Body Baby Steps

My last post in the My Health Journey series was something of a summary of what I’ve learned so far, boiled down into a top-20 list. Even as I hit the “Publish…” button, however, I recognized two things:

  1. I had left off some important items, such as sleep hygiene, and
  2. A list of 20 things to do is overwhelming. With so many “keys” to remember, it’s easy to feel defeated and not make progress.

Dave Ramsey has understood this as he has helped millions through his radio show, his New York Times best-seller, The Total Money Makeover, and his Ramsey+ offering, which includes Financial Peace University.

As he helps people achieve financial fitness, he recommends 7 Baby Steps, which proceed in a logical order:

  1. Save $1,000 for your starter emergency fund.
  2. Pay off all debt (except the house) using the debt snowball.
  3. Save 3-6 months of expenses in a fully funded emergency fund.
  4. Invest 15% of your household income in retirement.
  5. Save for your children’s college fund.
  6. Pay off your home early.
  7. Build wealth and give.

To create the starter emergency fund, you have to begin spending less on a daily basis. Once you’re reached that goal and you’re moving on to Baby Step 2, that emergency fund protects you from having to use a credit card.

If you do need to dip into the emergency fund, you shift back to Baby Step 1 and build it back up to $1,000 before continuing to attack debt.

The idea behind the baby steps is to build momentum and a reality-based sense of accomplishment. You feel better because you are better.

The way you do that is through focus.

If you’re paying a little of your credit card debt each month and putting a few dollars into retirement, regular savings and the kids’ college fund, it’s likely you won’t make noticeable progress on any of them, and then when an emergency arises (like the water heater breaking down) you’ll need to borrow still more to meet that urgent need.

That’s why Ramsey recommends pausing retirement contributions for a time while pursuing the first step with gazelle-like intensity. Then you start paying off your non-mortgage debts, smallest to largest, without regard to interest rates. Go for the first debt you can totally eliminate.

When you pay off that debt, you roll the amount you had been paying on it into the next smallest debt payment, increasing your and repeat the cycle until they’re all gone.

That’s the debt snowball. That’s momentum.

The key is to get a quick win with the starter emergency fund, and then to continue getting positive reinforcement.

I think Ramsey’s Baby Steps metaphor for a personal finance makeover is helpful in thinking about a process for improving health and fitness, too.

The individual tips in my top 20 list are good on their own, but trying to do them all at once could be self-defeating.

I didn’t make all of those changes at the same time; it’s been a four-year journey.

But I did find that having made some changes and finding success gave me confidence to try the next thing.

I just didn’t know at the time what that next thing would be.

Now, looking back on what has worked for Lisa and me, I think I can outline a process that would make sense and help you build momentum toward a healthier 2021…and beyond.

So tomorrow I’m going to start a new series called #BodyBabySteps.

Like Ramsey’s money recommendations, the first few will be foundational, and I’ll spend a week or so looking at each of them from various angles.

Because we’re pursuing behavior change, we need that reinforcement. You don’t change habits in a single day.

I hope you’ll join the journey. You can subscribe by email, and I’ll also post links on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

If you think your friends might find this series helpful, I hope you’ll share by email or on your social networks using the buttons below.

Top 20 weight loss and health tips

My goal in this series on My Health Journey has been to share what Lisa and I have learned in the last four years as we’ve each lost more than 50 pounds.

We’ve gone from being doubtful we could lose weight (and not even knowing how) to where we can confidently say we have a sustainable lifestyle that will help us maintain a healthy weight.

In blogging about this, I’ve wanted to explain how our thinking has evolved, while pointing readers to the original sources of our information…and inspiration.

But then a friend commented in a recent post, “Lee – I want to know your plan!” So I decided it would be helpful now to summarize what has been most important and helpful to us.

Here is my top 20 list:

My typical first meal of the day: Four eggs, bacon, guacamole and salsa. This “breakfast” meal is often at noon to help me maintain my 6-8 hour eating window.
  1. Stop the Sugar. Avoid fructose, sucrose, lactose or pretty much anything else that ends in -ose. Sugar causes blood glucose spikes, which raises your levels of insulin, the main fat-storage hormone. Especially avoid high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
  2. Limit net carbohydrates to 50g or less daily. Lower is even better, shooting for 15g per meal. Calculate net carbs by subtracting grams of fiber from total carbs. As I say in #13 below, don’t count calories, but do count your carbs.
  3. Avoid processed carbohydrates, which convert rapidly to sugar as you digest them, quickly raising your blood glucose and insulin levels.
  4. Avoid starchy vegetables. This was a hard one for me because I really enjoy potatoes in all their forms. But just as processed carbs convert quickly to sugar, so do these starches.
  5. Avoid grains. Get your carbs from something other than the seeds of grasses. This guidance came from Dr. Bill Davis, author of Wheat Belly and Undoctored. This was a relatively easy change for me because I had been diagnosed with celiac disease several years earlier, which meant I needed to be gluten-free. Going grain-free meant avoiding rice and corn, too. That was tougher, but it helped me to accomplish #2.
  6. Supplement smartly. As Dr. Davis recommends, instead of taking a scattershot multivitamin that gives a little bit of everything but doesn’t contain enough of what’s missing in the modern diet, focus on a few key difference-makers. Supplements we take daily include fish oil (3,000 mg of EPA and DHA), Kelp (for Iodine), Magnesium, Turmeric, Zinc, and vitamins C, D3 (5,000 IU) and K2. Interestingly, lots of research on COVID-19 has pointed to Zinc and Vitamin D as factors in fighting the coronavirus.
  7. Boost NAD+. I learned this from David Sinclair, Ph.D., who I first encountered in Dr. Peter Attia’s podcast. This is the most expensive change Lisa and I have made, at about $45 per month for each of us. I’ll do a future post about Dr. Sinclair’s research and NAD+, but for now I’m just putting it on my list as a preview.
  8. Optimize your gut microbiome. As Dr. Davis suggests, a one-month course of probiotics and prebiotic fiber lays a good foundation for gut health.
  9. When you consume dairy products, make them full-fat. Skim milk is the worst because it has all of the sugar (lactose) and none of the fat. Fat is satisfying. So have heavy whipping cream (or butter) in your coffee instead of half-and-half, when you’re not drinking it black. We hardly ever drink milk, but if we did it would be whole (4%) milk. Eat full-fat cheeses, too.
  10. Enjoy creamy homemade yogurt. As I previously described, L. reuteri yogurt, which I make with roughly equal portions of heavy whipping cream and half-and-half, is delicious, filling and has significant health benefits. Another recommendation from Dr. Davis.
  11. Drink water instead of milk or sweetened beverages. Don’t drink your calories. Fruit juice can have nearly as much sugar as soda. And even though drinks with artificial sweeteners don’t have calories, their taste can trigger release of insulin.
  12. Eat like your grandparents did. That means eating real food instead of something that came out of a box. Have eggs for breakfast instead of cereal. Don’t eat between meals, and eliminate after-dinner snacks.
  13. Don’t count calories. Eat until you feel satisfied. Beef, chicken, fish, eggs, bacon, ham, butter and other foods that contain both fat and protein “stick to your ribs,” as grandma used to say. Vegetables are fine too, because they tend to contain complex carbohydrates and fiber that blunt the rise in blood sugar.
  14. Eat fruit in moderation. Our ancestors didn’t have fresh fruit year-round. Fruit has fructose (see #1), so I eat it mostly in season, or mixed in my homemade yogurt (see #10).
  15. Eat dark chocolate. I have a 25g Moser Roth® Dark 85% bar as a healthy, delicious treat after my last meal most days, sometimes with a glass of cabernet or merlot. Having broken the sugar habit, even dark chocolate seems sweet.
  16. Weigh daily. I bought a bluetooth scale in Feb. 2018, which automatically syncs to an app in my iPhone and also to Apple Health, and in the first five months I lost 22 lbs. Then we went on vacation, and when I came back the bluetooth sync was somehow disrupted. Because I felt like I had essentially reached my goal, and wasn’t getting daily feedback, I lost focus and regained about 20 lbs. But since Feb. 2019 I have weighed almost every morning, including the last 259 in a row since my travels have been curtailed due to COVID-19. I’m down 38 lbs. since then, to 199. I weigh first thing every morning, and this constant feedback will alert me if I ever creep over 205.
  17. When you eat matters as much as what you eat. By confining your eating to a 6-8 hour window each day, you ensure that you will have an extended period of lower insulin levels, which is essential to getting into fat-burning mode. Dr. Jason Fung is the leading medical champion of fasting, and has helped thousands of patients reverse their type II diabetes. Lisa and I became big believers with 10 weeks of alternate daily fasting. The Zero app is a helpful tool to manage fasting and time-restricted feeding.
  18. Lift weights. Building muscle is good for your overall health and vitality, and it also increases your metabolism. Free weights are best because they involve the whole body in natural movements. My go-to exercises using a barbell are the bench press, squat and deadlift on alternate days.
  19. Do some cardiovascular exercise. I’ve been doing 20 45 minutes of cardio most days lately using a Water Rower. In my tubby days I was doing 30 minutes of cardio on an elliptical machine six days a week, without making appreciable weight loss progress. As many have noted, you can’t outrun a bad diet. I think my combination of resistance training with free weights strikes a good balance for overall health and fitness, and Lisa’s going to start working on these now too as we head into winter.
  20. Avoidance isn’t always. I still occasionally have a baked potato, pizza, pasta or my favorite ice cream dessert with fudge and an oreo-cookie base (gluten-free because of my celiac disease) that I typically enjoy for one or two weeks per year. As Dr. Fung says, “Eat that birthday cake!” When you get your metabolic health in order, you can enjoy those treats without guilt, and knowing that you’re not committing to avoiding them forever makes it easier to stick with the general plan. In fact, we’ve had pizza three times in the last two weeks, and we’re still right at our target weights.

Which of these practices have you found helpful?

What other tips do you have?

You can’t do everything at once; that’s setting you up for failure. So for a step-by-step approach to how I would make these changes if I were doing it over again knowing what I know now, see my #BodyBabySteps page.

See the whole series about my health journey. Follow along on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

Not exactly a six-pack…

…but at least not a keg anymore, either.

Yesterday I shared Lisa’s story of finally getting into her wedding dress again after more than 35 years, and I presented the visual proof.

She thinks she’s lost 50 lbs. in the last four years, although she can’t be completely sure how high her peak was because she had avoided weighing.

I on the other hand have lots of evidence of my weight levels from that time, because I usually took pictures of the scale readings when I went to the YMCA to work out. I remember hitting 265, but this is the highest reading for which I have photographic evidence, in May 2016.

Here are some photos from about that time, compared with similar pictures Lisa took last night.

The jeans I was wearing in the photos on the left had a 38-inch waist, which was four inches bigger than what I wore in high school.

Here’s the tag on the shorts in the photos on the right:

I would never have imagined four years ago that I would one day wear shorts with a 32-inch waistband, much less that they would feel roomy.

I’ve now lost at least 60 pounds since my peak, and most of that has come off my midsection. Visceral fat is the most dangerous kind, especially in that it increases risks of diabetes and various cancers. And the best way to lose that abdominal fat is through time-restricted eating, intermittent fasting or even occasional longer fasts.

In my next post I’ll introduce a mobile app I’ve found helpful in supporting those strategies.

See the whole series about my health journey, and follow along on FacebookTwitter or LinkedIn.

Here Comes the Bride!

I married Lisa 36 years ago next month, and since then we’ve been blessed with six children, and as of 2 a.m. yesterday, 13 grandchildren.

It was just after our daughter Rebekah (the mother of grandchild #13) was married four years ago that we decided we needed to seriously explore some changes in our diet and lifestyle.

I weighed over 260 lbs. then, and Lisa thinks she was 185. She isn’t sure because she wasn’t exactly going out of her way to find a scale.

I told her weight loss story (to that point at least) in July, and how much progress she had made between Rebekah’s wedding and our youngest son, John’s. The first year or so had been really frustrating, until we got on the low-carb, high-fat diet combined with intermittent fasting.

In May she had gotten down to 145 lbs., and so on her birthday she decided to try on her wedding dress for the first time since Dec. 22, 1984.

We couldn’t get the back zipped up then, but we thought if she kept going she might eventually close the gap, so to speak.

Having become a 13-time grandma earlier in the morning, she decided to try on her wedding dress again yesterday afternoon.

Lo, and behold…

Lisa was down to 135.8 yesterday, the lowest she’s been since the Reagan administration.

I’m so happy for her, especially because she had previously felt so frustrated and defeated, and now she feels healthy and in control of her eating habits.

Sometimes she fasts, and sometimes she feasts. Generally she’s avoiding extra sugar and carbs, but that doesn’t mean she can never have these things as a treat.

In fact, her dinner Tuesday night was a Papa Murphy’s Herb Chicken Mediterranean Pizza.

With zero guilt on the side.

See the whole series about my health journey. Follow along on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

Can You Maintain Weight Loss?

As I started telling the story of my health journey in January, I shared some before and after pictures, comparing my appearance then to what it had been in 2016.

The difference was stark, as I had dropped from about 260 pounds to 223, with my most significant weight loss coming from a low-carbohydrate, relatively high-fat diet, which also supported an intermittent fasting/time-restricted eating lifestyle.

According to conventional wisdom, it was unlikely I would be able to maintain that 37-pound loss. The so-called experts tell us “all diets eventually fail.” It’s mainly because we try to stick with the diets they recommend. So much of what they’ve told us for five decades is simply wrong.

They say that for those who lose more than 10% of their body weight, only 20% are able to maintain that loss for a year or more. So having lost 14% of my initial 260 pounds as of January, the odds were against me being below 230 today.

Especially given the lockdown uniqueness of 2020.

So how have I done?

I had originally set my goal weight at 210, which was five pounds more than what I weighed in high school, when I was playing competitive basketball. I thought it was pretty ambitious target.

I reached that mark in early May and, as you see below, I kept going.

I averaged 198.6 during September, and my lowest weight was 196.4, at which point Lisa said I needed to stop because I was getting “too skinny.” Since then I’ve dialed back a little, and am averaging 201.1 for the first half of November.

I’m not sharing my story to boast of willpower or determination or self-discipline. I can honestly say I have hardly ever felt deprived through this whole time. I’m rarely hungry, and I feel stronger, healthier and more fit than I did 25 years ago.

Lisa feels the same. She never imagined it was possible, being post-menopausal and with thyroid issues.

So while I haven’t felt hungry or deprived, I have had lots of other negative feelings about the standard dietary “wisdom” we have been fed for a half century, which has left a trail of metabolic misery in its wake.

So if you’ve been discouraged by or struggling with a weight problem, I hope you’ll catch up on the posts in this series, and follow along as I continue to tell the story.

If we can do it, so can you. And you’ll be glad you did.

I kind of want to shout it from the rooftop, but I also don’t want to be obnoxious, so I’ll settle for writing about it here, and sharing on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Next time I’ll share some updated progress photos.

Meanwhile, what’s your story?