Moving to get back on track (Part 4)

Though I talked about food in my last post, I really didn’t start with a focus on food and diet. I started with an emphasis on exercise and moving. I found out years before that getting out and walking around the block helped me get in pretty good shape drop several pounds. I figured if I ramped up the intensity and added a few more exercises to the routine I would be less likely to die a young death and cut my ministry short.

Getting started to move
Escape your shapeAt the time (October 2004) I was carrying a Palm based organizer which had early e-book capabilities. In the bookstore was a book that sounded like a good place to start looking for help called Escape Your Shape: How to Work Out Smarter, Not Harder. It promoted exercising based on your body shape or type. It also told you what to avoid so that you didn’t build muscles where you didn’t want them. Thinking back now I don’t know if it really matters whether I avoided some exercises and focused on others, but it was helpful that the book gave me a specific exercise routine. It included a lot of basic calisthenics, jump rope and walking.

I was as faithful as I could be to the routines the book gave and was pleased to see that the extra motion helped me see dramatic results in just a few weeks.

In my mind there were no real solid weight goals other than I wanted to get down to at least the weight I was when I got married (almost 50 lbs. from where I started). I also had no time goal. I refused to put myself in a box by saying that I needed to lose a certain amount of weight by a certain time. This was going to be a lifestyle change, therefore I was looking for something that I could add to my daily routine that I would be doing for the rest of my life, not just to reach a number on a scale. It was during this time that I also came upon the idea of focusing on just 2 or 3 lbs. of loss at a time as I mentioned in my first post.

I continued with the jump rope/calisthenics routine for about 5 months. I don’t have the exact numbers with me, but I had lost maybe 25 to 30 lbs. during that 5 month period. I was getting pretty excited to see how much more flexible and stronger I had become.

Exercise class
One day at the park I learned that there were exercise classes that were available to the public. They cost $1 per class and there was no long term commitment. The class was a Tae-Bo class, which I was familiar with. Nervously I signed up. I remember the woman telling me that I needed to bring a bottle of water and clothes that I could jump in. It seemed like a funny way to say exercise clothes.

The first day of class I felt more than a little out of place. I stayed in the back of the class and just tried to keep up. I kind of stood out–tall white dude in a class of short dark dudettes–it would have been hard not to. The teacher learned my name the first class and yelled encouraging things to me telling me I didn’t have to do all the exercises and that I could just march in place if my plump body couldn’t keep up.

From that first class, I was hooked. The teacher knew how to push all the right buttons to encourage me. I also learned from that class something that has always been true in my life–positive peer pressure is something I need. While I have never been one to be a lemming and blindly follow the crowd, I do need help doing what’s good for me when I can’t see the benefit. That class and teacher helped build some structure in my exercise routine. While everyone else in the class was on cruise control most of the time, I was in there slinging sweat on anyone who dared to get within 10′ of me.

Two days of the week we would go through different routines and basically jump around swinging arms and legs for an hour. But Friday was always my favorite day. That was the day we put on gloves and got to hit each other. Since I was the only man, the teacher was the only one strong enough to receive my punches. I punched and kicked her as hard as I could trying to knock off her gloves or knock her over. I had a blast!

On days that I did not have Tae-Bo class I would do various strength training exercises. I still did my calisthenics and walking too. When we moved and I had to leave my teacher at one park, I found another park near the new house where her boss taught classes. I took classes with him for a year until we moved back to the side of town that made it possible to return to her.

I don’t know that a structured class is the best choice for everyone. In fact, the reason I never mentioned going to a class before is that I never wanted people to think that I was going there just to see the pretty ladies exercising. Believe me, most of the ladies in the class were grandmas and there was little visual temptation. I am telling you this because it is what worked for me. If a class doesn’t work for you, then that is fine. It provided the structure and positive peer pressure I needed to stay motivated.

The end of December of 2005 I decided to try something that I had not done in a very long time. I decided to run instead of my normal walk. I didn’t know how far one was supposed to run his first time out, but I figured 30 minutes was a good amount of time. I took off for a run around the park and back home. I ran for 30 minutes and covered around 2.5 miles. Surprisingly, I didn’t die.

By that time I had been doing hour long, intense exercise sessions for almost a year. I had lost more than 60 lbs. My body was itching for something more intense. I found out later that it is not recommended that you start by running 30 minutes your first time out. The best beginning running program I know is called Couch to 5K (C25K).

Washed up runner

I probably only ran 2 or 3 times by the time my brother told me he was going to run a half marathon in May of that next year. I got the bright idea that I would train with him for the race. I started marking out courses in the neighborhood and trying to see if I could cover the same ground in less time every day. By the time May of 2006 arrived I had already figured out where I would run my 13.1 miles. I even went as far as to ride my bike through the streets and paint numbers on the road so that I would know when I passed each mile mark.

I was also already running local 5K and 10K races. Well, the better term is that I was participating. I never competed with anyone but myself just trying to see if I could do better than the week before. I ran that first half marathon and thought I was going to die. It took me 2 hours and 29 minutes to drag myself around the course. I had never done anything so hard in my life. I had no interest in running for a couple of weeks after that. But when I did get started, I immediately planned for my next half marathon.

Is running enough?
I do not recommend that you jump right into running. Work your way up to it if you even want to start. Find your own journey and progression. I think running is a great way to stay in shape and maintain a good level of fitness. But, I don’t think it is all you should do. You need an overall fitness program. That is where I am struggling now. I am thankful that the running has been with me the last 2 years since I have had to alter my routine, but it is not enough by itself to help you lose weight and have overall strength and fitness.

You don’t have to join a gym or go to any fancy classes, but you do need to find something that will work your whole body. If you are only interested in losing weight then you can diet and accomplish your goals. But if you are interested in being strong and healthy, you need to put an emphasis on exercise and see the food that you stick down your throat as the fuel that helps you accomplish your exercise goals.

Structure and attitude
In the next post I plan on talking about putting in place some structure and looking at attitudes that can help, or sabotage, your progress.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

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.

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

Mary or Judas

Last Wednesday I was in a church service where a visiting pastor was speaking. His sermon was a comparison of Mary and Judas in Mark 14 verses 3-11.


  • Focused on the most important–worshiping God (Christ). Luke 10:38-42
  • Faithful in trials. John 11:21-40
  • Forsook her greatest possession. Mark 14:3


  • Criticized intimate worship. Mark 14:4
  • Complained about God’s work. Mark 14:4. 5
  • Confided with wicked people. Mark 14:10, 11

What struck me is that while many look at missionaries and think that we are willing to give up many things to go live on a foreign field, most of us don’t see that as a hardship. However, we struggle with giving up some things. Maybe your struggle is the thought of giving up regular electricity, or moving away from family. We do give up those things, but personally my struggles are in giving up things of even lesser value.

I don’t think I fall into the category of a Judas, but I am not sure I am a Mary either. Sure, I am willing to give up some comforts to be a missionary, but am I willing to forsake what I see as materialistically important? I am not sure I am there yet.

Trying out LingQ

LingQIn an effort to help brush up on my Spanish in anticipation for the move to Argentina in a few weeks I signed up with LingQ last night. This is a language learning site that has at its core the idea of familiarity before rules. You are given passages to read and audio files to listen to. You are asked to tell what words are known to you and which are new words. I am not sure what all of that will mean in the end, but it does help build a nice list of unfamiliar words that you can specifically study.

There are also forums where you can discuss miscellaneous topics in your language of choice. Currently they boast 10 languages that you can learn on the site. Registration is free and there is quite a bit of study you can do without having to shell out bucks. But for paying customers you can get personalized tutoring based on your needs as represented in the reading and audio portions of the site.

You can also interact with real people. But what Internet junkie would want to do that? I will stick to the training sessions and forums where social interaction is limited.