40 Days ago I embarked on a personal journey to lose weight and get healthier. But you say, you weren’t obese or overweight. And I say, if you only knew. I could tell I was headed down the wrong path. I knew my cholesterol, blood sugars, vitamin levels were indicators that were warning me like an engine needs service light on a car dashboard. It doesn’t help having lived eight years in the mecca for soul food and restaurants, Atlanta, GA and acquiring a fondness for sweet tea. One of the reasons why I have chosen to focus on childhood obesity in my research with humanoid robots is because the way a bad diet wreaked havoc on my Mom’s health contributing to hypertension and diabetes. Obesity is now a global epidemic and it was time for me to make a local, personal effort to make sure I didn’t head down that path. In other words, it was time for me to practice what I preached. Here’s what I learned and experienced. Be sure to read at the end the results of my journey.
1. Knowledge alone won’t make me healthy. I have known a long time that eating sugary, processed, and fried foods and drinking sugary drinks was not good for me. But it tasted good and I wanted to eat them when I wanted to.
2. Bad eating is a result of bad habits. Just like robots use their sensors to recognize certain cues that trigger certain routines to perform a behavior, all for a reward or to meet an internal goal, my body is wired to be triggered by certain food and drink cues, to execute a eating or drinking routine, to get the momentary reward of a sugar or fried food high. I don’t have to consciously decide to eat poorly, just flash a McDonald’s french fry commercial before my eyes and I’ll crave the hot, salty taste of a french fry and adjust my behavior to get one. By the way, much of the fast food, drink, snack, and candy industry design their unhealthy foods to be delicious, addictive and habit forming with some disregard for our personal health in return for making profits for their companies. If you need references for this email me or use Google, Bing, or Yahoo to search for Food documentaries or books, or the upcoming Fed Up! documentary narrated by Katie Couric. (Disclaimer: I haven’t seen it yet but it looks very pertinent).
3. Nutrition knowledge can help me select healthier foods to eat. When I started my 40 day health journey I read portions of the “Daniel Plan” by Rick Warren, Dr. Oz, and others. I learned about how there are certain foods that are called “super foods” that are rich in vitamins and nutrients, taste good, and give you more energy. This was fascinating to learn about these types of foods.
4. I needed to focus on adding good foods to my diet, not eliminating bad ones. If I focused on eliminating bad foods then I would think I was missing out on something. On the other hand, if I focused on adding good foods, I would seek out what was healthier, tastier, and more nutritious.
5. I didn’t have to count calories if I followed a few simple rules. Fill my diet with healthier foods. In the morning I ate oatmeal with a small amount of agave nectar and egg. If I was still hungry I would eat a banana, apple or orange. For lunch, I tried to eat as many vegetables as possible, like salad while also having a good protein like chicken breast. For dinner, I would try to fill half my plate with vegetables, healthy protein and nutritious whole grain. The key for me was having in between snacks that consisted of salt-free nuts or other trail mix type dried fruit, or a piece of fruit, such as an apple, banana or grapefruit. These were my mini-meals I talk about in #13.
6. Water is the best thing I can drink. I was addicted to Dr. Pepper and sweet tea. In fact, my “drug” of choice was a bottle of Dr. Pepper with four Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Yes, I’m ashamed but I reveal this in hopes that others will come out of the closet as junk food junkies and find freedom. Water cleanses, refreshes, hydrates, heals. I remember I was getting faint because I wasn’t drinking enough water.
7. Getting daily feedback on my progress was important. I weighed myself everyday to see my progress and then recorded it in my notes app. I recorded some brief notes on how I was doing and what kinds of food I was eating or how I was feeling. I even tweeted my progress sometimes in hopes of encouraging others and keeping accountable.
8. It’s best if you start and continue your journey with a buddy. I asked someone to go on this journey with me. They were my exercise partner and we shared notes on our progress. It can be done alone but two are better than one.
9. Daily exercise of about 30 minutes was key. I exercised at least 5 times a week while always taking Sunday off. For me the treadmill worked as I started out walking and worked my way up to running a good portion of it. On alternating days I would sometimes lift light weights to build muscle. I know this sounds kind of wimpy for someone that used to play basketball in high school and occasionally dunk it but it’s working for me now.
10. Traveling presents its challenges but you can still be successful. When traveling I would buy unsalted almonds and bring apples or some other fruit. I would try to eat salad and even went to McDonald’s to get oatmeal without the maple and an egg dish. If I was at a banquet meal at a conference, I would ask for fruit if they were serving a cake for dessert. I was pleasantly surprised that after one trip I had actually lost half a pound.
11. Don’t obsess over what you eat or don’t eat. I learned this from my daughter. In fact, those are her words. If I’m adding and eating good foods, I can have an occasional piece of something sweet, like dark chocolate, which is actually good for you in moderation.
12. Learn how to feast wisely and recover from setbacks. This past weekend I celebrated my wedding anniversary out of town and also partook of our Easter “feast” at home. I decided that I would enjoy it and fight thoughts that I was guilty of something bad. I gained a little weight but only temporarily. I learned that I really didn’t have to eat in excess to enjoy these feasts. I found myself not enjoying those processed, sugary, and fried foods as much as I thought I used to.
13. Remember to keep portion sizes down and meal frequency up. Instead of three large meals a day I had about 5 to 6 smaller meals a day. This kicked in my metabolism and I found myself losing weight faster. A fist size of protein, a fist size of a health carbohydrate, and plenty of vegetables or fruit are good rules of thumb.
14. Enjoy eating healthy food and drinking water. I never thought I would learn to enjoy eating apples, oranges, bananas, nuts, asparagus, brussel sprouts, avocado, flax seeds, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, spinach, lettuce, etc. over a Culver’s bacon cheeseburger, cookies and cream custard, large fry and sweet tea. But I’m amazed at how yummy these foods are tasting to me and how bad fast food and drinks taste. The foods and drinks I used to crave can make me feel literally sick.
15. The focus is not on pounds lost but rather developing a life-long healthy lifestyle. I’m humbled when I think of how I live in a rich country where I am to be able to choose what I eat. I hope we can all transfer some of our riches to help those who don’t have as much food by donating to those in need. I hope that my journey will help others who are struggling with being overweight or obese and give them hope. Also, I am humbled that a person can do everything they think is right and still suffer a disease and sickness. We are all subject to God’s mercy and grace.
16. Radical idea: when I’m sleepy, go to sleep.I’ve learned to go to sleep when my body tells me I’m sleepy instead of falling asleep trying to watch a Netflix movie. That way I can let my body and mind rejuvenate, wake up earlier, be more productive, have energy to exercise, and be fueled by the energy healthy foods and water give me throughout the day.
17. Learn to recognize how stress contributes to bad eating and drinking.When I’m stressed I tend to look for comfort. Instead of seeking it from a spiritual source, I often naturally want to find stress relief by a physical means, namely “comfort” food or “comfort” drink. The problem is, in general, this is how addictions are formed and do their damage. I have a lot of good memories growing up and eating cereal when my Mom was living. Sometimes, when I’m stressed or thirsty, I want to eat some of those same sugary cereals to get my mind of of stressful things. Not good for the waistline. There are much healthier ways to deal with stress.
18. Daily exercise in the morning helps to relieve stress. I’m convinced that I’ve reduced stress in my life and have been relieved of a lot of stress through the natural chemicals released to my brain during and after I’ve exercised. The exercise has to be strenuous enough and last long enough (approximately 30 minutes for me) to get this natural high but believe me it’s better than any drug out there because it’s natural and leaves no harmful side effects or addictions.
19. You don’t have to buy all organic foods or special energy bars, drinks, or powders.To be honest we found almost all of our “healthy” foods at the regular grocery store. There are some healthy foods that bring variety to your diet that may be found at other stores like kimchee, seaweed, or miso soup. I also didn’t have to buy any Myoplex, Soy powder, or a juicer. The old adage of an apple a day keeps the doctor away rang true when finding healthy foods like oatmeal rather than having to go to a place like GNC or even Whole Foods. This past weekend when I was out of town, I saw someone in front of me leave Whole Foods while I was shopping for nuts, with about eight items and their bill was over $100. I can get a “whole lot of foods” fruit and vegetables at Wal-mart or Aldi’s, for that matter, for a hundred bucks. This, of course, is only my personal opinion and observation.
20. In all my pursuits, don’t neglect my spirit.In my pursuit to be healthy, I have to remember never to neglect my spirit’s health. That can be a subject of another blog post. (Sneak preview: prayer, meditating on Scripture, and journaling has made a huge impact on my life for around thirty years now).
THE RESULTS: After 40 days in my personalized version of the Daniel Plan, my weight was reduced approximately 9%. For example, if I weighed 200 lbs, I would have lost 18 lbs. Also, for a Mom that had diabetes, which may give me a predisposition for the disease, I discovered that my sugar levels had been reduced and stabilized. Also, my lab results for my cholesterol had improved dramatically with my HDL “good” cholesterol improving by 6% from my last reading taken about eight months ago. To God be the glory for the strength, wisdom, and grace He has given me in this journey and may He help me to continue to seek to care for the body He has entrusted me with.
In summary I believe: If you change your thinking, you will change your behavior. Change your habits and you will change your life.
Disclaimer: These thoughts are considered my own personal opinion and observations. None of these results should be considered typical and are subject to your own personal plan and body type as advised by your personal physician. Also, I only have a doctorate in electrical engineering and not in medicine.