What to eat to get back on track (Part 3)

I really didn’t change my diet much in the early days of getting fit. I didn’t think of myself as a poor eater. Maybe that was part of the underlying problem. I didn’t (and still mostly don’t) see different foods as necessarily bad. Nor is my gut reaction to say that making a small change will matter that much. While that is a type of thinking that I struggle with, I have seen where the little changes have made a huge difference.

When I started
Lunch!The only thing I gave up initially was full sugar colas. As a Dr Pepper drinker I had limited access to my favorite drink when we first arrived in Mexico. It was available in Mexico City back then, but not in Merida where we lived. That has since changed, but it was a big help to me at the time.

What I discovered by trying different drinks is that I really didn’t care what I was drinking. If it wasn’t Dr Pepper, then my only requirement to make me happy was that it had bubbles. I tried Diet Coke and found I liked it as well as anything else. I couldn’t go with just the soda water, though that is very popular in Mexico. I never took a liking to that stuff.

My first big change was to switch to drinking diet colas. I know colas of any kind aren’t the best for the body, but I learned something in my quest to get healthier–if I gave up too much at once I was setting myself up for failure. I have seen too many people try to go whole-hog on their diet changes and are not able to keep at it.

The next thing I changed was trying to think about food as fuel. With that change of mindset I did not go on any kind of starvation program. I just cut back a little bit at first. Instead of eating until I was stuffed, I tried to eat a bit less. That was a big change for me. I had for years eaten way more than I should. It always seemed to me the goal at a meal was to tank up and make sure you would be alive until the next meal. When I started thinking about food as fuel it helped me realized that I was carrying more fuel than I needed to accomplish the physical tasks I needed to before I ate again.

As time went on the amount of food needed to sustain life and feel good about it became less and less. However, at this stage I never felt like I was starving myself nor that I was “on a diet.” I just realized that I did not need to take in as much food as I had in the past. I was very active attending an exercise class 3 days a week and running 3 to 5 days a week on top of that. I needed fuel, but I only wanted to carry enough so that I would not hinder my play time. And, yes, I did see my running and exercise as play. It was no longer work by the time I had started to see the results of a stronger healthier body.

Second round of pruning
I continued with the changes of drinking diet colas and thinking of food as fuel for almost 2 years. I lost the vast majority of weight that I ended up losing with just those 2 diet changes. It was not until I had lost over 70 lbs. that I started actually paying attention to the specific foods I ate.

I had stagnated in my weight loss. I knew that I was still carrying more fat than I needed to. I was not looking for a “perfect body.” But I did want to have a healthy one. To trim the next 20 lbs. I finally had to start dieting. Exercise alone wasn’t going to cut it.

French fries with lots of ketchup. Yum! We usually only went out to eat once or twice a week, but it was almost always to a hamburger joint. I switched to chicken sandwiches and no fries. I still ate fries off the kids and my wife, but I would not have any of my own. As I thought about food as fuel, greasy fries did not sound like what my body needed to make it around the track faster. A handful of energy packed granola (which I honestly enjoy more than fries) seems like a better choice. If I prefer the granola anyway, why make it harder to do what I want by eating things that are bad for me? Eventually the fries were gone.

What I am doing now
I would like to say that I have been faithful to the mindset that food is fuel and that I have kept the junk out of my diet, but I haven’t. I still don’t think I eat too poorly, certainly not as bad as I had before. But while on furlough, and currently in Argentina, I have cut my exercising back to just running. While running will keep you in good cardiovascular shape, it isn’t that great for overall fitness and weight loss.

Next post I will talk more about my progression of exercise routines.

Don’t forget to start at the beginning with the first post in the series.

My personal Grammar Girl

Grammar GirlThis week I got a chance to talk with Grammar Girl (Mignon Fogarty) on the phone. She was interviewing me for her Behind the Grammar podcast. The interview we did was for episode 18 of her show. I have been a big promoter of her podcast and her whole network since I first heard about her over 4 years ago.

I mentioned the interview on Facebook and a friend commented about her own personal “Grammar Girl” in high school. I too had my own Grammar Girl in college.

English never was one of my strong subjects (come to think of it, I don’t know that I had any except skipping classes). I guess I speak English well on a basic level, but knowing the rules and making the right choices on tests always eluded me. High school English did not go well and neither did college.

Since then I have had good friends who have helped me clean up several usage errors. Learning a foreign language has been a huge benefit too. However, before I got to the point of getting help I had to take freshman English in college. Mrs. B was my tormentor teacher.

I sat on the last row to the teacher’s left. We were in alphabetical order and Penny O sat in front of me. Mrs. B allowed us to grade each other’s quizzes. We were welcome to trade papers with anyone around us. I found a sympathetic soul in Penny, so always chose to trade papers with her. I never remember Penny ever making a mistake on her quizzes. However, she almost ran out of ink each time she had to correct mine.

The fact that she never missed a question impressed me enough to soften the blow of how much work she had to do to grade my quizzes. She would turn around with a very sympathetic look on her face as if to say “Oh, you poor boy.”

Maybe I am the reason Penny became an English teacher. Perhaps she couldn’t stand the thought that there were other people in the world like me.

Specific steps to getting back on track (Part 2)

In these posts I will talk a lot about “losing weight,” but really for me it was, and is, about getting in shape. If I lost pounds on the way to getting a stronger, healthier body, then I was very pleased about that. But it was more about taking care of the body God gave me so that I could serve Him longer. I was (and even more so now) getting very disappointed at how many of “God’s servants” did not seem to care about their body and how restricted they were in being able to do ministry. I was a poster child for that.

Take Pictures
I have very few pictures of how big I was at over 270 pounds. However, I have a ton of pictures since. Most of them no one will ever see, but it is a huge encouragement to me to go back and look at the steps that got me to where I am now.

Measure Yourself
There are all kinds of methods for measuring your progress. Many of them may be just fine for some people. But here is what worked for me.

Weighing yourself only gives part of the picture of what is happening in your body. Once you start exercising you may actually gain a bit of weight while you build muscle to replace the fat. If you only depended on your scale to tell you something is happening then you could be easily discouraged.

I initially took body measurements from several points, but settled on just taking a measurements at my neck, upper arm, chest, waist, hips, thigh and calf. I took each of these measurements once a week and recorded them on a 3X5 card. I also put the date and my weight on the card. I was able to get 5 or 6 columns of measurements on a card so that I could see how I was doing over a long period of time. I also rubber banded these cards together so that when I filled up a card and put it with the rest I could see how far I had progressed. I noted on the card what my total number of inches and pounds I had lost since I started. After almost 6 years I still have those cards that I can look at for encouragement.

Some weeks my weight would go up even though my measurement went down. I was never discouraged by that. If I looked smaller I didn’t really care if I gained 2 lbs. Muscle is denser. A pound of muscle takes up less room in your clothes than a pound of fat.

Weigh Yourself
Scale with 184While measuring will give you a better understanding of what is truly happening, don’t we really want to talk about pounds? We like to say that we lost 5 lbs. No one really cares or understands when you say you lost a total of 3″ from 7 different points on your body.

This is where I deviated greatly from most suggestions. You can take my route, or stay with the conventional wisdom. My way worked for me, it may not for you. However, if you have never been successful at this before doing it the traditional way, then maybe it is time for you to look at alternative suggestions.

I weighed myself every day. I weighed myself every night. I weighed myself sometimes 3 or 4 times a day. Conventional programs tell you to only weigh once a week. But for me I wanted to know where I stood today compared to yesterday. I was challenged by that number and rarely discouraged. If I was up a pound (or three) in a 24-hour period I would chalk it up to “water weight.” If I was down it was because “I worked hard for it.” Now that I have a scale with tenths of a pound on it, I get even more obsessive in seeing what I can make those numbers do from day to day.

Although I weighed myself daily, I only wrote down my weight once a week on measuring days. This gave me a better chance of being down between one permanent accounting and the next. The daily weights were temporary and just helped me see if I was generally on track. Also, by doing this, I knew that Thursday my weight was always the highest for the week. I would avoid measuring or recording my weight on Thursday. More on why in a later post.

Accept Encouragement
My wife was a saint during all of this. When someone said that they noticed I had lost a little weight, I would gloat to my wife about it. While I am writing about it now, I did not want to make a big deal about losing weight at the time. It was a personal issue to me. I was not losing weight for other people, I was getting in shape so that I could serve the Lord better. But if anyone happened to notice and say something about it, I was thrilled! Outside I would answer questions and thank them for their kindness, but inside I was beaming with the knowledge that I had worked hard and it was paying off.

My wife had to listen to me drivel on and on about how someone noticed. Or that I could do a certain stretch that I had never done before. She had to listen to a play-by-play accounting of everything that was happening to me. It was helpful to have someone I could talk to about it.

Ignore the Naysayers
Along with the encouragement, there were also plenty of people who were standing around to throw cold water on me and my progress. My poor wife got to hear all about that too.

I carved out a time to make exercise part of my life. I realize my schedule is more flexible than most people’s, but I think they could make time if they really wanted to. You don’t need 3 hours a day to exercise. If you will look for opportunities to walk 15 minutes more than you do currently, then you are headed the right direction.

By the time I got 6 months into my change of lifestyle I was exercising 4 to 7 days a week. Not because I had to, but because I wanted to. I was seeing results in a changed body. I had less heartburn. I could stay awake during church. I didn’t seem to have as many aches and pains. I wasn’t getting sick. I wanted more of those types of results.

But then the comments started. “Men are able to lose weight easier than women.” “You just have a faster metabolism than I do.” “Are you sick?” “You are making the rest of us look bad.” And they kept coming. Sometimes they were intended in jest, but they were not helpful. I never tried to refute the discouraging remarks. If someone really wanted to get their life turned around, I was there to help, but I really started to retreat from even talking about anything I was doing food or exercise-wise. There were too many people who were either jealous or didn’t want things to change.

When I was asked what I was doing to get the results I was getting, I told them that I was just exercising. (Early on, I changed very few eating habits). Often they would tell me how they were too old or that they preferred to diet instead of exercise. I wanted to turn it back around on them and ask them who was getting better results, but I refrained.

It may be true that men lose weight easier than women, but I did not see any of them working as hard as I did. I did not see them walking in the neighborhood drenched in sweat. When I later joined an exercise group at a local park I noticed that many of the people in the group were showing up every day, but not physically engaged. They were going through the motion, but were not putting forth the effort to make the exercise work for them. I only remember 1 lady who ever lost weight in that group. It wasn’t because the teacher was doing a poor job (I lost over 50 lbs. under her), but it was because the students were not putting out the effort that it took to get the results they said they wanted.

You cannot get in shape without effort. However, let me encourage you that you don’t have to spend 20 hours a week in exercise. If you are at a constant weight now and you change nothing in your eating habits, but add walking 30 minutes a day to your routine, you will lose weight. It is a matter of using more energy (calories) than you consume. If that 30 minutes a day has to be scaled back to 10 minutes, you will still lose weight, just at a slower pace.

What Exercises? What Food?
I will talk about that in my next post. Thanks for the comments here and at Facebook. Also thank you for the personal messages that this has been helpful and encouraging. While I have talked about many of my activities in the past on the blog, I have never shared everything. It seemed too personal at the time. However it is helping to encourage me to ramp up my effort and stop hiding behind a couple of recent injuries. I will find a way to work around these issues and get back in the shape that will help me effectively do the ministry the Lord has called me to.

Have you read part 1?

Getting back on track (Part 1)

I have often been asked what I did to lose weight and get in shape. Much to the disappointment of many who ask, I have to tell them what they don’t want to hear. It takes work!

Because I have struggled in the last 2 years to keep my weight in check and to stay physically active, I thought it would be good encouragement to myself to go through my initial motivations to lose weight and what I did then to get me to where I needed to be. (And where I need to get back to).

270+ lbs. of meWhen we first arrived in Mexico in August of 2004 I realized that I was very unhealthy. My weight had gotten over 270 lbs. that year (photo). I was spiritually convicted by the fact that, as a missionary, I was doing an important job that would be a poor reflection of my Lord with the body I currently had. While I know there are Bible verses I could have used to say why someone should take care of their body physically, for me it was a matter of knowing that I would die an early death and not be able to serve God long term with the way I was living.

Besides the physical aspect of my condition, there was also a spiritual problem I was facing. There was a need in my life to become more spiritually focused. You are probably thinking to yourself that I could not be too far off the mark if I had spent all my adult life in ministry and had just moved to the foreign field as a missionary. But anyone who travels constantly (which I had done for 10 years up to that point) knows the struggle one faces when they have no daily routine. When do you read your Bible? When do you pray? It becomes so easy to say that you will do it later in the day. But sometimes many days, or even weeks, go by and you realize that you have been drifting spiritually. That is where I was.

I needed to get some focus back in my spiritual, as well as my physical, life.

Not having done much exercise in the recent years, I figured a good place to start was walking around the block and searching for help on the Internet. I read that you should combine aerobic exercise with some weight training for a healthy routine. I bought a barbell, a few pounds of weights and a jump-rope. I don’t remember where I got all my information, but I started with jumping rope and lifting light weights. I got started with a jump-rope, a few weights and a neighborhood I could walk in. It was October 2004 when I got serious about all of this.

When I got started I was down to 264. I had lost 10 lbs. during the move and was eating better since we were eating at home and no longer traveling constantly. I had a goal to get down to the weight I was when we got married 10 years before. I don’t know why I remember that I weighed 227 at our wedding, but that became my target. Secretly however, I would have loved to get down to 200. I hadn’t weighed that little since high school.

I had had goals before, but they were always a weight associated with a date. It had never worked. Maybe it works for some people, but for me I would see that I was not going to reach my goal in the time I wanted, so I would just give up. I needed a different plan.

Instead of focusing on the 37 lbs. that I needed to lose to reach the goal,  I focused on smaller numbers with absolutely no time restrictions. At first I thought that if I could lose 2 lbs. I would only need to lose 35 more. But that still seemed like a big number after I got rid of those 2 lbs. I then switched my focus again to an even smaller number. If I lost just 2 more pounds then I would be at 160. If I can lose 2 lbs. then I could easily lose 3 for my next step.

By that time I had totally ignored any long term goal and started focusing only on the mini-steps that would push me the right direction. My focus was losing 2 lbs. then 3 lbs. for a total of 5 pound chunks. Then I would go back to the 2 lbs. again. I alternated between 2 pound and 3 pound goals for several months.

When I finally did reach 227 I knew there was no way I was going to stop there.

Things were coming back into focus for me spiritually too. I was able to settle into a routine that allowed me to carve out time every day to read my Bible and pray. At that point it was not a matter of whether I could spend time with the Lord, it became a matter of whether I would spend time with Him. I had the time and the place set aside; I simply needed to be obedient.

Discipline in one area of my life reflected discipline in other areas. If I was motivated to exercise then I would use that encouragement to help me discipline myself spiritually. Most of the time they went hand in hand with no extra motivation needed. But sometimes I had to tell myself that it was not fair to my spirit if I was willing to exercise my body but not read my Bible. Then there were times I felt lazy and wanted to just read my Bible and ignore my body (that happened less often). I would encourage myself that they were both important.

I had hoped to get this all out in one post, but I can see that it would be so long as to discourage you from reading it. I don’t know how many parts it will take to tell the whole story, but doing it this way allows me to cover more ground and gives me a reason to sit at the keyboard and add some words to the space I am paying for every month anyway.

Part 2 is now available.
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5