Get past the hard part.

Most of my recent posts have been about eating habits and food. In this post, I want to talk about exercising.

One of my favorite quotes, attributed to Woody Allen, goes something like this: “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” It seems like a stretch to give that much importance to “just showing up,” but, I’ve been a teacher for too long, and been at this “fitness thing” for too long, not to realize that there’s a lot of truth here.

Just show up. Go to class, keep your appointments, go to work, go to the gym. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve made plans to go to the gym the next morning, for weightlifting, for cardio, for swimming, etc., only to get out of bed and feel that I just didn’t want to do it. And, to be honest, sometimes I decided to change my plans and not go. But more often than not, I’d go about my morning routine, and, an hour or so after rising, though my “heart may not have been in it,” I’d get myself and my stuff together, and GO. While traveling to the gym, I’d often still feel that I didn’t really want to exercise.

But then a strange thing would happen. I’d park, get out of the car, get my bag, and enter the building. At some point in the doing of that, something would happen inside of me, and the “just do it” reflex would take over. I’d go in, get changed, and lift, do cardio, or swim.

It took getting there to “get me in gear” to do the workout. And often, these workouts would be ones that I felt really good about afterward!

Backing up a bit, it’s important to distinguish between your body sending you a message that you need to take an unscheduled day off for rest, and a mere “blah” morning, where you’re just slow getting started for the day. In fact, it’s very important that you pay attention to how you’re feeling physically, and to take an unscheduled day off now and then. Your body needs time to rest, repair, and build itself, and its schedule doesn’t necessarily align with whatever plan you may be following (and that’s one reason why I like to keep a lot of flexibility in my routine).

Getting back to the point of today’s post—sometimes the hardest part of getting your workout done is simply getting yourself to the place where you’re going to do it.

From time to time I’m asked about exercise equipment for the home. Treadmills, ellipticals, stationary bikes, weightlifting apparatuses, etc. are all available for home use. My response to such inquiries? Exercise equipment for the home often becomes a clothes rack. I’m sure this isn’t true for everybody, but in my experience, home exercise equipment is just not used very much. Because the exercises can be done at any time, they’re never done. The convenience of owning the equipment, which we think will help us to exercise more regularly, ends up enabling our tendency to procrastinate. Furthermore, you have to find space somewhere in your home to house the equipment, and you have to maintain it (which means paying for repairs if and when that’s necessary).

For me, weighing the costs/benefits of a gym membership versus having equipment at home, leads me to the conclusion that the gym membership is worth every penny. The gym maintains the equipment, there is a greater variety of exercises available, I don’t have to find space in my home for equipment, and I have to get to the gym if I’m going to work out. If you’re paying for a gym membership, you’re more likely to use it. If you drive yourself to the gym, you’re more likely to work out. If you’re the type of person that enjoys exercising in a group, or even with just one workout partner, the gym provides ample space for that, as well.

Just show up; that might just be the hardest part of the workout.

Spicy Whole-Grain Pancakes

Serves 3-4, making 6 medium large-sized pancakes.


  1. 1/2 cup stone ground 100% whole wheat flour
  2. 1/4 cup oat bran
  3. 1/4 cup freshly ground flaxseed
  4. 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  5. 1 teaspoon baking soda
  6. 2 eggs
  7. 1 cup buttermilk (I prefer whole, but low-fat works as well)
  8. Coconut oil
  9. Salt, black pepper, turmeric, ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves, all to taste (I don’t measure any of these. I use 2 pinches kosher salt, several “cranks” of my pepper mill, a generous amount (probably a teaspoon or so) of turmeric, ground ginger, and cinnamon, about 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg, 2-3 whole allspice, and a pinch of ground cloves.
  10. Maple syrup (or topping of your choice)

Place a large skillet over medium heat. Put a medium sized metal bowl in the skillet and add some coconut oil (I don’t measure it; probably 1-2 tablespoons). Allow this to melt while assembling rest of ingredients.

If you don’t have a cheap coffee grinder that’s dedicated to grinding spices and flaxseed, then I suggest you get one; I use mine all the time! It’s needed for the next step, which is to grind 1/4 cup whole flaxseed. If you’re using whole spices, they can be added to the grinder at this point, too.

In a mixing bowl, thoroughly combine the wheat flour, oat bran, ground flaxseed, spices, baking powder, and baking soda (I use a wire whisk for this).

Remove the metal bowl with the melted coconut from the skillet, and whisk two whole eggs (I use jumbo) into the oil. Still using the whisk, add the cup of buttermilk.

Pour dry ingredients into the bowl with the egg/buttermilk mixture. Stir and fold gently with a spatula, until well combined. Ground flaxseed can sometimes form clumps when added to liquid, so watch for these, and simply break them up with the spatula.

Add some coconut oil to the skillet (probably about a tablespoon), and spread it around with a cooking spatula, or just pick the skillet up and swirl it around. You will know that your skillet is at the right temperature if the oil is beginning to smoke.

Pour “a pancake amount of” batter into the skillet. If it seems thick, you may need to use the spatula to gently spread it. My skillet is large enough to make 3 medium large-sized pancakes at once, and this recipe makes 6. Smaller ones are easier to handle, so if you’re inexperienced, start with smaller ones.

Cook for a few minutes. Ordinary pancakes will start to show bubbles breaking the surface of the batter when they’re ready to flip, but these are more dense, and usually don’t. Flip them and cook for a few minutes longer. Remove from heat, and place them on a plate in a low-heat oven to keep them warm while you continue making more with the remaining batter, or serve immediately with maple syrup.

*Additional thoughts: the spices are completely up to you. I made these for a long time using equal parts whole wheat flour and oat bran, but then I started learning of the benefits of freshly ground flaxseed, so I split the oat bran into equal parts oat bran and ground flaxseed. More recently, I’ve been reading about the benefits of turmeric, and that’s how it came to be in the recipe. Somewhere else I read that black pepper somehow enhances the benefit of turmeric, so that’s where that came from. Despite the strange combination of spices, these are surprisingly good. I like them, my daughter likes them, and my 8-month old grandson likes them.

Let me know if you try them!

Habits of Success

I want to state very clearly, right from the start, that these are what work for me. They may, or may not, be right for you. In nearly 36 years of trying to live a healthier life, these “rituals” have become routine for me. (This post is mostly about habits related to food and eating.)

I weigh myself every morning. This was a habit I adopted way back in 1981, when I first made the wager with my friend. Every morning, first thing, before eating or drinking anything, I step on the scales, and record the number. For me, keeping an eye on this number provides me with an indicator of how I’m doing. It is not the only thing I consider. And I’m looking at a weight range, rather than one specific number. For example, I presently weigh between 162 and 166 pounds each morning, and mostly between 164 and 165. Early in my weight-loss journey, this thinking about a range, rather than a number, helped to prevent an unhealthy obsession about whether or not the number was always going down. As long as the overall trend of the range was downward, I was perfectly content (and it’s much more natural for the body to experience this) with a 3-5 lb. fluctuation within the range on a day to day basis. Numerous factors can contribute to the daily fluctuation, such as level of activity the day before, current state of hydration, how late in the day one ate the evening before, bedtime, rising time, etc. (If you’re not aware already, my practice does not align with the recommendations of most “experts” in the field, who suggest weighing oneself only once a week or so.)

I record everything I eat, but I do not count calories. I’ve found that simply making a record of everything that I eat throughout the day keeps me mindful of what, and when, I’ve eaten. I use the notes app on my iPhone, which automatically syncs with my iPad and MacBook. Each day has its own note, and in addition to the food I eat, the note includes the time I get up in the morning, my morning body weight, and details of any exercise I do that day. While I hardly ever go back and look at notes from previous days, I have the information, should I want to go back and examine trends and connections between food, body weight, exercise, etc.

I eat a variety, yet a fairly limited range of foods. By now, I know what’s good for me, what I like, and the foods that meet both of those criteria. That’s why I say that the range of foods is fairly limited. Examine your food list, your treats list, and plan accordingly. Grocery shopping goes hand in hand with this, as you’re doomed to stumble if you don’t have the necessary foods on hand.

I always eat breakfast. My morning begins with a couple of walnut kernels, some medication I take, and a cup of tea with honey. One to two hours later, I’ll eat a more substantial meal. This meal is usually rich in carbohydrates, in the form of old fashioned oats, 100% whole wheat flour, and/or oat bran, and often includes up to a tablespoon of sugar (sometimes white, sometimes brown), and coconut oil or heavy whipping cream. I’ll sometimes make pancakes, and with those come an egg, buttermilk, and maple syrup. I’ve recently added 2 tablespoons of freshly ground flaxseed (I use a cheap coffee grinder for this) to breakfast. Occasionally I’ll have a more traditional breakfast of eggs, bacon, and whole wheat toast. It all depends upon my planned level of activity for the day, and sometimes also takes into account any special occasion meals planned for the day. Lately, my “go to” breakfast has been a bowl of spicy porridge made with oats, oat bran, and ground flaxseed (recipe available upon request).

I try to always have food available. Packing food for work requires some planning, and a little extra time, but it’s worth it in the long run. I never have to worry about getting hungry. Getting hungry puts you at risk for making “not-so-nutritious” choices, or, even worse, becoming ravenous, which usually results in eating too quickly and over eating, even if the food choices are nutritionally sound.

I rarely eat out. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy eating out, but I’ve gotten to the place where if I eat out, it’s almost always a special occasion, or I’m going to go somewhere that I can get something that I can’t make on my own at home. An exception to this might occur if I find myself in unexpected circumstances, without food that I’ve brought myself. In those cases, I’ve learned where to go and what to get. Nutritious options are always available but you need to educate yourself.

I rarely drink alcohol, and never drink soda pop. Water, tea, and coffee are my beverages. Once in a great while I’ll have a glass of wine, or maybe even a shot of good brandy, but these occasions are quite rare; 2-3 times per year, usually. During the Christmas holiday season, we make a homemade “cooked” eggnog, that I’ll drink as a special treat. Another uncommon treat is hot chocolate. These drinks go into the same list for me as “treats” which are discussed here.

I exercise regularly, but we’ll save details about that for another post.

I sleep 6-7.5 hours each night.

Finally, in keeping with the “three factors of healthy living,” I take advantage of regular health checkups provided by my employer, visit my doctor regularly (usually 1-2 times per year, or as needed, and take prescribed medications.

These habits of mine may or may not seem right for you. That’s fine! But it’s my hope that, even if they are not, they will provide you with food for thought, and help you to get started figuring out what WILL work for you.

Best regards,

Ron M.

What keeps us on track?

Several years ago I attended a workshop where the clinician talked about the difference between “motivators” and “activators” in regard to rewards for specific behaviors. In this case, the behavior was practicing the piano. But I believe that the differences between these two factors have ramifications for us, as well, in the realm of healthy living.

Motivation refers to the intrinsic rewards one receives as a result of doing something. In music, one is motivated to learn a piece of music because that composition provides the musician with “food for the soul,” or the opportunity to overcome particular technical or musical challenges. Activation refers to external rewards or benefits that one receives as a result of doing something. One might be activated to learn a piece of music, or to practice scales, exercises, etc. in hope of receiving a prize, a “gold star,” “praise from the teacher or parent,” etc. Learning music for a job is also an example of being “activated.” As an accompanist, I am, from time to time, required to learn music that I don’t particularly care for. But that’s irrelevant. I don’t get paid to “like” the music; I get paid to play it. The promise of financial reward “activates” me to learn the music and perform it to the best of my ability.

Already thinking of parallels with the way we think about healthy living? Several have occurred to me, over the years. First of all, let’s review the three factors that support a healthy lifestyle: 1. Generally taking care of yourself, including medical/dental care, stress management, and sufficient rest/sleep, 2. Nutrition, and 3. Exercise.

What’s gotten you to bother with any of this? I just saw an advertisement on television for some diet or exercise device that was saying one could be “beach ready” in just nine weeks! And it’s easy to find workout routines, mostly marketed to men, touted for “building 10 pounds of pure muscle in just 10 weeks!” And of course, these ads are always accompanied by pictures of women and men in bathing suits, looking beautiful, perfectly sculpted, with defined muscles and glowing skin. Which brings up another issue—what does society consider “normal” and “good looking” and why? That’s a topic for an entire book in itself!

Embarking upon a diet/exercise plan because one wants to look like the model on the front of a magazine would be an example of “activation.” “I’ll follow this diet and this exercise plan, and then I’ll be rewarded with a body like that one.” Here’s the catch, though, that you’re not told: genetics play a large part in the way one’s body appears, and beyond that, the staging, lighting, body position while being photographed, makeup, and even the way that a model eats and drinks in the days leading up to a photo shoot, all contribute to the look of the final product. Furthermore, an editor can enhance the photo after the fact to make it look even “more perfect!” I confess that I’ve picked up an exercise magazine or two over the years, and been inspired by the athletic, fit, men who appear on the covers, but I’m telling you from personal experience that most of us will never look like those people. And that is completely OK! “Appearance” is an activator, just as is the goal of getting into a certain clothes size. Nothing wrong with wanting to improve one’s appearance, and if losing (or gaining) some weight contributes to that, then great! Other, more obvious activators include things like the wager I made with my friend at the beginning of my weight loss journey. A monetary reward if the goal was met. Now that I think about it, I remember that my mom promised to buy new clothes for me after I’d reached my goal weight; yet another activator. Other less obvious activators include “doing it for someone else.” Whether it’s believing that someone will love us more, or we’ll gain their approval, or they’ll stop making fun of us—all activators. More subtle activators include our own ideas about body image, healthy weight, etc. These can even become toxic, as in some cases of anorexia or bulimia.

I propose that it would be better to be motivated.

What if our primary goal would simply be to enhance our quality of life? Less joint pain because we’re not carrying around excess body weight? Improved strength and flexibility to make day-to-day activities easier? The potential for longer life along with better quality of life, giving us time to spend doing things we’ve always wanted, or to spend time with loved ones? Think about it: is there really any greater reward? Don’t misunderstand me, and think that I’m only listing positives here. Some motivators can be negative. Fear of dying prematurely is a good example. I know of several people who started their weight loss program, and/or started exercising because they didn’t want to follow in the footsteps of family members. It’s sad when we watch a loved one in declining health; especially if he or she could have taken better care of him/herself. And this is a motivator because the reward is intangible; it’s something inside us, that we feel—physically, emotionally, mentally.

It also means that our primary goal is, and always will be, to be headed in the right direction, to be on the road toward success. Being in the process of improving your health means that you’ve already achieved an important goal. Improved health and quality of life are the results of staying in that process. And please remember: the path to success is rarely a straight line. Be prepared for ups, downs, sideways movements, plateaus, etc. Keeping your eyes on the primary goal, and thinking about the “big picture” are the important things.

All this is not to say that activators can’t be useful: “I’m going to buy myself a new outfit after I’ve lost twenty pounds,” for example; but I believe that keeping one’s focus on the deeper motivation is the secret to staying on track. When quality of life is the motivating goal, we take the entire person into account, and attend to all of the factors that contribute to it.

Not just getting ready for the beach.

Treats, Triggers, and Temptation

Four Strategies for Coping with Cravings.

If you’ve been following, you might have the list available that was described here. In this post, I want to discuss some tactics for dealing with those foods near the “10” rating on the treats scale.

I remember being a 300 lb. teenager, and mindlessly eating whatever I wanted. Remember “trigger foods?” Here’s an example from my experience. You know those bags of individually wrapped chocolate-covered peppermint patties? Back then, they were each wrapped in foil, and not the little packets I’ve seen recently. Anyway, I’d eat one, and roll the foil into a little ball. Then I’d eat another, and wrap the foil around the foil from the first one, and so on, until I’d have a ball the size of a golf ball or larger! Here’s another one: those big bags of spicy corn chips? I’m talking about the big ones you buy when you want to set out a bowl full of chips for a party. I’d sit with one of those, eating away, while watching television, and, before I realized it, nearly 5/6 of the chips were gone! I’d never eat the whole bag at once; I mean, that would be gluttonous, right?

Perhaps you can tell some stories like these yourself.

Now, feeling it necessary, for whatever reason, to do something about your eating habits, you’re wondering how to cope with these binge-inducing trigger foods. Here are some suggestions that I’ve found helpful in my own life.

  1. Keep yourself removed from them. Out of sight, out of mind, as the old saying goes. This is probably the simplest, and yet most challenging, of the options, especially if you live with others, and they don’t share your dietary goals. But, insofar as you’re able, simply don’t have these foods nearby. If you must be around them, do whatever you can to distance yourself from them. Lots of families live quite casually, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But if the storage space for an open bag of chips happens to be on the kitchen counter or even table, make an effort to get your cohabitants to put them behind closed doors! Store them in a kitchen cabinet, get a bread box for the countertop, anything to get them out of sight.

2. Don’t deny yourself; delay yourself. This has been a “go to” tactic for me, for years. Rather than telling yourself, “Oh, I can’t eat that,” say instead, “I can eat that any time I want it; I don’t need to eat it right now.” Years ago, before cell phones, most homes were equipped with a now old-fashioned land line, and perhaps only one telephone. When it rang, I remember feeling an immediate, reflexive urge to stop whatever I was doing and answer it. Trigger foods (or any food, for that matter) can have this same effect on us. When they “call us” we immediately feel compelled to “answer” and start eating them. In my experience, attempting to resist the urge actually enhanced and strengthened the craving! Using the approach described here was like the home phone ringing, and someone immediately exclaiming, “I’ve got it!” from the other room. The urge to drop everything and answer the phone disappeared at once. Another way of putting it: “I know what that tastes like, I don’t need to taste it right now.” More often than not, when I use this approach, the craving passes, and I end up not eating the food at all. Sometimes I actually follow through with the “eat it later” idea, but at that time I’m more inclined to follow the strategy in the next point…

3. Eat intentionally. Now we’re getting into more challenging territory, as we’re actually going to eat some of the desired food. You really want some of that ice cream in your freezer? OK. Eat it. But don’t sit down in front of the television with the whole carton and a spoon. The problem here is two-fold: you have in your hands the entire carton, multiple servings just inches from your mouth, and you’re going to eat while watching television—distracted from the act of eating. Further, this scenario hardly makes the ice cream a special treat. Instead, get a nice dish, preferably a small sundae or custard cup (chill the cup ahead of time, if you wish), and measure out a single serving. If you have a melon ball scoop, use it. It might take 3-4 scoops of ice cream to make a serving! Get the smallest spoon you have in your drawer to eat the ice cream. I like to use an iced tea spoon, or regular tea spoon. It’s just natural to take smaller bites with a smaller spoon. Next, sit down at your dining room table, with a cloth napkin (if you have one), and, without distraction, enjoy every single bite, taking your time to focus your attention on the taste, the texture, even the aroma. Eat slowly! Transform the experience into a special occasion to be enjoyed, rather than a thoughtless, guilt-ridden experience of gluttony. You come away from the former feeling satisfied on multiple levels, whereas the latter leaves you ashamed, overly full, and feeling defeated. To summarize, control the portion size, eat slowly, and give your attention to the act of eating, enjoying the food rather than just “scarfing it down.”

4. Know when you are vulnerable. Things get a little tricky, here, and some thoughtful self-examination is required. This point applies to all aspects of one’s eating habits, not just coping with trigger foods, but it bears repeating as part of this list. It’s this: know when your defenses against cravings are at their weakest.

A. Waiting too long between meals.

B. Failing to fuel your body with the proper amounts of macronutrients (proteins, fats, carbohydrates). More about this in a future post.

C. Allowing yourself to become hungry combined with virtually any negative (or even neutral) emotion (anger, frustration, disappointment, and being tired all come to mind).

D. Putting yourself in circumstances where you’re very happy and/or excited, with friends, or other social settings where you’re distracted, and surrounded by these kinds of foods. No need to avoid these situations, but don’t go hungry, and stay mindful.

Do you have coping mechanisms that have worked for you? Or do you use some of these? Feel free to discuss!

The food list: getting a handle on treats.

In an earlier post, I wrote about the need to attend to three big factors, if we want to live a healthier life:

  1. General health (which includes mental/emotional health, rest/sleep, stress management, and any physiological issues)
  2. Nutrition (all aspects of diet; food choices, and quantities consumed)
  3. Exercise (cardiovascular and strength training)

Next, I asked you to gather some information about yourself: compile a list of all the foods that you eat, and take a look at how you’re spending your time.

I want to emphasize that I believe that each individual will need to figure out what it is that works for him or her. While general principles may be applicable for everyone, it’s not necessary that everyone observe the same specifics. This is my problem with most of the diets and exercise programs that I’ve encountered—they tend to take a cookie-cutter approach, making the same recommendations for everyone.

Have you already acquired a fair amount of information regarding health, diet, exercise, and related subjects? It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if you answered yes. Most of the folks I meet who struggle with excess body weight have already tried multiple diets and exercise plans (whether the information is good or not), and have perhaps even spent money on personal trainers, facilities, or commercial weight-loss organizations. It’s important to make sure that your information is good. Do some homework. The U.S. government has nutrition information available here, and it’s as good a place as any to start learning about the subject.

Food provides your body with fuel and the resources necessary for building muscle and repairing and maintaining cells. It’s also a source of pleasure, appealing to the senses of taste, smell, and touch (you probably have some favorite foods that you can “feel” in your mouth, even as you think of them). For many of us, this “pleasure” aspect of food is what has gotten us into trouble with it.

It’s time to take the first hard step toward healthier eating. Remember the “treats” category I asked you to make? This is where some people would simply tell you to eliminate these foods from your life altogether. Be done with them. I don’t know about you, but that’s never really worked very well for me. Instead, let’s work with this category for a bit. Write something about each of the foods you have listed as a treat. Maybe some of these foods are only eaten at certain times. Popcorn, for example, may be a food that you only eat if you’re watching a movie. Make a note of that. In addition to the annotation, assign each food a number, using this scale, or one of your own devising: (if you can’t think of anything specific to write about a food, just give it a number):

1=I don’t even really like this food, but I eat it if it’s around.

2=I could live without this food, but I like it if I start eating it.

3=I only eat this food if someone gives it to me, or I go somewhere it’s being served, but I seem to have access to it fairly often.

4=I only eat this food when I’m around it, but I look forward to those occasions, and sometimes seek them out.

5=I like this food, but don’t usually buy it; I only eat it if I go somewhere and it’s available.

6=I like this food, and eat it 2-3 times per week, or more.

7=I like this food and keep it on my shopping list. I eat it 4-5 times per week, or more.

8=I like this food and eat it 6-7 times per week, or more.

9=I like this food and eat it almost every day of the week.

10=I feel like my quality of life would be diminished if I couldn’t eat this food, and always have some of it around.

One more thing: put an asterisk beside any and all of the foods on this list that are what I call a “trigger food,” which may be defined as any food that, if you take one bite of it, you will want to keep eating it until you’ve gorged yourself on it, or eaten all of it that you have on hand (whichever comes first). Spicy corn chips and chocolate covered peppermint patties are examples of this in my life.

Hopefully, this exercise has provided you with new insight about your relationship with food, specifically, foods in the “treats” category. You might be feeling down, or even guilty, about these insights. Please don’t. The purpose here is simply to examine and establish a starting point. Don’t judge yourself! But do be honest with yourself. Identifying habits, preferences, and patterns of behavior are all important steps in forming new ones.

Physician, Heal Thyself.

Getting organized for the journey toward better health.

The proverb seen above has been around since the time of Christ, at the very least. Usually intended as a rebuff to someone’s unsolicited advice, I’d like for us to examine it from a different point view.

Here’s the thing. When it comes to your own life, YOU really are your own primary-care physician. Put another way, you have to take care of yourself; nobody’s going to do it for you. Whether it’s improving your eating habits, exercising, taking care of illnesses, regular dental checkups, etc. YOU are the only one who can make those things happen. Beyond matters relating to health, like an Executive Director, you are constantly making decisions about how you’re going to spend your time.

Let’s do some self-examination. You know that there are 24 hours in a day, right? But did you ever convert that to minutes? It’s one thousand, four hundred and forty. 1,440 minutes in a day. On a weekly basis, we have 168 hours (10,080 minutes). What are you doing with all of that time? Since you’re probably reading this because you’re interested in making some positive lifestyle changes, let’s treat this little exercise as if it were an initial physical exam with a new doctor. Be completely honest with yourself. In a previous post, I asked you to list the foods that you’re currently eating. Here, we’re dealing with time. What are you doing with yourself?

Think about the necessary things that take up time in your life: eating, sleep, exercise, work, social (includes family) interaction, etc. How much time goes to these activities during the course of a day (or week, depending upon how you want to do your self-assessment)?

Now consider the leisure time you have. How much time do you spend on these activities, and what are they? Leisure includes recreation, entertainment, watching TV, etc. It does not include sleep. You may also have periods of rest that belong in the “necessary” category. The same is true for social interaction—I believe that it’s a necessary component of one’s life.

Just as with the list of foods, you may find some surprises here. Again, be honest with yourself. The idea here isn’t to judge (yet), but to simply examine your current routines and lifestyle, and, literally, see where your time is going. This, along with your diet (remember—that refers to what you’re currently eating on a regular basis), is your “constitution.” It’s a work in progress, and can be changed. That’s where the job of Executive Director, and being your own physician come in.

We’ll be considering food and exercise in the posts to come, but for now, take some time to gather the information discussed here, along with the food list talked about here.

Babies, Love, and Life. Thoughts from last summer.

First written on June 14, 2015.

I think June is my favorite month of the year. Far enough removed from the end-of-academic-year maelstrom that is April, with its recitals, concerts, final exams, and meetings (oh, the meetings), and buffered by the transitional month of May, it has become, for me, the most “vacation” time of the year. The new academic year still seems far off, and the days stretch longer into the evening, with that wonderful twilight full of mauves and pinks. It’s often in June that I find myself in a season of reflection; when parts of my inner being wake up after long periods of dormancy, and that’s how I come to be writing down these thoughts.

My newest grandson was just born, on June 2. My second grandchild, this one is the first child of Myles and Elizabeth (my daughter), he’s the first grandchild whom I must learn to “share” with another family (Aidan’s paternal family is barely involved with him, while my son-in-law Myles has a large, involved, extended family), and he’s named after me! Ron Stringer. I feel blessed.

Babies are wonderful. Ponder those words for a moment. Wonderful. Tiny, totally dependent on others, yet capturing your heart and soul in an instant of time. I was privileged to be be present when he first entered the world, drawing his first breath and uttering his first sounds (loudly, at that), before even fully leaving his mother’s body! What a moment. One could feel the rest of reality receding from that scene, pulling back to the perimeter of awareness and fading into a blur, as the events of those few minutes came sharply into focus. It was as if a nuclear bomb of emotion had exploded in our midst! Overwhelming joy. If you’re familiar with the final act trio of Richard Strauss’s opera, Der Rosenkavalier, you may be able to relate to this: it was that kind of emotional experience, exponentially greater, and compacted into the span of a few minutes. Breath-taking, awe-inspiring, and immense. Life-changing, to say the least.

I remember what it was like to hold each of my own children when they were newly born. David, especially, since he was the first. Though only 22 myself, and quite “green” and naïve about entering adult life, that moment when he first opened his eyes and looked up into mine is with me to this day. The day, the time, down to the very minute, is embedded in my memory—that moment when I first held him in my arms. Unfortunately, I was unable to be present in the delivery room for the births of our three children, as they were all born by Caesarean section (in those days, the father wasn’t allowed to be present for those). While a woman goes through obvious physiological and psychological changes as she carries a baby to term and becomes a mother, I believe that a man (an involved man, at least) also experiences transformation as he becomes a father. Certainly psychological transformation, and who knows? Perhaps holding his newborn baby for the first time results in physiological changes as well.

In any case, I believe that something happened to me in those moments, and maybe the best way to describe it is “love at first sight.” In an instant of time a bond was created. I was adopted as an infant and have never known any biological relatives other than children (and now, grandchildren), so holding David for the first time was uniquely special. Now, at last, there was someone else on the planet that I knew, and he would know me, and we were related, in the biological sense of the word. This same moment was relived, with perhaps a little less intensity, with the births of Elizabeth and Becca, 8 and 9 years later. In 2009, I felt something similar with the birth of Aidan, my first grandchild.

In the years since David was born, as I’ve aged, lost loved ones, and experienced the inevitable trials and stresses of life, “man,” “daddy/father,” and now “grandpa/grandfather,” have all been terms that I’ve had to wrestle with. Maybe “wrestle” is too contentious a verb, but I can’t think of a better one. The words have intrinsic meaning that elude specific definition, and they deepen and become richer with the passing of time. For example, when younger, I’d somewhere picked up the idea that “real men” don’t express physical affection for each other, and keep their emotions in check, completely beneath the surface. Now, it’s much easier to share a hug with other men counted among my close friends, especially men in my family. I cannot say exactly how this developed in me, but I suspect it was a combination of a feeling of mortality that comes with being older, and also with the experience of having children and grandchildren of my own.

Now in my fifties, my body feels the effects of middle-age (and even old age, at times), and I cope with chronic arthritis pain and less mobility/flexibility than I had in my twenties and thirties. Aside from that, I am in otherwise excellent health, and maintain good eating habits and an exercise regimen consisting of both cardiovascular and strength training. Knowing from a young age that we’re all headed for an eventual end is one thing; feeling that mortality is another, and that comes with getting older. One realizes that one is closer to the end than to the beginning, and that there is, indeed, an ending. This realization (often coming as an unwanted epiphany brought about by one health crisis or another) leads one to ponder the meaning of life and to identify the things that are most important.

What has grown in me has been an appreciation for relationships, health, and music. These three things are the things I hold most dear. The young evangelical in me would add “and my relationship to God,” but my faith has taken me to a place where I simply say that everything is experienced in a context of faith in God who is Love, and is so matter-of-fact that I simply don’t think about it. The thoughts I share now are inspired by relationships, which brings me back to the present: one new grandchild and one more coming soon.


This picture captures a lot of all this. It’s been my privilege to spend a few weeks with my daughter and son-in-law, and newest grandchild, Ron. I’ve been spending time with him in the morning, just after waking up, and holding him close as shown here. Much has been said in recent years about skin-on-skin experiences with newborns that is beneficial to them; I must say that I find it beneficial for the adult, as well. With the physical closeness comes a bond of love, a feeling of connectedness that goes beyond simple naming, or knowledge of family relationship. And this, combined with looking into the eyes of the beloved, brings with it a something that can only be described as “love.” And it’s not only looking; the other senses are involved as well—the sense of touch, as has already been mentioned, the hearing of the baby’s little sounds (ranging from little grunts of contentment, simple breathing, and, well, other bodily functions), and the scent that is unique to the head of a newly-born infant. I’ve heard it said that the eyes are the window to the soul. Looking into the eyes of a newborn one sees both nothing and everything. Nothing, in that the soul is new, fresh, and a blank slate not yet written upon by the experiences of life. Everything, in that a grandfather sees the potential of the new life, and senses the dreams and hopes of the new parents burning brightly within.

Update from February 2016:

Colton Maurey was born just three weeks later. Here is a picture of my three grandsons. From left to right: Colton Maurey, Aidan Maurey, and Ron Stringer. Love, indeed.


Making a list and getting started. The first step toward healthier eating.

Since I haven’t stated it yet, let me begin with this: I am not an expert. I have no formal training in nutrition or exercise. If you are considering lifestyle changes involving diet and/or exercise, you should consult your personal physician.

Having said that, what follows flows from 35 years experience maintaining a 135-pound weight loss. As I stated in my introduction page, I’m simply sharing my thoughts on the subject, and what has worked for me.

In a recent article author Rebecca Harrington reviews the work of nutrition and obesity expert, Dr. David Ludwig of Harvard Medical School. His forthcoming book, Always Hungry? Conquer Cravings, Retrain Your Fat Cells, and Lose Weight Permanently describes a plan wherein one essentially learns how to eat. Harrington describes the plan in some detail, and I’m not going to repeat her work here. Follow the above link, and read for yourself. Really. It’s well worth the time, and, in essence, describes my own way of thinking about food. Whether you’re approaching the subject of weight loss/healthy eating for the first time in your life, or you’ve been fighting the battle with excess body weight for years, this article provides excellent information and “food for thought.”

When it comes to food, I think in the macronutrient categories: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates (which includes sugars). In addition, I think about each food’s nutritional value. For example, protein from a good steak is, in my view, a more nutritious source than a protein from a bar or shake. An apple is a better source of carbohydrates (natural sugars, in this case), than processed “fruit rollups.”

Here’s my advice for the person who’s getting started on the path to losing weight, and learning how to eat.

Make a list with three columns:

Proteins          Fats          Carbohydrates

Begin to list the foods you’re currently in the habit of eating, placing them in the appropriate column. If you’re not sure where to put a food, see if you can find a label, or look it up online. The macronutrient (protein, fat, carbohydrate) with the largest number will be where to list the food. Some foods deliver high amounts of two macronutrients. Cottage cheese, for example, may be high in both protein and fat. If the numbers are close, you may want to list the food in both columns. Probably the best way to do this is to simply write down everything that you eat, as you eat it, over the course of a week or two, and you may wish to list approximate amounts, as well. You may be surprised, both in the types (quality) of foods you’re eating, and the quantities. Since many of us have a tendency to eat “mindlessly,” we’re shocked to see it listed all in one place.

Once you’ve got your list, the next step is to assess its nutritional value. At this point, consulting labels is helpful, but I also recommend simply considering the source—is the food highly processed? pre-packaged “heat and serve?” Is it a fast-food item? etc. Mark foods that you consider higher quality with an asterisk or check mark. Don’t worry about being perfect at this point. Adjustments and corrections can always be added later. The important thing now is to simply “get the ball rolling.”

Now, make another, separate list, and give it the heading: Treats. Under this column, list anything already on your list fitting the description for treats. This includes cookies, candies, potato chips, corn chips, pretzels, soda pop (regular and diet), alcoholic drinks, sugary coffee drinks, popcorn, etc. Oh, and cross these foods off of the list with three columns as you put them in the treats list.

What you have before you at this point is your diet— what you’re currently in the habit of eating. (Please note that this is the way that I will always use the word.) Any surprises? More treats on there than you realized? What are the sources of foods on your three-column list? More fast food and restaurant food than you realized?

Having your diet laid out before you in this way makes you aware of what you’re eating, and that, my friends, is the first step toward real, lasting, lifestyle changes in your eating habits.

Losing Weight. The Basic Story.

Food is the nemesis of people who struggle with obesity. (Don’t you hate that word, “obese”? It just sounds ugly! I used to say that I’d rather be called fat than obese.) We can’t survive without nourishment, which means, (for most of us, at least), that we need to learn how to eat in a way that supports our bodily functions and level of activity without overdoing it. Yet the very thing that we need is also making us unhealthy, because we haven’t learned how to eat well. Alcoholics and tobacco users can “give up” their problem substances, but those of us with eating problems must learn to modify our behavior, because we need to eat to live.

My personal struggle with obesity began when I was quite young. I can remember going through alternating phases of being a little overweight and a little underweight between the ages 4 and 8. It didn’t help growing up in the era when children were always encouraged to “finish their plate” and to not waste food, since there were “children starving in China.” Complicating the issue for me was the family business—Maurey’s tastee-freez, a fast-food drive-in restaurant, specializing in soft-serve ice cream products, and grilled and deep-fried foods. Both of my parents were hard workers, and devoted nearly every waking hour to the running of the business. Consequently, my brother and I often ended up eating food that was made in the restaurant, or grabbing whatever was fast, easy, and convenient at home. As you can imagine, this included a lot of cheeseburgers, french fries, onion rings, ice cream, white bread, and soda pop.

Remember the alternating phases mentioned above? By the time I was 8 or 9, I got stuck in a “fat phase” and started putting on weight. One time I went on a diet with my mom and dad (I was about 14, I think), and lost 42 pounds. Then I discovered my dad’s secret cache of cookies in the freezer. This was so disappointing to me that I gave up and went back to my old ways. Silly, in retrospect, but hey, I was a teenager.

Another memory from that period in my life: About to leave for a week at summer band camp, I thought “I’ll surely lose some weight there,” so I weighed myself before leaving: 240 pounds. The camp was physically demanding; lots of marching, walking around a good-sized campus (what is now the West Baden Springs Hotel), and exercise. Upon returning home a week later, and eager to see how much I’d lost, I weighed myself and… 239 pounds. I’d lost a single pound—which didn’t provide me with much motivation to keep trying. That was the end of my giving any serious thought to losing weight, until 1981. I wasn’t exactly happy being so heavy, but I didn’t care enough to do anything about it.

Maybe you can relate to some of my coping mechanisms during that time: I avoided letting my picture be taken, and always wore clothes that kept everything covered. No form-fitting clothes, long pants, long-sleeved button-down shirts, and lightweight jackets. Always a jacket—even in hot weather. I never even thought about activities like swimming. These were all attempts to “hide” the extra weight, as if that were even possible. I don’t know whom I thought I was kidding: by the time I was a sophomore in college I weighed 300 pounds, wore 48”-50” waist pants, and 18.5” dress shirts. There’s no “hiding” that.

Then, one day in December 1980, I stepped on the scales after avoiding them for months. 295 pounds, and I knew that I’d been heavier than that in the preceding months. This was the first moment where I thought to myself that I should probably do something about it. Several weeks passed. One day I was walking back to the Indiana State University campus (this was my sophomore year), after making a trip to downtown Terre Haute to do some shopping. While crossing the street at 7th and Cherry, the light changed, and I ran across one lane of the street to get out of the way of oncoming traffic. One lane! but I was out of breath when I stepped up onto the sidewalk. This was the second moment where I was struck with the idea that maybe the amount of weight I was carrying around was a more serious issue than I had realized. Later that spring, in the middle of April, as I recall, a friend and I walked from the campus, downtown to the Baskin-Robbins ice cream shop on the corner of 5th and Wabash. I remember ordering three regular sized scoops in a dish, and sitting down at one of the arm desk chairs similar to those found in high school and college classrooms. My belly extended out onto the desk by several inches!

For whatever reason, we started talking about being overweight, and the need to be healthier. By the time we returned to campus, we had decided to make a bet with each other: I would lose 50 pounds by the first day of school in the fall, and she would lose 30 (she was closer to an ideal weight than I was). The winner would collect $60 from the loser, and if we both reached our goals, the one who lost more weight beyond his/her goal would collect the difference @ $1 per pound from the other. I went home and, the next morning, stepped on the scales to mark my starting point. 285 pounds. I’d lost 10 pounds since December, and hadn’t even realized it!

So began my weight loss journey. What did I do? Ate everything that I usually ate, but intentionally cut the amount in half. The only thing that I stopped consuming altogether was regular soda pop, switching to diet soda only. By the end of June I had lost 27 pounds, and started to get excited. I called my friend near the beginning of the fall semester to see how she was doing (we lived an hour away from each other). She told me that she hadn’t done very well, only losing 10 pounds. I told her to get her checkbook ready, because I was down by 45 pounds, and would have the other 5 off by the beginning of the next week. I used that money to make the down payment on my future wife’s wedding ring.

Losing 50 pounds is significant, whatever your starting weight. In the drive-in restaurant, we’d buy 50-lb bags of onions, and 50-lb cubes of shortening for the deep fryer. That’s 2 cubic feet of fat. Visualizing the 50 pounds in this way was, for me, very motivating. I was now wearing size 42” waist pants, down from the 48”-50” size. This milestone provided me with motivation to keep going, so I simply continued to follow my plan, though by now I was paying more attention to types of food, as well as quantity. By Thanksgiving I was down 75 pounds, and by Christmas I was wearing 38” dress pants and large (rather than XXL) pullover sweaters. By April of 1982 I was down to 185 pounds, and by July 1, 1982, I’d reached 179 pounds. I went down a size in shoes, was now wearing 34” waist pants, and 15.5 dress shirts, athletic cut.

That’s the condensed version of my weight loss story. 121 pounds came off, in the period December 1980-July 1982. It marks the beginning of “maintenance” and the never-ending pursuit of life-long fitness. More about that in the future.

My current statistics are:

Height: 6’1”

Weight: 163-166 pounds

BMI: 21.8