After Three Months...

It's been a little over three months now since I began my quest to lose weight and get healthier. I'm down to 171 pounds, six away from my goal and 36 down from where I started at 207. Obviously I'm thrilled with how this has gone, even if I can get snarky on Twitter about having to buy new clothes or whatever. No one cares about that.

Apart from just feeling better, key numbers back up the fact that I am now healthier. Here's a highlight of numbers from when I initially had my blood test back in late February:

   Cholesterol - 163
   HDL (good cholesterol) - 32
   LDL (bad cholesterol) - 100
   Triglycerides - 156
   Cholesterol/HDL - 5.1
   Glucose - 91

For reference, here are the targets for me:

   Cholesterol - 125-200
   HDL (good cholesterol) - >= 40
   LDL (bad cholesterol) - <130
   Triglycerides - <150
   Cholesterol/HDL - <=4.5
   Glucose - 65-99

Most of these numbers were not that great and some were downright bad. Work needed to be done.

Two weeks ago I went in for a physical and had the same blood tests done, at that point down about 32 pounds from eating a balanced diet and getting proper exercise. Here were the results:

   Cholesterol - 123
   HDL (good cholesterol) - 34
   LDL (bad cholesterol) - 76
   Triglycerides - 64
   Cholesterol/HDL - 3.6
   Glucose - 99

The glucose level is higher than it probably should be in the second set because I didn't know I was having blood drawn that morning and no one told me I needed to skip breakfast, as they usually do. Oh well.

Across the board everything improved in three short months, all of these indicators that are generally accepted as indicators of physical health. The drop in some, especially the LDL and the triglycerides, in such a short time blew me away. I do still need to get the HDL up.

Well, Almost Everything

When I went for the first blood draw it was just with a lab and my blood was taken by a nurse - no doctor ever saw me or the results. The nurse did take my blood pressure and it was way too high, 158/89. That number, more than any of the others, is really what got me to take this weight loss thing seriously because doctors had told me before to lose some weight and get that number down.

So when I met the doctor two weeks ago, I fully expected to see that number to have dropped to normal ranges. Instead my BP was recorded at 152/84. Obviously this was a concern, since losing over 15% of my body weight had barely a negligible effect on it.

My doctor asked me about my family, asking to see if I had a history of high BP in the family. I don't, not that I'm aware of, and despite my inquiries I'm told my neither of my parents do. A couple grandparents have high BP, but they are also in their late eighties with other medical issues. I have no way of knowing if they had high BP in their 30s, like I apparently am. My doctor is convinced I must have this history, but there is no way of saying yes or no; it's definitely possible, maybe even likely, just not something I can say for sure.

Just like that I'm on BP meds. Lisinopril, the tiniest dose he can give. I now have to take one of these tiny little pills every day. And since they seem to be working I will probably be taking them for the rest of my life. I checked my BP on my home machine and recorded a 117/72. I went back to the doctor to have it checked after being on the pills for a week and they recorded a 117/64.

It's interesting to me that it seems - with multiple doctors I get this impression - that when a patient presents with high blood pressure and is overweight, they seem to discount it as long as the patient says they will lose weight, as if the assumption is the BP is high because they are fat. Probably 90% or more of the time this is true (I mean, that's what I expected was the cause, too) and they don't go to a prescription unless the patient is unwilling or unable to lose weight for whatever reason. Until I lost the weight and proved that wasn't the cause of the high BP, drugs were never mentioned.

Not good or bad, just interesting.

I didn't want to take the drugs at first. Part of it was just not wanting to have to rely on them for the rest of my life so I don't die for something completely out of my control (unlike the weight, which I can control), but there were other reasons too. I was a bit down, because it was depressing to me that the main impetus for my starting the losing weight ultimately wasn't related to the weight at all. It seems silly, but there was a moment when I thought it was a waste. Just a short one and Wifey helped set me straight, but it was there.

Another point was the discussion of side effects. The doctor told me a possible side effect of the drug was a dry cough, the kind that never goes away, and could just get worse and worse. He said if I couldn't sleep to stop taking the drug. Um, pretty sure I'd give it up well before then. Then the pharmacist didn't help either. She used words like "probably" with regards to the likelihood of the development of this cough, saying if I got one any time in the next 30 years this would be the cause, implying it could happen even if I stopped taking the drug.

Well that's fun.

In the end I have no side effects - so far - and it's working. It's annoying to have to take this pill every day at roughly the same time. I now have more sympathy for those who have to remember birth control pills.

A Little This and That

Here's another smorgasbord of learnings and observations from the past three months on the topic of health and weight loss.

  • If you are going to eat crap - i.e., empty calories like sweets or alcohol - the earlier in the day the better. Beer for breakfast may not fit the meal, but my personal experience is there is more of a negative impact if those kinds of things are consumed later. Maybe it's because they can't be worked off before sleep? Not sure.
  • Yoga is awesome. Just last week Wifey and I started doing yoga workouts from Jillian Michaels and Bob Harper with these DVDs we have. Both of us had the best weight loss week we've had in a long time, which is a rarity after three months of a program. (Note, these are workout yoga DVDs, meant for weight loss and sweating, not finding inner peace.) One theory Wifey has about this is because the workouts include stretching phases, something we didn't do before. We both found that when we were sore - muscles full of lactic acid - we didn't lose. With the yoga stretching is included so despite an intense workout the soreness is minimal.
  • Eat your last food three hours or more before bed. We are bad about this, but the results are obvious when we hit the mark.
  • It's not necessary to remove items from your diet. Well, anything processed should go as much as possible, but I still have a beer once a week, still eat cupcakes every so often, still eat pork, go out to restaurants, visit bakeries...I didn't take anything out. The key is to be aware of what the impact every item is to your daily calories and adhere to that goal. Theoretically you can lose weight on a diet of beer and chocolate chip cookies if you limit the intake to something like 1800 calories a day or less. You'll feel like crap and you may die, but you would lose weight. Hmm...maybe I can write a book extolling the virtues of that diet. It would be entertaining and just as helpful as many of the others.
  • A lot of people have asked me what I have done to lose weight. That's how it works. When someone finds success at something, others want tips. I tell them, I have no secrets. All I did was choose a calorie goal, track my food intake with MyFitnessPal on my phone, try and get a little more sleep, and work out 4-6 days a week for at least 45 minutes. It's not rocket science, but it is work. You know what? Most people don't want to hear that. They want to hear about the magic, that I eliminated a certain food or I found a magic workout. Unfortunately, it just doesn't work that way. My way was not sexy (well, I suppose it depends on how you look at it), but it is effective. I have had more than one person just shake their head when I tell them that's all I did...and then they comment that's a lot of work. It's not work; it's a matter of priorities. Mine changed.
  • I admit, I want to help. I want to tell people what they are doing wrong and how they can be better. (Isn't that what happens when you lose weight? How many Biggest Loser contestants have we seen turn into trainers?) I won't become a trainer, but I can offer thoughts and suggestions, whether that be to family or friends (or, I suppose, here it's practically to strangers). I'm cautious though, because I don't want to be a jerk about it. I've read and been told that unless people want to make the change, to make the commitment, then it's really none of my business. That's 100% true. Ask me for suggestions or a specific question and I'll offer up some thoughts, but I'll do my damnedest not to offer it unsolicited. I don't need to be that guy.
  • In my mid-thirties I now feel like I'm in the best shape of my life. I have ribs! And veins! This is a good thing, but also mildly depressing. Maybe if I had this focus and work ethic on the subject 20 years ago I'd be a millionaire professional athlete. Nah, probably not - my depth perception sucks.
  • That saying of "Eat like a king for breakfast, a prince for lunch, and a pauper for dinner"? It's true. Follow that guideline and you'll go far. Also follow the one about everything in moderation, but disregard the addendum of "including moderation." Don't moderate that.
  • As I get closer and closer to my goal I've spent some time thinking about how the switch from weight loss to weight maintenance will look. It's daunting, because I think I need to still track my calories in the same way. My intake may go up a tiny bit, the exercise down a bit, but I don't think it's a good idea to stop tracking the food. I can't look at food and know how much it weighs and the caloric value yet, especially at a restaurant.
  • I don't believe in a "cheat day" or "cheat meal." All that does is set you up for failure. If you instead practice moderation and aren't denying your taste buds things it may really want (hey, it IS possible to eat just one Oreo...) the cheat meals are unnecessary. I truly believe this concept, combined with diets that are extremely restrictive, are the main reason people lose weight and than gain it right back. These make maintenance almost impossible.
  • Sauces and dressings will ruin you - be careful about the calories (and sodium!) in them, even in homemade ones.
  • Cooking veggies brings out a lot of flavor. We've done a ton of roasting, adding just a dash of olive oil, salt and pepper to things like zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus...really anything. Making stir fry with veggies, a protein and a little sauce over rice can be very, very low calorie and filling (think meals of 250 calories or less!).
  • You don't have to start with a badass workout. Take a walk. Walking for half an hour or something when you are sticking to a calorie goal WILL lead to weight loss. If you own a dog this should be easy - Misaki says dogs need the same walking! (On leash, please, always on leash...) Fresh air and sunshine help.
  • Buy scales. Weigh yourself daily and record it. Weigh your food as it goes on your plate. You will not lose weight every day. There will be days you gain. Overall, though, you will see the downward trend on a graph. Trust the process, even when you don't.
  • Set small goals. Five pounds, ten pounds. Set rewards for reaching those goals, but don't make them food. (Or do, but it still has to fit in your calories...)
  • Don't drink your calories - it's a waste and you'll end up hungry, so you will eat more. If you do drink calories, make sure they have some kind of value, like milk or 100% juice. Still, minimize it.
  • Alcohol doesn't have much redeeming value, research into the benefits of red wine aside, when you are losing weight. If you want a beer, fine, just remember the number of calories is directly tied to the alcohol percentage. Otherwise it's just flavored water. Most of the beer I like is 8% or greater - Mother of All Storms is 12%, I think, and Bourbon County Stout is almost 14% - but that's a crapload of calories. Try for ones in the 4-5% range if you want one. (Suggestions: Session (by Full Sail) black, Bitter American by 21st Amendment....there are tons of others but I usually make the choice to allocate calories to the higher % beers. Another option is to drink half a bottle and save the rest for the next day.)
  • Snacks are a good thing. Fourth meal, as Taco Bell calls it, is a positive - as long as it's not at Taco Bell. As with any of the other things, plan for it. Know an ounce of peanuts is 170 calories and plan the rest of the day accordingly. 
  • Change up the workout routine every so often. We started with just cardio, then we went to a circuit training routine with weights for a month, and now are in the middle of a yoga phase. Keeping it fresh not only keeps you interested and excited, but it challenges the muscles in different ways and helps work the total body.
  • Make sure you've got at least one person on your side for this journey whether it be a friend, family member, or even a stranger to help you and encourage you along the way (especially on the days you don't feel like working out or you want to give up). It seems like most people (whether it's on purpose or not) discourage your efforts. What do I mean by that? Well, when you tell them you aren't done yet, they say things like, "Oh, you don't need to lose anymore." The reality may be they are being nice or they truly believe it, but only you can decide when you are done. If you have that person right by your side each step of the way who believes in your goals as much as you do, you won't get distracted. (Love you, honey!)
Comments? I'd love to hear them!

(Also, this is what happens when I don't write for six weeks - 2800 words! Even the book took a back seat during this journey until just the other day when I got back into the editing. Fourth draft will be finished...soon.)