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Archive for the ‘Weight Loss’ Category

The other day, I was trying to make something healthy for dinner and started to browse the contents of my pantry to see what I could come up with. The larder was running low but I did find a container of Israeli Couscous. For those who may not know what this is, it is a pasta shaped in small spheres. Israeli couscous is larger than a lot of other types and is, in my opinion, superior to it’s smaller cousins. Armed with the large container, I started to gather supplies and ended up pulling from my cupboard some hot curry powder, black and white sesame seeds, cayenne pepper and sesame oil. This seemed like a good start so I got cooking.

Curried Sesame Couscous

1 serving of Israeli couscous
Water for the couscous (however much the container says is appropriate for one serving)
Hot curry powder
Cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
White sesame seeds
Black sesame seeds
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil

Toast the couscous in a sauce pan until it is golden brown. Add the water and stir.

Add curry powder and cayenne pepper to taste (the more the better right?) and salt. Stir to combine.

After a minute of cooking, add the white and black sesame seeds. This is a matter of personal taste. I added a tablespoon each because I like them.

Continue to cook the couscous according to package directions until done.

After the couscous has cooked, add 1/4 tsp of sesame oil and stir.

Add more curry, cayenne if needed and more white and black sesame seeds (the uncooked ones will add a crunchy texture).

Serve

I was quite pleased with the results and liked it so much that I got busy eating it and didn’t take a picture of the finished product. You’ll have to use your imagination but, take my word, it was really good.

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I had been planning on writing more posts here but a funny thing happened on the way to the blog. I was challenged by a friend to participate in NaNoWriMo. For those of you unaware of this event, it is a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. It seemed impossible, but I buckled down, spent time thinking about what I wanted to write and started make it happen. Today, I passed the 50,000 word mark. I completed it in 20 days and the surge of triumph has not worn off yet. I’m only 1/2 to 3/4 of the way through the story but I’m quite pleased with how well it has come out so far. Eventually, I’ll finish the story (I hope sometime by or in December) and then I’ll begin the editing/rewriting process. Maybe sometime in 2013 I’ll be able to say that I’ve written a book.

On the weight loss front, things continue to go well. I’m down to 304 and still making positive choices and being mindful of what I am eating. I’ve been running into the same issues I had last time I was down to this weight: a lot of my clothes are too loose and I’m fitting into things once relegated to the back of the closet. These are good problems to have.

In other news, Thanksgiving is in two days and I’ve already decided that I am not going to fret  too much over what I eat. It’s one day and for that one day, I’m going to enjoy whatever I want. I feel like I have a strong enough handle on what, why and how I eat that I don’t have to worry about one day of eating with gusto. I have a lot to be thankful for this year.

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The other day I was searching through some digital archives looking for a document. It turns out the document I needed wasn’t in the archive but I found some things there that shocked me. I came across some before/after photos that demonstrated how much weight I had lost and how I looked after dropping 60 pounds. I couldn’t help but look down and realize that I look far too much like the “before” pictures than I would like. I also realized when I looked down at the scale I saw a lot of old numbers staring back up at me. Sure, in my “after” photos I was 270 pounds but I looked downright skinny compared to where I started at 330. I remember thinking at the time how I would never be over 300 pounds again. I had done it. I had won! The problem is, if that is winning, I was once again in a position of losing and failing. Needless to say, getting trapped in that kind of thinking is a recipe for disaster (and don’t get me started on recipes).

It’s difficult to stay motivated when you feel like you have failed. Especially when you have a brain that transforms the thought, “I have failed” into “I’m a failure”. That’s what happens to me when depression tries to get the upper hand on my life. I’m sure it manifests itself differently in others but we all suffer in our own way right? I may have allowed those feelings to get the best of me for a few hours and probably made some poor choices in response to them, but, because I’m aware of how my thoughts and responses work, I was able to stop before things spiraled out of control. Disaster avoided so it was time to move on right? No. It was not time to move on. Moving on would be the biggest mistake I could make.

I think it is part of the human condition that we try to avoid lingering on unpleasant thoughts. Call it pain avoidance or whatever other label you want but it is what it is. It makes sense that we should want to avoid painful or troubling thoughts. After all, who wants to intentionally inflict suffering on themselves, especially mental suffering? We believe we are in control of our minds and that we are in charge of them. Maybe we can’t do much about external factors that make us suffer but at least we have this spot in our heads where we have a say. “This is my space. Keep out.” It becomes our mantra against negative thoughts, feelings and emotions. We strive to tend the garden of our mind and pounce on weeds of negativity and suffering and stamp them out before they take root. We try to meditate on and radiate good thoughts and emotions and feelings in order to overcome suffering and to alleviate the suffering of others. We call it metta or mindfulness or whatever-touchy-feely-positive-thing-you-want meditation and focus on good things. In my case, that is pounds lost and a lifestyle that is healthy and free from the pain of obesity. While it’s nice to focus on and think about those things, there is a time and a place for it and it’s not all the time and everywhere.

When we have an experience, we judge it to be good, bad or neutral. We tend to focus on the good, avoid the bad and endure the neutral. We cultivate good and attempt to maximize it. In the end, that leads to more suffering instead of less. In my case, I felt like a failure and I needed to face that feeling. I had to let the feeling of failure do what it had to do and it was time to learn from it. If I tried to replace negative thoughts with positive ones, I would be fighting a losing battle against my mind. I’d sweep things under the rug but the negative thoughts would still be there waiting for another day to surface. When we have negative emotions, it is not our job to negate them with positive ones. We cannot cultivate a life free of suffering by wielding positivity like a sword that cuts down negative thoughts.

So, I sat with feelings of failure. I meditated while my mind tossed and turned and railed against my body. I saw the negative feelings rise and I attended them with loving kindness. My mind is wounded. Feelings of failure are how this wound shows itself. When the negative feelings arose, I didn’t just sit and let them be there, I was mindful of them. In the end, I chose to recognize the feelings of failure and to “give them the floor” to have their say. I won’t go into the specifics but I got a lot of insight into my own feelings of failure and the reasons for them. By confronting and accepting those feelings when they arose I was able to learn more about myself. I gave them the room they needed to have their say and I listened objectively with an open heart. Once they had their say, I was able to examine my situation in a better light. I could face my perceived failure and deal with it without wallowing in it. I didn’t suffer by grasping at positive thoughts while wishing the negative ones would go away. I was realistic about things. I was open to both the good and the bad.

After I listened to and learned from my feelings, I was able to focus on the reality of my situation. Being realistic means embracing both the positive and the negative and that is what I did. The fact is that today, right now, the numbers I see on the scale are smaller than the ones from last week and the week before. Sure, I look like I’m closer to the “before” than the “after” but I’m moving in the right direction again. This is not failure, it is success. I went through a lot of pain and hardship to lose that weight the first time and those lessons have not been forgotten. I am applying them again, this time as experience. I’m not having to write the rules as I go. Once again, clothes are starting to get loose and I’m having to grab things from the back of the closet. Not from the very back where my “skinny” clothes are, but the transitional clothing. I haven’t had to wear it for quite some time but it is fitting me once more. I’ve lost 17+ pounds again and it is visible when I look at myself in the mirror. It’s hard to keep a mental picture of what I looked like at 330 so it’s a good thing that I still have those “before” pictures to act as a gauge that I can measure my progress against. Instead of seeing things from the perspective of weighing 270, I need to look at them from 330. Where I find myself today becomes framed by the perspective I chose and the fact is, I’m not at 270 any more so I can’t own that perspective. I must earn it again and, once I do, only use it to look forward at the 260s, 250s, 240s, etc. Looking backwards is not what those perspectives are for: if I do that, they become fun-house mirrors and distort reality beyond recognition.

And so, by embracing the negative feelings and emotions I was able to work through them and find myself, once again, in a place of positivity. Real, authentic positivity and not forced or coerced feelings with a veneer of the positive. I allowed feelings to do what they will and to rise and fall of their own accord. That is what it means to really meditate and to observe ones mind. Detachment is not denial, nor is it nihilism. Detachment is a state of objectivity that allows one to look at the positive and negative for what they truly are and to see them as equals. Do I have regrets at regaining weight? Sure. Who wouldn’t? Do I have despair over it? No. Not anymore.

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No real commentary to go along with this, just contemplate it for a few minutes.

In case you can’t read it, here are the ingredients

Corn syrup, high fructose corn syrp, water, natural and artificial flavor, salt, caramel color.

And the nutrition information

120 calories
24 grams of sugar
0 grams of fat

 

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Last week I was in a candy store. A really big candy store at the beach. Every type of candy you can imagine plus some that you haven’t. They had about 20 different types of fudge that they make in their shop. Free samples! So many flavors of jelly beans and a wall of nostalgic candies. It was a candy lover’s dream come true. This was not a good place for me to find myself but, due to matters beyond my control, there I was.

I walked out of the store 15 minutes later with nothing purchased or consumed other than an extremely small sample piece of fudge. It was a small miracle to say the least.

Last night I had a craving. A serious, powerful and overwhelming craving. I wanted a Big Mac. I wanted one so badly I could taste it. My brain was screaming at me for one. I’d just spent 45 minutes mowing the lawn and burned over 600 calories so I could justify one burger from McDonald’s. Instead, I ate carrots. Another small miracle.

However, when you look at the bigger picture, you see that these weren’t miracles. The miraculous is something that happens without explanation or reason. I know exactly what happened when I was facing temptation. I was able to avoid the candy and the burger is because I had a friend who was there to listen to me (as I whined via text message that I wanted a Big Mac) or by being there to physically hit me in the head if I were to purchase anything at the candy store. I didn’t have to rely on my strength alone to resist temptation because I have a friend who wants the best for me.

Later, I found out that this friend of mine has made positive choices on their own because they committed to help me make good choices. This person isn’t trying to lose 100 pounds like I am but has had a lot of success recently in losing weight and wants the same for me. The fact that we are working together means we are both making decisions that have a positive impact on both our lives.

If you are trying to do something, it helps if you have someone to work with. In this case, I want to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle. I have been successful in the past because of friends who are pulling for me and I am succeeding again because I have others who are helping me along the path.

Working with others is so important that being a part of the community, or Sangha, is a critical component of a Buddhist practice. In Buddhism, there is something called The Three Jewels. They are, The Buddha, The Dharma and The Sangha and it is no surprise why they go together. The first is fairly obvious if you think about it: after all, it’s called  Buddhism for a reason. The second is also pretty easy to understand; if you’re going to follow someone’s teachings, you follow their lessons (in this case, Dharma). The third is the one that is often hardest to understand. Without a group to share a practice, to encourage and walk with, the practice can wane. The same is true with weight loss.

Do you have someone to help you maintain a healthy lifestyle? Do you have someone to exercise with? If you are trying to achieve a goal, do you have a confidant and someone to help you on the way? If you want your path to be as easy as possible, it helps to have friends.

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If you’re like me, you get email. Lots of email. Significant amounts of email that come flooding in on multiple accounts. I get all sorts of messages every day and I am really good at ignoring all but the most important ones. If I spend more than 2 seconds on an email, it must be pretty important. However, there are some emails that I do like to look at even though I may never want to receive them again. These are the “special rewards” messages that come from places with loyalty programs. Specifically, restaurants with loyalty programs. Once upon a time, if there was a frequent diner card or special program offered by a restaurant, chances were I was on it. They are great ways to find out about new menu items, specials, discounts and, don’t forget, the free dessert offers whenever a birthday month rolls around. I get offers on Italian, BBQ, Pizza, Mexican, Burgers, traditional American comfort food, Asian, Thai, ice cream, mega chains and local places. I get information in the form of newsletters and updates about the newest must-eat-here-now! places. I get offers from groupon and livingsocial all about foods that I can get at great discounts. I get special offers from manufacturers who know that I have consumed their products in the past. It seems like a never-ending barrage of messages about things that I should consume if I want to be happy or treated or be part of the “in” crowd. Stumbleupon is always making sure I know about the newest food blog entries or recipe web sites since I checked off “food” “eating” “cooking” and “recipes” when I created my profile there. Every single one of these emails or offers reminds me of the behaviors that led me to the state I’m in today. Each one is a warning.

The marketing of food is huge. Billions of dollars are spent every year to get us to buy and eat foods that are, for the most part, very poor choices for what to put into our bodies. Marketers are very talented when it comes to presenting foods in a way that triggers a desire for a reward. After all, “Why wouldn’t I want to go get that new 1500 calorie meal from Joe’s Super Food Family Fun Time Emporium? It’s $5 off! That’s a great deal. I’m saving money. And, did you see the picture? Oh my God, it looks so amazing and fresh and delicious. Why are we still here and not in the car? Go go go!” See how that works? Create a perceived reward and the brain runs after it.

Now, half the time when I open my email, I’m reminded of how I was living. I see messages telling me about all the wonderful things I could have if I only listened to the marketer’s message. After all, they value me and want to be my personal friend. They wouldn’t make an offer like this to just anybody would they? Yes. They would. They do. All I am is a big, fat reliable source of income to the marketers. These messages remind me of that.

The other day, I was talking to my son about this. He was looking at a picture of a hamburger that was blown up to have an ant’s eye perspective. I was explaining to him how the burger in the picture was probably not even real. He was surprised when I told him that marketers often use plastic components to get the “more real than reality” look. I asked him what this burger would look like if he were to order it and have it brought to him. Even though he doesn’t eat burgers, he understood that what comes from the kitchen looks nothing like what’s on the menu. I ended the conversation by reminding him that the menu isn’t selling a burger, it’s selling the idea of a burger. That’s all they need to do is put a thought in your head and then let it mutate into a desire and an action. After the idea is in your head, their work is done.

My goal now is to keep the marketers out of my head. Lately, I’ve been trying to unsubscribe or filter these messages into the trash. While it is nice to have a reminder of what I did, I don’t think it’s a good idea to expose myself to these messages. It’s the mental equivalent of pushing myself away from the table and saying, “I’m done.” That’s another lesson I’m learning but it will have to wait for another post.

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If I could draw your attention to the upper right corner of this blog, you will see a notification about my weight as of my most recent weigh in. Today, it displays 10 pounds lost. While I am extremely  pleased to see that number there on the screen it’s not entirely accurate.

When I started this weight loss thing the first time around, I began at 330. This time, I started around 333. In reality, I’ve lost 13 pounds. Regardless of the real number though, the fact is that I’m seeing some really positive results. It’s been a challenge at times to stay focused and do the right thing but other times, it’s been as easy as possible to make the right decisions. That’s why I just posted the Zen Proverb that my Zen Center shared on their facebook page. Sometimes it’s hard and frustrating and feels like it will never work. Other days, it’s second nature to just sip on some water and walk and wave to the pounds as they fly away from me like something from a Dr. Who episode

But, life can’t always be like the best British sci-fi show to ever grace the air waves. In my experience, most of the time it’s not. So, it’s up to me to continue to do the right things at the right times and celebrate whenever I reach a marker that tells me I’m on the right path. And that’s how I found myself cheering me on as I looked down at the scale this morning and saw it stop at a number much lower than it was a few weeks ago. With the 320 number now firmly under my belt (that’s a weight loss joke there, why aren’t you laughing?), I feel prepared excited to get to the next big number. 310, here we come!

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I consider myself lucky. Actually, I think I’m very lucky. The fact that my weight is at an unhealthy level but I have not had to deal with the negative side effects of being obese makes me feel lucky indeed. When I think about all the things carrying around an extra hundred pounds can do to a person’s body, it scares me. However, I haven’t had to deal with diabetes, heart problems, GERD, high blood pressure or many of the other issues that come with extra weight. The question is, how long will my luck hold out?

I’m not stupid. I know that it’s only a matter of time before it catches up with me. I’ve known this for a while and it hasn’t been a big enough motivator for change. Lately though, I’ve been paying attention to the quality of life issues that being obese has already caused me. I have sleep apnea and have to use a CPAP machine to keep me breathing at night. I have knees that tend to be more sore than they should and I occasionally hear them make interesting popping sounds when I walk up stairs. My feet hurt a lot and I have to use inserts to provide the extra support that they need. Someone asked me the other day why I don’t wear my beloved Chucks any more and I had to explain that the inserts I use don’t work too well in them so if I do wear them, it causes my feet to hurt too much.

Some of my favorite footwear

I know if I want to improve my quality of life I need to get rid of these extra pounds. That’s why I’ve set goals that I can work toward other than just the number that pops up on the scale. I want to be able to wear my Chucks again and not feel pain after a couple of hours. I hope to be able to make it through the night without having a mask strapped to my face while air is forced through my nose. I want to be able to walk up a flight of stairs without listening to a creaking and cracking sound that is, when I think about it, quite disturbing. In the end, I’m not just trying to lose weight, I’m trying to have a better life. These are concrete and very real results that I can focus on and they help to motivate me to make the right choices.

Without these other goals, I would be trying to get to an idea. My weight hasn’t been in the lower 200s in such a long time that remembering what it was like to weigh that little is practically impossible. It doesn’t help that even when I had a healthy weight I felt like I was too big so I don’t have too many memories about what it’s like to be a “skinny person”.  That’s why focusing on weight alone isn’t going to cut it. Weighing less is a concept that is ephemeral and difficult to visualize. Not having sleep apnea is much easier to think about. Wearing black canvas shoes that come up past my ankles is concrete. Having the energy to do everything I want to do is something I can latch on to. When I think about it, this isn’t about weight at all, it’s about living the life I want. It’s about having the freedom to live a life free of preventable medical problems.

As a Buddhist I try to be aware of the problems caused by attachment to things, desires or dreams. It is possible to have a goal and not be attached to it but it can be hard. If I am to succeed again in losing this weight, I will need to set goals without attachments to them. Eventually, I’ll have to set other goals and have other things to keep me motivated to stay healthy. Being aware that eventually I will have to throw my current goals away as I achieve them is one way to refrain from attachment. I am also trying to be cognizant of the reality that having a healthy weight and having a better quality of life will not do a thing to change my situation. My self, my true self, will not have changed at all. My self will come in a smaller package but it’s still going to have all of its desires and demands and suffering and delusions. While goals are great for getting a better body, I need to maintain a perspective about them that won’t weigh down my mind. If I’m not willing to take the Chucks off my feet once I can wear them again, I won’t be spending too much time on the meditation cushion. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried it, but meditating with shoes on is very uncomfortable.

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Today was an easy day for being good. I had a healthy breakfast, an amazing jerk tofu wrap from a local vegetarian friendly restaurant by my office and drank a lot of water. This evening, I went with the kids down to York Beach. It’s a very touristy area of Maine but it’s also a lot of fun. We played games and walked around. We went to a candy shop and we ate dinner. Since I’d been so good with everything today, I was going to get whatever on the menu looked good for dinner. I’m trying to not starve myself because that’s not a healthy choice either. However, the choices I’d made throughout the day added up to a much smaller amount of calories than I should have if I want to lose weight gradually. It really felt nice to walk into the place we had dinner and know that regardless of what I chose, I’d still have made all the right decisions for the day.

When I looked at the menu I saw a large collection of food designed for the American palate: foods high in fat and sodium and sugar. There were combinations of meat and eggs and cheese and potatoes in so many different ways it boggles the mind. I could have anything on the menu and not feel bad about it. That’s why when the waitress took our order I proudly requested the vegetarian burger. That’s right, the vegetarian burger. After only about a week of trying to be aware of what I am putting into my body and to make healthy choices, I really wanted that vegetarian burger. That makes today the first all-vegetarian day I’ve had in a long time. I ended up being “good” even when I knew I didn’t have to. It was like a switch has been thrown and I’m really wanting to do the right thing and I’m excited to be doing it. Since I really did want to allow myself to indulge in something I tried an egg cream for the first time. I’ve got to say I can see what all those New Yorkers rave about. It was a really great drink and, because it was a specially made item, didn’t come with free refills. It’s a little hard to go overboard on things if they don’t keep topping off your cup every time they walk by! In the end, I left the restaurant feeling like I had just won a big battle that I wasn’t even aware I’d been fighting.

That’s why I find myself writing a post when I should be getting ready for bed. I am pleased with what I’ve done today and feel encouraged to keep making progress as tomorrow. So, when breakfast comes, I’ll make a good decision and have a healthy breakfast. Then, I’ll follow that up with more healthy choices throughout the day and we’ll see if I can make this a 2 day in a row streak.

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Dough, sauce, cheese, meats and veggies. There’s a lot happening on top of that pizza. I must admit I love them. Pizza is one of my favorite foods. I’m sure a significant portion of my extra weight can be measured in pizza consumption. Today, while enjoying stumbleupon to kill some time and find random things that might be interesting, I cam across this story about healthy pizza.There are vegetarian and vegan options that look really good. Check it out and see if any appeal to you.

Healthy Homemade Pizza Recipes

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