“See you in the gloom.”

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

I started working out again.

I wasn’t planning on writing about this so soon–perhaps I was afraid I’d jinx myself or something (not that I believe in such things). More likely, it’s that I don’t feel I deserve any kudos for doing this yet.

When I start to make some positive change in my life, my wife will sometimes tell me she’s proud of me. My knee-jerk response is, “Be proud of me later.” Maybe that’s the wrong response to give, but I know myself. I know how often I’ve begun new projects or habits or “life changes” and how quickly I’ve faded out, lost steam, and fallen away. I’d much rather that she’s proud of me for being faithful at something for a long time than for merely starting it.

Anyway.

I have some friends who are part of a fitness group called F3 (which stands for “Fitness, Fellowship, and Faith”). They have been encouraging me to take part in their early morning workouts for a year or two, but I’ve rebuffed their suggestions with various lame excuses about timing and schedule and energy levels.

The fact of the matter is I didn’t want to join for two very important reasons: 1) Most of the workouts are at 5:30 a.m. and I hate waking up early; and 2) I’m fat and lazy and don’t like to be uncomfortable.

I needed something to jolt me out of those excuses.

Embracing My Why

In conversations and coaching about lifestyle changes like weight loss and fitness, a common refrain is “find your why”–the bottom-line driving reason for you to make a change. The logic of this is that you have to want a certain outcome more than you want the bad-for-you momentary choices. If you can hold on to your “why,” you can say “no” to yourself enough to build a better habit.

Obviously, a big “why” for me is my family. I’m 40 years old, and I know (at least on some level) that I am shortening my lifespan by living at a very unhealthy weight. Nevertheless, I still struggle to break some of the habits that keep me at this weight. (We don’t need to get too deep into the psychology of why that is, at this point. But suffice it to say, unless something changes, I’m not doing myself or my family any favors.)

On top of that, at my current weight, I can only get a limited amount of life insurance, so if anything were to happen to me, my family would struggle financially for a while before they could get their feet under them. That’s not at all what I want for them.

In the past, thinking about my “why” has usually triggered at least some sort of short-term change that quickly burned out as I reverted to old patterns. Then something happened about 2 weeks ago that flipped the first switch.

One night at around 1:30 a.m., our newborn woke up crying–piercing screams rather than her usual slow build-up cries. She was totally fine–she had a gas bubble, which in her 6 weeks of life experience would fairly be called an emergency–but I realized that I was not fine. For some reason, her cries triggered a physiological panic reaction in me: heart racing, chest tightness, jaw tightness, arm/shoulder pain, difficulty breathing, headache. Even as my wife tended to our daughter and I laid myself back down to sleep, I still felt amped up. My mind buzzed.

What if this was it? What if this was actually the heart attack I’ve been warned of but pretended wouldn’t catch up to me? What would happen to my wife and daughters if I died right now?

I’ve had those types of thoughts before. And while I can always rest in the reality that ultimately God will watch over my family, it’s still my responsibility to provide for and protect them–which I can’t do if I’m not alive.

For some reason, this early-morning shock hit me differently, and it was enough to make me decide to take a leap I’d been putting off for months.

I was going to go work out with other people.

Friendly New Guy

There is a third reason I put off going to those early-morning workouts with my friends: I didn’t want to embarrass myself. I didn’t want to be the one really fat guy who couldn’t keep up and who spent the whole time sucking wind and sweating like a wounded buffalo, while all these other athletes were completing exercises I couldn’t get close to finishing. (Seriously, the “burpee” is a cruel, sadistic exercise that has no right having such a cutesy name.)

But I went anyway, willing to risk embarrassment to try it out. I didn’t think I’d like exercising with other people. I didn’t think I’d finish the workout. I didn’t know if I’d ever go back. But I wanted to give it a try. But here’s what I found.

The guys were really welcoming. I was greeted warmly and welcomed by several of the group that morning. Between very challenging sets of exercises, some of them took turns hanging back in the back of the pack with me to talk. I was a little surprised by how cool everyone was. I was obviously in the worst shape of anyone there (by orders of magnitude) but they were all working hard and encouraging each other and me. That was refereshing.

I did better than I thought. I had to modify most exercises (and was encouraged to do so), and I’m most definitely the last man to finish every set. But I didn’t quit and I didn’t puke. That’s a small victory. The group’s repeated encouragement was that I wasn’t competing against anyone out there except myself, and my goal should just be to get better. And that is definitely my goal. I want to get better each time.

I became part of the group, not just a tag-along. One of the cool things about F3 and the culture they build is that they give each person a nickname or call-sign. You show up as a “Friendly New Guy,” but by the end, the group gives you a nickname and you are invited back. This sounds corny, but I think this may be part of the secret sauce of the whole thing. The feeling I was dreading most of all, going into this, was of being seen as a poser, as not really belonging there. The way these F3 groups welcome new guys and build rapport is something special.

I felt way better than I expected. I was totally gassed, and my muscles were unbelievably sore the next day. But I came home after that first workout with a smile on my face, and even told my wife it was “fun.” I committed to myself to show up for 3 workouts a week (at least at first) and have only missed one in the last 2 weeks. Obviously, it’s still really early in the process, but no matter how hard the workout is each time, I’m always glad after I finish and looking forward to going back.

SYITG

This really wasn’t supposed to be an infomercial post for the F3 program (#NotSpon), but this is just a cool development in my life and I wanted to share a little bit about it.

If you’re a man in the US and you need some motivation to get healthier or get stronger or just get moving, check out their site and look for a group near you. It’s all free to participate and volunteer-led. If you think you’re too old/fat/slow/shy to join any kind of workout group, I’d say just give it a try. Do your best. Swallow your pride. Get after it.

And depending on the day, if you’re in a certain part of the Houston area, I’ll see you out there in the early-morning gloom. Because I’m not planning on stopping anytime soon.

Go-Go-Gadget-Gamification

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I’m not much of a technology hound, nor much of a gadget guy. There have been times when I’ve felt the pull to collect peripherals for new hobbies, but when it comes to technology, I’m a super-late-adopter, mainly because I’m pretty cheap when it comes to devices.

On the other hand, I find I’m a bit of a sucker for gamification.

The place I see it most often in my life? Restaurant apps. Starbucks, Firehouse Subs, Chick-fil-a–if you provide me with enough freebies early on, I will start chasing “reward points” like an addict. While I tend to stick to the apps that provide a better-than-average rate of return on earning rewards, the scheme definitely gets in my head and can sometimes nudge me toward making a purchase I wouldn’t necessarily make. (Curse you, Starbucks, and your infernal stars!)

Right now, my greatest personal challenge is getting healthy. (Point of fact, I’ve needed to get healthy for a long time, as I’ve been obese or worse for about 20 years.) In the past, some of the periods when I’ve had the most consistency in working out or eating right are when I was able to turn fitness or diet into a trackable, gamified challenge.

Thus, my snazzy little device shown above — a Fitbit Inspire HR. It’s still on-sale as of this posting, if you’re at all interested in picking one up (#NotSponsored). My wife has one, and I’d been admiring it for a little while, so when I saw it was available for 30% off this week, we made a little room in the May budget so I could grab it. 

I’m excited about check out my new gadget’s various features, but there’s one feature that it still lacks — extra willpower.

The fact of the matter is that no gadget, no device, no app is going to upload the requisite internal commitment and discipline into my head and heart that I need to get my eating and physical activity where it needs to be. I know that–honestly, I do. That has to come from being honest about where I struggle most, putting my selfish, sinful flesh to death by seeking my true satisfaction in Jesus, and then making the commitment every day to make one good choice at a time for the sake of myself, my family, and my ministry.

And if this device helps me be more aware of how often (or not) I’m active, “tricks” me into taking more steps so that I get the little “hoorah” response at the end of the day, and allows me to monitor my heart rate and sleep patterns, then it’s worth the investment.

If you’re interested in my progress, let me know and I’ll post it from time to time. And hey, if you want to encourage me in the comments (without trying to sell me something, PLEASE), I’d appreciate that as well.

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Your Turn: Do you use gamification to encourage positive changes in your life? I’d be interested to hear about it in the comments!

Keto Update: 2 Months Down

I wanted to give an update for those who were interested in our progress on our new eating plan!

For those who were not aware, on June 1st, my beloved wife and I started a low-carbohydrate, high-fat (LCHF) eating plan, patterned after the “ketogenic” diet. Without getting all science-y on you, the basic premise of the LCHF diet is that dramatically reducing your carbohydrate intake causes your body to begin burning fat for fuel, breaking down fat molecules into ketones and other things. This helps to regulate insulin levels, control hunger hormones, and provide a consistent, long-term energy supply for the body, so that your system is not constantly craving the quick hit of a sugar spike (followed by the inevitable sugar crash). Think of it as grilling by using lump charcoal instead of briquettes soaked in lighter fluid–low and slow, but steady.

The thing about this approach to eating is that it’s not for everyone. Despite what some diet and fitness gurus would claim, there’s really not a one-size-fits-all method, and it’s not just a matter of calories in vs. calories out. The proportions of calorie types do matter, and you have to tinker with it a bit. The trial-and-error nature of this approach may be off-putting for some users. I’m all-in, mainly because I’ve seen this kind of approach work for me pretty dramatically in the past. My body is carrying so much extra weight in stored fat, and was so sugar-addicted, that this approach was a much-needed shock to the system.

Note: I’m doing my best to intentionally say “eating plan” or “eating approach” instead of “diet.” Diets are always associated with short-term restrictions of food to accomplish a goal, followed often by total relapse. I’m trying to change the way I see food, the way I enjoy food, and the way I use food to fuel my body. This is something I could feasibly keep going, at least for the vast majority of the time. So it’s not a “diet” as most people would use the word.

So now, two months in, what are my results?

I’m officially down 26 pounds since 6/1/18. There was an initial drop of 6-8 pounds, then a bit of up-and-down ever since. About halfway through June, my weight stalled and then increased slightly. I realized I was consuming too many calories overall. Once I adjusted my total caloric intake, I started losing again. I stalled out again about 2 weeks ago, and I’ve been holding steady at the same weight for all that time. I know some of the reason why; while I’ve been following the basic principles, I haven’t been tracking the amount or proportions of my macronutrients (fat, protein, and carbs) lately. I also haven’t been exercising. Honestly, I’m not terribly upset by this. I chose to rest a bit during a busy couple of weeks. I haven’t lost any ground or gone back to any bad habits. Now I’m ready to lean in a bit more and see more progress.

The thing you should understand is that the scale only tells part of the story. The real difference for me comes down to mindset, control, and hunger.

In the past, I treated regimented eating plans and “diets” as punishment for my sins. I was abstaining and denying my cravings because I had to pay for what I had done, calorically. (Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea super-sized culpa!)  Even so, I still indulged in sweets all along, just factoring it into the totals. (Even on Weight Watchers, a repeated refrain is “You can eat whatever you want–just not all at once!”) That consistent intake of my drug of choice made it harder and harder to control my portions or deny my impulses, until I’d finally give in and binge, usually around the 6 month mark.

This time, I find my mindset is totally different. Not only is this plan doable, but it’s satisfying. My brilliant wife has found all sorts of recipes and substitutes so that I don’t feel like “I can never have ____ again.” (Hello, keto-friendly–or at least keto-non-antagonistic–sweets!) Furthermore, we are realistic about life. So when birthdays come around, or we decide to go out for a fancy dinner, we can choose whether or not to eat “off-plan” for a meal, without it sabotaging all of our progress.

Not only is my mindset different, but I find I have more control over impulse eating. I used to be a total snack scavenger, scooping up the remnants of birthday cakes or meeting refreshments that graced the break room or coffee alcoves of my office. No secretarial candy dish was safe from my scouring. To be honest, this created a great deal of shame for me, because I felt like a taker.

Now, by the grace of God, I can walk past a dish of my formerly-favorite sweet treats without grabbing one. I am able to say no to break-room donuts and meeting-room sodas. My addiction to sugar, while not totally broken, is now under control so that I can make wise choices. This is a gift from God, and I am thankful to walk in it.

The best part of this new paradigm is my appetite. Y’all, there was a time when I would essentially follow a hobbit’s dining schedule: breakfast, second breakfast, lunch, snack, coffee, dinner, late-night snack. I wish I were exaggerating that, but I’m really not. I’d need some kind of snack every 90 minutes to 2 hours. I would ride one sugary wave after the other, subsisting on the chemical highs of sugar and caffeine for years. I would hit up fast food joints on my way into work and on my way home from work, at around 500-1000 calories a stop. When the McDonalds drive-thru workers recognize your regular order and ask why they didn’t see you the other day, you have a problem.

While married life has encouraged me to control my caffeine intake a bit better, it’s only been in the last month that I’ve gotten a handle on my appetite. As a result, I can easily skip meals without freaking out or letting it affect my attitude or behavior. Breakfast is no longer biscuits or “peanut-butter-cup” oatmeal; often, it consists of just “bulletproof” coffee (with butter, cream, and coconut or MCT oil, along with a few drops of stevia).

Overall, I’m probably eating between 500 and 1000 fewer calories a day than I did in the last couple years (and probably 2000 fewer than I was knocking out in my bachelor days!), but I don’t feel deprived in the least. I’m satisfied with what I’m eating, because I’m eating real food with healthy fats that give me sustained energy.

It’s not perfect yet, and I’m still working on the details, but overall, I feel pretty great. I’m learning how to better care for my body without acting as a slave to my appetites, and my hope is that doing this consistently will lead to better health and a longer life to follow my Lord Jesus, love my family, and serve my neighbors.

If you have any questions, hit me up on Twitter or post in the com-box below. I don’t want to turn into a keto evangelist (that’s even worse than being a vegan crossfitter!), but I’m happy to answer questions.

“…we all fall down.”

I had a bit of a health scare on Friday. Went in for a dentist visit, and as part of the pre-cleaning ritual, they check my blood pressure with that little wrist-cuff. Several readings in a row were high. Alarmingly high. Usually my blood pressure is a little elevated, but this time, the staff was extremely concerned. (Note: Having three people say “you need to see the doctor right away” over and over does NOT help with high blood pressure.)

As it turns out, the spike was (probably) due to the killer combo of decongestant medication and Diet Coke, about an hour before the reading. But I went to the doctor’s office on Monday anyway, and the nurse told me to lay off the decongestants (okay…), significantly reduce my caffeine intake (ha!), lower my stress level (double ha!), get more sleep (triple ha!), and start taking BP meds (uh-oh).  I’m seeing her again in two months. 

Look, I’m a big guy. Really big. I mean, I’m mobile, and surprisingly agile for my weight class. But I’m a big dude who, by the grace of God, has not developed diabetes or a diagnosis of “high blood pressure” so far. It’s not like I’m pushing my luck, either–I know I need to get healthy. I want to get healthy. But getting healthy is hard and slow-going.

The one thing I have dreaded happening is being put on medication for a weight-related issue. I know that by all accounts the medication route is a slippery slope. I don’t want that for my life. I don’t want that for my future wife to have to deal with. She deserves a healthy husband who doesn’t rely on medication to live. So, it feels like things just got a little more real.

However, life doesn’t comply willingly. I’ve gotten sub-standard sleep since Monday morning. I’ve had several hours of panic-attack level stress at work. And the healthy food options in the apartment aren’t easily prepared, so I’ve already slipped back into old, lazy, drive-thru habits.  Just like that, I’m back to what I used to do.

I find that I move from crisis to crisis, ignoring problems until they demand my attention. This is a dangerous and foolish approach, because once something is a crisis, more damage has been done than can be repaired. But I too easily become reactive instead of proactive, responding to the big fires that rage and ignoring the small fires than can easily be put out. I push my body too hard, giving it too little good fuel, too much bad fuel, too little rest, too much stress. Like a teenager with a hotrod, gunning the engine, not changing the oil regularly, buying cheap, low-octane fuel until the poor car shuts down on the side of the road.

Here’s part of the problem: I don’t take my own limitations seriously. I think I can go full-steam, full-speed, without giving myself restorative rest. I burn sugar and caffeine in my engine, in ungodly amounts, to maintain the illusion of strength–but the reality is that I’m destroying myself, by bites and gulps.

By my continued stubbornness, I deny that I am dust, and by my selfish consumption I hasten my return to dust.

On this Wednesday of contrition, this is the long-ignored sin I need to repent of, most.