Saturday, October 19, 2013

The F word

I have a confession: sometimes when I walk down the street, shop at the grocery store, or am biking around Phoenix and I see a person who is obviously overweight, I immediately think to myself: "Wow, that person is F-A-T!" I am ashamed to admit it even if that person really is overweight. 

Should we call these people out on their weight? What should we think about them? Should we judge them and say: "Why can't they just loose weight?" If we see them in the grocery store and judge them for what they put into their cart. "You really should not be eating those chips or drinking that cola." Maybe we should go up to them and say "You should really lose some weight" or give them diet advice. Even if we do not say it, are thoughts just as bad as actions? 

As a person who was teased for the majority of his elementary school and all of his middle school years for being fat, I feel ashamed to think the same thoughts that my bullies thought when they saw me. 

The thing that bothers me with these thoughts are that they are so automatic for me and society in general. Pictures of fat people on Facebook continue to pop up, and the reaction is usually mixed.  For example, back in the summer, the above picture of a man falling off his automatic scooter as he reaches for a pack of soda made the rounds on Facebook and the inter webs. 

Comments were all over the place from "What a loser" to "What has America become" to "He[?] is so pathetic" and finally "Why doesn't he lose some f-ing weight!"

Honestly I did not know what to think when I saw this picture. My emotions were mixed and torn between "Wow, I am glad I am not like that" to "I hope he is alright." 

I thought about my reaction to these situations and I realized why they occur. For me, I think that they pop up so automatically because seeing those pictures or people makes me feel insecure about myself. I am still afraid of becoming like that or like them, that I put up this wall of humor and ridicule to separate myself from that pain as much as possible. I create an illusionary "self." They are different from me; I am somehow better than they are. Both of these statements are obviously not true.

They suffer just like I do. They have feelings just like I do, so instead of seeing their differences, I should greet them with compassion and an open heart. That is all I can do to help them. Criticizing whether in my own mind or to their face does nothing but build walls between me and them and inflates an artificial ego.  

My initial reaction of disgust is not the problem until I begin to nurse and entertain these thoughts further instead of simply letting them go. Hopefully in time and with mindful practice, I will eliminate my own fears of being overweight and with them, these thoughts. Then, I can remove at least that F word from my vocabulary. The other f word is entirely fair game though...but thats just my two watts. 

I would love to hear your comments on this, so message me, leave them on facebook, twitter, or below. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Putting Life into Living

One of my favorite podcasts is Vinnie Tortorich's "The Angriest Trainer Podcast." Whether you are low carb/ high fat, No Sugar, No Grains (NSNG), vegan, vegan curious, fruitarian, or a flexitarian, this podcast is worth a listen. In addition to some great Rocky quotes, I  always get at least one bit of interesting info (either health related or something completely different) and of course a good laugh. While Vinnie touts the importance of a NSNG diet, he frequently uses his tag line "put life into living and do it with enthusiasm." Many interpret this as that it is alright to sometimes break the NSNG (or dietary) "restrictions"*** and have a treat for a special occasion like a birthday party or celebration. After all, to quote Vinnie once more

"It's not what you eat between Christmas and New Years. It is what you eat between New Years and Christmas."

Bottoms up and lights out
I am not sure if I take this interpretation though. I put life into living in a different way. Yes, food and libations enrich life and experiences, but they can also take away.
 For example, if I am at a bar or party and I have a drink, I am out for the night. Some people get happy when they drink, others get touchy-feely, and others get mad. I am what they call a tired drunk. A few sips and I need to go to bed. Needless to say, I have the tolerance of a high school cheerleader on Prozac; even Diet Coke gives me a buzz. If I put life into living with a drink, consequently, I actually enjoy life less than if I had refrained and stuck with my typical lifestyle. These moments of life into living set me back so much they are not worth having.

In the same way, if I have a piece of candy, a soy latte, or sweets, I feel disgusting afterwards.It may taste good for five seconds, but for the next five hours, Willy Wonka gets his revenge ("Augustus leave some for later"). I am craving those sweets long after the enjoyment has worn off. It's all that I can think about. Then I get really cranky, tired, and hungry--hungry enough to even go dumpster diving. I pretty much turn into Oscar the Grouch.  Is that living? No.

Indulgent food and drink are enjoyable. They taste good, they make us feel good, and we do not get called out at parties for being the odd ball who orders soda water and raw vegetables. In my opinion though (this phrase is critical because everyone is different),  the social event would be more enjoyable for the experience itself and the memory rather than the food or drink. 20 years from now I will remember having a blast, but chances are I will not remember what I ate or drank.

I put life into living by putting my energy into the experience itself and enjoying every single moment with a clear mind and not one that is in a brain fog from what I have eaten or drunk. Moreover, I enjoy living by having a clear memory of what has happened and no guilt, remorse, or regrets about what I did. Some (bless them) can still have a great time despite having drunken lots or eaten lots; their lives continue as normal if not better. Unfortunately, I am not one of them, but that is alright.

One of the problems and indicators of an eating disorder is avoiding social situations because of the fear of food or eating in public. I did this all the time. I would feign sickness to avoid parties where I would not be able to control the food being served. When people would ask me out for dinner and I did not know what was going to be on the menu I would stay home and "enjoy"  a calorie restricted meal (emmmm lean pockets) instead. Hardly what I call living. Now I jump on the opportunity to go out regardless of what food is there; food should and will not dictate whether I go out or not. What crosses my mind instead is "will this be a fun time?" If there is food that I want to eat there then I will eat it but that is not the main focus. I may eat before I go out or bring my own, so that it does not become an issue and I can enjoy myself to the fullest.

Creating those experiences is what I call living and I am going to do it with enthusiasm....but that's just my two watts.

How do you put life into living? 

***(I am not big on this word because as I mentioned in my previous post, my changes in diet have liberated me from the restrictions of fatigue, brain fog, and cravings) 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

My solution to the triathlete's body paradox

Like the majority of the triathlon community I was "glued" to Kona coverage the other day. Since I cannot watch races without getting anxious to train myself, I had a friend message me updates as I rode my bike and dreamed of being there myself.  It was one inspiring race.

Also like the majority of the triathlon community, I have the pipe dream of getting to the big island one day and competing with the best. However, I do not just want to participate, I want to really compete. The Europeans, the Aussies, and the Kiwis, have dominated the podium for too long and one of my dreams is to bring back some American presence. It is definitely a far flung and crazy dream, but we can all dream, can't we?

I know already it is going to take a boat load of work, preparation and literally years of training before I can even fathom not only getting there but being able to post those crazy fast times. With that said the gauntlet has been thrown down, the challenge has been made, and I pity the fool (or mental demon) who tries to stand in my way.  Kona 2024!

Alas I digress and now back to more important matters...

Rockin' the W! 
What I actually found more interesting than the race itself was the festivities surrounding the race most prominently the underpants run. For those who do not know, every year, competitors and spectators alike run down the main street in virtually nothing but flashy underwear/multi colored fig leaves. Usually this would raise eyebrows and cause gag reflexes, but those running are world class athletes so their bodies are ripped (for the most part). I am talking about Men's Health and Fitness magazine shape but with no airbrushing. All natural, which is even more amazing! I did not even have to be there to feel self-conscious; the facebook posts were enough to make me feel uncomfortable and start doing crunches on the floor.

Now fast forward to the finish line. The winners of the race were not the ones who had the greatest bodies. They did not have ripped six packs nor a v shaped torso nor sub 5% body fat. They actually looked fairly normal. Don't get me wrong here. Van Lierde who won is one of the the fittest men in the world!
Photo by Nils Nilsen via
It makes you-well at least it makes me--wonder is it possible to have an awesome body and still race incredibly, pro-level fast? Moreover, which would you rather have? The body or the speed? Its a paradox.

I think it is possible to have both but not by doing crunches or training 30 hours a week. That strength pales in comparison to developing mental strength. If your mind is strong and comfortable in your body perception, then both the body and the speed will come, but that is just my two watts.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

So Rich Roll, Kanye West, and the Buddha walk into a bar,

One of my favorite songs is Kanye West's "Jesus Walks," especially because of the opening lines:

"We at war with terrorism, racism, and most of all we at war with ourselves..." 

A lot of people are at war with themselves. They do not love themselves nor respect themselves and as a result they do not care for themselves as they should. Even people (maybe even especially people) who have lots of success--you know the type: the ones who look practically perfect with the six pack abs and the v shaped torso, the expensive car, the trophy case, the expensive bike--- I am not sure whether they love themselves or not. Some of them may, which is great and I would love to see more of them like that, but the more glitz and glamor a person has, the more I question because, honestly, I was once one of them.

Back in the day (and periodically now and then) I hated the way I looked, so I literally declared chemical warfare on my own body. Armed with Splenda packets, diet coke, cereal, soy, and all the "fat free" products I could find. All the chemicals and unnatural (the only thing "natural" about them were the labels that said they were) in these foods nuked my gut, adrenals and body.

But doing this, only made me hate myself more. The more I found flaws in myself whether on the scale or on the cross country course, the more I had to hate myself, and the more wars I fought. Finally my inner conscious had to throw up a white flag of truce. I was getting no where but worse. The numbers on the scale were definitely lower, but so was everything else in my life. I was tired the majority of the day, I was irritable, and cranky, and my performance was suffering. All because I was uncomfortable in my own skin.  

To paraphrase the Buddha, unless you love yourself, are comfortable in your own skin, and confident in the natural gifts you posses in the present moment, you will go no where in training and more importantly in life.

Let say I did get hit that magical number on the scale, or the ideal power output, or that killer PR in my next HIM. What is it worth if I do not love the life that got me there. I will continue to chase the next thing, then the next thing, and so on.

However, if I feel truly am confident and loving with my body, the end does not become the objective. Rather the journey does, and just based on time, the majority of life is the journey with only a few seconds or milliseconds of "finish." (this is debatable since there really is not ends, just points along the way but I do not want to get all hippy-dippy, eastern philosopher on your ass now so I will leave that for another post).  

Fast forward 1500 years from Buddha to Rich Roll, who also put a similar message in his recent newsletter:

Now that is deep...but thats just my two watts. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Thinking with my Gut.

The point of this post is not to give you advice on what to eat, how to eat, or even to eat. It is not based on scientific research; it is just a case study on me about what I found. It is not supposed to cure any diseases, ailments, or maladies, but it has helped in my own healing process and road to recovery. Will it do the same for you? No idea. I hope, however, by posting this that you will not only get a few laughs but also, if you are struggling with similar mental and physical problems, you will open your mind to the possibility of change and that change can and does come. 

As I mentioned in a previous post I am changing up my nutrition drastically. Why? I feel like my nutrition is limiting my performance and my life. Since recovering from my last ED relapse, I have been tweaking not only what I eat but also, and more importantly, my perspective on eating.

The key component in changing my perspective on eating is changing what I ate. Everything else, including how I feel about food, how I feel about myself, and even how I related to others, falls into place by changing up my diet.

Let me take you on my journey here:

When I was in the iron grip of my eating disorder. All I thought about was eating. What and when was I going to eat next? How many calories? Would that make me fat? Would that cause inflammation? Would that spike my blood sugar levels? What would people think? Essentially I was obsessed and living in a perpetually state of fear. Living in fear is no way to live a life. I needed a change.

Gradually over the past few years I have experimented with different styles of eating.

Originally I was a card carrying vegetarian, eating no meat but was what people like to call a junk food veggie. Every day, I would eat
bowls of Kashi (the old people on the box were my best friends), a few low fat, whole grain sandwiches with fat free cream cheese and faux, soy tofurkey slices, diet coke, coffee with Splenda and soy milk, and gas station protein bars, which are, let's be honest here, candy bars with protein added.

This diet worked for some time but I began to feel lethargic especially in the afternoon and I needed to eat every two hours or I would get really grumpy and when I say grumpy I mean that I would tear your head off if you talked to me or came in between me and my Diet Coke and fat free ice cream float. In workouts, I was fine as long as I ate. I would eat before, then again twenty minutes in, then another hour I would need something else, and then I would need something more just to get to the finish. When I finished I felt like I could eat a fridge. I was also thinking about food even more than I was when I was anorexic. Instead of liberating myself, I had just added another shackle.

Yep, she has higher
T levels. 
My symptoms of lethargy got worse and worse and I also found that I was not recovering from workouts. It got to the point that I went to see my doctor. It turns out that I was anemic and had low testosterone.
The doctor literally told me that the old women sitting in the waiting room had higher levels of T than I did. I obviously needed a change.

That is when I discovered and began to explore podcasts like Ben Greenfield, Rich Roll, and
Vinnie Tortorich (America’s Angriest Trainer). They were preaching the total opposite of what I had been doing, and if I learned anything from Seinfeld, if something was not working, do the opposite.

Instead of a diet based on grains like I had been doing, they were saying that I should base my diet on fat. Say what? Fat makes you fat! How can this be? They must be talking cray cray.

The other book I high recommend. 
Vinnie's book, which is one of most inspiring
and inspirational that I have read

But honestly they were for real real.

I remember when this first came out
I first had to start to break my phobia of fat, which was VERY hard. I had grown up in an era of low fat—that wonderful time they called the “’90s”. Fat was evil, fat made you fat, no yolks and all whites, fat free foods were “healthier” than high fat, go skim not whole, it was healthy if it was low in fat.

However, the science behind this lifestyle supported why else I was feeling like crap. The soy in my diet was raising my estrogen levels and lowering my testosterone. The grains too were blocking the absorption of key nutrients like iron, which was causing my anemia. Pair that with a lack of meat in my diet and it was a perfect storm for poor performance. Moreover the grains and artificial sweeteners, were affecting my blood sugar in such a way that I was craving food all the time. Even my depression was related to what I was eating. I have not seen any scientific studies, but in my opinion, the high carb diet and lack of fat was messing with my emotions. Everything was interrelated and everything was stemming from what I was eating.

Obviously the change did not happen overnight. It actually took over 18 months and I am still finding things to tweak.
1.    My first step was take out the cereal. No more Kashi, no more Fiber One, no more “Total.” This was the hard considering it had been a staple of my diet since high school, but after listening to how soy and grains can actually decrease T and boost estrogen. It had to go.
2.    After cutting out the cereal (I became a cereal killer, get it? Sorry last bad joke of the day), it only made sense to cut out bread too. I read Wheat Belly which was eye opening. Moreover, my doctor had told me that eating these can block nutrient absorption and cause anemia in certain people. Out!
3.    Without cereal, I had a bunch of soymilk in my fridge, and it would stay right there because I switched to unsweetened almond and coconut milk, which will not spike my estrogen levels.
4.    Speaking of anemia, I realized I needed to bring meat back into my diet. THIS was tough. I became vegetarian for lots of reasons. Believe or not it was to get a girl (Long story for another post) but it was also to lose weight and restrict my eating as much as possible. Over time though it became to stay healthy and also because of animal cruelty. Unfortunately and obviously, I was not staying healthy though, so I had to change that. I may not have been killing an animal but I was killing myself. I began eating meat and fish again but made sure it was organic and humanely treated. If I had to eat it, it better taste good and come from a trusted source.
5.    At this point, I was focusing on trying to get back to natural eating as much as possible. “Nutritional” bars and meal replacements, were as far away from nature as possible, so they go the ax. Sorry Special K. The stock of Kellogg and General Mills actually fell 7% the day I quit. Not sure if that is just correlation or causation.
6. Diet coke, my other vice, was also out. Believe it or not, I do not miss it that much. I love my self more than I love it. As long as I stay hydrated I keep the cravings at bay. Coke's stock also fell that day by 2%. 
So that is a lot of negatives, let’s add some positives. What did I add in? A lot of stuff. 
  1.  I started eating nuts more—not the salted, roasted, and sugar coated ones but the raw ones; coconut in all its many beautiful forms including milk, flakes, and butter; avocado, that beautiful nut, and maybe the athlete’s best friend. I am currently pounding two a day in smoothies and salads; chia seeds and flax seeds are a must to make pudding.
  2. Egg yolks- Before Subway and McDonalds made it “cool” I always ate my eggs white. No yolk at all.
  3. Sardines and other fish-much to the chagrin of my coworkers. I now only eat it at home when I am alone so that others do not have to smell it.
Of course my veggie intake did not remain the same. It actually increased! Veggies now are the base and foundation of every meal. 

My diet was looking clean but it still had lots of holes that I needed to plug. Prominently was my use of artificial sweeteners. Now this was a huge hurdle. I was a chronic user (scratch that, I meant abuser) of this sweet stuff. It was my anorexic’s cocaine. I put it in everything! I carried around a plastic baggie with the stuff just in case I would go somewhere and they would not have it. I would take it from restaurants like I was an old lady. Yep, I had a problem. I eventually switched to stevia, which was slightly better but I was still hooked on the sweet stuff. Thus, two weeks ago, the last domino fell. I took out all the “s” from my diet: “No sugar, no sweetener, no stevia, no shit!”

The first couple days were rough. Really rough. I had to break all the habits that I had formed for over 10 years. I had to stop reaching for the packets when I poured myself some coffee or expect it to taste sweet or expect anything to be sweet. After about three days though it began to get easier. The baristas at Starbucks stopped asking me if I wanted my usual. “No, just strong, tall, and blonde” (like my women).

SO that was a long post, but I hope you got something out of it. Remember though, to change the world outside, you must first change the world inside but thats just my two watts. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

My (Gym) Odyssey

The (Gym) Odyssey, 
Complete with Sirens, The Cyclops, Circe, and the Locust Eaters 

When I lived in DC, I was a card carrying member of X Sport Fitness. This place was heaven on earth. A personal Mecca to which I went to almost daily (or at least needed to). This place had everything I could possibly wish for in a gym:
  • 24 hour gym and pool access 
  • A 25 meter pool that I could always get a lane to myself and was heated to a nice 80 degrees (i.e. old lady temperature which I find the ideal temp to swim in), 
  • Free weight/kettle bell/and lifting machine for every part of my body  
  • A sauna and steam room for heat training and detox 
  • Cardio machines for the occasional warm-up and cross training session, and a full stack of People and Cosmopolitan magazines that I could read while doing it (only joking about that last one).  
  • Attractive suburban mothers :)

With the exception of ice baths for recovery, an outdoor 50m pool, and a row of computrainers, I could not ask for more. Ironically though, what is supposedly one of the healthiest places to go (a gym) is actually a huge psychological trap of anti-health. Below is a compilation of my various trips to this gym. While the individual incidences did not happen in a single trip they nevertheless actually did occur (with some hyperbole) at some point during my 6 month membership. If you are a gym member, I hope you can relate....

I pulled into the parking lot and immediately found a parking space. It was about 300 meters from the entrance, but that would be a good warm up. As I walk towards the door I am almost hit by a large SUV with a “I AM IM.” The man behind the wheel honks loudly with one hand and with the other “checks in" on Facebook that he is going to the gym.  He does a few more laps around the parking lot waiting for the closest spot. Before I take two more steps, another woman with “Coexist,” “Namaste” and “Yoga mom” bumper stickers almost hits me. “Watch where you are going a-hole” she screams. “Namaste to you too” I think.

I then have to weave my way through a line of cars waiting for the valet parking attendant to service them. Valet parking at the gym? Yep, people really need to get to their workout as quickly as possible with as little work as possible. 

Finally I get through the entrance and am greeted by a young, girl
Why do I doubt this?
behind the counter. “Good morning, how are you?” She says without looking up from her phone as she texts someone most likely about how bored she it. I swipe my card but before I can grab a towel. She asks: “Would you like to buy some of our new line of protein bars? They are really good and super healthy. If you are looking to get faster, stronger, leaner, lighter all at the same time, these will definitely help you do that.” “No thank you—“ “But, wait let me show what else we have on sale” “I really just want to work out, thank you.” “Well how are you going to without the proper fuel? Or the proper recovery formula after? Are you on a multivitamin? If you are not you should be.” She grabbed my hand and dragged me over to a large corner of the gym devoted to everything “healthy:” tubs of protein powders with pictures of ripped guys with six packs, protein bars that looked more like candy bars, and ready made shakes whose ingredients lists looked like the periodic table of elements. “How come the people buying those tubs look nothing like the guys in the picture?” I wanted to ask but instead simply said “No thank you. I really just want to get my swim in.”
“Well have you met with our trainers yet for your personal consultation? It’s free! They will give you a customized body routine to get you ripped in no time. They are all certified.”

“My coach gives me everything I should do, so I am set.”

She looked crest fallen.

“Well, OK, have a good workout,” and she shuffled back to her station.

Finally, I was able to grab a towel and headed towards the changing room, which were up flight of stairs (or escalator--yes the gym had one of those too so that you could get to your workout more easily) and through the cardio and weight room. The moment I had finished climbing the stair--I refused to take the elevator--I practically collapsed on the ground in an epileptic seizure. Bright colored spandex burned into my retina from every direction. As my eyes adjusted to the blaze, I watched a woman clad in nothing but LuLu Lemon and Athletica exit the escalator, then hop immediately onto the stair climber. Irony! 

Row upon row of cardio machines hummed as their occupants stair climber/walked/ran/row/spun/ elliptisized/ twerked up a “sweat.” Most of the people were more focused on People Magazine's spread on Brad Pitt's newest fling than actually doing work though. One gentleman who was so absorbed in his Men's Health Magazine just sat on the bike with the pedals barely moving. At least he's here though.

I weaved back in between the machines but by the time I had reached the weight room, my way was blocked by a "trainer" and his client. The client was doing what I assume was a dumbbell squat. Her back was curled and she was barely bending her legs. 

"Good. Nice...deep sit now...and back up...Good." The trainer, gazing at his iPhone, said absentmindedly.  "Keep it up...Feel the burn"

"Is this right?" 

"Yep. Keep doing just that."  

Yep, he's certified--certified in texting. 

The weight room was packed as always with the typical gym rats: high schoolers who would do 3 reps on the bench press, let out a nice grunt then "subtly" stare at themselves in the mirror for a good 5 minutes, men whose arms were the size of my waist and whose whole circulatory system was visible, women who had more body hair than I do and most likely could eat me for dinner with a side of creatine and muscle milk pudding. 

At last I reach the locker rooms! Now I can swim!
I am not sure about you but all I can think about as I put on my swimsuit is this scene from movie "Airplane!" 

All one can and should do in the locker room is just keep your head down, your eyes on the floor, your towel firmly around your waist, and get out of there as quickly as possibly. One glance up and your memory will be scarred permanently. 

To the pool I go. After a quick hello to my Eastern European Life guard friend who does not speak a word of English and sits all day reading German romance novels, I hustle to the pool deck but before I could dip one toe in the pool, a rather cranky voice yells at me from across the way. 

"I'm sorry the pool is closed for Water Zumba."

I glance up at her then glance at the two old ladies in the pool. 

"The entire pool?"


"Well, good since I am here for the class," and with out missing a beat of the Justin Bieber song that had just come on the instructor's boom-box I dove in. 

In certain situations, you just have to go with the flow but thats my two watts.  

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A brief update

There and back again... A triathlete's "holiday"
I know it’s been a long time since the last post, but sometimes life/new job/training/and being a “gangsta” gets in the way. I will not summarize everything that has past since the middle of July but a brief bullet point list:
View from my morning ride
·       Moved to Phoenix and love it. New place is awesome with plenty of room for the trainer.
·       Started my new job teaching middle school English and love it
·       Training revved up then got rocky. I got sick (thanks to my wonderful students—a hazard the job), had to miss a few days here and there but overall not bad given the situation

·       Went to Vegas to “rock the W” but had to drop out at mile three of the run because of an exercise induced asthma attack—shit happens nothing I can do about it now but learn from it. To paraphrase Alfred, “Why do we fall off the horse, Master Wayne?” “I Don’t know, Alfred” “So that we can get up and [swim/bike/run] again”

·       Back in Phoenix now
·       Making massive changes in my nutrition (<--more on that to come)
·       Enjoying my off season by doing whatever I want without a Garmin, going to yoga, sleeping in, getting a tattoo (don't tell my mom) 

·       Right about to hop back into “preseason” training next week in a mini build to “Ironbaby” a self-supported Ironman in College Station, TX put on by Coach Bret (@ZenTri) on October 20th. Whether I will be able to complete it given my lack of training since Vegas. I am not sure but I am going to sure as hell try.
·       Planning for next year (<---more on that to come)

So that’s pretty much it in a cracked, organic nut shell. More to come so stay posted!