Archive | July, 2017

My Whole30 Journey

23 Jul

May 2017

No one ever called me fat.

But I was woefully out of shape.

After more than twenty-five years of putting work and family ahead of caring for myself, I had grown from a scrawny college freshman into a typical middle-aged American man. At 44, my daughters asked me to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. After researching the trip online, I wasn’t certain I could make it.

Like most people, I had made periodic attempts to lose weight over the years. We had acquired a home gym, a fancy treadmill, and a high-tech exercise bike. There were even some success stories; once dropping 15 pounds while working in Germany, running a 10k in less than an hour, and occasionally flirting with giving up alcohol.

My reality was mainstream as I bought pants with multiple waist sizes that I bounced between as I expanded and contracted. That summer, I weighed in at 200 pounds and looked like an average dad and businessman. It might have been normal, but it was not good – I was carrying around 60 pounds of fat on a 5’10” frame.

So, I began to get serious. The hike in Peru was a motivator. I did not want to disappoint my daughters and I did not want to disappoint myself. Over the next few months of serious dieting and exercise, including weight training and lots of cardio, I lost 25 pounds of fat and gained 15 pounds of muscle. A month after my 45th birthday I hiked the Inca Trail at 190 pounds. I felt pretty good about the accomplishment.

That is where I stayed, more or less, for the next couple of years. I continued to exercise and continued to struggle with controlling my weight as the goal of the hike was replaced with the everyday stresses of work and home. At 190, even after the transformation, I was still carrying around body fat equal to almost 20% of my weight.

There seemed to be no amount of dieting or exercise that could affect that. It should have been simple physics. Burn more energy than you consume and you will lose weight. I was stuck in the “calories in – calories out” paradigm and it wasn’t working.

And then, at 48 years old, a friend challenged me to try the Whole30 eating plan for a month. I researched the plan and thought that it would be near impossible to follow. But I had been challenged and I never back down from a challenge. (Thanks Kasey!)

So, I did it for thirty straight, life-changing days.

The elimination of all added sweeteners, dairy, grains, legumes and alcohol from my diet had a profound effect. After a ten-day period of feeling like I had been run over by a truck, I began to feel fantastic as I lost another twenty pounds, bottoming out at 170 at the end of the month. It felt as if I had uncovered a secret formula for beating back the dad bod. As an added benefit, my chronic heartburn was gone, my cholesterol was down, and the nurse no longer looked concerned when taking my blood pressure.

Over the past two years I have completed three more strict Whole30 programs at roughly six-month intervals. The plan, however, has had an incredible impact on the way I eat all the time. My relationship with food has changed dramatically. I do not deprive myself, but I am very conscious of what I put in my body and how it makes me feel. I had been eating crap and trying to exercise it off in the gym. It wasn’t working.

I am now pretty steady 180 pounds with a body fat percentage of less than 10%. During my bi-annual strict Whole30s, I usually drop another five or ten pounds and once pushed my body fat down below eight percent. I still exercise, but now I see real results. As I shed layers of fat, the muscle I had gained by lifting weights was exposed.

Whole30 adherents will object to my focus on weight loss and body composition. They just want me to talk about the health benefits of eating well. Whatever. I have abs at 50! And I have more energy, and I sleep better, and I have greater mental clarity, etc., etc.

Fitness experts say that no one regimen works for everybody. While I think that is probably true, I cannot help but believe that it must start with food. The American diet has changed so dramatically in the past 40 years that it takes real effort to avoid the bad stuff. Every processed food in the store has added sugar or sweetener. The industrial agricultural complex has sold us on unhealthy and unsustainable ways of eating. Getting back to basics opened me up to a whole new world of flavorful options. This is not about deprivation. It is about exploration and experimentation and listening to your body. Many chronic health conditions can be linked to, and addressed by, what you eat.

Whole30 changed my life. I won’t claim that it is easy, but the results are so dramatic as to be indisputable. It is still a struggle to balance work, family and fitness. I can be lazy and undisciplined. I still love pie and wine. The good news is that I can afford to eat whatever I want if I’m smart about it and maintain healthy eating habits most of the time.

You should try this too. Read the books. Follow the plan strictly for 30 days and see what happens. If you throw in a little exercise, I am willing to bet you will experience a massive transformation in how you look and feel. Get ready to buy some new pants.

The Eulogy Virtues

16 Jul

Grove BrameOn July 4th we said goodbye to our friend, Grove Brame. Lost too soon at 59 to the same form of brain cancer that has taken two other good friends in recent years. While it is close to impossible to find anything positive in such a tragedy, there are lessons to be learned and messages to be reinforced.

The thing that struck me during the service was how little airtime was allocated to Grove’s enormous list of accomplishments. He was a classic “up by the bootstraps” corporate success story, spending a storied career at Dr. Pepper that included too many promotions and accolades to track. Grove was also an amazing athlete and scratch golfer that you somehow didn’t mind losing to over and over again.

He spent forty years knocking down goals and building an envious resume. In the end, no one seemed to care about those things. Instead, what we heard about during his funeral was what we consider to be common virtues. The personal stories that were told were always about some kindness, about the way he made the storyteller feel, about some casual good deed, or about something funny he had done.

Grove was generous. He was kind. He was a great listener. He could fit with any crowd. Grove was a great father, stepfather, husband, brother, brother-in-law, and friend. These are the virtues of the eulogy. The ones that define a life and the person that lived it. In the end, it is character that matters.

I’ll readily admit to spending the last twenty-five plus years building my own resume. I, too, have a long list of accomplishments of which I am quite proud. And I do not intend to stop doing the work I love, hoping for success and maybe some recognition along the way. You may be doing the exact same thing.

Resume accomplishments are typically marked by readily identifiable milestones. The graduation, promotion, raise, award, and championship can all be celebrated. We pursue these and rejoice at the achievement. The eulogy virtues are acquired more subtly. There is no celebratory milestone for learning to practice empathy. We do not get an award for honing character to a certain level. They don’t give out black belts in compassion. The rewards for the development of the eulogy virtues are intrinsic.

The hard lesson from Grove’s death is that we should think about how we balance our investment of time. We should consciously work to develop the eulogy virtues just as aggressively as we pursue the resume accomplishments. These are not mutually exclusive pathways to personal development. Both are worthy goals, but one without the other is probably not the legacy you want to leave.

We can all honor Grove’s memory by bringing some balance to the task of creating better versions of ourselves and critically evaluating if we are having a positive impact on the lives of others. Aloha friend.



Millan Lives Large

10 Jul

MillanWe have never spoken of our competition. Yet, when I am on island it is always a race to see who reaches the kitchen first. Making the morning coffee is an honor that goes to the earliest of early birds. I know my friend Millan takes great pride in beating me there.

Sometimes I let him win.

Like this morning. It is 5:30am and I am sitting on the steps of the palapa watching the beginnings of the day in the east. Millan hands me a cup of black coffee, strong and hot. Back in his village, he grew this coffee. Planted and tended the bushes. Picked and dried the berries. Milled them, roasted the beans, brought them here on the bus, ground them, and made this cup just for me. This cup of coffee represents his way of life.

It is a part of him.

Millan lives large. He came to me with the island in a package deal and turned out to be more valuable than the real estate. He built the island and all the structures on it. Millan works hard. Like most Mayans, he believes that life is work and that work is life. He is a man of many talents. He can build things, fix things, farm, fish, cook, and deliver babies.

He has nine of them.

His home is a small, dirt-floor thatch structure with a comal in one corner. It is where the family hangs their hammocks each night and where they go when it rains. He keeps improving it, but it is fundamentally no different than what his ancestors lived in 900 years ago – only his has a solar panel to power a lightbulb and charge a cell phone.

That is my fault.

Millan’s smile radiates joy. Looking deeper you find strength and peace next to the happiness. He seems to have it all figured out. He is my Belizean Dalai Lama. I am pretty sure he doesn’t care how many friends he has on Facebook or how many likes his latest post received. Millan would be mystified to learn that that is a thing.

He is a man of substance.

He makes me want to be a better person; to hone character, to find joy in simplicity, to endure in the face of adversity, to value work for its own sake, and to always smile. Our competition will continue. Tomorrow, I will make the coffee and serve it to him.

He deserves it.

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