Chronicling the latest installment of “try to get into shape”. Look, the COVID-19 lock-down was bad for everyone and bad in very different ways. For some people is was really bad. There was loss, loneliness, and minimum wage martyrdom, none of which I had to deal with personally. I’m thankful for the relative ease my life has been during this time (since it’s still going on as I type this. The ‘lock-down’ is done, but the residual side effects are on going). That said, one thing that I did encounter was weight gain from general lethargy (and a lot of cocktails). My diet had gone to hell (or rather, it was amazing in terms of high quantities of fat, salt, sugar, fried, sour… all the food groups) and my clothes were getting tight. I know, “boo-hoo. You gained weight”, but I’ve had yo-yo weight issues all my adult life and it’s getting more difficult to lose the pounds. In August, I read about a particularly gnarly hike called “Cactus to Clouds” and made a decision to do it. But I’d need to get in shape if this was going to turn into reality. There’s nothing like, “not dying on the mountain” to motivate one to exercise and eat better.
I’m no nutritionist or health expert, but I do have the advantage of losing large amounts of weight through changes in diet and exercise. Before my wedding back in 2001, I lost over 40 pound via extreme caloric deficiency, 5 mile a day jogging, and long evening walks around work… and one Subway veggie sandwich split between lunch and dinner. ~800 calories for a full day. It was super unhealthy and left me constantly hangry. These days, my practices are less extreme. After having gained and then lost 20-30 pounds FOUR OTHER TIMES in the past 20 years, I’ve learned ways of focusing on weight loss in a less unhealthy way, but unfortunately I’ve learned nothing about preventing said weight gain in the first place. The only thing my body and brain seem to agree on is that food is delicious (especially the stuff that is bad for us) and that exercise is hard and not worth doing. Self-destruction seems to be in our DNA.
My most recent lesson is that it REALLY helps to have a short term goal where failure can mean very bad things. Really keeps things on track. The most important lesson comes from the old adage, “you can’t exercise away a bad diet”. Take this one to heart. It’s less about calorie counting and more about balancing physical activity with lower amounts of (mostly healthy) food. Here’s the gist of my routine for the next 7 weeks:
Make food ahead of time, so at mealtime, when hunger easily triumphs over will power, food prep is a known quantity. I make a beans and rice dish that offers protein, starches, and fiber. Another good one is a delicious carrot slaw from a recipe I found on Chow. I’ll add a simple spinach salad featuring arugula and a Caesar dressing to get me some of those leafy greens I’ve heard so much about. However, I’ll also add some potato chips to lunch because I love potato chips. I also believe being TOO stringent can lead to fatigue and that can lead to blowing everything up with binge eating. Just watch the amount. Aside from morning coffee, I eat two meals a day comprised of what is mentioned above, or any reduce amount of food that isn’t too terrible. I’ve also bee following these as general rules:
I don’t eat for at least an hour after exercising, something my sister-in-law had recommended years ago and I still take to heart. I’ve heard this might not be the best idea (some recommend eating immediately after exercise to replace carbs), but it’s become habit.
I’m fasting after 7pm. It prevents me from unraveling with late night snacks like I would usually do. It was kind of challenging at first, but many weeks in, it’s just routine.
Exercise is the biggest one. I have a desk job that requires a lot of sitting and staring at a computer. My schedule never leaves enough time to move my body. The plan I’ve developed is this: Exercise 3-4 days a week. Primarily this is in the morning when my wife takes my daughter to school. I try to mix things up with activities, balancing HIIT/cardio with focused days and strength training (dumbbells) on upper body, lower body, and core. Mostly I’ve been following along with the incredible husband and wife team at Fitness Blender on Youtube.
On top of the above, I also try to do hikes, bike rides, swimming (when the weather is warm enough), or running to keep things fresh. As for the swimming, I installed an above ground pool this summer and it takes 55 back-and-forth laps to do a half mile, which can be dizzying.
Finally, I walk the dog a couple miles every night. I don’t want to, but I have to. He’s very demanding.
This routine works for me with my schedule, so I suggest everyone find what works for me, too.
Without further ado, below is my weekly routine. Somewhere around week 3 I started to see a change on the scale and my clothes started to feel like they fit better. 12 weeks on, those clothes are now feeling loose. I bought two new belts as a celebration of sorts.
Update 05/31: Since I didn’t want to end this with a “finger’s crossed” scenario, I’ll add a little explanation for posterity. I went to the doctors for back pain and they discovered I had a prostate infection. Two week course of antibiotics cleared it up, but the back pain persisted, so I went back and they took an x-ray and discovered that I had spinal arthritis, degenerative. So they put me on a month-long muscle relaxer routine and sent me to physical therapy. At the evaluation, they noticed that I’m super tight in the front/thigh muscles, which is causing me to stand funny, with my pelvis turn slightly downward, making my spine curve more than normal, which exacerbates the pain. Now they have me doing three-times a day stretching for that area of my legs in addition to two time a week in-studio PT. One top of all that, I’m still having this unusual aching sensation on my right side, like someone punched me in the kidneys a couple weeks ago, a bruise that is aggravated when I move. Yes, even when I describe it, it sound like it could be muscles and related to the arthritis in some way (pain is like a leak in your ceiling. The actual leak could be far away from where it’s dripping into your house), but it doesn’t feel the same as muscle aches. So, I’m going to schedule an MRI. Now we can cross our fingers again. I’m hopeful I will be proven wrong and that it is all related to the arthritis, but I’ll also just be relieve to have an answer. As it it is, I’ve gained a lot of weight due to the inactivity from all the months of pain, uncertainty, and medication. As of 05/21/23, I have been back to exercising every day, waking at 5:30am to try to get out in the garage by 6 to do back stretches, a core strengthening routine, and either cardio or target area (upper body/lower body) strength routine. It’s easier to make it a priority and ensure my life/work aren’t a distraction or getting in my way. A week and a half in and I’m feeling better (though the last couple times at the doctors I’ve had high blood pressure (like stage 2 hypertension levels), so now I have that to worry about. Weight loss will help with that, too. All of that long-winded diatribe is to say that I will no longer be tracking my exercise as I did over the past year plus. While it was a helpful short term tool to help get into shape for a big hike, as a long term tool it became more of a chore and I need to reduce my obligations more than add to them (for my blood pressure).