On Losing Weight

This is something I’ve been meaning to post for a while but haven’t.

I’ve been on a mission to get my health to levels where its never been. I live a very sedentary lifestyle – I’m a System Engineer by day, and someone that uses a computer a lot at night. While I move from building to building a bunch at work, I’m going from meeting to meeting, not actually doing a lot of physical activity. Once I get where I’m going my butt goes back into a seat for an hour or more at a time. This is nothing new — my entire career has been like this.

The most physically fit I’ve ever been was when I was in marching band my freshman year of High School. During that time I was constantly on my feet carrying large instruments around with me the whole time. (I played both trombone and tuba.) That’s about the only time in my life when I can remember actually being in decent shape. We had practices every evening and spend every Saturday on the road at various competitions.

After moving to Ohio my health went downhill from there. I no longer got the exercise I was getting from marching band. I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back I guess I got a bit depressed then as well — I just stopped caring about things like that and I let it get out of control. Funny how I was blind to it while this was happening and it’s only now that I’m able to see it.

I got to the heaviest I’ve ever been when I was in college. I found some photos of myself (which I won’t be posting here, thanks! 🙂 ) a few months ago and was sorta shocked at what I saw. Scared, really, knowing that’s where I’d come from. I was about 150 lbs more then than I am now.

Right after graduating college (it took me seven years to graduate since I was working full time, but I made it!) I started having back problems. I had a few episodes where I couldn’t move at all I was in so much pain… all I could do was lay flat on my back and not move a muscle for fear of triggering a spasm. My Mom came over for a few nights while all that was going on, and I’m not sure what I would have been able to do without her there. We’ve both agreed that I should have gone to the hospital when that happened, but for some reason we didn’t do it. I’m not sure how I would have gotten there, frankly, since I couldn’t sit upright… short of calling 911, I guess. I am very glad I did survive that time and went on to make a full recovery.

While I was laid up in bed I remember laying there and realizing I could feel my heart beating and then feel the blood rush outward from my heart. It was a weird sensation. I told myself “oh no, this can’t be good, I shouldn’t be able to feel this” and figured that my blood pressure was too high. I made an appointment at the doctor afterwards to go talk about this and get my blood pressured checked.

That doctor appointment was a humbling experience.

When people ask me how much weight I’ve lost I don’t really have an answer to give them — because I don’t know. The scale at the doctor’s office wouldn’t go that high. (This was before digital scales in doctor’s offices.) It was really embarrassing. The figure that he wrote down on my chart was just “XXX>” where XXX was the most the scale could do. We sorta guessed what the “>” might be by how fast the balance beam on the scale would bounce back when pushed, but it was just a guess… and sure enough, my blood pressure was very high.

That doctor visit triggered me to go on a massive diet. I lost a lot of weight by doing nothing more than just cutting way back on what I was eating — I didn’t add in the working out piece, I just simply quit eating a lot. It worked great… right up till when I killed my gallbladder.

If you don’t know what a gallbladder does, it stores excess bile that’s produced in the liver. Bile is used for breaking down fat in the food you eat. When you’re as overweight as I was, your body gets really used to creating a lot of bile since it’s constantly having to digest fat. Since I had radically (unsafely really) changed my diet suddenly that bile was just trapped in the gallbladder and never had a chance to get flushed out. It then crystallized and turned into thousands of little tiny gallstones.

I had a bunch of gallbladder attacks, several of which put me in the ER overnight. Gallbladder attacks are one of the most painful things you can experience — I’ve talked to women that have both given birth and had a gallbladder attack and they tell me that having a kid is easy compared to a gallbladder attack. (And when you’re done giving birth you’ve got a new baby to enjoy at the end of it, vs being really sore for weeks afterwards!) After every single attack they’d send me to get an ultrasound done of my gallbladder, but they’d never find anything. Turns out later that the reason they never found anything is because the entire gallbladder was packed full of stones — thus there was no change in density for the ultrasound to pick up on!

After the last one I had a really skilled ultrasound tech at the ER happened to find “something” that didn’t look right to her and was able to convince the doctors of it. They came into the ER to tell me that not only was I going to be admitted to the hospital, but they had a surgeon coming in to remove my gallbladder right then. Prep for surgery started immediately. (Looking back, this is a good thing — I didn’t have time to get worried!)

The suregon told me he’d never seen anything like what I had. He showed me a photo of the gallbladder that he removed and how it was packed full of thousands of pea-sized gallstones. He was just flabbergasted that it has happened since he’d just simply never seen it before.

Recovery from this surgery was slow and it put a halt to my weight loss. I was unable to eat “normal” foods for a while and I just had to eat what I could eat. The momentum I had built up went away — most likely for the best anyhow, since I was doing it wrong.

Fast forward a few years to three years ago. We had just started a fitness program at the school where I was working, which meant I could join the gym next door to the office for just $10/month, so I did. What possessed me to do that I have no idea, but it was a smart move.

The first time I set paw in the gym I was unable to do more than 15 minutes walking on a treadmill. Really embarrassing. I kept working on adding more and more time to the length of time I was walking each day until I made it all the way up to 55 minutes (plus five for a cool down). I didn’t focus on dieting during this time – I was just trying to get into better shape.

After hitting the wall that doing nothing but cardio will do, I decided to get a trainer and take on weight training. I did weight training two days a week with a trainer and cardio every other day. I did this for six months until I found a job here in Austin and moved.

My trainer in Ohio got me on the road to losing weight again. He forced me to write out a food journal for a week, and then we sat down and went over it. That’s a really cruel thing to have to do. 🙂

He showed me how to cook better and we set off to start dropping weight again. (I had put on some after surgery — never got any close to where I started, however!!) This time I was doing it right. Instead of just eating less, I was making sure I ate the right things *AND* added exercise to my routine.

After working with Dave for six months I moved to Austin. When I got here I was flat broke (I was paying both a mortgage and rent for seven months until my house sold), so I couldn’t afford a trainer. Old habits started to take over again.

That changed about 20 months ago when I hired the services of a new trainer — Jeff here in Austin. I spent the first year with him just working on weight training and getting my back stronger, which worked great.

Last year (2011) in June I started hitting my diet heavy again. My goal was to start right after RCFM, but I got stuck with that really nasty con crud that we all seemed to get right after RCFM and it took me a few weeks to recover. Once I did, however, I started dieting and haven’t looked back.

Since that time I’m now down about 80lbs. According to the scale here at the house I have four pounds to go (vs nine pounds on the gym scale) to reach the goal that my Doctor and I set out to hit all those years ago. I’ve been dropping a pound a week lately, so I’m within three months of hitting my goal weight.

I’ve decided that I’m not going to stop there. If I get to that goal weight and weight is still coming off, I’m going to just let it keep coming off. If I can get to my goal weight and then keep it off for two YEARS, I’ll start trying to think about getting surgery to remove some of the excess skin that built up from my college years.

So what have I learned from all of this? The biggest thing is that I have a food addiction.

The doctor tells me that a food addiction is almost exactly like a drug addiction to your brain. It gets used to the chemicals that are released while eating, and then becomes addicted to that sensation. Unlike a drug addict, however, you can’t separate yourself from your addiction. A meth addict can keep away from the drug, but I can’t get away from food.

It’s a weird thing. Two parts of my brain fight at times. Let’s pretend it’s lunch time… the logical side of my brain says “you need to consume 400 calories of food to provide the fuel that you need to make it to dinner”, but the food-loving part of my brain says “hey, there’s a pizza buffet down the road from here!” (And then it really gets fun when I start rationalizing things… like reminding myself that the pizza buffet is only $4.50, but a healthy lunch is $7.00! Thus begins the internal dialog of “you’re really going to pay more to get less??” ARUGH!)

I have to consciously ignore that part of my brain and just listen to the logical part. It’s a constant struggle that I’ll most likely have to deal with for the rest of my life. I can’t let my guard down or less I’ll find myself giving into that addiction and I’ll be right back where I started, and I don’t want that.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I caught my food addiction in time. Today my blood pressure is completely normal, I am not diabetic, and by and large I seemed to have managed to escape the dangers of being so overweight. Odds are this is because it didn’t happen till I was older and I caught it in time.

I’m in nearly as good of shape today as I was in high school, and hopefully within the next year will be able to surpass where I was even then. (I’m 34 in real life.)

The day I hit my goal weight I’ll be sure and post back here and all over Twitter. I’ll be overjoyed when I finally get there.