Breaking Eating Habits

cold-turkeyIn the spirit of Thanksgiving…this post is vaguely relevant regarding turkey…hence the classic image to the left.  I recently read a blurb from someone I follow on Twitter (one of the godfathers of the paleo/primal eating lifestyle) regarding how one changes habits…specifically when moving to a healthier lifestyle. The takeaway was something along the lines of “when making a change…do you take baby steps or go cold turkey?”

This time around (and hopefully for good) I’ve selected the “cold turkey” route…and when I say “cold turkey”…I literally haven’t touched a morsel of poultry since starting the reconstruction.  This isn’t because I believe poultry is bad for you…it’s just one of those foods I must avoid for a few months based on the food sensitivity test.  Don’t worry though…I still cook it for the other four members of my family…so that everyone doesn’t have to suffer from Dad’s food sensitivities.

It’s been said that it takes about three weeks to either break a bad habit or develop a good habit.  Finally…I’m a firm believer in this old adage.  I have on numerous occasions now successfully walked past the break room at the office…come face to face with a table full of donuts…pies…cakes…pizza…anything from Rick’s Bakery…and been able to resist the temptation.  Sometimes I get really close to these former food options and smell them…remember them…and move on…before I would have completely indulged…and felt like crap the remainder of the day. Being able to do avoid these temptations has hardened my resolve somewhat…it’s difficult…but getting easier every day.  With it being the holiday season and all…our office will be innundated with holiday treats sent over from contractors, consultants, and vendors…needless to say…I’m up for the challenge!

In my past efforts to “get healthy” I had taken the baby steps approach…sometimes having success…and perhaps if I would have stuck to it I could have made remarkable changes in my health.  The thing is…I was always a sucker for unhealthy foods and would easily gave into temptation.  I’d go a few days eating “moderately healthy”…I use that term loosely because it is laughable thinking about what I used to consider healthy…but I would feel like I deserved some sort of reward for eating well. So I would undo any progress with a little 4-piece Popeye’s here…a little up-sized Arby’s there…and hey…did you know hey have Greek froyo at TCBY now? While mildly nutritious…when you mix Greek froyo with Reese’s cups it sorta defeats the purpose. The point is…I would always find myself back where I began…unmotivated and feeling like a failure.

What’s been the game changer this time?

KnowingIsHalfTheBattleI would have to say knowledge. Making this abrupt change is partly due to the revelation that for a vast majority of my life I’ve participated in stuffing my maw with a pro-inflammatory diet.  Like I’ve said before…I was a little oblivious…not knowing or caring that certain foods were either chronically keeping me sick or contributing to the many issues I was trying to live with day-to-day.  This time…I’m learning a ton more about the foods I should be eating (reading labels and ingredients) and actually enjoying them (in correct portions)…which in turn has made everything…well…extremely doable.  Knowing is half the battle!

How have you been able to change any bad habits or develop new good habits in your life?  Baby steps?  Cold turkey?  I’d like to know!

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Complacency

CAUTION:  LENGTHY POST

  • “A healthy body is a guest-chamber for the soul; a sick body is a prison.” – Francis Bacon

I’m a big fan of back stories. I’ve really enjoyed watching many of the reboot superhero films of recent years…Batman, Man of Steel, Ironman, etc. SuperHerosIt’s always intriguing to see who these characters were prior to taking on their iconic superhero personas. Spoiler alert…they’re all flawed and broken individuals in one way or another…heck…we all are…but they rise up from the ashes and take on their enemies…often times in spectacular fashion. I feel like this is where I am right now with this journey through health reconstruction…in the rising up stage.  Trust me though…I’m no vigilante superhero…I cry all too easily…ask my wife.

So now that I’m beginning the process of climbing out of this mess I’ve made over the past couple decades I’ve been looking back over all these years at my own back story…specifically dealing with health, eating, and lifestyle. I’ve gone through times where I’ve begun to make changes but never followed through to the end results…and one word keeps popping up in my head…complacency.

At many stages in my life I’ve discovered that I’ve been very comfortable…satisfied even…with being an overweight guy…I mean…at least I wasn’t heading for some Guinness Record status obesity…but I may as well have been. Up until recent events I felt as though I’d hit my max threshold weight at 300 lbs…that I couldn’t grow any bigger based on my consumption of glorious processed food…and I’d just stay this way…heavy…aging…stressed…and deteriorating…how warped is that I seriously had resigned to this way of thinking?

Last known healthy image...circa 1997

Last known healthy image…circa 1997

Most of you who know me personally know that I’m fairly laid back with most things in my life…I enjoy having fun…I’m not an insanely competitive person…I avoid conflict at all costs…I’m a go along / get along person…even keeled as some might say. Being complacent with my health was just part of my overall attitude about everything else. I was okay living in denial about being a type II diabetic…and I was more than okay with sitting down for a great meal…and dessert if available…and sweet tea…and maybe just a little more dessert to even things out. Sure…I was a little self-conscious about my weight…but I really was comfortable with who I was. Pretty unbelievable when I really think about it. To fill you in on my back story in a deeper way…I’d like to share a series of honest snippets into my life…I feel as though publicly sharing this information will give me an extra boost of stick-to-itiveness when temptation rears it’s ugly head.

Looking back…one of the first incidents of my looming health issues first reared its head way back around 2001-2002. After being married for a couple of years…and enjoying all that Dallas, Texas has to offer when it comes to food…I apparently had packed on the pounds…because that’s what you do right? My wife and I had taken a trip back home to visit family and visited a church that I grew up attending. As the service ended we were visiting with folks…I make my way over to the pastor…I probably haven’t seen him in a few good years, but we greet and shake hands…after which he steps back…looks at me head to toe and says “Son…you need to learn how to push away from the table!” It was a total gut punch from out of nowhere…I laughed it off and I chalked it up to him just being old school and ribbing me a little. It should have been an effective wake up call…but it wasn’t.

BatmanTheRideIn 2003 another memorable moment comes to mind…an embarrassing tale…at an amusement park no less. I don’t know if you know this…but thrill rides aren’t built to hold big folks…not with any sense of comfort or security anyway. I remember being excited to ride this awesome new roller coaster…it was one where the track is above you and your seat hangs below…it does a bunch of corkscrew turns and loops…you get the picture. As it was our turn to board the ride I snugly squeezed into the ever-so-small seat and pulled the shoulder bar over my head to buckle it into the base of the seat and I realize…this isn’t going to work…no matter how much I sucked my gut in…but I nervously tried to attach the buckle anyway…it was still a good inch or two away. The poor ride attendant even came over…pulled and pushed with much valiant effort to no avail. At this point I politely exited the seat…and waited for my family and friends at the exit…head hung low…until I began scoping out a corn dog stand…perhaps after the corndog we could find a funnel cake stand. You’d think an experience like this would illicit some change…but sadly it didn’t.

Flashback to around 2004, I had ballooned up to a portly 350 pounds…breathe easy though…this is the heaviest I’ve ever been. For the past several years my diet had consisted of fast food, fried chicken, Chinese food, rib-eye steak, Mexican food, and I probably drank a swimming pool full of sweet tea. Anyway, we’d recently moved back to Louisiana and I went to visit a new doctor for a routine checkup and for the first time was labeled a “pre-diabetic.” This was a little unexpected…but I wasn’t surprised with this news at all. After all of this finally sunk in I mustered up some determination and began to work at really losing weight. I was successfully able to drop 50 pounds by simply counting calories and eating a little less…along with some cardio here and there. I counted this as a big victory…and I was feeling like I was taking the bull by the horns…walking on the road to success. At some point after I had made some progress…I simply quit…I honestly cannot remember the reasons why…but I did…and I was back to the old way of doing things.

Big guy with big beard.

Big guy with big beard.

By late 2006 I was back up to around 330 pounds and was “officially” diagnosed with type II diabetes. Once again, this was hard news to swallow…but still…I wasn’t completely surprised…it was simply a validation of my lifestyle. Here I was…a 30-year old with a growing family…and now I have…a full blown debilitating DISEASE. I vowed to “get serious” and “take care of myself”…made promises and pledges to my wife to eat right and exercise more. I immediately went and signed up for a gym membership…but that only lasted for a month or two…although I kept paying the membership fee for many more months…just in case I found the time. Once again though complacency set in…and I was comfortably back to being the poster-child of personal responsibility at the McDonalds drive thru…slamming down McDoubles (2-3 depending on how hungry I was)…occasionally I’d switch to McChickens when I was feeling a little health conscious…because those are SO much better for you.mcdonalds This unhealthy way of eating prevailed for a number of years as I was on the road traveling to project job sites. Since that time (going on 7-8 years now) I’ve hovered around 300 pounds…at one point I dropped down to 285 and felt like a champ, but I think it could have been bad Mexican food or a stomach bug. This is getting pretty maddening right?

Fast forward to early 2013…in January I broke my coccyx…but not like Napoleon’s grandma at the dunes (fun movie reference). I broke it by performing the simple task of changing my newborn son’s diaper. I was holding him and went to sit down on the floor…lost my balance and little and fell backwards…from a mere 18 inches off the floor. Anyway, this introduced a new ailment to go along with everything else that is beginning to unfold.

The MealIn early February the Super Bowl came around…as it seems to do so on an annual basis…some folks get jazzed about the game and the commercials…I use it as a reason to eat very unhealthy foods…sue me. So as we’re planning what to eat…I come up with a brilliant idea…let’s make a rad pot of chilli…then let’s pile the chilli it atop a sweet cornbread Belgian waffle…then let’s layer on some cheese and sour cream and enjoy the heck out of it…sounds like a winner right? I cannot tell you who won the game…or who was playing…I think it was some bird team…but the next day I was in pain…not heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach, diarrhea…but something internal was giving me very sharp pain on the right side of my abdomen…just underneath my last rib. I scheduled an appointment with the doctor to see what it could be…I had a feeling the news would not be great. I end up getting an ultrasound and they discovered along with my blood-work that it was fatty liver disease.

To combat fatty liver disease…much like type II diabetes…you need to eat healthy and exercise…and hopefully you lose some weight in the process (which helps in reducing the liver levels). I began eating a little bit better for a couple of months…lost about 10 pounds and then it was back to my normal food loving self.  Most of you who have read this far down are probably thinking…what is it going to take for this guy to turn it around?

In late September I think the switch was finally flipped for me. I’m a big barbecue fan, and I smoked a big, juicy, fatty, succulent pork shoulder for the family to eat…and continue to eat the leftovers in the coming days. It was a heavy heavy meal…tasted wonderful at the time. Just like before though, I woke up the next day with severe pain on the right side of my abdomen wrapping around to my back…I could barely move.

Miserable.

Miserable.

So back to the doctor I went…he checks me out and has a suspicion that I had appendicitis or that my appendix was on the verge of rupturing…I end up taking a trip to the emergency room…where five minutes from the time I shuffle into the waiting room I’m in a gown with an I.V. started…thinking I’m about to get cut on. To confirm everything, they run a CT scan and report back that it’s not my appendix…but muscle inflammation and that my liver levels were elevated back to where they were last February. Turns out…fatty foods contribute to fatty liver…makes total sense now. I end up spending a couple of days in bed…taking muscle relaxers and pain medication. After a couple of days rest I was almost back to normal. I believe this episode FINALLY pushed me to the breaking point…to make permanent changes. I was so done with being complacent…and I was ready to once and for all take REAL action…become a healthy man…husband…dad…whatever it takes…however drastic the measures are…let’s get on with it.

So to bring the story to present day…this last incident had me reaching out to the “natural doctor” down in Fayetteville. This doctor is known to be a “fixer” of several friends of ours in the past…an analyzer of your present lifestyle…not a prescriber of medications so that you can continue on your way…but it finally came to the point where in order for me to effectively change…I had to try something completely different. The doctor highly recommended that I have a food sensitivity test performed to assess which foods were making me inflamed…sick…tired…and pretty miserable…for some reason this was news to me. One of the major discoveries during the test was learning that I have a high gluten sensitivity (and perhaps celiac disease)…to read the remainder of this part of the story check out “The Food Sensitivity Test” post.

Long story short…I feel like I’ve become a new person…a whole foods person…gasp…and I’m trying to deal with not becoming a fanatic about it. Practically every food I once enjoyed was gluten-filled…or inflamed my system in some way or another. My only options to clear my system and optimize my body was to eat REAL foods. So far, the benefits have been phenomenal…and I’ve only officially been eating this way for a couple of weeks now. I’ve taken the time (not alone by any means…my wife has been a true resource with great meal planning) to think before I eat…eat within the 4-day rotation…eat one plate (no seconds)…stay away from restaurants as much as humanly possible…avoid donuts at the office like the plague…stay away from the office candy drawer…and withdraw from the Friday Biscuit Club.

Two weeks into this health reconstruction journey has yielded some wonderful benefits…I have more energy…I sleep better and longer…and I’m making some great REAL food at home…not to mention losing noticeable weight…I’ve already shed 20 pounds…down to 280…I’m stoked about this! As I wrap up this marathon post…I’d like to leave you with a couple of great quotes regarding healthy living.

  • “The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d rather not.” – Mark Twain
  • “I’m not the healthiest, but I am healthy. I’m healthy to the point where there are things that I have to eat that I don’t want to eat, but I eat it because I’m enjoying staying alive.” – Bill Cosby

4-Day Rotation Diet

I had a follow-up appointment with the “natural” doctor down in Fayetteville earlier this week.  We discussed the full results of the food sensitivity test and had a chance to ask a lot of questions.  One fun fact is that we asked her how “bad” my panel looked and she said it was “pretty bad”…but fixable.  I also found out that my early freak-out of not getting to eat certain foods ever again was perhaps a little over the top…I’m such a pansy.  I’ll just need to avoid them for the next six months and then reintroduce them slowly to check for negative reactions.  So poultry…I’ll see you again in May…you will be missed my fine feathered friend!4-Day Rotation

The results from the test also included a 4-day rotation diet that suffice to say, is very limited on a day-to-day basis.  You can eat the foods in each column within a 24 hour time frame…but not on back to back days.  It should be fun…like a food Rubik’s Cube.

With that being said, I’m actually looking forward into settling into a routine with the 4-day rotation.  I figure that if we come up with some awesome meals working with the ingredients available…it will be like an episode of Chopped!  As an added benefit we’ll be eating better as a family and we’ll hopefully be saving some dough from eating out.  You see…we like to hit the restaurants from time to time.  I’m looking forward to the challenge, meal planning, and refining the cooking a bit.  Like I’ve said previously…I enjoy cooking is…I guess you could call it my hobby.

Big Salad

So yesterday we took a trip down to Little Rock as a family…and we performed a dry run on one of the days in the rotation.  We packed lunches the night before in order to avoid the pitfalls of trying to eat at restaurants.  For breakfast I ate 1/4 cup of pecans with some fruit and black tea.  I picked Day 4 in the rotation as it had the most options available…because I like options…and shrimp. For lunch my wife prepared a delicious spinach and shrimp salad with a lemon/olive oil dressing that was really good…I actually got full…on a salad…sitting in the front seat of the minivan.  It was definitely something to have again.

On the way out of town we stopped into Whole Foods where I scored some plain black and green teas, and some dry roasted almond butter…I got to flip the switch on the machine and watch it grind and fall into the container…good times!  When you spread it on an apple and it’s pretty dang good.  I also put into practice a lot of label reading…made a few wise cracks about gluten and peanuts being in everything. Probably the hardest thing about being around really good foods is the temptation factor…there’s only a select few to have…plus the kids got a treat from the bakery…ah…the bakery!  When we arrived home I made a pretty good pecan crusted salmon, with sauteed squash and a side of rice for dinner…it definitely hit the spot.

Overall, I felt pretty good about the day had gone…there were times when I was hungry…but drinking a ton of water seemed to squelch my cravings…normally I’d be looking for something to cram down my gullet.  I’m very thankful for all of the support I’ve been getting from friends and family…it is truly helpful…appreciate it.

The Food Sensitivity Test

Recently, I began seeing one of those “natural doctors” down in funky Fayetteville.  She was extremely nice and our initial visit was more like what I would imagine seeing a therapist would be like.  She quizzed me about my lifestyle, asked me what I did to relieve stress (I tend to bottle stress up…so at this point I’m trying to find an activity…I’m open to suggestions), what sort of foods I typically eat (I like meats and starches), the amount of exercise I do everyday (does “none” count?), sleeping habits (I’m a night owl), etc.

Towards the end of the consultation she talked to me about taking a food sensitivity test.  I agreed (I’m pretty desperate at this point) so she extracted four vials of my blood to send off to some lab in Florida.  At the lab they would bombard my blood cells with different foods to see how my cells react, resulting in a spreadsheet of foods that I should avoid and safe foods to eat.  Turns out, almost every food I love and enjoy are ones I should avoid…here are a few highlights:

  • Chicken (probably the go-to protein in our house…I like it grilled and fried)
  • Turkey (well there goes Thanksgiving)
  • Fructose (high fructose corn syrup)
  • Peanuts and cashews (no more Reese’s cups, PB&J’s, trail mix)
  • Coffee (I’m still reeling from this as I down about 4 cups every morning)
  • Potato (as in chips, fries, baked, boiled, hash browns, home fries…you name it)
  • Beef (this one cuts like a knife…and it doesn’t feel right)
  • Shrimp (I can name all the shrimp dishes from Forrest Gump)
  • Lettuce (that’s right…I’m sensitive to salad…health conundrum?)
  • And Gluten (I can’t have gluten anymore…which is in practically everything it turns out)

There were many others but there was one saving grace on the list that turned out to be “acceptable”:

  • PORK (as in bacon, ham, pork loin, ribs, pulled pork, etc…I can eat em…in moderation of course)

So, along with one lonely animal protein…I can eat a lot of other vegetables and fruits…not to mention salmon which I do enjoy.  It’s not entirely bad news but several days later I’m struggling to find my way in the acceptable food wilderness.