Sunday, January 12, 2014

I Couldn’t Have Done it Without…

Week 10: January 12, 2014 
Beginning weight 11/3/13: 209 lbs.
Height 5'8" Age: 61
Goal weight: 165 lbs.
Total loss goal: 44 lbs.
Beginning waist size: 43 in. 
Current waist size: 41 in. 
Weight end of week 10:  190 lbs.
Gain/Loss this week: -2 lb.
Total Gain/Loss:  -19 lbs.

I dream a slender version of me dressed in black t-shirt and jeans like Steve Jobs, standing on a stage, explaining to an eager audience to what I attribute my successful transformation, “I couldn’t have done it without my wife, without the Facebook community giving me encouragement, without the inspiration of the research leading to the wonderful book written by Dr. Michelle Harvie and Professor Tony Howell The 2-Day Diet: Diet Two Days a Week, Eat Normally for Five, and without the help of…” I stop, and realize I’ve run out of people and things to thank…there is an impulse to say what everyone says, I couldn’t do it without the help of God, but in my dream, I can’t say that. I wake up, not scared, but curious. To what do I attribute my success in steadily losing weight besides those things already mentioned?

Religious people (which seemingly includes nearly every college and professional athlete, okay, in WV, where I live, nearly everyone) always end such stories this way: without the help of Jesus or God, or Allah, or, in the vernacular of 12-Step programs, a power higher then themselves without whom they couldn’t have done it.

That doesn’t work for me. Call me a Secular Humanist or a Sciencist (did I just make that up?) or a skeptic, or an atheist, I have not the felt the support or intervention of anything outside myself (or inside that’s not ‘me’). I understand that some of my religious friends are thinking, “God is guiding him, he just doesn’t know it or admit it.” Fine, I have no problem with you believing that—or maybe you prayed for me and now you believe that made the difference. Fine, I can’t prove you wrong. Thanks! I realize I’m treading dangerous ground and could lose friends over explaining this, so let me make some disclaimers before I go on, and, hang in there if you’re religious; I won’t try to change your mind, I won’t mock you or try to present irrefutable arguments—you are entitled to your beliefs, and there may be great benefit in having those beliefs: to health, to attitude, to success, to relationships, to life. What many religious people don’t understand about non-believers is that many of us say that higher powers or unknown creative or controlling sentient forces in the universe are not impossible, just extremely unlikely. And furthermore, scientific studies have shown that in many, probably the majority of cases, being religious is good for you! So please don’t let me interfere with your beliefs J.

It’s not that I don’t believe in anything, it’s that I only believe that which I can verify or that (I believe) has been proven through rigorous study, research, testing, i.e. the scientific method. I put the words I believe in parenthesis because, going back to my 7th grade Math teacher, Mr. Checkley, one should “believe nothing of what you hear and only half of what you see.” And that includes some science, because scientific knowledge is constantly being challenged and revised and yesterday’s Truth and Facts are recognized as being outdated and no longer true. Science 'evolves' because part scientists continually challenge existing theories in order to advance knowledge. It’s no wonder that some people of faith claim that science is no more provable than their ancient religious texts or their visions or dreams or intuitions or “signs from God” or whatever belief system they incorporate into their lives.

But returning to what I attribute the growing sense of success in my new paradigm regarding food (add that to the list of alternates to the word diet I’ve come up with), I’ve been wondering why this time, at this time of my life, I have been able to succeed in mastering my appetite, steadily reduce my caloric intake, lose weight in a steady, slow, and healthy way and experience only a few moments of anguish and frustration. Because my purpose in writing this weekly blog is not only to record my experience, but, I hope to be able to share it in such a way that you, the reader, my friends and family might apply some things I’ve learned to your life, whether it be your struggle with weight or cigarettes or drugs, or relationships, or just that you might experience an “aha moment” in which you think, “Yeah, I’ve felt that way too!” I know, that’s a tall order. Maybe I should just stick with hoping that you’re not bored to tears. Anyway, here’s what I attribute my success to:

This journey of mine has been made possible in part by my retirement. I wish I didn’t have to admit that (because I’m confident one could do it while working), but I can’t deny that life is much slower, less stressful, and I have more time to buy, cook, and eat healthy food. I’m less exposed to temptations I used to have in the workplace and back and forth to work each day (I well remember stopping at a convenience store or drive-in window on the way home from work at 3:30 or 4:00 pm). Of course the flip-side is that I’m always home with all the food I want (including chocolate that my wife keeps on the top shelf of the pantry to help her keep from eating too much of it).

My age and experiences have contributed. I’ve tried other diets including starvation (in high school, I just pretty much stopped eating except for soup once or twice a day), Atkins, Weight Watchers (did an online version—never went to a meeting), South Beach (sort of) with varying degrees of success and always by eventually gaining the weight back (and I have yet to prove I can get this excess weight off and keep it off for a few years), so I know the elements of a healthy diet and also the elements of a regimen I’m willing to maintain. If you told me I was guaranteed to lose weight if I ate nothing but grapefruits or cut all protein out of my diet or became a vegan I might believe you, but I wouldn’t do it. When I read the 2 Day Diet book, I knew immediately that it could work for me not only in the short term, but in the long term: The diet was rigorously and scientifically studied, it is low carb a couple days a week, which I know I can do and I know is a metabolic ‘trick’ to jumpstart weight loss, and the 2 Day Diet allows healthy balanced Mediterranean style eating the rest of the week, which I know I should do. Also, I have high blood pressure and sleep apnea, both conditions that can be caused or aggravated by obesity, so I have strong health reasons to add motivation rather than a general, “it would be better for me” or “I’ll likely live 5 years longer.”

These factors combined to provide a moment of decision and inspiration in early November. A religious person might say I had a message from God, but when I heard about this diet I just felt strongly, “I can do this, I will do this.” I found myself thinking about it for a day or two, remembering the radio interview I’d heard with one of the authors, went online, bought the Kindle version of the book, read two chapters, made the decision and decided to announce it to the world (or at least to my hundreds of Facebook friends). I didn’t even tell my wife. Which is interesting, isn’t it? She asked me about why a couple weeks later when she saw my Facebook postings (she’s not on as regularly as I). I told her that I didn’t want to be scrutinized or helped or assisted, I wanted it to be all my own initiative to eat or not eat, to cook special food or avoid certain food if necessary, and I didn’t want to talk about it. A weekly blog posting shared on Facebook was going to be my way of sharing my progress or lack of it, and she could read it if she wanted. In that way, I hoped to be motivated to succeed so as not to disappoint my (nearly imaginary) audience of friends and family, but I wouldn’t be too closely monitored by anyone. Rita took me so seriously about my not wanting to talk about it that during week three or four when I was starting to feel successful and wanted to talk with her about it, she was tight-lipped, “But I thought I wasn’t supposed to talk to you about it. I’ve been afraid to say anything!”

Then there’s the diet itself, of course. I’m not completely restricted from anything. The diet even allows for a very small amount of chocolate, wine, or whatever, each week. As I’ve written about extensively, the restriction of carbs and the small portions of healthy balanced meals the rest of the week have eliminated my “carb addiction.” Ending the carb addiction and smaller portions allowed me to learn to distinguish between true hunger and simply not being full. It doesn’t hurt that over the last 20 years I’d already increased vegetables and whole grains in my diet and reduced the amount of red meat, so the biggest change for me has really been portion sizes, especially of carbs. When I had a stir fry or ate at an Asian or Indian or Italian restaurant, I used to nearly cover my plate in rice or pasta, putting probably a cup or even two on before covering it with the stir-fry or sauce (and I usually had a smaller 2nd helping). Now I put about a ½ cup of rice or pasta on my plate and rarely have seconds. I will still eat almost the same amount of vegetables and some of the meat if there is any.

Finally, there’s the process of these weekly blogs. Taking the time each week to reflect on how things are going, my struggles and my successes, has helped me remain committed to the long-term goal. In the process of writing and posting, I read over each of these essays several times, and that reinforces the ideas and continues the reflective process into the next week. As I write this, in this very moment, I have had a flash of inspiration, because as a writer, I did not have a plan or an idea where I was going with this essay exactly, Why did I feel it necessary to bring up my lack of religious belief and what do I believe in? I thought to myself a moment ago. I am a writer. I believe in the power of writing to change lives (and I’m not talking about the lives of the readers, though that also can happen). In a sense that is a religious statement. It contains no inherent morality, but to me the power of writing is the power to reveal deeply held (I don’t know what to call it here) beliefs, Truths, unconscious desires, emotions, issues, self-knowledge. Though unrelated to my eating habits, I also believe in Music. I believe that the experience of engaging in music, listening deeply, dancing to it, singing, playing an instrument, creating and composing, has the power to refresh the spirit. Spirit? Is that an acknowledgement of something other than the physical? Something like a soul? Something from God? I may have to leave this for another time and another essay, but what I meant by spirit is whatever the yogis or meditation gurus or perhaps bio-feedback proponents call it when you enter other states of consciousness that are somehow energy producing or refreshing.

How did I get to this point? Ten weeks ago I started a diet that I talk about as resetting my relationship with food. I am beginning to have a newly restored body that has more energy than it used to. I’m nearly 20 pounds lighter for goodness sake! I break into a jog just for fun sometimes when out walking. I go an extra 20 minutes on Stairmaster and push it to a higher level. And my sleep patterns, which have always been erratic, are changing a little, too. I find myself waking up extremely early: 3:30, 4:00 a.m. full of energy and ideas. And in this essay I am beginning to reflect more deeply on what I believe.

So, I’d better finish that speech I dreamed up, “I couldn’t have done it without believing in myself—that within me I have the power to control or overcome or mediate or face or understand my impulses, my appetites, my negativity, my hopelessness, my fears, my insecurity, to say boldly and decisively, Yes, I Can! Yes, I Will. So that years from now I can look back and say, I reached my goal, I changed my life, I maintained my health, and I enjoyed doing it!”


  1. Thanks for sharing! Happy that you are reaching your goal. This means that you are disciplined and determined. Two things that can take you so far in other areas as well! So happy for your success, and thanks for sharing, and thanks for sending me a book! Happy tunes and happy journey!

  2. no like button, so THANKS, Patti. I look forward to hearing your thoughts about the book and whether it offers anything that feels right for you...

  3. I appreciate and identify with your struggle! I will get the book. Thanks for sharing this.

    1. Linda, I hope you find it as valuable a plan as I have. I'll be happy to correspond with you about it if you like, or we can "talk" about it in this blog space. I plan to continue posting once a week for quite awhile and keep posting my progress, at least until I reach my goal weight.

  4. Anonymous1/12/2014

    I love this post, Paul, and I found myself nodding in agreement with you as I read! I enjoy learning about your progress and your beliefs. From one "writer" to another, I totally get what you are saying about how writing each week has also helped you. Congratulations on your progress! Christine

    1. Thanks, fellow writer--and since you are, is there anywhere I can read your work or would you send me something?

  5. I have lost 10 pounds, but think I will do better once school starts on the 21st. My downfall is being bored in the evenings. Otherwise, it's going well, but evenings are my killer.

    1. Ingrid, 10 pounds is a great start! Even if you don't lose any more for awhile, but just maintain this new weight, that makes a difference. Now, how to deal with evenings--I've written a lot about snacking, and snacking is okay. I just try to get out a limited amount of whatever it is to snack on and put the rest away. Then, I eat it as slowly as possible, stretching the time that I'm chewing and eating (I've even put crackers in my mouth and let them melt in my mouth like a lozenges). Finally, when I finish that, I look at the clock and note the time. I resolve not to snack again for at least 1/2 hour (and of course, I try to stretch it to an hour or more). Over time, I found I could go longer and longer. Keep me posted. When school starts on the 21st maybe you can have lost a couple more pounds!

  6. Paul- thanks for the continued sharing. This post resonates with a lot of what I learned about in grad school. The process of self-reflection, whether public or private, is transformative...for any journey.

    Keep up the good work- and thanks so much for sharing openly and honestly about the process! It is inspiring.

    1. Valerie, I have long known and experienced the transformative power of writing as a teacher of writing at elementary school and graduate school levels, and have read others who have written similar words to mine, I'm sure. But there's such a profound difference in reading about something and experiencing it…thanks for reading, appreciating, and communicating--a trifecta!

  7. I am really enjoying reading these, Paul. I'm excited about your success!! I'm finishing the second two day part of the second week of the diet--will weigh myself to see how it went. I am liking the other 5 days, it does some how balance you coming of the two days. But I'm still finding the two days kind of hard. However, last night I discovered that chicken stir fried in balsamic vinegar with grape tomatoes and broccoli is delish!!

  8. Thanks for letting me know, Steph (and for the recipe idea). It took me 4-5 weeks to get used to the lower carb intake and start to relax a bit, though I still have attacks of acute need for "something" every so often (just not ALL THE TIME as I used to).