Great Power. Greater Responsibility.

Part 1 — Spider-Man

My favorite thing about Spider-Man is that he never gives up. Spider-Man gets knocked down and outright fails more than any other superhero I read, but he continually gets back up and does his best.

Over the last year or so, his go-to line of inspiration has been changing, and it’s really resonating with me. You all probably know the story: when he was a boy, his uncle Ben told him, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

But these days, Spider-Man is regularly taking on challenges that far exceed his power. In the first 2019 comic of the new Spider-Man, Miles’s mom is reading a newspaper article about the concentration camps at our southern border in the USA. Sure, Spider-Man has a lot of power, but what can he do about that?

As the challenges continue to exceed Spider-Man’s power, his inspiration hasn’t weakened. Instead, he acknowledges that his responsibility is greater than his power.

Part 2 — A Sense of Responsibility Rooted in Emotional Trauma

I have been seeing a counselor for a few months to work through something completely (or mostly) unrelated to responsibility. But in our last session, we broached the subject and it touched a nerve, which told me that I needed to work through some things.

That comic with Miles’s mom was stuck in my head during that session, and I was sat there thinking, “I’m not Spider-Man. I don’t have any power. What can I possibly do? Why do I feel responsible for all of this?!”

And the “all of this” in that sentence is a lot. When I was a kid, I tried to defend other kids being bullied (and as a result, I got beat up a lot). I helped people out of jams. I have gotten people jobs, gotten people money, gotten people food. I want people to feel healthy, secure, taken care of… and I feel a sense of responsibility for all of this. Like I have to do it, and if I don’t, I’m failing. What’s more, if it doesn’t work out (if the person doesn’t get the job, or if they’re struggling in some way, or if people aren’t getting healthcare, or kids are in concentration camps, or our representatives are failing to present solutions to gun violence…), then it’s because I’m not doing enough. For every bad thing where I can perceive something that I might be able to do to help, I feel like a failure if I don’t do everything.

Being around people reminds me constantly of things I could be doing to help them or the world at large. And it reminds me that I’m constantly failing.

Part 3 — I Do Not Own My Responsibilities, God Does

That’s what we were actually talking about in counseling: spending time around people. The phrase, “Being around people causes me pain” is true for me. It drains me. I have to recover from being around other people.

And part of the reason for this is the weight of responsibility I feel. I don’t just feel responsible for the moment—it’s not just about making them like me, or making sure I don’t say the wrong things, or making sure they’re having a good time. Those three things seem to weigh on a lot of people, but they’re not that big a deal to me.

In both work and my personal life, I’m typically focused on somewhere 2-5 years from now. The responsibility I’m often feeling is, “This person is really struggling with personal finances. How can I help them without being overbearing in a way that will get them into a better position 5-10 years from now?” Or, “This person is struggling with anxiety. I need to make sure I’m thinking through that from their perspective. What can I say and do to help them on their journey to better mental health? What should I avoid saying and doing?”

When I write it out, it reads as so minor to me, but it’s something that causes me some pain regardless. And I think feeling responsible for the next several years of someone’s life for everyone I come into contact with is the issue. Jesus, how arrogant is that? It’s one of those things that, until you say or write it out, you don’t quite realize what’s going on inside.

At any rate, I prayed about it the following Sunday and God effectively said, “You’re not responsible for these things. I am. And when I ask you to engage with that responsibility, I will give you sufficient power. I don’t ask you to engage with any responsibility without giving you what you need.”

I don’t even “take on” the responsibility. It’s not mine. I’m just doing some work with Him.

I’m ashamed that I said, “I have no power.” I do. I have a lot of power insofar as I’m white and male and privileged, I’m middle-class-wealthy, I own property, and I’m Christian (in an area where that helps get you “in” sometimes). But more importantly, God is with me, and He will not give me anything to do that I can’t handle.

Part 4 — Using The Power I Have

Another thing this forced me to confront is that, yes, an out-sized sense of responsibility causes emotional pain, but wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all felt like Spider-Man? Can I really say that, just because I’m not a superhero who can literally go to Texas and tear down the buildings and fences and provide food and water and medicine to people, then I should do nothing?

God gives me the power I need to engage with the responsibilities to which He invites me. What I’ve been failing to do is pray about those things for which I feel responsible so that He can advise me on what I should be doing. What actions can I take that will be effective without causing self-harm? I think that’s what He wants for me, but I haven’t been seeking Him on it.

It’s not bad to want to help people. But letting that desire lead us into a place of emotional and mental pain isn’t what God wants for us. When our positive desires lead us into a negative state, that’s a twisting of God’s plan, and we have to be wary of it.

I don’t know yet if this realization coupled with praying more frequently will reduce the pain I experience just by being around people. It’s particularly tricky when it comes to work events because that’s where I feel it most acutely (since my job is literally developing strategy for the next several years and putting things into place to make sure we achieve our goals), and I have a work week in London coming up very soon.

But I’ll do the best I can. That’s my responsibility.

Achievement Unlocked: Goal Weight

This will be my last post on health and weight for a while. My next will likely be in a year when I can write about the first year of maintenance.

  • Starting weight: 240
  • Goal weight: 190
  • Current weight: 190

So, I have lost 50 pounds in around 6 months. I actually hit my goal weight a couple of weeks ago, but I wanted to give it some time and make sure I was settled into it; that it wasn’t going to pop back up again.

I’d like to share why I started this, how I went about it, and what I have learned.

Why I wanted to lose weight

Since I was young, my primary goal in life has been to be a good husband and father. That means that I am continually looking for ways I can become a better person: nicer, better educated, better at handling conflict, more generous, more kind, more supportive, etc. And I also wanted to be physically healthier. I want to have energy to do things, I want to have strength to pick up our kids, and I don’t want to be a burden when I am older.

I don’t think you can do everything at once. Losing weight can be stressful, and it’s certainly another thing to think about and plan for. When you’re overworked and busy, that’s hard to do. So I put it off as long as I could.

But these days, I’m not in school and my job is great. And now we’re going to have kids! So the time had come.

I was also really struggling with mental energy and long-haul travel. My doctor recommended keto, a low-carb and high-fat/protein diet, to address these problems. I didn’t like being completely drained by 4 p.m. on weekdays, and I needed to make a change to fix that.

How I lost weight

You can’t outrun your diet. I had one year where I rowed multiple times a week and burned lots of calories, but I didn’t keep track of what I was eating. After a year, I had rowed a lot of kilometers, but I hadn’t lost a pound.

I lost weight over the last 6 months through Calories In, Calories Out (CICO). I used MyFitnessPal to track my meals and I followed its calorie recommendation to lose 2 pounds per week. One pound of fat is 3,500 calories, so this meant a weekly deficit of 7,000 calories, or 1,000 per day. Since I was eating around 1,500, that suggests that maintenance for me is probably 2,500… we’ll see.

April was a tremendous help through all of this. I don’t know that I would have been successful without her. She did a lot of the cooking and food prep, and she helped weigh and portion things so I could log them. She made the salad I had for lunch every day. Her support made this possible.

What I ate

I ate a keto diet, which means that 65% of my calories came from fat, 30% from protein, and 5% from carbs. I maintained this for probably 4 out of the 6 months. I don’t think keto is what lost me all the weight, but it did help me maintain the CICO approach. Keto evened out my blood sugar so I didn’t have any spikes or crashes, and it reduced my cravings tremendously. I think cutting out sugar was really the biggest thing for helping me stick to the diet.

Breakfast most every day was keto coffee, which is 1 tbsp. (14 grams) of coconut oil, 1 tbsp. (12-14 grams) of heavy whipping cream, and coffee. This is 185 calories and gets me to lunch at around 11:30 a.m.

Lunch was Mark Sisson’s big-ass salad almost every day while doing keto. My favourite dressing (out of the 3 I tried) was Green Goddess. If I wasn’t having salad, it was typically a basic meat + veggies thing, such as a pound of ground beef in a skillet with a bell pepper and mushrooms sauteed in, and I would eat half of that.

Dinner was typically similar to lunch. We would have meat and veggies, and try to have something different than what we had at lunch. So if we had beef at lunch, then it would be chicken at dinner. Occasionally pork, but not often. If I had a big salad at lunch, I often didn’t bother with veggies much at dinner.

Our main cooking oils were coconut, olive, and avocado. If you have never had avocado oil, I absolutely love it. Put two tablespoons in with ground beef right before sauteeing your vegetables and it really kicks the meal up a notch. Make sure to add salt and pepper too.

I have a powerful sweet tooth, so when I craved something sweet, I ate dark chocolate. I didn’t really like dark chocolate originally, but it turns out that different dark chocolate tastes different. It’s not all horribly bitter! My favourite, after trying many different dark chocolate bars over the last few months, is Alter Eco. I also made chocolate mousse and roasted pecans regularly to have as other snacks/desserts. For ice cream, I had this mint chip coconut ice cream and it was great.

What I learned along the way

There were some surprising things I discovered while losing weight.

Gear doesn’t make you lose weight

I wore a step-tracker on my wrist for 4 years before I really changed my diet. There have been a number of studies indicating that Fitbits and whatnot don’t typically lead to weight loss, and there have even been lawsuits about it. I’m not writing this to be critical of anyone who wears something like that, but it’s important for us to admit to ourselves that tracking steps, and even walking 10,000 steps a day, won’t lose us weight on its own.

You burn a different amount of calories for physical activity depending on your current fitness level. These days, I find it harder to get my heartrate to the aerobic zone (of beats per minute), and I’m not burning as many calories as I was. But when I was starting out, walking 10,000 steps might burn 5-800 calories in a day. That’s great! But if I was eating 2,500-3,000 calories in a normal day, and occasionally more, then my weight was plateaued or going up.

I had to change my diet. And I had to keep track of it. MyFitnessPal helped tremendously, and I got two other pieces of gear along the way that have helped. But it’s important to note that these tools help us lose weight. We have to make the conscious and regular decision to change what we eat and what we do if we’re going to lose weight.

A few months ago, I got a Vivoactive 3 and an Index scale. I like the Vivoactive because it has a heart rate monitor and GPS, so it helps me know more accurately the number of calories I am burning in a day. But what had an even greater impact on my weight loss was the electronic scale. I forced myself to step onto it every single morning, no matter what I had eaten the day before or how I felt, so that it would wireless sync my weight to Garmin and MyFitnesspal. Having that daily chart helped me in two different ways:

  1. It kept me accountable. Weighing myself daily, and having it actually be accurate (which my old scale wasn’t) and visible (through the apps, where it showed up alongside my calorie counts) made a huge difference for me.
  2. It gave me hope and clarity. I could see a clear connection between my choices and my weight. And because I was logging my calories, I knew what was happening. When I had a personal pan pizza (850 calories), and my weight shot up by 4 pounds, I knew that I hadn’t actually gained 4 pounds (14,000 calories). No, I was retaining water. And if I went back to keto, and drank a lot of water, then in around 4 days I would drop that water weight. Seeing this in action really helped calm me down. Weight loss takes time, and knowing how it works helped keep me patient. That helped keep me from giving up.

So, gear can help, but it can’t do the work for you of choosing and making the right things to eat, tracking what you eat, or exercising.

Temperature affects me differently now

I’m not as hot and sweaty as I used to be.

And strangely, really cold water doesn’t hurt me as much as it did. Like, I’m generally colder than I was, but when I put my hands in really cold water, my joints don’t hurt as much. I think this is down to having less inflammation thanks to my diet.

Also, I have less acne. I think this has more to do with cutting sugar and unhealthy oils than it does with weight loss, but they kind of go hand-in-hand.

Eating when I’m happy is good, and eating when I’m sad is not

I am a stress eater, and I have my comfort foods. If I am down in the dumps, the orange chicken from Thai Express is my happy meal.

But through tracking what I eat and how I feel, I know that generally speaking food doesn’t actually make me feel better. When I’m depressed and want to eat an entire quart of ice cream, and I go ahead and do it, I don’t feel better afterwards. Eating half a pizza doesn’t make me feel good. A burger, fries, and milkshake doesn’t fix my problems.

When I’m feeling happy, and I have some good food, it’s great. I’m loving it. And that’s important to remember. It’s the same advice that Chesterton gives in regards to alcohol (I think in Orthodoxy). Do not use alcohol as medication, because using it to try and feel like we should always feel means that we will always drink, which is unhealthy. Only drink when you’re happy, because this will be more rare but will make the happiness even greater.

I was upset last night and really wanted to go to Andy’s for some frozen custard. Instead, I hung out with some people online and ate dark chocolate, which while it’s not exactly the best thing, was literally 10% the calories of what I would have had at Andy’s. And I don’t regret it and didn’t feel bad as a result.

Monitoring your nutrients is important

Tracking nutrients is especially important when starting keto. I was getting way less sodium as a result of my diet, which is a problem. Using MyFitnessPal really helped me see where I needed to be eating more. That’s one of the things a lot of people don’t think about with tracking your meals.

Everyone fixates on how “hard” it is, when it really isn’t hard and only takes a few minutes a day. When you track your calories, it’s not just restrictive and telling you what you can’t eat. It’s also telling you when you need to eat more. If I’m super active one day, then MFP helps me see that I need to eat more. And if I check my nutrients and see that I’m low on sodium or iron, then I should do something about that.

This was also helpful because I was feeling pretty bad for a while. I kept getting this really heavy and uncomfortable feeling in my gut, and it took me a while to figure out what was causing it. Turns out, I don’t tolerate whole avocado well. I thought at first that the problem was having 19-20+ grams of fiber in a day, but I think it’s actually just pure avocado. So that’s good to know.

Where I’m going from here

I actually want to lose around 5 more pounds to get down to 185. That way, when I switch to maintenance and start eating pizza and rice and Chinese food regularly again, and I’m carrying around an extra 4 pounds of water all the time, I’ll still be around my goal weight.

My reward for myself when I hit 185 is an ice cream maker. I’m really looking forward to that. I’m going to make keto and/or low-sugar ice cream that’s cheaper and relatively healthy, and try to completely break my craving for Andy’s.

I have tried making Chinese food at home and been unsatisfied, but we are going to buy some new cooking stuff to open up new possibilities for home cooking. We need some new and different skillets and baking sheets.

And I have already bought new clothes. Not all that I need, but enough to get by for now. I’m down around 6″ in the waist for jeans, and I’m wearing medium shirts instead of XL now.

So that’s it. Let me know if you have any questions. Otherwise, I’ll probably write next about health and weight in a year.

Onederland

It took another 11 days, which indicates that my weight loss is slowing significantly, but here we are.

  • Starting weight: 240
  • Goal weight: 190
  • Current weight: 199.8

I was at 190 pounds at the end of my freshman year of college. Just 9 more to go to reach my goal.

Given that I have been maintaining a caloric deficit for the last week, I suspect I’ve still got some water weight hanging around. Let’s see if I can stick to keto for another few days to drop that off.

Week 16 on Keto…ish

I hit my first milestone on January 20th: normal weight. For my height, I dropped out of the overweight category at 209 pounds.

Once I reached normal weight, I became less strict with my diet. That weekend, I enjoyed some cake at April’s birthday party. I had some Thai and Chinese food and pizza over the following weeks. Just a few nights ago, April and I went to a movie and I ate a LOT of popcorn.

But I’m continuing to track and log every meal (and tubs of popcorn), weighing what we’re making, eating a salad for lunch most days, and making sure that I stay under my calorie goal. CICO (calories in, calories out) is king.

  • Starting weight: 240
  • Goal weight: 190
  • Current weight: 203.7

What I’m finding is that dropping off keto makes me retain water, but because I’m maintaining CICO, I’m continuing to burn fat and lose weight. And then I go back on keto, and around 4 days later I drop the water weight and see a whoosh on the scale. I’ve “lost” about 3 pounds this week (2.1 in the last day), but I’ve been at 206-209 since Feb. 3. I was actually losing weight over the last two weeks but retaining enough water that it didn’t look like it.

So that’s encouraging. Weighing myself daily has actually had a really positive impact on my weight loss mindset. I can see a clear connection now between what I eat and the impacts of those foods, and that gives me an additional sense of control. I know that certain things are going to make me retain water and my weight will go up, and that’s OK because I know that 4 days of keto will drop that water back off and the fat loss will become evident.

The less-positive realization I’ve had is that I can’t wait to buy some new clothes. I’m cinching my jeans so much with my belt that they won’t stay buttoned. April and I are going to hit up some thrift stores today, find out what size of jeans I wear now (I’ve lost 2.5 inches there, but I’m skeptical that this means I just switch from 38″ to 36″ jeans). I think I’ll probably be down another 0.5-1 inch once I hit my goal weight, so I don’t want to do the full wardrobe replacement yet.

The Vivoactive 3 watch is helping, I think, but Garmin’s software sucks in general. I’ll write a separate review sometime on the Garmin Index Scale, Vivoactive 3, and Garmin Connect, their incredibly buggy software interface. That said, I do like the watch, and it is helping me keep better track of my calorie burn.

30 pounds down

1 pound left until I’m no longer overweight.

20 pounds until my goal weight.

A week from today, my Garmin Vivoactive 3 ships. Maybe. It’s already over a week late, and I don’t really trust United’s Mileageplus to follow-through since they already missed the first date.

You might be wondering, if I’m losing weight without some sort of device to track steps and whatnot, why am I getting one now?

The answer is two-fold. First, because my miles were expiring and I wanted to use them before they all went poof. Second, because I want an easier way to keep track of my heart rate during activities compared to wearing a chest strap. And third, because I think the data it provides me will help me stay balanced going forward.

One of the interesting things I’ve discovered over the last 11 weeks on the keto diet is that I rarely struggle to stay under my calorie and macro goals. This high-fat diet leaves me pretty satiated, and I don’t have much trouble avoiding ice cream. (Avoiding rice is another matter, so I pretty much have to stay away from Thai and Chinese restaurants if I don’t want to blow my carb goal for a day.)

The challenge I have is eating enough of the right stuff, particularly when I’m active. Right now, I’m only having around 1,500 calories a day, and I feel fine. But if I burn 800, I absolutely need to eat more. And if I don’t do a good job of tracking how much energy I’m burning, then I may not eat enough. Typically, when people exercise and don’t track their calories, they end up eating more than they burned, but because I’m using MyFitnessPal to log everything I eat, I am firmly sticking to the calorie goal.

I’m also really curious to see how many calories I burn during regular activities. For instance, I’ve read that standing during work hours, like using a standing desk for your computer, can burn 400 calories in an 8 hour day. I certainly feel it in my legs, but do I need to eat more those days? Or did I just burn an extra 100-150 like I do during yoga? I can handle a 100 calorie deficit (a couple pieces of dark chocolate), but 400 is more than I have for breakfast, and 2/3 what I eat for lunch or dinner.

I look forward to blogging on March 16th to see if the trend of the last 11 weeks continued and I have hit my goal. March would be a good time for that.

  • Starting weight: 240
  • Goal weight: 190
  • Current weight: 210

Did you know that United frequent flyer miles expire now?

I discovered a few days ago that we lost 40,000 miles. In order to not lose the rest, I went through United’s merchandise that you can buy with miles.

To help better track my ongoing fitness improvements, I ordered a Garmin Vivoactive 3 and a Garmin Scale. I did a few hours of reading today to compare the Samsung Gear 3, Fitbit Ionic, and the Garmin Vivoactive 3, and I feel pretty confident in my decision.

And if I hate them, I can sell them and put the cash in the bank. But I think this will help. I’ve been weighing myself regularly, but I definitely don’t log it when my weight goes up. Instead, I wait for it to go back down (in a week or two) before I log again. Having a scale log automatically will help keep me accountable. And I’ve got some strength and cardio goals for the new year that the Vivoactive will help track.

At the end of the day, gadgets don’t help you lose weight. You can’t outrun your diet, and keto is helping address that part of the equation. One of my favourite fitness quotes is, “Suffer the pain of discipline or suffer the pain of regret.” The discipline of the diet isn’t too painful for me, but I think exercising will be more of a challenge.

In related news, some of my weight from yesterday turned out to be water I guess.

  • Starting weight: 240
  • Goal weight: 190
  • Current weight: 217

At this rate, I have about 10 more weeks until I hit my goal weight.

Post-Thanksgiving, Post-London, but Pre-Vacation

I have four more work days this year, including today, and then I’m on holiday until January. That’s pretty exciting.

Staying on my diet through Thanksgiving was pretty easy. I just ate turkey, ham, and green beans, and saw my siblings and some extended family at my mom’s house. It had been almost 10 years since I had seen my brothers. One of my nieces was there and I hadn’t seen her in 24 years.

Then, the Monday after Thanksgiving, I went to London. I was able to stay on keto through the first week without too much trouble. Salads with chicken, a McDonald’s salad with a couple of hamburger patties on top, roast chicken and squash and other veggies. Not too bad.

The second week was a loss, though. It’s hard to avoid rice when you’re having Thai food every other meal. I didn’t drink a single beer, but I did drink two bottles of wine one night. There was a pot pie for dinner one day, and pizza another, and I lacked for choices. So not ideal, but I tried to manage my portion size at least, and I think avoiding beer helped.

I was back on keto as soon as I got home last Friday, and the re-adjustment has been a bit tough. I’m hungrier than I was, so I made a fat bomb yesterday comprised of almond butter, cocoa, cream cheese, and heavy whipping cream. Then I made hot chocolate last night with almond milk, cocoa, some vanilla powder, cinnamon, a bit of xanthan gum, some swerve, and a bit of heavy whipping cream. I didn’t have much sugar while in London, but it was enough to have me craving sweets again.

All’s well that end’s well:

  • Starting weight: 240
  • Goal weight: 190
  • Current weight: 223

It’s neat to see these numbers, because I forget between blog posts what I weighed. I’m weighing myself every 1-3 days and logging it into MyFitnessPal so it’s pretty incremental, then I blog and see I’ve dropped 5 pounds since my last weigh-in.

This week, I’m finally adding in the exercise that I was supposed to do in week 2. I have a new battery for my heart rate monitor, so I got that working this morning, then rowed for 20 minutes and stayed in the target range for 7, per Mark Sisson’s book. He recommends 2 hours of exercise every week, so I figure if I do this 20 minute routine every morning, 6 days a week, that should set me right. We’ll see if I can keep that up, though. It was nice to listen to NPR while rowing this morning.

I have an 8 a.m. meeting, so I better get going. Heading into the office this week since I haven’t been there in almost 3 weeks.