Friday, May 7, 2010

19 Years in the Making

197.4. Who knew a number could make a guy tear up, but it did for me this morning. 197.4 was the number on my cheap, Bed-Bath-&-Beyond digital scale this morning, the lightest I've weighed since I was 12 years old and in the 7th grade. My weight loss story is both typical and unique at the same time. Lets start at the beginning.

Sometime in early middle school (I can't really remember when) I began to add pounds to my previously lanky frame. I grew up with heavy parental restrictions on the kinds of food I ate until I reached middle school, where due to my generally responsible character, my parents began to lift those, and many other, restrictions, rules and curfews that a typical youth would have. I know that my parents had their hands full with my sister, so I think they gave me more and more latitude for no other reason than they needed to focus on her during her difficult times. For most parts of my life, this was a good thing. I became very independent at a young age; a trait that helped me adjust to adulthood much faster than normal. But, when it came to food, it opened up a floodgate. I can still remember waking up in the morning and waiting for my parents to leave for work so I could eat ice cream for breakfast. Or maybe it was an entire 8-pack of waffles, or 4 massive bowls of Frosted Flakes. Whatever my fancy for that particular morning, I loved the taste and comfort that food gave me. I always tell people the stories of how I would come home from school, grab an unopened tub of cake frosting and a glass of milk and eat the entire tub in one sitting! Food was my refuge and it made me feel good. I had no idea the dangerous precedent that this would set up in my life. Because the days of peer pressure and pimples was right around the corner, and as I grew more and more anxious over my perceived level of popularity and coolness, I self-medicated with my old friend food. This, of course, led to a vicious cycle of getting fatter and fatter, which made more kids make fun of me, which made me more anxious, which caused me to seek more food as comfort. I'll never forget being called 'Jelly Belly' by my middle school basketball teammates (and coach for that matter). It killed me. I was a good athlete, but even my youthful metabolism couldn't keep up with the calorie shock and awe campaign that I was waging against my body every day.

The saddest part about being a chubby kid during such a developmental time in my life was that I BELIEVED what those kids were telling me. I took their insults as truth and began to form an opinion of myself that I was destined to be the fat/overlooked/single/miserable person that I had become for the rest of my life. My high school days were filled with hiding my weight and doing everything I could not to draw attention to myself. And for those of you that know my outgoing personality and tendency to run my mouth, that was incredibly difficult! Life was awkward, painful, stressful, depressing and debilitating. By the time I left for college I was in a fog. The heaviest I can ever remember getting is 268 lbs.

When I got to college, the freedom of life was intoxicating to me. I had a fresh start and was ready to put my school years behind me. I had made a couple of attempts to lose weight while still in high school by running compulsively, but nothing ever took hold. Then, in my first semester at Ferris State, I took a required Physical Anatomy course with a professor named Dr Robert Friar. One of our sections of the course was on nutrition & digestion and he introduced me to some eating principles that gave me hope that I could possibly do something about my weight. I'll never forget the dates. One November 7th, 1997 I weighed 254 lbs. On March 7th of 1998, 4 months to the day from when I began, I weighed myself on our old rusty scale in the basement of my parents house and the scale read 198 lbs. I had ran at least 4 miles every single day during that time, while often running 8 miles or more. I was so single-mindedly focused that I even had a few week stretch where I was running 5-6 miles TWICE A DAY. My eating philosophy was to consume whatever I wanted, in whatever quantity I wanted, as long as the calories from fat in the food was not more than 20% of the total calories. This was my commandment and I followed it militantly. I ate so much processed and sugar-laden food it would make a diabetic go into a coma just thinking about it, but since I was running so much and was also generally active walking to and from class multiple times a day, the weight just melted off. It was a victory that I had never experienced in my life. The foe that was my weight was so daunting that I never believed that I could overcome it. So when I stood on that scale and saw that the weight-demon was dead, a sense of dignity and self-worth began to creep into my psyche for the first time. Maybe my destiny wasn't to be silently miserable my whole life? Maybe I have the power to change my destiny. Maybe I could even find a girlfriend? Let's not get ahead of ourselves here.

Over the rest of college and into my early married years I began to follow a pattern. I would slowly start to gain weight as my motivation for strenuous exercise would wane. I would get injured or grow tired of getting up early every morning, but would still eat the insane amount of carb-filled calories that I had always eaten. Cereals, snack bars, 'low fat' everything and anything. Invariably, I would feel a deep sense of shame when my weight began to creep up. I had worked so hard to get to where I was that those old feelings of inadequacy and anxiety began to creep back into my life. This is where I began to use guilt as a motivator. The deep feelings of despair as I saw my life's grandest victory slipping away to defeat were what would get me up at 5:00 am to take a 5 mile run down to Point Defiance Park in Tacoma, WA before I headed off to a 14 hour day of work. The guilt would force me to redouble my efforts to 'eat good' and to stay disciplined. When I missed a workout, it killed me. When I ate a piece of pizza, I felt like human garbage. The shame was the fuel to my fire and I would overcome it all again, returning to my weight of around 210 lbs. This cycle happened 3 0r 4 times until I moved back to Michigan from the west coast in 2006.

Since 2006 I have fluctuated between 225 and 240 lbs depending on whether my fatigue from living life, or my guilt/shame motivation, would win out. I never got any traction and the old motivator began to take an even deeper hold in my life. I began to see it in my work life. Being in insurance sales and trying to build a business is very stressful work. At times, it can rip your heart out and at times it can toss you to the highest of highs. When sales would get slow, or I would lose a big case, or I would fall behind my production requirements, I would use the guilt to motivate me. Regardless of the situation, I would fault myself. "I didn't work hard enough". "I was lazy". Even when things were good, the joy was short lived because there was undoubtedly something bad waiting just around the corner. And if I didn't work insanely hard and perfect, I would probably lose it all. If I didn't give 200%, my agency would fail, we'd lose our house, we'd be homeless, and Brandy would undoubtedly leave me. This is the spiral that guilt-driven thinking would send me down every day. It even seeped into my relationship with my wife. Without divulging our secrets, lets just say that when you are constantly paranoid that you're not doing enough to justify receiving your spouse's love, it makes for a hard and tiring road.

In December of 2008, my son Bauer was born. Our first child, Bauer brought along all the trappings of being a parent. The time and energy requirements that come with an infant are endless. Whatever free time I used to have to devote myself to guilt-appeasing was gone. There was no more 'taking it up a notch' or 'going the extra mile' in business or in exercise. The stress of having to be focused on the boy for hours at a time was too much for me to handle, and my friends can attest to the fact that I HATED being a parent. Although I loved my son, I cringed as the other facets of my life began to slip from my control. Somehow, I was able to recognize the fact that if I was 235 lbs at my son's birth, the stress of the first year of his life was sure to send me to the land of the obese, never to return. A good friend of mine, John Kopecky, had tried the P90X training system you all see on TV and raved about it. He even became a P90X coach. It seemed like the just the thing for me. 90 days of intense training combined with a regimented diet that guaranteed results. I was motivated and determined that I was not going to go back to my high school weight. So, 3 days after Bauer was born, I started my P90X journey. Looking back now it seems stupid that I would start a program that required an hour or more each day to devote to exercise right after we brought our baby home, but Brandy was insightful enough to know my struggle and she was nothing but supportive of me. The 90 days were hard, but they worked. I went from 235 lbs to 208 lbs and became a MONSTER! I could do 18 pull ups (up from 1 when I started), over 50 push-ups and had muscle definition for the first time in my life. It was awesome! But even better than the sexy physique was the unintended way that the program made me look my health. Instead of just tracking my weight and my physical appearance, I began to look at my overall HEALTH. I became interested in things like flexibility, stress levels, digestion and disease prevention, etc. I ended my 90 days with the intention of being a new, healthy person.

If there was one problem with P90X, its that I simply couldn't do it long term. The workouts were so intense, with so many calories burned, that I needed lots of carbs to feed my body. A problem arose when I stopped burning the calories from the workouts but continued to eat the carbs. Was I healthier? For sure. But in the year that followed P90X I started to see that I was slowly starting to lose my physique and gain a little bit of weight. Enter old man Shame! The cycle was starting again, only this time I knew that the demands of my business, marriage/fatherhood and trying to live the selfless life of a Jesus follower had left me with an empty motivation cupboard. And since these stresses were not going to be going away for at least a few decades, I began my final quest; the quest for a sustainable health philosophy. I actually remember talking to God in one of my desperate moments when it seemed I was losing control. I just pleaded with him to help me deal with this entire issue, once and for all. Within a few days I saw a Facebook post of my friend and P90X guru John about something called 'living primally'. I asked him what it was all about and he pointed me to the website of a trainer/nutritionist named Mark Sisson. Mark had just released a book called 'The Primal Blueprint' which was a summary of his 2 decade study into health, exercise, genetics and conventional wisdom. Something inside of me told me that I HAD to read this book. What I learned from The Primal Blueprint has radically changed my life. In a nutshell, Mark's research showed that the single greatest thing affecting the health of human beings today is the consumption of carbohydrates in the form of grains and sugars. I learned that the human body is actually designed to run on FAT, not sugar, and that the reason that fat is considered so bad for you is because when a diet high in fat is combined with a diet that is high in grains and sugar, the sugar is used for energy and the fat is stored away. Heart disease, diabetes and most other common maladies follow soon behind. For millenia, humans existed on the fat of animals for their fuel, along with fruits and vegetables. Grains were not even a food option for humans until a few thousand years ago. This new info blew me away! I had been told the complete opposite! I was convinced when he went on to show how much of our 'Conventional Wisdom', when it comes, to health is BS that has been propulgated by politics, lobbying efforts and a fear of disturbing the status quo. The life of low-fat, whole grain, engineered food requires 'Chronic Cardio' to stay 'in shape' that only exacerbate the problem by causing a craving for more carbs! Your body spends its life in a constant state of inflammation as it fights off the sugar that it is craving but isn't designed to use as fuel. Your joints, muscles and connective tissue take a beating while your immune system is compromised by the constant state of semi-shock your body must deal with. Lets not even get into the way this affects your mood and brain chemistry. REVOLUTIONARY! This had been my story and I immediately connected with it. Now, if you know me, you know that I like to feel like I'm on the forefront of an issue. When I see something that I feel is an injustice or a prevailing lie, I take great joy in rebelling against it and turning people away from it. Upon hearing the truth about human health, and learning that my struggle was due in part to the fact that the information I was going off of was not true, I decided to make the debunking of these mistruths my crusade. Tens of millions of Americans are on the same road that I was on and can't seem to figure out why their low-fat kashi bars, diet cokes and daily 45 minute elliptical trainer sessions are not getting them 'in shape'. They feel dejected and depressed. They feel like they are destined to be 'less than' the skinny people they see around them. They feel guilt because they feel that they're just not doing enough. And they're tired. My heart goes out to these people.

So how did I get to 197.4? I eat the stuff that I am genetically created to eat. Natural beef, chicken, pork and fish. Fresh organic vegetables, fruits and nuts. Farm fresh eggs (with the yolk!) by the dozens every week. My diet takes in about 20 times the amount of fat that it used to. I ate more fat in April that I did in all of 2009 combined! I avoid ANYTHING process like the plague. By body runs smoothly and without sugar highs and crashes. I eat a lot less. I sometimes go an entire day without eating because I don't crave anything. I listen to my body tell me when I'm hungry, but my energy level is through the roof! My exercise involves frequent walks with my wife, occasional sprint sessions to keep my testosterone levels up, and a general life of physical activity (I like to pick up heavy rocks and see how far I can throw them!). No guilt for not having the motivation to take a 5 mile run when I get home from work at 9:00 pm. No guilt for having a piece of apple pie for desert on occasion. No guilt for not being perfect. Instead, I have a sustainable plan to be a healthy person by making the right choice 80%-90% of the time, and to live a long and active life. I strongly recommend Mark Sisson's book 'The Primal Blueprint' for any of you who can identify with my struggles. Things have got to change.

These past few months have been odd for me. Without the guilt slave master controlling my health choices, I've been given the freedom to look at the other areas of my life where I use guilt/shame to motivate myself. I'm just starting to get a glimpse into just how much it has permeated my existence. I'm so excited to find out what a guilt-free life could be like. If its anything like its been up to this point, I'm in for some fun.

All the best to you in your victory over guilt and shame,

Dan

3 comments:

John said...

Wow dude, great post. I feel bad because I've fallen a bit off the wagon and getting back into the "crazy carb" cycle. I did primal for 3 months and it was great, then I got deadly sick and used that as the ultimate wuss excuse to fall off the primal wagon. You're back to inspiring me...go figure!

--John

Sam said...

i love you!!!

...and i want to see pictures!

shalom.
- sam

Mark Sisson said...

Lithuanialist,

A friend pointed me to your article. It's one of the most moving, inspiring and well-written success stories I've read, and I've read quite a few...

http://www.marksdailyapple.com/the-book/success-stories/

Congratulations on your success. I wish you the best on your continued journey toward optimum health and wellness. Let me know if I can do anything to help.

Also, I'd be honored to be able to re-publish your article on MarksDailyApple.com. It will get your blog some exposure, but more importantly it will reach hundreds of thousands of readers and inspire many, I'm sure, to give the Primal Blueprint a try and to take control of their health as you have.

Let me know what you think. You can contact me here:

http://www.marksdailyapple.com/contact/

And I second Sam's comment. Pictures to accompany your story would make it all the more motivational.

Grok on!

Mark