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Season Three

I’m doing it again. I’m five weeks into a new lease on life, and I’m exhilarated and terrified. Did I hit rock bottom? I doubt it. I’m sure things could have gotten worse – and that’s the part that scares me. I’ve done this all before and yet here I am again. I think this time it started with Lent. Considering spiritual disciplines I could take on, I started thinking about the changes I needed to make in my life. I recognized that I was deeply unhealthy.

I don’t need to go into the details, but I looked in the mirror and hated everything I saw. Heavier than ever – way too close to 400 pounds. Aching back, tingling feet, chronic fatigue. I was cruel to myself, “You’re a piece of shit” was my multiple-times-a-day mantra. I hated things that I once loved. I leaned into terrible habits, stopping at McDonald’s between meals, eating handfuls of Oreos before bed, buying candy bars in the checkout line. I ate to experience a small dose of happiness in the midst of a world that was so full of evil, apathy, and pressure. This winter, as the world started to come out of pandemic – even as it lingers – I started to see what I had done and what I had become. I realized that I was slowly killing myself because I was convinced that the world – my church – even my family – would be better off without me. I never harmed myself, but I was destroying myself slowly. I was choosing the slow burn into oblivion.

Then I knew it had to stop. My family deserved better than a husband and father who was slowly destroying himself. Lent came and it was the catalyst I needed to make some changes. I made an appointment with my physician, fearful that I had already done irreparable physical damage as I massaged my toe that hurt for no reason. I found a therapist who seemed compatible and enjoyed our first session even though I knew she wouldn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. We renewed our membership at the local fitness center, and I made a plan to go every day after dropping off the girls from school. I decided to join my daughter in the piano lessons that she started.

I took control. I had a plan. I found a goal – a 5K in June that I decided I wanted to run. I asked my daughter if she wanted to run it with me, and she was excited. I told my daughters that I started going to therapy. I shared with them my struggles, and told them how sad I had gotten. We cried. We hugged.

I started posting pictures of my workouts on Facebook and Instagram. I told people about the theme song I found – “Living My Best Life,” by Ben Rector. I told my girls that every time I get on the elipitcal machine, when I get to the last three minutes of my workout I start playing it and it motivates me to finish strong.

I close my eyes and lip sync “Can’t believe I’m a grown ass man, but you know what they say of best laid plans. But I’m holding on to my daughters’ hands, and I’ve got a reason to live,” and I throw my fist into the air and beat my sweaty chest and go harder. People might wonder what the heck I’m doing, but I don’t care, because “Baby I’m thriving. I’m living my best life. I wake up with the sunrise. It does not look a thing like I thought that it would. I’m getting my steps in, and I sleep with my best friend, It’s the best that has been in a long time.”

And that’s why I’m scared. I’m terrified because I’ve done this all before. This is the third time in my life that I’ve looked at myself in the mirror and hated everything I saw and felt and started to make some changes. Twice before I’ve lost 80 pounds. Twice I’ve started doing 5K runs and felt the addictive joy of trimming times off of my mile. Twice I’ve felt like I had made the kind of permanent changes that would save my life.

So now I’m in season three of the same show. I’m getting my steps in. I’m wearing my Fitbit and tracking my calories. I’m making smarter choices. I’m skipping McDonald’s. I’m choosing fruit instead of fries. I’m making protein smoothies instead of eating sleeves of cookies. I’m finding ways to get to the gym instead of finding excuses to avoid it. I feel good. I’ve lost 20 pounds. My heart rate has improved. I’m getting stronger.

This time I’ve added a few characters and twists to the show. I’m going to therapy, and feel good about having a place to articulate my depressive feelings. I’m inviting my church to participate in the 5K. I’m taking piano lessons. I love the creative outlet. I took piano lessons as a kid and always regretted quitting. I love that I’m doing it – and I love even more that I’m doing it with my daughter. It gives us this beautiful shared experience and shared sense of accomplishment, confidence, and pride.

Things are better right now than they have been a in long time, but I’ve been here before. I’m terrified that I’m going to mess it up again. I’m so scared that I’m going to do all of this work, make all of these changes, and then let it all fall apart again. I post all the selfies and soak in the likes and encouraging comments, but what happens when it stops? What happens this summer when I don’t have the built in reason to get up with my daughters and get to the gym? What happens when I go on a trip for work and there isn’t a gym at the airbnb I’m staying at? What happens if I strain my calf again (which ended season one)? What happens when I take my foot off the gas?

I want to say that this time will be different, but I don’t know that it will be. Season one was ten years ago. I wrote about my first 5K. I knew that time I was doing it for them – for my girls. Season two was four years ago, and I realize now that a lot of that was about dealing with the grief of my Mom’s death. I was doing it for her. This time feels different because I’m doing it with my girls. I’m talking to them about my mental health. We’re sharing our joy of learning piano together. We plan on doing the 5K in June together for Pride Month, which is important to us emotionally and spiritually as well.

Yet I’m still scared that I’ll fall into the same traps. Four years ago – back in season two – I said that “I don’t believe in Before and After.” Do I really believe that?

Four years ago I wrote this:

“I can be good all day, light breakfast, healthy lunch, smaller portions at dinner. Then a few hours pass and I’m cleaning up the kitchen or watching some TV and the hunger sets in. I suddenly want to EAT ALL THE FOOD. One cookie turns into a handful. And a bowl of cottage cheese. And some yogurt and granola. Suddenly all the gains I made all day are gone. I’m not alone. Losing weight is hard. According to some research, keeping it off is nearly impossible. Apparantly it is a natural reaction for your body to be more hungry after losing weight. It’s as if your body is screaming “You’re starving yourself!”

So what’s the answer? I checked out some websites, and basically the only way to maintain this lower weight is to keep doing what I’m doing. In other words, there is no before and after. There is only now and the next choice I make.”

It’s still true. I’m just really hoping that it’s a lesson I’ve finally learned. Considering how low I got this time around, I’m not sure I could survive a season four.

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Fat again

So, it happened. The thing I promised wouldn’t happen happened. The thing I swore I wouldn’t become, I became. I was another short-term success story. I’ve read that as many as 80% of people who have substantial weight loss gain it back within two years. Count me as one of the 80%. I got fat again. There are a lot of reasons it happened. Injuries, change of jobs, and grief are the top three candidates.

In case you missed it, this is how I went from Fat to Fit the first time:

In 2012 I dropped about 70 pounds. I followed a very simple formula: exercise more and eat less. I used the Lose It app on my phone to track every calorie burned and eaten. I learned a lot about portion size, and saw big changes from making little choices like fruit instead of hasbrowns at breakfast and broccoli instead of fries at dinner. I started exercising more, starting with the elliptical machine, and working my way up to jogging. I started my program in January, and in June 2012 I ran my first 5K in 36:00. In 2013 I stopped tracking the calories so comprehensively, but kept making good choices, and kept running. In June 2013 I ran another 5K in 26:28, which earned a trophy for second place in my age group, and remains my personal best. I added longer distances, including two five miles runs that I completed in under 50:00. In 2014 I slipped a little, but somewhat intentionally. I went to the gym a little less frequently so I could spend more time with my preschool daughter, but in May I completed my first half marathon. At that point it had been two and half years since I embarked on a new fitness journey. I felt good, and believed that I had made changes in my life that would be permanent.

Then it all came apart.

Injured at the Bix7 in July 2014.

One catalyst was an injury I suffered at the 2014 Bix 7 in Davenport. This is a huge event, one that is a part of the culture of the Quad Cities. Everyone who runs in this area has run the Bix. It counts as the National Championship for 7 mile runs. It features two large hills. On the second one, at about the 3 mile mark, a muscle in my calf popped. I couldn’t finish. I went to the doctor and he didn’t seem to think there was any structural damage. So I laid off of it, and let it heal. A couple of weeks later, I would run again and start to feel good, then it would pop again. So I would wait a few more weeks, and try again, only to hurt it again. So then I waited a month, got in worse shape, and tried to start again. It would be going well for a few weeks and then pop! After about six months of starting and stopping, I settled on stop. Also in July 2014, I started a new job. I went from being an associate pastor to the solo pastor. This meant more responsibilities, more preahing (thus less blogging), more stress, and more demands on my time. It became harder to get to the gym – or at least easier to find other things to do, especially one I was discouraged from being out of shape.

My memory of when a 3-mile jog was a light warmup weighed heavily on me. I became discouraged by how far I had fallen. I blogged less. Again, there were a lot of reasons I strayed from this blog. One was that my creative outlet was being met by preaching every week. I was prolific on this blog when I preached about once a month. When I started preaching 48 times a year, I found less time, and less creative need to write here. Second, I focused more attention on the Pulpit Fiction Podcast. Since 2013, my partner Eric and I have released over 300 episodes. I focused my social media attention on the podcast first, my new church second, and the Fat Pastor third.

The real reason I stopped blogging was simple. I was embarrassed.

Over the course of 2015, I slowly gained more weight, and worked out sporadically. After two years of finding a way to get to the gym, I found plenty of excuses to stay away. And for me, it all flows from regular exercise. When I’m exercising regularly, I eat better. I sleep better. I study and preach and write better. When I wasn’t exercising regularly I ate crap. The route from my church to home passed a Hardees, a Wendy’s, and a Taco Bell. Taco Bell is my personal Satan. On any given day you could see the passenger seat of my car littered with brown paper bags from fast food places. It wasn’t uncommon for me to have a Wendy’s lunch and a Taco Bell dinner (Mexican pizza, two soft taco supremes, and sometimes a Meximelt too). While I was already falling down this spiral, my Mom died.

This sent me reeling in ways that I didn’t even notice at the time. She died in August 2016. I spent the next year in and out of depression-like symptoms. I had low energy, so I wouldn’t feel like working out. I was depressed, so I sought comfort in bad food. I felt terrible, so I would punish myself with self-hating thoughts. I hated getting dressed because none of my clothes fit. No, I didn’t hate getting dressed. I hated myself. I would think to myself, quite often, “I hate myself.”

This death-spiral continued until I had gotten up to 360 pounds (30 pounds more than when I refocused on my health in 2012). My whole body hurt. I was out of breath all the time. Simple tasks like picking something up off the floor were difficult. After walking up the stairs to my office, it would take me a couple minutes to catch my breath before I could say hi to the secretary. Tying my shoes was difficult, and would leave me gasping for air and muttering to myself, “you are a piece of shit.”

The Challenge

One day in August my friend texted me a challenge. He saw that I had posted something no Facebook about being frustrated with my fitness and health. He proposed  challenge. We would both work on getting healthier, and whoever lost more weight by Thanksgiving would win. We exchanged some baseline information, getting details about where we were physically. When I told him where I was, his response was, “Jesus Christ, you’re going to die buddy.” He was right. I was going to die. That is where I was heading, and I knew it. At our official start to The Challenge, I was at 358 and it took me 16:00 to run a mile. The memory of the 8:40 pace for a 5K mocked me.

A few days after we got started, on the anniversary of my Mom’s death, I was at 360. I was on the treadmill, struggling to jog for a minute without stopping. Sweat pouring down my face, legs in pain, air hard to find, I cried. I cried as my heart raced, and for a moment I thought I was going to drop. And then it happened. I wanted to.

The grief.

The shame.

The pain was too much to bear, and I thought to myself, “You are going to die right here on this treadmill.” And I let out an audible response: “good.”

I didn’t die. I finished my mile a few seconds faster than the one I had run two days earlier, which was a few minutes faster than that first one. Four days later I was back, and ran it 20 seconds faster. I was sore, there was pain. I started doing more elliptical machine to alleviate the stress on my legs. As I grew faster and stronger I started feeling better about myself. I started tracking my calories again. Profits at the Taco Bell dipped in September. Then one day I looked at the floor of my car. It was littered with VitaWater bottles, the ones I would buy after every workout, instead of paper sacks.

This morning I weighed in at 318. I’m winning The Challenge (We bet dinner. He’s buying regardless. Winner gets to pick the spot). I’ll let you know who wins at Thanksgiving. Here’s the thing, I’m winning no matter what. This has never been about a number, or a weight, or about fitting in my clothes again. I feel so much better. I’m not in pain all the time. My heart doesn’t race any more – except for when I kiss my wife. I feel stronger, more patient, and more efficient. A few weeks ago my family went to a State Park. I was able to hike and climb and play with my girls. My daughter has noticed that I’m in a better mood and not as tired. It’s about making life-giving choices.

Today I was running a 5K on the treadmill, my third this week. My goal in August was to do a 5K in under 36:00 by Thanksgiving (which was the time of that first 5K back in 2012). As the mileage was ticking up toward 3.1, I realized I had a chance to beat that goal a few weeks ahead of schedule. I had to keep up my pace for one more minute without stopping. Sweat pouring down my face, legs in pain, air hard to find, I cried. I cried as my heart raced, and for a moment I thought I was going to drop. And then it happened. I pictured my girls. I decided to run toward them.

The joy.

The love.

The grace of God washed over me, and I thought to myself, “Finish this for them.” I turned the pace up on the treadmill a little faster, and I finished it in 35:40.

My friend John quite possibly saved my life. He got me going. He helped shake me up, and gave me something on which to focus. I don’t really care if I win The Challenge, because no matter where I am at Thanksgiving, I know that I won’t be finished. I stopped believing in “Before” and “After” a long time ago. There is only “Now,” and a future with me in it.

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.” (Frost)

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More than “Before” and “After”

Everyone loves the “Before” and “After” pictures. Those are all well and good, but I will can never forget the “between” shots. It took time, support, hard work, and perseverance to lose 70 pounds, and transform my health. And now every day I work for the “Still.” Sometimes I think that one is the hardest of them all.

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October 17, 2013 · 4:47 pm

The anatomy of a backslide

y intersectionThis feels like a crucial moment.  Right now.  I feel as if I’ve reached a crossroads.

For the last 16 months I have experienced a spiritual and physical transformation.  From January 2012 through June 2013 I lost 80 pounds.  By paying closer attention to what I ate, and dramatically increasing my exercise, I transformed my body.  I went from size 44 pants to having some 38 pants feel big.  My XXXL t-shirts now look like garbage bags on me.  My doctor stopped my cholesterol medicine.  My blood pressure has gone down.  According to this chart, my resting heart-rate is “Excellent.”  As I have undergone this physical transformation, I have also experienced a spiritual renewal.  My writing, preaching, and prayer life improved.  I found new energy, focus, and drive.  I discovered my mission statement to Love God, Live Well, and Do Good.

My work at church blossomed with new relationships, avenues of ministry, and a vision to create a new participatory worship experience.  My blogging life expanded with the launching of the Pulpit Fiction podcast.  I was invited to speak at the Lion and Lamb Festival, and I felt a need to open a FP Shop.

As I got my personal discipline in order, it felt as if all the other pieces were falling into place as well.  People started asking me if I was going to change the name of this blog.  I kept the name for various reasons.  I never considered that one reason might have been the unconscious fear that this was all temporary.

The world of weight loss and fitness is littered with stories of people losing weight, transforming their bodies, saving their very lives, only to backslide. Many people have shared stories with me about their own adventures in yo-yo weight loss.  I promised myself that it would not happen to me.   Last summer I had an extended plateau.  This was expected.  After losing about 30 pounds in three months, I spent the summer months gaining 2 pounds.  When school started in the fall, I rededicated myself to working out and tracking my calories, and I promptly lost another 40.  When I reached my first goal weight of 260, I kept going.  At the end of the school year, I dipped under 250.

Then the backslide started. This is how it happened:

The school year ended, disrupting my routine.  During the school year, my workout time was built into my day.  I dropped my daughter off at school, I went to the gym, then I went to work.  Four days a week I had a built in date with the gym.  I ran three days a week for nine months. As I approached my first 10-mile race at the end of May, I was running about 15 miles a week.

Annual Conference and Vacation Bible School.  In addition to the lack of routine, I had two major events disrupt my whole schedule.  These two week-long events in June took up an inordinate amount of my time.  I could have gotten to the gym before sessions.  I could have gone for runs after VBS.  I didn’t.  Instead I spent two weeks active, but with virtually no cardio vascular exercise.

I stopped tracking.  Lose It! is a great tool for counting calories, but it is a pain.  My weight loss started almost immediately after using it.  Last summer I stopped using it for awhile, and stopped losing weight almost immediately.

I didn’t gain weight.  After two weeks of not working out and not using Lose It, and amazing thing happened.  I actually dropped a couple of pounds.

At the Railroad Days 5K, I placed second in my age group with a time of 26:28.

At the Railroad Days 5K, I placed second in my age group with a time of 26:28.

I ran fast.  Since June 1, I’ve run four times.  One of those runs was a 5K that I finished in 26:28, my personal best.  I also won a prize for my age group in that race, a first for me.  I ran another 5K on the treadmill this week in about 26:30.  It turns out that my fitness level is at a place that it could sustain a short break.

The Fourth of July.  Two cookouts.  Lots of bratwurst, chips, baked beans, creamy cole slaw, chips, cookies, pop, beer, and chips.  Did I mention that I ate a lot of chips in the last week?

The combination of events created in me a sense of complacency.  After almost a year and a half of changing habits, it took about four weeks for me to slip.  This morning I found that I have gained 10 pounds in the last two weeks.  What’s worse than the weight is how I feel.  For the first time in months, I feel fat.  I feel tired.  I feel like making bad choices.  I feel like staying home is easier than going for a run.  I feel like getting a quarter-pounder is better than making myself a grilled chicken salad.  I put off getting up early to get to the gym.  I put off tracking my food, and working hard to stay under budget.  I put off working on refocusing the mission of this blog.  I put off planning a new way to experience worship.  I put off trying to change the world and settled for less.  It has only been a couple of weeks, but it ends today.

I share this because I’ve been told I inspire people.  I am constantly humbled when people say that to me.  Today I offer not inspiration, but a warning.  Backsliding happens.  It happens slowly, sometimes imperceptibly.  It happens when we get busy, or when routine gets disrupted.  It happens even when we’re feeling fine, and all outwards signs indicate everything is going well.

Right now I’m struggling.  I’m tired.  I’m a little worried.  Yet I never thought this would be easy.  I’m not ready to give up now.  I’m not going back to the person I was, for I have been made new by the power of the Holy Spirit.  I’m confessing my weakness, and I’m praying for guidance and endurance.  I believe God can still use me despite my recent backslide.  God’s still working on me.  God and I have new goals and a new plan.  Today, right now, I have a new chance to love God, live well, and do good.

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I’ve lost 70 pounds, but I’m still The Fat Pastor

I high-fived my doctor today.  I had my annual physical.  It was a year and a day after stepping on the scale at that same doctor’s office and reading that I weighed 329 pounds.  Today my doctor looked back at what I weighed last year.  When he saw that I today I weighed 259, he gave me a high-five.

I have gone through a transformation in the last year.  I have transformed my habits.  I have transformed my priorities.  In so doing, I have transformed my body.  More than this, I have experienced spiritual transformation.  I pray more.  I study the Bible more.  I have discovered that when I am more disciplined in my eating and exercising, I am also more disciplined as a follower of Jesus Christ.  I am still transforming.  I am striving every day to Love God, Live Well, and Do Good.

I have lost 70 pounds in 366 days, but let me be clear – I am still The Fat Pastor.  For one thing, I am still overweight.  One year ago I was 34% body fat.  Today I am 25% body fat.  That is a great improvement, but it is still too high.  I literally have too much fat on my body.

Yet even if I lose another 70 pounds, have 7% body fat, and can run a marathon in under 3:00:00, there will always be fat that I can trim from my life.  I am, like John Wesley said, moving onward to perfection.  Until I am there, I will be laden with fat.

The difference between fat and fit is choices.  I make fat choices when I choose a mindless television show instead of time in study.  I choose fat when I spend too much time on facebook instead of cultivating relationships.  I choose fat when I refuse to help a neighbor.  I am fat when I objectify a woman.  I am fat when I contribute to an unjust society. I am fat when I forget the needs of the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the oppressed.  I am fat when I am blind to racism, sexism, homophobia, or any other way that humans try to divide and separate and subjugate.

I’m trying not to be fat any more.  I’m trying real hard.  I draw strength from the love and support of family and friends.  I draw strength from the encouragement of a remarkable facebook “following.”  I draw strength from the words of the prophets that remind me that God’s love and God’s promise of a new day is something for which we can all strive.  I draw strength from the Church as the Body of Christ in the world.  Above all, I draw strength from the grace of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.  I draw strength from knowing that it is not my strength on which I must rely.

Jesus said “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

I try to love God.  I worship, and I pray, and I read and listen to God’s Word.  I come to Table of Grace.  I fall down in confession, and I rise up with the Holy Spirit.  I try to live well, because I take seriously the oft-forgotten command to love yourself.  I try to do good, because it is through doing good for others that we best express our love of neighbor.

I am The Fat Pastor.  I’m trying not to be. With God as my strength and my salvation, I will be The Fit Pastor someday.  Until then, I’ll keep on my journey of transformation.  Thank you for going on this journey with me.

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Left: December, 2011.  Middle: June 2012, immediately after first 5K. Right: January 2013.

Left: December, 2011. Middle: June 2012, immediately after first 5K. Right: January 2013.

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This is not a treadmill. This is my time machine…

Image“This is not a treadmill.  This is my time machine.  When I’m on it, I see the future.  And I see me in it.”  I started to say that to myself yesterday as I ran.  It has become my mantra.  Yesterday I ran farther than I have ever run before.  Three miles in under thirty minutes has become my standard run.  Yesterday I decided to do it twice.  I ran 3.06 miles in thirty minutes, then took about a two minute break to stretch and get some water.  I ran another 3.07 miles in thirty minutes.

The longest I had ever gone before was five miles.  As I approached and then passed five miles, I was thrilled to know that each step I took was pushing my boundaries.  Every step I took was pushing me a little further than I thought possible.  At the same time though, I was getting tired.  I was keeping the same pace, but I wasn’t picking up my legs as high as I had been.  It was getting more and more difficult to control my breath.  I knew I wanted to reach six miles, but I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do it.

And then I said it.  “This is not a treadmill,” I whispered to myself.  “This is my time machine.  When I’m on it, I see the future.  And I see me in it.”  I kept going.  I turned off the little TV monitor, and could see my face in the black screen.

“This is not a treadmill…” I said again in barely a whisper.  With every step I was redefining who I was.  With every step I was transforming.  With every step I was leaving behind a less healthy me.  “This is my time machine…”  I said again, this time a little louder.  Someone standing next to me might have heard, but I was alone.

I passed five and half miles, and knew that the end was getting closer.  I was getting stronger.  I felt energy surge through my body.  “When I’m on it, I see the future…”  I said out loud now.  And I saw it.

I saw first days of school.  I saw softball games and ballet recitals.  I saw slumber parties and Phillies hats at Wrigley Field.  I saw broken hearts and mean boys.  I saw high school basketball and halftime dances.  I saw first loves and Prom.  I saw piles of books, messy desks, and graduation gowns.  I kept running, and turned up the speed on the treadmill.

I saw silver streaks in the hair of my wife, and wisdom wrinkling her eyes.  I saw light in her eyes, felt the warmth of her smile, and was briefly taken back to the first time I saw her, the first time we kissed.

“And I see me in it,” I was almost shouting now. I felt the same flutter in my heart that I did 15 years ago, but now it has depth.  I saw her clutching my hand as we drive away from a dorm.  I saw her fixing the veil she wore on the head of our daughters.  I saw myself dancing with a beautiful woman in white to Isn’t She Lovely, and with another to Lucy in the Sky.  I saw babysitting and storytelling.  I saw ravioli cutting with another generation, crowded laps, and adventures I cannot even imagine.

Running as fast as my legs could take me, I passed six miles.  The time on the treadmill ran out, so I slowed.  I wiped off some sweat, maybe a couple of tears, and then I stepped off the treadmill.  Only it isn’t a treadmill.  It is a time  machine.  When I’m on it, I see the future.  And I see me in it.

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Goal reached

goal

Weight on Feb 13, 2012: 329

Goal set a few days later with Lose It!: 260

Weight on Feb 8, 2013: 259

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February 8, 2013 · 11:23 am

Good choices breed good choices

Image

I love soup, and usually it is a pretty healthy and satisfying lunch. This is a picture of Hot and Sour Soup, found at one of my favorite blogs, “The Rantings of an Amateur Chef.” Click on the picture to go to the recipe for it. I haven’t made it yet, but hope to soon.

I know that I have made significant changes in my life when I can have a granola bar and banana for breakfast, a bowl of soup for lunch, and feel satisfied until a light snack, and dinner.

Today is Friday, so I will treat myself to a trip to the Hy-Vee salad bar.  I’ll likely take two trips, have a cup of soup, and a little something sweet.

I’m actually craving a big plate of spinach, beets, grilled chicken, black beans, and other good stuff.  When I’m done with lunch, it will be about 1 o’clock.  I will be stuffed, and it will be very likely that my net caloric intake for the day will be less than zero because this morning I ran three miles, did 150 crunches, and had a hard upper-body workout.

This is from the guy that used to order a Big Mac, large fries, a six-piece McNuggets, and a large Coke, and still feel hungry, and couldn’t jog a quarter mile without pausing. Eating habits are just that – habits. They can be changed with small choices over time.  When I think about my past McDonald’s meals, it makes my stomach hurt.  I still venture to McDonald’s every once in awhile, but now it is for a grilled chicken sandwich and a Medium fries, or it is for a couple of Egg McMuffins (which are 300 calories apiece), and no hashbrowns.

“How did you do it?” people ask me.  I eat less. I excercise more regularly and I run.  I don’t juice.  I don’t count carbs.  I haven’t eliminated any one food, or sweets, or anything in particular.  I don’t cleanse.  I track everything I eat with Lose It.  I eat between 1800-2500 calories a day.  When I work out, I burn 500-1000.  I’ve never felt like I’m dieting.  I just feel like I’m paying attention.

I choose broccoli instead of fries at TGI Fridays.  I choose grilled chicken over a burger.  I have two slices of cheese pizza and a salad instead of four slices of sausage with a side of chicken wings.  I choose to eat until I’m satisfied, not until I’m stuffed.  I drink a fruit smoothie when I’m hungry at night instead of having two bowls of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.  I drink more water.

I’ve discovered that after making one good choice, the next one is easier.  And when I make good choices about my diet, I make good choices about other things too.  Good choices in my diet set my mind right to go to the gym, or pick up my Bible, or pause for prayer.  Good choices in my personal life help me read more, write more, love more.  I don’t know which one comes first, but I know that good choices breed other good choices.

People have told me that I’m an inspiration, and there’s a part of me that feels like that is absurd.  I’m just a guy that is trying to make some good choices.  I’m just trying to love God, live well, and do good.  But if you have somehow been inspired by me, I humbly say, “thank you.”  You have been an inspiration to me.  The words of encouragement have meant so much to me.  Accountability, support, and vulnerability have been big reasons why I’ve been able to make some changes in my life.

So if you feel inspired by me, I hope you are inspired to do this: make a good choice.  Start with one good choice. Today.  Choose to eat something healthier.  Choose the stairs over the elevator.  Choose to go for a walk.  Choose to forgive someone.  Choose to call a friend.  Choose to stand up for justice.  Choose to forgive yourself.  Choose to be kind to someone.  Choose to pray.

Choose to love God.  Choose to live well.  Choose to do good. Make one good choice today, and the next one will be a little bit easier.  Maybe together we can make some good choices, and change the world.

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#Fat2Fit Update

All my life, I’ve been on the hefty side.  I was an offensive lineman in high school and college.  I’ve never been a great athlete, or had an Abercrombie-like physique, but I grew up healthy and active.  In college, I played a lot of basketball and lacrosse (but I always preferred to be on the ‘shirts’ team).  Even through seminary, I took regular long walks, played on softball and basketball teams, went to a gym regularly and remained in decent shape. My first driver’s license listed me at 6’2″ 235 pounds, and when I graduated seminary I was about 260.  After becoming a senior pastor in a small town, I promptly put on about 30 pounds.  I stopped going to the gym.  I no longer played on any teams.  I sat a lot, and ate a lot. When I started my blog in 2008, I weighed Three Oh One.

For three years writing this blog, I would exercise  in streaks.  I would workout regularly for a few months, get stronger, and stop putting on weight (I seldom had any weight loss to speak of).  Then I would get sick, or get really busy, and I’d find excuses to stop going to the gym for months at a time.  In the meantime, my cholesterol remained high, my weight would creep up, and my health suffered.

In October 2011, I joined a gym here in Moline.  When I started, I couldn’t jog on the treadmill for two without terrible pain in my feet, ankles, and chest.  For three months, I was in a great routine of going to the gym three times a week.  Yet in February 2012, I went to the doctor and found myself staring at a scale that read 329.

Once again, I rededicated myself to getting healthy.  This time I had a tool.  With the Lose It! app on my nook and computer, I started tracking everything I ate.  I realized that the last four years was simply a steady increase in weight and size.  When I would exercise, the increase would stop, but I never did any significant weight loss because I never significantly changed the way I ate.

I didn’t make any drastic qualitative changes.  I simply made better quantitative choices.  I logged everything, and found myself craving salmon instead of burgers, and vegetables instead of french fries.  When I stayed under my caloric allowance, I lost weight.  In three months, I lost about 40 pounds.  I went to the doctor again, and found that for the first time in my adult life, I was in the healthy range in cholesterol.  My clothes fit again.  I felt better and stronger.  For the first time in my life, I had clothes that were too big on me.  I have some jeans from last winter that look absolutely ridiculous.

Since dropping down to 288, I stopped paying such close attention.  I stopped using Lose It! and kept working out.  The for the last four months, I stopped the weight loss.  I realized that this wasn’t a problem I had conquered once and for all.  I still have a lot of weight to lose, and I want to lose it.  I’ve started using Lose It again.  Since keeping track, I’ve been under my caloric budget for 13 of 14 days.  It feels good again.

The remarkable thing is, I feel like when I am disciplined in my eating, I am more disciplined in other areas as well.  When I control my appetite, and don’t succumb to every craving, there is a positive ripple effect that is far-reaching.  I know a lot of this has been about weight, and a number on a scale.  I know that the scale is only part of the story, but for me it is an important part.  I feel good.  I am still fat.  I still make fat decisions all the time, but I’m working on it.  God is working in me.

For four years I’ve been The Fat Pastor.  At times that has been more true than others.  Right now I believe I am closer to being The Fit Pastor then I have ever been.  I appreciate the support of my friends on facebook, my twitter followers, the people of my congregation, my friends, my family, and my amazing wife.  I don’t know if I’ll ever change the name of this blog.  I’m sure there will always be fat in my life that I would like to trim.  With the Holy Spirit strengthening me, I have trimmed a lot of fat already.

I will always be striving to live well and do good.  Thanks for striving with me.

Fat is not the opposite of thin.

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Fat is not the opposite of thin

Left: This picture was taken in December, 2011. Right: Taken in June, 2012, immediately after finishing my first 5K.

Fat is not the opposite of thin.  At least in my way of thinking, it’s not.  When I created this blog and started calling myself The Fat Pastor, I did so with the intent of changing the name someday.  I never wanted to change the name of the blog to The Thin Pastor.

To me, fat is the opposite of fit, and fitness has little to do with the size of one’s body.  Fitness is a state of mind.  It is not about diets, weight loss, and scales.  I’ve lost about 35 pounds since February, and I celebrate that, but my celebration isn’t about the weight loss.  It is because I’ve changed my mindset.  I celebrate the lifestyle change that has taken place in my family.  All the other stuff is great.  I love the looser fitting clothes, the lower number on the scale, the lower cholesterol, and improved resting heart rate, but those things are byproducts of a more important transformation.

Fatness is a state of mind that goes beyond the shape and size of my body.  When I was fat, I didn’t care what I ate.  I made unhealthy choices at restaurants.  I ate too much at home.  I snacked when I wasn’t hungry.  I satisfied every craving.  When I was fat I slept in instead of going to the gym.  Excuses not to exercise were easy to come by.  When I was fat, I acted fat and I ate fat.

Am I still overweight? Absolutely.  I’m 6 foot 2 inches, and weight 290.  The ideal weight for my height is between 170-200.  Honestly, I cannot picture myself at 200 pounds. Am I still fat?  Sometimes.  But not nearly as fat as I was.  Now, I am able to resist foods that are empty of nutrition.  There is an open bag of Doritoes in our kitchen (a visiting friend bought it and left it there).  The life expectancy of an open bag of Doritoes last year at this time would have been about 18 hours.  It has been untouched for six days.  At restaurants I order dinner salads.  At home I cook more salmon, fewer boxed items, and rarely take seconds.   On the Fourth of July, I got up at 7 a.m. just to run a 5K.  My perfect birthday had to include a trip to the gym.

Do I still make unhealthy choices sometimes? Of course.  I have too many refills of cereal at night.  I could probably do without the handful of M&Ms with my popcorn during movies.

People have been asking me, “So are you going to change the name of your blog?”  I don’t know.  I don’t feel like it is the right time.  I have made a lot of changes, but I’m still striving to live well and do good.  Will I ever arrive, and feel the need to change the blog?  I don’t know.  I know it’s not about a number I’m trying to reach on a scale, or a time I’m trying to beat in a 5K, or a weight I’m trying to lift on the bench press.

When will I be the Fit Pastor, and not the Fat Pastor?  I’m not sure, but I like the path I’m on.  I’ll just keep taking it one step at a time, walking humbly with my God.  I love the fact that so many are on this journey with me.  I appreciate every reader, commenter, facebook “fan,” and twitter follower.

We follow a God that is in the business of transforming lives, and through those lives God transforms communities, nations, and the world.  I know that God can transform me from fat to fit.  I want to be more than a witness.  I want to be the evidence.

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