Jan 16, 2012

Year Two: The Rise of Darth Fatso

I posted this over on the Darth Fatso site, but I felt it belonged over here too.

It kind of snuck up on me, but today is two years since I started a process to change my life.  When I began, I weighed 355 pounds and had absolutely no self-control when it came to me approach to food.  I have tried to document my process on this blog.  For the first year, I was pretty faithful.  The second year, things became more spotty.  Part of the reason was that it was maintenance.  When I started, my goal was to lose 100 pounds in the first year - strictly by changing my food habits.  I accomplished that.  For my second year, I wanted to maintain that loss.  I wanted to learn how to live this new way.  I needed to explore what exactly I could and couldn't do.  I really just wanted to maintain my weight and resolve.  Year three I would move on to exercise.  In year two, while I was largely successful, to say that I accomplished my goal would be stretching it.

First of all, the cold hard facts.  I currently am 270.  That is down a net of 85 pounds from this weekend in 2010.  But, it is up 15 pounds from last year.  For much of this year, I was able to stay in the 260-265 range.  But the last few weeks, I found myself creeping up higher.  My clothes have started to feel a little tighter, although hard for others to really notice.  I have some shirts I don't like wearing.  The belt has gone back one hole.  I was hoping to rally right before I hit the second anniversary.  But my efforts fell short.  I know that lots of people would say encouraging things.  "Look how far you've come."  "You've still done a great job."  "That isn't so bad."  Those people mean well, but that is honestly what got me into trouble in the first place.  We can always find people who will tell us we aren't so bad.  And we can always compare ourselves to someone else and feel okay.  For me, I can compare myself to that fat load of goo from 2010.  Compared to HIM, I am fine.  But if I compare myself to 2011 David, I am not fine.

What happened?  I wouldn't go so far as to say I've relapsed.  I can point to countless examples of where I  am not even the same person I was then.  But I can definitely say that I am not as disciplined, diligent, careful as I was.  In some areas, I have gotten lazy.  The image that comes to mind is that of an ancient walled city.  There would be these walls all around their property.  The purpose was to keep OUT invaders.  There was a big deterrent there.  Massive energy had to be exerted to breach those walls.  You had to have equipment strong enough to take them down or enough manpower and resources to lay siege to the city.  It largely was a pointless endeavor.  Why would you go and attack some walled up, heavily defended city when there was some weak tailed undefended township up the road?  Those walled cities did have vulnerabilities, though.  If you eliminate the involvement of God and throngs of horn playing Israelites (Jericho), I would wager that the biggest threats to those cities came from within.  You could have someone betray the city and allow invaders in, someone incompetent who forgot to lock the doors, or people who failed to keep the walls strong.

The problem with walls is that they don't only keep people out.  They also trap their citizens IN.  There were many times during this process where I felt like a prisoner.  I felt trapped in my restrictions.  And I hated it.  I could understand that feeling being necessary for the first stretch.  But twenty months in?  It gets old, quite frankly.  It sucks.  I hated being the only one not eating pizza.  It is a lousy feeling at a wedding watching everyone chug my favorite micro-brewed root beer while I have to be satisfied with water.  I don't like it.  I can see where a person in a walled city could be convinced their security isn't worth the trapped feeling.  I also don't like the constant vigilance.  It wears me out and it gets frustrating.  That is the maintenance end.  People in those cities had to constantly check the status of the walls.  Time and weather and wind and animals and moss and grass all work together to slowly compromise those stone security options.  If you don't keep a wary eye peeled, those walls can become useless as cracks and holes appear.  This was where I really started to fail.  Little decisions would lead to bigger issues.  I didn't stop a bad choice, and it led to something worse.

Let me explain with a food example.  One of the biggest food items I had to banish was bread.  Bread was something that I just couldn't control at all.  It was a part of some of my biggest problem foods.  By getting rid of bread, I also eliminated subs, burgers, melts, pizza, calzone.  It was an important and vital decision.  No bread.  For the most part, I have really stuck to that.  But, here is how an erosion  happens.

  • A friend asks, "What constitutes 'bread'?"  A fair question.  At first, the answer is everything that uses flour to make it.  For the first stretch, I was draconian in my application of this rule.
  • What about cornbread?  Well, it is more corn based.  I never have liked cornbread very much.  So maybe that will work.  I found myself eating it too often, so I kicked it back out.  But then I allowed it again.  
  • Cornbread is okay.  That means that whenever I go to 4 Rivers, I can get cornbread instead of their biscuits.  At Jason's Deli, I can use their corn muffins on the chili.  At Cracker Barrel, I can have the corn muffins.  At Boston Market, I can have the cornbread.  When I make chili for everyone and buy cornbread, I can have that too.  It is amazing how often cornbread presents itself once you decide you can eat it.
  • What about battered objects?  NO!  They violate two major banned foods - bread and fried foods.
  • What about battered veggies?  Like pickles or onions or zucchini?  Would those be okay?  Hmmmm.  Okay, as a cheat fried pickles will be fine.  Plus they are really hard to find.  (Not really.  I find them all over the place.)  And onion rings will be okay, but not all the time.  (Yes, all the time.)  But no french fries.  That is the line.  Unless they are sweet potato fries.  No white potato fries.  That is the real line.
  • How about egg rolls?  They are friend, but they are stuffed with cabbage and stuff.  Plus they go great with your chicken and rice.  No.  Are you sure?  Okay, fine.  Especially when they are avocado egg rolls.  
  • How about hush puppies?  We already established that corn bread is okay.  And fried stuff is sometimes okay.  What about hush puppies?  Are those okay?  We'll allow them.  No reason to be too legalistic, right?  
  • Corn based products seem to have some more validity.  As a correlation to this rule, it begin to affect my approach to chips.  Whereas I had restricted myself to rice based chips, now I wonder if I can have corn chips.  This especially applies to chips at Mexican restaurants.  See, salsa and guacamole are great and things I can eat.  But I need a delivery system.  So I begin to allow myself to have those chips at Mexican places.  
  • Have you ever been able to control yourself eating chips and salsa at a restaurant?  Yeah, me neither.  This now allows me to get chips, salsa, guac at any Mexican place.  I still will almost always pick rice chips when they are available.  But they are never around at a restaurant.  
  • Since we are on the topic of chips, what about pita chips?  That is the option when hummus is involved - another great allowable dip without a good delivery system.  Well, how often are you really going to find pita chips?  So those are okay.
  • Of course, some places give you just plain pitas with your hummus.  Or flatbread.  Those are okay too, since they are in the delivery of hummus.  Which is healthy.
  • Since flatbread is okay, and gyro meat is also allowable.  (I discovered how awesome Greek food is.  It fit my diet perfectly until this bullet point.)  So is hummus and tzatziki sauce (yogurt based).  So, then are gyros okay when there aren't that many other great options?  Sure.  Why not.  
  • So, let's take stock here.  No bread, no chips.  Except for cornbread, fried veggie products (except fries), egg rolls, hush puppies, corn chips, pita bread, pita chips, flatbread.  (ummmmm)  
  • So what about hard shell tacos?  I mean, isn't it kind of ridiculous and hypocritical to allow chips with salsa and guac, but not the corn taco shells for tacos?  It would make things so much easier to be able to order tacos than always to have to get fajitas and mix it all up on the plate.  Okay, fine.  Tacos are okay.  But only hard shell!
  • What about pumpkin bread?  That is not really around much of the year.  Maybe this could be a cheat item?  I'll allow it.  But very warily so.  [Note: this particular though process came up three times and all three times ended up with me with the equivalent of waking up in a storm grate with a pumpkin bread hangover.  NOT smart.]  Okay, so maybe not pumpkin bread.  
  • Banana bread?  See the above point.
  • What about crackers?  I mean, crackers are so innocent.  People recovering from vomit fits have crackers.  Plus, they are a part of communion at church.  How bad can they be?  Hmmmm.  Good point.  We'll allow them for communion.  (Yes, I actually had a conflict about taking the cracker at communion in that first year.  I was hardcore.)  And I guess they can be used once in a while.  
  • Breaded and fried veggies are okay.  What about fried and breaded chicken?  Awww, heck no.  That is a big no no in these parts.  But it is so freaking annoying to only eat grilled chicken.  And it is so hard to get that everywhere.  Plus, it costs more.  And it has smaller portion sizes.  It would make things so much easier to allow it.  Slowly, I allowed it.  But I tried to limit it to only when there was not a legitimate other option.  (Funny how loose that standard becomes.)
  • Keep in mind, that through all of this process, my weight has stayed around 260.  So, since the weight hasn't gone up, I felt that my choices may have been okay.  
  • Does that cracker clearance include Ritz Chips?  They are just like Ritz crackers, but crispier.  Plus they go great with that peanut butter yogurt dip.  The judge will allow it.  Now, go scarf a whole bag down on New Year's Eve.
  • How about tortillas?  Absolutely not.  Under no circumstance will tortillas be allowed.  Whole wheat?  Nope.  Spinach?  Nope.  Ezekiel 23 mulit-grain high protein?  Nope.  No tortillas.  Please? NO!  
  • Okay, let's say all of you are at a burger place and they have a very limited menu and one thing you can have is a grillen chicken wrap.  And they have loads of topping you can have (salsa, guac, roasted peppers), but they need to wrap it up.  And they have a whole wheat option?  How about then.  We'll allow it . . . once.  
  • Next day - What about burritos at Moe's?  You can have everything inside of it.  And they have whole wheat ones.
The car came to a major halt.  Here was a major problem and I knew it.  See where that process went?  See where it ended up?  I had allowed so much stuff that it was hard to keep any standards.  And if I couldn't keep up with my rules by myself, how could I expect anyone else to?  People already had a hard time following my logic from the outset.  ("Wait, hot dogs are okay but not burgers?  You can have BBQ but not whole wheat pasta?")  Now when I was scrambling my own standards, when I would ask someone else what they thought, they had no idea what to say.

I ended up allowing myself cheats here and there.  But no cheat ever stays a cheat.  I know this.  I can look at that list now and realize how insane the process was.  But I never really examined it like that before.  It was a gradual erosion.  It took two years.  But there I was, yesterday, trying to convince myself not to get a burrito - one of my clearly banned foods.  (I didn't get it, if you were worried.)  Once a cheat is allowed, my mind would revisit that to see if it really was a "one time deal" or if it could be incorporated again.  My largest determining factor was the scale.  As long as I kept things around 260, I was okay.  I would have stayed at a net loss of 95 pounds.  Who wouldn't be happy with that?

But then I started to question this logic.  Was this really just a five pound fluctuation?  Or was it the first year of a process of gaining five pounds every year?  Would I sit there at the end of year three at 265?  Then 270?  Was I going to gain five pounds each year until I was back where I was?  Isn't that how I got to 355 in the first place?  It's the same thing that happened with my credit cards in the past.  I had a student card I got my first week in college.  It was one of those $500 limit cards.  By the time I hit the wall with it years later - after virtually living off it for years - it was, let's say, NOT a $500 limit.  I paid it off at one point.  But a few years later, it was back up to the former limit again.  I started to worry that I all I had done was reboot my weight so I could go back up.  Of course, I punched myself in the brain and said shut up.  I didn't want to have to get really strict again with myself.  I had already done that.  And I could look at all the victories and still believe I was fine.

There are many victories.  I still have not had any pizza, pasta, lasagna, pie, subs, sandwiches, burgers.  I can mostly say I haven't had any soda, ice cream, or cheese - although cheese has snuck into a very small number of items, I had one small cup of sugar free ice cream in December, and I have had a total of five sips of soda.  I can honestly say I have held those two food at bay and kept them on the banned list.  But I had cookies this Christmas.  I had some cupcakes.  You have seen my bread experience.  I have chocolate and frozen yogurt all the time.  So, while I have kept the spirit of my restrictions list alive, I have definitely had a field day violating the spirit of it.  Honestly, if I evaluated myself today, I would have to say that my struggle is not a raging victory.  Instead, I kind of feel like I'm playing Risk.  And even though I still have small armies all over the place, I don't have strong reinforcements anywhere.  I don't really control any complete continents.  And a strong attack may just completely collapse my army.

Two major things brought me to that conclusion.  The first was the fact that I was back up to 270 and it wasn't just a blip after a trip.  It was there for a few days.  That showed me there was trouble.  The second thing was that I saw a good number of my friends doing something called a Daniel Fast on Facebook.  From what I can gather, it is a thirty day fast where people try to follow Daniel's example with food.  They aren't eating any processed food.  They pretty much are banishing meats and rich foods.  The goal is to teach self control and to focus on living a pure lifestyle.  It is a noble thing to do.  In the past two years, I have seen numerous friends go through efforts to lose weight and/or change their eating.  I always  have been very supportive, as the friend on the other side.  Lately, though, I have felt some jealousy for them.  I started to go with the whole "well they had more to lose" defense.  And when I saw all these people doing the Daniel Fast, I started to hear that same mocking voice that used to reside in my head.  I had largely banished that voice.  But there it was, ridiculing what they were doing - trying to make me feel better about where I was.  I found reasons to diminish their efforts.  A lot of these people are at a church in Arkansas where a friend of mine is the Pastor.  The church is going through this process as a whole.  The thing is, we are doing a conference at that church in February.  Instead of thinking of how to join with them in their work, I began to count on the calendar to make sure they were "over their stupid little food thing" by the time I got there.

What the heck is wrong with me?  It hit me this morning full blast that I am in trouble.  Sure, I can keep up the half-hearted efforts I am making.  I could go through a little intense phase of a week or two to get myself back down to 260.  Then I would feel better about myself and go back to what I was doing.  I could just be more careful with the allowances.  The thing I realized two years ago was that this wasn't about food.  It was about my heart and my mind.  I needed to change my life.  Honestly, I don't want to do this again.  I don't want to go back through this garbage.  It sucks.  It is a lousy situation.  It is restricting and painful and uncomfortable.  But, if I am really being honest, I am not happy where I am.  I posted last week about how I felt that God was telling me that this year was the year for me to wake up.  I think that applies to this effort.  I've been sleepwalking through this.  There is very little thought involved. When it comes to a questionable food choice, I used to err on the side of strictness.  Now I err on the side of ease.  How else can I explain eating a cupcake - let alone three cupcakes - at a Christmas party?  How can I explain even considering ordering a burrito?

So, I guess that means that I need to go to Publix and get the things necessary for me to actually accomplish this.  I need to fix the walls and pull the guides back in.  There needs to be a strictness applied again.  Some of those questionable food choices need to be revoked.  Maybe some of those foods that got allowed in because they weren't seen as problems actually are.  Maybe corn products are more of problem than I thought.  I also do still want to add in exercise this year.  I think it is time, as much as it terrifies me. In short, I need to realize that Darth Fatso is not dead.  Just like George Lucas is going to resurrect Darth Maul this Spring in The Clone Wars show, I need to realize Darth Fatso was merely biding his time.  And I must fight again.  I've seen enough movies.  I should have realized that villains never disappear after the first loss.  That why sequels exist.

Jan 9, 2012


When I was growing up, my mom told us that New Year's resolutions were largely pointless.  Her reasoning was pretty sounds.  For one, you probably aren't going to keep them.  That would just lead to being frustrated.  Second, if it was something that you really wanted to do, you shouldn't wait for an arbitrary "new year" to start doing it.  If it needs done, be like old school Nike and just do it.  So I have never been one to get too into resolutions.  My weight loss efforts two years ago started on Martin Luther King weekend - not New Year's Day.

What my mom DID do was sit us down and tell us what the year's theme would be.  "This year, our year is going to be The Year of Faith."  I never quite understood all of that as a kid.  How in the world do you know what the year is going to be before it starts?  I can understand looking back and saying, "Man that year was The Year of Change!"  But to say it in advance?  I could understand a business or church stating their goals for the year in a theme that customers, staff, and members can hold on to.  I've been a part of creating and implementing these things and they are very useful.  I just didn't get it for a family.  Well, until yesterday.

We were sitting in church in one of the most moving and powerful worship services I can remember.  I have always found it interesting which church services end up being like that.  Having served on church staff, I know the work and planning that goes into a service.  And I know that there are times where the ministers are striving to create a certain atmosphere or emotion.  They want to make it powerful and moving.  But when God moves, it doesn't always fit our plans.  I have been in youth camp services that by human logic should have been powerful and moving that just felt obviously orchestrated.  I also have been in just regular services that ended up being life changing.

My favorite example of this was from my time in Tampa.  The church was celebrating the senior pastor's fifth anniversary.  We had put a lot of work into the service, complete with video and special music.  It was all built up to the sermon, where the pastor would look back on the past five years and cast the vision for the next bold steps.  Sandwiched in between was a simple song by our incredible worship pastor, Todd Stearns.  I think it was during the offering time.  Todd just was sitting at the piano and he sang Keith Green's classic "Lord, You're Beautiful."  In the 8:00 service, everything went according to the order of worship that had been laid out.  But in the 9:30 service, something happened.  During Todd's song, the entire congregation felt it happen.  It was like the Holy Spirit just filled the sanctuary.  People started crying.  No one really understood what happened or why.  Todd's singing was passionate and beautiful as always - but, honestly, Todd walking through the halls and singing anything was beautiful.  The Pastor took a moment and walked up on stage.  He said, "Well, I guess we should just have the invitation."  So they did.  A dozen people got saved.  Service was over.  Strangest and most incredible thing I ever was a part of in my church life.  During the 10:45 service, I was up running Collegiate Sunday School.  We were talking about what had happened.  Before noon, someone came up from the service.  "It happened again."  We all looked at them puzzled.  "The same thing happened during Todd's song.  Pastor didn't preach again.  Ten people got saved."  You don't forget stuff like that.

Anyway, yesterday were there at church and singing.  Personally, I was especially moved by the music.  It was beautiful and moving as always.  But it just was ministering me more yesterday.  I looked around a little and saw that my wife seemed to be similarly moved.  So were our friends, the Gillises.  I peeked up to the front row and noticed that Pastor Isaac was also singing in a different way.  The music was more than just a bunch of people singing.  It was like they were just pouring out the hearts in the words.  The only way I can describe it is that it was like waves of passion crashing.  The only way to control it was to sing louder and more powerful.  (I guess it was a little glimpse of what Heaven will be like.)  I remember hoping that there would be three songs and not just two.  There were three.  (YAY!)  The third was "A Mighty Fortress is Our God."  Yeah, I know, very typical choice for a contemporary service.

Isaac came up to speak.  He was starting a new series on how God moves through bad circumstances - and how He moves even when His people aren't obeying and responding right.  It is largely from the Old Testament.  (I love O.T. sermons.)  It was good stuff.  But partway through the service, I had one of those moments where I felt like God was really speaking to me.  "The theme for this year is AWAKE."  Huh?  "It's time to wake up.  You're going to wake up.  Your kids are going to wake up.  Heather will wake up. Defender Ministries will wake up.  Your mom will wake up.  You've all be sleeping.  It is time to wake up.  This year it all wakes up."  Ok.  I spent most of the rest of the sermon mulling over that and wrapping my mind around it.  The rest of the service was similarly wonderful and powerful and moving.  The worship time at the end was another experience of pouring out my heart.  It was just great.  Heather wondered if we could sneak back in to the next service.  That's always a good thing to think.

On our way to lunch, I talked to Heather about what I felt from the service.  And then I explained it to the kids.  Here I was, the parent, trying to get my kids to think about a theme for the year.  It was strange to see life's roles changing.  Here is how I explained it to them.

In the winter up north (not down here, obviously), as the weather gets colder, the plants start to wither up. The trees drop their leaves.  The grass and plants disappear.  Animals recede into caves for the winter.  It is a time for sleep.  It isn't that nothing happens, it just happens slower and more internally.  We don't see the trees doing anything.  We don't see the bears scampering around and roaring.  Things are happening, it is jut in a quieter private way.  It isn't necessarily bad.  It is a part of life.  It is a season.  Personally, I have felt that way for a couple years.  Part of it was due to my status in life.  I needed to be home and with the kids.  I didn't teach very often.  I haven't regularly taught a Bible Study or Sunday School class for almost three years now.  That is the longest stretch for me since I was in high school.  But that was what was needed.  It isn't to say nothing happened.  I would argue that that stretch saw some of the biggest growth and change in my entire life.  I just wasn't out there.

The same thing kind of happened with Defender Ministries.  It has been in a forced stasis for years.  I couldn't travel as much.  I was hours away from the other people who supported it.  It wasn't something that could really thrive.  The economy severely hampered our ability to promote and develop ideas.  Even when support did come in, it didn't always get directed the way we thought.  And it wasn't something we could really rely on - as we painfully found out at times.  But I couldn't really follow through on much anyway, since I was in Tallahassee and extremely limited on time.  So the ministry had to go into a kind of sleep.

I can see signs of life all around.  Personally, I can feel things stirring again.  I am facilitating a Bible study group at our church.  I am in the process of setting up my volunteer status with our the new jail ministry of the church.  There is a desire to study and read again.  With Defender, we have several events set up this year already - more than at any time in the past few years.  I can even see a newfound desire with my kids to learn the Bible.  Josiah is memorizing verses.  Both he and Natalie are excited to go to church and learn.  It is a pretty fun time.

I have no idea what this next year will bring.  There is no way for any of us to know that.  But I feel that it is time for me to become more active, to start to reach out and serve again.  And it is in completely different ways.  I have never been a part of a jail ministry; that never even has been something I was drawn to.  But this time, I just knew I was supposed to get involved.  Most of my ministry experience has been with college students and teens.  Now it seems like I am being drawn more towards adults, and men in particular.  I also find myself trying to encourage ministers and other people in similar situations as mine - going through life changes, role changes, struggling with addictions, losing weight.  For a while, the biggest ministry I could have was writing to people.  And that is still something I find myself doing.  It is amazing how rarely people tell each other what they are really feeling.  We are so guarded, we don't usually say the important stuff to each other.  It is like people are so used to being unappreciated and only criticized they just light up when someone takes the time just to say thanks or to express how much they mean.  So there are changes going on.  And it is time for me to wake up and get busy.  I often joke about how much I look like a bear.  Now I get to act like one.  The hibernation is over.  I'm awake.