Pounding It Out and Burrowing Through

Today was potent. I burrowed through.

I was tired most of the day. Because I got up earlier than usual. Much earlier.

In school, the mad push toward the end of the semester has begun.

Assignments are coming due. I need to focus and pound out project work. I did so today.

The projects are fun and educational. But they still consume considerable mental bandwidth.

I ate a vegan breakfast of porridge, with the usual fruity and nutty add-ons.

Shortly after Deborah left for work, I went to the gym. I spent an hour on the stationary bike, at a light-moderate intensity. I read about the neurobiology of trauma. I eat that stuff up. So interesting.

I spent the afternoon at a coffee shoppe, drinking coffee to stay awake and reading about models of group therapy: cognitive and rational emotive behavioral therapy, solution focused brief therapy, narrative therapy, and even feminist group therapy. It all made sense. I took good notes.

I went to class in the evening. I ate dinner during the break. It was vegan chili with lime over brown rice. I made it yesterday.

When I got home from class, I chillaxed with my beautiful wife for a short while. Then I went to my study area and finished the chapter on the neurobiology of trauma. I didn't finish it at the gym.

I wrote this post. Now I'll head off to sleep.

KEYWORDS: vegan diet, best weight loss diet, punk rock, lifestyle coaching, group therapy, trauma informed care


Bliss Hard

I live in Madison WI. One year ago today, it was 80 Fahrenheit degrees, sunny, and a little bit windy. I know this because I got married to my beautiful soulmate Deborah on April 15 of last year (Happy One Year Anniversary to us!).

Here is a picture from a window of our house today...

It's currently 30 Fahrenheit degrees and we are under a so-called Winter Weather Advisory. In short, it's a snow storm! This is the nature of weather variability in Wisconsin from year to year. 50 degrees different!

Deborah and I had signed up for a day long meditation retreat downtown today, but it was canceled yesterday due to a forecast of predicted travel treachery today. So we have a "snow day." I guess we'll probably laze about and watch some TV.

But we shall see what the day holds in store. In honor of the kiboshed meditation retreat, I am going to focus on being mindfully present and in the moment today. So right now I am going to wrap up this post and go eat a hearty vegan bowl of oatmeal porridge with pecans, blueberries, grapes, apple, maple syrup, flaxseed meal, and unsweetened almond milk.


A Thorough Caloric Burn

Last night, Deborah and I went to see one of my favorite local rock-n-roll bands, SUNSPOT. This is one of the rare live bands I am compelled to get out on the dance floor for (the others being, in rough order of compulsion from highest to lowest, COWBOY MOUTH* and ELECTRIC SIX), and last night was no exception. Even though we were not at the show for the whole performance, the band fortuitously managed to put several of their most flailable** songs in the first set, resulting in a substantial cardiovascular and lower body workout for me. On top of that, I had gone to the gym for 45 minutes of stationary bike cycling just prior to attending this show, so my body was primed for a thorough caloric burn, and it got one.

I am 50 years old, a fairly recent development. It has been a long time - probably several months - since I flailed at a SUNSPOT show, much less as vigorously as I flailed last night. In that time window, I adopted a vegan diet and increased my gym attendance (both activities were part of graduate school class projects, but the health benefits were obvious and immediate, so I stuck with them). When I got out onto the flo' (as they say in the vernacular) last night, it was immediately apparent that I have indeed substantially reversed the aging process of my body through good health and wellness practices. In my admittedly subjective assessment, I have never EVER flailed more energetically at a SUNSPOT show than I did last night, even way back when I first started to go see this band something like 15 years ago (damn...that long?), when I was mid-30s-ish. My body responded to my brain's flail commands fluidly and instantaneously last night, as if I were not 50, but more like a 25-year old. And not like a sluggish American 25-year old either, mind you, but more like the generally fitter and healthier European or Australian 25-year olds. I was as incredulous about this as were the 30-somethings*** bopping around me with age-appropriate zeal at the show.

I can't lie to you. I'm sore this morning, especially in my legs, from all the high energy jumping around to the music I did last night. But it's not age-related soreness. It's "Damn, I haven't used those muscles in a while" soreness. It's like the soreness you get after your first 3-mile jog outside in the spring after not running for a few months over the winter. You know the feeling...or maybe you don't. It's caused by lactic acid produced anaerobically by muscles pushed to the upper limits of their tolerance specifications. The main thing I noticed while I was out on the dance floor last night was the ease with which I was able to repeatedly propel myself into the air (also known as "repetitive levitation," a phrase coined by the time-traveling fun rock band, HIATVS). I attribute this to two things:

1. My regular lower body (cycling, primarily) workouts at the gym have substantially strengthened my leg muscles and cardiovascular system (with the side effect of giving me ridiculously well-defined calf muscles...my sexiest physical feature, in my opinion), allowing for sustained flail stamina.

2. I have had significant weight loss, due in large part to the aforementioned exercise, as well as the adoption of veganism (one of the best weight loss diets**** I have ever tried). As such, I have considerably less total body mass (on the order of 40 pounds less) to hurl into the air under the power of the magnificently sexy pistons that are my calf muscles.

I've lost so much weight so fast in the past year that I seriously considered the possibility I had a tapeworm or some type of rare cancer. I kid, but only "on the square." Before adopting a vegan diet, I had been exercising regularly, but I was never able to get my body weight down to under 210 pounds, a goal I had set for myself. After becoming vegan though, my weight quickly plunged below that ever elusive bathroom scale metric, and now I actually have to really try to get my weight above 210 pounds. I am not kidding...yesterday I had two big slabs of vegan lasagna for dinner, along with a rich salad containing caloric nuts and avocado, and I drank some overpriced beer at the rock show too. I fully expected that kind of gluttonous hedonism would push me over 210 pounds, but when I got up this morning, I weighed in at 208 pounds - the same weight I have been hovering at for most of the past few weeks. I attribute the sustained weight control to both regular exercise and the well-documented health and wellness benefits of a 100% plant-based diet. The vegan diet has three attributes that I...well, attribute...to its health and wellness benefits, including healthy weight management:

1. It's been scientifically documented to be a thermogenic diet [SOURCE]. Your body "runs hotter" on a plant-based diet, which means your basal metabolic rate is set higher, so you burn more calories just by being alive, never mind exercising.

2. It's a nutrient dense but lower calorie diet than an animal-based diet. Your body can get ample nutrition from a vegan diet with a lower net intake of calories. In addition, the high fiber content of the diet slows the absorption of food in the gut, which effectively lowers the average glycemic index of the diet. High glycemic index diets stimulate the pancreas's production of insulin, the hormone that tells the body to store energy as fat. The vegan diet does less of this. Also, the body has to do more work just to digest the whole food matrix of many plant-based foods (recall that your body burns more calories digesting a piece of celery than the calories contained in that piece of celery).

3. It's a high fiber diet. My wife insists that I not blog about the colon-blowing attributes of a plant-based diet. So, dear reader, I will have to let you contemplate that one for yourself. Suffice to say, Metamucil is not needed on this diet.

According the modern medicine and mainstream media, American 50-year olds
*****  simply do not lose 40 pounds and improve their ability to dance (flail) the night away by a power of magnitude. Indeed, it is a conventional stereotype of pop culture that Americans in middle age get inevitably and irreversibly fatter and slower over time. Alternative outcomes simply are not allowed according to the scientific wisdom of the American medical model. This is in part by design, a consequence of capitalism and reductionist empiricism. To wit, the industrial food industry in the United States survives economically only by the grace of government subsidies and dietary policy-making that encourages consumption of caloric, processed (aka, "value-added"), and animal-based foods [SOURCE]. The production of animal-based foods requires about ten times the investment of natural resources compared with plant-based food production, due simply to the biology of food chain ecosystems. When people get sick from eating the Standard American Diet (SAD), as they inevitably do, they are rarely encouraged to change their lifestyle habits. Instead, they are sent to doctors and hospitals that are largely guided by a reductionist, medical model that treats all diseases with drugs or surgery. Rare is the physician who treats a chronically diseased patient with a health-improving, age-reversing lifestyle intervention like a plant-based diet. But there are some health practitioners who use lifestyle interventions as an adjunct to standard medical treatment.

By American food industry policy standards, I should be pre-diabetic, hypertensive, and erectile dysfunctional at my age. That's the sad health profile of my demographic. But damned if I haven't non-conformed with the conventions of the medical model of health and corporate mainstream media stereotypes in full punk rock fashion!

*Note: Cowboy Mouth, in fact, has a mandatory requirement that show attendees vigorously engage with the dance floor, and their frontman/drummer will verbally taunt and ridicule anyone who is non-compliant. I have to respect their strong enforcement of this stance, even if I pity first-time Cowboy Mouth show attendees who are unprepared for the onslaught of over-stimulation.

**Note: I use the term "dance" very loosely. What I do on the dance floor is more akin to flailing, but the phrase "flail floor" is not a part of the popular lexicon due to the difficulty with which it falls off the tongue.

***Note: SUNSPOT has been rocking and rolling for over 15 years, I think. So, the people who were in their early 20s when they became fans of the embryonic band way back when are now approaching their mid- to late-30s. Just an observation of fact, not a judgment.

****Note: I dislike the word diet here, because it implies a transient behavior with a before and after time boundary, as in: "I'm on a two week juice diet." Veganism is a more permanent lifestyle behavior than a "lose weight fast" fad diet. It does not require any portion control or caloric restriction, only that no animal-based foods be eaten, including eggs and dairy (and even, technically, honey).

*****Note: I grant you that I am 1/2 Australian by birth, but I am still demographically Anglo-European by heredity.


Addiction Remission and Substitution

When people with alcohol addiction stop drinking, they often start consuming larger quantities of other things, like sugar, caffeine, or nicotine to fill the void left by the absence of booze [SOURCE].

I recently quit using Facebook, my primary "addictive drug" of social media. I quit cold turkey and, notwithstanding some mild withdrawal symptoms of irrational anxiety about "missing something/someone important," it's been more positive than negative. Principally, I've noticed a massive increase in the productive time available to me and also a release of significant mental bandwidth to devote to more useful pursuits than simply being a "product" bought, sold, and manipulated by online advertisers (the actual "customers" of the giant social media platforms). I've been playing more music and writing prolifically to fill the void, and it's been awesome.

I had considered quitting Twitter as well as Facebook, but upon reflection, I decided that since I almost never use Twitter, except passively to auto-share blog post links, I could leave that alone. I did decrease my Twitter presence from three separate accounts (two for music and one for health and wellness coaching) to one aggregate account for all three (SEE IT HERE). I assumed that my Twitter use and engagement would remain essentially nil. But an interesting thing happened. Without Facebook to provide the pleasure centers in my brain with microdoses of norepinephrine and dopamine, I found myself turning to Twitter more frequently than in the past. Much like the person who quits drinking alcohol and increases coffee consumption, I had subliminally begun to substitute Twitter for Facebook.

Obviously, I had good insight on this phenomenon when it occurred, thanks to my ongoing clinical training in marriage and family therapy, and took remedial steps to prevent one vice substituting for another. I still have not deleted my one remaining Twitter account and probably won't, unless I find it starting to negatively impact my social and occupational functioning. One could argue that the fact that I have devoted an entire blog post to the topic of my social media addiction is solid evidence that I am still in the withdrawal phase, and that argument would have solid circumstantial evidence to back it up. However, a decent case could be made that I am simply exercising my creative writing abilities here, since I am not currently engaging in the active social media use that would normally suck this time period into its gaping black whole maw from which no creativity can ever escape.* Instead, I am rather furiously writing on the first topic that came to mind when I sat down for my usual hour or so of creative journaling today. Analogously, the person abstaining from alcohol may, for quite a long time, still think about booze and getting drunk. This is a symptom of withdrawal, but as far as the DSM-5 diagnosis of Alcohol Use Disorder is concerned, it is not necessary nor sufficient to diagnose the disorder (two or more diagnostic symptoms are required, one of them involving actual use or symptoms of dependency), and the subject is considered to be "in remission" as long as they are not actively using alcohol, nor suffering the negative effects of withdrawal (dependency) [SOURCE]. I am not arguing against the fair case that I am in remission from Facebook use. I am. And indeed, I am well aware of the risk of relapse.**

Interestingly, journaling is a therapeutic intervention used in the professional treatment of people with a variety of mental health disorders, including post-traumatic stress and alcohol or drug abuse. As such, writing this post is a form of catharsis and treatment during my recovery from social media addiction.*** It acts as a medium to "externalize" thoughts and feelings relating to the problem so that they can be made explicit and tackled cooperatively by the client and the therapist (both of whom are personified in a single individual, in this case...ME!). Another intervention for addiction disorders is mindfulness techniques, such as meditation or exercise. And, in fact, meditation is what I am going to go do right now, before starting an afternoon of DEEP WORK on school stuff. Ciao!

*Note: Indeed, you are probably accessing this post by way of a social media platform, so in that sense I am passively engaging social media.

**Note: There are degrees of abstinence from social media, just as there are for chemical substances. Some people recovering from alcohol addiction and dependence can enter a tavern and resist the urge to drink with varying degrees of discomfort. Others must avoid bars and social situations with a pro-drinking demographic. Likewise, a social media addict can will themselves not to use social media while still maintaining an "active" social media account. I tried that for a while, but relapsed often. So, I finally had to "delete" my account. This is not as simple as it sounds. To do so, one must first "deactivate" the social media account. Once deactivated, the account remains in existence, albeit "offline," for 30 days before being "permanently" deleted. And any login to the account, purposeful or accidental, within that 30 days reactivates the account back to fully functional and online. That 30 day window is the "danger zone" for the recovering social mediaholic, during which the subject approaches all electronic devices with the "white knuckled" fear and anxiety of an addict (an exaggeration...but not a large one).

***Note: The DSM-5 does not currently recognize social media addiction as an official mental health disorder, but it soon may...and should! If a use addiction is globally diagnosed by its negative impact on social or occupational functioning, social media addiction would definitely qualify. Naysayers would argue that the fact that it is "social" media automatically implies an improvement in social interaction, but any survivor of social media bullying would probably discourage such a claim. Indeed, addictive gambling is a recognized DSM-5 disorder, but you would not argue (I hope) that gambling improves social functioning simply because it happens in a public space in the presence of other like-minded gamblers. A visit to any casino would quickly illustrate the social isolation experienced by gamblers, and in fact, the monofanatical scrolling through social media news by users has been equated to the repetitive pulling of slot machine levers by gamblers...surely, your next cat meme or baby picture is going to garner a ton of dopamine spiking likes and comments [SOURCE 1, SOURCE 2].


One Month Warning Bell

One month from tonight, I am performing a rare solo acoustic music show as CACTUS JOE, my punk rock singer/songwriter alter ego. It should be an interesting performance for a peculiar reason...

I am about halfway through my clinical marriage and family therapy graduate program, and I'll start my internship in late May. As part of our training in this program, my cohort of fellow grad students has run a number of different role play scenarios, where we practice our therapeutic skills on each other in various pretend situations as both therapist and client. It's a great way to practice the theories, models, and techniques we are textbook learning in our MFT classes. This has had the indirect side effect of training me to transition more smoothly between perceived roles in my personal life, like my musical personas. As such, I feel like I am more readily able to completely dissociate from my everyday persona as a slightly above average Joe and become, whilst on stage, the lovable punk rock singer/songwriter that is CACTUS JOE.* That's not to say I am not a lovable average Joe too, but the identities are situationally specific. On stage, I am a narrowly defined performer persona who gets on stage and entertains. The hours of rehearsal, travel, and the business of music are not a part of CACTUS JOE's persona. As far as the audience is concerned, CACTUS JOE simply stepped out of a transdimensional wormhole fully prepped and ready to rock, thanks to all the behind-the-scenes hard work of his personal assistant (me).

I suppose when musicians become famous enough to have the business side of music handled by someone else, that's when the trouble starts...because then they have to be the rock star both on stage and off, and the off stage side of the persona is underdeveloped and susceptible to societally imposed templates. I don't expect to ever get that famous as a musician and I am not sure I want to. But if I do, I want to make sure my off stage rock star persona is well developed enough to stand alone, immune to social influence (the very nature of "punk rock" is unconventional non-conformity, as I see it). I think my clinical MFT training has given me the skills to "fake it till you make it," if that makes any kind of sense at all.

Anyway, that was a wordy way of getting to the main point of this post, and if you are still reading this, bless your heart! To wit, on Saturday May 12, I will literally and figuratively don my punk rocker hat and head over to the Common Ground coffee shoppe in Middleton WI to pound out 30 minutes or so of fun, catchy tunes, starting about 8:30 PM. This will be followed at 9 PM by a set of tunes performed by the acoustic duo incarnation of my band, GUPPY EFFECT, with me on bass and guitarist Stefan on guitar.

*Note: There is a fine line between alter egos and multiple personalities, and the similarities are many. The main difference is pathology...that is, if the switching between personalities happens in an unhealthy way that disrupts individual, social, or occupational functioning, it may be a mental disorder. However, if you are a professional actor or musician, totally healthy. This is a gross simplification of course...

KEYWORDS: lifestyle coaching, punk rock, rock-n-roll, alter egos, mental health disorders


I'm Off the Face

My indefinite hiatus from Facebook, which is essentially a hiatus from social media (since that's the only SM platform I really use), started today, just after midnight when I got home from the Sunday open jam at Funks Pub.

When I got home from four hours of Agrace Hospice volunteer training this morning, I spent two hours practicing solo acoustic songs for my Cactus Joe solo set, which I'll be performing at a show on Saturday May 12 at the Common Ground coffee shoppe here in Middleton WI.

Would I have missed this valuable rehearsal time window today if I had been dicking around on Facebook? I don't know, but I suspect it would have at least been significantly truncated. Social media is, by design, addictive. Don't take my word for it...just watch the 60 Minutes segment on it from a few months ago. I am not going to post a link to it for you here...that would be too easy. Go do a Google search! I have a duty to encourage critical thinking in you lot, which means getting you to use the Giant Internet Brain you have right at your fingertips from time to time.

A part of me feels anxiety, also by design, that perhaps I'll miss something important on Facebook whilst I am off it. This is an irrational fear akin to the fear of getting fat that smokers have when they want to quit. In all the years I have used Facebook, NOTHING important has ever happened there. Ever. And that includes my own posts, promoting, say, my band GUPPY EFFECT's shows. I don't think social media has contributed in any way to additional headcount at the music venues and house concerts we play at. Direct communication works way better and is much more engaging.

Anyway, I'm still doing stuff. I am just not utilizing Facebook as a tool anymore when I do it. Other than the time lost to dicking around on social media, nothing much has really changed. Still, I will document any subjective positive or negative feelings or thoughts directly related to this indefinite hiatus over the next few days. Right now, I am going to meditate...and quite probably power nap...for a spell before I have to go to my evening class. I definitely have extra time on my hands today, which is nice, whether it is due to less social media use or not.


Just "B" Yourself

I would love it if everyone could just "B" themselves.

Do you see what I did there?

It's a pun.

KEYWORDS: lifestyle coaching, punk rock, best weight loss diet, vegan diet, vitamin b12


Milestone Crushed

Another milestone has been crushed in my ongoing mission to become a marriage and family therapist. I landed an internship at a great site for my clinical practicum during my second year of grad school. I can't disclose too many details right now, but I am super pumped and I hope you are too, vicariously through me.

Deborah and I spent an hour at the gym this morning. I burned about 800+ calories on the stationary exercise bike whilst learning Spanish with the Duolingo app on my tablet. The gym was overrun with undesirable people (aka, people). I'm not sure why it was so crowded. It's April, so the resoluteness of the New Year's Resolutionaries (NYRs - described in a prior post) should have long since decreased back to baseline - meaning they should have been at home sprawled on couches eating Doritos. Conversely, we discovered that the gym had just installed a battery of new spinning bikes, in no small part thanks to the monetary influx from said NYRs at the beginning of the year. But that cannot have explained all of the commotion at the club. Odd.

This afternoon, Deborah and I are going to see the movie, "A Quiet Place," which was written by a couple buddies of a filmmaker friend of mine. We had the option to go to the Wisconsin Film Fest, but that tends to be a bit of a cluster and often involves waiting on lines, which does not jibe well with our general intolerance of lines.


Send Zombies, Eggs, and Bunnies (Short Fiction)

The hippie guy looked confused. Or maybe bemused is a better word. He had just come into the coffee shop where I work. He stood inside the door and looked slowly around. He took a deep breath through his nose and smiled ever so slightly. Since he was obstructing the entrance a little bit, after a couple minutes, I decided to approach him.

"Hi. Can I help you with something?" I asked.

"What is this place?" he replied with a question. "It smells...fantastic."

I wasn't sure what he meant at first. "It's Cuppa Joe's," I said. "A coffee shoppe."

"Coffee..." the hippie guy said, neither question nor command. More like acceptance.

"Would you like one?" I asked.

"No," he replied. "The smell is enough."

"I'm Chet," I said, extending my hand.

He stared at it for a moment before seeming to understand. He reached out and took my hand in his. As he did so, a kind of inexplicable warm happiness enveloped me and I had a brief moment of infinite understanding. But it passed quickly.

"Jesus," he said. At first I thought he was simply commisserating, but then I realized he was telling me his name.

"The Jesus?" I inquired. But I felt like I already knew the answer before he nodded the affirmative.

"Well...welcome back?" I said. "Why don't you take a seat and just let one of us know if you need anything." I extended my arm toward an empty table by the window. Jesus nodded and shuffled over to sit down.

I returned to my barista station behind the counter and shuffled through the notes the owner had left for us were we to encounter a situation such as this. I finally found the crumpled sheet of paper on which she had written a phone number and a short note: "In case of Second Coming, call this number...tell them to send zombies, eggs, and bunnies."


If I Knew Then What I Know Now

Life is a lot of trial and error and it takes a lot of experimenting to figure out how to get it right. I've mostly achieved my life goal of 80% awesomeness (or better). But it took close to 50 years to achieve my vision.

Some* of that slow progress has to do with my penchant for anti-authoritarian non-conformity (aka, a punk rock lifestyle). I don't typically trust "the experts" and I like to figure stuff out on my own, often playing Devil's Advocate to "test" the conventional wisdom. My buddy AquaMunkee would say (and has said) that I willfully go against what is popular, and he'd be more or less right, at least inasmuch as it comes to musical production and performance. That being said, we had together developed a fairly successful yet unconventional house concert performance model for our band HIATVS, until he moved to California and I sold my house (which had a sweet, subterranean rock room in the basement).

I wouldn't change my past and if I have any regrets, it is only about things I should have done but didn't. And as such, there is still time to do some of those things, especially since I have stumbled upon the secret to age reversal and longevity (which I never would have done if I had conformed to the conventional American model of diet and lifestyle).

I have been following a vegan diet for almost three months now and my weight has dropped to the lowest I can ever remember it being. Granted, I have also been exercising more frequently for some time, but that was true before I went vegan, and I was still about 10 pounds heavier than I am now.** I eat whatever I want whenever I want, as long as it is animal-free food. I can't tell you the science behind it, but I think it has something to do with the nutrition profile of the vegan diet being much more in harmony with human genetics. There will be naysayers to that philosophy, and I don't really care...veganism is working for me and they can eff off if they don't like it. I feel effing great. The osteoarthritis pain in my toe is gone, and I have even stopped taking my glucosamine-chondroitin supplement (which is actually not technically vegan anyway...it is derived from shellfish). I still sneak an occasional fish oil pill for EPA and DHA, but that's mainly to use it up so it doesn't go to waste (my wife went vegan too). I can get essential omega-3 fatty acids from flax seed powder and a vegan DHA supplement my wife and I order online. I'm vegan for health reasons, not animal-rights reasons, although the latter is certainly a moral/ethical perk of this diet. So I don't beat myself up if some meat by-product residue sneaks into my food without me knowing. I'd estimate that happens rarely, and probably only when we eat out at restaurants where the food ingredients are unknown. I am guessing I am 99.9% vegan compliant. One of our favorite restaurants, the Great Dane, has a food ingredient chart that compliments their menu, so we can see that there are several meat, dairy, and egg free items we can order when we go there. Conversely, there are some items that you would think are vegan that aren't, like pretzel sticks (they have milk powder as an ingredient). One of the funner aspects of veganism for me is experimenting with vegan desserts, trying to see how similar they are to their non-vegan equivalents. I have had great success with vegan peanut butter and chocolate chip (the non-milk chocolate kind) blondies, vegan key lime pie, and vegan cheesecake. The latter two delights are based on raw cashews and coconut milk and they turn out great.

Deborah and I talked to my mom and pops by phone today and there was talk of a tentative plan for a great southwest family trip to the Grand Canyon and surrounds next winter break, depending on our work and school schedules. That would be pretty slick.

*Note: Some of my progress has been hampered by THE MAN, negative nellies, and drama kings/queens, but over time I have found ways to disenfranchise such nuisance people from my life.

**Note: The current science on diet, exercise, and weight control puts about 80% of the variance on diet and only about 20% on exercise. In other words, more exercise does not correlate linearly with burning calories. In fact, there is a diminishing return on increasing exercise as a weight control measure. As humans exercise more, the body tries to conserve energy balance by slowing cellular metabolism. So even as your muscles are expending more energy, your body is shunting energy away from other organs and tissues. This partly explains the anti-inflamatory and age reversing benefits of exercise. It causes many cells in your body to simply slow down metabolically. Caloric restriction has much greater weight loss and health benefits than exercise and veganism is especially good for these things because unprocessed plant-based foods not only naturally have fewer calories, but also your body has to do more metabolic work to convert plant foods into what your body needs as compared with animal foods. An example is celery. It actually costs your body more calories to digest celery than it gets out of the celery.



I biked 15 miles round trip to my couples therapy class tonight, notwithstanding that the temperature outside was below the threshold at which I normally am comfortable biking. There were three main reasons for this. Due to a metric buttload of homework today, I did not have the time to go to the gym, so the 70 minutes or so of moderate intensity biking to and from campus (fairly hilly) was more than enough daily aerobics. Second, my mind was a bit scattered because of the frenetic pace of today's school work, and exercise serves a centering mindfulness role for me. On my bike, I am generally alone with my thoughts and it is quite cathartic. Third, I really enjoy the late night commute home from class, when the city streets are deserted and quiet, and I don't have to contend with car traffic. I have a windbreaker that my sister gave me one Christmas and when I wear it over my sweatshirt, it does a pretty good job of breaking the chill wind of an early spring night.


In my Trauma Therapy class this week, we explored the value of writing about traumatic experiences and the emotions associated with them. As a writer in a past life, I can definitely see myself incorporating journaling into therapy with my future clients.
Writing about anything helps to structure one's thoughts about whatever they are writing about, but it is especially valuable for exploring emotions in a more cognitive way. Writing comes from a different part of the human brain, so writing about things that are hard to feel is a good way to transcend the avoidance reaction that is associated with traumatic memories. In a way, by putting the internalized thoughts and feelings on paper, they are externalized and that can help trauma survivors to alleviate some of the shame and/or blame that accompanies a lot of trauma. That transforms a "victim" into a "survivor."



Dreams underlie a lot of relationship conflict. I am not talking about the dreams you have at night. I am talking about life dreams and ambitions. Partners in a healthy, happy relationship more or less endorse and support each other's dreams and ambitions. A lot of conflict in relationships derives not from the cosmetic issue that is being argued about, but from deeper fundamental unspoken conflicts and resentments over unrequited dreams and ambitions. As such, a good way to reduce conflict in a relationship is to have some discussion with your partner about their dreams and ambitions, and where they derive from in one's life, developmentally. In addition to dreams and ambiitions, discuss values and philosophy of life stuff. That can really go a long way toward explaining why the more cosmetic day to day conflicts and arguments occur...failure to understand, appreciate, or validate your partner's underlying dreams. A simple example would be a couple who argues about buying a new car. When they examine their dreams and values, they discover one partner is frugal about money and wants to save for the future because he or she did not have much money growing up. Conversely, the other partner also did not have much money growing up, but they want to enjoy expensive luxuries while they can, because who knows if they will have money in the future. One partner gets a sense of security from saving money, the other from spending it. Both dreams are valid. Once the partners validate each others' underlying dreams, they can work toward a compromise. Maybe they buy a less expensive car or agree to save money for a year or two before investing in a new car.


Friday Night 3/23/18

It's Friday night. I just finished a paper for a class and emailed it in. It's too late to go to a movie now.

This morning I had an interview for a Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) internship. I thought it went well. However, I thought the last interview I had went well too, and they nixed me! When stuff like that happens, a guy could start to think that all this super high achieving in grad school doesn't pay...but I am not quite that cynical...yet.

I had to get up earlier than I am used to this morning. I drank coffee and gobbled down a vegan breakfast of oatmeal porridge with fruit, nuts, maple syrup, and unsweetened almond milk, before shaving, showering, and suiting up for the interview on the other side of town.

Post-interview, I came home and dicked around before eating some leftover vegan chili for lunch. Then I succumbed to a potent afternoon power nap as I was nearing the end of a session of mindfulness meditation. Most of the afternoon was blown due to slumber. I made myself a couple of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches when I woke up and waited for my wife to come home from work. She then took a power nap, which is when I decided to pound out my paper for my class. It's not due until Monday, but I wanted to get 'er done and gone because I need to spend the rest of my weekend on a much bigger assignment that is due later next week.

I didn't go to the gym today. I am way ahead of my goals on gym attendance, so it's not a big deal. I will go tomorrow (Saturday) and Sunday, if the weather doesn't permit a bike ride outdoors (preferred) instead. On the bright side, I have completed all the entries in my aerobic exercise journal, which I am keeping as part of yet another class assignment. That means I can proofread that and submit it pretty soon.

How was your day? Week? Leave a comment if you can...


Monday 3/19/18

I am in and out of sleep between 7 and 9 AM, as my wife preps for work.
My alarm goes off at 9:30 AM. I dick around on my smart phone for a half an hour while lying in bed.
I get up about 10 AM and solidly ablute before starting breakfast and tending to my geriatric Boston terrier, Foster. My wife's dog, Maddie, sneakily eats Foster's food when I am not watching.
I swallow vitamins with fresh coffee and watch a bit of a Ricky Gervais comedy special on Netflix while I eat my oatmeal, fruit, and nut porridge.
I meditate for 15 minutes before starting work about noon. I am in the "Deep Work" zone until about 2 PM, when I shift gears, so to speak. I prepare a homemade salad "to go" and then bike commute to school with it and my books, dropping an application for hospice volunteerism in the mail en route. On campus, I study for three more hours, give or take, until class at 6 PM (I wear earplugs to block out ambient chatter in the public study area).
I am in class from 6-9 PM, learning more of the practical side of marriage and family therapy. The bike commute home after class is "brisk," to put it mildly, but I am dressed warmly enough and it's a short 3.5 mile ride on mostly quiet backstreets. I flash my bike headlight at driver's I am not sure see me. They see me.
At home, I sautee a chopped up potato in olive oil with herbs and spices and eat it to warm up, after snacking on some shelled peanuts and pistachios. I drink a glass of red wine while watching "Jessica Jones" on Netflix with my wife, who promptly falls asleep.
I make final entries in both my aerobic exercise and veganism journals (class assignments) and finish writing this post, before turning in myself.

In Vigor, Ate

Today was invigorating. Late last week, a brief perusal of the weather forecast indicated that today might have a desirable combination of circumstantial variables conducive to the sport of social bicycling. This more or less panned out, and at about 11 AM today, I found myself pulling my car* into the driveway of my friend Sherry's house, with my bike attached to the back by way of the fancy bike rack my wife and I bought last year. A few minutes later, Sherry, her BF Tyler, and I were tooling around Lake Monona in, albeit brisk, sunny weather. As we tooled, we discussed options for lunch, among other things, and eventually opted to dine at the Weary Traveler eatery, which we knew offered a variety of menu options for both vegan (like me) and non-vegan (like Tyler and Sherry) dietary orientations.

Excitement soon ensued. We got a table and ordered our food. I opted for a corn, black bean, and quinoa salad, which was topped with a generous amount of avocado (it looked like an entire avocado was used, but maybe it was less). A short while later, Tyler, who is known to understate things, said, "Hmmm...it looks like they have a leak in the ceiling." I turned to look where he had been looking, and indeed, a considerable volume of liquid was coming through the ceiling above the bar, and staff had responded rapidly by putting a bucket under the stream of water, which looked like it was capturing at most 60% of the wayward flow.

The staff did not seem overly alarmed and our waitress told us that there were apartments above the establishment and the aquaphilic tenant responsible for the deluge was being contacted. Shortly thereafter, the flow of water dwindled substantially. We never did elucidate the full facts of the scenario from our waitress, but were somewhat disappointed that we were never evacuated from the premises and granted a free meal as the result of said emergency. That might have been OK.

We stopped for coffee at Crema Cafe near the end of our ride, before getting back to Sherry's house. I drove home and changed from bike clothes into yard work clothes before heading to my buddy Stefan's house to help him with yard work, mostly chopping down small trees, clearing sticks, and pruning stuff.

On the way back from Stefan's, I got gas and stopped at the Pick-n-Save grocery store by our house for a metric pantload of groceries. I had not planned to get a pantload of groceries, but there was a lot on sale and I stocked up on vegan type non-perishable food items, like canned goods and dried beans, as well as frozen foods and some produce. I've decided I need to eat more raw food, mainly salads, on my vegan diet. I had been eating more starchy carbs lately, and even though they are whole foods, I wanted more complex, non-digestible fiber in my diet.

Long story short...we don't need to buy any canned or frozen food for a while.

Needless to say, you won't believe what I had for dinner. Wanna guess?


I made my own dressing too, with olive oil, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, and a bunch of herbs and spices. It was yum.

I rounded out the rest of the evening watching Sunday night TV shows with m'wife. Action packed day.

*Note: Technically, my wife's car...mine by marriage.


Taxation WITH Representation

Today we did our taxes in under 2 hours.

But when I say we did them, what I really mean is that we went over to our tax accountant Pam's house and she did them.

Pam is awesome. She not only whips up our tax info lickety split, but if the IRS ever comes a-callin', she is authorized to punch them in their ballsax on our behalf.

All this peace of mind comes at a cost, but it's nominal and so worth it.

That being said, the new Republican tax bill eliminates ALL deductions on ANYTHING for ANYONE making under $250K per year. But those making OVER $250K per year can now deduct EVERYTHING and they ALL get a refund, paid for by the deductions we can no longer take. #FACT.

So this year, our goal is to make $250,001 at a minimum.


Why is Veganism Easier for Me Now Than in the Past?

I have been successfully adhering to a vegan diet since the beginning of this year and the results have been outstanding. I have been losing weight on this diet like crazy with no restriction on caloric intake (a healthy vegan diet is naturally low in high glycemic foods that stimulate fat storage). My osteoarthritis symptoms from a foot injury 15+ years ago have essentially disappeared (joint pain and inflammation in my left big toe that had been chronically worsening). There are gastrointestinal benefits that my wife says I should not blog about, but suffice to say the pipes are clear. If the scientific literature is to be believed, my cardiovascular and urogenital systems are being restored to a more healthy state the longer I am on this diet.

I have tried to go vegan in the past without much long term success. It always seemed too inconvenient or difficult. So why have I been able to comfortably adhere to what began as a fortnight long New Year's resolution this time?

I think there are a few factors. One of them is that I've been stimulating my creative juices trying to find and prepare vegan recipes, which is fun, especially desserts. Second, I was able to extend the original short term duration of the diet by incorporating it into an 8-week graduate school class project on veganism and mental health. The weight loss and the absence of osteoarthritis symptoms is pure operant conditioning to stay on this diet. Eff foot pain! My wife is also doing it with me, so that gives me an "accountabili-buddy" to motivate adherence (and also makes meal prep and dining out easier). I have to admit that after turning 50 in January, longevity, mortality, and, most importantly, morbidity issues about chronic disease risk are more salient. My in-laws have adopted veganism for health reasons and my wife and I have been surveying the diet and health media for information, most of which touts the bennies of a whole food, plant-based diet. There has never been a study that showed eating MORE fruits and vegetables was detrimental to human health. Ever. Lastly, I cannot lie...there is a part of me that simply wants to outlive my enemies (I don't have many, but I encourage them to eat more junk food, lots of red meat and cheese, very little vegetables, and to start smoking cigarettes if they don't already...also don't exercise...at all!).

Feel free to ask a question in the comments section below and I will answer with as many non-alternative facts as I can.

Power Nappage

I succumbed to a power nap this afternoon whilst I was studying. It wasn't that the material was dull (it was actually pretty cool), but rather that I had had a pretty solid workout at the gym in the early afternoon and I was studying on the comfortable bed in our guest room. The exercise fatigue and the reclined position combined to knock me out for an hour or so. When I woke up, I finished an assignment I needed to submit and then watched Sunday night TV shows with my wife Deborah: Ash vs Evil Dead, Counterpart, The Walking Dead, and Homeland.

Before heading to the gym, I had a vegan breakfast of oatmeal with the usual whole food add ons (nuts and fruit, some flax powder, maple syrup, etc.). I got to sleep in a little bit today, which was nice, but also somewhat anticlimactic, since we had to set the clocks ahead this weekend. I talked to my folks in the evening, touching base. I am hoping they will try the vegan key lime pie recipe I sent them via email so I can find out what they think of it.

KEYWORDS: best weight loss diet, vegan recipes, lifestyle coaching



I reluctantly got up at 8:30 AM this morning. I might have lingered in bed a while longer, except my wife Deborah's son Devon wanted to come over and talk to her about something. So I got up and went to the gym for a quick workout, after eating a vegan breakfast of oatmeal with maple syrup, apple, banana, grapes, pecans, flax seed powder, and unsweetened almond milk (plus a dash of citrus flavored vitamin powder for a 10,000% RDA of the elusive vitamin B12 that anti-vegans are always complaining about). Around noon, Deborah, Devon, his girlfriend Gretchen, and I drove up to the Cascade Mountain ski hills and went tubing for the afternoon. It's basically quality controlled sledding that you pay for. We all went out to eat at the Flying Hound after we got back to Madison, where Gretchen (who is a licensed professional counselor) and I talked about brief therapy for a bit. After we parted ways with the kids, Deborah and I went home and chillaxed in front of the TV. Solid day. Tomorrow should be lazier. I am playing jazz at night, so all I need to do, at some point, is rehearse a few standards before I head to the venue. I'll probably go to the gym and do some studying too, because I am ambitious that way. Even though I am technically on Spring Break, I have a metric pantload of school work I need to get out in front of this week...stay tuned.


Eight Pounds

I weighed in at 207 pounds this morning. This is eight pounds above my target weight of 199 pounds and approximately 42 pounds below my maximum lifetime weight of 249 pounds. I have no memory of ever being this light, though surely I must have been at some point in my early life.

You may be wondering how, having just passed a half century of life, I have successfully dodged the conventional wisdom that one cannot, without great difficulty, obtain and maintain a healthy weight after middle age. Having ruled out terminal chronic diseases and parasitic infections, for the most part, the parsimonious explanation is...lifestyle.

After I met my beautiful wife Deborah about three years ago, I began reducing my intake of most junk food and some highly caloric beverages (mostly beer), since she did not like having such commodities in the house we share. I shed a few pounds that way, but stabilized at about 225 pounds, give or take. About a year and a half ago, my wife and I joined a local health club and I, uncharacteristically, began to exercise there three or four times per week, particularly in the winter months when I could not ride my bicycle outside (my preferred physical activity). In this way, I further reduced my weight to about 215 pounds, where it again plateaued (is this the right word for this...or should I say "bottomed out?"). My goal was to try to get my weight below 210, but I only ever transiently did so and could not maintain it. At the beginning of this year, primarily for the proverbial "sh!ts and giggles," I adopted a vegan diet, as did Deborah. The plan was to follow this rather extreme and completely animal-food-less diet for a fortnight and observe any objective and/or subjective health benefits. I began to see an immediate and rapid drop in my weight on this diet, an effect so dramatic that I have continued to eat vegan to date. My weight now seems to have again settled into an equilibrium at 207 pounds, plus or minus a pound or two, notwithstanding no caloric restrictions of any kind - I can eat whatever I want and as much as I want, as long as it is vegan (Note: I do try to avoid refined and processed foods, especially those with added refined sugar...). I use maple syrup as a sweetener, primarily in vegan dessert recipes, the making of which is a current fascination of mine. I have tried agave syrup as well, but I don't care for it. However, I digress.

My aforementioned lifestyle changes have also had a positive effect on my overall well-being and mood. Exercise gives me a bit of a euphoric endorphin boost on the days that I do it and there is obviously something self-affirming about achieving positive health outcomes. I just feel healthier.

One interesting observation I had after starting the vegan diet is that the osteoarthritis I have in my left big toe, which I have had for over 15 years, is no longer chronically painful. In the past, this chronic condition, the result of an injury, has caused me low level chronic pain. But now, even exercise that would normally inflame it, like walking a mile or two, does not cause me any chronic pain. Occasionally, I will get a slight acute twinge of pain in that joint, but 99% of the time, there is no noticeable pain. Before the vegan diet, I would say I had chronic pain in that joint about 20% to 40% of the time. I'm not saying...I'm just saying...

So, how can you achieve these health and weight loss benefits too? Unfortunately, you can't. As you've been reading this post (and if you still are...THANKS!), I know that you have already had two thoughts that eliminate any possibility of success for you in this area (unless you are my mom...HI MOM!). These were your thoughts, roughly paraphrased:

1. "I cannot exercise regularly..." [too busy...too lazy...to miserly...whatever the reason]

2. "I could never follow a vegan diet..." [love meat too much...love eggs too much...love cheese too much...whatever the reason]

Plus, even if you were able to replicate my lifestyle changes exactly, it probably wouldn't have the same benefits for you. Everyone is different and responds differently to lifestyle interventions. You have to work with what you have and your options are limited by the boundaries you put on your own lifestyle. That being said, I wish you the best of luck (even though luck has very little to do with it).


The Rush of Endorphins

I work out semi-regularly. The dilemma I grapple with is whether to do a longer, lower intensity workout or a shorter, higher intensity workout. Thankfully, the choice is usually made for me.

When I go to the gym by myself, I usually bring a grad school e-textbook to read on my tablet whilst I am on the stationary exercise bike. In this case, I can get more reading done for class if I go longer/lower. Conversely, when my wife joins me for gym excursions, she prefers shorter duration workouts, so in this case I usually crank up the level on the bike and go for higher heart rate and intensity. I don't get as much reading done, but I am also not dicking around at the gym for as long.

The latter workouts tend to blast my body with a heavier dose of natural endorphins too, so when I get back home, I am in a much less anxious and more mentally focused state of mind, which fosters further academic pursuits at home.

Today's workout was one of the short and potent ones and I am quite energized and relaxed, simultaneously, notwithstanding a metric arse-load of assignments due this week. For one of these...which I am working on tonight...I have to create a family therapy treatment plan for a fictional family from a movie or TV show. I've chosen Eddie (father) and Hawk (son) Lane from the Hulu series The Path. They have a conflicted relationship due to Eddie's separation from Hawk's mother, Sarah and Eddie's public status as the leader of their religious movement (some would call it a cult...but I need to remain an unbiased agent for my clients). Additionally, Hawk's maternal grandfather recently died suddenly, creating stress and also bringing (forcing) together members of Hawk's extended family, some whose relationships are rocky at best. Lots to work with from the individual, family, and intergenerational systems perspective.


Mandatory Reporting

As a marriage and family therapist in training, I am a state sanctioned "mandatory reporter." What this means is that if I see or become aware that someone is a danger to themselves or others - even if they are not a client of mine - I am obligated to report it to the proper authorities.

Last night, coming home from the gym, I encountered an erratic driver. The driver was two cars ahead of me, driving painfully slowly. I had nowhere to be and was in no rush. My only plan was to stop at the grocery store to try to find some silken tofu. As I neared the right turn onto the street that would take me to the grocery store parking lot, the erratic slow driver ahead of me turned onto the same street. His turn was wide and his car swung into the oncoming traffic lane, forcing two cars to veer out of his way. I hypothesized at that moment that the driver was impaired and decided my mandate required me to call it in.

Coincidentally and fortuitously, the impaired driver also turned into the grocery store lot. I followed at a safe distance and watched as the driver parked at a crooked angle in a handicapped parking spot. I parked nearby and saw an elderly man emerge from the car and shuffle slowly toward the grocery store entrance. He appeared confused.

I called 911, got transferred to the local police department, and told them my concern based on what I had observed. They said they would send an officer to check it out and took my number in case they needed to call me later for any follow up information. I entered the store and saw the driver shuffling around as I sought out silken tofu. I did not get too close to him, but I observed that his eyes were glassy and bloodshot. Discovering this particular grocery store to be sans silken tofu, I left and went home.

Sure enough, a little while later, a police officer called me at home and said that thanks to my actions the driver had been arrested for being under the influence. She gathered some details from me and then thanked me for my intervention, which had removed a dangerous driver from the roads, before hanging up.

I am glad that my actions made the roads safer and may have prevented tragedy. By the same token, I feel sympathy for the intoxicated man driving the car and I hope he gets the help he needs.

6 Word Novel

"Maintenance...please call the front desk..."


Notwithstanding Last Night's Belly-Full of Thai Curry...I Am Almost Two Pounds Lighter

One of my side stream sources of income is walking peoples' dogs. It's actually pretty lucrative and convenient, but that's not the subject of this post. Yesterday, whilst I was walking a couple of dogs for someone, I noticed that my pants were almost falling down. Due to my continuously improving lifestyle habits, I have shed a considerable amount of weight. I am down two pant sizes and my belts are cinched to the last remaining hole. Although I now weigh the lowest I can ever remember, I have not yet hit my ultimate weight loss goal. I think I will need to punch an additional hole in my belt if this continues.

This morning I weighed in at 208 pounds, notwithstanding a massive belated Valentine's Day dinner with my wife Deborah last night, of Thai curry at the popular Ha Long Bay restaurant in Madison. This is down almost two pounds from the day before. Two pounds!

I grant you that I got a lot of exercise yesterday. I walked almost three miles with those aforementioned dogs and I also went to the gym for 45 minutes of stationary cycling and 15 minutes of lap swimming. Still and all, I ate a lot of Thai food and even had a couple of celebratory beers with dinner. So, I can't really explain the weight loss, though I embrace it.

According to the BMI charts online, my optimal weight is something like 185 pounds, but that's ridiculous. I'd be scarecrow thin at that weight. I am a pretty muscular guy. That being said, I'd like to get down to around 199 pounds. If I could break the elusive 200 pound threshold, I'd be thrilled. I'd also probably celebrate the victory by giving myself a dietary "free day" to gorge on pizza and ice cream,* which would throw a few pounds back on me, most likely.

That being said, I've pretty much fully integrated and internalized the vegan diet into my lifestyle. Although I have tried to go vegan in the past without a lot of success (thanks, cheese!), it was pretty easy this time. Part of the commitment I have made to it has to do with all the recent research coming out pointing strongly at a correlation between chronic diseases and a meat/dairy-heavy diet. I just turned 50 years old and I am not getting any younger.** I have, thankfully, dodged many bullets in my life with regard to my health. When I think about my eating (and drinking) habits as recently as five years ago, I am surprised I am still alive, honestly. I used to eat whole family-sized bags of potato chips and/or an eight ounce block of cheese in one sitting. I am not proud of that, but there it is. Now I don't eat dairy at all and I eat actual fresh potatoes (when I eat them at all).

I have been making it fun by attempting to make vegan versions of popular desserts, most notably cheesecake, key lime pie, and chocolate chip blondies. The latter recipe turned out fine and tasted pretty good, although it is probably the least similar to its non-vegan counterpart.*** The vegan cheesecake is raw cashew and coconut-based, and is fairly indistinguishable from the "real" thing. I just made a vegan key lime pie today (also cashew and coconut-based) and I have not tasted it yet, so I will have to report back on that later.**** However, the batter tasted really good before I added it to the store-bought pie crust.*****

*Note: Pizza and ice cream are not vegan foods, since they contain dairy. That being said, I am a vegan by choice. It's a very healthy way to eat and I feel ridiculously awesome when I adhere to a vegan menu. Veganism is also great for the environment, since animal-based foods require about 10 times the natural resources to produce as do plant-based foods. However, I am not a Vega-Nazi about it. So if I hit my weight goal, I am going to fully enjoy some dairy-rich guilty pleasures for a day.

**Note: This is false. I am actually getting slightly younger, having reversed my aging process through a combination of good diet, moderate exercise, and supplementation with NAD+.

***Note: This was true. But shortly after posting this, I tried a different recipe that looked like it should have no chance of working...except it did. And these blondies were virtually indistinguishable from their conventional non-vegan counterparts.

****Note: It turned out great.

*****Note: I could have made my own vegan graham cracker crust, but the ready-made, store-bought ones don't have any non-vegan ingredients according to the label. They just have some refined and artificial additives and preservatives. I have to weigh convenience against dietary considerations.

KEYWORDS: best weight loss diet, vegan diet, vegan desserts, vegan pie, vegan pie crust


Vegan Blondies

I tried my luck again making vegan flourless peanut butter* chocolate chip blondies tonight after I got home from a decent, moderate-intensity gym workout. They are chickpea-based, which one would think might be off-putting. However, after blending the batter and baking it, you can't really detect any chickpea flavor, since it is mostly overwhelmed by the peanut butter and maple syrup ingredients. HERE is the recipe, if you are interested in trying it, dear reader: https://www.ambitiouskitchen.com/2013/04/flourless-chocolate-chip-chickpea-blondies-with-sea-salt-vegan-gluten-free-healthy/

After a dinner of leftover chili and zucchini spaghetti with marinara, I had a couple of the blondies. They were pretty delish, though not as delish as actual non-vegan, chocolate chip cookie blondies. However, that was kind of good, because those can be way too sweet. These were sweet enough and definitely peanut buttery. So if you like peanut butter, try these.

A couple days ago, I made a cashew- and coconut-based vegan cheesecake that turned out surprisingly awesome. I still need to try making vegan key lime pie. Then I will have conquered the holy trinity of vegan desserts: blondies, cheesecake, and key lime pie.

*Note: I used almond butter the last time I made these, but they were not as flavorful as the ones tonight, because almonds have a milder flavor than peanuts. On the upside, peanut butter is considerably less expensive than almond butter.


I Have Not Been This "Light" in a Long Time

I was pleasantly surprised this morning when the bathroom scale told me I was down to 208 pounds, the lightest I have been since as far back as I can remember, and a new record low for my weight in recent history.

I want to be able to attribute this drop in weight to the vegan diet I have been on since just after the New Year, just for sh!ts and giggles. However, I can't confidently say that. It's definitely contributing, but I think it's the combined effect of several lifestyle factor improvements. For example, I have been going to the gym more often - roughly five times per week as compared to about three times per week before the holidays. Then there's the holidays themselves...or lack thereof...which means less consumption of caloric foods. Although it is not a requirement of adherence to a vegan diet, I've been somewhat purposefully avoiding added sugar in foods too. Conversely, I have been eating more nuts, which are high in (albeit low-glycemic index) calories, when I snack. My wife Deborah bought us a Nutri-Bullet blender, which is awesome and allows us to make quick, nutritious smoothies that are portion controlled by the Max Fill line of the blender receptacle.

I'm also almost two weeks into my second semester of graduate school in Edgewood College's Marriage and Family Therapy clinical program. The stress of this has reduced my appetite a little bit and also thrown off my eating schedule off. For example, in order to squeeze in a quick gym workout last night, I did not have time to make a decent dinner before my evening class, so I made a smoothie in the Nutri-Bullet instead and took it to class with me. On the other side of that coin, I also find myself eating larger meals after my class ends at 9 PM. Eating late at night is supposed to be unhelpful for weight loss, but it doesn't seem to be unhelpful in my case.

In conclusion, I have no good explanation for my substantial weight loss of 10+ pounds over the past month. I suppose it's possible I have some horrible disease or maybe just a tapeworm.


Journaling and the Gymnasium

One of my grad school classes this semester puts a strong emphasis on journaling. Since writing comes pretty easily to me, that's a plus. I have to keep an eight-week aerobic exercise journal, with a requirement to complete 40 entries during the eight weeks. That equates to essentially five aerobic workouts per week, and while this is aggressive, it comports with my direct goal to exercise more regularly and my indirect goal to lose a few more pounds of abdominal fat weight. That being said, the professor in the class indicated that she expected those of us keeping said journal* to do a minimum of 30 minutes of aerobic exercise per workout, in accordance with national health guidelines to this effect. My aerobic workouts typically range from 45 to 75 minutes (depending on if I lift weights or swim during my time at the gymnasium). So, I am exceeding expectations on this assignment.

Exercising at the gym has become a more natural and integral part of my lifestyle, particularly during the winter months when I cannot get outside to exercise due to cold weather (which I hate). It is not unlike meditation in several important ways. It's a time dedicated to self-care and can be quite contemplative. When school is in session, I sometimes do assigned readings while pedaling on the stationary exercise bike. However, I often will just stream shows on Netflix and let myself zone out.

Deborah and I have noticed that Friday nights are a good time to go to the gym, because there are very few undesirable people (aka, people) there at that time, especially after 8 PM. We can usually always get a lane in the lap pool then. In January, the gym had a surplus of New Year's Resolutionaries, people who get gym memberships driven by optimistic hopes of healthier lifestyles following the hedonistic holiday season. A very small proportion of these people actually stick with a regular exercise regimen longer than about one month. As a regular attendee of our gym, I have seen firsthand the drop off in gym attendance since the first of the year, and it seems to be almost back to baseline levels now. Nonetheless, the infusion of new membership dollars at our gym after the first of the year has resulted in lots of equipment upgrades, including new and improved stationary exercise bikes.

Another assignment I have for the aforementioned grad school class is a personal project to do something I want to do that I have never done before (or solve a personal problem in my life) for eight weeks. Since I have been toying with going vegan, I am thinking it might be a fun project to research and prepare some vegan meals and dishes. I have wanted to try making some veggie burgers and there is a recipe for vegan key lime pie that intrigues me. However, I am still brainstorming other ideas for a personal project. Another option could be to simply lose 10 pounds in eight weeks, via a combination of regular exercise and a plant-based, whole food, vegan diet. The results of my Fortnight of Fitness challenge, which you may have been following on my health and wellness blog, were promising in this regard. I got my weight down to 211 pounds, consistently, and saw a decrease in blood pressure as well.

*NOTE: The aerobic exercise journal was one of three options offered by the professor in the class. Those not predisposed to exercise could opt to keep a meditation journal instead, with the same general guidelines of five entries per week for eight weeks. Conversely, those not predisposed to journaling of any kind were given the option to write a book review on one of several texts listed in the syllabus materials. With the workload of study I have this semester, albeit slightly less than last semester, keeping a journal seemed like a no-brainer compared with having to read and analyze an entire book. That being said, if one were to spend 30 minutes five times per week reading a book, one could probably pound out an entire book in eight weeks with time remaining to write the analysis. Maybe...

KEYWORDS: healthy lifestyle, best weight loss diet, vegan diet