history

Looking way, way back…

So this weekend I decided it was safe to put all my jackets away. I think we’re past any last “cold snap”. Of course, I’m well aware I’m jinxing… something… by even saying that. But still, this was my thought process which brought me to writing this entry. So there we are.

As I moved items from my coat rack to the coat closet, I noticed my high school letter jacket hanging in the back of said closet. My curiosity got the best of me, and I tried it on. And you know what? It fit! I’d even say it was roomy. When I did up all the snaps, I would have been comfortable wearing a couple of layers underneath it were our temperatures not in the 80s. I think the last time I tried it on I just barely got the bottom snaps to connect if I sucked in my gut real good.

Then I got to thinking back because I couldn’t figure out the physics of how a coat purchased for (what I thought was) 160ish-pound-me was snug on 180something-pound-me, but roomy on 205-pound-me. So I started going through any old weight records I might have to try to figure that out.

The last time I lost weight – during which I started this blog – my lowest recorded weight in MFP was 189 in early November of 2014. I’m not too shocked that now-me fit into the coat better than late-2014-me because the clothes I’m wearing every day now are the same ones I was wearing then, despite now-me being a good 15 pounds heavier. Then again I’m also still doing strength work now, and I’d pretty much quit that and was only running for exercise then. I’m guessing my muscle to fat ratio is better than it was back then, but I’ve never really had that measured.

Then I went back to the next earliest time I really tried to lose weight, which would’ve been over the summer of 1999. I happened to still have an old AppleWorks spreadsheet in my computer’s archives from tracking that time, which ends I think in August 1999 with me getting from about 210 down to 200 pounds. So that would’ve roughly been my college Senior Recital weight. That was done solely by taking Metabolife. Remember that stuff? Also remember how it started giving major athletes heart attacks and killing them and stuff? Yeah. Fun times.

So what about way back in high school when that letter jacket was purchased? I thought I would’ve been in the 160s at that time, but I couldn’t be sure. Then I remembered that I still have my driver’s license from 1994, which would have that weight – or at least a very timely ballpark figure – printed on it. And that number? 185 pounds. So it’s safe to assume I was in the 180-185 pound range when that jacket was purchased, and it was meant to be a little roomy since that was the style at the time. Mystery solved.

Oh. You’re all probably wanting proof of this whole thing, yeah? Well, if you’ve read this far I suppose you deserve a reward. So here it is:

A 42-year-old in a high school letter jacket.

Another notch

I don’t have time to write a “real” post, just documenting that I hit my third 10-pound mini-goal this morning.  I’m now down 30.1 pounds.  I expect to fluctuate back above the mark tomorrow, but it should settle in a few days.  Just for giggles – and because of lack of other content – here’s my progress graph from MyFitnessPal.

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Final Chantix thoughts, Housecleaning.

I really can’t express enough how glad I am to finally be finished with Chantix.  I was fortunate to not experience any negative side effects beyond a few really nasty dreams and three months without any truly restful sleep.  On a whim, I decided to check out my stress levels as recorded by my Garmin tracker and compare the two periods, and the difference is staggering.

This first image compares my stress levels on average Wednesdays.  On the left are my stress levels while I was on Chantix.  Levels on the right are about one week after finishing it.

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And here are similar stats but from two different Sundays, which are largely spent hanging out on the couch with the cats.  Again the left is while on Chantix, the right is about a week after finishing.

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So, yeah.  I’m not just imagining feeling better.  But it’s nice to have that visual proof as well.  And it certainly helps explain how “on edge” I felt for those three months.  While I’m sure some of that was simply from quitting smoking, I think the medication had a lot to do with it as well.

Also this past weekend I spent a lot of time cleaning up and rearranging my laundry room.  When I moved into the house almost two years ago, that was the “throw it in there and deal with it later” room.  I kept meaning to get around to reorganizing it but just kept… not.  To complicate matters when Wes was sick earlier this year, he apparently started peeing on the utility shelves in the corner.  Which I did not realize until it got warm and began to bake said pee into whatever was there.

I had taken a half day at work on Friday and wasn’t sure what to do with myself when the bug to do something about that room finally bit.  Mostly because it’s not air conditioned and those damn shelves were making the whole house smell like cat pee as the room heated up during the day.  So I cleared off and disinfected the shelves, then pulled back the rug so I could move the shelves out and clean behind them.  That was when I discovered that Wes had also peed on the rugs.  A lot.*  So those went out to the dumpster – because ew – and Project: Organize The Shelves suddenly became Project: Reorganize The Laundry Room And Mop All The Things, which took pretty much all afternoon and evening.

So here’s the fun part: before and after pictures!

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Most of the boxes on those bottom two shelves in the “after” photo are empty.  They’re just filling space to hopefully keep Wes from trying to pee there again.  Over the weekend, I also ended up taking 47 pounds of paper (those boxes on the left side of “before”) to be shredded.  The room already feels way better, and no longer reeks of cat pee.

I still have to organize the tool table, which is located behind the door and is not pictured. Most of that stuff will likely go into the white cabinets in the photos, which I also cleared out of a bunch of junk that was left by the previous homeowners. Also not pictured is the massive box of “donation” stuff which has been sitting in there since I unpacked after the move, waiting for me to re-pack it into smaller, more manageable boxes and get it out of the house.  And I’d like to move a bunch of drums and stuff from the music room onto those corner shelves.  But those are maybe projects for this weekend.

*None of your stuff got peed on, Daphna.  I checked.

Thank you, Happy Lady.

I was having a pretty crappy time at work today. Much end-user asshattery to be had. It was all I could do not to head downstairs to the bakery and buy some cookies. Or go to the candy shop up the block for some chocolate. Or go to the corner store for some cigarettes. All these impulses were getting to be too much to handle, so I decided to go for a short walk on campus to clear my head.

As I neared the Student Union, I crossed paths with The Happy Lady. I don’t know her real name and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t know mine, but we worked in the same building for a couple of years and frequently passed each other in the halls. I call her The Happy Lady because she always has a huge smile on her face and is just so happy to see everyone.

Any way, I hadn’t seen her in several months since I’ve been moved to another building. When she saw me today, I was greeted with that great big smile and “Hi, how are you?” that I’d come to know. And then she surprised me. “You are just wasting away!” she proclaimed. “What is your secret, because I have got to know!” I laughed, thanked her, then told her that it was just diet and exercise. She asked if I was exercising at the campus rec center and I told her no, I run around my neighborhood and also have some DVDs that I use. “And being careful about what you eat?” she asked. “Yup,” I said. “Being careful about what and how much I eat.” Then she said, “Well it really shows! I mean, you weren’t like ‘BLERGH!’ or anything before, but the change is certainly noticeable. I almost didn’t know you!” Once again I thanked her, we wished each other well, then headed on our separate ways.

So thank you, Happy Lady. You brightened what was turning into a pretty trying day.

Becoming a runner

After having the scare with my blood pressure last summer, I knew changing my diet would not be enough if I really wanted to have a chance of avoiding heart disease. I needed to be more active as well. I was nearing the age of early heart attacks in my family, and this knowledge was a huge reality check. I was never what you would call an athlete, but more of a mathlete. Seriously. I was the Grand Master at my school’s Math-A-Thon in 4th grade. That’s right, I kicked those 5th and 6th graders’ butts. Probably would have had the title three years running if we hadn’t moved to a new school district in 5th grade. Though if we hadn’t moved at that time, I also would likely have never discovered steelpan. But I am easily distracted, that is not what this post is about.

So, yeah. I needed to start getting regular exercise. At the same time, I did not want to overdo things at first and injure or discourage myself. So I started walking a just over 3 mile loop around my neighborhood every other evening in late June 2013. I fired up the pedometer app I had downloaded ages ago but never really bothered to use, got sucked into the Welcome to Night Vale podcast as my walking entertainment, and proceeded to try gradually ramping up my pace. By the end of July, I was walking my loop nearly every night. Some time in August, I dusted off the Power 90 DVDs I bought back in 2006 but never used more than a few weeks, and started getting up earlier to do that. So P90 in the mornings, walking in the evenings, and giving myself one day off each weekend to rest. And that was my routine for a while.

By early October I was starting to get bored with my walks, so on a whim I decided to start sprinkling in small bits of jogging. I honestly don’t know why beyond boredom. Running is – erm, was – not something I would have voluntarily done. I mentioned this a couple of different places and a number of people suggested I try a Couch to 5K program, which is essentially what I was doing – a blend of walking and jogging – but with some actual structure. I initially rejected the idea. I mean… I wasn’t interested in running any races! But at the same time I was so bored with just walking and didn’t have the first clue about how to push myself further in a safe, healthy way. So in mid-October I downloaded active.com’s C25K app and gave it a go. (There’s a link to my active.com profile in the menu bar.)

With no small amount of trepidation I did Week 1 Day 1. And you know what? It didn’t kill me. The last couple of jogging stretches were pretty uncomfortable, and my too-recently-a-smoker’s lungs were burning like nobody’s business, but I could do it. So the next day I did Day 2. Again, it didn’t kill me. And then Day 3 the day after that. Which felt like it almost did kill me. That was when I discovered just how important the rest days scheduled in the C25K program are! Made it until the app said I was half way done and turned around to head home rather than finishing the big loop. (At first, the sessions took me around 2 miles, so I’d just walk the rest of the loop home.) Took a couple of days off to recover, then resumed the program on an every other day basis. By the middle of Week 2 I found myself actually enjoying this running thing and even started considering signing up for a 5k maybe in the spring. Somewhere around this time I decided to move the running to the morning, replacing the P90 cardio days with C25K. I kept up with the P90 resistance training days on C25K rest days, though.

Somewhere in week 3 I thought to myself, “Why the hell am I waiting until spring to run a 5k? There’s got to be something sooner!” Sure enough, I found one in early December. Which, with careful scheduling, would fall on my last day of C25K! And it also happened to be the day before my birthday. So I said, “Screw it, let’s do this!” and signed up for the Sugar Plum Fairy 5k. By race day I was able to run for 30 minutes without stopping, but I still hadn’t quite run an entire 5k distance, so that was my goal. To run the entire race. No walking. And I did it. I put on my fairy wings and tutu (What? It was put on by a dance school in December. And they came with the race registration.) and ran the whole damn thing in 36:10.

Sugar Plum Fairy 5k

Sugar Plum Fairy 5k (12/2013)

A couple weeks of trying to just get out there and run every other day showed me that I still needed some sort of structure to keep me interested. I’d been hearing about this app called Zombies, Run! a number of places – primarily on reddit – so I decided to give it a try. I immediately got sucked in by it. It’s kind of a podcast combined with a pedometer/GPS app combined with a game. It plays music from your device, with snippets of post-zombie-apocalypse storyline sprinkled in on “missions” to do various things. And you can turn on zombie chases, which force you to increase your speed by a certain amount for one minute in order to escape them. Without going into too many details, that’s the basic idea. And I’m loving it. (A link to my Z,R! profile is in the menu bar.) It got me to my second 5k race, which was St. Patrick’s Day weekend. Oh yeah… And a few hours after the 5k, I ran a 1-mile race that the same group was sponsoring. My goals for the 5K were to finish in under 35 minutes and be in the top 100. Finished 75th with a personal best time of 33:44. My goals for the 1 miler were to have under an 11 minute mile and to be in the top 50. Finished 40th at 10:09. I’ll take it.

Running with the Irish 5k

Running with the Irish 5k (03/2014) – Photo by Sarah Arnold

And the adventure continues. I’ve just registered for my first 10k race, which is in a couple of weeks. I’m also strongly considering a half-marathon in October, followed by a full marathon in December if I feel I’m up to one that soon.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for sticking with me! I think that pretty much catches us up to where I’m at now.  I don’t expect to continue posting daily – or necessarily even weekly – but we’ll see. I do have one or two more things in my mental backlog still, but I don’t anticipate them being more Great American Novel-type posts.

Learning to eat differently

I think the most important change I’ve made so far would have to be what and how I eat.  Before all this stuff with the doctor, I rarely – if ever – ate breakfast, frequently ate lunch at restaurants around campus, then cooked something quick and processed (frozen pizza, boxed mac & cheese, etc.) for dinner.  The biggest thing for me was to not change everything at once.  I’d introduce a new habit – say, making sure to eat breakfast daily – and give myself at least a week to get used to it before trying to add/remove/change something else.  Keeping the steps small has made the whole process much less overwhelming.  I see things like keto and paleo and all these other diet plans gaining popularity, but I just don’t think I could stick with something so rule-oriented.  I prefer to set guidelines for myself that I know are flexible so that when I “mess up”, it’s much more difficult to get down on myself and give up on the whole process.  Another help has been to think of all these changes as new habits rather than as a “diet”.  To me, the word diet implies something temporary.  I want the changes I’m making to be for life.  So, just what are all these new habits I’ve been setting?

1) Avoid processed foods.

Now I’m well aware that it’s almost impossible to totally avoid processed food, but this also means I’ve become a much better label reader.  I do my best to purchase food whose ingredient is the thing it is.  Stick to the outer perimeter of the grocery store, since that’s where most of the unprocessed stuff is.  (Picture the grocery store you usually shop at.  Produce, dairy, butcher… they’re all along the outer walls of the store, aren’t they?)  When I do buy something with an ingredient list, I check to see if it has any ingredients that I can’t identify.  If I can’t pronounce it, I probably have no business eating it.  Instead of buying pre-seasoned or marinated meats, buy them plain and marinate them yourself.  It’ll likely be better for you, not to mention will save money in the long run.

This guideline also means preparing my own food more and eating out less, particularly avoiding fast food.  One way I’ve made this one flexible is if I crave a specific item from some fast food place for more than two consecutive days, I’ll let myself have whatever it was on the third day.  Every time this has happened, the thing I’d been craving did not taste nearly as good as I remembered it being.  Now I very rarely have any desire to consume fast food.

2) Less meat, more plants.

It wasn’t unusual for me to cook up a pack of steaks/pork chops/chicken breasts/etc. with every intention of having one at that meal then keeping the rest for leftovers, then end up just eating most or all of them without any sort of plant-based accompaniment.  Now I do my best to limit my meat portion to about the size of a deck of cards, then fill the rest of my plate with veggies of some sort.  When I first started working on this one, I was incredibly skeptical that such a small portion of protein would be satisfying.  I was surprised by how satiated I was by the time I finished the meal.  Then I just had to break the habit of going back for more “just because I could”.

3) Slow down and eat smaller portions!

I used to go into “hoover mode” and absolutely inhale way more food than my body actually needed.  (Honestly, I still slip into it once in a while.)  By slowing down, I’ve found I’m able to feel satisfied with smaller portions.  It gives my body time to tell my brain, “Okay, hold it! We’re good now!”  After months of tending this habit, it now takes much less food for me to reach that Uncomfortable Full stage that I used to enjoy so much.  Now it just makes me feel crummy.

4) Stop with the sugar, already.

This was a tough one.  Sugar is a pretty addictive substance.  Kicking the pop habit certainly helped, but I’m afraid I don’t have any easy tips on this one.  I had to just cut out everything with added sugars for a month or so.  The cravings were hell, but after a couple of weeks they weren’t quite as bad.  After a month, I found I could have a “fun sized” candy bar and be happy with that.  Much more than that and I just felt ill.

5) Get your body accustomed to eating at certain times.

I now do my best to only eat at set times.  I’ll have breakfast around 6:30am, a small snack around 10:00am, lunch around noon, a small snack around 3:00pm, dinner around 6:30pm, and maybe a small snack around 8:00pm if I really feel I need it (this is rare).

6) Avoid stress/boredom eating.

Yup, I am absolutely an emotional eater.  I could demolish a family size bag of Doritos in an afternoon while sitting in front of the TV, and still have room for dinner.  I still fight this one.  I work above an amazing bakery and on those days when work just has me climbing the walls, it’s all I can do not to go downstairs and buy something delicious (and usually sugary).  The other time which tends to be challenging for me is late at night.  Fortunately, I’ve found a method that really works for me when I’m bored or stressed and those old food habits seem to be calling my name.

  • Ask myself, “Am I really hungry, or do I just want to eat?”
  • Usually the answer is “No, I’m not hungry.  I just want to eat something.”  Knowing this frequently is enough to help me ignore the urge.
  • If I think the answer is that I actually am hungry and it is not one of my set eating times, I’ll drink a glass of water.  Usually that will satisfy me.
  • If I still want the food after the water, then I’ll go for a walk.  I tell myself that if I still want whatever it was after an hour or so of walking, then I can have it.  There have only been a couple of times so far that I’ve gotten home and still really wanted whatever it was.  And on those rare occasions, I let my self have it.

7) Redefine “once in a while”.

Realize that it’s okay to treat yourself once in a while!  Completely denying yourself the things you enjoy will make this new lifestyle pretty miserable.  Just don’t let “once in a while” become too frequent.  “Oh, I haven’t had a cookie since yesterday afternoon, so I can have one now!” doesn’t work.  For example, I limit my alcohol consumption to a couple of beers one night per week.  I’ll let myself have a coffee or a pop once about every two weeks.  (I mostly drink water now.)  I’ll let myself have lunch at one of the restaurants near campus once every month to month and a half.  I’ll stop by one of my favorite dive bars for a beer and a big greasy burger after running a race, which is looking like that’s about every three months or so.  It’s very easy for frequent treats to become habits.  Remember that a treat is just that – an occasional thing!

Wow.  I seem to have written another novel, so I’ll stop here for now.  I’ll be sure to post some more specifics about what I eat later on.

So it Begins…

So, why am I busting my butt to make all these lifestyle changes?  And why – no really, WHY – do I suddenly have this obsession with focus on being so active?!?

It all goes back to late June of 2013 and a painful ear.  The ear had been rather tender for a day or two, but that day it really hurt.  I couldn’t focus on my work through the pain, and I was actually noticing rather reduced hearing in that ear.  Deciding that I needed someone with a medical degree to look at it, I wandered down to campus health (ah, a plus side to working at a school) to get checked out.  Of course, temperature/pulse/blood pressure/etc. are measured in the triage process.  The nurse was rather alarmed at how high my blood pressure was – particularly given my age – so she had me sit quietly for a bit and tried again.  Still really high.  Then they sent me back into their ER to see a doctor, who took my blood pressure yet again.  Then he went on and on about my blood pressure and heart health and how this was really dangerous for a guy in his mid-30s.  He actually wouldn’t even talk about my incredibly painful ear until he had a promise from me to get a regular primary physician (couldn’t remember when I’d last had one of those) to address my blood pressure.

So I went back to my office, called a doctor, and set an appointment to see if he’d be willing to be my primary care physician.  Because of the heart-related nature of my concerns, they were able to work me in on his calendar within a couple of days.  At that appointment they confirmed my BP was still dangerously high, did an EKG, and put me on blood pressure medication.  They also scheduled a blood lab to be done to check cholesterol levels and whatnot.  By the time those results were in, I’d been on the BP meds for about a week.  I’d also started paying much closer attention to my diet and began walking about three miles every other evening to get some exercise.  Had a followup with the doc regarding the results, and my BP was looking much better.  Aside from my cholesterol being basically double what it should (not surprising given the combination of family history and my own poor eating habits), everything was good.  No diabetic concerns or anything else.  The doctor said that he’d like to see how my changes in diet and exercise influenced those numbers, and asked that I follow up in 3-6 months to see how I was doing.  He felt there was a chance that I could avoid cholesterol meds altogether!  He also said that if I could drop 20-40 pounds, there was a good chance I could get off the BP meds as well.  That day at his office I weighed in at 260 pounds, the heaviest I’ve ever been.

So I kept eating better and getting more exercise, then scheduled another blood lab in November 2013.  While my cholesterol was still high, it was about half way from where it had been to where it should be.  My doctor was incredibly happy with this.  And he said that my increased levels of good cholesterol indicated that I had been getting much more physical activity.  (As it happens, I’d just started running a couple of weeks before that.  But that’s for another post.)  I once again had instructions to keep doing whatever I was doing, then follow up in another 3-6 months.  Had another blood test in early March 2014.  Not as drastic a drop in cholesterol levels as before, but still a bit lower.  I’d also been somewhat lax in my new-found exercise and diet habits coming off the holidays, which I think influenced those numbers a bit.

I’ve been going in regularly to have my blood pressure checked, and my numbers look great.  The nurses are always surprised when they look back to the beginning of my records and see how high it originally was.  I’m also currently down 50-55 pounds according to my bathroom scale, depending on the day.  I’m still taking the BP meds for now since the doc wanted me to stay with them a bit longer.  He said they’re certainly not doing any harm, and he’d be much more comfortable keeping me on them until I get closer to my goal weight.  That said, I’m also still not on cholesterol meds yet.  So that’s good.

And I think that’s enough of a novel to get us started.  Oh, what happened with my ear?  Turns out I had scratched it just outside the canal, and the scratch had gotten irritated and had begun to become inflamed.  A week or two of antibiotics fixed that right up.