Welcome to Mondo Samu - Questions and Answers about my self-work.

Mondō: "questions and answers"; a recorded collection of dialogues between a pupil and teacher.
Samu: Work service; meditation in work.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Five Spare Tires

(I apologize in advance for the crazy length of this post.  I've written and re-written it many times.  I've been struggling to write it and to express what I have to say.  Ultimately, I made the decision tonight to just put it up and be done with it.  I'm sorry it's so much, but it's my great hope that someone out there will find it motivational and that it will encourage them to find their way.  If you're that person, looking for a way, then read on!)

You ever try to visualize what weighs the amount of weight you have lost, or want to lose?  For most folks it would be a small hand weight.  Maybe a good sized bag of dog food.  Here's a short list of items that weigh the same as how much I have lost.  Try to visualize these things, and carrying them around with you, in your head.

~ THREE of my four year old daughter.
~ FIVE 20 pound bags of Dog Food.
~ TWENTY average bags of potatoes!

 You get the idea.  It's a LOT!  I don't point this out to pat myself on the back, but to illustrate how CRAZY it is that I was walking around with all that extra weight!  It's easy to look in the mirror and just see your "self".  But I promise you that if you look in the mirror while standing next to a stack of five car tires, it really drives it home what you are doing to your body!!!

On July 3rd, 2010, I stepped on the scale as I left the house for a vacation.  I was dismayed by the digits it reported.  THREE HUNDRED FORTY NINE POUNDS!  You can read all about that day by clicking here.  I'm not sure exactly when during this day I vowed to do something about my weight, but I did.  I swore I would never hit 350 pounds.  That's when I discovered "Savor" by Dr. Lilian Cheung and Thich Nhat Hanh.

By the time I finished reading "Savor" I had stopped the train, and thrown it in to reverse.  That train had been gathering momentum for over four decades, so it didn't happen instantly.  It slowed.  It stopped.  It switched gears.  And then, with a shudder, it lurched ahead, back the way it came.  The weight started coming off that first day.
My initial goal, to lose 100 pounds, was randomly chosen just based on one simple thing.  I asked myself what it would take to make me feel like I had a fighting chance of living a healthy life.  At 349 pounds, 249 sounded like a dream, but it also sounded like the most I could weigh if I wanted to live long enough to enjoy my family, watch my daughter grow up, and all the other things I would like to do.  Anything more felt like failure to me, and felt like not being serious about it.  ALL I was really after was survival, which at the time I was seriously starting to question my chances of.

I've blogged before, often, about the various tools I have used to lose weight and assist me on this journey.  The primary app I have used is LoseIt!  When I started using it, it asks if you want to lose 1 pound a week, or 2.  I chose 2 and it calculated that I would hit my goal in one year. Unfortunately, I didn't make a note of what day that would be.  I've always assumed my "start" date as July 3rd, when I saw my 349 pound weight.  In reality it was around July 23 from what I can tell in LoseIt!'s web site.

At first, the weight was coming off incredibly fast at several pounds per week.  Then, once I lost about 60 pounds or so, it slowed to a few pounds, and then a couple of pounds per week.  Ultimately, toward the end, there were some weeks where I didn't lose any at all, and I started wondering if I would hit the goal on time.  What was happening is that my goal was nearing the end, so the calories were pretty
well balanced out with what I was burning.  Ultimately, it took me about 11 months - almost precisely - to lose 100 pounds!  I can't even pretend not to be pleased with myself here, so forgive me that little self indulgent pat on the back now.

So here I am, at about 248 as I write this, and I am definitely still very much over weight for my size.  Don't get me wrong, I look and feel GREAT compared to where I started but I still need to shed a little more.  When considering future goals, I decided not to have any.  What I have found is that throughout this process, I have lost weight without much effort (more on that later).  Since I'm not on a diet, and I'm not doing anything specifically special to lose weight, I decided that I might as well just keep going with what I am doing.  The weight has already leveled off considerably, and I figure if I just keep up the efforts I am making, the weight will come off - or it won't.  Either way, I win.  At some point my body will be at a naturally comfortable weight, and meanwhile I can focus on starting to exercise a little more than my current walking and Tai Chi Routine.

People seem divided in to two camps immediately upon hearing that I have lost so much weight. One faction immediately assumes I'm on some crazy diet.  They can't believe when I tell them I eat whatever I feel like eating, that I finish every night off with a big bowl of frozen yogurt and that I'm NOT on any sort of diet, per se.  The other faction is of the mind that I have super-human strength and will-power, neither of which could be further from the truth.  When they say "yeah, but you're the most strong-willed person I know" or "you have such tremendous dedication" I always have weird reactions emotionally.  I get simultaneously insulted and proud.  Proud, because it feels good to hear this and I like to think it's a little true, although it's really not very true.  Insulted because it's so NOT true that I get a little offended I guess because I'm not getting credit for the proper thing.  They are crediting me with having the will-power to resist eating poorly, but they should be giving the credit to Mindfulness.

When I tell them "Mindfulness", in answer to their inevitable "How are you doing it?" question, they always look at me a little funny and immediately dismiss me as a crackpot, or so it seems to me.  They almost look like they think I'm about to sell them something.  In fact, that's EXACTLY what they think.  Bottom line though, I lost this weight by doing many things, but especially by being mindful as taught to me by Dr. Lilian Cheung and Thich Nhat Hanh in "Savor".

The secondary thing I credit my success to is watching my calories closely which can be done in any number of ways.  The way that worked best for me (and I tried MANY) was the LoseIt! app.  It's worth noting that the app improved massively over time, and especially improved it's web site over time.  The web site can be used FULLY without a phone, so it's really great now for anyone (not just us iOS users). I fully believe that if you use mindfulness, the rest will fall in to place naturally and organically with little to no effort.  The effort will come from trying to implement mindfulness which, to the degree that I have so far been mindful, was fairly easy for me.  When asked, I tell people (to their absolute and utter disbelief) that it was no effort at all.  My standard answer to "How did you do it?" is always the same - "Mindfulness".

While I am not a doctor, and have no authority with which to offer anyone advice on weight loss, I CAN speak to how it worked for me, and that is it.  One of the things I love about Buddhism is that it discourages you from believing what someone else tells you is true, and encourages you to experience it for yourself and then decide if it is true.  "Be a lamp unto yourselves", the Buddha allegedly said in his final moments, directing us to seek the knowledge from within, rather than from external sources.  Or, for you Christian readers, perhaps another way to say it is "The Kingdom of God is within".  Either way...try mindfulness out, and see if it works for you.

It's obvious (and if not I've written numerous blog posts about it that will explain) why I decided to lose this weight.  But what I would rather talk about is the not so obvious reasons why.  I'm grateful that I have lost this weight because:

~ I might live longer
~ I have already become a significantly better father.
~ I like to think I am a better husband.
~ I have confronted the one thing in life I've always felt powerless to defeat.
~ I have gained control over my eating habits.
~ Countless other reasons I can't begin to list.
~ I am more aware of life, and each moment it offers.
~ Perhaps most of all, I'm extremely grateful to have discovered Buddhism through this most unexpected of paths.

So, in summary, Please - If you want or need to lose weight, but think you can't do it - go get a copy of "Savor" and, well, SAVOR IT!  Read it, absorb the information, read it again.  Then just DO IT!  Start with the Apple Meditation and then repeat that type of mindful eating each time you sit down to eat.  You will not succeed every single time at being completely in the moment, but when you are not, just re-focus the next time.  And repeat.  And repeat.  And repeat!  Before you know it, you will be well on your way.

Savor every moment of life that you are fortunate enough to have.  If you do this, I am walking evidence that you WILL lose the weight, and it's NOT some impossible goal that only that other guy over there has figured out how to do because he's some super strong willed guy.  And it's not something that only that other girl over there can do because she's on some crazy fad diet.

But don't take my word for it.  YOU already know exactly what to do, you just have to be mindful so that you know when to get out of your own way, and let your brain and body take care of themselves properly!  You'll likely find that they will.

Best wishes and warm regards to you in your efforts!  And special thanks to all the folks who rooted for me!  It was a big help, and you know who you are!