Exploration without suppression 

Food has always been my go-to. When I’m happy, I eat. When I’m depressed, I eat. When I go out, I’m not having fun until I’m eating – and not just any food. It had to be the most unhealthy, over-the-top things I could find or think of. Like a peanut butter, ranch dressing, and bacon sandwich or a funnel cake covered in bacon. If it was unhealthy and served at a festival, amusement park, carnival, or food truck, I’d probably try it. I’ve done this my whole life. When I was a kid, I would make hotdog sandwiches. Never had one? Well here’s the recipe: take two slices of bread, cover them in butter, and put them in the microwave for about ten seconds – just long enough to melt the butter. Then put two slices of cheese on each piece of bread. Then slice two hotdogs longways, place them on one side, and close the sandwich. Heat until the cheese is gooey. Mmmm, can’t you just feel your arteries hardening?

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Moderation was not part of my vocabulary. I stopped making a choice on what to eat a long time ago. I decided I would have all of what I wanted at one time. Instead of one sandwich, I’d have two or three. Plus every snack I had a craving for. No matter where I went or what I got, it had to be extreme. I tricked… no, made… no. I WANTED to believe that this was my “thing,” the thing that made me unique, the thing that made people like me. The thing that made me accepted. Sometimes you have to admit things out loud, so to speak, to realize just how truly stupid they sound.

Most people think of Subway as being reasonably healthy. Well, I took that as a challenge. I would go to Subway and order a footlong tuna sub. Sounds harmless, right? I’d get it on an Italian herb and cheese roll and get it toasted. I know, I know, what’s the big deal? Well, I’d also get it with chipotle sauce, have double bacon put on the bread first, then have it toasted. Then add double tuna, veggies (because, yeah, that made it better), Ol’ Bay, and drench it in more chipotle sauce (enough to gush out with each bite). Don’t forget the mini-cornucopia of snacks I’d hoard like I was going on a cross country bus trip. I seriously ate like the death row prisoners in the movies having their last meal.

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If you’re not a calorie counter or a macros (macro nutrition) watcher, you’re probably thinking, “So what, that’s not so horrible.” Well, let me put that sub into perspective for you. One footlong Italian herb and cheese sub roll is 500 calories, 10 grams of fat, 20mg of cholesterol, and 80 grams of carbs. The chipotle sauce (that I was eating [I’m guessing] about a cup or two per sub) has 100 calories, 10 grams of fat, 10mg of cholesterol, and 1 gram of carbs (that’s for one serving [2 tbsp] by the way). Two slices of bacon has 45 calories, 3.5 grams of fat, and 10mg of cholesterol (double meat, remember). That brings us to the tuna. Which has 310 calories, 24 grams of fat, 35mg of cholesterol, and 10 grams of carbs (and again, double meat). Do the math. That equals death on a sub roll.

When I first got home from the hospital, I still didn’t have much of an appetite. But that started changing quickly. Those first couple of weeks I was eating only 60 carbs a day. With other dietary requirements, my daily meals were severely limited. I would start the day with an Ensure. Lunch would be something like a bowl of lite soup with a tortilla. Then for dinner, I’d have a beef slider patty or a single lean hotdog in a tortilla with a side salad or in a wrap, or lean fish with salad. At the time my wife was making these meals for me, but neither one of us fully knew what I could actually eat without going over my carb limit and/or raising my blood sugar. This was a huge learning curve for both of us. I pretty much went from eating every and anything I wanted, to eating next to nothing, and it wasn’t fun.
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Remember, I had also quit smoking as well, so these were stressful times. The silver lining was that I was sticking to my diet and losing weight intentionally. Slowly getting my health and independence back, coupled with seeing those numbers go down, made it a lot easier to deal with.

Hating how miserable and bored she could see I was getting with my food choices, my wife suggested turning to meat substitutes. If she had said that one month before, I would have looked at her like she was crazy, then laughed like I was crazy. Which I had many times before at the suggestion. But can I just say that – that – turned out to be the best idea.

Finding healthier alternatives to my previous eating habits opened a whole new culinary world for me. I now had choices to curb some of the cravings. Don’t get me wrong; I still have cravings for some of the foods I used to eat. But with things like veggie burgers and hotdogs, vegan lunch “meat,” and chik’n, I don’t feel the need for McDonald’s or Lexington Market. Plus I’m not sitting around feeling sorry for myself for what I can’t have anymore. So after getting the correct carb intake information from my doctor (60 carbs per meal at three meals a day, plus two 20 carb snacks [a huge difference from 60 carbs a day]), my wife and I went to work exploring the vast new world of meat substitutes and healthier options.

The first suggestion she made was veggie burgers. So we tried the brand MorningStar Farms; they make a griller veggie burger that’s magnificent. Having a very similar texture to meat and even tasting like a “real” burger, they don’t leave you wishing you had Burger King. From there we tried every MorningStar product we could find. Veggie chick’n patties and nuggets, veggie bacon (which is awesome), hotdogs and breakfast sausage. All delicious.

http://www.morningstarfarms.com

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Knowing how much I was craving a cheeseburger, her next suggestion was to find a lactose-free cheese. That’s where GoVeggie cheese came in. As with the MorningStar products, I tried them and fell in love. The taste is rich and buttery. In my opinion, just as good – if not better than – real cheese. It also makes an excellent grilled cheese sandwich. GoVeggie makes individual slice packs of cheddar, American, smoked provolone, and pepper jack. They also do cream cheese, shredded mozzarella, and cheddar.

http://www.goveggiefoods.com/

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Once we found this cheesy goodness, the first thing I made was something I thought I could never have again – a double cheeseburger… and it was all veggie heaven.

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Earlier I talked about my 1,210 calorie Subway sub. So hopefully it’s understood how huge it was for me to have a complete veggie-based dinner that totaled 674 calories with no snacks or dessert. Of course, that’s laughable now since I total 500-600 calories for the whole day. But at that part of the journey it was pretty epic, and since then I’ve learned more productive ways of keeping the weight loss rolling. I look back at that meal as a triumph.

Finding comparable, healthier alternatives to everyday unhealthy foods has been major fuel to continue this journey. Being able to enjoy things like seitan cheesesteak subs or tempeh Reuben sandwiches makes plain salads with no dressing easier to deal with until you actually enjoy and crave zucchini pancakes or even just a plain old salad. Exploration without suppression, that’s what this journey has taught me so far. How to explore, experience, and enjoy food without suppressing my inner “foodie” or digging an early grave. If you take nothing else from this entry remember this – don’t deprive yourself. Modify your craving to your healthier life.

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My crusaders 

Been going back and forth all day on what to talk about next. But after reading some of the comments from the first entry, I started to think about all the support I’ve been getting from family and friends on this journey and how it has energized me at times of self doubt. Times I just wanted to give up and say I’ve done enough. So I think I should acknowledge the impact that it has had on me. Especially four individuals.

In terms of my health, I lived my life like I was in a dark room with a weak flashlight, only pointing it at what I was willing to look at. Every time someone would try to turn the lights on, I would just shut my eyes. I have a strong support system, and I don’t just mean people I can go to when I need or want something. I’m talking about people who actually care about my well-being and whether or not I’m being the best “Me” for Me.

See, even though that light kept being flipped on, I didn’t want to face the fact that I had given up. I had given up on myself, so subconsciously I put effort into destroying myself. I allowed all the negative outside forces to kill my self esteem. Every negative thing people said about me (both behind my back [when they thought I wasn’t there to hear them] and to my face). Every time people treated me like I didn’t deserve to live, every look of disgust at the sight of me, every time people would laugh as I passed. I turned each one of them into bullets, that I would shoot myself with. All so I would have an excuse to go to Lexington Market on Saturday mornings and buy a large order of fried chicken necks with western fries, a chicken breast (anyone who has been to Lexington market knows how big their chicken breasts are), a fried pork chop, and a box (yes a BOX) of Berger’s donuts and anything else I could get my hands on.

The point I’m making is, getting fat didn’t just happen to me. I made it happen, I made it happen and told myself it was ok because people treat me badly or because I’m a “foodie” so I have to try every crazy thing that comes out. Now it is true, I am a “foodie,” but I also have a food addiction and a loaded excuse gun and apparently I’m not afraid to use it. I have been a willing tag team partner with all things negative in a battle against myself. Now tell me that’s not senseless.

I have a classic Mom in the sense that she always – and I do mean always – knows where I am emotionally. I have been on the other side of the country and still have gotten calls asking what’s going on or what’s wrong. She is also very blunt with me, will always tell it like it is. While at the same time, pick her spots. Because what she has to say she knows I need to hear and face.

That said, you would think that I would listen when she would repeatedly warn me of pre-existing family medical conditions like diabetes and weight issues. Or constantly urging (on the verge of begging) me to get a check up so I can catch and fight anything that may be wrong before it becomes irreversible. But that would be to much like right. That would mean I’d have to do something other than stuff my face with everything not nailed down while trying to pry up everything that is.

Some days I would see my parents and they would talk to me about my weight and my health, trying to appeal to my common sense or to my vanity. Mom would say things like, “If you lost a bit of weight you could wear your wrestling belts or find wrestling t-shirts in your size” (because she knew how much I wished I could wrap those belts around me).

Dad would then pick up the baton and say, “Imagine how awesome you would look if you hit the gym, turned some of that into muscle,” and jokingly nudge me with his elbow. “Chest out to here with your title belt… you’d look like The Rock,” (my favorite wrestler). I would sit there and listen and mildly day dream about what they were saying. I could see myself at the gym pumping iron, sweating, getting ripped.

In the training montage in my head, I was Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren from Rocky), on the treadmill with all the sensors hooked up, hitting that punching meter, jumping rope. Then I thought about bacon and chocolate and anything else I could stuff in my face. So I didn’t have to think about the fact that I was just too lazy to put in the effort. In short, I ignored them.

When someone has the support system that l have – people who worry themselves ragged trying to push and nudge and drag you to care about yourself, your life, and your health – you shouldn’t shut them out. But that is what I’ve done in excess for my entire adult life. I’ve had the privilege and blessing to have both my parents together and in my corner my whole life. I have the pleasure of being married to a woman who, no matter what we go through, has always wanted the best for me and my health. I also have brother who would drop everything to help me. Who has been a confidant, a teacher, a friend, and most of all MY BIG BROTHER.

When the world fails me, these four are my salvation. But when I fail me, these four are the crusaders that go into battle and – believe me when I say – I put up a fight.
There is no better definition in my mind of self-destruction than fighting those who only want to love you and help you be your best. Then forcing them to watch you destroy yourself.

I wanted to talk about the support I’ve gotten from my crusaders since starting this journey. But their love and support has always been there. They never stopped believing in me. They never abandoned me. I did those things to myself. I walked alone because I refused to turn on the lights. If I had, I may have realized that I was never alone.

Hardhead, harder road

This my first blog, my first time doing anything like this. So bear with me if it comes out a little wonky or self involved. Mom and Dad there may be some strong language, but if I’m going to do this it should be honest and real.

I’ve dealt with being over weight for my entire adult life. But the last ten years or more have been the worst. I’ve sporadically, and I admit half-assed, tried dieting and cutting back several times. Even had a little success in my early twenties. But that didn’t last long and soon I gained it all back plus some friends.

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The last two years I really spun completely out of control ballooning up to just over 300lbs ( I’m 5 foot 1 by the way). That’s around the time that I got a bad cavity which forced me to cut down on eating so much sugar (or be in horrendous pain). So I inadvertently went down to 298lbs, where I toggled back and forth between 298-288lbs for almost a year. Then in July 2016, Pokemon Go came out and this couch potato got out and tried to catch ’em all…. until winter hit and I found a way to play without having to move. So I went back home to 298lbs. Mind you, all this time my wife did everything she could think of to make me see that I was headed to a very large early grave. But like a husband, I ignored her. I ignored everyone and everything and I avoided mirrors at all cost. Mostly because they told the truth — a truth I wanted NO part of.

I wanted my chicken boxes with salt, pepper, Ol’ Bay, ketchup, and hot sauce. I wanted my big, thick greasy burgers loaded with bacon and fried onions. I wanted cakes, I wanted pies, I wanted fried chicken thighs… and any other part of the chicken. I would go to McDonald’s and order a buttermilk crispy chicken sandwich, a double quarter pounder (no cheese [I became lactose intolerant in my late 20s]), 2 double burgers, 2 chicken sandwiches, and a 4 piece nugget. Leave there and go to the convenience store and buy 4 bags of 25 cent chips, 2 bags of Cool Ranch Doritos, $2 worth of 50 cent snacks (Twinkies, Nutty Buddies, etc.), a gallon of lemonade, and a couple of honey buns (let’s not forget a pack of wine Black and Milds). Go home and take the McDonald’s buttermilk crispy chicken sandwich and literally stick it in between the double quarter pounder (a McGangbang as it’s called [yes this is a real thing look it up]). Then do the same with the smaller sandwiches. All of that was my dinner for one night… for just me. On weekends I would order a whole steak sub with double meat and bacon everything, no hots, extra mayo. Then chase it with a large meat lovers pizza with grilled chicken added.

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If you haven’t gotten the point so far, my eating habits were atrocious. One of the things I have had to face is, and let me stand up and say this at the front of the room, my name is C.A.Ge and I have a food addiction. I love food, the taste, the texture, the smell. I love being around food, making food. I could have a whole table full of food and still be eyeing, and coveting, yours. So now that you have a bit of context.

Let’s fast forward to Febuary 20th 2017, I caught a stomach flu virus that weakened my immune system so much it allowed another more serious medical issue to take hold putting me in the hospital for two weeks on the strongest IV antibiotics they make. Some time into the first week I realized I hadn’t had a smoke in days and really didn’t want one. So I decided I would quit right then. Now I realize that the antibiotics were helping curb those cravings and completely killing my appetite while in the hospital. But I ended up losing 20lbs while there (water weight). I was also informed towards the end of my stay that I was just over the line (two points) for diabetes on top of being morbidly obese and if I didn’t loose some (a lot) of weight I was in for major problems including, but not limited to, loss of limbs.

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Now through all of this my wife stood by me, and I watched as she mentally reorganized her life, goals, and priorities to take on the responsibility of caring of me. Getting instructions on how to monitor my new diabetic diet and how to deal with my medical issue. Just imagine, you’ve been telling a loved one for YEARS that they need to take better care of themselves just to have them ignore you at every turn and now that things have turned out exactly as you warned. Now you get the add pleasure of up ending your life to take care of them because they couldn’t be bothered to do anything to prevent this from happening. I felt horrible for what I was doing to her. This was my fault, my doing, she tried hard to get me to pay attention but I shut her out. So I had to do something to keep this from going any further.

So upon release, I stuck to the diabetic diet of no sugar (that also includes fruit and smoothies), no more than 60 carbs per meal (which is kind of funny because when I left the hospital the dietitian told me 60 carbs per Day, leaving me feeling weak and depleted) and kept a twice a day check on my blood sugar. So I ate like that for about two weeks (weakness aside I still lost about 20lbs in that period) and when I had my first doctor’s appointment, I asked them about it and they were like NO. You should be eating 60 carbs per meal. So I upped my carbs to meet that minimum, but I started to notice that the 10lbs a week that I had been losing had stopped. I wasn’t gaining weight but I wasn’t losing either. So I started doing more research and realized that I wasn’t doing anything to burn calories. Even with cutting carbs and sugar. I was still taking in way more calories than I was burning. I needed to burn at least 1,500 calories a day to lose anything.

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So I slowly started walking on the treadmill but it quickly hit me that I had no idea how many calories I was burning or how many steps I was taking. So I downloaded LG Health (a step counter) on my phone and it helped but I wasn’t convinced that it correctly counting my steps and it was killing my battery. Plus I was still having trouble tracking my calorie intake. So at the suggestion of a friend I started using MyFitnessPal. This app is great, based on the info I put in it told me exactly how many calories I should have per day (to meet my weight loss goal) while tracking all my other micros. Now I was able to plan my food intake in advance…. awesome. This is also around the time that I discovered the difference between carbs and dietary fiber. If you don’t already know, dietary fiber are good carbs that burn faster than regular carbs. So the more dietary fiber the better, things like Nature’s own 2x fiber bread is actually not bad (in moderation) for a low carb diet. But I’ll go more into that and other food’s in a later post.

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Through more research I determined that it would take at least 10,000 steps a day (the healthy minimum for an adult male) to lose 1 pound of fat every 3 days. So I started taking walks around my block. Since the pedometer on the phone wasn’t reliable I physically counted how many steps it took to go around my block (about 500 steps). Then I calculated how many laps it would take to equal 10,500 steps. The answer was (around) twenty. So every morning I would get out by 3am and walk around my block twenty times (a little over 4 miles) before work every morning so that I would start my day already over my minimum to maximize my calorie burning.

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That was around mid April (in the 250lbs range). In May I bought a step counter called Up from Jawbone that connected to the phone. It didn’t have a display screen but it did light up to track your progress. It worked fine but it wouldn’t connect to MyFitnessPal so I couldn’t accurately calculate my calorie intake vs calories burned. Plus as my journey evolved so did my need for a heart rate monitor. I needed to be able to track my heart rate to increase my circulation and see how long I was in the fat burning zone (between 110bpm[beat per minute] and 134bpm). So in June I got a Fit bit charge 2. Now this little godsend tracked how many calories I burned resting and active, how many steps I take, what my heart rate is, tells me when I’ve hit 10,000 steps, and connects with MyFitnessPal.

Now at this point (the beginning of June) I had decided to cut my calorie intake to 500 a day and up my calories out to 3,500 which is extreme, very dangerous, and NOT doctor recommended. But I monitor myself very closely and make adjustments when needed.

On June 11th I had officially lost 72lbs (Since Febuary). From then I joined a gym and started going in the morning before work, sometimes after work, (especially if I didn’t make it there that morning) and on Saturday and Sunday. Since June 11th on the 500 calorie regiment I’ve gone from 226lbs to 188lbs [August 20th]).

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So that’s a somewhat quick synopsis of my journey, a introduction so to speak. In later entries I will go into more detail about this journey and some reviews of some of the foods I’ve tried and some of the tools I’ve used. Along with some insight on the emotional toll as well… So stay turned.

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