Tightening Screws is Always Hardest

Sherry and me in Washington, D.C. this past weekend.

It has become readily apparent to me that it’s time to buckle down, tighten the screws, and get back to eating healthy and exercising without anymore excuses. I’ve allowed far too much alcohol into my diet as well as making sketchy food decisions while drinking.

It’s not that I drink a lot. I honestly don’t. But this summer has had many occasions that socially led me to imbibe alcoholic beverages, and when I’m drinking, my self-control slides away and I find myself eating in a way that is not conducive to my best health. It’s not that I go completely off the rails (except sometimes), but I tend to over-eat. Even healthy foods in large amounts results in too many calories.

So, starting today, I’m back to my very strict Paleo diet. If it’s not compliant, it’s not going in my mouth, and that includes alcohol. I’m also sticking to the healthy portion sizes and not going for seconds. It’s going to be tough for the next few days as my body has to get used to the reduced calorie intake, but it’s become necessary.

I’m also starting my 6-day/week exercise plan. Don’t worry; I’m not going, “All out.” I’m still being very careful and slow with my progress, but I am increasing the number of days I’m committing to the exercise.

I’ve had to resort to the “Fake it ‘til you make it” mindset when it comes to my running and weightlifting. I keep repeating to myself throughout the day, “I get to run. I get to lift weights!” in a positive manner. It’s kind of funny. Even though I know I’m not all-in on feeling motivated, repeating it over and over actually has an effect, and I do find myself more motivated and excited to get started. Attitude is so important.

I am searching for something to do in addition to StrongLifts 5×5 and my running. I’m not sure yet what that will be, but I feel like it’s just not enough. I do ride my mountain bike on the “Off” days from lifting, and I don’t want to add anything for those days, but on my “On” days, I feel like I need more. I’ll continue to investigate the options and I’ll report back here when I find something.

I haven’t weighed myself yet. I’m not sure I’m going to, to be honest. While the scale is the easiest measure of our overall health, I’m going to forego that. I, instead, will be focusing on how my clothes fit, how I look, how I feel, and how fit I am. I’m less concerned with a number and more concerned with the holistic approach to my health: the sum of all the different measures. The scale has a lot of power over how we feel, and I honestly want to avoid that this time. I’m not sure how it’s going to work out, but time will tell. I’m optimistic that this is a good approach.

I will be going on active duty in the military starting in October, and I need to be in good shape by then both physically and in terms of my fitness levels. I have very specific goals to reach, and I’m going to do my best to reach them without sabotage. So, while to some, what I’m starting today may seem very strict and restrictive is actually a path toward liberation and freedom. Liberating myself from a lack of good fitness right now, and freedom to do whatever I want physically without restraint.

I get to run. I get to lift weights.

Recovery and Exercise

I have to admit that my recovery has been going well, although a little slower than I expected. Well, let me rephrase that; it’s going slower than I planned for. As for what I really expected? Well, I didn’t expect anything. I hoped and assumed, but didn’t necessarily have any expectations.

When I was in that six-week period of no exercise, I found myself getting upset more easily, feeling grouchy, feeling out of sorts, and feeling myself get pudgy and soft. I watched my arms get thinner, and my legs getting more tired after mundane activities; all things that I worked hard to fight against. Mentally, it was tough (and I posted about that aspect here quite often, as it was a struggle I had to deal with). Once I was given the green light to resume exercise, I was elated. But, my doctor was quick to point out that I needed to take it slow and easy.

I initially set out a rather aggressive reintroduction to exercise that I believed was going to be a gradual progression back to where I was. What I failed to take into consideration, however, was that I needed to listen to my body and take it from there. Any plans I made had to be flexible.

What ended up happening was that I have been running far less than I initially planned for. What was supposed to be a run day/rest day cycle turned out to be 1 run day followed by 3 rest days. Then, a run day followed by 2 rest days. Another run, and then another 2 days of rest. So, in the past 10 days, I only ran three times. While that sounds really bad, in actuality, it’s been necessary. I felt so much pain after that first run that I needed those 3 days to let my muscles feel better. Then, the following two runs had 2 day rest periods which turned out to not only be necessary, but actually helped me make increases in both speed and stamina. The last run I had (yesterday) felt amazing, went well, and I increased my pace and the distance ran.

My next run is scheduled for this weekend. I don’t know whether it’ll be Friday or Saturday, but I’m not pushing it. Well, not yet. I know that the time is quickly coming for me to start really pushing myself toward being able to take the ACFT again (for the third time), but for now, it’s all about getting back to a base level of fitness that will be the foundation upon which I can build. That also means I’ll start my weightlifting next week which is a week later than I had planned for. At first, I felt bad about that, but now, I’ve accepted and understand the importance of listening to my body. I wasn’t ready this week, and you know, maybe on Monday, my body will tell me to take it easy, but then again, it might say, “Let’s do this!” in which case, I’ll be ready.

Recovery is tricky as it’s different for everyone. I know people who have had the same procedure I had and they were back to exercising three weeks after their surgery. They’re also much younger than me and they may not have had the same amount of work done internally as I had. But for me, recovery has been a long process that I understand can’t be cheated, shorted, or quickened. It has to be ridden out, and it has to be respected. I’ve hurt myself in the past trying to do too much too soon. I won’t make that mistake again.

First Truly Comfortable Run Since my Surgery

Me after my run and cool-down walk.

This morning at 5:30 a.m., the alarm went off for me to wake up for my run. I really didn’t want to do it; the bed was comfy, it was warm, and it just felt nice to lay in bed. But, I have set Alexa to tell me the weather when I stop the alarm, and something she said stirred me; “The temperature is 71 degrees. Expect thunderstorms and a high temperature of 89 degrees with a low of 71.” I knew what this meant; 71 was the coolest it was going to be all day.

I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to get a nice, cool run in. Especially here in Texas where it gets very hot in July, taking advantage of cool mornings is not something you take lightly. I pulled myself up and out of bed and got dressed. I stepped outside and felt the cool, albeit humid air, and smiled. “This run is going to be perfect,” I thought to myself.

As soon as my GPS watch was synchronized with the satellites, I took off for my run. I’ve been running a 2-mile course during my recovery and rebuilding period, and I set out for that same course with a goal of being a little faster than the last three runs. With that said, I didn’t really push myself hard. It’s not time for me to do that yet. But I did make sure that I was moving well.

When I hit the half-way point, I found that I’d cut over a minute off my previous one-mile time. That felt great! I knew my second mile would be slower, but that didn’t deter or dissuade me from continuing with a comfortable pace, pushing only as far as to run within my comfort zone. I also decided that I was feeling amazing, and that adding a little bit of distance would be a good thing. My goal is to run 4 miles per run, so adding a little distance every few runs is part of my long-term plan. I added a quarter of a mile, and when I finished, I found that I’d cut two minutes off my two-mile time.

I did my quarter-mile cool-down walk, and when I got in the house for my shower, I found that I felt great. No muscle pain, not winded, and generally mentally sharp and ready for my day.

As I look back on the series of events that took place this morning, it’s funny to me that there was a moment when I almost stayed in bed and skipped this run. I’m glad that I didn’t.

Mentally, I’ve been struggling with motivation. I’ve allowed myself to talk myself out of runs lately, and I found it’s because I’ve had an aversion to adding to the pain my body is in. I decided to go back to an old trick I used when I first started running; I tell myself repeatedly throughout the day whenever I think about running and start feeling any kind of dread that I am fortunate that I can still run; I get to run.

I get to run.

In other words, I am not only able to run, but I’m healthy enough to be able to run. I’m physically fit enough to run. I’m not injured, and I’m not disabled. I’m not wounded and I’m not dead.

I get to run.

So I run. After I repeat this to myself over and over throughout the day, I find that it changes my mindset and when the time comes to make the decision to run or not run, I am far more likely to decide to run. The decision is easier, and it even affects my attitude and performance throughout my run.

Our mindset is the most important ingredient to our success. We become what we believe, and what we think. If we think we can’t do something, the chances of us being able to do it are decreased.

If you want to make a serious change in your life or just get back to some good habits, start telling yourself that you can do it, that it’s a good thing, and that you get to do it. There are many out there who don’t have that ability or luxury, and you should treasure it.

Cleared for Exercise: Morning Run Complete!

Me after my first run in eight weeks.

This past Friday, I had my six-week post-op appointment with my doctor, and she said that I’m healing up very nicely and she cleared me for getting back to my fitness routine. She advised me to start slow and to take it easy, and I’m going to heed her advice.

I started with getting back to my fitness plan by doing a slow 2-mile run this morning. I started off easily and picked up the pace until I was comfortable; not too fast, not too slow, and breathing was easy. I have to admit that when I hit the first mile, I was pleasantly surprised that I was at a respectable “Formation run” pace. I continued on to the second and final mile finishing with 22:54, which is slow, but considering it’s the first time I ran in eight weeks, I’ll take it.

What surprised me the most was that I wasn’t completely worn out, that it didn’t feel like I was running in quicksand, and after the run, my legs weren’t sore. I made sure to walk for about 10 minutes afterwards to let my muscles cool-down properly, but as I sit here now writing this, I don’t feel like I ran at all this morning (like I normally do after a run).

I didn’t hit the weights after my run because I didn’t want to push things. I will likely start hitting the weights next Monday. Tomorrow, I’ll ride my mountain bike for about 40-45 minutes, and then alternate between running and bike riding until next Monday when I’ll add weights into the mix.

I’m going to go back to StrongLifts 5×5, and I’m going to set the default progression to the recommended settings. I will be starting lighter than recommended, as I want to make sure my form is perfect before I start adding some serious weight back in. I want to do all I can to avoid injury or muscle strain.

I didn’t weigh myself this morning, but I know that after the eight weeks of not exercising coupled with this past weekend’s indulgances (it was my birthday yesterday and the holiday weekend), I’m definitely swollen with some water weight. I’ll likely weigh myself on Friday and begin tracking my weight again then. It’s not my primary focus, however; getting fit and strong is.

My doctor told me that I wasn’t going to be as weak as I feared I would be, and she was right. I am relieved that I was able to run for that solid two miles, and I’ll be steadily increasing my distance to 3.5-4 miles before I start working on my pace.

As for how my scar is looking, it’s also healing nicely. I was advised to massage harder on the sides where the liposuction took place as well as on the incision scar itself, which I’ve been doing. My stomach muscle isn’t feeling as tight since I’ve started doing that, and each day, I continue to feel better and better. I still have the numbness on my skin on my abdomen, but from what I understand, that may be like that forever.

It’s not about the weight you lose; it’s about the life you gain

Sherry and I on one of our recent mountain biking excursions (in a light drizzle).

I saw this phrase posted online this morning, and it really resonated with me. I was obsessed with losing weight for the first two years of my healthy living journey, and I eventually replaced that with just being healthy and fit. I stopped caring so much about my weight (within reason), and focused on the non-scale victories: my faster run times, my increased amounts of weights lifted, the fun factor of kayaking, hiking, and mountain biking. But every now and then, my brain comes back to those numbers on the scale.

I wish I weighed this again… but weightlifting builds muscle, and I will likely not see this weight again (and I’m okay with that).

I need to remind myself to look back to the days when I weighed over 328 lbs. What was life like back then? When I would get winded walking up one flight of stairs (and why I limited my trips upstairs in my own house because of the discomfort). When I would do almost anything to get out of household projects because of the physical pain it would cause me for days afterward. When I would prefer to sit indoors on a beautiful day rather than to go outside and explore and enjoy the day. When I would scoff at the idea of doing anything physical for fun.

Looking at this photo reminds me of how hard life was being morbidly obese. It motivates me to stick with my healthy lifestyle.

Unknown to me at the time, when I decided to eat healthy and lose weight, I also decided to live a fuller, more active life. Since losing weight, I’ve become engaged with the outside world. My wife and I have been able to enjoy activities I couldn’t even imagine: the aforementioned hiking, running together, kayaking, mountain biking, and weekend getaways where we explore. The biggest surprise was that I was able to get back into the military, and recently, I became a Warrant Officer. I gained a life that was better than anything I could imagine before.

Being presented with my Officer’s Sword after being promoted to Warrant Officer; an accomplishment that I would have never imagined had I not changed my life and adopted a healthy and fit lifestyle.

Non-scale victories come in many varieties, but don’t forget to consider the greatest non-scale victory of them all; the life you gain. It will be more fulfilling and engaged than the one you leave behind.

This is the week!!!

I love this Birdwell cardigan I got for Christmas. I used to wear these in my surfing days in SoCal.

I’m both excited and scared. This Friday, I will see my doctor for my six-week post-op appointment and will find out if I can take the binder off and if I can start my exercise program back up. I’m excited because I really want to get back to it and start preparing myself physically for Warrant Officer Basic Course (WOBC) this fall. I also found that I need exercise to help keep me calm and even-keeled. But, I’m also scared, because I know that I have a tendency to push too hard; to make myself workout harder than I probably should. I’m scared I’ll injure myself, or that I’ll somehow tear something inside where the surgery was.

The biggest quality of life improvement will be getting to finally take the binder off. I know it was necessary, and I also know that I’ll probably still wear it from time to time (I’m buying one for running, in fact), but it’s annoyingly uncomfortable. My skin is incessantly itchy, regardless of the amount of lotion I put on it.

I am not as afraid of showers anymore. For the longest time, I had an illogical fear of taking showers because I worried that the incision line would open up. I know this wasn’t a possibility after the first week (if at all, frankly), but I still had that irrational fear for quite a while. That’s finally gone, which is good.

As for my exercise plan, I will focus on running for time first; 30 minutes. I will not push for great distances or anything; just 30 minutes. Once I hit a good, solid pace in 30 minutes, then I’ll work on increasing the distance during that 30 minutes. Once I get to about 3.5 miles, I’ll work on getting the time down for that distance. That’s what I did when I first started running, and I was able to make some amazing progress back then. This time, I’m not quite starting from zero, although I am starting with post-operative healing to take into consideration.

I’m also going to re-start my weightlifting, but again, I’m going to start at the bare bar. It’s going to feel dumb and awkward, but I need to focus more on form than anything. I need to make sure, for the sake of my core muscles, that I’m doing everything perfect to keep from injuring myself. I should be able to be at a decent level of weightlifting by October, in time for WOBC.

The schedule I’ll be using will be as follows:

  • Weightlifting (StrongLifts 5×5) followed by 30 minute run
  • Mountain biking for 45 minutes
  • Weightlifting (StrongLifts 5×5) followed by 30 minute run
  • Mountain biking for 45 minutes
  • Weightlifting (StrongLifts 5×5) followed by 30 minute run
  • Light physical activity
  • Rest day

The mountain biking allows me to have some cardio without too much exertion. I don’t push myself too hard on the mountain bike, and since it’s a bike, I can coast, go slow, etc, but it still keeps me moving.

So, this is hopefully the last week without exercise and in the binder. I can’t believe I’m “That guy” who complains about not being able to exercise, but I feel myself getting weaker and it bothers me. I need the meditative quality of exercise; it’s a time of the day that belongs only to me, and there’s something really powerful about that. Oh, and it’s good for me, too.

Eating Well to Heal Well

This is where my wife keeps her recipes for our amazing meals.

Something I think a lot of people overlook when they are recovering from injuries or surgery is their diet. What you eat directly affects how you heal: how fast, and how well. Case in point: my incision scar. When I went in for my three-week appointment, the nurse was amazed at how well my scar is healing. Most people my age heal slower than younger people, and often, an extended period of healing is advised. To the contrary, my scar has not only been healing well, but the nurse had to look at my chart twice to make sure she was reading it right.

“So, it’s only been three weeks?” She asked me.

“Yes, three weeks today,” I replied.

“Wow. It’s really healing nicely. I’d have said it’s at a month, based on what it looks like.”

She marveled at how well I’m healing, even considering my age. I asked her if diet could have anything to do with it, and she replied enthusiastically that diet directly impacts healing, and that many people don’t eat to heal. She said that people who eat healthier foods made from whole ingredients tend to heal better and faster than those who eat fast food or fried foods.

Since that appointment, I’ve also been adding a scar cream twice a day to the incision scar on my abdomen, and it’s been healing up very nicely. I’ve also been very careful with the food I eat, and I’ve refrained from smoking my pipe at all (as nicotine inhibits healing). I’ve had some alcohol on the weekends, but not more than a few drinks, and even then, only on one day per weekend over the past two weekends. All the food I’ve eaten has been healthy.

My wife has been very supportive throughout the process, and that support extends to the amazing foods she makes based on recipes listed on her blog, Our Daily Bacon. All the recipes on her blog are among our favorites, and we use her site weekly to decide what our meals will be for the week.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad

Me and my dad in 1973.

My dad is no longer around for me to wish him a Happy Father’s Day, but I am thinking about him a lot today. Like most humans, he wasn’t perfect. He had his issues and his own challenges, but in many other ways, he was a great father. He was hard-working, he wasn’t afraid to hug or kiss his kids, and he genuinely was happy to have us around (as long as it wasn’t during his nap time on Sunday afternoons).

My dad making us one of his amazing meals.

As he got older, he became a much better human. Many of the issues he had as a younger man were gone, replaced by even more awesome traits like expressing sheer joy at the sight of his grandchildren, making great meals and inviting us over many times a week, and wanting to spend as much time with me and my kids as possible.

My dad and my daughter at a birthday party for my friend Kenny and me in 2002.

It turns out that the time was well spent, as my dad passed away at the age of 63, only 5 years after I returned from active duty in the Marines. Those 5 years were filled with many dinners, weekends, and evenings talking, laughing, sometimes arguing, but the vast majority of the time, enjoying each others’ company. He especially loved his time with his grandchildren, and he never declined an opportunity to spend time with them (which was great for me when I started dating Sherry, as I needed a babysitter on Friday nights).

Me (at my heftier weight), my sister, and my Dad at Christmas in 2001.

When my dad died, I immediately felt like I’d been cheated by life. I wasn’t yet ready to be a dad without my own dad to guide me with advice. It was selfish; I needed him. I no longer had someone that I could bounce ideas or questions off of without judgment or embarassment. I could talk to my dad about anything, and that was gone forever.

My dad and my son on a deep-sea fishing trip in 2001.

It’s been nearly 20 years that he’s been gone, and sometimes his absence affects me more than the presence of others. But he lives on in my memory, and in my heart, and I often think of him when I see a great new sci-fi movie or TV show, or when I’m in a store and see a beer he’d enjoy. There are times when I still want to phone him and share a joke (he loved jokes; the punnier, the better) or a meme. I don’t know if that’ll ever go away.

My dad about a month before he passed away on our last fishing trip together.

I remember talking to my grandmother about this, and when she was in her late 70’s, she told me that she never quite got over the loss of her own father, and how his absence in her life was still a hole that could not be filled. I get it. While I don’t feel distraught over his loss anymore, I still feel the absence. I don’t know if that’ll ever go away.

The last photo taken of my sister, dad, and me (at my heaviest weight of 328 lbs) together on my birthday in 2002.

I tried to be the best dad I could to my kids as they were growing up. I tried my best to not emulate my dad’s shortcomings and to amplify his strong points. I never once denied picking up my kids when they asked to sit in my lap. I never shoo’d them away, or didn’t stop to take a moment to hug them, kiss them, or let them know that I loved them. I never missed a sporting or theater event. My dad taught me the importance of those things, and in that way, he lived on through me.

My dad’s favorite photo of himself.

As I am now nearing the phase in my life where I’ll be a grandfather (fingers crossed that it won’t be too much longer), I look forward to living up to my dad’s example of being the amazing grandfather. My kids remember my dad for being a fun, loving, and cheerful guy who doted on them. I hope to do the same, and to live on in their hearts long after I’m gone, and hopefully, they’ll want to emulate the example I will give them, which in turn, ensures that my dad lives on in them, too.

The lake in Hungary where I scattered my dad’s ashes after he passed away. This lone young swan came in close to shore moments after I scattered the ashes and hung around for a few moments before returning to the flock.

Happy Father’s Day, Pops. I miss you.

Just Shy of a Month Post-Surgery

I’m still quite swollen, but at least my belly button looks normal again!

I really am not a fan of the compression garment (aka girdle or binder) that I have to wear for another two weeks, but it is what it is. It apparently helps with keeping the swelling down and holding my torso together so my abdomenal muscles can continue to heal. So yes, I’m not in any hurry to take it off prematurely. But it is uncomfortable.

With that said, I am impressed with how smooth my stomach looks now. Of course, with the swelling, I can’t see any of my (formerly somewhat visible) ab muscles, and the sides are still swollen which make them look like there’s not much difference between pre-op and post-op, but I can assure you that there’s quite a bit of difference. Even with the amount of swelling there, it’s greatly reduced from what it used to look like prior to my surgery.

I will begin distance walking this weekend, and in two more weeks, I will begin light lifting and other exercise. I have to wait another full month before I can hit the weights like I did pre-op, but that’s okay; that still gives me three solid months to get strong before I go to WOBC.

At this point, the most difficult part is the pain in the sides (from the liposuction) and the skin discomfort (it’s drying out a lot). Sherry massages my scar with scar cream twice a day, so that’s helping the scar heal nicely, and I have to massage the sides as often as I think of it, and that’s pretty painful, but it seems to help.

I am still feeling better day after day, but I’m still not nearly done. I watched some videos online of what the surgery actually entails; I’m glad I didn’t do that before the surgery. Wow. It’s pretty serious, and actually a pretty big deal. Now I understand why it has such a long recovery time.

So, I am doing better. My mood is good, and I am no longer questioning my decision to do this. I already see the difference, and I’m sure I’ll feel the difference when I’m able to run again. I’m able to walk around and pretty much act normal at home with the exception that I still can’t lift anything over 5 lbs and I’m still somewhat limited in reaching for things or grabbing things (due to the pain under my shoulders from the liposuction). I also have two spots on my back where I still have stitches that will come out in two more weeks. But, I’m on the mend, and I’m feeling great!

Half-Way There: Three Week Post-Op Appointment

I’m feeling a lot better.

I had my mid-recovery appointment today, and it went well (except for the part where the nurse was cleaning out/touching the inside of my belly button and it caused some reflexive anxiety response that left me sweating and a little light-headed, but whatever). The nurse said that my scar is healing very well; better than she expects to see for people at the three-week mark, in fact. She was very surprised with how well the scar looks, and with how my stomach is looking.

One of my biggest concerns was laid to rest today as well; I was worried that I may have ripped a suture on my stomach muscles, but she checked it all out and said everything looked perfect. She also told me that next week, I can go into the pool. I’m also allowed to go for walks, but I still cannot do any work that involves my core. Walking will be good enough for now.

I was given some scar cream I’m supposed to start using today. I will start applying it and sticking to everything they’ve been telling me to do for recovery.

I have a theory as to why my scar is healing up so well: we don’t eat processed food. Everything we eat has been made from whole ingredients and is very healthy. That healthy food intake translates into giving the body the best quality nutrients possible which equates to better/faster healing. It was really nice seeing the nurse’s face as she went over the scar saying over and over how well it’s healing, and how far ahead it looks.

I still can’t sleep on my stomach for another three weeks, but that’s okay. I’m making do right now sleeping on my back. Having an articulating bed really helps. I can change the angle as necessary to alleviate pain on my back or glutes.

I was told today to expect swelling at the liposuction sites for up to six months, but the rest should start getting less swolen as time goes on. The funniest part was when I told her how much I thought the swelling had gone down, but after she poked and felt around the tissue, she said I still have a lot of swelling and it’ll still go down from here. That means it’ll look even better than it does now, and frankly, it looks pretty good already.

So, things are looking up. The pain I’m experiencing is all normal, and my recovery is going well: ahead of expectations, in fact.