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Posts Tagged ‘weight loss’

This evening I climbed the two flights of stairs to my third floor apartment as I do on a daily basis. Since I’ve gotten in shape, the climb is a simple matter that doesn’t bother me in the least. Once upon a time, I would have arrived at the top wheezing and gasping for air, wondering if my knees would ever be the same. However, that was fifty pounds ago, long before I became a not-quite-lean, mean, exercising machine. The climb up the stairs is no worse for me than the walk from my bedroom to my bathroom: short and sweet.

The event that caused tonight’s climb to fall way off the edge of the bell curve happened eight hours before, when I got dressed. I’d gone to the gym, had a conference call with a group from IBM, then rushed to get ready to spend the rest of the day with my kids. I saw the shorts, clean and folded, sitting in the drawer and I thought to myself, “I haven’t worn these in a while, I should put them on.” So I did. I ran down the steps, out the door and had a great day hanging out with the kids. The only sign of trouble was an occasional need to tug on my shorts, even though they were the ones that used to fit me so well. Used to. Don’t get ahead of me here, but I think we all see where this is heading. Just be patient.

Flash forward to a drive through construction clogged highways followed by some sort of police action in the block next to mine tying up traffic and you end up with a tired and somewhat frustrated person who just wants to get home. When I finally arrived at my apartment, I grabbed a handful of things I needed to bring in from the car. I also stopped at our other vehicle to get some things my girlfriend asked me to bring up because she couldn’t grab them when she got home. With hands just empty enough to hold my keys, I unlocked the door, shoved my keys in my pocket and began to climb up the stairs. Wait for it.

The first flight was uneventful. There was some slippage of the shorts, weighed down by keys, wallet, cellphone and the tug of gravity as each step jolted them around my now-more-than-ever-diminutive hips, but I was okay. I managed to hold them steady by jamming my left wrist tightly against the waistband. Then came the first turn and the hallway on the second floor. That’s where things really went wrong. That’s when I should have put things down and addressed The Problem. But, I felt tired and rushed so I kept going. This is called foreshadowing.

Halfway up the second flight of stairs, my old nemesis, gravity, finally gained the upper hand. With my arms full of bags and papers and things, I lost my balance and had to put my arm out against the wall to steady myself. Seizing its brief moment of opportunity, my shorts broke free of their bonds and dropped three feet toward the center of the Earth. Now, I’m halfway up a flight of stairs, my arms full and my shorts hanging around my knees. With nowhere to go, and nothing better to do, I put on a brave face and slowly and carefully made my way up the steps, around the last turn to finally place my belongings on the landing in order to clutch at my wayward clothing and yank it into submission.

It was with a great sense of relief that I finally opened my door and put things away, laughing at myself all the while. Losing fifty pounds is an accomplishment to be celebrated. Sometimes, though, these things come with a downside. A pants down side, in this case, but it’s an inconvenience nonetheless. Now, I sit here, my ego in check and my pride diminished, but I’m thankful. Thankful I’ve gotten to a place where this is a problem and thankful that no one came into the hallway. By the way, does anyone want a pair of denim shorts? They’re in great shape and they’re free to a good home.

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Halfway

Today I stood on the scale at the gym and balanced it at 283. This means I’ve lost 50 pounds (the status over on the right says 247 because I actually regained weight and started losing again from 333). At that moment, I reached the halfway point of my goal to lose 100 pounds. It’s been a long and hard journey to get this far (I was here once before) and I’ve been reticent to write about things as much this time around as I fear I’m going to somehow regain all the weight a second time. It’s an irrational fear, but it’s mine.

Just yesterday I found some papers I received just a few hours before my life turned upside down and I ended up spiraling downward into depression and obesity again. It was sad for me to look at those papers, through the eyes of the present, knowing that on the same day I achieved a hard won accomplishment I would have my entire world crumble around me. However, that was two years ago and I’ve picked up the pieces and rebuilt a life that I am happy with and, for the first time in years, feel fulfilled and content. So, in spite of my knowledge that joy can be extremely fleeting, at the present moment, I’m elated.

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The other day at the gym, I was on the elliptical machine. It’s my favorite machine to work out on as it’s low impact but really efficient at burning calories. When I’m on the elliptical, I try to maintain a heart rate of around 150. For someone my age and weight, it’s a good speed. I spend 25 minutes on the machine when I use it and I find that the time usually goes quickly as long as I have some good music to listen to. Last week, I forgot my headphones. Those were the longest 25 minutes I’ve ever spent in the gym. I never knew how much music really contributed to my activity until I no longer had it. Instead, I had to look around the gym for lack of anything interesting to do.

In order to keep my heart rate at around 150, I usually move at about four miles per hour on the machine. This day, I was really pushing myself and was up to 4.3 mph and had sweat pouring off of me. I felt pretty good about myself, my progress and my ability. That’s when The Gym Guy showed up. TGG is a great person, I’m sure. When he goes home, his kids are probably happy to see him. TGG has a good job and he’s good at what he does, he just happens to also be really good at using elliptical machines. Probably because he’s there a lot. At least that’s what I’m telling myself. The Gym Guy steps up to the machine next to me and proceeds to move at a pace I didn’t know the machines were capable of. Because I had nothing else to do, I looked at the readout on his machine. He was going nearly 12 miles per hour! He was sprinting on the elliptical machine while I plodded along at about a third of his rate. I figured he’d slow down eventually but TGG just kept it up. I think he may have gotten faster as he got warmed up. TGG was master of the elliptical machine and I was getting schooled in what they were capable of. TGG was so good at it that he didn’t need to hold the handles I had to use for stability and to monitor my heart rate. TGG just moved while his arms pumped in much the same way as an Olympic runner’s. It was, to say the least, impressive.

The problem with being next to someone like TGG is the inevitability of the comparisons between yourself and him. Without my music to distract me, I couldn’t help watching the show as it unfolded. I had to wonder if it were even possible for me to get the elliptical machine to move that fast. If I did, could I maintain a speed like that? If I could, for how long? TGG didn’t seem to be letting up any time soon. Then, I realized he’d already traveled much farther on his machine than I had on mine, though I’d been there much longer than him. If we were on a track, he would have given me a half mile head start and then passed me without breaking a sweat. TGG was good and I was bad. I’m not stupid, I learned that lesson fast. I learned it as fast as TGG was running on his machine.

That’s when I remembered something: I’m not The Gym Guy and he’s not me. TGG has been working out on these machines for a long time. TGG is in good physical shape. TGG isn’t trying to overcome a lifetime of obesity. TGG is not celebrating every pound lost. TGG is (probably not) monitoring every calorie and making sure it’s the best possible one to ingest at any given moment. TGG is good but I’m good too. I remember the lessons I learn on the meditation bench: the mind makes good, the mind makes bad. With no mind, there is no good and there is no bad. If I were to finish my exercise without a sense of failure, I had to let go of my thinking. Attachment to thoughts and illusions of “goodness” or “badness” had to be put aside. I closed my eyes, breathed deeply for a moment, watched my heart rate drop though I was still moving at 4 mph and let go of my mind. It was time for elliptical meditation.

TGG was still there when I finished my 25 minutes. He was still going strong and his arms and legs moved with speed and purpose. He was doing what his body needed him to do. I had completed doing what mine needed. The last ten minutes of my exercise passed as quickly as if I had my headphones on. Without the burden of thought and the struggle against my mind, time moved forward with ease. My body moved while my mind was still. I was no longer “bad” and he was no longer “good”. We were both two people using the elliptical machines and we both benefited from the experience. I wiped down my machine and felt good for TGG and hoped he would continue to keep his body in good shape and know the joy of having a mind as fit as his body.

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Back in September of 2010, I hit a milestone of some importance. I lost 40 pounds. It was an amazing time and I was full of hope and joy at getting my weight under control and getting healthy. I’d been working very hard at it and things were new and promising. A few months after that, I was down 60 pounds and felt great. Twice, I had bought new clothes  because I was too skinny for my old ones. For the first time in a long time, I felt like things were under control and I was making progress on having the life I wanted. As often happens in life, it was at this point things got turned upside down when my marriage began to fall apart. It’s been a long and painful two years, but I’ve moved on. However, I have to undo a lot of damage those hard times inflicted on my weight and my health. As my life spiraled out of control, old habits came back and my weight returned to where it was when I started my journey. Actually, I hit 333 pounds (3 over where I was the first time) before I realized I couldn’t live with myself that way any more. So, in July of last year, I began to focus on my health again. I’ve progressed more slowly this time but in eleven months, I’ve gotten back to 290 pounds and once again feel the joy of having lost 40 pounds. Unlike last time, I’m not elated or dizzy from the accomplishment. Perhaps it’s because I’ve done it before, maybe it’s because I’ve been through the worst suffering of my life and am wary of happiness, perhaps it’s because I know I could gain it back if I let my guard down. Whatever the reason, I’m happy for myself but it’s not the same as last time. I’m more aware than ever how impermanent things really are and that’s probably a factor too. While I’m happy I’ve reached this milestone, I’m just not attached to the happiness like I once was. Eventually, the happiness will fade and I’ll be left with a choice about what to do. I can either continue losing weight and being healthy or I can chase after a faded happiness and suffer. This doesn’t mean I’m unhappy—nor does it diminish the importance of my accomplishment—however, my relationship to these feelings of accomplishment has changed.

Whenever we set out to do something hard, there are moments of fear and discouragement. Last November, I wrote 60,000 words of what eventually became a 92,000 word novel. At the beginning of the month, I had no idea if I could do it, and I was scared of failing in the attempt. However, each day I sat down and I wrote. I made the time and did what needed to be done. Now, I’m repeating that task by carefully reading through the novel, changing the things that need to be changed and fixing typos and gramatical problems. Even on days I don’t feel like doing it, I sit down and I edit and I rewrite and I add clarifications or cut extraneous words. I take it one day at a time and slowly and reliably make progress even though I still feel fear or discouragement. The same is true with my weight and my health. I’d been discouraged lately because the first thirty pounds came off quickly but it took me almost six months to lose the next ten. However, instead of attaching to the fear or discouragement, I’ve taken it one day at a time, one step at a time. Each day I choose to do what I need to do that day: I exercise, I eat well, I meditate, I write, I work. All of those days add up and I’m seeing results again.

I have lost 40 pounds and I fully expect to see the scale in the 280’s tomorrow or early next week. This is good. I am happy about this. However, the day will come when I am no longer happy and my only option will be to do what needs to be done that day.

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I went back to the gym today for the first time in much longer than I’d like to admit. I’ve been walking around the city a lot since I moved here a month ago but I felt I needed to set aside some time specifically for exercise on top of the normal walking and climbing of stairs that I’ve been doing. Needless to say (though I will anyway), my legs are so sore I can’t even sit here at my desk comfortably. I just have to keep reminding myself that nothing is permanent even though it may feel like it. The pain, like my extra weight, will eventually go away.

On the up side, according to the scale at the gym, I’m down to 291 so I’ve got that going for me.

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It Contains No Fruit

Edit: I wrote this a few weeks ago and I’m not sure why it didn’t publish. Oh well, better late than never.

I just saw a very sad, yet funny, news story about a new product about to hit store shelves here in the U.S. It’s called FruitWater and is a product of the Coca-Cola corporation. These are the same people who gave us Vitaminwater, a product that is closer to soda than water. I thought the story was funny because of the following piece of information.

Unlike the zero-calorie version of Vitaminwater, which is made with the natural sweetener stevia, Fruitwater will be sweetened with the artificial sweetener sucralose, best known as Splenda. It will not contain any fruit juice but the bottle notes that the drink is “enhanced with nutrients,” a reference to its B vitamins, magnesium and zinc.

Did you catch that? “It will not contain any fruit juice…“. That’s where my brain started to turn itself inside out. They are calling it Fruit Water but not bothering to put fruit in it. Why not call it ToiletWater but not put water from real toilets in it? After all, the logic should work both ways, right? Or, they could call it HeroinWater but not put actual drugs in it. I’m sure that would make it appealing to a certain demographic of young people with disposable incomes. Since being truthful about what you are selling is obviously not important, they should really do whatever they can to sell as many bottles as possible.

The Coca-Cola company creates many products that are among the main causes of obesity in America and across the globe, and now they’re trying to find a way to get people to keep buying their products. Even as those consumers learn the truth about the harmful effects drinking too much soda can really have on their bodies and their quality of life.

I know the answer already, but I have to ask, why is this legal? It’s certainly unethical and unmoral but it is not illegal here in America. The most we can hope for is that people spread the word and let others know that this is a bottle of artificially sweetened swill that contains little to no beneficial ingredients. If you see it in the store, just pass over it and find something that really is a good choice.

Avoid this!

Notice something about the bottle? It looks very much like a vitaminwater package, just a different shape to the container. I guess the psychologists that Coca-Cola employs to make sure that you want to buy their products really like this design. The heavy emphasis on the word “fruit” and a design meant to highlight an appealing color while attempting to look almost like a medical product are all carefully crafted components in what, I’m sure, will be a resounding success. I think I’m just going to stick to regular water. It doesn’t contain fruit either but at least I know what’s in it.

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I just finished reading a very interesting and infuriating article that I highly recommend you read. It is by Michael Moss and is an adaptation of his new book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. The article focuses on the way that food companies design and market foods to appeal to the consumer and to make sure they eat as much as possible as frequently as possible. It examines the way that the food companies intentionally manipulate their recipes to ensure that their customers can’t help but come back for more. In other words, how they design their products just like a drug. As someone for whom junk food has been a nearly constant companion for 35+ years, I can assure you that, yes, these foods are addictive and that breaking that addiction is incredibly hard. I’ll let the article speak for itself and encourage you to check it out. There are a few things that did strike me as interesting and I thought were worth commenting on from the perspective of a Buddhist and as someone who has suffered because of the way these foods are carefully crafted to encourage a consumer to eat more.

One of the food scientists that Mr. Moss interviewed is Howard Moskowitz. He was responsible for revolutionizing things like spaghetti sauce, Dr. Pepper and the MRE’s that are served to members of the Army. His approach is thoroughly grounded in research and experimentation. His models plot hundreds of data points in order to identify a range of configurations for these foods that people will enjoy and want more of. His work has influenced the entire processed food industry and it changed the way that the food companies formulate and package their products. When confronted with the negative impact that his research has had on the lives of millions of people, he had a very interesting defense.

“There’s no moral issue for me,” he said. “I did the best science I could. I was struggling to survive and didn’t have the luxury of being a moral creature. As a researcher, I was ahead of my time.”

When I read this line, I had to stop for a few moments and take a few deep breaths. I have to ask, when did being a moral creature become a luxury? I understand the pain of struggling to survive. I grew up in a home that, while not in poverty, was certainly not affluent. Free lunches and food stamps were a part of my life growing up and I have struggled as an adult to provide for my family. It is hard to do, but at no time did I ever consider maintaining my morals to be a luxury. Two parts of the Noble Eightfold Path are Right Action  and Right Livelihood. These two components encourage us to end suffering in ourselves and in others by acting in a way that will not harm others and by choosing a profession that does not bring harm to another being. Mr. Moskowitz did not approach his career or work with this kind of mindset and, in so doing, millions of people have suffered from obesity, cancer, hypertension, stroke and early death or been effected by a loved one who did. Here we see the way that the actions of one person have had long term negative ramifications for more people than one could hope to count. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more stark example of just how important living according to the principles of the Eightfold Path are in relieving or preventing of suffering.

Frito-Lay spent $30 million a year to develop snacks that would appeal to changes in consumer tastes. According to the article, Frito-Lay learned that

Eating real meals had become a thing of the past. Baby boomers, especially, seemed to have greatly cut down on regular meals. They were skipping breakfast when they had early-morning meetings. They skipped lunch when they then needed to catch up on work because of those meetings. They skipped dinner when their kids stayed out late or grew up and moved out of the house. And when they skipped these meals, they replaced them with snacks.

In response, they developed snacks that would be more appealing as meal replacements. They worked with scientists, marketers and psychologists to design new snacks to appeal to consumers who were in a hurry. New flavors added to current product lines were designed to maximize “bliss” so that eating these new snacks would become a regular thing rather than an occasional thing. They created products that encouraged people to forget about regular meals and, as has been examined in other places (herehere and here) encouraged the decline in cooking and food preparation skills.

In this case, I believe that a lack of right mindfulness, right effort and right concentration on the part of our society as a whole allowed the food companies to replace cooking with convenience. We have lost the aptitude to take time for making simple things in exchange for constant movement and stimulation. Having foods that are easy to heat and serve or to open up and dig into make the effort of cooking superfluous.  Why make spaghetti sauce when you can open a jar and heat it up? I’m at the top of the “guilty” list for this kind of behavior and I have the physique to prove it. I went to culinary school and I find great enjoyment in cooking and preparing food but I still reach for the box or the jar or the can in order to save time. Here’s a basic recipe that I have used before to make tomato sauce. It’s very low in sugar because of the natural sweetness of the carrots and considerably lower in sodium than any pre-made sauce you can buy. The tomato paste is the closest thing to a prepared food item in the list and it is not really necessary and (at 1 teaspoon) is really just a flavoring agent and not a significant source of salt or fat. I prefer to use fresh parsley, basil and garlic but, if you are working on a time crunch, those ingredients can be found in “convenience” versions (pre-chopped, dried, etc.). This sauce takes 45 minutes to make, assuming that chopping the onion, carrot and celery takes you a long time. It’s possible to make this in large batches and set it aside in the freezer for future use. It’s also a fairly simple sauce and is the base sauce for a lot of other really delicious and nutritious options. The foods we eat don’t have to be from cans or boxes or bags, but we have to be willing to put forth the right effort to make sure we are not falling prey to the food giants any longer.

INGREDIENTS
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 small carrot or 1/2 large carrot, finely chopped
1 small stalk of celery, including the green tops, finely chopped
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried basil or 2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil
1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes, including the juice, or 1 3/4 pound of fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 teaspoon tomato paste (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

METHOD
1 Heat olive oil in a large wide skillet on medium heat. Add the chopped onion, carrot, celery and parsley. Stir to coat. Reduce the heat to low, cover the skillet and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are softened and cooked through.

2 Remove cover and add the minced garlic. Increase the heat to medium high. Cook for garlic for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, including the juice and shred them with your fingers if you are using canned whole tomatoes. Add the tomato paste and the basil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a low simmer, reduce the heat to low and cook, uncovered until thickened, about 15 minutes. If you want you can push the sauce through a food mill, or blend it with an immersion blender, to give it a smooth consistency.

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