Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Jan Schakowsky: Just because she's out to get you doesn't mean you're not paranoid.

Jan Schakowsky . . . there's a name you haven't heard for awhile, huh?  If you're not from Illinois, maybe you've never heard of Congresswoman Schakowsky before, but she's politician-famous in Chicagoland. She has a long history of advocating for, as she puts it in this video, "pushing as hard as we can and as far as we can" to ban guns or, failing that, to harass citizens who want to use them.

This is the part where I sarcastically remind you that nobody wants to ban your guns and, by the way, you are clearly paranoid. Also that Jason Mattera is an unfair meanie.

One thing all this high-profile attention on guns and rights has done is to bring in a lot of people who really weren't paying any attention to the issue until a couple of months ago, on both sides.  Nothing wrong with that, but one effect of that influx of n00bs is that we now have an awful lot of people running around who are pretty sure they've got a simple solution and have no idea why the idiots who've been paying attention for the last decade or three haven't simply solved the problem already. In short, they don't know what they don't know. One of the things they're very sure of is that nobody wants to ban anybody's guns, and anyone who talks about gun bans is a stooge for the massive weapon cartels who pull the strings at the NRA. A good friend gave me a hell of a lecture recently; she'd put out the statement on Facebook that "nobody is going to ban your guns.  Get over it." I pointed out several times that this was not the issue; "I knew my attack on you wasn't going to work, so it's OK" is not an acceptable excuse. The point is that there are people who certainly would ban guns and confiscate my property if they had their way, and the only reason they don't have their way is that people like me prevent it by dint of hard work. 
  • I don't have to let you crash my car because it's got seatbelts and airbags, and
  • I don't have to let you torch my house because I have fire extinguishers, and
  • I sure as hell don't have to shut up while knowledge-free debates over whether to infringe my rights and confiscate my property are carried out by my betters.

Monday, March 11, 2013

On Fitness and Complacency, Part II: What's Working for Me

When I left off, I'd described losing about 75 pounds in the last eight months. Clearly I'm bragging a little bit; I'm proud of that change. I'm enjoying my new clothes and some other benefits, which I'll detail in another post a little later on. But I've lost more weight than that in past, and here I am losing it again. I don't want to be on an up-and-down cycle for the rest of my life. But how do you avoid that?  Here's how I'm trying to do it this time:

How do you define "fitness?"

I'm going to use this particular disclaimer five times in this post: everything I'm about to say is true for me as far as I know, but I don't know anything about whether it will work for you.
That said, I've had to give up on defining fitness solely in terms of weight or strength. My approach for the last year has been to define "fitness" as the ability to do what I want to do with my mind and body.  
Using that definition, if I want to go skydiving, but I weigh too much to do it safely, I need to lose weight in order to be more fit. In fact, if you look at the ticker on the left, you'll see a countdown to 275 pounds. The reason for that is not that 275 pounds is an ideal weight; it's the maximum weight for the Grafton Zip Line, and I want to go ride the zip lines high in the air. I weighed 297 pounds this morning, so I'm not fit for that activity . . . yet. Similarly, I want to go skydiving, but the nearest schools allow a maximum weight of 225 pounds, so I'm not fit for that activity yet, either.  
It won't end there, though. If I get a chance to go out west and hunt elk in the mountains, would I go? Only if I'm fit enough to walk those mountains. What if my kids move out and I want a Corvette . . . or a Miata? Gotta be able to fit. What if I find some spare time and decide I should go back into BJJ or Judo? Well, last time I tried that, I was 30 pounds heavier than I am now, and I wasn't fit enough to learn much in the course of a typical BJJ class--I was just proud to survive it. But if I go back, I'll want more than lighter weight--I'll want a strong core, good balance and the ability to move my body gymnastically. That means that those athletic abilities have to go into my definition of fitness, too.
Now, if you want to win a state or national powerlifting title, or you want to run three marathons per year, your fitness needs differ markedly from mine.  But most of us have some fitness ideas in common. We don't want to have open-heart surgery, so we want good cardiovascular fitness, yes?  We don't want diabetes, so we need to maintain reasonable bodyfat levels. We want to be that old man who walks everywhere and tries new things, not the old man who can't lift himself out of a chair, so we all need core strength.

How do you avoid complacency?

If you haven't fought serious obesity, it might sound crazy to think of someone who weighs "less than 300 pounds" checking himself out in the mirror and thinking, "Oh, yeah . . . .close enough for the girls I hang out with." But I've gone as high as a measured 396 pounds, and I assure you, the difference is amazing even now. At that weight, joint pain is constant and normal, moving athletically is nearly impossible unless you're freakishly strong, and your heart is working overtime. By contrast, at my current weight, I feel relatively light and fast, and my joint pain is so much less that I could be tempted to "lighten up" a little and stop working so hard. That's what I've done in the past, and it has always led me to let my weight creep right back up.
The main thing I'm working on is to set tougher goals and set them publicly.  Everyone I know, for instance, knows that I want to go skydiving next fall. I can miss that goal, but I can't abandon it without knowing that everyone, especially me, will know that I fell short. In the past, I've set goals based purely on weight, and I've moderated them with statements like "Well, even if I never get past 290, I've come a long way!"  That's true, but it misses the point. In order to avoid complacency, then, there may be no way around periodically re-calibrating your expectations--or maybe it's more accurate to say that you have to recognize that your old expectations are not going to be useful if you're making progress. If you think 300 would be great, 275 would be wonderful, and 250 would be pushing it because maybe you don't want to work quite that hard, and moderation in all things after all, and . . . well, then, you aren't going to get to jump out of that plane, are you? Ever.

What kind of diet makes sense?

A loaded question with a million answers. But there's a reason I put it before the discussion of exercise; most of us rely on exercise to get into shape, but most of us know that diet is actually doing a lot more to determine our fitness. Exercise can't do the job of diet; it just can't. Diet is what you're made of. So what am I made of these days?
Mostly protein and fats.  I've given up sugar and starch, so that leaves out sweets, breads, fruit and most vegetables. Some will say that it's impossible to get fit on a diet of meat, nuts, roughage, cheese, and only limited vegetables, and speaking for themselves, they could be right. But what I've found for myself is that when I give up most carbohydrates, I stop craving them. When I eat sugar, I crave sugar so strongly that I once sought addiction treatment for compulsive binge-eating. Same thing for starches, especially breads. There's no moderation there for me.
So now my diet is mostly eggs, chicken, beef, venison, fish, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, almonds, pecans, and various salads. That lets me eat to fullness, get plenty of protein and fats, but cut out the carbohydrates.

What kind of exercise makes sense?

Again, I'm speaking only of myself here, but I have a long history of injuries and ineffective exercise, mostly weight lifting, traditional American football drills and practice, attempts at martial arts, cycling, and the standard "gym cardio" on an elliptical trainer. Playing football works--kind of--in that you'll usually get stronger and more agile, but at the price of injuries and taking a general beating. Cycling and the elliptical trainer both had the same basic problem--I was trying to outrun my diet by putting in long bouts of cardiovascular training. Remember the part above where that doesn't work? Right.  

Today, I walk daily. Walking always seemed too tame to be doing much, on a par with bowling for exercise.  But the truth is that walking works.
I also work on my core daily, if only by blowing bubbles in my "belly bucket."  Not sure what that is? That's OK; we'll cover it one of these days.
But the thing that has really made the big difference has been to join HIPE Fitness in Springfield, IL, and work out with Wayne Carrels. Joining Wayne's group fitness classes has given me a coach who pushes me past levels of fatigue that I would have accepted as my limits if I'd been on my own. That can put people off, because it sounds like having a drill sergeant barking at you for three hours per week, but Wayne is a professional trainer who's also looking out for my safety. My body is a map of old injuries (knees, ankles, hips, shoulders, neck, and a hernia) and in fact, I was recovering from my latest nasty knee injury when I joined HIPE.  I have not had another injury. We're constantly told that we have to make diet and exercise a lifestyle, but when you're working on your own and struggling from injury to injury, that's not possible. Wayne has made it possible for me. He's also influenced my idea of safe, effective exercise by teaching me about what trainers call the "Four Pillars of Movement:" 
  • Locomotion
  • Level change
  • Push/Pull
  • Rotation
More on those later? Maybe.

Monday, March 4, 2013

On Fitness and Complacency, Part I

I think I've figured out how to measure when I'm back to regular writing: when I stop apologizing for my output at the beginning of each post, it probably means I feel like I'm back.  So . . . . I apologize for my output, or lack thereof. I do have things to write about; what I don't have is the extra time and energy.  I'd like to write about at least ten things in my life right now, but I've let them pile up so much that I'm not sure where to start. Luckily, I know how to proceed when I have a big pile of projects and don't know where to start: just wade in and grab something that looks important or interesting.

So today I want to update both my readers on my fight to get fit and talk a little about what has paid off for me and what hasn't. Obviously nothing I say here is guaranteed to work for you the way it worked for me, but after all, it did work for me.

Got any data?

I'm glad you asked, subheading.  On July 1st, 2012, I weighed 369.5 pounds.  I was wearing size 4XL shirts and pants with 48-and-50-inch waists (the 48s had gotten awful tight, but I could wear them.)  I had a nagging injury to my left knee that was driving me crazy, and my right knee wasn't exactly reliable.  My right hip wasn't great, either, and neither were either of my shoulders. I was a wreck.  Despite my joint injuries and weight, I'd been "working out" at my local 24-hour gym for about two years, mostly by spending 30-60 minutes on elliptical trainers four times per week.  Last February, I decided to see whether I could finish the "Fight for Air Climb," a race up 32 flights of stairs to the top of our tallest local building.  I was able to finish by taking numerous breaks for rest and water; it took me 10 minutes and 53 seconds.  There were people who did it more slowly, but not many.

Today, I weigh 297 pounds.  I wear size 2XL shirts and recently bought a pair of pants in a 44-inch waist, which are big enough that I've just ordered a size 42 in the same pants to see how they fit.  Yesterday, I went shopping for a size 2XL coat, but found that the best fit was an XL.  I can literally button up my old jacket and wear it over my new coat.  My knees still aren't perfect, but I no longer need to wear a knee brace.  My workouts are now balanced between three sessions per week at HIPE Fitness under the watchful eye of Wayne Carrels and calisthenics, yoga, stretching and cardio training at home daily.  This year, I decided to try the Fight for Air Climb again.  I set a personal goal: I would try to make the climb without stopping and try to beat 10 minutes flat.  I did climb without stopping, and I finished in 6:07, which put me just barely in the top 50% of finishers.

Complacency, or:
"No, man, you did it. If you don't lose one more pound, you look perfect. You did it."

I'm glad you asked that, too. See, I've lost weight before.  I've been determined to get fit before, too.  I've never made it last, and I have to wonder why. I think the greatest danger is complacency.  I'm used to thinking of myself as an enormously fat man.  In fact, I'm accustomed to morbid obesity.  In my old body, simply finishing a long stair climb or a long cycling event was a "moral victory."  No, I wasn't competitive nor really even fit enough to enjoy myself, but I could claim bragging rights just by finishing. The last time I was close to this weight was over five years ago, and then as now, I had allowed my weight to balloon up and then made a determined dash to lose it.  I lost about 100 pounds in about a year, but a few years later I'd gained at least 80 of it back.  Why? Well, looking back, I remember thinking it was time to ease up and "enjoy life" a little.  Time to have a couple of Oreos every now and then.  Time to give up that crazy fad low-carb diet and go back to a sensible, balanced diet with fruit and bread and such, especially now that I'd lost so much weight that cycling was easier.  I'd lose the rest by becoming a cycling madman.

Of course, I didn't.  I left the lifestyle that was working for me, and I let sugar and starch back into my diet.  That led to cravings for more, and I gave in.  Eventually I was bingeing on cookies, cake, pie, ice cream . . . then baking bread at home and eating entire loaves, piece by piece.  But why would anyone do that? I think it was more than a failure of will.  I think I decided at some point that I'd gone as far as I could reasonably be expected to go.  I'd done so well!  When I reached 290 pounds, I'd won another one of those "moral victories."  And, as I had during my entire sprint to lose weight, I gave myself the foods that had ruined my health as rewards when I felt that I'd done enough to save my health.  Hit a weight loss goal?  That calls for a cheat meal at the pizza place!  Finish a metric century ride (100km/43miles)?  CAKE!  

That quote up there in the subheading is real. A coworker said it to me at lunch on Friday with the absolute best of intentions.  He wanted to encourage me and support me, but he made me think. I don't want the feeling that I've done enough, that 297 pounds--just this side of morbid obesity--is "pretty good" or "good enough" for me.  I want to feel like I can do better.  After all, at 297 pounds I still can't go skydiving.  I still can't ride the Grafton Ziplines.  I still can't buy term life insurance--at ANY price--despite my non-smoking, non-drinking, perfect health bona fides. I can finish a competitive stair climb, but I can't be competitive. I do finally come in under the advertised maximum weight limits for my attic ladder and the safety harness for my deer stand, so I've got that going for me, but somehow it's not enough.  And why should it be enough?  Why shouldn't I decide that now I can be a 200-pound athlete who's capable of learning any sport or hobby I choose whenever I choose?

So, today, I'm on guard against complacency. It's all around me, and it's always hungry. My relatives are proud of me and they want to support me, but they want to talk about how great the progress is. To them, it would be rude to talk about how far I still have to go.    Working out with very fit people at HIPE helps me with that. They compliment me on my progress, but I see them enjoying life in ways that I still can't. They have something I want.  My eventual goal is to end up lighter than 220 pounds so that I can make my first skydive; it occurs to me sometimes that many of the people around me in the gym could simply decide today, on a whim, that they'd like to try skydiving, call around, and be in a plane tomorrow working up the nerve.  The real difference in fitness between them and me isn't how they look, it's the fact that their bodies don't hold them back.  If there's something they want to do, but it calls for strength, agility, balance, flexibility and stability . . . they just go out and do it.  That's what I want.  I want to be fit enough to be up for anything and ready to try the next adventure.