At a recent Board meeting, I ran into a fellow member that I’ll call Debbie because, well, that’s her name. She was in the process of hanging up her coat in the hallway that I was using as a short cut to the bathroom. We hadn’t seen each other for a few months. She looked at me as we said hi to one another, and I could sense confusion on her face. It was telling me that she noticed I looked different, but wasn’t sure whether to compliment me, like “wow you look good,” or offer sympathy, like “I’m so sorry that you’re sick.” Debbie was the 9 or 10th person in the last couple of months to exhibit that the same kind of face confusion. And I get it.
Over the last 9 months or so, I’ve dropped about 30 pounds, give or take. I never considered myself fat before I started on this, which was obviously a lack of self-awareness (and ironic because I’m always noticing lack of self-awareness in others – so this has also been a ‘make sure your own house is in order first’ kind of reminder for me) because when someone who doesn’t know me well, or doesn’t see me often, runs into me now, they notice the weight loss (I’ve gone from @200 to @170 pounds). But at my age (52), they figure, it could just as likely be due to cancer, as it could be a diet. From a few people, I’ve gotten, “is it intentional?” as a polite and clever way to not make the wrong call. After all, no one wants to get it wrong. No one wants to be the person congratulating an overweight woman on a non-existent pregnancy (that would make a good Southwest Airlines ‘need to get away’ moment) and the same goes for someone who just might be suffering from some kind of terminal disease.
All Progress Starts with The Truth
It started in March 2017. I was happy, or at least pretty happy with my weight and my body. It had been about the same for the last 15 years or so, best I can remember. Sure, I knew I had a few extra pounds, and I could be hitting the gym a little more often, but my numbers were OK. I felt good and my blood pressure and cholesterol were “within the acceptable ranges,” although they were creeping up on the high sides. I’d always gotten top ratings when I’d take physicals for life insurance, and always passed my DOT physicals, something you need to pass to drive a big truck. Sometimes the nurse needed to take my blood pressure a few times to get a good result, which I attributed to being nervous about being at the doctor. I may have been wrong about that. No doctor was telling me to lose weight, my wife wasn’t either.
Despite my mind’s ability to maintain a “you’re still, kind of, well at least a little bit buff” rationale, the truth is there were very visible signs I’d just chosen to ignore. For example, I definitely looked fat to me in our ’16 Christmas card photo, which had been taken in our back yard on Thanksgiving Day. My wife told me it was just the shirt I was wearing. Maybe. I had my favorite 3 pairs of pants that still felt loose (helps when you look for the brands that label their 38 waists as 36’s), when the rest were feeling tight and were only occasional worn. When I needed to wear a suit, I had to keep the jacket unbuttoned. I avoided wearing ties because it was uncomfortable to button that top button on my shirt (due to my clumsy fingers, no doubt….). And more. Yes, the signs were clearly there. The pain just wasn’t acute enough for me to care enough to do anything to change.
Until my friend, who I’ll call Steve (unlike Debbie, that is not his name) spoke up.
Steve and I are in a CEO group together. We, and the rest in the group, meet about once a month. He’s taller (I know, who isn’t) than I am, and thinner, and it was clear that he had been getting thinner. That day, Steve told us he was down about 15 pounds after becoming convinced that he needed to reduce his visceral fat levels, which he explained – fortunately as I’d never heard of it – was the fat inside your body. It’s different, he said, and more significant to your overall health, than the subcutaneous fat that’s outside your body. Visceral fat can build up and surround your organs (like your heart, liver, etc.). It holds onto excess fuel like carbohydrates and sugar that your body doesn’t need to operate, but doesn’t want to give up either, thinking it might need it later.
Visceral – The Deep Inward Fat
Steve had his visceral fat scanned at a clinic called Lantu, www.lantu.solutions, in Minneapolis. The scan included his brain, heart, liver, belly and the Circle of Willis, which is basically the pipeline of blood flow to your brain. The scans showed he had moderately high visceral liver fat, which was a concern for him due to a family history of diabetes. The 15 pounds he’d lost had been “easy” he told us, nonchalantly adding that he really didn’t need to change very much in his diet, just a few things here and a few things there.
As my wife would tell you, it’s amazing how quickly I can latch on to things I hear about from others (or from podcasts, which is a whole blog to itself). Half the time I do so she’ll let me know she told me about that months ago which, of course, I won’t be able recollect, although it’s probably true. And today, for a reason I can’t explain, what Steve was saying resonated enough for me to want to take action, immediately.
Our daughter was going to school in the St. Paul area, and we already had a visit planned, so I made an appointment for Jamy and I to get scanned, which we did in mid-March. They put us into what they referred to as an “open MRI”, which is a bit of an exaggeration as the machine didn’t have the closed lipstick-type tube of a design, like the other MRI’s we’d been in, but it was still a tube, just more like a tanning booth. The scans took a long time, about 2 hours for each of us. When we were done, we were told the scans would be read by Dr. O’Mara (Sean O’Mara) and he’d send them to us and set up a conference call later to review the results. I felt good about doing this, but in a nervous and anxious kind of way. Not obsessing, but I guess in the natural way that most people might feel during the time between when they do some test or another at the doctor and when they find out what that means.
We got our Results a week or so later, before we had the call with Dr. Sean. I was relieved, in fact I was happy with mine, and Jamy’s were better. While it was very clear that I had visceral fat (the unflattering scan photos of my insides were included) around my heart and my belly, all of my results were inside the lines of the chart that defined the low and high numbers, what Dr. Sean called “the metrics.” Seeing that my metrics were in the acceptable range – which is something I was taught to label Green – as in good – I was like, “Yes”, no need to change a thing…
That feeling turned out to be fleeting though, lasting only until the phone call, the “telcon” they called it, with Dr. Sean. That happened a couple of nights later. After it, I felt a little different, like it was maybe 50/50 whether I’d even live to my next birthday.
Here’s, generally, how that call went:
Dr. Sean – ‘You really want to reduce your belly visceral fat. Your heart visceral fat is too high. Your cholesterol and blood sugar levels are too high (we’d had blood work done as well – and I nearly fainted – again, another story). I want you to test your blood glucose 3 times/day with a finger prick device I’ll send you. Eliminate carbohydrates and sugar from your diet immediately. If you’re doing any running, STOP – I don’t want you running or sprinting until we reduce your levels. Stop eating bread, cheese, beans, nuts that aren’t nuts (aka legumes), yogurt, cereal, crackers……Stop drinking juice, soda and anything else with sugar or sweetener. I’d like to see you eat only high protein meats (grass fed if possible), good fats like coconut (I hate coconut), avocado, asparagus (and I hate the way my pee smells after eating asparagus), only fruits that end with “berry” and not a lot. Ask the grocery store to save you the cores for the pineapples they cut. That’s the best part (yum) and super great for you’
As Dr. Sean continued on, he couldn’t see of course, like Jamy could, that I was getting pretty pissed off. All of what I thought were my Green metrics were suddenly RED and on fire. I wasn’t just pissed off at Sean. I was pissed off at Steve as well. I was quiet, but seething, “Easy, not many changes” he’d said. Bullshit. This was a mass overhaul. I was thinking, ‘What would I eat for breakfast and lunch? How would I eat breakfast and lunch? Where would I eat breakfast and lunch? Why did I need to do this if all my levels were in the acceptable range of the of Dr. Sean’s “metrics”? Sean’s metric chart was F-upped?’
Two hours of Dr. Sean (yes, he’s passionate about this) and I was beside myself.
I told Jamy that there was no way I was doing this. She, as she does often and smartly, didn’t see it the same way as I did. Having gone gluten free for other reasons a year or so earlier, most carbs were already gone for her. Doing what Dr. Sean was recommending wouldn’t be much of a change, she said. She sounded just like Steve. So it wasn’t helping. Then she said, “you know, even though your heart might not have a dangerous level of fat around it, wouldn’t you want to reduce that if you could?”
Damnit. She just had to go and make some sense, didn’t she?
But before I worked my way through evaluating that, I first needed to call Steve and let him know that I thought he was underselling the Dr. Sean changes. I wasn’t that mad anymore, just annoyed that this was all starting to make sense. I guess I’d grown up a little bit overnight.
He told me “well, I really wasn’t eating much bread or desert anyway, so it wasn’t that much of a change for me. I have cut back on the martini’s though, and that’s been tough. Good thing wine is still allowed.”
“I am eating a lot of bread, Steve, and I like it!” I shot back, but I could feel a glimce of a smile growing on my face.
I still needed confidence and moral support so my next call was to my friend Glen (real name). He’s big into Crossfit and I knew he was Paleo. I needed him to tell me it would be Ok if I did this, and get some tips. He said, look I’ve been doing this for so long and it’s really not an issue. I make more food at home for myself and I’ve never had a problem finding something I can eat at a restaurant. They’re always accommodating. If I’m eating at someone else’s house, I don’t make a fuss, or ask for anything special. I eat what I can and, even a little of what I can’t and the rest I move around on my plate like a kid would to make it look like I ate more than I did. Every once and a while, for my kid’s birthday or for a special occasion, I go nuts and eat what I want. What I like most about doing this is what it does for my body. I have a scale that measure my body fat and when I get on it and see that my numbers are low, and that I feel great, it makes it all worth it. If you decide to do this, you’ll be fine.
Improving My Metrics – One (less) Sandwich at a Time
I started making the changes the next day.
I’m a cold-turkey kind of guy, so once the decision was made, I jumped in with both feet. No more bread, crackers or cheese. Diet Coke out, unsweetened iced tea (which is yucky until you get used to not having any sweetener in it) was in. The one thing I kept was wine. I felt like kicking that to the curb at the same time as the other things might just make me suicidal. I made Saturday my cheat day. That was the one day I could have a Diet Coke, a cookie, pizza, maybe half a sandwich.
On the fitness side, I started walking. Sean wanted our fitness activities to resemble the caveman’s. Work out less with weights. Focus on Long periods of walking, followed by short, intense bursts of energy (but not until my heart fat went down). He wanted us to shoot for 20,000 steps per day. That’s incredibly hard to do (takes like 2 hours and I haven’t mastered the coordination needed to work or read on a treadmill desk – I drift the lane and get into trouble), so I settled for 10,000, which is still hard to do, but I manage to get there a lot of days, because I’ve decided it’s important.
I haven’t stopped what I began that day. Slowly, but surely, I lost a pound or two a week. I’ve had to buy new clothes twice so far, as my waistline slimmed from a tight 36 to a loose 33, maybe even a real 32. Pants that used to fit me look clownishly large, like they won’t even stay up. Shirts that were snug are now close to Muumuu-looking. I’m swimming in what was my favorite suit and sport coat. I’ve got a few muscles showing that I knew I had but had never seen before (or maybe since high school – I don’t remember), maybe even a couple of “packs” but not yet 6. My cholesterol dropped 40 points, and I passed my blood pressure test with much better results, and on the first try.
I like what’s happened to me, even if it makes folks like Debbie think I could be dying. I have Steve, Jamy and Sean to thank for that. And I’ll take a small slice of credit as well. It’s reinforced the belief in myself that I can do most things I put my mind to. That I can improve myself. That, maybe, I can be healthier the rest of my life than I’ve been up to now.
Inspirations just need to come to me at the right time, and in the right message, to trigger the action for something that’s clearly already there, residing inside me, but dormant or hibernating (or hiding), waiting to be released. Maybe that rings true for you as well?
More to come.
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