Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Way Off Tracking

One of the techniques contributing to the success of my new wellness journey has been my ability to track my progress. I'd like to talk about the ways I do this, but I want to get a few things out of the way first.

The Disclaimer


I want to be clear about this: I am not a doctor, nutritionist, fitness expert, or in any way a subject-matter expert in wellness. What I present in this blog is nothing more than a chronicle of experience mixed with my personal opinions. I will be honest, but I'm only going to present what worked for me. What worked for me may or may not work for you. Thusly armed, I present...

The Reality Check


One fact has become painfully obvious about my wellness journey: weight loss, exercise, and diet change are about the long haul. By that I mean: the results did come, without a doubt, following an achingly slow and committed expenditure of effort. That is to say: it's not about a limited handful of intense strength training workouts...it's about the days - and weeks - and months - and years of dedication given to the endless workouts...not stopping, pushing harder and harder when I felt things were getting too easy...that was the key to succeeding.

That's my one piece of advice: keep going. Push harder. Fight for the results you want. It's going to be difficult. You're going to feel like giving up. You're going to fail. It's going to suck.

Give yourself that minute. Accept the lesson, and then move forward.

I failed the first time not because I lost 120 pounds too quickly. I failed because I let life get to me. I was in the middle of a divorce. Two of my work colleagues died. Finally, they discovered my only brother had colon cancer, and he died. I made a decision that something had to give, and it was my diet and exercise. Was it the right decision for my mental well-being? I don't know. It doesn't matter. I chose to stop exercising and didn't care what I ate. I started gaining weight back, and then had my heart attack. That prompted me to "rest" even longer, and I kept gaining weight, back up to 390 pounds. I felt guilty. I felt ashamed. I felt discouraged. I kept making excuses: "...but I can't...the doctors won't let me...what if I hurt myself again?"

One day, I stopped justifying all the reasons for not doing anything, took ownership of the problem, and then I put on headphones and went for a good walk. That wasn't bad. I went again. I took the dogs. I started moving forward. I pulled out my Paleo cookbooks and made a meal plan. I started eating healthy. I got on the scale again, and realized I lost a few pounds. That was nice.

I summoned up the courage to return to the gym. I did my core routine with light weights. That was hard, and it sucked. I went back the next day, and did it again. It sucked, but just a little less. More watching my food, more walking, more gym. Pain, exhilaration, aching, self-satisfaction. Moving forward.

130 days later, today, I'm 60 pounds lighter. I've reached my first goal at 330 pounds. Next stop: breaking 300, and then ten more pounds to my last "low point" of 290 pounds. After that?

Push harder. Get better. Move forward. I have my eye set on 210 pounds as a final destination, the "Grecian Ideal" for my height. I have no doubt I can do it.

Well, that went a little further than I intended. I mentioned talking about how I track my progress. Rather than have this post go on too long, I'll start with one technique, and write another post on the others.

MyFitnessPal


I've already mentioned my Paleo diet, and I'm going to continue to talk about it as we go on. The simple idea behind it (lean meats, fruits and vegetables, herbs and select healthy fats) works for me quite well. It's simple to employ at home and when I'm eating out ("Does this contain something that isn't in my diet? Yes? Okay, I'll choose something else that does, then...").

The issue, for me, was that while I could define the foods I could and couldn't eat, I was still eating way too much...bacon became a food group...lots of meats, and it is possible to overeat fruits and vegetables.

What I needed was an easy way to track my caloric intake, while adhering to my diet.

Enter MyFitnessPal.



I have the app (available for iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone devices), and that is key to my success with the app. It allows me to track what I ate that day, as the day unfolds. Two eggs for breakfast? Enter them. Chicken caesar salad for supper? Log it. I can put in a meal and save it if I eat it frequently. I can scan items that have a bar code with the camera in my phone. They have a massive database of foods...I have never been at a loss to find something at least similar to what I've eaten. I enter my age, height, and weight, and set a goal for weight loss. Currently, my daily caloric intake is set for 2,800 calories, but I often come in well under that.

The crux of how this helps is definitely in the tracking of the individual foods and daily limits, but there are two driving factors that work even better for me:
  1. I have to think about what I'm putting in my mouth. I see what that next thing will be, and I can make a choice. It eliminates habit eating for me...I'll have another helping of chili...it was really good...but wait...do I need it? How many more calories will that add? Am I really hungry? Just asking the questions makes me mindful of the process of eating.
  2. I'm connected to a community of others, and they can see what I have eaten if they choose to look. Ah, crowd-sourcing guilt. Just the thought that eating that (non-Paleo) donut will show up in my food log and be seen by others connected to me is sometimes enough to discourage the less-than healthy choice.
This is far from the only food tracker out there, of course, but it works for me. I'd encourage for you to have a look if you think it would help you the same way it does me.

If you do, look me up: chris_mogensen, the Paleo Professor.

Talk soon!

Monday, May 25, 2015

We Fit, You?

"Knowledge is a process of piling up facts; wisdom lies in their simplification." - Martin H. Fischer

The eminent doctor knew what he was talking about. As it is with my life, so shall it be with my online persona. You will have noticed this blog is not "Chris Mogensen's Wellness Journal". I have decided to eliminate all but this one of my weblogs. If you are interested in where this all started, please head back to the 18th of October, 2007, and read The Path is Too Deep.

If you have been following Chris Mogensen's Wellness Journal with unalloyed pleasure, please don't despair: I've merged all of those posts into this blog. The transition has not been without...complexities, and some of the images I posted did not carry over. I'll fix them as I go along. Please take this opportunity to picture me unpacking my digital moving boxes, sweeping up, and straightening the frames on the walls. All of the content is there, and labelled with the correct dates. 

If you care to take a journey through these pages, you will witness the amalgam of two (formerly) disparate parts of my life: The Path is Too Deep, my academic and intellectual musings on whatever random bits of detritus my mind summons up, and the aforementioned Chris Mogensen's Wellness Journal, my attempt to plot my journey through fitness, dieting, and overall...wellness. I've brought them together because not having two (or more) places to blog with encourage me to blog more, and that is, after all, the point.

So, here at the Path is Too Deep, I've moved back into my comfortable old digs. The squeaky floorboard is still there, the pipes bang and rattle when I flush the toilet, and the wallpaper is faded, but it's home, and it's cozy.

Of course, I need to do some renovations. I will be writing about both my inner, unending, and incessant mental monologue. I will be writing about my ongoing wellness journey. I will expatiate about food, family, and fun. In short, dear reader, I will be myself, and it will all be in one place for your convenience.

I'll begin my return with some very good news. Anyone reading my blog for a while knows that I originally hit 410 pounds, shocked myself into action, lost 120 pounds in about ten months, had a bunch of really difficult stuff happen in my life, and had a heart attack. I gained back most of the weight, and found myself at 390 pounds as of January 18th of 2015.

Well, I've gotten myself back on my Paleo diet, gotten back to the gym, walked over 900,000 steps since then, and I'm proud to say: I achieved my first goal: I'm back down to 330 pounds as of this week! That goal allows me to use the Balance Board on my Wii U with the Wii U Fit program, and add yet another fitness solution to my repertoire!



That's all for now...I'll be back very soon!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Charting the Coarse

Well, it's been a couple of banner years.

In the category of mental (and physical) health, I've faced some harsh truths about my marriage, gotten separated, gained a wonderful new relationship and a whole new family, had a couple of close friends pass away, navigated divorce proceedings, had my teenage girls spent many months working through a diagnosis of clinical depression and attempted to rediscover my true self, lost my only brother to cancer, repaired some strained family relationships (and lost a few more), had a heart attack, spent three months off work, gained some weight back, and now I've returned to work...three weeks in.

I'm going to fling open the drawer marked "L" for Life, and file all of that accordingly. On to the future, and to changes.

I'm happy to say that I've been going to the gym daily...each morning since April 28, 2014 (with the exception of this past Sunday), I have gotten myself to the Wellness Centre here at the Campus, and resumed my exercise routine. It has not been easy, psychologically, but I have pushed myself, and I am seeing results. I am dedicating myself to two principles:

  1. I am going to lose all my excess weight, and become "fit"
  2. I will not have another heart attack
To that end, I have loaded up my iPod Nano with inspirational music and audiobooks, plotted out and followed an exercise plan, and I've gotten back to my (slightly modified) diet. All of these will be subjects for future blog posts, as are some of the bits of wisdom I have learned over the past couple of years.

There are a few changes I have decided to make in my life I'd like to mention now (not excluding them from a blog post, but here they are for posterity...):
  • I won't keep trying to be a "24-hour" educator. I'm going to work from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM, and then I'm done. No taking work home in the evenings or on weekends or holidays. If an email lands in my inbox at 4:31 PM, it will be there when I get there in the morning. So will the marking.
  • I will take the stance that "poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine". I'm dedicating myself to not be stressed out by other people's issues.
  • On a similar note to these first two: I will say no when I need to, firmly, respectfully, and guilt-free. I have the right to do so, and I will exercise it to avoid taking on too much work, or too many problems.
  •  I will take time out to enjoy the things that are important to ME. Whether it's my family and friends, writing (blogging, for instance), playing games, watching or listening to programs I enjoy, reading...whatever.
In short, I'm taking a stand and striving for a better work-home-me balance, in the name of serenity and a stress-free life.

I plan to post more regularly, and also get back to posting on my other blog (more for technology and education there), and hopefully my journey will benefit (or at least entertain) those who read it.

See you soon.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Driving Myself Crazy

I've just passed the four-week mark since being discharged from the hospital for a heart attack. Since, I've seen the cardiologist, my family doctor (twice), my psychotherapist (twice), and been to Cardiac Rehab, where I was in consultation with a nurse, a physiotherapist, and a dietitian. I think they were honestly surprised at the steps I had taken on my own before the heart attack. I was on the road to better health...it was simply a case of "too little, too late".

One thing that is clear to the health professionals, and was pointed out by my friend Mike right here on my blog, is that the Paleo Diet, regardless of the positive results I had witnessed, is not specifically heart-healthy. There is a lot of meat, including much red meat, and fat was not avoided. The over-arching principles of the diet are sensible: natural, whole foods...lots of fruits and veggies, seeds and nuts, and healthy fats. I don't think anyone needs a "diet" to eat healthy, but a strategy can help with overall guidelines for the types of foods to consume and avoid.

What I need to avoid:

  • Excess salt, sugar, and fat. Essentially, if it's not in the food already, don't put it in. Furthermore, avoid sweets and junk food.
  • Avoid processed food altogether. This is challenging only in the sense that it is very easy to fall into the trap of using convenience foods. The chemicals used as preservatives and in the processing itself are simply not safe for consumption. This comes down to using natural food, and taking the time to prepare food.
  • Putting these two together means not replacing salt, sugar and fat with chemicals, so no "diet", "fat-free", or "light" products that replace these elements with chemicals (which happens more than you might think).
  • "Eating Out". One of biggest hurdles in any diet is to find ways of maintaining it when you are eating at restaurants. I am convinced that maintaining any healthy diet is nearly impossible at fast food restaurants. When it comes to other places, I simply ask myself: do I know for certain how this food is prepared, what is in it, and if what I'm consuming is healthy for me? My list of acceptable places becomes narrow, with a suspicious eye cast towards the "natural" or "organic" or "vegan" places I do frequent.
  • Huge portion sizes. The human body needs fuel in the form of food. What it doesn't need is to be stuffed with huge portion sizes. I'm shrinking the size of my plates, and "grazing" throughout the day to avoid having a ravenous hunger by the time the "normal" meals roll around. In essence, eat when I'm hungry, and only eat enough to satisfy.

When it comes to protein, I will be getting it from vegetable sources (the legume family), and very lean meats in the poultry and seafood categories.

The rest of my wellness plan focuses on exercise. Right now, I will be walking (as I have been doing over the past couple of weeks). I will be using a portable heart monitor, as the folks at Cardiac Rehab want me to keep my heart rate at "resting plus 20". That restriction limits me greatly, but is a preventative measure at this point. In the first week of February, I will be treated to a stress test (an echocardiogram on a treadmill), after which I will be given some target goals for my heart rate "under strain". I will also be undertaking a fitness program for the twelve weeks I am in the Rehab program.

My biggest challenge thus far has not been in diet or exercise. It has not been keeping the medication straight. It has not been dealing with the emotional roller-coaster that follows a heart attack ("is this going to happen again?", "what was that twinge?", "look at the burden I've put on my family and friends!"). The biggest challenge has been in dealing with the "boredom" of my restricted activity.

I subscribe to the Louis C. K. philosophy about boredom (and have his quote on my office wall, in fact):  “I’m bored’ is a useless thing to say. I mean, you live in a great, big, vast world that you’ve seen none percent of. Even the inside of your own mind is endless; it goes on forever, inwardly, do you understand? The fact that you’re alive is amazing, so you don’t get to say ‘I’m bored.”

Having said that, I am "in my head" a great deal. I explore and think and read and write and draw and create endlessly on a normal day. I play games, watch videos, read articles, listen to audiobooks, talk and debate, and think, think, think (with apologies to Winnie the Pooh).

It's amazing how writing can be therapy. I sit writing this, and reading over my short lament about being bored, and I realize that it's not really boredom at all: I just have an insatiable drive to do more...all the time. I'm going to breath deeply and move forward with that positive thought!

Until next time, be well and be kind to your inner child.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Case of the Obese Caveman

So the recovery has begun. I'm writing this two weeks after being released from the hospital due to a Christmas Eve heart attack...see Wiping the Slate Clean for details. I've seen the cardiologists, family doctor, and psychotherapist, and made appointments for many more visits. I'm enrolled in the well-known Cardiac Rehab program offered in Halifax, and begin that in a little less than two weeks...during it, I will see a nurse, a fitness specialist, and a nutritionist.


One huge consideration I am giving is to my diet, and I suspect the nutritionist may be able to help me refine my methods. I attribute my Paleo lifestyle to about 80% of my 120 pound weight loss over the past year. However, it has become apparent that the Paleo diet does not shy away from fat and cholesterol. So my first step is to revisit what worked and what didn't, but look at a heart-healthy way of approaching it:

  • Reduce or eliminate salt, fat, sugar, and processing. These are staples that need to be upheld, if not intensified. I also need to look for ways these are "sneaking in" to the food I am eating. Lots of processing and salt added to a great many foods.
  • Fruits and vegetables. Also cornerstones of the diet: other than being mindful of ingesting too much fruit sugar (use these like a "dessert", and keeping the fibre intact...not using juice - even pure fruit juice - as a substitute for the real thing).
  • Nuts and seeds. Another good category: avoiding salt and [cooking] oils altogether, and being aware that nuts do have a lot of fat, and even good fat in large proportions is not good for you. Many nuts, particularly walnuts, almonds, macadamia and hazelnuts, are being studied for their heart-healthy benefits. These can act as a substitute for unhealthy fats (eggs, dairy, and meats).
  • Protein. Here we are at the crux of the contention: the Paleo diet espouses that you eat meat, and much of it. I was having bacon and eggs for breakfast as a regular staple. Steak was normal fare. So my initial approach (pre-nutritionist) will be to reduce the overall meat intake, and focus the meat I do consume around chicken, turkey and seafood. And odd foray into pork and [very] lean red meat (I hear bison is excellent) will be a treat. Portion size also factors in: the serving size for a meat portion is the size of a deck of cards...not, apparently, the size of a dinner plate.
  • Legumes and Grains. The category I avoided will prove to be the challenge. Legumes and grains provide much-needed fibre to my diet...something a heart-healthy focus will capitalize on. The avoidance in the Paleo diet was to eliminate lectins (supposedly causing autoimmune issues) and phytates (supposedly causing absorption issues for calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc). More study is needed on this one, but overall, whole grains and legumes will help both increase fibre and provide another source of protein, both of which are beneficial. The one constant appears to be avoiding soy, for many reasons. More study.
Other than watching out for oils in food preparation and the salt, fat, sugar and processing in sauces or seasonings, I think this may be a new benchmark for my diet. I will return with my findings after I do some research and consult with professionals in the field.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Wiping the Slate Clean

My adoption of the Paleo diet...indeed the Paleo lifestyle had been working well for me. As of December, I had lost about 120 pounds. There was little to complain about, as my health seemed to be taking a turn for the better, and then I had a heart attack.
In the two days leading up to Christmas Eve 2013, I had been experiencing a discomfort in my chest. I dismissed it, as it wasn't the classic "heart attack" pain we all hear about...a crushing pain on the left side, and numbness in the right arm. Instead, I had a pain in the dead centre of my chest, radiating out in both directions around to my ribs. I also had an inexpiable pain in both "inner elbows"...my antecubital spaces, so I was told later.


Here's what years of minimizing will do to you: I brushed it off as being a pulled muscle or some gastrointestinal discomfort. Christmas was coming, and I was simply stressed...out of sorts. So I continued with the pain for another day. On the night of the 23rd, I had a really hard time sleeping, as the pain got worse when I laid down. I took some antacids and acetaminophen, and tried to sleep.

I woke up on Christmas Eve, and the pain had gotten worse...it had increased from an annoyance to something more troubling. So, I immediately got Jen to drive me to Emergency. Or rather, I would have, if I hadn't continued thinking I would be laughed at and sent home for having something minor. I imagined them mocking me, calling after me as I shamefully left the building, "How dare you come in here with something so minor! Do you think we have nothing better to do? Look at all of these really sick people...you are wasting their time and ours!"

Those thoughts floating through my head, what I really did was call 811, our Nova Scotia Telecare Service. The nurse who took my call was very nice, and listened to me prattle on about how it was probably nothing, and minimized nearly every symptom through embarrassed self-deprecation. She kindly suggested I should drink some water, and probably see a doctor when I had a chance. I thanked her, feeling as though I had wasted her time, too.

I called my family doctor's office...the receptionist was a little more blunt: if you are having chest pain, don't come in here, go to emergency. They will have the equipment to do the proper tests. I was too embarrassed to explain my embarrassment, so I thanked her and let her go.

Despite my stubborn and pig-headed protests, Jen managed to get me to go and see a doctor at a nearby walk-in clinic. Again, I minimized. Again, he initially took my symptoms as I gave them to him, and suspected it was a pulled muscle or indigestion. These ghost pains, as I had surmised, had more of gravy than the grave about them, as Scrooge was to pronounce to Marley. It wasn't until I began to leave, and he saw me rubbing my chest over my heart, and clenching my right hand to relieve the tingling that had come and went over the past week that he decided I needed to go to emergency, and soon. He gave Jen a referral, and off we went to the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre.

Arriving at Emergency, they took my vitals, and had me wait only a very little bit to go in (it was a very quiet Christmas Eve). They hooked my up to an ECG and took a blood sample just to be sure. The nurses kept assuring me that my vital were normal. Blood pressure a little high but not worrisome, heart rate normal...everything looked fine, and my fears began to mount that I would indeed be released with a shameful reproach. It was at that point that the cardiologist arrived, introduced himself, and asked me a few routine questions (that I had been asked five or six times before). He then calmly told me that they had gotten the blood tests back, and that my troponin levels were very high...my blank stares prompting further explanation...and this meant, definitively, that I had either very recently suffered, or was currently suffering, a heart attack.

The dam broke, and I wept, and Jen held me while I suddenly realized I was, in fact, not a super hero. My brain, wired as it is with a childlike reservoir of fantastical thoughts, had somehow convinced itself that I was never going to suffer any really debilitating illness, much less ever be in danger of dying. In that moment, I came very much face-to-face with my mortality. It had a smug expression.

The doctor explained that I needed to start taking nitroglycerin spray (as if hearing him, the nurse arrived and administered a dose as he spoke), and I was going to need to have two stents put in my heart. I'll let Wikipedia explain those to you far better than I, but in short "tubes that hold open my arteries". It turned out that there are two major arteries in the heart, both of which split into smaller arteries...two on the left side, and two on the right. The two on the right were both blocked about 50%...and they were confident those would be able to be managed with medication, diet and exercise. The ones on the left were giving me the problem: one was blocked 80-90% and the other was blocked 100%.

The one thing I needed to know, and I asked the doctor, was if this was all "real"...I still couldn't believe this was happening...was I right to have come in? Is this something that "would have calmed down on it's own"...in essence: "Have I actually just been wasting everyone's time?". He very calmly told me, very succinctly, that if I had waited another day to come in, I would have suffered a massive coronary "event", and most likely have died before I got to the hospital. So no, I wasn't wasting anyone's time...in fact, I was very lucky to have come in when I did.

I want to state now, for the record, that if it had not been for Jen's dogged persistence...her conviction that I needed to get to that hospital, I would not be writing this now. I owe her my life.

They rushed me into the operating room in what seemed to be minutes, but was at least an hour, and began the procedure, the coronary angioplasty, to place the stents. I was awake for the procedure, which apparently took a couple of hours...it felt like thirty minutes to me. Everything went very well, and I got to see that I do, in fact, have a heart.

I rested in the hospital over the remainder of Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. I was very tired, but pain-free. Jen was her amazing self...visiting me in the hospital, looking after our four children during an already stressful time of year, and keeping everyone informed as to what was going on with me. She managed it all with grace and tenacity.

I came home on the 26th to my very excited family, and we had our postponed Christmas celebration. The kids themselves decided to wait until Dad came home to open the presents. That small act meant so much...I still choke up when I think about their selflessness. I have some pretty great kids.

I have been resting since, mostly bed rest, and am preparing to see the cardiologist as I write this. A couple of months off work (stress leave), and now I start the year with a new slate: time to re-evaluate my diet, lifestyle, and stress, and make some major changes.

I have decided to resuscitate my blog to help me track my progress, so you will see my here more often and I take my journey.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Of Masks and Looking for Corn

I've been off the radar for a few days. I've opened this post many times over the past couple of days, closed it, opened it, wrote more, and stared at it. I've debated with myself whether to publish it or not, but finally came to the conclusion that I needed to...to remain faithful to this being a 'Wellness' blog, that includes my emotional health as well.

I've been diagnosed with clinical depression by my psychotherapist. Some people who know me will not be shocked, and some will.

This is sort of recent...by that, I mean a few years old. It's come and go at times, but this last session feels different, and has lasted longer. What I don't know is what it means, if it means anything.

I find it hard to explain what I'm feeling in words. I guess it's an absence of self...I don't feel anything, or very little. Things that used to make me laugh don't. Things that made me happy or sad don't anymore, or their effect on me is muted. Music I loved to listen to, tapping my feet to, is just...there. I sometimes feel like not doing anything. Sometimes, small things...annoyances...make me unbearably angry. I know none of this is anyone's fault, and when I do get angry, I reflect and get sad because I got angry. Sometimes I don't feel like existing...like being.

The worst of this is knowing I'm a smart guy...my brain is my greatest strength, and constantly at war with my inner self...a six-year-old who never learned how to deal with his emotions. So, I think...a lot...and I convince myself I can think my way out of this. After all, my logic goes, my brain got me into this. "I don't need help, or medication", because I'm terrified of two things: supports I put in place not being there at some point in the future when I need them, or my brain changing...losing my ability to think the way I do - or losing myself - frightens me, primally, more than the idea of death.

I started to look around on resources to help me, and a link to another blog called Hyperbole and a Half caught my eye. Here's the link to the article: Depression Part Two. If you want to know how depression feels, I can't write anything better than what is written in that post.

I'm very, very good at putting the 'mask' on...making sure most everyone else has no idea that I'm suffering inside. I think I've developed the skill over many years. The problem is that I'm on a journey of self-discovery right now, and in order to walk the steps of that journey, I have to leave the masks behind and really feel what I feel. That means that the outside Chris isn't going to be the same as he has been. All I know is that whatever the outcome is will be the real me.