There’s no excuse for not taking control of your health

I’m a Marine. I was on active duty from 1986-1997. Currently, I’m a soldier in the Texas Army National Guard. As such, I’m a member of many groups on Facebook that are filled with veterans. One thing that really gets me upset is the number of veterans who bitch, whine, moan, and complain about their health. They try to blame everything wrong with them on their military service. Now, bad knees, work-related injuries (a HMMWV tire falling on your knee and breaking it), and perhaps some inoculation-related illnesses are legitimate, however, blaming things like sleep apnea or being overweight are completely unrelated to military service, and in my opinion, incongruent with the discipline taught us in every branch of the service.

I was morbidly obese. I let myself go. It wasn’t until I became fed up with my weight, scared for my health, and learned from my cousin that it’s possible for me to lose weight without exercising for hours a day and without having to starve myself and eat bland food. Whole30 and Paleo changed my life. But the thing that allowed that change to happen was the motivation I had learned as a Marine. I learned to persevere, and I used that skill to get me through the hard times.

This blog is my attempt to help others learn to persevere, to motivate themselves, and to allow people to discover the discipline they have inside them to get healthy and lose weight. I feel that military folks have an edge in this area due to the training we’ve received, but it’s not something we have a monopoly on. Anyone can do this.

With that said, it is my hope that any military people reading this who find themselves obese or unfit find the motivation to get themselves back into being healthy and fit. Here is my message to the veterans:

Nobody else will do it for you. You need to pull yourself up and do this. You are capable of it. You’ve done more difficult things, through more difficult times, and often under more difficult conditions. This is a cake-walk for you. Stop feeling sorry for yourself, stop making excuses, and start Don’t put it off any longer: just start now. You don’t need to run miles and miles to lose weight; you only need to do that to get fit. To lose weight, you just need to learn to eat right, and you can do that at whole30.com, thepaleodiet.com, or just search for Whole30 or Paleo. Keto and IF are also worth looking into. Whatever you choose, stick with it and do it. Don’t give up! Never surrender! Don’t cheat, because you’re only cheating yourself. Besides, cheating is more like sabotage, and why would you sabotage your own progress?

Being obese isn’t something we become. It’s something we did. Being obese doesn’t have to be a part of life that just happens to us as we get older. It’s completely within your power to change this. You’ve changed your life before; perhaps it’s time to do it again.

Honestly, that message applies to non-veterans, too. I’m certain that at some point in everyone’s life, they’ve had to buckle down, do some hard work, and persevere to achieve something special or great. Taking over one’s health is within reach with some hard work, but it’s not impossible work.

Don’t Dare Judge Me or my Lifestyle

8a7a9bd7-38d8-4dc4-a104-720fd19d8fc1This gets my goat more than anything: people who pontificate about the evils of Paleo, Whole30, Keto, and other low-carb diets because they are, “Too restrictive.” Their reasoning is that they are able to eat pizza, pasta, donuts, bagels, bread, and all kinds of other carb-rich foods and they don’t gain any weight or suffer ill effects. Their experience with eating these carb-rich foods coupled with a lack of negative side-effects apparently negates the experience others have had with eating carb-rich foods.

I was morbidly obese. It is defined as:

Morbid obesity is a serious health condition that can interfere with basic physical functions such as breathing or walking. Those who are morbidly obese are at greater risk for illnesses including diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), gallstones, osteoarthritis, heart disease, and cancer.

How did I get there? Eating bread, pizza, pasta, donuts, bagels, and other carb-rich foods without concern for my health. As I gained weight, I ate more, which caused me to eat more which further caused me to gain more weight. The cycle repeated until August 2015 when my wife and I decided that enough was enough, and we began our healthy lifestyle with our first Whole30.

Some people can eat unhealthy foods and stay thin. What they don’t realize, however, is that many of these people suffer from TOFI, or Thin-Outside Fat-Inside.

TOFI is used to describe lean individuals with a disproportionate amount of fat (adipose tissue) stored in their abdomen. For example, two men, both 35 years old and with a BMI of 25 kg/m2 appear similar in body composition from outward appearances. Despite their similar size, the male with TOFI had 5.86 litres of internal fat, whilst the healthy control had only 1.65 litres.

People with TOFI have a higher risk of Type II diabetes, reduced insulin sensitivity, higher abdominal adiposity, and a more atherogenic lipid profile. Another dangerous effect of TOFI is increased liver fat. I, myself, suffered from fatty liver disease, and its effects didn’t go away until I had lost over 80 lbs. It is shown that overconsumption of fructose can lead to TOFI by inducing inflammation associated cortisol release.

Eat what you want. Eat as much as you want. But don’t tell me or others like me that what I’m doing is dangerous. Eating whole foods like meat, vegetables, and fruits are NOT restrictive, and these foods are not unhealthy. The myth of the balanced diet is just that: a myth. There is nothing in science that says we need to eat grains, sugars, legumes, soy, or dairy. What we need is nutrition, and meat, vegetables, and fruits provide all the nutrition a human needs.

Further, stop telling people who are obviously unhealthy that eating foods rich in sugar, carbs, or alcohol is okay for them. Moderation is a myth. If overweight people were capable of moderation, they wouldn’t be overweight. I know this first-hand as a formerly morbidly obese person who couldn’t eat less than an entire large pizza at a sitting.

Running in the heat with a jacket on

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This is more fitness related than Paleo, but it’s something I see people doing from time to time that highlights how little most people understand about how weight loss works. Let me break something down in very simple terms: sweating a lot has nothing to do with how much weight you lose.

Sure, if you go out for a long run, and you sweat a lot, that sweat had mass, and as such, weighs something. All that sweat that was in your body and is now outside of your body accumulates, and the result is a loss of weight. But guess what happens when you take a sip of that water bottle? It all comes back! That’s because sweat doesn’t come from fat. People think they’re, “Burning fat” when they sweat, but actually, they’re just burning calories. Those calories mostly come from the food they’ve eaten prior to exercising. This energy was stored in the blood for short-term use. If they expend the energy in the blood, then the body starts extracting it from fat cells, but it’s still not burning fat, per se. It’s using energy stored in the cells where the fat is, and it basically deflates them like balloons: the cells themselves are still there. It takes between 45-90 days for those cells to die and get flushed from your body if the fat cell isn’t filled back up with more energy. This is key to losing weight and why cheating does more harm than good, and can either drastically slow or even negate any progress made toward weight loss.

Exercise is good, but ultimately, it’s changing your diet that allows you to lose weight. Keeping those fat cells empty and from reinflating is what works long-term. I will admit; this is an oversimplification of how fat cells work, but in my experience, this analogy works because it matches what I’ve seen happen in my own body and those of others. I encourage you to read up and find more about what is really going on, and why cheat days and fat suits don’t actually help you lose weight. Oh, and there’s no such thing as burning fat, either. Sorry.

Under the weather

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This is both how I look and feel right now.

I have a chest/head cold right now, and it’s really aggravating me. I had to skip an entire week of running due to travel, school, bad weather, and other plans once I returned home. I had intended on starting my running this past Monday, but I felt a chest/head cold coming on, and I didn’t want to make it worse by exerting myself physically. Now that I’m a bit older, I like to give my body the best chance it has to fight off illness and infection, and that means taking it easy when something like this hits me. Well, it’s only gotten worse, and now I’ve gone almost a week and a half since my last run.

It’s really annoying to me because I was nearing sub-8 minute miles again for the first time in a long time. I was working hard to get my speed up and my milage up. Now, I’m being knocked back, and since I am still not over this cold, I don’t know how long it’ll be before I get to go back to running.

The only consolation I have is that my weight continues to drop steadily: I’m at 177.2 lbs as of this morning, down from a high of 183.9 last Friday. That’s a good amount of weight lost, and just over a pound before I’m officially back within the height and weight regulations. Then, it’s 10 more lbs to my comfort weight.

Paleo is Easy

Some people think that Paleo is difficult, intimidating, or expensive. Sherry and I thought much the same before we started, as all we’d heard were criticisms and negativity surrounding Paleo. It wasn’t until my cousin Sarah took the time to explain things to me and I followed up with lots of reading before I found out that it really wasn’t that hard. Further, it turns out, it isn’t as expensive as some people make it out to be.

Let’s tackle the cost first. Initially, it may appear that Paleo is more expensive because grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, and cageless chicken eggs cost more. However, it turns out that in the long run, you eat smaller portions and eat fewer times (typically, three times) a day, so while you’re eating food that may cost more per ounce, it costs less overall to feed you to satiety.

Next up: Paleo is difficult. While it may appear to be so before you start, once you realize that a lot of Paleo food is food you’ve been eating and enjoying all your life, things get much easier. Sure, there are some weird recipes for analogues (foods that mimic other foods that are made with non-Paleo ingredients like pancakes and breads), but if you stick with whole foods, all you have to do is avoid the following:

  • alcohol
  • anything with added sugar
  • grains
  • legumes
  • soy
  • dairy

Steak, ribs, sausage, chorizo, chicken wings, grilled fish, crab, lobster shrimp, scallops, BBQ chicken and many more, as long as there is no added sugar, are all Paleo. Even bacon that is prepared without sugar is Paleo! I eat a lot of amazing, delicious, and filling foods that I’ve been eating all my life!

Finally, some people think Paleo is intimidating. Perhaps due to a combination of the two misconceptions I’ve listed already, or perhaps because it is a pretty big step to take when changing your lifestyle in regards to health and nutrition. This one makes the most sense to me: it is a big change. Before you try Paleo, it’s an unknown, and all you have to go by is what you’ve seen, read, or heard. Ultimately, nobody wants to be hungry, craving foods, or suffering. With the exception of the three days of flu-like symptoms I encountered when I did my first Whole30, I can honestly say that I no longer suffer eating Paleo foods. I feel great, I have lots of energy, and I am healthier than I’ve been since I was in my early 20’s.

Do your research, read as much as you can, and give it a try. I think you’ll find that the fear of starting is much worse than actually going Paleo. Heck, to me, it just feels like eating regular food now that Paleo has become my new regular diet.

When the cravings come for you

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Cravings are caused by false appetite signals from the brain that are brought about through sugar intake, whether it’s added-sugar or carbs. Here are some ways to avoid cravings.

  • Eat more protein and vegetables. Make sure the veggies are lower-carb vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, or asparagus.
  • Get more sleep. Sleeping helps reduce hunger as your body tries to acquire energy it didn’t replenish through sleep through increased calorie intake.
  • Don’t eat foods that spike your blood sugar.
  • Don’t keep sweets or sugary snacks around you. That includes fruit with high sugar content like bananas and pineapple.
  • Drink some tea or coffee.
  • Stay well hydrated. This also helps control cravings as your stomach stays fuller and can keep you from feeling hungry.

I don’t have to deal with this much anymore ever since I did my first Whole30, but I do remember what it was like. Before I kicked the sugar dragon, I’d get cravings within about 2 hours of eating. Then, I’d eat, and the cycle would repeat. Looking back, it’s as if I ate all day long (which actually, I pretty much did!). The worst part is that I thought I was sating an appetite by eating a snack in, in reality, I was feeding further appetite and more eating caused more cravings, and so on.

After starting my first Whole30, I remember how terrible I felt in those first three days. I’ve heard it described as flu-like symptoms. For me, it felt worse. I had no energy, I could barely think, and I felt angry. All I wanted to do was sleep, but I was pretty hungry, too. I snacked a few times on some almonds, but kept to the plan. This continued for the better part of two days. The third day wasn’t nearly as bad, and by the fourth day, I started feeling normal. What I didn’t expect was how much better I’d feel by week two.

Every now and then, I re-evaluate my diet, my health, and nutrition and adjust accordingly. Recently, I found that I was eating portion sizes that were too large and that I wasn’t getting enough sleep. Once I fixed those two things, my health improved (yes, I actually felt better very soon after making the changes) and my weight began to drop back to a more comfortable level for me. Being more consistent in my running also added to my overall feeling of well-being.

How Quickly Will I See Results?

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This is one of the first things on people’s minds when they hear about Whole30, Paleo, Keto, IF, or any other diet. They want results quickly. I’ll admit: I was in that same frame of mind before my first Whole30. I wanted to know how soon I’d start seeing results. The short answer is: it depends.

The long answer is much more detailed. I weighed over 312 lbs, so my losing 20 lbs was significant, but not as noticeable. It wasn’t until I had lost 50 lbs that I could really start to see the change. I’ve seen other people lose 15 lbs, but they had so much less to lose, and so the difference was obvious much sooner. Another factor is that if you are someone who eats a lot of sugar and grains, then cutting those out of your diet will likely yield quicker results than someone who is already on a lower sugar and carb intake diet. Likewise, someone who has a lot less to lose may find it more difficult to lose a significant amount of overall weight. For example, if I weigh 180 lbs and I want to lose 15 lbs, that’s a loss of just over 8% of my overall body weight whereas losing 150 lbs out of 312 lbs was a 48% loss of weight. Losing significant percentages of overall weight is much easier to do when there’s a lot to lose. As you get smaller, those margins also get smaller, so it seems as if the rate of weight loss slows.

In the past four days, I’ve lost over 5 lbs. I did that by cutting alcohol, sugar, grains, legumes, soy, and dairy. The funny thing is that I haven’t been able to run at all in the past week, so there’s no exercise to factor in this at all. Yet, just getting away from foods I normally don’t eat (but have been eating for the past few days) has allowed me to lose some weight very quickly. Now, I know: this is just water weight. It’s not actual fat. That comes next, and will slow significantly as I only need to lose around 10-15 lbs total. But, I trust in the diet, I trust in the process, and I will be leaning heavily on my skills of perseverance. I will get through this, and I will meet my goal.

While 5 lbs in 4 days seems great, it’s not true weight loss. That comes long-term, and will be after I’m at this for a few weeks. I can expect another 5 lbs over the next three weeks, on average, with the last 5 lbs taking another month or two thereafter. I know this only because I’ve done it before. How quickly will you see results? It depends on how strict you are with your diet, the quality of the food you eat, and your ability to persevere. If you can do that, you will maximize your rate of loss, whatever that is.