Over the last two weeks I have received e-mails from hundreds of folks from all over the world asking our advice and yearning to learn how we managed to lose weight and get fit while the rest of the world seems to be drowning in greasy, genetically modified, fatty, sugary "false foods" like those that might be purchased at your local McDonald's.
So I'll start out by saying a little bit about being mentally prepared to take on this journey. It seems to me that many people want to lose weight/get healthy but are very reluctant or downright obstinate about changing their eating habits. This is the reason why many "diet" pills are so popular. They claim to help you lose weight even with no diet and no exercise. These products are by far and away false idols giving false hope. In order to be truly prepared to take on a task like Jess and I undertook you must be ready to change who you are from the inside out, you must change your relationship with food and in many cases (like mine) change your identity to accommodate a healthy lifestyle. Here is the reason why, let's say you plan to take a diet pill or get on some crazy fad diet to lose weight. These things are always meant as temporary solutions because in most cases fad diets and pills will be MORE detrimental to your health if taken long term than the extra weight you're carrying around. The thing is your body NEEDS fats, sugar, salt, carbohydrates, minerals, etc...and if you deny your body these things it becomes nutritionally starved and seeks sources of these things internally thus ravaging your vital systems and muscles. You must be willing to take on PERMANENT changes to your eating habits and your personal identity in order to be ready to take the first steps.
Once you have established that you're properly motivated to make permanent changes to not only your eating habits, but also with your relationship with food and how this affects your sense of identity, you need to set the appropriate goals.
When we first set out on this change we made a conscious choice not to make our goal "weight-loss", instead we chose to make our objective to become fit and healthy role models for our children and our family. It may be difficult to comprehend the MASSIVE paradigm shift this represents. If your goal is simply to lose weight and you right down on your to-do list "Lose 60 pounds". Well this only encompasses a very small part of overall health, furthermore it is a goal that once you achieve it can simply be checked off the list. I believe the reason most people gain their weight back is that they put their goals behind them once they complete them, they then look out triumphantly on the horizon and see success and accomplishment, but what they don't see is their next step! This is the reason we chose a much more ambiguous goal like getting and maintaining a fit and healthy lifestyle. This is a goal that is never one that can simply be checked off your list, it is always before you. Now along the way it is important to set short term goals around your eating habits and fitness. For instance, one of my "stepping stone" goals was to complete a 5k without walking. I set this goal in late 2012 after completing my first 5k in which I walked as much as a ran. The thought of finishing my next 5k with a better time and without slowing consumed me for months and drove me to run through fevers, knee and foot injuries, soar throats and general laziness (yes I still have to battle this one from time to time). Once I completed my objective in the next 5k I began looking at longer distances and pushing myself to run farther and farther until I completed my first marathon on May 18, 2014. Now running is/may not be for everyone, which is why it is incredibly important to pick the right kind of activity, find something that is fun and keeps you engaged through competition (my first attempt at exercise in spring of 2012 was playing tennis a couple times a week, something I enjoyed when I was young). But I will talk more about exercise in a later post.
For those looking to get started make sure you set the proper goals, your main objective should be one that is pursuable long term and not easily crossed off your list and then support your objective with small/short term goals to push your eating habits and activity level to new places.
Three years ago I believed whole heartedly that my food choices had very little to do with my size and my health. It is easy to be lulled into this false reality, the one where you say "I eat the same... as anyone else". However, once you reach the point where you understand what is going into your body, in what amounts and it's effects (be they positive or detrimental) you break free of a very ill informed perception of yourself and realize that you were consuming nearly double the amount of food and calories that is recommended. In a world where ones perception is their reality it is little wonder that so many people "struggle" with weight...and they will continue to struggle until they fully understand the impact poor nutrition is having on their lives.
Like many who are overweight my daily food habits began with a poor choice and ended no differently. I woke up each day and sprinted out the front door having no time for breakfast. I would arrive at work and drink coffee loaded with creamer and aspartame until lunch. Lunch was normally snagged quickly from a drive thru and consisted of burgers and fries, burritos, chicken wings, or some other high salt, high fat wares. Dinner would either look strikingly similar to lunch or on days we cooked at home we made enough food that everyone in the household could (and would) eat 2 to 3 servings.
We began making changes by simply reducing our portion sizes. We adjusted what we cooked to ensure a single helping at every meal and we played mind tricks to make us feel as though we weren't being deprived. For example, we began serving all of our meals on smaller plates and on the rare occasion we still ordered pizza we would slice all the pieces in half in order to provide us the same number of trips to the grease lined cardboard box our meal arrived in. The only food we cut out in the beginning was soda. Being that we were morbidly obese, these small changes were enough to get us losing, but two months later when we committed to eating breakfast every day our progress really took off. It took me those first two months to lose 15 lbs...after making a healthy breakfast part of my normal routine I began losing 15 lbs each month. And our breakfast habit is today what it was then. We eat high fiber cereals, oatmeal, toast, homemade breakfast smoothies or simply fruit...whatever it is we usually take in between 300 and 500 calories for breakfast.
After having our initial success (after losing about 40 lbs in the first year I felt unstoppable) we began doing a lot of homework. We started reading everything we could about nutrition, agriculture, and epigenetics (how what we eat effects gene expression and metabolism). Based on the information we were taking in we made additional small changes to our eating habits. In 2013 we switched from whole milk to skim milk and began buying as many of our groceries as possible from organic sources. Late in the same year we stopped buying red meat. All the while we were learning about our food and how to cook it and we reached a point where 90% of what we eat we make ourselves (this has gotten nuts because I recently even started making my own bread, salad dressings and fermented foods). The reason it is so crucial that you make what you eat is so you understand what ingredients are in your food. You'll find yourself truly amazed when you realize that you can make at home with 5 ingredients what it takes food companies 30 ingredients to make.
And now our general rule of thumb when at the grocery store is that if it contains ingredients we cant pronounce WE DONT BUY IT!!!
My wife is a very prolific thinker and to her I credit one of the simplest and most intelligent things I've heard regarding having a healthy relationship with food. "Food was always a comfort for me, I grew up in a family where everyone equated food with love, and so when I felt depressed, angry, lost or frustrated I turned to the one thing in my life that w...as a constant comfort...food. Now I have changed my perception of what food is supposed to provide. Food is fuel for our bodies and in order to get the best from your body you must put the right fuel in!"--Jessica Foster
As I began to touch on in my previous post we went through a period of intensive learning about food and nutrition. We learned about how foods communicate with our bodies. Here are some juicy little tidbits we learned.
1) Many of the "scary" diseases that or now commonly referenced on your local nightly news such as heart disease, diabetes, diverticulitis, fatty liver disease and other gastrointestinal diseases are resulted from or made worse by inflammation.
2) Inflammation takes place when your own immune system has been kicked into overdrive and begins to attack your own tissues such as arterial walls, pancreatic cells and intestinal tissues.
3) Your immune system kicks into overdrive when you take in more Omega 6 fatty acids compared to Omega 3's than is recommended. Foods high in Omega 6's include vegetable oil, canola oil and shortening. Foods that are high in Omega 3's include Coconut oil, sunflower oils and other nut oils, nuts and legumes, fish (especially salmon) and nut butters.
4) Interesting side note, foods high in Omega 6's also send signals to your brain through gene expression to store fats. This signal is also sent when you eat simple sugars like refined sugar, refined white flour, white breads and basically anything you find in a supermarket bakery that is not whole grain.
5) Conversely, foods that contain complex carbs and are high in Omega 3's reduce inflammation (in effect eliminating or reducing the diseases mentioned above) and send signals through gene expression to burn fat stores.
By adding whole grains and foods high in Omega 3's you can begin reversing the effects of a poor diet and reprogram your metabolism to burn fat stores instead of adding to them. So suffice to say these, are all changes we have made. It can be very cost effective to eat this way as well. You must do some reading and a little work to learn how to cook some foods that you might not have experience with, however, once we began buying our rice, beans, nuts and lentils from the dry goods section of the grocery store instead of buying them canned we saved a ton of money. A normal grocery trip for two weeks for a family of six costs us about $200.00 to $250.00. Here is a list of our staples.
Dry Kidney Beans, Dry Pinto Beans, Dry Brown Basmati Rice, Dry Green Lentils, Several half gallons of soy or almond milk, Cereal (BTW this is not lucky charms, we buy cereals that have a higher fiber content than sugar, NATURE's PATH Sunrise Vanilla crunch is our favorite), Carrots, Celery, Bag of yellow onions, Bag of red potatoes, Kale, Spinach, Yellow Squash, Zucchini Squash, Cucumbers, Super Greens (this is a pre-packaged salad mix), Heads of garlic, Portobello mushrooms (large and baby), Brussels sprouts, Asparagus, Tomatoes, Avocados, Limes, Lemons, Apples, Bananas, Oranges, Olive Oil, Coconut Oil, Balsamic Vinegar, Tofu, Seitan, Tempeh, Whole wheat breads, Whole wheat hamburger buns...The list goes on. But as I mentioned if you can use these ingredients from their raw/dry state to make simple delicious meals at home, not only will you lose weight and grow stronger, you will also save a ton of cash!!
There is nothing special about Jess and myself, we have at our disposal the same tool that every other person in the world possesses. That tool is the highly complex and adaptable human body. Anyone can accomplish what we have, the only two differences from person to person is their starting point and how far they want to take it.
Two and a half years ago the most exertion we could muster for intensive exercise was a 2-minute jog followed by a long walk gasping for breath and holding our sides in agony. We knew we would not be able to commit to a gym routine or forms of traditional, make you want to puke, hating life types of exercise. So, we decided to just start having fun. Jess enrolled in Zumba classes and for those of you who have never witnessed this phenomenal cardio workout, just imagine you are at a Latin wedding 3-4 time a week and have the opportunity to just dance your ass off. This is probably more appealing to the ladies than most men, however Jess had a couple of men in her class that shook loose some pounds. I on the other hand had grown up playing competitive sports and felt that by re-investing myself in some high energy sports activity I could stick with it. So I began playing tennis with anyone I could find that would be willing. I played at nearby public courts with my brother, my dad or Jess. As I began feeling more confident I even enrolled in an online tennis league. It was like a social network for people wanting to play tennis. I would post times I was available to play and seek others looking for those times and often times I would have folks find my profile and ask for a match. I spent the summer of 2012 doing this. Jess and I lost a significant amount of weight just doing these things combined with our smarter eating habits.
Now, I am absolutely confident that had I decided to simply continue playing tennis I would have continued my success in getting fit and healthy. After all through that first summer we had lost a combined 70 lbs. just doing things we were having fun with. We began to incorporate other fun activities with our kids. We would go hiking, swimming and play basketball. We basically committed to doing what the kids wanted to do during play time and we had a blast.
So here’s the deal, if you are telling your body day in and day out that all it needs to accomplish is to sit at a desk for eight hours a day, walk to lunch or home and sit in front of the TV; your body will devote just enough energy to accomplish those tasks. Now, I bet you are wondering what happens to al that extra energy, because after all we live in a world (at least in western culture) where we are also taking in too many calories. Well your body begins to store this energy in the form of fat and begins directing energy to your immune system. Well we’ve already covered that hyper-immunity is a bad thing that causes inflammation, resulting in a whole host of awful chronic diseases. BUT, if you begin to tell your body than in addition to all the lethargic activities it must accomplish during the day, that you need energy to play tennis, take a walk, play tag with your kids, go for a run, or any other activity you would like to begin. Your body will begin redirecting its incoming energy and energy stores to building the support systems required to do this, it will devote energy to building muscle, building bone density, building new blood vessels to enhance your O2 carrying capacity, and improving cardiac functions.
We have grown to mistrust our bodies as a result of what we feel is a betrayal by our bodies in allowing us to reside in an enlarged, cumbersome and ineffective vessel. When in reality, we have betrayed our bodies by not allowing them to fulfill its true potential. Trust your body, it will respond when you begin to really communicate with it. This holds true whether your starting point is a 2 minute run or simply walking across the living room.
Those who are successful in achieving their goals pull inspiration from many, many sources. They look around and see a million reasons for them to press on and to ignore the voices of doubt, fear and ...anxiety in their head telling them to quit and go eat a bowl of ice cream. As someone who has been accused of being inspirational, I have to say that I cannot be the reason that these voices are quieted in your head as you take on your challenges each day. I can be the reason you were filled with hope and decided to take the first step but you will realize that on your journey you will need to find other sources of energy and motivation, not the least of which will be the enormous well of inspiration you discover inside yourself. It’s time to be your own hero.
In October of 2012, Jess decided that it would be fun to register her and me for our first 5k run. I was beyond elated (sarcasm) to discover that I would have the opportunity to confront the one activity that caused me embarrassment, pain and dread throughout my childhood…running!!
I had played football growing up and from a young age had aspired to one day weigh 300 lbs. and be an offensive guard playing in the NFL. Despite my athletic aspirations I hated running and every year when two-a-days began I would put my head down and barrel through, despite being last to cross the finish line in every drill we ran. So it was a special kind of anticipation that filled me in the weeks before the 5k.
It may have been coincidental or something more, but around the same time I was coming to terms with 3.1 miles of pain, I was working for a bank and the man who hired me was a practiced endurance athlete. So during meetings we all heard about how his training was going for the upcoming Half Ironman (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and 13.1 mile run). During one meeting in particular he showed us a YouTube video of Dick and Rick Hoyt, a father and his disabled son who compete in Ironman competitions (look them up online, guaranteed tear jerker). Well, I added Doug and this video to my growing list of sources of inspiration. See Doug is only a little older than I am, works full-time and has a large family with many daughters (sounds familiar) and if he could do the things he was talking about then, I thought, so could I.
It seemed as we approached the day of the 5k, I had a growing feeling that I had something to prove. I needed to complete this for my wife, my kids and as a way to thumb my nose at the people who looked at me like I was nuts or had tormented me as a kid when I couldn’t pass the conditioning tests. Interestingly enough when we completed the 5k this motivation didn’t abate, it grew stronger and still does. Every time I see someone who is running faster, longer or is in better shape than I am, it reminds me I have a lot of work to do and keeps me pressing the hill to get to the next level.
Well this weekend Doug completed the Ironman Boulder (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run) and set the bar pretty high and so my next big challenge will be triathlons with the goal of working up to completing the Ironman within the next 5 years.
Finding inspiration, keeping your goals ahead of you, and discovering a curiosity to see how far you can go are the keys to staying active and fit as you continue your journey. Jess and I don’t ever refer to our journey over the last 2 and half years as being complete, it is ongoing, it is changing and we keep ourselves right up against the limit of sustained effort our bodies can handle.
Finding balance means different things to different people and can mean different things to one person given the context of the term. In the last few months, I have strived to find balance in my diet and exercise routine sometimes encountering frustration, but ultimately leading to a better understanding of myself.
After two years of working hard to cut calories from my daily food intake it was a true challenge to balance my diet to ensure not only that I stopped losing weight but also refrained from gaining back fat weight. There are two reasons that this has been the most challenging part of my fitness journey. First, when you see the number on the scale drop each week, there is a feeling of exhilaration that is difficult to give up. Secondly, balance is hard to define even in this context because when you are eating a healthy, balanced diet with the proper number of calories your weight fluctuates drastically. On a given day the average person can have their weight fluctuate as much as 10 lbs. as a result of when food is eaten, the previous day’s nutritional choices and simple daily regimen. As a matter of fact even the act of showering can add weight before you jump on the scale. You can retain as much as 2 lbs. of water after showering. So of course the first week that I worked to normalize my calorie intake, the scale showed I had gained 7 lbs, I nearly ripped the electronic health machine at our grocery store from it’s wall socket out of the shear panic that consumed me. What I came to learn and just so everyone understands, this added weight it turns out was simply the accrual of food and nutrition in places like my GI tract, in my muscles in the form of glycogen and of course extra waste.
I feel confident, at this point I have laid the foundation to the balance I have sought; the key to this has been listening to and understanding my body. It is a commonly held theory that food cravings are resulted from a deficiency in your daily nutritional needs. For instance, if you are craving salty snacks it could mean that you need more sodium in your diet and since in the western diet sodium is commonly and cheaply available in fast food and other poor food choices, this is where we look to satisfy these cravings. Here is the problem with this, most sodium you take in is in the form of MSG (mono-sodium glutamate). If you begin reading food labels (and I highly recommend you do) you will be astounded how many products contain MSG (a little known fact about MSG is that it is commonly used as an artificial means to spur rapid weight gain in lab animals). This is where the compromise comes in, you must retrain your body to accept the healthier sources of things like sodium, sugar and fats. Once you do finding balance is much easier because it is easier to listen to your body when it tells you what it needs.
Hunger is a nature’s way of telling us it is time to eat. When you have reached the point in your journey that I have reached, it is important to begin to listen to these cues. Jess and I eat when we are hungry, and since we have eliminated from our home poor quality snacks, we are left to snack on things like nuts, fruit, and raw veggies with hummus or whole grain cereal. Once you have satisfied your hunger, then holding true to the ideology around listening to your body…you stop eating!!!
Now this language sounds simple and of course I understand that in practice this is much harder, primarily because food companies have worked for the better part of the last century to make their food more and more appealing and so they have added the substances that we have evolved to crave. The last thing I will say, however, is that once you have managed through your own willpower to cut your portions, substitute the bad stuff for healthier options, become consistently active and push your body and mind to places you never felt you were capable of reaching; then using the one perfect tool (your own body) we have to ensure a lifetime of good health to guide you…should be easy(er)!!!
Rob and Jess
|Jess and I in December of 2011, a night out with friends|
|Jess and I getting ready to run the Bolder Boulder, the premiere 10k in the US, after a collective 280 lb weight loss.|