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.