Sunday, April 25, 2010

Get off your couch and give me 20! Healthy life role models from the front lines.

(from Army Times:  my new 4 star whole man role model!)

I recently finished reading a fascinating article about General David Petraeus in the May issue of Vanity Fair by Mark Bowden (of "Black Hawk Down" fame).  No matter your politics (and I would encourage everyone including myself to not share them!), Gen. David Petraeus is an unbelievably impressive and inspiring guy.  So what does this have to do with the size of my belly?  Nothing and everything.  Let me explain...

First off, I really was amazed reading about Petraeus, not just in his accomplishments, but also learning more about him as a man.  His combination of intelligence, discipline, drive and focus on his whole being is incredible.  Most of all his competitiveness is undeniable and inspiring.  Again, what does this have to do with me and my relationship with my couch and remote control?  I will attempt to answer in two parts:

1. He puts it out there and makes public commitments

His standard approach to attacking challenges, both personal and professional, is to make public commitments.  For example, his standard doctrine is to announce the specifics of how he plans to conduct a campaign and then to deliver virtually all of the objectives.  One quote from the article really stuck with me:

"Committing to a particular goal publicly puts pressure on oneself.  It becomes an enormous action-forcing mechanism and often helps you achieve more than you might have had you kept your goals to yourself."

I found this to be an incredibly compelling statement that could be very aptly applied to accomplishing a personal goal, such as reaching a weight loss or maintenance milestone.  It is one of the big reasons I blog.  I like sharing and being part of the Weight Watchers community, but frankly writing about my own challenges and goals really has been my own highly effective forcing mechanism for staying on the straight and narrow of a healthy lifestyle.  Public commitments can be to a close circle, such as friends/family, to a wide circle such as the planet Earth by way of the internet (not that all of planet Earth reads my blog).  

2. Mental toughness is achievable and contagious 

David Petraeus is the walking, breathing form of the expression mind over matter.  Apparently, one of his favorite expressions to his troops is the simple "Life is a competitive endeavor."  He applies it personally to both physical and mental dimensions.  He graduated at the top of his class in West Point both academically and physically.  I'm sure he is naturally bright and physically gifted, but these kind of achievements come from discipline and mental commitment, not just born gifts.  He chooses to achieve, and therefore he does.

To whit, this is a man who took a bullet through his chest in a live training exercise, taking away a portion of his lung at the age of 38.  Apparently, days after surgery, he pulled out his IV tubes and starting doing push-ups to show the hospital staff that he could return to active duty.  That is the definition of tough.

He is now 57 years old, and I have a sneaking suspicion that he rarely, if ever, misses a workout, no matter how little sleep he has had.  Granted, it is a bit of a job requirement when you are in the army, but I think I can safely assume that he takes this responsibility particularly personally and seriously.

What I find important in his example is this:  he is just a man, not an alien or different species of human.  He's not Michael Jordan or LeBron James, who have an array of physical gifts that bely comprehension (though it is worth noting that mental toughness is the X-factor for both of those guys too).  Any one of us is as capable to developing mental toughness and focus.  It's a choice.

Role models are important.  When living my life, I am constantly facing decisions both professionally and personally.  I try to do the right thing as often as I possibly can.  It is easier in some ways to make the right decision professionally because I know that I am accountable to so many other people, ranging from our members, to our staff and colleagues and to our shareholders.  Sometimes making the right decision in your personal life, particularly health and wellness can be harder.  Not having the pressure of responsibility to others means I have to find motivation from other places.  Even if it means seeking it from the example of people I admire, like David Petraeus.

I put this into play this past week.  I had just gotten back from vacation, which was fun and rewarding, but was also a little exhausting.  I was feeling a little bit unmotivated when I got back.  I was dragging to the gym, and I was slipping in some of my food choices.  I read this article, and I was immediately fired up, focused and energized.  My workouts have bounced back big time, and my head is very much in the game.  If he can do pushups after a chest cavity blast, I can get off my rear and hit the gym.  And I did so with no small amount of vengeance.

So the next time, I'm feeling like not setting my alarm clock for 4:45 AM, and I will simply ask myself:  what would the General do?

For whatever it's worth, you would be justified if you felt a little bit of concern for my colleagues at work.  I'm not really known for lacking intensity, and it's hard to imagine that their discovering that I'm choosing a general as a new role model is particularly comforting.  Therefore, I am publicly promising not to shave my head and not to wander the offices demanding spontaneous bouts of calisthenics or pushup demonstrations.  Unless they want me to.  



Sunday, April 18, 2010

My spring break vacation healthy habit post-game show. Give that man a "B"!

What is it about the last day of a vacation that it always marks the moment in time where I say:  "I'm finally starting to relax!"?  Yet all good vacations must end.  In this case it was a very good vacation:

  • I got loads of time with my family.  My girls were largely forced to spend time with me, and they curiously seemed to enjoy it.  
  • I was able to see a lot of great stuff.  Costa Rica really is an amazing country, particularly its tremendous biodiversity despite its relatively small size.  We spent quality time with a host of monkeys, birds and butterflies while the country's many poisonous snakes kindly kept their distance.  Beyond its natural denizens, Costa Rica is also a crazy beautiful country, almost a curious mix of Ireland meets Caribbean.  
  • I was out of cell phone coverage for four days (!)
  • I was able to slightly alter the pigmentation of my skin to something less blinding than the translucent white with which I entered the week.    

So how was vacation on the healthy lifestyle dimension?  Not perfect, but not bad.  I pretty much hewed to to the broad strokes of my plan.  On the exercise dimension:

  • Our first four days were in wilderness-like conditions, first in the mountains in the center of the country and then in the mountains not too far from the coast on a river.  In these environs, two of the days were very active/busy with hiking, ziplining, horseback riding and river rafting.  The other two days were a bit more sedate due to drive times between locations.
  • The last three days were at a resorty place on the northern Pacific coast.  That could have made for a lethargic experience, but I was able to get access to a decent gym each of the three days.  Further, I tried to burn off some additional nervous energy on sea kayaks and paddle boats.  
  • On an unexpected note, paddle boats actually give a really good workout if you pedal at a decent clip.  My impression of them was that of a parasol on the Thames River, but I was clearly selling the giant, plastic pedal-powered detergent bottles short.  I guess I shouldn't judge a watercraft by its cover.  
  • Overall, I would say that while it was not a hard core vacation, the activity quotient was respectable.   

And what the food?:

  • I stuck with my breakfast plan and mostly avoided the pastry/egg/sausage/bacon options when such options were even available.  
  • Had normal lunches, gravitating toward traditional beans/rice and chicken/seafood (ceviche is hugely popular in Costa Rica).  
  • Dinners were pretty sane as well.  
  • I did not do much snacking, primarily due to the fact that snacking options were not particularly plentiful.  Funny how that works.  
I have a couple of interesting observations about food in Costa Rica:

(Rafiki Safari Lodge on the Savegre River -- highly recommended!!!)
  1. The more rustic/outdoorsy the location, the more normal the portion sizes.  One place we stayed, Rafiki Lodge, was a hybrid camping/cabin place that put a heavy emphasis on outdoor activity (rafting and riding).  It was a terrific place with great service.  When they served dinner, they gave you a choice between two simple meals each night.  In every meal, the portion sizes were actually normal, and they didn't seem to want to treat you like Hansel and Gretel.  It was almost quaint!  
  2. The more resortish the location, the more it tended toward typical American fare with typical American portions.  Suddenly, buffets became the standard, and gorging became the norm.  
  3. On this trip, one of the resort nights featured a traditional Brazilian Churrasco (never mind that we weren't in Brazil).  If you haven't gone to one, a Churrasco is basically a meat orgy gone horribly wrong.  They have servers come by your table every 3-5 minutes with a new meat until you are so stuffed that you finally surrender and turn your green table card to its flip red side until you recover your Nero-esque appetite and flip it back to green.  Why is this necessary?  
  4. The traditional Costa Rican fare seemed much more sane.  They lean toward simple dishes such as beans/rice (gallo pinto), fruits, seafood, etc.  More importantly, they eat normal/modest portions.  
  5. Basically:  local = healthy/sane, resort = scary/temptation ridden.  
This represents about 25% of what is presented at a typical Churrasco bonanza, even putting aside the all-you-can-eat salad and desert bars.  

This represents 100% of what is served in a typical Casado lunch.  No, this plate is not three feet in diameter.

I'm really not trying to get judgmental about what people do at resorts.   I'm merely ranting about buffets which do bad things to nice people.

In summary, this vacation proved that a little bit of planning goes a long way in helping me keep it together.  I mentally planned exercise, and therefore I did it.  I mentally planned better meal choices, and I mostly stuck to those.  However, it seems that my pre-vacation checklist was not completely exhaustive.  I forgot to pack underwear. Yikes.  [BTW, you might not be surprised to know that it is not easy to shop for fashion forward clothing of any type in the rain forest -- just look at what Tarzan had to make do with.]    [I will spare you the loin cloth photos.]



Friday, April 9, 2010

Spring vacation survival plan (not nearly as grim as that sounds)

Sitting in an airport, getting ready to do one last work trip (to DC for a childhood obesity conference) before I go on vacation for a week.  As I was getting ready this morning, I did my pre-vacation physical self-check:

  • Can still comfortably button the upper button of my shirt collar:  check
  • Can use the normal number of holes on my belt:  check
  • Withering full body scan to determine suitability of self for warm weather gear:  check (I think)

It seems I’m still at goal weight (also confirmed on scale last weekend), so that’s good.

Yet my healthy life work is never done.  It’s time to get a plan for the upcoming week.  It’s time to write out my vacation action plan:

  1. Recognize that there is probably not much I could do over the week to destroy my physical condition.  Although, I keep hearing the statistic about gaining 7 lbs on a cruise ship, so clearly there is a theoretical level of damage that could be done.
  2. Recognize that I’m not going on a cruise ship, so I don’t have to worry about being mummified in a casket of all-you-can-eat buffets.  That’s a good thing.  
  3. Appreciate and be thankful for the fact that I have the good fortune of being able to spend the week with my family running around Costa Rica, a place known for physical activity.  That’s a very good thing.
  4. Have an exercise plan.  Having finally seen my itinerary for the week, it seems that every day I have some reason to move.  Hikes, volcanoes (hopefully not swimming in them), zip lines, ocean, etc.  The first four days are definitely active vacation days.  On the last three, I’m at a place with a good fitness center, which I will definitely use.  
  5. Recognize the limits of my exercise plan.  This trip is not like skiing where you can easily burn 1,000+ calories in a day.  Therefore, there are limits on activity points.
  6. Given the limits on activity points, have a plan to not go off the deep end on food.  Keep in sane for breakfast.  Keep it pretty sane for lunch.  Keep it kind of sane at dinner.  Look for lots of fruit, fish, and vegetables.  Drink tons of water.  
  7. Don’t count POINTS.  Maybe this one is heresy, but vacations should not feel like a healthy lifestyle siege.  Rather, I will seek to apply common sense, and I will seek to not engage in risky food behavior.  That seems easy enough (?!).  
  8. Have fun and try to keep up with my girls.  Not an easy task.  

This seems like a risky and inefficient way to earn Activity POINTS...

I think the point for me in keeping it together in vacation is not one of fearing an impending disaster on the scale.  Rather, I view it as proving to myself that I can live a full and food-rewarding life in a healthy way, even when on vacation.  My lifestyle does not feel like one of deprivation during normal work weeks, so should it change when I’m on vacation?

And no, don’t expect any vacation pictures of me wearing a man-thong to show up on Facebook during my week off.  I’m sure that is a source of massive disappointment to all.



Sunday, April 4, 2010

Is a Speedo like a corset? Can it keep me from eating? Man, fear, swimsuit and maintenance.

Conversation from my head yesterday:

"Eeeeeks.  I need to put on a swimsuit!  In the past few weeks' blitz of travel, work and general mayhem, I had almost forgotten that I'm going on vacation in a week.  It's going to be hot (90 degrees), sunny, and in the general vicinity of salt water.  That means a swim suit.  Crap.  What if I look horrendously bad?  Reason for panic?  Is there anything I could do about it with a week's notice?  OK, let's get on the scale and survey the damage.  Phew.  I'm still at goal weight."

It's hard to rock this look, even at goal weight...
(BTW, no, I don't wear a Speedo, but you get the point)

OK, the above internal dialogue is interesting to me on two dimensions.

One:  that I even care.  What happened to me?  Why do I care what I look like in a swim suit?

The answer is that I always cared.  I just didn't like to talk or think about it.  I suspect on some level most guys care what they look like on the beach.  It's just not cool to talk about it.  [I, seemingly, have given up on trying to keep up the appearances of being cool, so I do talk about it now.]  It's a little bit of a vulnerable feeling to know that you can grab handfuls of adipose while barreling toward the ocean.  I used to spend a lot of time trying to push my diaphragm through my back to disguise that which cannot be hidden.

I used to think that an extraordinarily nice perk of getting to goal weight would be not having to sweat this as much.  But did it?

This leads to Two:  fear of failure spotlighted by a beach vacation can be a powerfully motivating force.

In fact, I knew that I had a beach trip coming up for Spring break.  I thought about it a lot during the first few months of the year.  It was always in the back of my mind when I would start each work week on Monday.  I thought about it when I was traveling last week and was being tempted by hotel breakfast buffets of carb-ridden pastry delights.  I thought about it when I was debating whether to subject myself to another 4:45 AM wake-up call for my 95th consecutive workout.

I actually use these milestones on the calendar to help keep me focused during the year.  It's easier for me to think about goals if there is something 2-3 months out that offers the promise of a reward (or avoidance of the opposite:  failure).  After this vacation, I will use the threat of warm weather, shorts, t-shirts, lighter clothes, etc. to keep me honest.  I will think about going to the pool this summer and not looking like the President of Weight Watchers who couldn't keep his lifestyle together.

For me, thinking about this kind of ridiculous vain stuff is a powerfully motivating way of staying on maintenance.  Maintenance is just different than losing weight.  When you are losing weight, you are in the heat of pitched battle, thinking about the weigh-in each week.  Maintenance by contrast is a long, unending process that definitionally doesn't have any of the epic moments of the weight loss process (10%!!!  Goal weight!!! Lifetime!!!).  Therefore, I try to create my own little made-up epic moments.  "I will look awesome on the beach!"

It's all a little sad and un-masculine, but it works for me.

I think the broader point is that setting manageable goals is always a good strategy.  It's a good strategy when losing weight:  don't worry about getting to goal, focus on losing the first 5%.  It's also a good strategy for maintenance:  don't worry about being at goal until the last day of my life.  Think about standing on the beach in two months.

As a side note, I did myself no favors yesterday on the whole beach-preparedness project.  We watched my beloved Blue Devils play West Virginia in the Tournament last night (and crush them I might add).  We supported the cause by diving into pork BBQ, slaw, mac & cheese and cornbread -- true North Carolina style fanship provisions.  And today is Easter Sunday, hardly a light eating day.  All of this just means more focus for the upcoming week because on Saturday morning I get on a plane for my own little epic Tournament:  the beach.