about 15 lbs in the squat and 10 lbs on my bench and overhead press. I should be back to where I was prior to my vacation within the week.