Rain or Shine, Snow or Sleet, #NoExcuses

February 8th, 2014

I write this as we tip our toe into the second month of 2014. January was brutal here in Dallas, TX and made it hard to find time to get out and ride. Because of that, I’ve had to find new routines in order to keep up the pace. It’s not even that it has been cold (I have the right gear for that), but it has been ICY! Several times in January roads out here were covered with ice, making driving treacherous, let alone riding.

Not to say there hasn’t been any riding. Honestly, at this point I feel under the gun to get myself into good enough shape where I won’t just DIE while doing the D2R2 later this year. We had a warm couple days mid-January where I was able to put in a sum total of about 78 miles over 3 days, which resulted in my legs feeling like Jell-O and left me thinking, “Holy crap, that’s only 70% of the ride I’ll be trying to do in ONE DAY in August!”. I know my weak point right now is hill climbs as we just don’t have them here in Dallas, but the trainer my wife got me for Christmas seems to be just what the doctor ordered.

The trainer allows me to ride inside, which during these conditions is optimal. Second, and most important, the trainer applies consistent resistance which simulates riding up an incline. I mentioned previously how demoralizing the trainer is because of the constant resistance. Where as on the road, I can ride 2+ hours and do ~40 miles no problem. The trainer on the other hand, 30-45 minutes at moderate resistance is a complete beat down! I’ll put in the equivalent of 10 miles and feel like I’m about to pass out! I complain, but this isn’t a bad thing. This is the kind of training I need, so although I’ll whine about it, I’m honestly very thankful I have it 🙂

Diet wise, I’ve been doing well in 2014. I continue to stick to one of my core principals (Don’t have a fucked up relationship with food!), so there were several times during January where I enjoyed a Bacon Cheeseburger and some Fries, Chicken Wings or even Mongolian Grill 🙂 That being said, I did still keep track of my carbs/protein/fat ratios and try to at least keep those in check. I’ve found two new food choices I’ve thrown into my rotation. First is a new lunch combination of Jolly Green Giant Health Blends, which are a fantastic little microwavable pouch of vegetables that are in a very light butter sauce. I was honestly shocked to see that these were anywhere between 100 and 190 calories per container. Second is the Nature Valley Protein Bars, which only weigh in at 190 calories but back 10g of Protein (mostly Soy) and very few carbs.

I’ve also been working in a regiment of nuts into my diet. Our pantry is usually stocked with Almonds (raw, no salt) or Pistachios. Both of which are a great source of good fats as well as protein. A favorite post-workout snack of mine has also been a fantastic product called PB2. Basically, PB2 is Peanut Butter with the peanut oil extracted, leaving a dry peanut powder. When you mix a couple tablespoons with water, BAM! Peanut Butter with 1/3 the Fat and all the Protein of “fully leaded” Peanut Butter! 🙂

My workouts have shifted to a more equal amount of weight training and cardio with the bike. Jenn and I purchased Bowflex Selecttech 552 Dumbbells last year for our home gym and I’ve been using them regularly. What I really love about them is the adjustable weight settings. My goal is every month, go up 1 setting. Currently I’m working out with the 30 pound weight setting for 30 minutes during my workout. By no means the Incredible Hulk, but my goal is to increase the weight setting every 2 months or so, following another core principal that slow and steady will win the race. I already notice a difference between starting with them last year, and gradually going from 15, 20, 22.5, 25 and now 30 pounds. Same workouts, same reps, just able to lift more weight. Obviously because of this I’ve been trying to work a lot more protein into my diet to help my body build more muscle mass.

The non-cardio workout routine is pretty simple. I rotate between the following exercises:

I’ll go through this routine about three times before my arms feel like they’re about to fall off. It’s not going to get me ready for the olympics, but it has been good for building general strength 🙂

Finally, I weighed myself this morning and I came in at 247.9, down two pounds since the beginning of the year. I’m not sure if my strength training has at all hindered my overall weight loss, but honestly just being healthier is the ultimate goal. My hope is to keep the pace up around 1-2 pounds per month, because that would put me in a very healthy range come D2R2. The goal there being less meat to haul around on the bike 😉

For The Loser Now Will Be Later To Win

January 1st, 2014

Despite my personal victory mid-way into 2013, I had a major professional setback. I was let go from my job on April 15th (TAX DAY of all days!) much to my surprise. It was completely unexpected and caught me off guard. Naturally the days following my termination I did the only thing I could do: hit the trails. hard. I biked over 30 miles the first week of my unemployment.

Professional issues aside, which I had faith would be resolved in short order, I had to adapt my healthier eating lifestyle now to a couple new requirements. First was to be cost effective. Financial we were ok, but we were essentially now a single income family so I had to be mindful of cost. Second is while being mindful of cost, still being able to eat healthy. I find this probably the most common thread I read both online and hear anecdotally from friends in that eating healthy is generally a more affluent habit due to the cost associated.

As I was eating every lunch at home now, I had to come up with some options that would’t be quick easy carb bombs or over processed junk. We purchased a Costco membership in order to try and maximize cost benefit from purchasing in bulk. One item I became a quick fan of from Costco was their pre-cooked whole Turkey Breasts. This was the staple of my diet for the first month of unemployment. I would slice it really thin and make turkey sandwiches or do thicker slices and eat it with some vegetables or almonds.

As for exercise, just prior to being let go from my job, Jenn and I decided to invest in making the upstairs “gym” a little more fully equipped by also purchasing a Bowflex home gym and the Bowflex Selectech Dumbbells. On top of the cardio we had been doing we really wanted to focus on strength training as well. Unfortunatley for me the Bowflex home gym didn’t work ideally for me due to my height/reach, but the Dumbbells worked perfectly. In addition to my rides now I would take a couple times a month to work on building up some muscle mass.

By May I had secured a new job with a twist in that this position would have me working from home most of the month with trips once a month to our company headquarters. This introduced a little complexity because I had to figure out how to manage not only watching my diet while traveling but also managing to continue working out. Again, I turned to MyFitnessPal to help me out as I would be eating at a myriad restaurants around the hotel and I would need insight. Oddly enough, my best option turned out to be a grilled chicken wing from a local chain of restaurants in the area. High Protein dinner that I could augment with a salad and simple dressing. I would laugh to myself, chicken wings as a healthy meal option. 😛

Exercise, to this day seems to be elusive while I’m on the road. For a week traveling I might get to the hotel gym once, perhaps twice. I have nobody to blame but myself because the gym at the hotel itself is very well equipped and clean. As I’ve said, I’m just not a morning person and being that I travel to the east coast means my internal clock is still fast asleep when I have to wake up to get ready to be in the office. It’s my shame to bear 😛

Thankfully tracking my food allowed me to find a good rotation of places to eat while on the road and back at home. By the fall of 2013 I had crossed the 255 pound marker and had raised by weekly cycling goal to 40 miles per week. By October I was cycling upwards of 90 miles per week and loving it! I had put over 900 miles on my Cannondale hybrid and decided it was high time to up my game and make a serious investment in my cycling hobby. For my birthday that month I purchased a Cannondale Carbon Synapse 5 105 endurance road bike. Riding a true road bike vs. a hybrid was a night and day difference, the only drawback was that since the bike was much lighter that my hybrid, I would have to bike more miles to burn the same amount of calories.

My new routine while home was that I would alternate days of riding vs. strength training. My average ride was up to around 20 miles with an average pace of around 15mph. Strength training included working my arms, chest, back and abdominal area using the AB CARVER PRO! Normally I wouldn’t invest in something I’d seen on an infomercial but it came highly recommended from a friend. My thought process here is that although my legs were looking great (as confirmed by my wife who loved reminding me 😉 ), I needed to start reducing my belly fat that just builds up over time. The Ab Carver seems to be legit as I could barely sit up in bed the morning after first using it.

So that bring us to today. It’s New Years day and today I fulfilled a promise I made to myself in 2013. I wanted to build up my cycling stamina to the point where I would be able to ride my bike around the north shore of Lake Ray Hubbard here in Dallas before 2013 was out. I was a day late, but today I completed the ride. Although it would have been a nice sendoff to 2013, it was the perfect way to kick off 2014.

So where do I stand today?

  • This pas week I weighed in at 249 pounds. This is less than I weighed when Jenn and I were first dating over ten years ago. My wedding ring often slips off now while washing my hands.
  • I purchased by first pairs of 36×32 jeans, down from 42×32 when I first started this journey
  • I’m wearing size L bike shorts, down from XXL when I first started riding

And above all else, I’m happy.

So what’s next? As I said, just keep up the downward trend. If I could continue to lose 1-2 pounds per month over the next year that would be a substantial amount of weight if look at over the three year period. I emphasize the trend because it’s the only realistic way to focus on weight loss. I could have binge dieted or picked up some fad diet book, but I honestly know myself and know that those wouldn’t have stuck long term. I feel I’ve accomplished a lifestyle change and I honestly hope to just keep the momentum this year. Continue to be a better husband, son, brother, employee and friend.

“There’s nothing you can do to guarantee a longer life, but there’s plenty to guarantee a shorter one.”

Why did I write all this? I saw a saying a while back that we can’t beat ourselves up comparing our “behind the scenes” footage to everyone else’s highlight reel. A few friends of mine with children write blog posts about their difficulties with/adjusting to parenthood and I have nothing but respect for them because how difficult it is to show people the raw struggle. I honestly feel that if we are honest with one another in our struggles, we can better understand and help one another.

Dr. Bikelove

December 29th, 2013

(Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Carbohydrate)

By the beginning of 2013 I was biking about 20 miles per week, mostly on the weekends. Although I tried to get out to the trails in my area, it became quickly obvious that my bike was out of its element on anything more rough than a smooth dirt trail. Still, being able to get out around the neighborhood and around White Rock lake I put in my 100th mile on February 8th.

In order to keep myself motivated in my rides, I set rewards for myself at certain milestones. There wasn’t a financial reason why I didn’t just go out and buy these things from the get go, but I wanted to make myself earn them. This is something I was working hard at and I wanted things I could point to which would reflect that hard work. I suppose it was a trophy/achievement system I setup for myself. Some of these included:

  • 100 Miles – Garmin GPS Bike Computer
  • 300 Miles – New Bike (Mountain Bike)
  • 500 Miles – Bike Shoes + Pedal Clips

My next physical appointment with my heath care provider was that April. I was a little nervous going into it because I knew my weight was under control but I was concerned about how I was doing keeping my lab results on a downward trend as well. Going into the appointment I weighed in at 260 pounds and my doctor could not have been more pleased. She asked me to talk about how I’ve been losing the weight and I outlined my plan. She approved and was very supportive of how things were going. A pleasant surprise was my blood pressure which was at a spot on perfect 120/80, which was another win. The final victory from my physical in 2012 were my labs, which showed sizable improvements across the boards. Specifically my HDL and Triglycerides were down and my LDL was up.

As I mention in my previous posts, I was watching my ratio of Fats/Protein/Carbohydrates and was trying to keep my carbohydrates below my protein intake. The mantra of everyone I knew who was dieting was “CARBS BAD! PROTEIN GOOD!“, but what started to become apparent to me from my research is that is only really true if you’re not working out and just dieting.

What I learned through research is that carbohydrates are the fuel our body uses to power our muscles. Protein is used to repair/build muscles after a workout and very little fat is ever burned during a workout. What I had been missing from my workouts is I would be going out early/before lunch with only a bottle of water to get me through. Looking over brands and what was available, I decided upon adding Pacific Health Labs Accelerade to my sports bottle during my rides. Perhaps it was just a placebo, but I could tell the difference immediately in both my lap times and how I felt during/after my rides.

The process of my research and first hand experience has given me a different view of carbohydrates in that they’re not something that is to be avoided at all costs, but that they’re fuel for the machine. If I’m not planning on being active, I should reduce my carbohydrates, otherwise keep my ratios and stay the course. Coming to this peace with the carbohydrate went a long way to helping me stick to one of my core principals: Don’t have a fucked up relationship with food.

I was on a positive path with my exercise and my diet but I was looking to make another small, incremental step to improve the holistic view of my health. I decided I would work towards including more seafood into my diet.  There’s well documented benefits to diets that include regular servings of fish, especially towards helping cardiovascular health. My wife and I already loved to make Poke, but we also added the Costco Mahi Mahi filets as well as pan seared Shrimp Taco’s into our meal rotation.

My lunches at work consisted of a LOT of Boston Market. More than I’m proud of, but it was probably the best healthy, fast option near the office. My meal of choice was their Regular Turkey Breast Plate with Steamed Veggies & Green Beans (no corn bread roll). Could I have eaten healthier if I had brought my lunches? Perhaps, but in the interest of full disclosure I’m super lazy and just didn’t have the discipline to prepare my lunch every day.

By April 2013 I had reached another huge milestone in my journey for a healthier life: I bought size 38×32 jeans and THREW AWAY my old 42×32 jeans! This was a huge moral victory and I was riding high, until that month I was laid off from my job which threw things for a loop. I would be forced to once again inspect and adapt my routine with the included difficulties brought on by traveling for my new job.

Hitting The Road

December 28th, 2013

Approaching Thanksgiving 2012 I was charging forward with leading a healthier life. I was exercising regularly and had a solid understanding on my daily diet and making sure I had a healthy ratio of Fat/Protein/Carbs. I had been following my friend Mike Joyce who had started mountain biking in 2012 and was in awe at the progress he had made in changing his life for the better. He was in great physical condition and it seemed he was having an absolute blast in the process, so I drew inspiration from him for my next step.

Before I decided to purchase a bike, I sat down and thought to myself what I would need to do in order to ensure the success of this next step. I had never been one for outdoor activities and I didn’t want to set myself up for failure. In the end, I decided two primary factors would ultimately lead to this being a success.

First was support from my wife, which she provided in abundance. On top of hitting the elliptical with me she said she would also take up biking with me as well, since it was something we could both do together and it would also get us both outdoors. Second, as silly as it seems, I had to appeal to the cheap ass in me and buy a bike that was at a price point where I would feel like a total schmuck for not using it. A price point in my head where if I were to walk by the bike sitting in the garage I would say to myself, “What the hell am I doing?! I paid a lot of money for that bike and I need to use it!”

So the weekend before Thanksgiving, Jenn and I went to a local bike shop and purchased our first bicycles since we were children. I had done some cursory research and decided I would get a “hybrid” bike (cross between a street bike and a mountain bike), as there aren’t many huge trails out here and I wasn’t sure if I would prefer trail to road riding. After viewing their inventory and test riding a few bikes, I decided on a Cannondale Quick CX 2 which was on sale at $899. Along with the bike we also purchased everything we’d possible need such as a bike rack and a hook to mount in the garage to hang the bikes.

On the morning of Sunday, November 18th 2012 I went out for my first bike ride at Squabble Creek trail in Rockwall, TX. I arrived at the trail early wearing gym shorts, t-shirt and running shoes with my sports bottle of water ready to hit the trail. As with my first time using the elliptical a couple things became apparent from the get go. First was that trail riding was a tempo change I was not ready for and I had to stop a couple times while out there in an attempt to keep my heart from beating out of my chest. Second was, while due to my self image issues I was avoiding them, padded bike shorts exist for a reason. After the ride I felt good, but sore. That evening after another ride around the neighborhood with Jenn, I developed a huge bruise on my inner thigh/ass. My friend Mike just laughed when I told him this and he let me know that it’s going to be sore until I get my ass muscles into shape.

Later that week I went to the bike shop and picked up my first pair of padded bike shorts, size XXL. Did I really need to wear size XXL? I’m not sure, since at the time they felt super tighter than anything I had worn in my entire life. I mean, seriously, my underwear wasn’t even this form fitting. I didn’t attempt to sport the bike shorts until after we got back from San Diego visiting family for Thanksgiving. Sadly though, by that point it was December in Texas and bike shorts would have lead to a quick case of exposure. Shortly after our arrival back in San Diego I went and picked up a pair of thermal padded bike pants and hit the trail one more time. #NoExcuses

Getting used to wearing such tight clothing while out in public exercising took some getting used to. I found huge amounts of inspiration in Ernest Gagnon’s blog post “Breaking The Cycle: My Spandex Theory“. Ernest’s story is similar to my own but his situation was much more extreme. Reading his blog posts about getting out and riding to lose weight and be healthier really resonated with the point I was at in my journey. I felt I would be doing my readers a disservice by not highlighting his story in light of my own.

I set a goal for myself at 10 miles per week since the only time I could ride while it was daylight was on the weekends. That meant putting in decent rides on both Saturday and Sunday. My weekends became dedicated to getting outside and riding my bike and helping my body do what it does best and adapt to the new routine.

One of our favorite paths to ride is White Rock Lake here in Dallas. It’s a 9.1 mile paved path around a lake just north of downtown Dallas that provides a good mix of gentle climbs and fun downhills. Jenn and I would make it a routine to try and get out to White Rock Lake at least once every week to put in a lap.

With support from my wife and motivation from my friend Mike I stuck with riding my through the end of the year putting in about 65 miles before 2012 closed out.

I ended 2012 at 260 pounds, down 30 pounds for the year and averaging 0.57 pounds per week lost. I headed into 2013 with huge momentum and motivation. I was wearing size “XL” shirts and my 42×32 jeans were starting to fall off me if I didn’t wear a belt. I had more energy, was sleeping better, but above all, I was happy.

So I had only one final thought closing out the year 2012: Ready or not 2013, here I come.

Heavier Objects Have More Inertia

December 27th, 2013

By the fall of 2012 I was feeling confident in myself because I could start to feel the change in my health. By this point I was down to 275 pounds through just minor adjustments to my lifestyle accumulating benefits over time. I felt I had the wind at my back and I was ready to make the next (dreaded) step in health/weight loss: Exercise.

I had tried to cross the bridge of exercise before with little success and no staying power. Every since my early 20’s I would go through short periods where I would try to go to a gym, work out at home, get outdoors, and so on. When we were first married, Jenn and I started waking up at 5:30A and going to the gym at our apartment complex, which lasted all of a month or so. Further down the road I used a holiday bonus from my company at the time to purchase an elliptical which was used pretty regularly shortly after purchase, but quickly became a robe rack in our bedroom. At one point while living in Carlsbad I took up Surf Fishing because I felt it was something that would at least get me outside and that has to count for something, right?

The hardest part of exercise for me is that it has to be during a time of day that I have the most control over. You cannot commit to exercising in the afternoons regularly because plans come up. People want to meet up for drinks, you go out to dinner, you run errands and so on. This meant my only time that I knew I had the most control over and could commit to on a regular basis was the morning. Blegh.

I’m not a morning person by any means. If I had to be at work by 8:30, it meant I was waking up at 8:00A and rushing a 15min shower/dressing before running out the door because I wanted to maximize my slumber time. As far as I knew my clock didn’t even have the numbers “01” to “07” and this was a primary reason why working out in the mornings never worked for me. So this was a huge test of my convictions and my commitment to making a change I knew I needed to make.

Knowing this was an uphill battle, I had to set myself up for success from the get go. Our first step was setting up a dedicated place for exercise, which meant dusting off the elliptical and moving it upstairs into a spare bedroom we were christening as our new home gym. Second was to set a realistic, achievable goal for myself and build off that when I was ready. My plan was to wake up and do 15 minutes on the elliptical three times a week, from 7:30A-7:45A which would give me enough time to cool off and then get ready for work.

My initial workout routine on the elliptical was a hill climb with a small climb at the start of the workout with a large, sustained climb that quickly dropped off at the end. After my first morning completing this routine I was pretty sure I was going to die, but I wasn’t defeated. If anything I was empowered because I stuck with the workout through the entire 15 minutes. That being said, I was pretty sure my heart was going to explode or Jenn was going to find me passed out on the floor. Although I had lost weight, it was obvious that I was very much still out of shape.

But I stuck with it.

It was a mental battle because I would start to find reasons I didn’t like doing it (aside from the obvious), then I would do what I needed to do to shut those thoughts down. Including but not limited to:

  • It’s too hot up here when I work out — I went and bought a giant shop fan from Home Depot
  • I get bored just sitting here doing this — I started propping up the iPad and watch Netflix while working out
  • I hate having to stop and get a drink of water – I bought sports bottles I could keep with me
  • I feel like I don’t have a good rhythm – I made a high tempo workout playlist on Spotify

This process gave birth to my battle cry: No Excuses.

Paramount to my success was also the support of my wife. Where I would work out in the morning she made it a routine to also work out in the afternoons. This was passive motivation in that I wasn’t alone in my efforts and that she was joining me in our journey to improve our overall health. Team Nusbaum was on the Healthy Train to Skinnyville, Population: Us.

I kept this routine up through the Fall. Soon 15 minute workouts became 20 and 20 gave way to 30 minute workouts which I would burn a reported ~350 calories and maintain a solid tempo heart rate of 150 beats per minute. I had stuck with my workout routine for a couple months and you know what happened? I felt great!

I had more energy. This was the first thing I noticed which I think comes from just the cardio workout of the elliptical, but I found that I was more awake at work and really went into my days “guns blazing” because I wasn’t still slogging out of bed. I felt it made me a better employee and a better spouse *cough* 😉

I no longer had sleep issues. For years I had dealt with issues related to sleeping and getting to sleep, such as not being able to quickly fall asleep or getting restful sleep once I was asleep. My wife and I have a pretty regular routine where we go to bed at 10:00P every night, but more often then not I would just lay in bed until well after 1:00A because I just couldn’t fall asleep. On top of all that, I would snore which more often than not result in Jenn waking up me throughout the night because I was keeping her up. After waking up earlier and working out regularly, by bed time I was exhausted and ready to crash. I found I was falling asleep much faster and having more restful sleep than ever before. Jenn noted that I snored much less by then, which I think I can attribute to the weight loss.

Going into November 2012 I had maintained my downward trend and was now at 265 pounds. A huge milestone at this point was that I had purchased and was wearing size “XL” shirts, a size that I had not worn in many years. I felt I had huge momentum in my journey and I started to seek out the next step, and I found it from a close friend. Later that month I would listen to a friend of mine who was also in the process of living a healthier lifestyle and losing weight in the process. He would inspire me to make a purchase that has had the biggest single impact on my life to date: a bicycle.

On The Topic Of Supplements

December 26th, 2013

My wife always laughs at me because for years I would dabble in supplements like an alchemist, in her words, trying to find the right combination to give me eternal life. What’s funny is that she isn’t far from the truth. Being secular in my beliefs, I must admit that my feelings towards supplements until recently has been based mostly on belief and faith. I would try new antioxidants, herbal supplements and other pills in order to try and find a combination I felt would give me optimal health.

Going into this new lifestyle, I had some things I now needed from a supplement regiment. First and foremost is energy because I no longer consume stimulants like caffeine. Next was ways I could, in addition to diet, get my blood work labs back to ideal levels. The first thing my physician recommended to me was that I begin taking Fish Oil. The National Institute of Health makes note that the primary benefit of taking Fish Oil (Omega-3) is it helps lower your triglycerides, so this would be a huge benefit because high triglycerides run on my father’s side of the family.

Now to the point where my thoughts on supplements are based on belief and faith, I’m conscious of my cardiovascular health. Not because I have heart problems or anyone in my immediate family has been diagnosed as such, but my step-father passed away suddenly when he was 65 due to a heart attack. This left a deep wound on my psyche (and took me years to get over his loss), so I try to include something in my daily supplements that contribute to heart health.

A final requirement for my daily vitamins is that I didn’t want to take a hand full of pills every day, while still achieving what I felt was a full coverage of my core concerns. So this meant finding an all-in-one supplement to provide multiple benefits.

So what does my daily regiment look like today?

I settled on the Irwin Naturals brand of multi-vitamin because it’s a multi-tasker in that it includes not only Omega-3 Fish Oils in the gel caps but also a multitude of other antioxidants, herbal supplements and other essential oils such as Flaxseed and Pumpkin Seed oil. I added the daily fiber supplements to ensure that I was getting enough fiber during the day in addition to studies that show increased fiber intake helps lower cholesterol.

On days that I work out/bike I’ll also add in Animal Flex by Universal Nutrition. I’ve always had very bad knees, an example of which is that even when I was a child I could never stand up from a squat. And mind you I was a very thin child, so it wasn’t weight related. So anything I can do to help my joints stay healthy during/after my workouts and a huge positive in my book. Animal Flex is a small packet of pills which you take once a day that includes Flaxseed Oil, Chondroitin, MSM and Glucosamine.

I’ll end this with a thought from the comedian Tim Minchin: “You know what they call alternative medicine that’s been proved to work? Medicine.” Keep that in mind when thinking about the supplement regiment you feel works best for you. And I say “feel” purposefully because in the end of the day, if you feel good and you believe in your choice, in my head, that’s all that matters. Use your best judgement and listen to the recommendations from your healthcare providers.


Making A Healthy Lifestyle A Turtle Race

December 26th, 2013

We pick up our second post in this blog series shortly after April 2012. At the time, admittedly, I didn’t even know where to start with dieting. I had done “weight loss challenges” at my companies in the past where the contest was to lose the most weight in a 30 day period. Obviously post those contests none of the lessons or weight loss stuck since the goal was very short sighted.

The list of gimmick diets is very long: Paleolithic, Atkins, South Beach, Medifast, Nutrisystem, etc., etc. I was watching an interview with Depak Chopra on NOW with Alex Wagner and he made a comment that stuck in my head recently, “The reason there is a new top diet book every year is because none of them address the core reasons of why we eat.” I really liked that quote because by April 2012, I was a point of introspection and wanted to get to the core of things in how to live a healthier lifestyle and in the process as an added bonus, lose weight.

My starting point needed to follow the two rules I set out for myself:

  1. Set realistic, achievable goals
  2. Don’t have a fucked up relationship with food

I settled on the idea of first getting a solid understanding of what I was eating and when I was eating it, which required keeping a food diary. I had attempted something along the lines of a food diary in the past with little success and no retention. I figured whatever I selected had to be so simple and fluid to integrate into my daily life that I would have no excuse as to why I would “no longer be using it”. After asking a couple friends I knew kept that sort of thing, I decided upon using MyFitnessPal. What really made MyFitnessPal work well for me is the immense database of food that is in their system as well as the ability (on the mobile app) to scan a barcode and automatically log that food item without having to punch in the vitals manually. That was a huge win!

One thing that became apparent within the first week is that my diet was out of whack as far as ratio of Fat/Protein/Carbohydrates. As with the majority of Americans, I was consuming a disproportionate amount of Carbohydrates and Fat with a minimal amount of Protein during the day. Additionally, my lunch time caloric intake accounted for a majority of my daily intake. What I loved about the first couple weeks is that it was like having an X-Ray into what I was actually eating and thus providing me valuable data that I could then feed into my empirical process.

My first goals in May 2012 were simple: Lower my caloric intake while balancing out my Fat/Protein/Carbohydrate ratios to be closer to a 20/30/50.

Lowering calories was bar none the easiest thing to do. MyFitnessPal helped me calculate my ideal Caloric intake to lose an estimated 0.5 pounds per week, which ended up being in the neighborhood of 2,300 calories per day due to my current size/activity. I laughed because in my head I saw those numbers and was like, “Well, so I’ve got that going for me.”

The name of the game at the start was subtle substitutions or omissions. Change items that I wouldn’t notice and remove items I wouldn’t miss, some examples being:

  • Hamburger – No Cheese, Substitute Mayo for Avocado, Substitute the beef with Turkey or Bison when available
  • Subway Sandwich – No Cheese, No Oil, Substitute Mayo for Avocado
  • Tacos – Substitute Beef with Chicken, No Cheese
  • Whenever possible substitute white bread/pasta with Whole Grain/Wheat

Small changes like these were super simple and I could apply them to many different offerings from multiple places. I was still enjoying the food I was normally eating from places we would normally eat at, just with minor changes that helped me maintain my caloric count as well as help get the ratio in line. Additionally, to get my protein numbers higher I began drinking a Muscle Milk Light shake every morning. This was significant because I have never been a breakfast person. I would joke to my friends that this kept me 33% thinner than I would have been if I ate breakfast. I know there’s a lot of you out there that just made an audible scoff that “breakfast is the most important meal”, “it jumpstarts  your metabolism” and so on. Well, being that I haven’t really enjoyed a steady breakfast habit since about 1995, I didn’t want to cross that bridge just yet.

For the next three months I kept on this routine and in the process lost another couple pounds. Were those pounds due to just my no longer drinking soda? Perhaps just being more cognizant of my food intake caused me to eat less? I’m not sure, but from a statistical standpoint I was maintaining a downward trend.

The downward trend, I feel, is the most important part of this journey for me. All too often people weigh themselves every day and are emotionally defeated by the daily fluctuations in your body’s chemistry and how it retains liquids/solids. For my journey, I only weighed myself once every couple weeks (if that). I looked at it from a financial standpoint in that, you don’t have a holistic view of the health of an economy or business by measuring the daily success/profit as an atomic unit. You need to allow your data to accumulate over a period and make judgements over an aggregate. For me, that was weighting myself every couple weeks and inspecting the reports of MyFitnessPal and then adjusting every so often on how I could do things better.

If my healthy lifestyle journey were to be compared to the story of the Tortoise and the Hair, I was definitely taking the Tortoise mentality in that slow and steady is going to win this race. I just had to have the patience in my path and courage to stick with it.

Beginning The Path of A Healthier Life

December 24th, 2013

I wanted to use the end of the year as an opportunity to capture the series of events over the past two years that has lead me down the road of a healthier lifestyle and has put me on a downward trend in my weight.

I’ll begin this entry in the fall of 2011. I was probably at my heaviest at this point and realizing I needed to make a change. Like most folks, I searched the internet for what made the most sense to me (and at the time, I’ll be honest, really meant just looking for something that would be the easiest). I decided that I would kick off 2012 and go completely Vegetarian. It was drastic, but I felt it would net me the most bang for my buck in living a healthier lifestyle and losing weight as a result. I purchased several books, did my research and was ready.

New Years came and went with no change. Mid-January 2012 I was walking into our bedroom and noticed the Vegetarian books laying at the bedside. They had been there now, unread, for a little over a month. It gave me reason to pause because I remembered how fired up I was about taking on this radical life change but when it came time to actually commit, I shied away. I felt defeated and wasn’t sure what I could do next, because I needed to do something.

I was 30 years old, 6’3″ and 290 pounds. I had always had high blood pressure and my cholesterol was constantly over 200. In general, all my vital stats weren’t considered high, but were on the elevated side across the board. I wore size XXL clothing which were starting not to fit right, my waist size was 42″ and, truth be told, I rarely liked going upstairs in our home because climbing the stairs was such a schlep.

At time I had been working at a new company for a couple months which practiced the Agile software development methodology Scrum. Scrum is an empirical process where you deliver work in small, deliverable increments then inspect and adapt. It’s a cycle, deliver an achievable increment of work within the time box then inspect how you could improve upon that process and adapt going forward. I’ll stop short of saying that Scrum saved my life, but I decided to take an empirical approach to my weight loss.

It’s common knowledge that the goal to any lifestyle change is making something you can stick with and integrate into your daily life. So it’s no longer a “diet” or “exercise”, but it integrates into the core foundation of who you are and how you live. So whatever I decided to start with had to be something small, something that I could easily live without and something that wouldn’t have a huge impact on my daily life. Something easy to start with which I knew I could achieve.

I decided to eliminate all soda/sugary drinks from my life, including diet/artificially sweetened drinks as well. I figured, hey, this is a boatload of empty calories I consume daily that I could just as easily live without. Late-January 2012 I made the decision and executed. How hard could it be to give up something as simple as soda? My wife and I already had an unofficial rule that we never kept soda in the house, so it’d just be when we’re eating out. It turned out to be much harder than you’d think.

As it turned out, I had two major factors playing against me. First is that since I do not drink Coffee or Tea, soda was my primary source of caffeine during the day. I would usually have a 22oz soda with lunch and take a refill back with me to the office. Occasionally I’d have another can of soda in the afternoon and then if my wife and I were going out to dinner, I’d order soda with my meal. Caffeine is addicting, this is just the science of it and anecdotally, ask Coffee drinker how they feel when they don’t get their morning cup of joe. Because of my new ban on sugar drinks, this meant that my only source of caffeine during the day had now been eliminated.

To supplement this loss of stimulant, I shifted my multivitamins that I took daily in the morning to just after lunch. Although not a replacement for such a powerful stimulant as caffeine, I found the Vitamin B’s helped give me at least enough boost where I didn’t have a huge crash after lunch. It was very tough going the first week or so, but my body did what it is best at and adapted to the situation.

The second factor, one I had not counted on, was perceived social pressure. I say perceived because it was obviously that I was going through typical withdraw symptoms and was projecting my thoughts on the situation to other people. Specifically, in my head when I would order a water from the wait staff at a restaurant I would think, “This person must think I’m an asshole!” just because I wasn’t ordering soda. And in a way, restaurants DO single you out passively for ordering water. Smaller cups, different color, etc., etc. I’m sure there’s an argument to be made for loss prevention in regards to these differences, but either way it didn’t help the state I was in being singled out. I felt bad and one night confessed to my wife how I was feeling about it and how I know it’s silly, but it’s how I felt.

In the end, this was just something I had to work through. The system is rigged because soda companies want you to buy their product and restaurants want to sell it to you because it’s one of their highest profit margins. Removing myself from this consumer stream threw me off and over time, as silly as it sounds, I started to feel like Neo when he started to see the matrix for what it really was. It’s silly to think that for almost every meal we (myself included) sit down and guzzle down sugar water, not as a treat but as hydration. I recall an older co-worker once telling me that his grandmother would give him a bottled Dr. Pepper as dessert after a meal, which amused those of us he was telling the story to because it seemed so backwards. When in actuality, it seems the most sane.

So although this small change wasn’t without issue, it was something I was determined to stick to. After the first month it became second nature, but I would still have the cravings for a Mexican Coke or a Dublin Dr. Pepper. Not because I was thirsty, but because I WANTED IT. I continued with my soda ban for the first couple months of the year, sticking to it with the determination of a recovering alcoholic. I mentally kept track of the days I had gone without a drink of soda. It sounds silly, but those systems are in place because they work!

Fast forward to April 2012, it was time for my annual physical. I was nervous because I had just turned 30 and knew my physical condition wasn’t the best. What happened I had not expected and would I been proposed a bet I would be out some money: I had lost 5 pounds and my blood pressure was down to 125/85. My cholesterol was still elevated, but down a couple points from the previous year.

So I thought to myself, It’s that simple? All I did was give up soda. I still ate the occasional bacon cheeseburger, french fries, philly cheesesteak, chicken wings, onion rings and you’re telling me my blood pressure was down and I had actually lost weight? I used that moment to inspect and adapt the decision of quitting soda. What was next? What was my goal?

I made a couple promises to myself:

  1. Set realistic, achievable goals – Losing 1-2 pounds per month over the course of a year is a substantial loss and is something I could achieve
  2. Don’t have a fucked up relationship with food – I refused to look at food as a vice or an enemy. I didn’t want to feel guilty for indulging or depressed when “forcing myself” to eat healthy

And so with no caffeine and the five pound loss as my motivation, I set off on a two year (to date) journey that would teach me about the idea of health, fun and would eventually change my life.