February 27, 2013

Perspective

Category: Life — Cranky @

This entry will be somewhat more personal than any I’ve made in the past. Indeed, although I’ve written extensively and diversely, one might go back and find that while I’ve repeatedly exposed myself intellectually, I haven’t dropped my private pants very often.

Those who know me personally and long-term know that I’ve been all over the map with my weight. I went from 305 pounds at the age of 20, to a muscular 185 at 29. I did it through brute force, working out nearly every day for 18 months, and not eating enough food. It wasn’t the healthiest route, but it worked.

Then I grew new social networks, and spent a few years partying and misbehaving, and I lost the discipline of working out. When the fun stopped, I reverted to the habits that made me large in the first place, and a decade later I was nearly back to my former weight. Thankfully, I put the brakes on then, and I’m fully 50 pounds less than my maximum.

What’s interesting, though, is how different the weight loss is for me this time around. The first time through, I never saw myself clearly when I looked in the mirror. I never experienced a moment when I saw a difference day to day, and I certainly never saw the “finished product”. The person looking back was always this strange amalgam of the huge guy so prevalent in my youth and a small amount of whatever was actually true in the present. When I began to regain the weight, I couldn’t tell day to day. In fact, it would be accurate to say that I was growing back into my own expectations, and so it was easy to allow it to happen. I was realigning externally with my internal self.

The last two years have been transformative, both personally and intellectually. I’ve spent a great deal of time in sober reflection on myself and my life, taking stock of my personal situation, and during the last six months the clouds that obscured my self-assessment suddenly faded away. That’s not to say I don’t have a filter that colours my self-image… but it’s more sepia, and less obstructionist.

Now as the weight drops, I’m noticing it specifically, and somewhat objectively. When I look in the mirror I see the changes every day. I feel the difference simply sitting in a chair, which is something fit people might never understand.

I’ve begun muscle training this week. If I continue noticing each little gain, I’m going to be in a constant state of euphoria. I’ve already worked through a small plateau, which might have derailed me in the past, but that simple change of routinely noticing the small gains made powering through the week trivial. It would be easy to say that I simply aged into my new perspective, but I don’t think that’s true. I did the legwork to get here.

I highly recommend this vantage point. It’s a good place to be.

Cranky

February 22, 2013

2013 – It's All Coming Together

Category: Life — Cranky @

This year I’m firing on all cylinders. It feels good. For whatever reason, everything is coming together. I’m eating spectacularly well, I’m hitting the gym at least 5 times a week, and I’m reaping the rewards one might expect. The fact that I spent so much time on cooking courses means I can take whole foods and make terrific, healthy meals. I am the fish MASTER – there is no fillet I cannot deal with. I can make the lowly tilapia sing, and I can bring a grown man to tears with my seared salmon.

I’m paying attention to the brain, too. I finished my certificate program the the faculty of extension at the local University after 3 years of night courses, and received approval to start my next one. That will help bridge some of the accounting and macroeconomical gaps in my knowledge. That’s good because I’ve joined the ranks of management at work,which is new for me after 14 years of being a technical guru. It’s a whole different set of skills.

I’m fiscally competent for the first time in my life. I’m carefully managing my investments and really tracking my money. After decades of chaos, I know exactly what goes where, and my balances show it. I’m making careful choices, and foregoing expensive impulse buys. Shortly I will not have a car payment. That might not sound significant to some, but I’ve had a car payment continuously since 1995.

I’m also on track for my 2013 resolution to read one book per week. I bought a new bookshelf to hold the 52 books that await me this year. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize that “garbage in, garbage out” isn’t just a techie motto – it’s true across the board. Throwaway fiction is like junk food. It’s fine once in a while, but it shouldn’t be a dietary staple. On deck is “Mortality”, by Christopher Hitchens. It consists of 7 essays written by one the most brilliant, eloquent jackasses ever to walk the planet, written as esophageal cancer slowly took his life.

The thing that’s interesting to me is that all of this behavioral organization and alignment feels effortless. Perhaps I’m living in the initial glow, and I’ll slowly revert… but at the moment there are no cracks in the cement. Everything’s holding steady.

Man… 2014 could seriously rock too.

Cranky

June 26, 2011

Transformation (Or, André Gets the Last Laugh)

Category: Life — Cranky @

Recently I gave up aspartame. It’s not because I think it causes cancer. It’s one of the most thoroughly tested products in history, and there’s no evidence that it’s harmful in any way. I’ve just really started to think about what I put into my body. Now instead of Diet Coke I keep a pitcher of water lightly flavored with the fresh juice of one lemon handy.

This outlook is new. My whole life has been stuffed with terrible eating habits. Whether it was pure junk food or junk food masquerading as real food (I’m looking at you, KFC), I ate bad food. There were months where my fridge was empty because I was eating out or bringing home fast food. If there was food in my fridge it was a small selection that was quick to prepare and not particularly great for me.

Even when I was in the best shape of my life, I got there eating poorly. To achieve my best weight I basically spend an entire year hungry. A nutritionist would have fainted at seeing how little I was eating. It worked, but it wasn’t healthy, physically or mentally.

Early this year I realized I was growing weary of this cycle of destructive eating, and I resolved to find a way to step out of this pattern. It couldn’t be a diet – a diet is a temporary patch. It had to be a fundamental change in how I approach food.

So I decided to learn how to cook.

In the city of Edmonton we’re lucky to have one of the great culinary schools in North America, the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. Last month a team of six students won 10 medals at the Hong Kong International Culinary Classic. Even better, they offer a set of continuing education courses, the “Kitchen Skills” program. It was 60 hours of instruction across 15 evenings, covering basic knife skills, soups, stocks, sauces, as well as meat, vegetable, and seafood preparation. They’re primer courses, and while these courses are not very deep, they opened my eyes to what cooking is all about.

Over the past five months my meals have transformed. I haven’t brought fast food home in quite a while, and each night I look forward to making dinner. Tonight it was baked salmon in sesame oil, and steamed broccoli and asparagus with a honey mustard vinaigrette. I packed my lunch for tomorrow, too. I’m having spinach leaves chiffonade with shredded carrot, Swiss cheese cubes, radishes, cucumber, sweet bell pepper chunks, and shredded chicken breast with a classic vinaigrette.

Slowly I’ve gravitated towards what is often called the “Mediterranian diet”. Red meat once a week, poultry once or twice, fish often, plenty of fruits and vegetables, some eggs, cheese and yogurt on occasion, and unrefined grains. The principle fat used in cooking is olive oil. I’ve also dusted off my elliptical trainer.

This change in food is only part of a larger change in my world view. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what I buy. On June 20 a report was released by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean, and it confirmed what I’ve been realizing for a long time – the oceans are in terrible shape. When it comes to commercial fishing, shrimp trawlers are an absolute nightmare. They destroy vast ecosystems, leaving behind a devastated sea floor, not to mention the fact that each pound of shrimp also kills between 4 and 10 pounds of “by-catch” – other marine life that is simply dumped back into the sea, dead or dying.

My conscience finally got the better of me, so I found a local seafood distributor that specializes in “sustainable seafood”. If I want shrimp, it’s going to have to be B.C. spot prawns, which are sustainably caught in traps with little or no by-catch, and no trawling. They’re also three times the price of other brands. All the seafood I buy is checked against the SeaChoice sustainability list.

Closer to home, the local farmer’s market is my grocery store of choice. This Saturday I bought asparagus, carrots, strawberries, baby potatoes, and onions. In another month the selection will improve as other vegetables come into season. I’m pleased to buy local produce. The idea of buying a tomato from South America is sitting less well with me these days.

The other good thing about the farmer’s market is that lots of pretty girls go there – the “granola chicks”, as a poker buddy called them.

All of these things, from my changing diet to my attempts to reduce the cost of my life on the planet, come from a desire for balance. I’m a happy guy, enjoying his life, but parts of that life have been chaotic forever, and smoothing out those perturbations feels good. I sleep a little easier, I have less regret, and I’m starting to lose weight again.

In a heated debate on Christmas Eve back in 2005 I once goaded André, a steadfast environmentalist and my cousin’s husband, into being so worked up that he called everyone at the table – and me specifically – ignorant.

It took me 7 years, but I’m man enough to say, “André, I agree with you. I’ve come around.”

Cranky V2.0