Saturday, November 8, 2014

Whole Life Challenge -- Looking Back

Eight weeks ago today, I began the Whole Life Challenge, a 56-day program of fitness, nutrition, and lifestyle challenges that was designed by two fitness gurus, Andy Petranek and Michael Stanwyck. The points-based work involves eating right, exercising vigorously (but not to the point of injury), drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, being mindful of your body and how it works in concert with your mind, and reflecting each day on the work you've done and how it's affecting your life.

My initial post on this journey reflected on how I'd fared during and after doing the Insanity workout program, and how I was looking forward to trying out the Challenge.  I had intended to blog daily about how things were going, but after day 4 I got distracted with other things and just focused on the program.  Ironic how that last post was called "Distractions."

Yesterday was Day 56 and I completed it the same way I'd completed most of the previous 55 days: a good morning workout, a sensible breakfast late in the morning, a lot of water to drink, a vitamin pill, a productive work day, a good dinner (with or without the family), and time to stretch and reflect at the end of the day.  I slept pretty well, and my body wasn't sore, or too tired, the following morning. That felt wonderful.

More importantly, however, my mind was still engaged in the process that this program started for me.  I wanted to continue!  Given that my goal is to lose 25 pounds within six months, I must continue because I'm only about halfway there as of today (progress and "After" photos after the jump.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Whole Life Challenge, Day 4 -- Distractions

Both my sons have ADHD -- one more severe than the other -- and I witness daily the way their brains function with and without medication.  Sometimes, a task (like teeth brushing) can take 10-15 minutes, depending on what stimuli are present in the bathroom, or what song is playing in a kid's head, or -- as is frequently the case -- how much sugar they had in the past hour.  I think brains are naturally predisposed to place attention on the most attractive thing around.  One can see how that works when we rubberneck on the freeway because some car stalled out and is pulled over on the right shoulder.  Admit it, we all do that! 

I can think of at least a dozen things in the bathroom that are more attractive than my toothbrush swirling around in my mouth.  The trick, as I see it, is in minimizing distractions so that they can find a clearer path to task completion.  With luck, not only will they get to Point B, they'll notice something about themselves and actually incorporate that learning into the next time and the next time.

I suspect that I have the same "disorder" but never got diagnosed.  I catch myself from time to time doing something completely different than what I was intending to do at that moment.  When that happens I realize that I'm pretty much out of my head and completely unfocused. 

This phenomenon comes to mind because the WLC has managed to bring it into sharp relief.  Each week, participants in the WLC are given a "Lifestyle" challenge, a directive that I think is there to help us stay on track over the eight-week period.  This week's challenge is avoiding distractions while eating.  Basically, we are to turn off cell phones, computers, and tablets during meals.  No social media, no surfing, and no work while eating a meal. 

Here's how it's explained on the WLC website:
It can’t come as a surprise, our state of health. As a culture of “progress” we’ve largely disconnected from that which nourishes our body and our soul. We make time for it, do it in passing, sometimes even as an afterthought. And we’re paying the price. 
It’s time to pay more attention to eating. Not just what we eat, but how we eat. How we choose, what we choose, and how our choices affect not just us, but the world around us. Because it’s become impossible to ignore how our choices have a direct impact on the world around us – our productivity, our bodies, our spirit, and our planet. 
I've been successful with this challenge so far.  But today my day was full of crazy -- so much to do! Work work work, call call call, email email email!  And I was so busy this morning I didn't even have time to eat breakfast.  As I rushed out of the house, late and hungry, with my laptop, my water bottle, and my lunch, I determined that I was going to be successful at eating my lunch free of distractions.

My lunch consisted of a salad I'd hastily thrown together the night before from leftover salad and half a baked chicken breast, plus about a quarter of a honeydew melon, cut up.  Normally, nearly every day, I eat my lunch at my desk, which has a computer monitor at each corner, each showing something different.  Today, I ate with the screens turned off or locked, with the cell phone on silent and the phone placed face down on my desk so I couldn't see the little light flashing to tell me I had a message or email. 

So many discoveries!  First, I noticed my very "loud" salad.  Very little lettuce, and mostly carrots, celery, and red cabbage to crunch.  Second, the chicken, while very tasty last night, was dry and didn't taste as good today.  Overall, I did not enjoy the salad.  The sweetness of the honeydew balanced out the vinegary salad dressing, and I ended the meal with a net positive.  Third, I noticed that I was hurrying through the meal.  Got to get that computer back on so I can get to work!  I looked at the other desk in my office, empty, with no computer, and considered for a couple of seconds that perhaps I'd be better off eating at that desk instead, but I decided to slow things down and tough it out.  I think I made it last for 10 minutes, which is about average for me.  But because I didn't have Facebook or a news blog to read, or work emails to answer, or clients to talk to, I got to taste my meal in its entirety.  I am feeling the slight soreness in my jaw from crunching all those damn vegetables.  And I'm really, really missing chocolate right now.  But I'll get over that soon.

I had a great workout today, and the body soreness is starting to fade as I get back into the routine.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Whole Life Challenge -- Day 3

After two days and serious punishment to my legs, it was time for me to focus on my upper body. After all, my man-boobs and disgusting old-man belly aren't going to slim down all on their own.

Since I don't have weights at home, I decided to hit the gym, my local Westchester YMCA, where I've been a member for over 10 years.  Arriving at 8:15 meant that the majority of the early morning workout fiends would be gone.  And I was right.  Surrounded by septuagenarians and octagenarians, plus the scattered Real Housewife of Westchester working up a sheen in the aerobics studio.  I made a beeline upstairs for the elliptical cross trainers to do my cardio warm-up.  Ten minutes of increasing intensity, my heart rate finished at just about 140 bpm, pretty much where I wanted it to be.

I made a pit stop at the water fountain to hydrate, then it was back downstairs to the main weight room.  I decided to do two circuits of three exercises each.  The first circuit covered the tricep machine, the seated bench press, and leg lifts to work my core.  The second circuit involved reverse curls with dumbbells, abdominal crunches on an exercise ball, and flies with dumbbells again.  I chose lower weights so that I could do rapid reps.  Completed three sets on each circuit with no rest in between exercises.  Got my heart rate pretty elevated.  After both circuits were done, I had hit 30 minutes and decided that was enough, so I headed home.

Food got easier today; the shift from what I had been eating to now only seemed drastic in my head. I didn't need the sweets, the bread, or the cheese.  One thing that did challenge me, however, was the amount of water I have to drink: 1/3 of my body weight, in ounces.  That's 67 ounces of water per day.  And today, being at my desk at work and not outside moving around too much, it was definitely more difficult to quaff that much.  But I did it.  I do feel a little bloated at the moment, but that will pass.

For Day 4, I'm going back to the Y and working back muscles and biceps.  I can barely lift my arms right now; it'll be great just to completely immobilize them now with a bunch of bicep curls.

Off to bed.  Sleep is good.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Timely Reminder of Life's Fragility

I knew my muscles and joints would scream at me this morning, regardless of how much stretching I did last night (a lot).  This out of shape body can't go as long as it did without a really intense workout, and not feel horribly inadequate the next day.  Although the initial workout yesterday lasted a scant 11 minutes, my body reacted as though I'd huffed and puffed for a solid hour or more. Specifically, my quads and hamstrings had turned into sheepshanks overnight.  Once I put weight on them, I knew that I would need twice as much time to travel half the distance (to the bathroom, where else?).

Unfortunately, putting weight on my feet and legs first had to overcome the inert mess of tired sinew that my upper abdominals had become.  I struggled just to sit up.  This from just 30 sit-ups?  Fuck...

I rolled onto my side and swung my legs over the side of the bed and pushed myself up with my arms (note to self: I need to do an arm and shoulder workout soon to balance out the chorus of growls emanating from my legs).  Looked at the clock.  Quarter past seven.  I had about 90 minutes before I needed to drive the kids to Sunday school.  Stood up, took care of business, and got on my shorts, T-shirt and cross-trainers.  Found my Galaxy S4 and earphones and headed outside by 7:30.  Today, I was going to push a little farther.  A power walk around the 'hood, uphill, downhill, over about 45 minutes, with Dream Theater, Chick Corea, Rush, Jean-Luc Ponty, and Jeff Buckley as my travelling companions. I kept up a really good pace and walked 3.2 miles (a 5k) in 46 minutes.  That equated to a little more than a 14-minute mile.  I know some who can't run that fast, so that felt pretty damn good!

After a great breakfast, I got the boys in the car, drove them to Sunday school and walked them inside Temple Akiba for their first day of the 2014/15 school year.  Seeing the faces of the other parents reassured me, and seeing my boys' classmates, a little older after the summer break, gave me a warm feeling of watching this community grow.  Somehow, being nearly 52 didn't bother me today.

A buddy of mine stood at the back of the room as his kids ran off to find their friends.  After small talk, he asked me if I'd spoken to one of our common friends, a former co-worker of mine, over the past month or so.  Turns out he had just been diagnosed with prostate cancer and had his prostate removed.  This man is six years my junior and is one of the most physically fit men I've ever known. A man who works out seven days a week, watches what he eats, and doesn't party if it meant he'd miss his workout the next day.

I wasn't really close to this man since we'd stopped working together, but we had a relationship.  For a man like him, who took such excellent care of himself throughout his entire life, to be struck with prostate cancer (and the lifetime after-effects of the surgery), this news put me in a funk.  Combined with thigh muscles that were stiff and sore,  it came out in the way I talked to my wife the entire morning.

As I took my dog for a walk, constantly reminded with every step that I was walking uphill (figuratively) over the next eight weeks, I couldn't help but wonder if all the punishment I was going to give myself was worth it.  Cancer doesn't care if I'm fat and flabby or lean and ripped.  It'd get me either way.  Of course, the exercise and better eating were worth it, but I could see that I had to make the most of the time I had, and fuck the cancers and the diabetes, the hardening arteries and the strokes.  As Sting wrote, "For all those born beneath an angry star/Lest we forget how fragile we are."

My sore muscles are nothing.  The cheese, the bread, the beer, the sweets that I won't be enjoying for the next two months are nothing.  My life, my health, my beautiful wife and sons -- they are everything.


Saturday, September 13, 2014

A New Journey

In October 2012, a month after my fiftieth birthday, I saw myself in the bathroom mirror one morning and absolutely hated what I was seeing.  My belly spilling liberally over my belt line,  Belly fat spreading from my diaphragm, around to my "love handles" which then spread around further to my lower back.  A fold of skin where my kidneys are.  Man-boobs. Chubbiness under my jaw line and jowls forming at my cheeks.  Muscle tone nearly nonexistent.  At fifty years old, combined with my now nearly all-gray hair, I looked like a fat old fart.  The worst part was, I could actually see the body I wanted to have underneath all that flab and girth.  It was right there!  All I had to do was do enough exercise and eat right, and that body was possible!  I fought back tears as I firmly decided that enough was enough.  I was not going to have this body anymore.

I had seen infomercials on TV for Shaun T's mega-exercise series, Insanity.  Men my age, giving 110% to the workout and nutrition and fitness program, shedding twenty, thirty, or more pounds, gaining muscle definition, tone, and a better outlook on life.  Of course, I knew these were extraordinary cases, most of them taking longer to get those bodies than the 63 days that the program promised.  I had a friend in the neighborhood who had done the program and had lost about 30 pounds.  But even if I could lose fifteen pounds, a couple of inches around my waist, and gain a better handled on my eating (which had gotten out of control), it was worth the $150 investment.  I ordered it online and then convinced Lisa to join me in the program.  We took before pictures (mine after the jump), which looked horrible!  What a great incentive, NOT to look like this!

I began on November 26, the Monday after Thanksgiving.  I lost twelve pounds and lost two inches around my waist, started seeing my abs, leg muscles, and shoulders.  My face and neck slimmed down.  A friend told me about six weeks in that I looked "svelte."  Felt great.  The nutrition program was difficult, and I had actually to cut back on the recommended calories (because I had a much more sedentary lifestyle/work life than the average guy), but the weight and fatness disappeared.

But I wasn't satisfied.  I wanted more.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The War on Religious Freedom

At some point later today, Andrew Sullivan will have a very long, insightful, far more thoughtful piece on today's Supreme Court 5-4 decision to allow "mostly Christian" prayers at city and town council meetings.  For now, however, you can have mine.

I won't retell the story here, suffice to say that the entire matter came before the Court by way of a challenge to a New York town's decision in 1999 to move from a moment of silence before council meetings to prayer.  While one side asserts that such a move violates the First Amendment and establishes Christianity as the town's religion, the town claims it has been inclusive and allowed other belief systems to be represented.
"The faith of the prayer giver does not matter at all," said John Auberger, Greece's board supervisor, who began the practice shortly after taking office. "We accept anyone who wants to come in and volunteer to give the prayer to open up our town meetings."

Three of the five majority Justices took a narrow view, but the more contentious Justices, Thomas and Scalia, pushed the envelope by suggesting that even if people take offense at the use of prayer, it should not be a reason to discontinue the practice.

Welcome to the American theocracy, my friends!  I don't really care that the Christian majority of most of our American towns and cities make a "reasonable" effort to be more inclusive of other belief systems.  The fact that this debate exists at all is a step too far against our religious freedom.  The subtle creep of religious expression upon our system of government continues unabated.  In America, we are free to express our religious beliefs as we choose, free from government pressure, and government is expressly forbidden by our Constitution to make a law "respecting the establishment of religion."  Realizing that the vast majority of American citizens believe in a supernatural deity, it is profoundly important for lawmakers at all levels of government to realize that no single religious view be seen as more important than any other.  The Christian majority should be highly sensitive to this need.  In all matters of government, therefore, public expressions of religion should be strictly forbidden.  Do you hear that, believers?  Forbidden!  If we have to have a debate about how much or how little religion to allow in government, lovers of liberty have already lost. 

These moves by local councils are not about religious freedom; they are about restricting religious expression by anyone other than Christians.  They are about the replacement of freedom with moralism.  Imagine you are a devout Muslim with business before a town council, which has just opened its meeting with a prayer offering thanks to Jesus Christ.  You have a beard, and you are seated next to your wife, who is wearing a hijab.  Your turn comes, and your name is horribly mispronounced by the old, white Christian man running the agenda.  You step up to the microphone and you correct the pronunciation of your name.  The council member apologizes, and continues to fail to pronounce your name correctly.  Your business before the council involves matters that involve obstacles to your religious practice.  You encounter someone on the council who is openly hostile to Islam and starts to question your motives as something other than religious practice.  How likely is it going to be that this person's repellent views are going to be shared by other members of the council, perhaps not quite so openly.  How likely are you to feel welcome to petition the council for other matters, religious or not, in the future?  Not very, I would say.

Watch for more tests of the establishment clause in the next few years.  Cases that revisit the idea of having the Ten Commandments in a courthouse.  Cases that push for prayer in public schools.  Cases that create litmus tests for the religious beliefs of candidates for public office. 

You don't agree?  When was the last time you could remember not seeing American citizens (mostly religious Christians) being openly contemptuous of other belief systems (it usually looks like complaints about their beliefs being trampled upon -- the persecution complex)?