Triathlon down!

Last year I wrote a blog about failing my first attempt at doing a triathlon. It broke my heart. So many people had said they had faith in me and that I’d do great…. but after having a panic attack during the open water swim, my day was over less than 10 minutes in.

I was crushed. I felt humiliated. Embarrassed. Like I had let everyone down, including myself. There were tears in my eyes as I headed home that day… I couldn’t believe all of the training I had put into completing this event had been for naught.

But I didn’t give up on my goal. I didn’t internalize “I failed” into “I’m a failure”. I didn’t assume that the current limits of what I could do would always be my limits.

The day after that triathlon, I start looking at where I could become a more confident swimmer. I found that the Ottawa Triathlon Club (OTC) had what I needed: swimming lessons both in the pool and open water swims at the beach.

Starting in the pool that first day, I could tell I had a LOT to learn. But the swim instructor Geordie (also the founder and head of the OTC) had confidence in all of us. He was able to spot my weaknesses (that I am still working on) like getting my head down far enough in the water and getting my left arm to work as well as the right. But the technique wasn’t nearly as important as getting to be calm and collected in the water. My panic attack wasn’t because my technique was wrong; I was just damn sure I was going to drown out there. He worked on getting us to calm ourselves, to relax in the water, to find a mantra to keep us going. By the end of the classes my technique was slightly better, but the confidence was much better. But I still wasn’t sure about the open water swimming. That was the big challenge.

The day before class began I ran out and bought a wet suit. That wet suit was going to be my body armour. With that thing on, there is no way that I can possibly drown, even if someone tied bricks to me feet, mob style. As long as I believed that, I was totally confident. The very first swim around the buoys and I still felt the same panic I did the previous year. Too many people, too much splashing, too many people hitting me… but I remembered what we were taught at the pool. Just let it go. Move on. Get back in a rhythm. Okay. I did one lap. Then two. And then three. By the third lap there was none of the same fears. We did a drill called the gauntlet where the class formed two parallel lines and one person would swim between the two lines while everyone hit them or splashed them. It seemed more like fun that panic-inducing. OTC members started organizing early morning swims during the week so I was able to practice swimming in the open water. After only three open water swim classes, I was ready to give a try to swimming the distance I needed for the Olympic triathlon. I swam from the beach to the yacht club. It was hard. It took forever. But I never touched bottom. I hear so many people say that they cried after running their first mile, or their first 5k…. I now know what that feeling is like.

I decided to sign up for the National Capital Triathlon; the exact same race, exact same distance as what I failed to achieve one year earlier. Leading up the race there were three events that cemented my confidence. May-Jun, another OTC member who was also trying to do her first triathlon, also at the Olympic distance, organized an open water practice. It was at Mooney’s Bay, the site of the triathlon – the place I associated only with getting 200m out and falling apart. But her and a couple others from the OTC (Brian and Peter) swam 500m with me. I felt really good. After the 500m I asked myself if I could do that 3 times over and I was confident that I could. Second, a couple nights before the event, Geordie had an open water swim class at the beach with some high winds causing some pretty big waves. I had never swam in water that choppy before. But somehow I survived. Even had to breathe to my weak side and was able to find a rhythm breathing to my left. I figured if I can swim in THIS, there is no way – none at all – that I can’t do 1500m on the calm waters of Mooney’s Bay. And finally, I woke up the morning of the event to an e-mail from my girlfriend. She sent me the info for an upcoming 4k swim! That she even thought me capable of a 4k swim showed she had even more confidence in me than I had. That just set the whole tone for the day. If my girlfriend thinks I can swim 4k, surely I can get through a measly little 1500m!! J So I’m up and out the door really early… racked the bike and headed over to the OTC tent. Geordie got a picture of us very nervous early-birds:

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After the picture, Geordie pulled me aside and said “Don, when down on the beach I’ll ask people if it is their first time doing a triathlon. Look around. See all the hands in the air. And know that you are much better prepared for this than any of them. You can do this.”

I set up all my gear in the transition area, and got my number markings done. I ran into May-Jun who racked her bike near mine and we checked out the start of the bike course to get an understanding of the mount and dismount area. We picked up our timing belts and headed to the beach. I put on my wetsuit while listening to Geordie give his orientation. At this point, just hearing his reassuring vIMG_0642oice was more important than the content of what he was saying. I went in for my warm up to calm down.. and good thing I did!! I don’t usually swim with a swim cap, but we need to for the race. But with the goggles over the cap, things just didn’t fit right and I was getting water in the goggles. “No, this isn’t happening. I can’t swim 1500m with water in my goggles!” I tightened them, pushed them on tighter, adjusted them 100 ways… still water was getting in. Then I had an idea – put the goggles on and put the cap over the goggle straps. Woo… success. That had gotten the heart pounding a little. Once I got a few 100m lengths in with no troubles, I headed back in to shore. Just as we were to start May-Jun and I wished each other luck and then we were off. The first little bit was tough as there were just bodies all over the place. I was getting hit and someone was across my legs and someone kept slapping my feet. But I just kept going. I followed what I was taught in class. Once I got to the first buoy, I just had my mantra in my head. It was all very business like from there. Just keep going. I still have a LOT of trouble sighting, so wherever I could I’d find someone to swim beside and let them do my sighting for me. But when that didn’t work I had to do it on my own. And as usual, I ended up drifting off course several times. At one point one of the kayakers pulled up beside me to correct my direction, I was that far off course. So I’m pretty sure I did a half-ironman swim of 2000m instead of an Olympic 1500. J Once I got to the second last buoy I knew I was going to be okay. I knew I was going to finish… not just the swim, but the whole thing. There was a huge feeling of relief that I was going to be able to do this thing. I felt good coming out of the water… Geordie was right there to cheer the finish of my swim leg. I almost turned to him and said “Can I go home now? I already accomplished so much more than I did last year!!” But there was no time for that… I had to get to the transition! Wetsuit co-operated and came off quite nicely. I got the sneakers and, of course, the Fitbit on… and I was off to the bike.

View event: http://www.zoomphoto.ca/event/19666/Bike leg was FUN. Except for realizing I REALLY, REALLY needed to go to the washroom halfway through. J I was able to pass quite a few people. Once I realized I wasn’t totally at the back of the pack I relaxed a bit and just had fun. How can you not have fun on a bike? The most difficult part of the bike was that usually I listen to music or podcasts or TV shows while out on the bike and this time I was alone with my thoughts. I had been told before to just think happy thoughts. So I did. I thought about crossing the finish line. And the celebratory pizza dinner with my girlfriend after the race. J Back into the transition zone, I put some tunes on, had a quick two bites of an energy bar, gulped down some water and off I was on the run. I felt good energy-wise. Really good. My big concern now was if I could hold needing to go to the washroom for another hour. But by now it was HOT. And there was very little shade on the run course so just 3k in and I was toast. The hot sun had totally zapped my energy. At each pass of the aid station, I took two glasses of water. One for me and one for dumping over my head to cool down. I then realized drinking the water to stay hydrated was not helping my cause to finish the race before using the washroom. So I ended up taking a 10 minute pit stop into the Mooney’s Bay washroom. Why 10 minutes? Stuck zipper on tri suit. J Had to Houdini out of it. J But the 10 minute break and some cold water from the change room rejuvenated me. As we continued to pass each other on the laps, May-Jun called out words of support: “Keep it up Don. You’re doing great.” By this point there were many people on the run route from the various events, and the OTC people from the sprint event all waved and we exchanged encouragements. And then, finally, I could see the end in sight…. I booted it up the hill, knowing this was going to be it…. I was going to finish strong.

 

View event: http://www.zoomphoto.ca/event/19666/

 

And then it was done. Geordie came out to give me a high five and a pat on the back as I was getting my medal. But what I was really looking for was the big hug from my girlfriend and she did not disappoint. She was right there waiting for me to finish. At that moment, I was so happy I almost cried. But my celebration with M. was short lived as the OTC people gathered together for a group picture. Competitors, supporters and volunteers from the OTC huddled together on the bench for the photo and some words from Geordie. He was kind enough to give special congratulations to May-Jun and I for not just finishing our first triathlon, but doing it at the Olympic distance.

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All that was left from there was to clean up the gear at the transition zone and then off to celebrate. As I was packing up my stuff around the T-zone, I asked someone to take a picture of the OTC’s newest Olympic distance triathletes with our medals. Also I would be amiss not to mention our friend Josee from the OTC who not only completed her first triathlon as well, but won her age category and finished second for the women in the super sprint event!

 

I had such a feeling of accomplishment. So much more than any of the running or cycling or any other racing events I have ever done. Another OTC member stated “You feel so much prouder of a goal you had to work hard for.” Truth.

One challenge down and onto the next. I want to do a half-ironman. I also want to improve my swim time so I’m not at the back of the pack. But I no longer think anything is impossible. The future is wide open and full of new adventures to come.

Weight Loss Secrets

I read an interesting blog today. It was from a guy named Alasdair who lost 100 pounds. He made 7 points in his blog which can be found here: http://www.vox.com/2015/7/7/8877041/losing-100-pounds

I would like to respond to all 7 points.

(1) “My weight loss ‘SECRET’ is so, so dumb.”
Summary: Alasdair says that he didn’t do anything special to lose the weight; he simply walked on the treadmill. Every day. For almost a year. He said he ignored the mountain of literature on how to lose weight and made ONE change. It was something he could live with.
My reaction: It’s amazing how complicated people make losing weight. So many people tell me they are overwhelmed with all the books and gadgets and podcasts and TV shows and magazines and they just don’t know who or what to believe anymore. And here is someone who just made one change and the rest all fell in place. It’s
amazing what ONE change can do.

(2) “Okay fine. Here is my big secret. My weight loss succeeded because I found a way to be extreme in my moderation”.
Summary: What Alasdair means in this is that he made very moderate changes – such as walking on the treadmill for one hour – but he was extreme in his dedication. He did it EVERY DAY. Small changes that you can stick to for the rest of your life are more likely to succeed over the long term than making big changes for a month or two and then going back to your normal routine.
My reaction: Virtually EVERYONE, EVERYONE that I know that has lost a similar amount of weight as I have and have been successful at keeping it off says the “secret” is make realistic changes AND KEEP DOING THOSE CHANGES. You can’t stop. Doing these extreme diets for 30 days will not keep off any significant weight forever. Making small changes over time bring big results.

(3) “Obesity is a societal and environmental problem, not an individual one”.
Summary: If the numbers are correct, 1/3 of Americans are obese and another 1/3 are overweight. The problem isn’t a massive loss of willpower. The problem is the easy access to cheap unhealthy food and more sedentary lives. A lot of blame is placed on the individual (too lazy, lack willpower, etc) when they are placed in a system where the odds are stacked against them. Hardware stores selling confectionary at the checkout counter. The boss is most likely to bring in a dozen donuts for the team than apples. Go to any sporting event and you will be surrounded by unhealthy food options.
My reaction: How often do I hear naturally thin or average sized people BLAME those that are overweight. It absolves them of any responsibility. It’s easy to blame the victim. And what REALLY bothers me is that they have no problem judging these people within earshot. I swear, berating the obese is one of the last remaining acceptable prejudices. And so long as obesity is framed in the public mind as the fault of the individual, nothing will be done to fix the societal mess we are in. Dr. Freedhoff has a dozen great ideas that he presented to help fix where we are today: Sugar taxes, a complete overhaul of the Canadian Food Guide, nutrition classes in school, better school cafeteria…. We need to stop hurting people and start helping people.

(4) “That didn’t make my fatness feel like any less of a personal failure.”
Summary: Even though Alasdair knew on an intellectual level that the game was fixed, he still blamed himself for his own obesity. So as to not continually berate himself, he took great lengths to put himself out of harm’s way; avoid situations where he could be judged. He had never been in a relationship – never even had a kiss – at the age of 26. Because to even talk about the possibility of romantic feelings would mean thinking about his appearance. And that would just feed into his self-hatred.
My reaction: Oh, damn Alasdair. Huge hugs. Been there. I just assumed I would be rejected. By everyone. Nobody, ever, would want to be with blob man. So to avoid feelings of being hurt I would just not ask anyone out. I’d just avoid the situation altogether. For well over a decade. I didn’t just hide myself away from romantic relationships… I stopped hanging out with friends and I’d just go work to home to work… rinse and repeat. I not only saw my weight as being my own personal failing – I considered my life a personal failure. So I hid myself from any possibility of being judged. I even assumed when I went to the grocery store that people were staring at me struggling to get through the turnstile. So I would order in as much as I could. It’s brutal how much obesity can cause us to turn against ourselves more than almost any other disease I can think of.

(5) “It is so much easier to be a fat man than a fat woman”.
Summary: Alasdair says he doubts he could have built a life of avoiding his weight issue if he was a woman. He claims that women are judged far more harshly in society for their weight than men are. ‘I received less criticism at 100 pounds overweight in my entire life than a woman 10 pounds overweight does in a month… maybe a week.’ He refers to it as a ‘luxury’, or perhaps a ‘privilege’, men have.
My reaction: I agree 100% with Alasdair. But I’m not so sure it is a ‘luxury’. Yes, obese men can fit better into society. I’ve written about this in my blog before. Overweight men in sitcoms are quite the Norm. Family guy, Simpsons, Fred Flinstone (based on the Honeymooners)…. So many examples of overweight men on TV, but not so much overweight women. And if there are any overweight women, (ie Melissa McCarthy) it’s front page of the tabloids. But I think that acceptance, first, is mostly for older men. In the schoolyard, I was tormented relentlessly. I was taunted throughout middle school, bullied through high school and completely rejected by women in university. Later on Alistair mentions that perhaps his luck with women was purely out of lack of confidence and maybe the same was true for me, but it didn’t make it hurt none the less. So for those like myself, men that have been beaten down for their obesity, you really do feel alone. And you don’t ask for help. Men are supposed to be strong. They are supposed to have all the answers. They are supposed to figure things out for themselves. But I wasn’t strong. And I didn’t have people to lean on. It took many, many years before someone gave me their hand and pulled me up. Women seem to support each other so much more than men do. I saw the pictures from Fitbloggin’. Demographics seem similar to Weight Watchers. 98% women. If women are judged for their looks, men are judged based on how strong they are. Physically and emotionally. So obese guys, whether they “fit in” or whether they isolate themselves like Alasdair and I did, we tend to either try to fix ourselves on our own or we give up even trying. Leading to worse and worse health problems for the former group, leading to increased depression and hopelessness for the latter.

(6) “I needed to lose weight, but that doesn’t mean everyone has to”
Summary: While it is true that obesity is linked to a myriad of health issues, so is stress and making yourself miserable. Maybe it’s okay to right now NOT to lose the weight. Maybe ‘there’s room for everyone to determine for themselves how best to balance the physical and mental aspects of their weight’.
Reaction: I often feel guilty. Guilty for losing the weight. Guilty for not putting up more of a fight at 350 pounds. Because now all those asshats running around saying it’s those fat f’er own fault POINT AT ME and say “Look! He did it! Why can’t you?” Well I can tell you why. Because I had the resources to get a gym membership, the time to plan my meals, no family obligations, the work flexibility to come in late on swim days and come in early on non-swim days….. Everyone has their own load to carry and if you are not at a point in your life where you can dedicate huge amounts of resources (including time) into losing weight – THEN DON’T. To steal someone else’s motto – do what you can, when you can – AND CONSIDER THAT ENOUGH.

(7) “I am much more confident now that I’ve lost the weight – but I wish I could have found a way to be comfortable in my skin without the weight loss.”
Summary: Alasdair says that he finally had his first kiss…. but he doesn’t think it is because he lost 100 pounds, but rather because he was confident, fun and threw caution to the wind and danced the night away with someone. It likely had nothing to do with being 285 pounds or 185 pounds. Our belief that nobody would ever want to be with us because of our weight is in our heads. Our confidence goes in the crapper and we hide away.

My reaction: I have seen overweight people enjoying their lives and being happy people. Why couldn’t I have done that? I had to hide away from society? I had to live in pain and solitary. I needed to withdraw into my shell. I have injured myself far, far more by isolating myself for 15 years than the injury I would have endured from living life at 350 pounds. I’m now so far behind, I am learning things at 42 that I should have learned as a teenager. People say “so tell me about your life and all the things you have done”. I suppose I could tell them about beating all the Final Fantasy games 1 thru 10. Or having watched every episode of “E.R.” three times. Or that time I ate 14 personal calzones in one sitting. I have lived more life in the last 5 years than I did in the entirety of the previous 37. But the more I get out there I realize how far I am behind everyone else. I sit down with a random group of people and they will discuss their children, their spouse, the places they have visited, the experiences they have had. And I wish I hadn’t locked myself away in my own personal prison for so many years.

Earlier this week I was talking to some women (individually) and they were all singing the same song. They were very unhappy with their lives. From my perspective they had everything. A loving spouse, children, a nice home, a good job that they enjoyed, financial security… all the bells and whistles of a wonderful life. Except for their weight. They all disliked themselves and their life because they are obese. I was firmly under the delusion that if I lost the weight I would be happy and life would be grand. I ended up losing the weight and realizing that there is so, so much more to life than how much fat you are carrying around with you. I would trade where I am today with any of these women. If I could roll back time 20 years, I wish I could have told that young man that life is for living – no matter what size you are. If someone judges you for your weight THAT IS ON THEM.

I wish this could have been me:

Before I close this blog entry, I want to address something Alasdair put in the opening paragraph.

“I feel better physically.”
“I have newfound confidence in my ability to accomplish my goals.”
“Fundamental feelings of self-loathing I have been struggling with for as long as I can remember have disappeared”
“I have removed the limitations I once placed on myself”
“And it’s all because I lost 100 pounds. And I desperately wish that weren’t the case.”

I know that feeling. I wish I could have had more confidence in myself, loved myself, overcome my limitations – BEFORE losing the weight. I sometimes think that when people see my pictures and hear my story are going to feel ashamed of themselves because I WAS able to lose the weight and they thus far have not been able to. Like I said earlier, there were factors in my life that most others don’t have the luxury of. I wish I could have been all of those things 160 pounds ago. But I couldn’t. And that saddens me to no end. Because I know the factors out there that made me hate myself for being overweight, factors that stole so many years from my life, are still out there affecting millions of others. So I am standing up today, and saying “You can lose weight if you want to. But you don’t have to. Going from an obese BMI to a normal one isn’t a surefire way to find happiness. Loving yourself. Loving others. Being loved. Caring and being cared for. All far more important than what number shows up on a scale.

A GIANT Thank You to My Ragnar Teammates – 1500 pounds lost, 11 friends made!!

I am a mixed bag of emotions today. But the one I want to concentrate on right now is grateful. A few months back I wrote a blog post called “Why I Need to Run a Ragnar”. I said it was to celebrate being able to keep the weight off with 11 other people that know the struggle. (For those that don’t know our team of 12 has lost a combined 1,500 pounds!!) Being able to talk with others that know what it takes to lose and keep off so much weight –  that was awesome. But even more awesome was meeting 11 wonderful people regardless of their weight loss.

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I am so happy to have had the honour to run with this team I want to thank them individually.

Carly –
Carly

Damn did Bergen ever make the right choice! When Rik asked Bergen and I if there was someone from the “From Fat To Finish Line” movie we would like to add to the team Bergen quickly said “Carly!”. And I am SO glad she did. I think Carly is PERMANENTLY smiling. Even when she was disappointed that we didn’t have enough time to make it to the whale watching, she didn’t let it bum her out. Her bubbly persona is absolutely infectious. You can’t possibly stay in a bad mood around Carly. She really set the tone for the van. We just SO enjoyed how funny, how alive, how positive Carly is… She just made everyone around her smile just by being nearby.

Dani –
Dani
Dani – I look up to Dani. In terms of athletic ability, we are quite close. But in terms of letting loose and having fun, Dani is way ahead of me. She makes everything way more fun and exciting. And I would give a big BOOO to whomever told Dani I was trying to beat her time, but she didn’t take offense at all and even used it as motivation to post a 5k time of just over 22 minutes the day after Ragnar. (BTW – I have no idea who told Dani because multiple people claimed responsibility; no finger pointing on my team, everyone just puts it on themselves. That’s the way we roll apparently. 🙂 ) I’m very glad Dani made it to Cheers with us. It wasn’t fair for only Van 1 to enjoy her presence! And a big thanks for all the free gear. Except maybe the Kind bars. I ate way too many of them. 🙂 But I never wore compression socks for running before and tried them on leg 3 and liked them so much I’ll be wearing them for my half marathon tomorrow. Thanks for all the work you did for the team and hooking us up with your partners. It was definitely appreciated!!!

Jenn –
Jenn_checkmark jen metal

If ever there was someone that could accentuate the silver lining to every dark cloud, it would be Jennifer. I told her early on that she is my hero; being able to keep off the weight she has lost (160 pounds) for as long as she has (over a decade!)  just gives me faith that it can be done and that I can do it. But she’s now my hero for a completely different reason. She inspires and encourages people like no other I have ever known. She is an awesome person to have in your corner. She can keep you going when you don’t think you have it in you. I was amazed at how many people FROM OTHER TEAMS remembered Jennifer cheering them on along the way. She is so encouraging and supportive to everyone – it just warms the heart to know people like Jennifer exist.

Rudy –
Rudy
Rudy – I invited Rudy because I wanted more TOPS involvement in our team. But I knew nothing about Rudy himself. So he was a big question mark to me right until he arrived. And what a character!!! He was the oldest on the team, but I am sure he could party with college frat boys. He was hilarious. He kept everyone in stitches. It was a weird mix. He was a strong leader and was respected by everyone… and even took the role of van leader for van 1. I never worried about what was going on with the other van because even after one day I had full faith in Rudy to get the job done. But when it came time to celebrate, Rudy was at the front of the line. Rare is it that you find someone that commands respect but also remains an equal with everyone. He was able to convey that everyone on the team was there to have fun, himself included, but also was serious when he needed to be to ensure everything was going according to plan.

Ashley –
Ashley1Ashley2
I didn’t get much time to spend with Ashley before Ragnar, but we had a blast afterwards. We did the Freedom Trail, whale watching and hanging at the Cheers bar together. I was suffering from a SEVERE case of Ragnover with Dacia, Bergen, Rik and many others having left earlier in the day. It took everything I had to keep from bawling when I hugged them all goodbye. But Ashley is laid back, funny, and so easy to get along with she was great company for the rest of the trip. She was able to tone down Rudy a bit and get me to loosen up a bit and the three of us had a lot of fun together. I also appreciated her sharing how much this Ragnar meant to her. It made all the effort worth it. When she said it was “life changing” I just got chills. I read her blog and, well, damn onions… I can fully understand Ragnar tweeting it. It was amazing.

Mike –
Mike
If we do Del Sol, and Mike could make it, I WANT TO BE IN MIKE’S VAN. He obviously had the team in stitches the whole time. Every inside joke to van 1 always somehow seemed to trace back to something hilarious Mike did. And he was easy going. As one of the last to arrive, he had the choice of a couch or air mattress – and he was super fine with that. “Just give me somewhere to lay my head”. I just got the impression that nothing could phase this guy. So I was tickled to find he didn’t like running in the dark. I hope we get to hang out after the Milwaukee Lakefront marathon and he doesn’t get bored waiting for us.

Vicki –
Vickivic tran
Vicki I spent the least time with before and during Ragnar. But she was always willing to chip in and lend a hand. While I was out swimming and having fun, she was programming the GPS system and helping out inside the house. She really helped out with the work that needed to get done to prepare beforehand. But the only time we really got to spend together was on our trip to Salem where she and her sister gave us a wonderful tour of their hometown. I LOVE Salem. I used to go there every weekend when I worked in Boston, but we went places I had not been before. It was a wonderful adventure and I really enjoyed her taking the time to show us around and telling us about the area. And I will be taking you up on the offer to mail me some cherry coke zero!! 🙂

Val –
Val SmilingVal1
Val actually surprised me. Her online presence is upbeat, but not as upbeat as she was throughout Ragnar. She was all smiles the whole way through. And she passed the “baton” to me and was all hugs at the exchange points. She just beamed the entire trip. You could really tell how much fun she was having and that just made the whole trip enjoyable for everyone. And the video she put together… I had to go grab another box of kleenex because I ran out of tissues half way through. I can’t believe she took 7 hours of her vacation to put that together as quickly as she did. Val was the first person Bergen and I added to the team for this Ragnar, and if we decided to do this all over again in Del Sol, Val is going to be the first person I contact. Oh, and one more thank you. THANK YOU FOR POSTING THE “From Fat to Finish Line” TRAILER TO THE HALF SIZE ME COMMUNITY. Without that, Bergen and I may never have started this whole endeavour.

Dacia –
Dacia
Where do I begin on this one? I thank my lucky stars every day that I stumbled across her blog. We owe her a debt of thanks for adding Ashley and Dani to the team. It wouldn’t have been the same without them. But that’s not the main reason I am so grateful; Dacia has become one of my best friends. We seem to be on the same wavelength on so many things. I said to a friend that running this Ragnar, the work and expense that went into it, was all entirely worth it even if only for bringing Dacia into my life. Thank you for being my friend. When I needed help you have been there for me. You were able to bring me up when I was feeling down. Words cannot express how fortunate I feel that I have made such a close friend through this experience. (Oh, and thanks for helping Carly and I find good vegetarian food stuffs!!!)

Cynthia –
Cynthia2Cynthia
While not one of the runners, she was our choice to be team MVP. When there was a task that needed doing, she got it done. She plugged every hole and filled every gap. Without her this ship may well have sunk. Or at the very least have been far less enjoyable. From designing our team logo, to getting the shirts and jackets, to helping with the planning and books and organizing… Getting the magnets done at he last minute when I realized I just wasn’t going to have time. And when last minute details were missed she jumped right in to solve our problems. The list just goes on and on. She was fantastic and the team owes her a debt of thanks.

Rik –
Rik
My co-captain. We so needed his experience in this. He let us know what to expect. He prepared us for what would or could happen. I learned SOOO much from him. Not just in terms of the Ragnar rules and advice on how to prepare, but also on how to actually LEAD a team. He was disarming from the get-go. He was so easy to get along with, taking even our stupidest questions in stride. He took a few people that knew nothing about the Ragnar experience and just knew they wanted to do one – and turned this into an actual team. Everyone looked up to Rik and he didn’t disappoint in his role. I learned so much from Rik and I hope if I ever captain a team on my own that I’ll do half the job Rik did for us. And he made us feel appreciated as team members. I felt guilty that I was unable to help out with the driving, so I did the navigating and planning along the way. When Rik jokingly said “You are doing such a great job I don’t think I want to do a Ragnar without you.” it really made my day. I felt a lot less guilty for not being able to share the driving responsibility. And it’s that kind of stuff that makes a great team captain.

Bergen –
Bergen
This one is going to be the hardest to write. Thank you for starting this with me. Fuck. That’s as far as I got before needing a tissue. In January of 2014 I was messaging with Bergen as we usual do and I said “someday we will do a Ragnar together”. She replied “you better be serious because someday I’m going to hold you to that”.

I know how hard it was for Bergen to leave her family, to face her fear of flying, to go way outside her comfort zone to do something crazy like this. I tried everything I could to calm her nerves. But I told her honestly that I wasn’t trying to convince her to go for her sake, but because I NEEDED her there. It would not be anywhere near the same experience without one of my closest friends. And I stated up front that I didn’t give a damn which legs I had or when I had to run… The only requirement I had was that I had to have Bergen as a vanmate. And it was so much fun having her there, in hindsight I don’t think I would have enjoyed it near as much without my friend. To me, the MOST endearing story of the whole entire trip was when Bergen was in the middle of a VERY hard 9 mile leg. We had just driven up that stretch and were, like, “Poor Bergen has to RUN this? It just keeps going UP!”. Now at this time Jenn texted, jokingly, that she was going to “skip her next leg” as in dancing and hopping along. Bergen read the text and thought she meant that Jenn couldn’t do the leg and needed a replacement runner. So Bergen called the team and -despite being tired from the extremely hard leg, having had so little sleep, and running in the hot sun – offered to take Jenn’s leg! Rik, Val and I were tickled by the misinterpretation, but also floored by Bergen putting the team ahead of her own needs. She was tired both physically and mentally and offered to keep on going. That’s just the kind of person Bergen is. Kind. Considerate. Willing to sacrifice for her family and friends. So thank you for being who you are. Bergen once offered to be the best man at my wedding should I ever get married. Bergen, you better be serious because someday I will hold you to that. You are an incredible friend and I owe you so much. Thank you for starting this with me, doing this with me and for being a friend that is there for me when I need someone to lean on.

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There is that saying that you can pick your friends and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your family… Well we sort of picked this family. And it is amazing because this was the exact opposite of a disfunctional family. Everyone had their role and their character and everyone accepted everyone else and we got along FABULOUSLY. I told my friend Nasra that it was odd… You take 12 random people off the street, usually at least one is an asshole. Or at least there would be one case of a clash of personalities. And there was none of that. Rik warned us that as we (or at least the rest of the team) got tired, there would be a likelihood of snarkiness or unkind words being exchanged. And there was virtually NOTHING. I think it was just a case of having a team of awesome people. And when I say awesome people, I mean REALLY awesome people. But I have a theory. I think people who have been obese and have lost the weight are more compassionate and understanding than most. We know what it is like to feel hurt. We know what it is like to be gawked at or made fun of. We know what it felt like to hurt inside because of something someone did to us or said about us. Speaking for myself, I think a lot of what I stand for personally and politically stems from caring for others because I know what it is like to be bullied by those with more power, either real or perceived. It just seems to me, that those that have lost significant weigh tend to treat others better, with respect and compassion – because we have an understanding of what it was like to be mocked and disparaged and never ever want to be a part of that. It just seemed to me that this team was 12 AMAZING people, working together, sharing laughs and having fun, and respecting and caring for one another. AND THAT IS PRETTY FUCKING AWESOME. So, to my teammates: I love you guys and I hope we continue to be friends for a long, long time. I will never forget what happened this weekend and each and every one of you is special to me. Thank you all for making this the most incredible weekend in my life. And I hope we are able to do this again. I SERIOUSLY can’t wait for October to be running the Milwaukee Lakefront marathon with many of the team members and to be there when Carly and Ashley run their first full marathon (right Ashley? 🙂 ).

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I Live!

It has been about three months since I have written a blog post. By no means has it been a matter of not having anything to write about.

Over the last three months I have started my own TOPS chapter, I have joined the board of the Humanist Association of Ottawa, I started learning to play the guitar, I fell in love for the first time in my life and I was truly heartbroken for the first time in my life when we broke up.

My ex-girlfriend introduced me to this song. It is now in all my playlists. Running, biking, swimming, sitting down to ponder life’s mysteries…. It fits all situations.

Hope when you take that jump, you don’t fear the fall.
Hope when the water rises, you built a wall.
Hope when the crowd screams out, they’re screaming your name.
Hope if everybody runs, you choose to stay.

Hope that you fall in love, and it hurts so bad.
The only way you can know is give it all you have.
And I hope that you don’t suffer but take the pain.
Hope when the moment comes, you’ll say…
I did it all.
I owned every second that this world could give.
I saw so many places. All the things that I did.
With every broken bone, I swear I lived.

Hope that you spend your days and they all add up.
And when that sun goes down, hope you raise your cup.
Oh, I wish that I could witness all your joy and all your pain.
But until my moment comes, I’ll say…
I did it all.
I owned every second that this world could give.
I saw so many places. All the things that I did.
With every broken bone, I swear I lived.
With every broken bone, I swear I lived.
With every broken bone, I swear I lived.

That’s what I want out of my life. That so embodies everything that I am. Do I regret the relationship even though it soured and I suffered the pain that came with the break up? Not at all. With every broken bone, I swear, I lived. With every broken bone, I swear, I lived. With every broken bone, I swear, I lived. I had almost 3 months with a remarkable amazing woman and it just didn’t work out.

Nothing in life comes without a risk. Every action you take has consequences. Every inaction you take has consequences.

Over the last three months I have grown. I have learned. If happiness has a scale of 1 to 10 I now know what a 10 feels like. I now know what a 0 feels like. But it is just so good to actually FEEL SOMETHING. I spent a lot of years ….. too, too many years …. not feeling anything at all. I had been so battered and bruised from years of being bullied throughout high school and into young adulthood that I had numbed myself to feeling anything at all. Rejection from my father. Rejection from my peers. Rejection from society. I learned to cope by numbing myself with copious amounts of food. Far more than any rational human being should ever consume.

I have had other relationships before this. But this was the first time since losing the weight. And the first time I let down my guard. In past relationships I left my defenses up and didn’t let the other person in. When I say I cared for my girlfriend more than I cared for any woman before in my life, that is true. But not because past partners were not worthy of being cared for, but rather that this is the first time I was ready to trust someone with my heart. And yes, in the end, it got broken. But the good times in those three months were just over the moon and I will treasure those times. And for the first time in my life I realize that hurting is part of the human experience. Our job in life is not to avoid getting hurt at all costs. Our job in life is to live the adventure. Try new things. Take risks. Do the things that make you happy.

I put the song on repeat play today and started thinking of a new “bucket list”. I want to go new places, have new experiences, learn new things, meet new people…. Totally free of the fear of being hurt. I KNOW I will get hurt. It has just taken a long time for me to get to the point where I am okay with that. Maybe the weight was a physical manifestation of the shield I had put up around myself. My shields, both physical and emotional, are lowered. I’ve learned the world is a much brighter place when you attack it head on with all the exuberance you can muster. Hiding out of shame and fear did nothing for me. Taking risks and going out of my comfort zone is the only way I will get to the end of my days and truly be able to say “I LIVED!”.

Five Questions from Ottawa Triathlon Club

Back in August I wrote about failing at my first triathlon attempt and that I woke up the next day determined to learn what I needed to so that my next attempt would be a success. Part of that plan was to join the Ottawa Triathlon Club and take their swimming classes. Today after class my instructor was kind enough to give me a lift home and on the way he asked me to answer some questions so they could do a member spotlight. Here are my answers:

1) What was the pivotal moment that triggered your weight loss journey?
I always say that moment requires TWO things. “Your desire for change must outweigh your desire to stay the same” and “You have to have hope that change can happen”. I was 350 pounds, had open leg ulcers, back pain, chronic fatigue, couldn’t climb a flight of stairs… trust me, the desire to change was there. I wanted nothing more than to lose the weight. I just didn’t know anyone that had been able to lose the amount of weight I had to lose, much less be able to sustain that loss. Who was I to think I was special enough that I could accomplish the near impossible? But one day, a friend who had more faith in me than I did at the time, coaxed and somehow convinced me to go to our workplace gym during a lunch hour. That one lunch hour changed my life. I could only do 20 minutes of slow stationary biking, but it was something and I felt so proud that I had gone, I went back the next day. And the next. Exercise is the hardest thing to start and the hardest thing to stop. After I was in the routine, I joined a weight loss support group to learn about nutrition. Once I had the exercise and improved diet, there was no stopping me.

2) How important a role did goal-orientation play in your progress?

None. That may seem flippant, but goals are for people that think they can get things done. It wasn’t until I hit my target weight that I realized that I CAN accomplish amazing things. So I didn’t really start setting physical goal posts for myself until I was in maintenance. About a year into maintenance I heard someone speak passionately about running and figured “That is something I want to try! Someday I’ll do a half marathon”. Less than a year later, after a lot of training and learning, failing and succeeding I hit my goal. Once you have the self-confidence to believe that you can hit any goal you set for yourself, setting new goals is so much easier.

3) My relay team formed very organically. Not able to find peers locally that I could relate to in terms of weight loss, I turned to an online community. There I met my BFF Bergen. She and I both had lost WELL over 100 pounds and LOVE running so that set the basis for a wonderful friendship. When she and I saw the trailer to the film “From Fat to Finish Line”, a movie about 12 runners that had lost an average of 100 pounds, we didn’t just say “That’s awesome”. We said “That’s awesome! I want to do that!”. So we joined forces and set out to form a team. We started inviting others from the online support group. We contacted the runners from the film and two agreed to join our new team. By chance I stumbled across a wonderful blogger named Dacia and we became quick friends. She hooked us up with two other bloggers. As people joined, they threw out suggestions as to who they knew that had lost significant weight and become long distance runners.

4) How much of a challenge has it been to learn to lane swim?
HUGE. I’m am horribly uncoordinated. I am pretty sure I give my dance instructor nightmares. Swim instructor too. With swimming there are so many things you are asking your body to do all at once. Twisting your body, while pushing the water back, gently scissoring the legs, while keeping your head down (the hardest part for me – I have to fight my natural instinct to see where I am going). With all these things going on in my head the one step I am consistently forgetting to do is to breathe, which is a rather important thing to do every once in a while. But I have learned not to back down from challenges. Nothing worth doing is ever easy.

5) Tell me about any goals you have beyond the Ragnar relay.
In terms of athletic goals I have a few. In early 2016 I will be running my second full marathon. This time it will be with Bergen and we are hoping that Dacia, another team member, will be ready to run her first ever. Obviously I want to complete my first triathlon with the long term goal of doing a half-ironman.

But aside from athletics, I want to finish my book (“Lessons Learned in Lasting Weight Loss”; the first weight loss book to never mention diet OR exercise – it’s about confidence building, self acceptance, appreciating progress rather than expecting immediate perfection, etc.). I want to keep finding ways to get out there and let people know that lasting weight loss CAN be done and help them find the best ways for them to get there. And I want to experience all that life has to offer… I have missed out so much in life being  prisoner to obesity that I don’t want to miss another day. So my overall goal is to enjoy each and every day from here on out and live life to its fullest.

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I was told to keep it to about 300 to 400 words. Oh well. 🙂 otc_logo3

Fun Facts

I was tagged by Dacia (My Roots To Grow) to do this blog. Mine are usually super-serious, so it wouldn’t hurt to throw in a light-hearted fun one for once. 🙂

Four names that people call me other than my real name
Donnie (limited to aunts, uncles and the Estabrooks family)
Doug/Dan/Darren (any other male name that starts with D)
David (Mom only)
Don-man – (my co-worker Vardis who is stuck in an SNL skit)

Four jobs I’ve had
Kmart Shoe Salesman
Professor’s Assistant
I.T. Programmer
I.T. Project Manager

Four movies I’ve watched more than once
Dead Poets’ Society
The Sweet Hereafter
Shawshank Redemptions
Contact

Four books I’d recommend
No Logo – Naomi Klein
The Chrysalids – John Wyndham (actually anything by John Wyndham)
Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes
The Willpower Instinct – Kelly McGonigal

Four places I’ve lived
Sackville, Nova Scotia
Hammond’s Plains, Nova Scotia
Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
Ottawa, Ontario

Four places I’ve visited
Grand Canyon
Calgary (Rocky Mountains)
Boston
Miami, Florida

Four places I’d rather be right now
Anywhere warm enough to ride my bike
At home, working on my podcast
Nova Scotia
The Ottawa Humane Society working with the dogs…

Four things I don’t eat
Meat/Fish
Dairy (as of 2 weeks ago)
Processed sugar
Pickles

Four of my favorite foods
Pizza
Pizza
Banana muffins drizzled with a mix of natural peanut butter and Walden’s Farms Pancake syrup
Pizza

Four TV shows I watch
I don’t have cable. But shows I have watched recently:

Criminal Minds (Netflix)
China Beach (DVD)
Marketplace (online at CBC.ca)
Battlestar Galactica (Netflix)

Four things I’m looking forward to next year
Ragnar Relay Cape Cod (check out our Facebook page!)
Nova Scotia TOPS conference (Hope Adrian is crowned king!)
Bluenose Half Marathon
(Cheating going into 2016) – Florida trips – possibly one in January and a definite in July for the TOPS International Conference

Four things I’m always saying
Well, okay then….
How’s it goin’, eh?
“I am an intelligent person….” (only TOPS people will get that one)
“I’ve already got one, you see? It’s very nice-a” (or a variety of other Monty Python “Holy Grail” quotes)

Why My Slowest Race Ever Will Also Be My Best Ever

Warning: This blog has NOTHING to do with weight loss. It only deals with running.

Running is awesome. I love it. There are so many unique things about running.

A) You don’t need to be an expert out of the gate. I showed up for my first run in walking shoes, dollar store tube socks and a cotton shirt. Obviously I didn’t know much beyond that you needed to put one foot ahead of the other. I learned what worked and what didn’t. I started doing a little, and then when I was comfortable going that far, I pushed myself to do a little bit more. I learned so much along the way – what running style works for me, how to avoid injury, what shoes work the best…. I had to progressively learn what worked for me.

B) It is so non-competitive. Most runners don’t see the people around them as the competition, but rather as people on a similar journey, headed towards the same goal. In fact, it is often said in the running community that the only competition is for you to be a little bit better, stronger, healthier than you were yesterday. Just being able to push yourself outside your comfort zone, beyond the limits that you had yesterday.

C) How fast you get to the finish isn’t all that important. What is important is THAT you finish. The worst thing you can do is go all out on an unsustainable pace… You will exhaust yourself may end up quitting before you hit the end. And that could make you want to give up the sport. And there is no need to! Everyone that gets to the finish line gets rewarded not only with a medal, but with a huge feeling of accomplishment. So go at your own pace, enjoy the run, and have fun with it. If you get to finish line YOU WIN!!! End of story.

D) The support you get within the running community is AWESOME! Everyone wants everyone else to succeed! They give pats on the back when you do well, they encourage you to keep going. They are willing to help when you are struggling and pick you up when you fall. They cheer you on when you most need it.

Tomorrow I have the honour of running with a friend doing her first half marathon. Seeing others succeed at pursuing their goals, keeping going even when it gets hard, doing things they never pictured themselves being able to do…. that is what I live for these days. It does me so much good to see someone blossom and grow from humble beginnings to being able to accomplish amazing things.

Reaching the finish line of my first half marathon was so much more than just proving to myself that I was physically capable. It showed I was capable of setting goals and reaching them. It gave me confidence to push myself to do other things I never thought myself capable. It made all the hard work I had put in so worth it. I want to be there to see Marianne pushes beyond her limits and go further than she has ever gone before. Tomorrow is not about pushing my limits or going outside my comfort zone (well, beyond running at sub freezing temperatures 🙂 ). It is about supporting someone, cheering someone on and being right beside them when they cross that finish line and celebrate that accomplishment with them. It will do me a world of good to be there every step of the way. Having a good friend that is as passionate about running as I am is awesome… but seeing her improve so quickly and having so much fun with it makes me super happy for her.

I really could not care less about tomorrow’s finish time; it is guaranteed to be my most memorable half ever. Seeing a good friend get her first half marathon medal will make the day all the success I need. It is experiences like this that motivate me to keep going.

And that is what running is all about. Helping each other reach new heights, motivating each other, provide encouragement to people at all stages of development, ensure that people know that doing it right and at your own pace is more important than speed. And NEVER letting others downplay their amazing accomplishments.

It seems to me that the running community, more than any other athletic community live by this Helen Keller quote:
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

Sorry for the non-weight loss blog. Next time. 🙂

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Why “Nothing Tastes as Good as Healthy Feels” Is Staying in My Deck

I quite often am asked to speak to groups of people wanting to take off weight. Mostly within TOPS, but occasionally for other groups as well. I have purchased a projector for these talks and tote around my laptop which has about a dozen different Powerpoint presentations on it. The various presentations have various themes, whether I’m talking weight maintenance, or motivation or how to get started on living a healthier life…. or just telling people my story.

But there is one slide that is in every deck. Every single one. It is the slide that says “Nothing tastes as good as healthy feels.”

nothing-tastes-as-good-as-h

Now last week I went to see Dr. Yoni Freedhoff speak. I wrote last week how I disagree with him on a few points. And as human beings, we all have our own opinions. We can disagree with people and still respect them.

So I listened to a podcast this week that was interviewing Dr. Freedhoff and again, he went off on the “Nothing tastes as good as…” quote. Granted, he was using the original Kate Moss quote “Nothing tastes as good as THIN feels”. But I don’t think it was the adjective that upset him, but rather the concept that you should give up the joy of good tasting foods for anything. He rather EMPHATICALLY said that the “Nothing tastes as good…” quote was “complete bullshit”.

I does kinda burn when your mantra is emphatically called “complete bullshit”. And maybe it particularly burns when it comes from someone you respect.

I have given up sugar. That means no chocolate. No donuts. No macaroons. NO CHEESECAKE. I *LOVE* CHEESECAKE. Let me tell you a story about cheesecake.

On my 30th birthday I went out for a wonderful dinner with a wonderful friend, Nasra. After dinner, she and I took a long walk along the Halifax harbourfront. Nas said “Don, let me get this straight. You don’t smoke. You don’t drink. You’ve never done any drugs including marijuana. You don’t eat meat. Come on, you must have some vice. What guilty pleasure could you not go without?” It didn’t take me a second. I told her to follow me. We went to “La Cave” restaurant on Blower’s street in the downtown area. “La Cave” was a tiny underground restaurant that had pretty much only one thing on the menu. CHEESECAKE. Usually they would have 20 to 30 varieties to choose from. Nasra and I stayed there for the next 3 hours, every half hour ordering another slice. I would have half of hers, she would have half of mine. So by the end of the evening we had each tried 12 types of cheesecake. Each one was absolutely delicious.

In the last 18 months, in the time since I gave up sugar, I have had zero cheesecake. Do I feel deprived? There are some days that I do. But I simply think back to those days when I was into the cheesecake. And ice cream. And Twinkies. That’s when I was most deprived. I was deprived of LIFE. I COULD NOT GET UP A FLIGHT OF STAIRS. LAST WEEKEND I CLIMBED THE CN TOWER IN UNDER JUST OVER 15 MINUTES!

I really think Dr. Freedhoff has no concept of how much those of us who have been morbidly obese would sacrifice to stay healthy. I just found out that a member of my running team, someone who has lost the same amount of weight as I have, has been keeping that weight off for TEN YEARS. I cried when I read that. I’m not even 100% sure why. I think it was joy and relief. I’m not alone out here. I told her that she was my hero. She laughed and said “It’s just a choice you have to make each and every day. And know that it is worth it.”

I don’t know if Dr. Freedhoff would recommend that someone that enjoys smoking keep on smoking. I don’t know if Dr. Freedhoff would tell an alcoholic that enjoys drinking to keep on doing so. So why would he tell someone that overindulges in sugar to keep going and that giving it up for the sake of being fit and healthy is bullshit. I really, REALLY don’t understand.

As I was riding into work today, with my mp3 player on random play, it came up with “My Sister” by Jewel:

Hey little sister I heard you went to Mr. So and So,
knock knock knockin on his door again last night, said you needed it bad. You know that ain’t right. ‘Cause so many times you’ve come to me cry-crying trying to stop. You said it hurts so bad and to please don’t let you go back for more. My little sister is a zombie in a body with no soul in a role she has learned to play in a world today where nothing else matters. But it matters. We gotta start feeding our souls not our addiction or afflictions of pain to avoid the same questions we must ask ourselves to get any answers.
We gotta start feeding our souls that have been lost to the millions with lots who feed on addiction selling pills and what’s hard is I wish I could save her from all their delusions, all the confusion. We are a nation that starves for salvation but clothing is our closest to approximation to God and He only knows that drugs are all we know of love. Every day we starve while we eat white bread and beer instead of a handshake or hug. We spill the pills and sweep them under the rug

Back when I was in OA, a fellow member sent me a link to a scientific psychology talk on Youtube. The University of California talk by professor Laurel Mellin can be viewed here. For the purposes of her talk, she defined “happiness” as satisfying our lower reptilian brain and “joy” as satisfying our higher, human brain. When I was in my “food fog” of continual overeating I had a lot of “happiness” … I had an endless supply of pizza, pasta and pie to gorge myself on. As long as I was tantilzing my taste buds, I was feeling pretty good. But as soon as the food was gone, I was right back to being miserable. Quite often this would be at the point of feeling quite sick from being uncomfortably full. There was very little joy in my life.

I so recognize myself in those lyrics. How I wanted to stop going to food as the “solution” to every problem, every bad feeling, every slight I percieved, whether real or imagined. How many millions of people feed off our food addictions? And how many of those “people with lots” don’t give a damn that their products are killing people? And making so many people live miserable lives suffering from uncontrolled eating of empty foods. My body was EXTREMELY well fed, while my soul was starving.

Now that the fog has lifted, I am finally feeling real joy in my life. Last week I hit two personal bests – climbing the CN Tower and running the Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon. I was on top of the world. I can’t begin to express the JOY that I felt when I crossed that finish line knowing I did the best I have ever done. I also love helping others. I have had people come up to me and tell me that I inspired them and that they have now lost considerable weight and feel so much better. That is joy. Overcoming fears, both physical and mental (fear of heights, fear of drowning, fear of rejection, fear of failure) … stepping up and conquering your limitations… that’s real joy. Chocolate isn’t joy. Pizza is not joy. Finding out what I am capable of and moving beyond the boundaries I had placed around myself… THAT is joy. That is what feeds the soul.

Yesterday I tried to drop in and visit someone who just had bariatric surgery. He has a lot of work ahead of him but he has taken the first step. But I wanted to tell him that he is about to go on the most grand adventure of his life. As you regain your health, everything seems just ever so much better. Rainbows shine brighter, laughter louder, the suns rays a bit warmer. I’ve said before it is so very hard for someone who has never struggled with obesity to understand how hard it is. And it is equally hard to explain to someone who has always struggled with their weight to understand how wonderful it is to be healthy. I so hope that Tom gets to where he gets to be one of the few like myself who know the hell of being imprisoned in a fat unhealthy body and the heaven that exists on the other side of obesity.

“When you have your health, you have everything. When you do not have your health, nothing else matters at all.” – Augusten Burroughs

Personally I think the only people who can genuinely weigh in on whether “Nothing tastes as good as healthy feels” are those of us who have put taste above health for years and know what that experience is like, and ALSO have experienced what it is like to put health above taste to know what that feels like as well. It is not bullshit. It is as true as words can possibly be. NOTHING – ABSOLUTELY NOTHING AT ALL – tastes as good as healthy feels. Not even cheesecake.

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One thing to note: I’m not saying you can’t eat healthy food that doesn’t taste good. I have learned to have a whole different palate since changing my diet. I’m not a slave to bad fats and sugars the way I used to be but have gained an appreciation for broccoli, cauliflower, spinach and mushrooms. I am quite willing to forgo the birthday cake, mom’s apple pie, going to fast food restaurants and sacrifice those foods which I am sure taste REALLY, REALLY good so that I can be the healthiest me I can be. If I had to eat saurkraut every meal to be healthy, that might be a stretch, but failing that there is almost NOTHING I would trade where I am at today for.

The Gift

I think part of the reason that I was so unhappy when I was obese was that I was not free to be my true self. I actually didn’t know who myself was for that matter.

Me2I was on a “Maintainer’s Panel” a couple of weeks ago and the question that was tossed to us was “What was the biggest surprise you found in maintenance?” My answer was that I could run. Fast. For long periods of time. I took up running in late April of 2011. By late June, just 2 months later, I was running sub-2 hour half marathons in training. I learned to run going with the practice classes at the Running Room, a well known Canadian running store. Every Sunday they have free training runs. On week 1 I ran with the beginners class that went 2.5k. The next week I went 5k. The next week 10. The next week 15. So within a month I had gone from never having run 10 feet in my adult life to doing 15k. And I found that I could not stick with the rest of the members in the class. It felt uncomfortably slow. So I would get the map from the instructor and just take off on my own.

CrossingFinishLine

Four months after taking up running I pulled off a 1:44:14 half marathon. That’s virtually unheard of. That’s just crazy. My half marathons are pretty consistently around an hour and forty-five minutes (1:45). That’s not going to win any prizes. I’ll never be the first to cross the finish line. There are lots of people that are faster than I am. The fellow in the office beside me has done a 1:25. But a 1:45 is very respectable. In that second half marathon that I did 4 months after starting running I finished 943rd out of 6,423 finishers. That put me in the top 15%. Pretty darn impressive for ANYONE. Many people will train for years and years and don’t come close to that time. I must be naturally gifted at this running thing. Who knew I was actually athletically gifted?!?! I never would have known had I not lost the weight. I might well have gone to an early grave never having known that I could run faster than most people on the planet.

Someone commented on my Facebook page recently that it was like I was wearing the costume of a fat man. That there was a runner under all of that cellulite just screaming to get out. He wanted to run free, but was restrained by the weight. I think the commenter was right except usually the person inside the costume knows their true self and are just playing a part. In this case I was certain that I was that large, but frail, scared, limited exterior.

Maybe fat is less of a costume and more of the wrapping on a gift. Everyone knows that there is something mysterious under there, we just don’t know what until we get that wrapping off. As you take some of the wrapping off you start getting an idea of what might be to come, but you are not sure until you get the box open.

I had no idea what was in the box. I had no inkling of all the things I was capable of until I lost the weight. I didn’t fully know WHO I was until I lost the weight. I didn’t know that I could run. I didn’t know I was a good public speaker. I didn’t know I could overcome my fears, whether that be physical fears like my fear of heights or mental fears such as fear of failure or rejection. I didn’t know I would have the courage to try my hand at writing a book. I didn’t know that I was a happy person. The miracle wasn’t losing weight. It was finding me. And being completely surprised by who I am and what I can do. For those of you still on the journey, you will learn lots about food and diet and exercise and healthy living…. but all of that pales in comparison to what you will learn about yourself. The byline to my blog is exactly my thoughts: who knew that by losing weight I would grow as a person? I now know who I am and what I can do and part of that is learning something new every day and continuing to grow. I hope everyone is able to find what is holding them back from being their true selves and finding what they are good at… It might be something you wouldn’t have expected in your wildest dreams.

Someone recently shared this video with me. I didn’t cry when I finished my first half marathon. I didn’t cry when I finished my first full marathon. I cried when I watched this video. Just the first verse was enough to make me realize how different my life is now. The song is called “We Can” by Jesse Ruben.

Four out of Seven Ain’t Bad?

I attended a talk by Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, who I refer to as the Anti-Oz. I have a lot of respect for Dr. Freedhoff as he is fighting the powers that be to makes our society healthy AND happy. And in general, I really like what he has to say. But in listening to his talk tonight, I realized how much disagreement I do have with him.

His presentation was primarily on what he calls “The Seven Sins of Dieting”. These are seven “myths” of what it means to be a successful weight loser. Some I agree wholeheartedly. Others I just shook my head at. Let’s look at these 7 sins in detail. The ones in green I *LOVE*. The ones in red, well, I guess if we all believed the same thing, life would be pretty boring. In other words, if it is green, Yoni says that it is a myth and I agree. If it is in red, Yoni says that it’s a myth but I think there is some truth to it. Or at least I disagree with his presentation of the “myth”.

(1) “If you’re not hungry, you’re not doing it right”.
The idea behind this is that people get in their heads that losing weight is supposed to be all about suffering. And that suffering is hunger. And the hungrier you are, the more suffering you endure, the better you are doing at losing weight. People actually congratulate themselves for this suffering. “I did awesome yesterday. I was horribly hungry all day long but only ate arugula salad for dinner.”

When I speak at chapters, I often get asked this simple question. “How do you deal with hunger?” My response is the obvious answer, but not what people want to hear. I know what they mean to ask is “Since you have lost all this weight and are not eating nearly the food that you used to, are you not hungry most of the time?” Well, no. Right now I’m almost never hungry. I try to make sure I never get hungry. I don’t starve myself. I don’t remember ever being starved when losing the weight. I had issues after I lost the weight because I lost it so fast, but I don’t remember ever being hungry when losing. Yeah. So I lost 160 pounds. In one year. And I don’t remember being hungry. You don’t need to suffer through day after day of growling stomachs, headaches and being tired from being hungry all the time. If this is you – STOP IT. Like Bob Newhart says, “JUST STOP IT”. If you are PHYSICALLY hungry you are not eating enough. Period. And I think the thing I agree with Yoni most about is – if you are suffering, it is not maintainable and you will stop your suffering at some point. “I couldn’t stick with that diet. I was always hungry. Therefore I am doomed to be obese and unhealthy until I die.”. Trust me. You CAN lose weight without being hungry. Maybe not as fast as you hoped, but it will be more sustainable.

(2) “Sacrifice is the key to losing weight”The example Yoni gave here someone deciding that they were not going to have any birthday cake on their birthday because they were going to sacrifice having that cake and suffer through that sacrifice because they are on a diet. He said that food has been a part of human celebrations going back thousands of years. It’s part of our nature to feast during our celebrations. And if you don’t partake in these celebrations and traditions, then you are missing out on part of what it is to be human.

Malarky. Total BS. I AGREE with the title of this sin, but not the detail. When I go home for Christmas dinner I’ll put a reasonable amount of veggies on my plate along with my Tofurky slices and dab or two of my mother’s summer savory dressing. No rolls, no potatos with butter and certainly no apple pie with ice cream. I typically don’t see this as a “sacrifice”. I am still able to enjoy the holidays just as much without going overboard on the food. Playing games in the iPad with my niece and nephew. Joking around with my aunts and uncles. Catching up on what has happened with my cousins over the last year.

*IF* you see giving up the apple pie at Christmas, or Yoni’s example, the birthday cake on your birthday, as a SACRIFICE, then yes, I can see that leading to feelings of deprivation.

Now, I will not lie to you. There *are* times that I sulk. I’ll sit in the corner and have a little pity party. “I used to LOVE mint chocolate chip ice cream. And I’ll never have it again. It’s not fair.” But I snap out of it. And the difference is MINDSET. If I see it as “I can’t have mint chocolate chip ice cream” I feel deprived. If I see it as “I don’t have mint chocolate chip ice cream because I know where that path led me and I am so much healthier and happier today with the crappy foods out of my diet” I no longer see it as a sacrifice. It’s like a recovering alcoholic feeling deprived of alcohol. Maybe a little, but he knows he is better off without it and is proud that at Christmas time when the beer is being handed around, he is proud that he’s able to ask for a tonic water with lime.

In other words, if you see giving up your birthday cake as a sacrifice, then yes, you will feel deprived and unhappy. I’ve just stopped seeing giving up birthday cake as a sacrifice. When I left for a new job my director asked if I wanted a vanilla or chocolate cake at my going away party. I said to get either… get one for everyone else but I’d not be having any. This woman, awesome wonderful person that she was, got exactly what I would have wanted for my going away party. A giant bowl of fresh strawberries. I did not feel the SLIGHTEST bit of sacrifice not having a cake at my going away party like most people have.

(3) Willpower is the key to weight loss.
How many times have you seen in the media, from asshats like Bill Maher, from bullies in your everyday life:    “Those fat people just have no willpower.” “If only those fat slobs had the willpower not to stuff down those Big Macs”. I’ve seen Yoni state many times “The obesity epidemic only started in the last few decades. And it wasn’t due to a massive, worldwide loss of willpower.”

Oh, and I know lot of people that love to beat themselves up because “I am a terrible person. I’m fat and ugly because I have no willpower.”

Well, “willpower” is something I take a HUGE interest in. I am absolutely FASCINATED by the topic of “willpower”. I have read everything Kelly McGonigal has written on the subject and watched every video I could possibly find. I have taken some of her online courses to learn more. And every study that Yoni brought up this evening I had heard before because Kelly has presented them in her talks as well.

The difference between Yoni’s talk and Kelly’s is that Kelly will give advice on how to get past your challenges. Yoni seemed to say “Your gas tank only holds so much ‘will power gas’, so once the gas tank is out of fuel for the day, too bad, so sad… you’re done”. Kelly’s research shows that willpower can GROW. Someone who says they “have no willpower” is lying. They may have WEAK willpower, but everyone has SOME willpower. And Kelly’s research shows that willpower is like a muscle… it can be trained and grow and improved. There are skills that can be developed to help your willpower. There are ways to get that gas tank of will power to get bigger so that you don’t run out of gas by the end of the day.

For me, I have used tricks to stop myself from giving into my base desires to overindulge. I have followed a lot of Kelly’s suggestions and developed some of my own. And it is not just in terms of food. I seem to have the willpower available to stick to other goals as well. This is consistent with Kelly’s research. You are much better off quitting smoking and then tackling your weight issue (or vice versa) than trying to do both at the same time. Because the willpower muscle you develop doing the first task will make the second task easier. But if you try to life two heavy loads with a weak willpower muscle, it is doomed to fail.

(4) “Food should never be used for comfort”So you are totally stressed out at the end of the day. The boss yelled at you. Some guy cut you off on the expressway. The electric bill is past due. So you eat your favorite comfort food. Yoni’s example was “Ben and Jerry’s”.

Yoni’s perspective is that when we are stressed out or unhappy or anxious, that is suffering. And we are biologically built to feel better when we have crappy food. That’s why it’s called “comfort food”. He claims that using food to comfort yourself is a “normal, appropriate use for food”.

If I had hair I would have pulled it out. For TWENTY YEARS I self-medicated with food. I think using food to stuff down your emotions and using it to deal with crap in your life is a major reason people overeat.

I remember a night before I was to catch a 6am flight out of town. It was late, almost midnight and I was doing one last check around the house to see if I had forgotten to pack anything. I headed to the basement and my carpet was *soaked*. Somehow the basement was flooded. I searched for the source of the leak to no avail. So I went upstairs and ate 14 chocolate chip caramel glazed rice cakes. Do you know what? Eating 14 sugar-laden rice cakes did NOTHING to fix the flooding in my basement. It was NOT an appropriate use of food. In fact it made the situation far worse. Not only was I completely stressed out about the flooded basement, but I was now so stuffed I felt sick, I was very worried about what the scale was going to say, feeling guilty and ashamed for what I had eaten. Yeah, that’s appropriate. And I SEE IT ALL THE TIME. People tell me about the awful day that they had at work and the 2,000 calorie binge they had to deal with that anxiety. I stand by “If hunger isn’t the problem, FOOD IS NOT THE ANSWER.”

I have made a list of 10 things that I can use as a comfort when I am stressed out. Going to the park and reading a book. Going for a walk or a bike ride. Writing a blog post. Know what is wonderful about these things? After I’m done, not only do I not feel as stressed out, but I feel that I’ve accomplished a little something. And know what is absolutely amazing? That these alternative methods of finding comfort WORK LONGER THAN TWO MINUTES.

(5) “To lose weight you need to sweat. A lot. Bonus points if you puke.”
This myth I totally agree is a myth. People think that they are going to lose weight by going to the gym and working out for hours every day. Not going to happen. I’m a runner. So many people I hear saying things like “I took up running 6 months ago and I haven’t lost a pound.”. Well, I took up cycling two years ago and still don’t know how to play the guitar. People seem to think that burning a lot of calories in the gym or on the track will equal weight loss. However, it is our tendency as humans to eat extra after we exercise. Quite often MORE than what we burned off. I learned a new word last month. “Rungry” This is the sense of being famished that follows a long run. I agree with Dr. Freedhoff…. there probably isn’t many people on the planet who have run a marathon that didn’t reward themselves with a giant meal after.

This isn’t to say exercise isn’t important. In fact, if you watch Dr. Mike Evan’s “Twenty-Three and a Half Hours” clip on Youtube, you will see that exercise is THE top factor in lowering mortality risk. But as his clip concludes, it doesn’t need to be hours. And it doesn’t need to be sweat ’til you drop intensive. It can just be going for a brisk walk.

One caveat I would throw in. Something I DO disagree with Dr. Freedhoff on in this section. I know lots of people who are maintaining large amounts of weight who exercise so that they can have extra calories. They are tracking their food and their exercise. They are FULLY aware of what they are burning and are careful not to overconsume after. I think where people fall down is that they overestimate how many calories they are burning and underestimate how many they are consuming. If I am fully aware of how many calories I am burning by biking to work each day, I can adjust my calories up and treat myself to an extra half pint of blueberries at coffee break time.

(6) “You have to follow your weight loss plan to perfection to lose weight”
No way I am going to disagree with Yoni on this one. Perfectionism KILLS weight loss progress. “I went on vacation and gained 5 pounds. I screwed up. I obviously can’t do this.” How many people have been following their plan perfectly for a while, hit even just ONE bad day, and decide to throw in the towel. “I guess I can’t do this”. I know my fall down was in journaling my foods. I’d track perfectly for a week, go to an Indian restaurant where I hadn’t the foggiest idea what I just ate, much less have any clue for the calorie count, say “well I guess you blew that one didn’t you?” and stopped tracking altogether. Not just for that meal. Not just for that day. Not just that week. It could take me months to get back on track. I too have suffered from this “if I can’t do it perfect, I won’t do it at all” mentality. Later in his presentation he talked about how in many of our life’s endeavors, we accept doing our best. He gave the example that I can relate to – running. When we run our races, we aren’t out to win the race. Most of us are not out to qualify for the Boston Marathon. We just want to finish the event and do our best. But when it comes to doing the actions needed to lose weight, we have this feeling that we need to be perfect. And it’s so not true. Doing your honest best and allowing yourself to be human in this process will still get you where you are going in a more sane and gentle manner.

(7) “You should live in denial to lose weight”.
Yoni opened this one with “Nothing Tastes as Good as Thin Feels”. The one I use when public speaking is “Nothing Tastes as Good as Healthy Feels”. But his contention is that you can lose weight on a diet you can’t stand. You can maintain for a while on a diet you can’t stand. You can even lie to yourself that being thin is so amazing that it is worth all the suffering and sacrifice. His example was Oprah who lost a lot of weight on an unsustainable liquid diet. Sure she probably felt fantastic when she lost all her weight, but after a while she had to stop denying her desire to actually eat real food. And this is why I suggest to people that they do not lose weight doing things they cannot do for the rest of their entire lives. It is hard to eat foods you do not like over the long term even if you feel fantastic healthwise.

HOWEVER – again I go back to the section on sacrifice – denial and sacrifice depend on the way you define them. Yoni seemed to speak as someone who has never been on the other side of 300 pounds. I doubt he ever had blood pressure of 190/140. I doubt he had open sores on his legs from bad circulation. To go from there to running a marathon and my 10th half is only two days away….. and I climb the CN tower for the third time tomorrow…. Damn it, I *CAN* deny a hell of a lot. As I sad above, there are days when I throw myself a pity party that I can’t eat all the crappy food on the supermarket shelves anymore… but then I remember the freedom, the personal growth, the personal adventure of life the last few years have been and I don’t think there is a font big enough to put this in:
NOTHING TASTES AS GOOD AS HEALTHY FEELS!!!!!!!!!

If I had to eat nothing but kale and tofu for the rest of my life and it gave me the health that I have today, I think I could sustain it. As long as I was not hungry and was getting the nutrients my body needs, the enjoyment I get out of food is totally unnecessary.

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And I think that brings us to the CRUCIAL difference between Yoni’s opinion and my own. It is Yoni’s firm belief that food is more than fuel. It serves as a comforter when you are feeling blue. It serves as a facilitator of good times during group celebrations. It serves as a means of bringing joy to your life when you share a meal with someone. When things “taste good” it can make you “happy”… and we all need happiness in our life. It is millions of years of evolution that have brought us to where we are and it does us no good to deny our biological imperative to eat food for the sake of the enjoyment it brings to us.

I couldn’t disagree more. First, we fight biological imperatives all the time. We are a violent species. Biologically, it was the strongest males that would survive the harsh conditions of pre-civilized man. It is in our nature to lash out at those that wrong us. But we stop ourselves. We don’t give in to the base instinct of our reptilian brain. We let our higher functioning brains make the decisions for us. We override our instinctual base drives each and every day by allowing our human neo-cortex brains have the drivers seat. Just because our driven instinct is to sate ourselves with garbage foods doesn’t mean we have to do so. It isn’t easy. There will be slip ups. I still find myself going for a snack at midnight from time to time when I’m not truly hungry. I let the reptilian brain win once in a while. But to accept this as a normal everday occurance because of biology throws out the fact that we are humans and may possibly be the only species on the planet that has the ability to rise above our innate programming. Use it.

As for food making us happy, well, yeah, it may send off messages to the pleasure centre in the brain. But it doesn’t last very long. As I stated above there are FAR, FAR better ways of making yourself happy. Go make a list of all the things you enjoy OTHER than food. Like I said, spending time with my family, laughing over our stories from the last year, playing cards or board games while reminiscing about holidays past, reading a story to my young niece…. that’s what I remember about Christmas – not the stupid meal. I did not feel like I missed out on anything at all by not having the apple pie.

For me, “FOOD = FUEL”. To Yoni it is so much more than that. But as I said, if we all agreed on everything, it would be a very boring world to live in.