Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Losing Weight is.... Adjective!

It's hard to believe, but I've been counting calories for over 4 years. That's not to say I'm always within my budget every week. I put on some weight over the holidays. I wasn't too concerned. I wanted to be able to enjoy myself without feeling stressed or guilty.

This month I went on a stricter diet and lost that weight. I can't say exactly how much, but it was about a pound a week. You're probably curious about what I did. Everyone's always looking for diets and weight loss plans (hyperbole notwithstanding). Unfortunately, most folks look for easy diet plans, or ones that take little effort or change. I'll share what I did, though many will shrink in terror and go back to their milkshakes.

I cut out simple carbs. Sugar, number one. That's something I rarely eat anyway, although I had a bunch over the holidays. So I cut that out. Again. I also cut out bagels, bread, popcorn, pasta, etc. I allowed myself rice, quinoa, farro, and the like. To the astute reader, this means I cut out everything delicious.

I probably missed bagels the most. I was used to eating them every morning for breakfast. Instead I had eggs, usually with a side of avocado. Still tasty. The interesting thing I found was that I felt more full eating just eggs and avocado than if I had all that on a bagel (with cheese!). There's a bunch of science behind it. But the short story is that eating nutrient dense foods satiates you, and empty calories do not. There's also something that happens when you eat carbs and fat together that short circuits your brain.
Seriously... just eggs and avocado

Most writers would now delve into a bunch of science to explain it all. I'm pretty lazy. I read a bunch, remember the things that matter, and discard the rest. I know that potato chips, breakfast cereals, pizza, and so on are "bad". So I don't eat them. I think that's pretty common knowledge. If someone says, "you won't change my mind unless you scientifically prove it," I won't care.

I don't.

If you want to be fat, then be fat. My body fat is around 10%. I get plenty of compliments. So I must be doing something right, if only by accident. I exercise a lot too, but exercise doesn't make up for a bad diet. That's the painful fact. You only get healthy and get in shape through sacrifice and hard work. Eating is no different.

On the plus side, you do get used to the change. It's the same with training. It takes 2 or 3 weeks to get used to a new routine, but once you do, it becomes much easier. So I may actually stick with eating just eggs for breakfast. I do plan to add some carbs back in. Pasta for sure. And probably nutritious bread as well.

I don't have too much left to lose anyway

I appreciate the challenges of eating healthy. Many many people struggle with it, clearly. Over the holidays I struggled too. Though the reason was that once I said that sugar is "ok", I didn't have much holding me back. I suddenly had to resort to willpower. Willpower! Willpower sucks. It's worthless. It works for like two minutes and then you're drowning in donuts.

I have people tell me I should just moderate. That I can eat what I want as long as I moderate. These are people who have been skinny all their lives because they have this beautiful magical quality of moderation. I do not. I envy them. To me, moderation is a dirty word. I'm so bad at it that I don't even realistically look at it as an option. Because I will try it, fail, and feel guilty for failing. That's a whole lot of negativity for very little gain.

So I have to say that certain foods are "not ok". And then I just plain stop seeing them as things I can eat. When sugar goes on the "not ok" list, I stop being tempted by it. It goes on the same list of things I can't eat along with chairs, cats, and steering wheels.

"Yes... please don't eat me."

I realize this is weird. That not everybody works this way. Of course everybody knows that if they ate less sugar they'd be healthier. And eating no sugar is even better. But sugar is super delicious. And nothing bad happens right away. However, something good does happen right away. You feel great! You feel fantastic! Life is suddenly amazing!

The problem is that the bad parts of sugar don't happen until later. And the benefits of cutting sugar also happen later. And we as a species kind of suck at planning for later. We want to do stuff that makes us feel good now. So, I basically have to screw with my brain. I have to trick it into thinking that there's an immediate cost. I feel guilty. My calorie app goes crazy, which makes me unhappy. And so on. A similar strategy applies to training.

I think a lot of people feel guilty for eating unhealthy foods, or for not exercising. But they usually don't do anything about it. Guilt by itself isn't a solution, and it really ends up making everything worse in the long run. Many people who feel guilty about their eating... deal with that guilt by eating more. It's like a drug addiction... actually it's very much like a drug addiction.

Guilt is only useful if you do something immediately in response to it. In my case, I recognize what will make me feel guilty, and I avoid that thing. I don't want to feel guilty. So once sugar goes on the "not ok" list, I stop eating it, because doing so would make me feel guilty. F*ck guilt.

All this takes time. A lot of struggle. A lot of trial and error. A lot of the stuff I'm saying may seem crazy. It may not work for you. Everyone is different. Their bodies are different. Their minds are different. If you want to make lasting change, lasting improvement, you have to commit to it. Commitment sucks. I know; I was scared of it for a very long time.

Trial and error sucks... why can't I be awesome now?!

But, when you start seeing success, it becomes addicting. You want to see even more success! And once you see enough success, you find yourself on a new path. One of constant growth and increasing happiness.

The end!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

What's Up With Change?

I've been counting my calories for over 4 years now, and I've been training consistently for almost that long. I've been able to keep my weight where I want it, and I've been able to train on average 6 days a week in that time. But that doesn't mean everything has been exactly the same that whole time.

The foods I eat have changed. The training I do has changed. My feelings and attitudes have changed. And the circumstances in my life have changed a lot, which of course effects my diet and exercise. You eat differently by yourself than when you're living with someone. The time you have available to exercise changes too.

My goals and priorities have changed as well.

None of that should be surprising. Everybody experiences change. Even people with very stable lives experience this. I've seen friends get injured. I've seen friends just plain burn out. I'm seen friends struggle with their diets. Even if your life stays the same, your heart and mind undoubtedly don't.

I just can't see myself going back to where I was before this journey. I put on a little weight during the holidays, and I'm on an even stricter diet this month to lose it (and have been successful so far). I also signed up for a second Ironman this summer. Part of the reason I did that is to keep myself accountable so I keep training.


I've seen a lot of people quit though. That's pretty common. If health and fitness aren't a big enough priority for you, it will be hard to stay consistent. And you can be healthy without having 10% body fat or training every single day. There may come a day when it's not as big a priority for me either. I don't really have anyone left to impress. So these days my obsession is mostly from "momentum".

It's important to have something in life that gives you purpose. Some people have to stop training because of their family. Their family gives them purpose. Some do it because of work. That can provide a sense of purpose too. If I ever reduced my fitness level, I would have to do it for something that's even more important to me.

It may sound like I'm doubting myself, but that's not the case. The point is just that change happens and you have to accept that. Because sometimes it's difficult and sometimes it's scary. It's your choice how you deal with it. You can surrender and allow yourself to be pulled like a raft in an ocean, or you can take control and ride those waves. It comes down to your attitude and what you want out of life.

And that's the key. How hard are you willing to work for what you want? And are you able to adjust that goal without losing your perseverance? I used to just run 6 - sometimes 7 - days a week. Now I bicycle and swim too. That may not seem like a big difference but it is. Marathons just don't excite me the way they used to. And I've traded them in for races that take far longer to complete.

Don't worry, I still do crazy runs.

In some ways the training is easier. If I don't feel like running, I can bike or swim instead. In some ways it's harder. When I was training for marathons, my longest workouts were 3 hours or so. My longest workouts preparing for an Ironman are 5 or 6 hours. Even though I'm still six months out from Ironman Lake Placid, I had a 3 hours workout this past Saturday.

It's a change that I'm happy about though, and that's even more fulfilling. I don't believe I could ever go back to "just running". I do lament the loss in my running speed, that I never qualified for Boston (though I did get to run it, and my best race was less than 5 minutes off my BQ time). But my training now is more engaging, and I've got even more goals. Right now I'm really focused on improving my swimming.

I have no doubt that my training will change again in the future. In fact I hope it does. I don't know exactly how. But I know what's important to me in my life. Being happy, being healthy, feeling fulfilled and purposeful, and having people in my life to share love with. I hope in the future more of my fitness will involve other people. And I hope I can resist signing up for a third Ironman, because I kind of look forward to doing more of what I want, rather than what I feel like I "have" to. Plus the cost!

Well over a grand total just
so I can take an absurd selfie

Writing. I like writing. I'd like to do more of that. Believe it or not, one of the reasons I keep training is so that I can keep writing about it. Maybe I'll write about other things. I already kind of cheat on this blog, even though it's about pavement and crushing it. But change is great when it comes to writing! The more I experience, the more I can write about. Maybe I should change the name of the blog to something else.... "Crushing Everything"?

Fitness will always be a part of my life. I know that much. But how exactly that looks in the future.... I don't know. And that's exciting! I enjoy what I'm doing, but it's reassuring to know I have the power to adjust. That I can always seek growth and improvement, no matter where I am in life. I don't ever have to give up or stagnate. I just have to be willing to accept change.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Can Love Prevail Over Anger

Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I haven't thought much about it before. To many, it's just a holiday (if you even get the day off). And that's really unfortunate. I know why I haven't thought about it much. It's because it's frightening to do so. It forces you to look inwards, to decide what kind of person you are.

There's a lot of anger in the world today, and hatred. A lot. Anger is easy. Anger is comfortable. And we're very good at justifying our anger to ourselves. King fought against that anger, with peace. He was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, who too fought violence with peace. And both King and Gandhi paid the ultimate sacrifice to do what they felt was right.

So it's understandable why we don't want to think about it. Some of us don't agree with them, though we may not admit as much. Some of us don't understand the scope of what they were a part of. Most of us, I think, accept that they were brave men who tried to make positive change in the world. But if we accept that, but do nothing to continue their noble struggle, that too is hard. Does it make us cowards? Does it mean we're too afraid?

Martin Luther King Jr.
Public Domain Image

People are inherently selfish. That's not a recrimination. That's simply our biology. And self-sacrifice to such a huge extent is very difficult. I can understand turning a blind eye to what they did. Because I too tend to think in an all-or-nothing way. I think I either have to do everything, or do nothing. I either dive 100% into something, or not at all. But you and I don't need to dedicate our lives to the struggle of guaranteeing equal rights and respect to all individuals. At least, not by ourselves.

What King and Gandhi tried to do was start a movement, and in a large way they did. They wanted to encourage all men and women to think with love in their hearts. It wasn't a matter of right and wrong, but of mutual respect and appreciation. To be willing to set aside our anger and look upon one another with open minds and open hearts.

That is something each of us can choose to do, right now. We don't need to try to change others. We only need to change ourselves. And you have power over yourself. You control your thoughts and feelings. Often times we feel like victim of our emotions. We blame external forces. But those are excuses. Each of us can swallow our pride and allow our souls to be vulnerable.

That is not easy. I know because I struggle with it. I have made many mistakes, mistakes I'd like to ignore so that I don't live in guilt. But none of us are born perfect. It's OK to screw up, to hurt people, as long as you learn from it. Each of us has the capacity to become the best version of ourselves. I see that in the athletic community. People work hard every day to make themselves stronger. I know I do.

I tend to internalize anger, to direct it at myself. Which is why it saddens me to see others direct it outwards. But I don't think that I'm better. Because being angry at myself lessens my ability to be forgiving of others. You must forgive yourself first. You must have love inside of you to give love. Otherwise what you're putting out isn't love. It's just a desire to not be alone. Ultimately we all want validation and relevance. If our friends are loving, we are loving too. But if our friends are angry, then we too are angry.

Mahatma Gandhi
Public Domain Image

It's hard to go against the tide, especially with people you care deeply about. Even today there are people who feel hurt because of me. And even if I love them, the end result is that they're suffering because of me. Maybe it's because I did something wrong, maybe not. Often it's just misunderstanding, or unmet expectations. As is often the case, I internalize that too.

I have to stop doing that, stop blaming myself. I honestly don't feel I am the selfish person I used to be. I try very hard to be compassionate and understanding. I try to see both sides in an argument, to understand why everyone feels how they do. It's never cut and dry, never. It's too easy to say so-and-so is 100% wrong. To avoid our own culpability.

I admit that I suck at communication. I tend to withdraw when someone is upset. I just accept the guilt and blame, and swallow it down. That's not a good response. It makes them feel they're right, to ignore the fact that they've hurt me. And it makes it harder for me to be open and compassionate in the future. I feel like if I can absorb someone's pain, it'll take their pain away. But what it really does is amplify pain.

I don't have advice or a solution. I'm thinking out loud. It's the point of this blog. It forces me to think about things in a linear fashion, to come to some realizations. And I hope it helps others be thoughtful too. As you can see, I'm far from perfect. But I at least consider myself blessed to be introspective. I've learned a lot just from thinking.

I'm blessed in life. I know that. When looking at what King did, he fought for people who did not have all of the opportunities that I did. And if I don't take advantage of my good fortune to help others, then I am part of the problem. That doesn't mean I should sit and feel guilty. It means I should embrace the positivity in my life and spread it to others. I should be thankful, so that I behave from a place of joy.

Creating a better world for ourselves and our children is hard. It's a burden. But it's a burden none of us has to take on alone. And when love prevails, it spreads, and enriches each of us. But so too does anger work in this way. It is a force of nature. It may seem unstoppable.

It is not.

Each of us has a capacity for change. For personal engagement. For love.
Martin Luther King. Public Domain Image.

Note: I typically use my own images in my posts. Occasionally I use a friend's image, and I make sure to credit them. The images above are Public Domain images, taken either from Wikipedia or Google. As a writer and photographer, it's important to me to respect the work of others: Artists, writers, photographers, musicians, and so on. I feel this is important to mention in the context of this post. Very very often I see my friends on Facebook and elsewhere post images that they do not credit. This has always bothered me a great deal, though trying to fight the battle would only cause me to lose friends. But I can at least mention it here. It's one more thing we can do to show respect for others.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Destroy Everything

People don't like change. Often times they try to make small changes, incrementally. Often they want to change without actually changing. They want to lose weight without cutting out any of their favorite foods. They want to exercise without cutting something else to make the time. They want to find success without taking energy out of something else to make it happen.

It rarely works. All of my biggest and most lasting changes have come from destruction. I like change. It's scary. But I embrace things that scare me. Those are the things worth doing. Sometimes the new thing isn't perfect. So I have to destroy that too. And adjust once again.

Maybe if I can destroy this snow, it'll be replaced by warmth.

I think it's easier for me than for others. I didn't have much stability when I was young. I moved around a lot and changed schools a lot. I didn't even start school until 5th grade. Talk about destroying what I was accustomed to! I sucked with people. To learn to be better I had to destroy the old me, in a big way.

The new me was.... fun. But kind of an asshole. More destruction. More change. There was some gradual growth, sure. Learning. Experience. But it's like swimming. I was told very recently that swimming isn't something you really get better at just by doing it over and over. You have to do drills. They essentially make you to do something so different that it forces you to learn something you wouldn't if you just kept doing the same old thing. That makes sense.

It makes sense... but I still hate drills

I hated that. I just wanted to swim and be done. And yet, every time I had a big learning moment, it was the result of a drill or a big change that I forced. So, change is still scary. And I'm older. The older you are, the more ready you are to have the life that you've been striving for. That's the goal: To work work work, and find your groove. You don't necessarily stop working, but you want to get to a point that you know where you're at and where you're going.

Destruction happens, no matter where you are in life. And sometimes it can be a huge surprise. Either something that's imposed on you that's out of your control. Or something that you suddenly realize about yourself. "I'm unhappy", "this isn't working", "I have to do something different." And even if you're prepared (though you can never really be... can you?), it's still tumultuous. Nerve-wracking. Crazy.

I've learned another lesson recently..... that maybe there are things that don't need to be destroyed. I've always wanted love in my life, but for a long time I was all to willing to let it go. Fear. That's what it was. Change is scary. But sometimes not-change is scary too. When you let people into your life, they gain power over you. Power over your happiness and well-being.

Aack, this creature definitely has power over my well-being.

But that comes with the territory. If you truly care about someone, then you worry about them. What happens to them affects you. If they betray you, you get hurt. But it's not a reason to flee from those relationships. Because the alternative, loneliness, is worse by far. And then destruction becomes... nihilism. It gets comfortable in its own way. You get to attached to the emptiness. Because when you have nothing, that nothing can't hurt you.

So, embrace change, yes. But embrace stability too. Don't destroy for the sake of destroying. Destruction is a part of humanity. A big part. Just look at history. In many SciFi fictions, the aliens want to destroy us because we're so destructive (a bit of an irony but still...). It's in our genes, and for good reason. It's the best way to learn.

But we have big juicy brains. We can analyze. We can set aside the fear, and think rationally. What do I really need? What do I really want? Keep the things that are good. Destroy the things that are bad. Replace them with things that are good.

That's the goal anyway. I'm still working at it.

Nope, change is too scary. I'll stick to just eating.