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.