Category Archives: take the next step

My Rational Approach to Diet and Fitness

Wellness is a lifelong quest. And fitness, or in my terms, feeling and looking more fit than I do now, is also a life goal. While I have struggled for a good portion of my adult life with weight gain, I decided at the beginning of this month to take on my health and fitness in the same way I have taken on some of my other challenges in life. I launched this blog as a way to share and track my own commitment and growth in this process.

Here’s what I told a fitness coach who reached out to me recently.

“At the moment, I’m going my own way, working with my emotions and eating, a bit organically, with some incidental support and lots of discipline and rational exercise and diet.”

At the heart of my plan is self-guided, self-exploratory awareness of what I eat, why I eat it, and how it makes me feel. As a result I’m also watching how I can reduce all forms of sugar intake. Add to that a goal of hitting my exercise goal 5-times a week.

It’s been a while since my last “check-in” and I know I’ve been challenged a bit lately with 100% adherence to my no-sugar October, but I’m positive and happy with how I’m progressing. I’m not weighing in all the time, because I can see how my weight can vary based on salt intake, water intake, and minor constipation, so that it can become more of a distraction than a motivational tool.

Are a few misses that happened over the last week.

  • 2 X big sugar intake choices
  • my son’s birthday cake
  • next day, a few spoons of ice cream and some chocolate bark
  • 2 X pizza – rather than something more healthy
  • 3 days of physical exercise rather than 5 (day 1 due to some business commitments and day 2 due to laziness)

In my rational process (meaning within reason, and not extreme) I can merely restart my program in the morning. Every morning.

When I slip, either by choice, or by craving, I can make a note of what’s going on. Did I decide to give in? Did I let the craving get too intense so I couldn’t control it? Or was I merely responding to bad choices and bad snack items in my sister’s house, where I’m house sitting for the week?

My goal, in this process, and recorded on this blog, is to take my own time, learn what I learn, and share what I understand as I go along.

The answers don’t really matter all that much to me today. This evening I made food for my daughter and son based on their desires and choices. And I had some lean chicken prepared by the local grocery store. Again, my goal is improvement and commitment to my growth (or in this case, reduction) in self-awareness and physical fitness. Ultimately I want to live a happier and fuller life by improving my fitness, getting my waistline back in line with my physical frame, and improving my energy and resilience during the course of any given day.

Today, Sunday, I napped when I could have walked. I took the path of leisure, even as I was writing and being very productive elsewhere. I didn’t walk. But I’m rested, happy, and only slightly bloated from the chocolate earlier. Or is that just guilt?

I got back on the horse the minute I took the last little piece of chocolate. I reset and reconnected with my goals. Water and sleep at a rational hour tonight. Tomorrow I get my kids up and off to school and I kick off another week of rational eating, rational exercise, and conscious explorations of both aspects of my new path towards health.

I’ve got a very good friend (my daily “hey” check-in) who is a life coach. And today I had a fitness coach hit me up due to a mutual friend. And while I value their expertise, my path is not about training harder, or even correctly. It’s not about amping up to go for my dreams. My goal, in this process, and recorded on this blog, is to take my own time, learn what I learn, and share what I understand as I go along.

Weeks 1 – 3 were awesome and clean. This last week was less perfect, but HAPPY. That’s the ultimate test of how I’m doing. If I’m suffering greatly as a result of the process, I’m not doing it right. If I’m learning and growing from my exploration of new ideas and new lessons that do connect with me, then I am going in the right direction. That’s the real goal, keep stepping in the right direction and making choices to step away from things that are less healthy.

Sounds simple. And the logic is simple. The process is what I’ll share here, in all it’s wavering progress.

Take the next step,

John McElhenney

Oh yeah, and a few observations. The cake on Saturday led to my weakness for sweets on Sunday. Ack. And both times I ate pizza I was merely being lazy. And I noted the bloated feeling from the cheese, flour, and oil. Fats, fats, fats. I definitely feel a bit better in my body when I’m slightly hungry and not FULL.

image: daily steps, daily exercise, john mcelhenney, cc 2014

Dialing In The Perfect Snack

What’s the key to getting over your snacking requirements and cravings? I’ve been in search of the perfect snack, lately. Something that wouldn’t include any added sugar but might have natural sugar in it. (An apple, for example. But NOT peanut butter. Ick!)

So far I have a few snacks.

  1. Organic almonds with sea salt or tamari
  2. Organic bananas
  3. Organic apples
  4. add any other organic fruit here, but I’ve started with those above

I was in the grocery store last night looking for “something else.” Um… Gotta go with the big “O” when possible.

I came home with some rice cakes (organic, nothing but rice and sea salt) and some peanut butter (organic, peanuts and sea salt only). And I think I can add one more item to the pre-workout lunch option.

I had looked at the leading brand of peanut butter, the one choosy mother’s supposedly choose.


Um, NO!

So I went for something a bit more unrefined.


And I fell in love.


Time now to go do what I love to do: play tennis.

I’m going to get better at this: finding things I like to eat that are healthier than what I have been eating. It’s a process. A step here, a label there, a few changes… This is a lifestyle change not a sprint.

And next I need to look at this new data on “fitness age” here: I really like their idea of 4 X 4 interval training. I’m not sure I understand it all, but I do know my VO2 Max is not near where it needs to be. But my resting heart rate and blood pressure numbers are wonderful.

Take the next step,

John McElhenney

image: today’s perfect lunch, john mcelhenney, cc 2014

Destination Me < Here < Now

Being aware of my hungers and cravings, or should I say, getting to recognize and pay attention to them, has been an eye-opening experience. A few of the things I’m getting in touch with

  • I eat when I’m bored
  • I crave sweets at odd times, but often late at night
  • The longer I stay up at night, the more opportunities I have to snack, and late-night snacks are always a bad idea
  • Calories are calories, but it’s harder to over eat on veggies and lean meats
  • By being a bit more conscious about having healthy snacks around can save me a lot of hassle

I’m listening to my own feelings around food and hunger. Sometimes when I have a craving (“I’d love some popcorn.”) I’m really just bored, and the snack is more of a form of entertainment. I don’t need to eat for fun any more. There are a lot better choices I can make for entertainment.

And on that late night snacking, there are a couple options.

  • Just say no (When my resolution is high, this is easy.)
  • Going to bed earlier (My body likes it, and I wake up earlier.)
  • Having a piece of fruit
  • Drinking a glass of water
  • Recognizing they “why” so I can address the need rather than the craving

This weekend I had a number of cravings and I don’t think I allowed any of them to talk me into a snack. I’ve been using almonds and honeycrisp apples as my go-to snacks. I know I need to add some variety, because I’m craving other things, and when my go-tos are not appetizing, I’m more at risk.

And just like emotional baggage, I’m ready to leave a good bit of it behind.

It’s all a kind of game. Like the board game Sorry. Either you are moving ahead towards the goal, or you’ve been slapped back a few spaces. And if I can get in the competitive spirit, even with myself alone, I can challenge myself to ignore the 1am sweet attack.

I had a bit of catsup on a french fry during the week, but I stopped after three bites. I knew there was sugar in it, I gave in for a few bites and then my resolve kicked back in. “This stuff is not that good. I’m just eating it out of habit.” And I stopped.

The drinking of water only has been easy. (Of course I love my coffee with a bit of 1% milk in the morning. But I really only dive after sugar and sweets occasionally, so the whole dropping sugar thing has been relatively easy.

My kids are hilarious. They cannot imagine why I’d declare October as my sugar-free month. “It’s simple,” I told them tonight as they were picking at a bag of early Halloween candy. “When I make a decision, that entire bag of candy is off-limits. It’s not even an option.”

I did have one Laughy Taffy on Saturday night, just because I’d been so good. It was okay, but not as tasty as I had imagined it would be. And I didn’t crave anything else. Again, my path is not just denial. I am okay with making a choice to eat something off the plan, and then jump right back on the plan.

I’m okay with me now, but I’d like to be on the lighter-side of my 50’s.

In my emotional body I know that overeating and eating crap has led me to my current weight. And since I was that swimmer in high school, I’ve rarely had any periods in my life when I was happy with my body. I’d like to get back to just being “okay” with me.

I’m okay with me now, but I’d like to be on the lighter-side of my 50’s. And I’d like a relationship with someone who is also in relatively good shape. I’m active and playing a lot of tennis, but I’m doing it carrying a lot of extra baggage. And just like emotional baggage, I’m ready to leave a good bit of it behind.

Take the next step,

John McElhenney

Note: At this moment, it’s 7:40 on Monday night. I didn’t eat a very big meal. I’m hungry again. All I’ve got it my apples and almonds. (frown) I’d love to hear some other folk’s healthy snack ideas. And what do you use to kill a craving (salt or sugar)? And that bag of Halloween candy is starting to call to me.

image: my weekend scruffy tennis joy, john mcelhenney, cc 2014

My Chemical Romance – Sugar Sex Magic, Baby!

Blood sugar is the key. I know this. I don’t know enough about it to know how to manage it very well, but I get the concept. And I am acutely aware of the sugar cycle. If I have ONE sugary snack during the course of a day, my body then craves sugar for the rest of the day. I am guessing this is both chemical and mental. And I’m certain that it’s a bad cycle for me. Okay, so easy, right? Avoid sugar.

I probably had pancakes with plenty of syrup. And when the carbs and sugar ran out, boom I was sick.

Well, sometimes that’s easier said than done. When you look in your prepared foods around the house you’re going to find sugar added to most of it. Yuk. I was fond of a muesli mix from my local grocery brand. Fourth ingredient. Their granola under the same label, 2nd ingredient. If that’s not crap-tastic!

Okay, so it’s important that I am aware of all my sugar intake. I’ve started calling it “conscious sugar.” As in, I’m conscious that I’m eating sugar and I am making a decision to eat it or not to eat it. The hidden sugar in my diet is under surveillance and attack. I’m on a jihad against sugar in all forms.

sugar-applejuiceGuess what, it’s in a lot of whole foods too. A friend and I were talking about fruit and he said, “You know if you drink a glass of apple juice, you’re consuming about 5 tablespoons of sugar.” What? That’s not good. “But, when you eat the actual apple, the parts of the skin and the fiber slow down the metabolism and allow it to be absorbed in a more healthy way.” Still sugar, but not concentrated or massive amounts. As much as I love my honeycrisp for dessert right now, I can’t imagine eating five of them in a row. Besides these honkers are beasts that weigh in at nearly a pound each.

Orange juice is even worse. The “not from concentrate” versions are really no better for you. And that little swig of OJ in the morning, that I used to use as a wakeup jolt, a really bad idea for me.

What happens inside my body, in my blood, when I eat or drink sugar is not good. What happens afterwards, when I feel a little high and then a huge energy drop, is also toxic to my health and my fitness plan. Time to watch for sugar and hidden sugar and root it out.

We didn’t learn how to eat healthy in our family of origin. While my mom is a great cook, she’s also a bit on the round and jolly side. And it’s okay with her if I’m on the round and jolly side with her. That’s the household I grew up in. And she’s preparing whole meals. She’s working to be healthier, but she’s not shying away from the dairy and oils. And she does love the desserts. A dinner without dessert is an anomaly. Whereas, I think it should be an exception. That’s how I grew up.

I remember weekends where I would be playing tennis and the bottom of my energy would drop out. Not in a natural way, but like being dropped off a cliff. I know this was blood sugar stuff. I probably had pancakes with plenty of syrup. And when the carbs and sugar ran out, boom I was sick.

I know this about myself NOW, but as a kid, you have very little understanding or say in these kind of things. As I’ve grown into a middle-aged man, I still don’t have many of the answers. What I know is, sugar is bad. And managing sugar is an important part of my health plan.

I can study that old sugar thing too. I remember a book called Sugar Blues. And today I think there’s a new classic, The Blood Sugar Solution, by Dr. Mark Hyman.

Be sweet but kill the sweeteners.

Take the next step,

John McElhenney

reference: sugar stacks – how much sugar is in foods and drinks

image: sugar loops, vox efx, creative commons usage

An Animal Hunger

Today I noticed an interesting feeling. I was depositing a check at the bank, the same bank I was at last Saturday when my life was falling apart. And there was the same Yoghurt shop and the same temptation. But I had a different reaction today.

I was finished with my deposit and as I was walking out of the bank I noticed how hungry I was. And this hunger was sort of interesting. It was like the opposite of bloating. I was sort of like a lean animal in look of a meal. And I noticed my craving to have some yoghurt, but my body and my hunger was for something more substantial. I wondered to myself, maybe this is genuine hunger rather than a craving.

I’m going to look at what’s going on in my animal body and my emotional body before I make a decision one way or another.

Something else was pretty interesting as well. I liked the lean feeling I had in my stomach. I was hungry, I could tell I was hungry, and in turning away from the frozen treat, I was turning towards the hunger and the real craving for food, the healthier the better. And I imagined this good feeling, this lean feeling, could also be something a person could become addicted to. Like, instead of craving yogurt you crave the empty feeling of being hungry. Again, like an animal in the hunt for a meal.

How much of our daily eating is due to a craving or unhealthy imbalance of nutrition, and how much of it is habit. I have been in the habit of eating poorly. I like the feeling of my body eating well. And tonight as I ate a lean meat and vegetables only dinner, I liked how I was feeling. I even liked how I was thinking.

Sure, I’d like the occasional sweet. But for the rest of October, anytime I make that choice I’m going to look at what’s going on in my animal body and my emotional body before I make a decision one way or another.

Take the next step,

John McElhenney

image: eat healthy, creative commons usage

Inspiration: I found this post on JLo a bit inspirational about her “veggie” diet and how it made her feel.

“I was so used to just eating the way I grew up.”
JLo’s Abs on Huffington Post

Always One Step Towards or Away from my Goal

[Warning: I’m going to talk about poop in this post.]

The plan is the plan and the execution is where the sneakers hit the trail, so to speak. I’ve got a loose plan:

  • eat whole foods and veggies (take a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement)
  • kill all conscious sugar consumption
  • avoid packaged foods (even my favorite snack the Triscuit)
  • exercise regularly
  • don’t freak out or drop out
  • keep going

And a lot of my experience with this tactic is fall off. I get going, I have some good results and then I get less focused. I slack off, go on a few dates as a fitter me, and then I’m back to my old habits again. Triscuits and cheese at night are NEVER a good idea. They sounds perfect, but I think that juicy Honeycrisp is a better plan.

Sometimes you have to punt and give yourself props for recommitting to the program, again and again.

So how do I continue to rejoin the plan, even after a setback, or a wild weekend of tex-mex and beer? Um, it’s simple. You just start again. Pickup where you left off. And most importantly, don’t hammer yourself for your indulgence, rather give yourself kudos for rejoining and recommitting to the plan above.

Something(s) in my past has *always* set me off the program. I’m not sure what my history shows, but I know that last night I hit a few bumps that I’d like to explore for a minute.

Bump 1: What’s for dinner? I was working on a different writing project and very focused on what I was doing. I had gone past hungry to famished and I knew I was at risk as I entered the kitchen in search of sustenance. What I didn’t have in my cupboard were any of my healthy nuts that would give me an immediate salt hit and a positive signal to my brain and now-dropping blood sugar, that resources were coming. I needed my nuts.

In the refrigerator I found the pizza from Friday night. Not too unhealthy in general, but not really “whole” either. I passed over this and kept looking. I had eggs, maybe a couple fried eggs for dinner. Except that’s what I’d eaten for breakfast, so I was a bit bored. And… That was about it. My ideas were limited by things on hand and things that were easy, quick, and sure to quell my grumbling tummy.

I picked two slices of the everything cold pizza. DAMN. Not to plan. But I was not stocked up. I’d already had my super apple a few hours before, when I was first getting a bit hungry, but still writing hard on my project. So I had nothing. And since I had waited I didn’t really want to travel down to Whole Foods to get something raw. I punted. The pizza was delicious, btw.

Bump #2: After eating the pizza and drinking some water I was certain I was bloated. I felt a bit disappointed, but I leapt right over that idea and moved on into my next activity. Except I wasn’t very engaged. I was still hungry. Hmm.

And in my malaise, and bloated moment, I stepped on the scale. Woops! What I knew but didn’t quite register accurately was that I was constipated. I hadn’t had a great bm that morning. AND I missed my walk due to the inspiring writing project and the heat of the afternoon. And when I stepped on the scale I confirmed my fears, I was bloated and had regained a good portion of “my week one loss.” But I was missing the point. And the read was inaccurate because of my constipation.  But there it was, a failure. I ate pizza, I felt awful, and SURE ENOUGH, the scales confirmed my misery.

And even though I was conscious of my extra internal baggage, I let the message sink in a bit too far. I had dropped off the program AGAIN.

When you wait too long for dinner your body is in a critical state and you make poorer choices.

Return: This morning, in my normal routine, I had an early bm, larger than usual, to clear a bit of my constipation. And 15 minutes later a second bm that  had more of the back up. I laughed at myself. “Of course you were constipated. That’s what that bloated feeling in your solar plexus often is. Not fat, but constipation. Old stuff.”

And sure enough, as I stepped on the scale this morning to confirm my previous mistake, I was back to within a pound of my “loss” weight.

Reset: Okay, so what do I take away from this?

  1. Have good things to eat in the house and ready
  2. When you wait too long for dinner your body is in a critical state and you make poorer choices
  3. Bloating can be pizza (wheat, cheese, etc) but it can also be constipation
  4. The scale is a friend and should be used at regular times, to mark progress, not as a temporary check-in
  5. I gave myself permission to fail without much self-flagellation
  6. I returned to the program this morning and got some confirming feedback from my body and my scale

Back to the day at hand. I’ve had a small bowl of unsweetened low-fat granola and I’m planning on playing tennis at the noon workout. I need to eat more now, so I am ready to go in an hour and not pressed to find fuel.

Sometimes a little planning ahead can provide much better options. And sometimes you have to punt and give yourself props for recommitting to the program, again and again.

Take the next step,

John McElhenney

image: this morning, myself again, john mcelhenney, cc 2014

Losing My Voice, Losing the Path for a Minute

On Friday night, one of my front teeth veneers came off. If I were to show you a picture today, of my smile, you’d think I was sporting a hilarious bum costume. And when my son noticed it later in the evening, we laughed heartily. It is a funny look. Sad, but funny.

I knew what I was doing. I was giving myself a moment of relief by eating something sweet.

Of course the experience is not funny at all. I had this same tooth glued back on a few weeks ago for about $350 bucks. And at that time I was informed that this was a temporary fix until I had the money to go after the next restorative solution. Yuk.

And here we are. I’m still struggling to find new work, and I’ve now got a pirate’s smile that’s actually a bit painful. The sharp edges in my mouth are irritating when I talk. I tried the temporary fixative from the CVS, no go. And of course my real dentist doesn’t open until Monday. And that means pain and money. Always at the dentist, like a mantra, pain and money. Oh joy.

But there’s perhaps a deeper message in my accidental dismemberment. The facade and beauty thing is all wrapped up together. I’ve never been very proud of my smile. I work at it a bit, but I’m more comfortable with the sly, toothless, grin, rather than a full toothy smile. But it’s hard to speak without showing your teeth. And if there’s one indicator of economic status, the damaged or missing tooth would have to rank up there at the top of shameful displays.

So what am I to learn from this experience?

I cancelled my hopeful date for Saturday night. But as I was reviewing her profile it was a bit obvious that she was a stretch. I wanted a relationship, but I shouldn’t really compromise my standards. I was working a bit too hard to imagine her as a potential “match.”

Okay, so I’m taking the message to be a bit more introspective. Slow down a bit in the dating department and feel the feelings associated with being alone. This is part of the inspiration for this blog. Bring the focus back to me and my process. The relationship and dating will follow as I reset myself and my body on a new path.

So I’m not really able to smile at this point. And talking is sort of painful. What does that tell me? STFU.

Getting back to the basics of writing, self-reflection, and personal growth. If there was a message from the loss of my facade it is to tune in deeper to the messages of my body.

I was sad yesterday about my sorry condition. Sure, it was related to the tooth and how I had to alter my plans for recording some singing (missing teeth make strange sounds) and then drop my prospective date that I’d been working towards for a several weeks.

And I noticed my emotional dip and as I was putting a check in the bank I went into the frozen yoghurt shop next door. I knew what I was doing. I was giving myself a moment of relief by eating something sweet.

By paying attention to my experience, savoring the smaller portion, and giving myself a break, I was not breaking my program. My goal is awareness and honest appraisal.

It was the first conscious sugar I had consumed since Monday when I started this blog. And I made a note of my behavior. I knew what I was doing. I was medicating the sadness and frustration with some sugar. I gave myself permission to ease up on the program for a minute. AND I had about a 1/3 of a normal serving. I gave myself a dessert and made sure that I drastically restricted the portion. And just a few peanuts sprinkled on-top of the non-fat vanilla.

And I listened to myself. “It is okay. This is a journey not a contest. And occasionally I need to comfort myself. Today a little yoghurt isn’t going to make a huge difference in my program.”

It was a loss. I was determined a few hours earlier to go the month of October without any conscious sugar consumption. Oh well. This is a reset.

The point is to make changes in lifestyle and consciously becoming aware of the way I use food. By paying attention to my experience, savoring the smaller portion, and giving myself a break, I was not breaking my program. My goal is awareness and honest appraisal.

And this morning, I can reflect and get back on the horse.

“The rest of October without any conscious sugar consumption.”

Stay aware of what’s going on. Be gentle. Don’t beat yourself up. And get back on the horse the next day.

Take the next step,

John McElhenney

image: happy pirate, lenoid mamchenkov, creative commons usage

Baby Steps and Clear Intentions

shadowontrailFitness is not a get rich quick scheme. In my opinion all the fast-diets are fads and often not healthy. Sure you might drop some weight in a cleanse, but you’re destined to put it back on unless the change is sustainable by your lifestyle changes.

An early reader responded on Twitter, “You can’t out exercise a poor diet.”

I know fitness is a lifetime journey, not a quick adjustment or a magic pill. It’s also not a “diet” diet, but a choice to move towards healthy real foods and away from processed foods. Of course it’s about dropping sugar from the menu as often as possible. And then when you do indulge, making note of how your body reacts to the blast of calories and empty energy.

I have been walking and playing tennis 3 – 5 times a week for two years. And today, I’m as heavy as I’ve ever been. I was hoping that just by upping my exercise and being consistent I would encourage my body to sluff off some of the extra weight. Um, no, not happening. I can only imagine, if I hadn’t been exercising.

I am my own test case. Through my experience I hope to share what’s happening emotionally as well as physically as I work to make changes in my life.

Of course at 51 (52 in November of this year) everything is changing. I can’t just drop sugary sodas and count on the 5 pound drop that I used to. I can’t just skip desserts and hope for the best. Nope, this is going to require a major overhaul. And it’s a process I walk into with some trepidation and some fear. I don’t really want to give up Ben and Jerry’s.

However, I know when my body is more finely tuned I will be more happy in my body. I will sleep better. I will require less coffee during the day to keep my energy up. I will be more attractive to women who today would see me as “fat.” Ouch. I really hate the shame that comes with the bad body image messages that I tell myself.

I was writing a post the other day and as I was describing myself, in my current physical condition, I was likening myself to a nice classic BMW with some body damage. That was a simple metaphor for me to get in touch with the fact that I don’t want the body damage any more. I want to be a classic ’52 with no body damage, and eventually a bit of spit and polish and new tires.

I’m striking out, in an unplanned and unpremeditated way to change my life.

I have struggled with depression and other emotional issues from time to time in my life. But what’s astounding to me at the moment, is I am not unhappy. I am not stressed out. I claim to be happy. So why am I so overweight? Can our optimism and positive attitudes create a false sense of self? Or am I making too much of this fitness aspect?

And then I watch how I look at and measure women as I’m walking down the running trail. From a long distance away I can get a sense if they are in my range, or out of my range, of desirability and fitness. This is about body and proportions, way before I can see if they have a pretty face or a nice smile. I know I do this. And I know I must be doing this with myself. So is the denial, the positivism about my life and well-being, blinding me to my own weight.

I’d have to say, today, I believe my answer is yes. And I’m striking out, in an unplanned and unpremeditated way to change my life. I’ve wanted to do this before, but I’ve always felt like I needed a sponsor, or a business that would “do” me.

Today I AM THE PROJECT. I am my own test case. And through my experience I hope to share what’s happening for me emotionally as well as physically as I work and plan to make changes in my life.

On Monday, I stared a food diary as I started this blog. And I’m consciously eliminating as much sugar as possible from my diet. In cataloging and weighing in from time to time I hope to see the relationship between what I eat, when I eat it, and how I progress towards my goal of getting leaner and more fit.

Take the next step,

John McElhenney

image: shadows on the trail, john mcelhenney, cc 2014