Fasting-17 to go

I’m not sure where the last week went, but it’s been a rough one. I’m adjusting to having my sleep interrupted every night, but that is more of an excuse than anything else. My eating has been horrible, I haven’t posted anything, and I’ve slacked on my running schedule. I did fit in a three mile run yesterday after the gym, and was rewarded with some bad hip pain as well as a the return of some recurring pain in my back. My eating has gotten to the point where I ate lunch today and even though I’m hungry, I cannot fathom eating tonight. But, in spite of all of that, all I can do is move forward.

I’ve determined that my various pains are necessitating a full rest from activity for a few days, so I’m taking the opportunity to fast and reset my body inside and out. As I said, I ate lunch today, but I’m not going to eat again until dinner tomorrow. I’ve fasted for 24 hours in the past, but I felt like I needed a longer, fuller reset.

For the past week, with family in town, I have been eating almost nonstop with very little limit on what I have been eating. I can feel and see the weight that I’ve gained and I don’t think I’ve actually been hungry in days. For a week I’ve been eating because I was bored or just wanted to instead of because I was hungry or needed sustenance. It actually even got to the point where I didn’t want to be eating, nor was I enjoying it, but I couldn’t stop. That is why today, with a few days off from working out ahead of me, I am putting an end to that destructive pattern. I’m going to remind myself what it’s like to be hungry and the real reason why we eat, and I’m going to interrupt the constant stream of food of the last week. Then, I will regroup, and start up again tomorrow evening with a renewed commitment to taking care of myself and my body.

Some might say that it isn’t the most healthy approach to fast completely, but one day isn’t going to hurt me. The point isn’t to lose weight by not eating but to reset how I’m eating and flush my system of the crap that I’ve been ingesting recently. I’m also timing it around my break from working out so that I’m not hurting myself by trying to work out without any food in me.

From the times that I’ve done it in the past, I’ve found fasting to be a great reminder of how lucky we are in this country to have food immediately accessible at all times. It also really brings into focus what being hungry really feels like, something that we don’t experience often because of that accessibility of food. If you haven’t done it before, I urge you to try it. Although I initially tried it for religious reasons, I think it’s an experience that everyone should have and something that I’m trying to do periodically as my workout schedule will allow. It’s hard to describe, but if you’re like me, it really brings on a meditative attitude that helps me to recenter myself both physically and mentally. Oh, and when you do get to eat, it’s so, so good. This, again, goes to show the effects of having food around all the time. We don’t even get to fully enjoy the huge amounts of food available to us because we just take it for granted and never really experience a hunger that makes food taste so incredible.

So, anyway, that’s where I’m at today. Hungry, but happy to be breaking the horrible cycle I’ve been stuck in all day. Even though it’s only been half a day, I’m already feeling very reflective and I’m actually genuinely looking forward to tomorrow. I’ll check back in once I’ve completed my fast to document how it went!

 

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Tired-25 to go

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One of my favorite pictures of my grandpa and I before he got his diagnosis

I’m just exhausted right now. My grandpa has declined to the point where he needs me to help him to the bathroom during the night so I have a baby monitor in my room now so I can hear him if he calls. That’s great, except I’m a super light sleeper and he has to have the TV on in order to sleep. Not to mention, I can’t seem to fall into a deep sleep because I’m worried that I won’t hear him if he calls. Oh, and there’s the having to get up multiple times a night to help him. And tonight he wanted to go to bed at 5:30 in the evening, which is very unusual, so I’m worried about that.

All that said, I still got my leg day workout in today and I’m continuing to make significant progress, which feels great. I had to skip the run that I was supposed to do today because I can’t be away long from home enough for the gym and a run, but I’ll try to fit that in on Sunday to get back on track. Aside from the handful of gummy bears and sour patch kids that I ate tonight, I’ve been eating so well and underneath the tiredness I’m feeling great physically. It’s the one thing that’s keeping me sane through all of this.

The stress is only going to get worse, but as much as it makes me feel like a horrible person to say it, at least the end is in sight. I don’t know how long we should expect my grandpa to be around, but the changes seem to be showing up faster so it can’t be long. And it’s not just for selfish reasons that I’m almost looking forward to the end. I hate seeing him like this. He’s not himself anymore, he sleeps a lot of the day, he’s hardly eating and when he’s awake basically all he does is watch TV. That’s no way to live. I just hope and pray that whatever it looks like and whenever it comes, that I can get him what he needs so he doesn’t suffer.

Hopefully tonight I will get a little more sleep and wake up feeling refreshed. Whatever happens, I am so grateful for this experience and the memories that I’m making with him. He’s such a special man and deserves the best after a long life spent serving others. We’ll see what tomorrow brings, but the one definite is that he comes first. If I have to stop everything else, I will in a heartbeat. So if I don’t get around to writing a post over the next days or weeks, there’s a good chance that that’s why.

Anyway, not a great post today, but it’s where I’m at right now. It’s super early, but it’s about time for me to head to bed, catch some sleep while I can. Goodnight!

Forgive Yourself-27 to go

Sunday I made the deliberate decision to honor the traditional day of rest by stepping away from the list of tasks I’ve been setting for myself each day, which included skipping my daily post. It was a great day of reflection and rejuvenation, preparing me to tackle this second week of this project. Then Monday happened. It was a fairly productive day of running errands, but the time got away from me and I unintentionally skipped another day of writing. But I’m back today.

In light of my failure to reach all of my goals yesterday, I think it’s a good day to address the idea of forgiving yourself. The past few months I have tried countless times to attempt different habit-changing strategies, and each one has failed and each time I’ve felt horrible about myself for not following through. I would slip up once and suddenly all my motivation was gone and I would give up. I thought my hard feelings were a good thing, proof that I was just holding myself to a high standard. Yet time and time again those standards proved to be self-defeating.

This time around, I have been making an effort to be forgiving with myself. If I can’t seem to open my eyes when my alarm goes off (which is basically every day), I’ll allow myself to sleep a little longer. Even a few more minutes will have me getting up long before I was before. If I don’t get to something on my to-do list in a day, I’ll just add it to the next day and try again. If one day I feel like I need to sit and read or watch TV instead of checking tasks off my list, then I’ll give myself the space to do that.

And here I am, a week later. It hasn’t been perfect. I’ve grumbled my way through many tasks (especially in the morning), I’ve skipped goals entirely, I’ve wasted hours doing unproductive things for no reason, but I’m still committed. For me, this is a big deal. Usually my ideas last for a day or two before I forget or fail and get discouraged. Although I’ve put numerous things in place to stay motivated, my intentional choice to be forgiving with myself has made a huge impact. By not feeling bad about slipping up, I can feel good about completing the items I do get to. Instead of a negative journey marked by the failures, it’s been very positive, focused on the achievements.

Before now, I would always tell other people that they deserved breaks, that they needed to take time for themselves and their mental health, but I never listened to my own advice. I would spend days that should have been relaxing and instead end up feeling disgusted with myself for wasting the day. With a little grace and forgiveness towards myself, I’m able to enjoy my time again, whether it is spent “productively” or not. And suddenly, when the pressure lets up a little bit, my excitement to make progress and get things done is free to come through and carry me to the finish line.

The Habit of Food-30 to go

I have to be honest, I really love food. I have spent years of my life taking pride in how much and how poorly I could eat and not gain weight. I coveted meals like the gnocchi in the picture (okay, I still do that because it was freaking amazing) and then kept eating it until I felt like I was going to die. I looked at my mom, who is fairly overweight,

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This was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten-Crab Gnocchi at a restaurant in a coastal town in Italy

and felt like I was doing just fine because I still looked thin. I was happy to not be one of the people that seemed to always worry about what they ate and judged me and my eating habits. But without even realizing it, I was creeping down a path that I swore I would never go down.

With every meal I was solidifying habits that indulged overeating and valued the pleasure of good food over the health of my body, and when I wasn’t paying attention, my weight began to creep up. Especially once I came down to live with my grandpa and began working out everyday. I felt like I was justified in eating whatever I wanted all day because I did a 40 minute workout, even though I would spend the rest of the day on the couch. As I explained in an earlier post, I got lucky and got a wakeup call during an assessment at the gym when suddenly I weighed significantly more than I ever had before.

Today, I am over 16 pounds down from my starting weight, even with the addition of a substantial amount of muscle, but I am still struggling so much with the habits I have been reinforcing my entire life.

American culture is so saturated with a virtual worship of food. I could walk less than a mile from my house to at least 10 different food places I can think of, and not one, but two different Starbucks locations. Oh and a Walmart, a Target, and Publix grocery store, all with staggering amounts of food available for purchase. A little further in one direction, maybe two miles, and there are another six restaurants, four fast food restaurants, an ice cream place, and a coffee shop. I live in a rather densely populated area, but I don’t think this is an uncommon occurrence in most of the United States. We have cheap, easy, and virtually immediate access to all sorts of highly processed, often fried food, designed to keep us wanting more.

There’s no doubt that our brains are programmed to enjoy certain types of food, but this programming is based on the hundreds of thousands of years (for Homo sapiens, and even longer to include our earlier ancestors) when we had limited resources and needed a reason to expend valuable energy to acquire our food. We developed reward pathways for high energy foods like carbs and fats, but we had to work hard, hunting or gathering to get them. Now, we are left with these hard-wired pathways and seemingly endless sources of the exact things we most desire. We eat more of these high energy foods while also burning even less energy than ever before. Furthermore, we now have the technology to artificially process them, augment them, to create a level of reward that never existed before, only encouraging us to eat more.

In some ways it’s all science and human nature that we eat the way we do, but it’s also part of being human that we have the cognitive ability to override those basic pathways. So it makes me feel better about my apparent lack of self control to know that I am attempting to overcome not just one lifetime of wiring, but the wiring of the evolution of a whole species. At the same time, our bodies were made to function in a very different world than the one we live in now, and it would be silly to justify our eating habits with the argument that we were made to enjoy the taste of food while ignoring the fact that those tastes were developed to support a diet very different from our own.

Food, instead of being a means of survival and a source of energy to support the activities of life, has become a way of life on its own. We don’t know how to have an event or holiday without food being provided. We punish kids if they won’t force themselves to eat every morsel of food off of their plates. We even watch shows on TV about food that we are never going to make because it’s pleasurable just to look at good food. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Food Network (a lot), I don’t support wasting food, and it’s really nice to sit down to a meal with family on a special occasion, but these things are all symptoms of the bigger problem.

Now, although I’m happy with my weight, even maintaining is difficult because people think it’s funny to test your resolve and see you give in. I deserve it after how often I did it to other people, thinking it was all in good fun, but it really is frustrating. It’s frustrating to try to make healthy choices for yourself and constantly have people trying to undermine it or saying that you’re so thin that you don’t need to watch what you eat. Like how do you think I got to be thin? Not by continuing to indulge every food craving to the point that I forget why I’m even eating, I can tell you that much.

So overall, I guess my point is just that trying to establish healthy eating habits is one of the most difficult endeavors we can take on. Not only are we fighting our very nature and basic desires, but we are fighting against a society that pushes food at us from every side and believes that “being thin” is some kind of permission to eat whatever and however much we want. And I’ll be honest, I’m not doing well with this. I’m home most of the day, just sitting with my grandpa, and I often confuse boredom for hunger. Luckily for us, eating is the one thing we won’t ever just stop doing so each new meal is a chance to make the right choices. We’ll make bad choices, we’ll take days off for holidays that turn into weeks, we’ll let ourselves stress eat once in awhile, but we will always get an opportunity to turn it around.

So today I am going to recommit (yet again) to making the right choices for my body and choosing health over pleasure, nutrition over taste (or only taste, I think a lot of healthy food is actually really good). I’ll get to eat a lot of meals in my life, but I only get one body and I owe it to myself to take care of it.

Tough Nights-31 to go

I’m sure this will come as no surprise, but getting up this morning wasn’t easy. With 6 am as my goal, it still took me until 6:50 to drag myself out of bed. Now, I’m no morning person to begin with, but the bigger problem comes from the nights.

I’ve been exhausted all these mornings because I can’t seem to get myself in bed at a reasonable time. I try. I really do. I make my way towards my bed sometime around 10 pm, but once I’m there, in the dark, alone with my thoughts, I suddenly cannot sleep. All of the buried emotions of the day start to show themselves, every doubt, every fear, every bit of grief. So instead of sleeping, I spend my time trying to pull myself out of a pit of negative emotions.

As I said in a previous post, the mornings have become a great time for me, filled with purpose and peace. But as I get home from my workout and the endorphins begin to wear off, my mood starts to decline. The stress starts creeping back in as I sit and listen to my grandpa cough and wheeze. The extroverted part of my personality begins to wear on me as I spend the rest of the days in almost total isolation. And by the time the night roles around, I’m again engaged in a battle over my emotions.

I lay in bed, my mind refusing to slow down, running around in circles. Even as my exhausted body longs for sleep, my brain just won’t stop. So after I finally drift off, that 6 am wakeup call comes all too soon. Maybe one of these days I will figure out an evening routine that will get me to sleep earlier, but in the meantime, the morning isn’t going to get any easier.

Unfortunately, I don’t have much of a positive spin here, just an honest account of what I’m dealing with right now. Cancer is such a horrible disease for the patient and for everyone close to them, and I am right in the thick of things right now. These nights are probably necessary to process all of the emotions that come up along this journey, but I hold onto the fact that every day is a new day to start over with a positive outlook. So after every tough night, I will continue to get up each morning to tackle the new day… even if I don’t quite make it out of bed at 6 am.

What Makes Us Happy-32 to go

Today, I decided I needed to spice up my titles a little bit, and this is something that has been on my mind today. As a warning, despite the topic of happiness, this turned out to be a rather depressing post, but I promise there’s a positive ending.

In my life right now, watching my grandpa’s health decline, it can often be difficult to find moments of happiness. The worry and stress tends to taint even the good times. Even as I sit here, I’m looking over at him periodically, wondering whether he’s breathing okay, whether he looks comfortable, whether he’s being truthful about how he feels.

Yet, even with all of that, there are still moments of happiness, and I have learned a lot about myself from those moments. I have found that I am happiest when I feel like I am accomplishing something and moving forward. I think that’s part of what makes this situation so difficult because nothing is going to help my grandpa get better. He is only getting worse, and that decline is in direct contrast to our natural desire for growth and improvement. It takes a toll to sit helplessly and watch that happen.

I think that’s why I am so drawn to this project. I feel like even if I can’t improve his health, there’s no reason I can’t improve mine. As morbid as it sounds, in some ways it’s the one protest I can mount against the looming presence of decay and death that surrounds us. It’s me running away from the fear of what waits for us all at the end of the line, and I think that’s why working towards progress makes us so happy.

We know that we are all living limited lives, and every bit of progress is a chance to make it count. If we stop progressing, then what are we doing here? Life is such an incredible gift, and it is up to us to make the most of it. To develop our skills and our dreams and our passions to become the best version of ourselves that we can. For me, that means seeing and doing and experiencing as much as I can, dedicating my life to serving others and our country as a military doctor, and always striving to improve in any way that I can. For others it might look different, and that’s the beauty of it.

 

There are a lot of times right now that the stress overshadows the positive parts of this experience, but there are also so many moments when I feel like I am exactly where I am meant to be. I think that that, more than anything else, is what makes us happy.

New Habits-33 to go

I’m trying something a little different today and writing later in the day so my brain is a little more awake and I’m not tempted to just complain about how tired I am. That said, Day 3, and I’m still struggling to drag myself out of bed each morning. I’ve also gone back to using the snooze button, which is cutting into my plans to get up early. It’s amazing how much more comfortable your bed is in the morning compared to bedtime. I still made it up by 6:30, which is significantly earlier than I was getting up before.

Other than that, things are going pretty well. I knocked out my 1.5 mile run yesterday after core day at the gym. Down here in Florida, the humidity is ridiculous so it was a rather sweaty experience, but I ran just under a 9 minute mile pace. It’s not great, but it’s a good starting point. I can’t say I particularly enjoy running while I’m doing it, but I’m actually starting to look forward to it. It’s definitely great stress relief considering everything going on with my grandfather.

I have to say, the mornings are the best time of the day for me because of the lack of stress. From the early morning when my grandpa is still asleep until I’m done with my workouts, the mornings are my time to myself. I feel most like myself when I’m focusing on challenging and improving myself. I don’t feel so stuck as I do the rest of the day, a condition that is only getting worse as my grandpa declines. When I first came down here, I would spend a few hours in my room when I needed to take a break from everything. Now, my grandpa gets so winded by even standing that I now transfer him around the house in a wheelchair so I have to stay close by in case he needs a trip to the bathroom or something. I love being here with him, and I value every moment I have with him, but it gets overwhelming. And it’s only going to get worse as he declines.

So as much as running is not my favorite form of exercise (yet), I value the opportunity to get away and face a more straightforward challenge. It’s just me against myself. It’s the chance to work towards being faster, stronger, better. It’s a time to clear my mind and get a break from the constant cycle of stress and anxiety. This project may have started with a larger goal, but it is quickly becoming an indispensable part of my day and I’m enjoying every step of the way.

New Habits-34 to go

Waking up today was even more of a struggle than yesterday. According to my fitness tracker, my alarm woke me up out of a deep sleep cycle, which explains why it took me so long to get out of bed. But I made it. After getting moving with some pushups and sit-ups, I feel much more awake, although I am really feeling the soreness from my arm workout yesterday. Today I have core day and a 1.5 mile run.

So yesterday I shared a little bit about where I am now, so today I wanted to discuss where I’m headed in the next few months. As I said, I am currently living with my grandfather and taking care of him full time instead of working. It just so happened that this year was a transition year for me already as I planned to apply to medical school to start in 2018, so it was easy to move from Pennsylvania to Florida when my grandpa needed me. No quitting of important jobs or termination of other commitments required, and working with my grandpa was actually great experience to put on the application.

I completed the application process as planned, and in the fall of 2018, I will be starting at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, MD. For those of you that have no idea what that is, that’s okay, I didn’t either when I first started applying to schools. It’s basically the medical school equivalent of West Point, the Naval Academy, and the Air Force Academy combined. This means that while I am a student, I will also be an active junior officer in the military, attending classes in uniform and being paid according to my rank. And, oh by the way, there is no cost of tuition and all books and materials are provided in exchange for a few years of service at the end, which just means I will be working as a doctor in the military instead of the civilian world.

I grew up in a military family with my dad in the Air Force when I was very young and then the Air National Guard when I was older. Because he was in the National Guard, we did not move around as much as most military families do, but he was still deployed a number of times and I spent a fair amount of time at his base growing up. Seeing him come and go for deployments, seeing him stand at sporting events recognizing service members, learning the pride that he felt, I knew that I wanted to follow in his footsteps in the military.

Despite my Air Force experience, I decided that the Navy was a better fit for my personality. My Navy career will begin at the end of April when my dad will perform my commissioning ceremony, and I will then travel up to Rhode Island to attend Officer Development School (ODS). So to bring all of this back to the relevant subject, my fitness project is also meant as preparation for the physical demands of the military.

To this end, I have incorporated a few specific features into my plan to prepare for both the fitness test and anything they might demand of us in ODS. The first, as I mentioned earlier, is that each morning I’m doing pushups and sit-ups. For now I am doing a total of 50 and 100 respectively, but I may increase those as time goes on. Although this project is a countdown to the race I’m doing, I’m also planning to continue building up my running endurance as much as I can. I’m hoping to be able to comfortably run 10-12 miles by the time I leave for Rhode Island. My minimum goal is to not be behind everyone else in my fitness, which I already don’t think would be the case, but I would love to come out in the middle or top of the pack early on to gain momentum for the coming school year.

The last part is just getting up this horribly early. I am well aware that 6 am just isn’t even that early, but it’s certainly an adjustment after getting up at 9 o’clock for a few months. I’m pretty confident that even though we are going to be in officer training instead of bootcamp, they are not going to let us roll out of bed whenever we want. Better to suffer through the toughest adjustments now and get acclimated to the early mornings before I have to do it for real.

So there you have it, the second major motivator of this fitness project. That’s all for now, see you tomorrow!

New Habits-35 to go

Let me tell you, getting up this morning was a struggle. I’m still not convinced it’s natural to wake up before the sun. Today was especially difficult because although I went to bed early, albeit after my goal of 10 pm, I couldn’t fall asleep for hours. It was sometime after 1:30 when I finally drifted off so 6 came way too fast. But I heeded my alarm without hitting the snooze button, another big deal for me, and here I am.

So today I wanted to share a little bit about my current circumstances to put some context to what I’m doing here. I have been living with and taking care of my grandfather full time since June of 2017. As of this month, he is officially on hospice with stage IV lung cancer, but he’s doing really well and honestly doesn’t need that much assistance. As a result, I have a lot of free time on my hands and a lot of difficult emotions to work through. This then led to my current focus on fitness for a few reasons.

The first reason is pretty simple: I just don’t really do much throughout the day. Yesterday, I logged less than 2,000 steps throughout an entire day. That is virtually nothing. When I got down here, I was excited to join the gym that my aunt goes to, and I quickly began working out at least five days a week. However, this gym focuses on training, keeping track of clients, and routinely doing body assessments to track our progress. Well, come October, four months into my time at the gym, I weighed in at 160 pounds, the heaviest I have ever been in my life. That really served as a wake-up call that one hour at the gym was not going to cut it when I sat at home eating whatever I wanted the rest of the time.

That day, along with the assessment, the gym provided a workshop on their recommended diet or lifestyle, whatever you want to call it. Their plan is a low carb, high protein diet with intermittent fasting and carb cycling. Essentially, with carb cycling, you eat low carb for a few days followed by a night of carb reloading to boost your fat-burning hormones and prevent your body from entering starvation mode, resulting in fat conservation. And with intermittent fasting, you’re supposed to go sixteen hours without eating from after dinner until about noon the next day.

I went into that nutrition workshop with little intention of following through with it, but I also knew I needed to make a change. The plan actually ended up being pretty appealing because it didn’t require permanently saying goodbye to all the foods I enjoyed so I decided to give it a try. Although I quickly developed some major sugar cravings (coming from someone who does not have a sweet tooth), it ended up being easier than I expected to resist when I only had to wait a week or less to be able to eat the food that I craved.

Over the next three months, I dropped over 15 pounds. Then the holidays hit. With a big family and many events to attend plus a wedding on top of it, I decided to take a break from the diet and just enjoy the season (in moderation). I somehow managed not to gain any weight going into the new year, but I lost all my momentum. For the past month, I have been struggling to recommit myself, always finding an excuse to cheat a little bit every day. I still have only gained a pound or two back, but I’m stuck on a plateau that I need to break out of. This project is my chance to stop making excuses and start making progress again.

The other purpose for this project is to provide an outlet for some of the emotions I’m dealing with right now. Sitting at home all day, listening to my grandpa’s coughing and feeling the constant weight of what’s coming hanging over us was really taking its toll. As the stress mounted I was getting more irritable and then felt guilty for being irritated by stupid things. I’ve also been wrestling with feelings of frustration over the stagnation of my life at the moment. It’s been almost two years since I graduated college, and I feel like I’ve made limited progress towards my career in that time. I’m so ready to start moving forward again, which will be happening soon, but that is a discussion for another day.

This project is, therefore, an opportunity for me to have a goal to work towards and focus on in the coming weeks. It is also the chance for me to establish habits that will keep me healthier and happier over the years to come. Plus, the endorphins and stress relief are a major added bonus in my current situation.

Well, that about sums it up. The sun is finally up, and I’m ready to move on to some of the other things on my morning checklist. See you tomorrow!