Obsession or Habit?

The equilibrium of consistency and perseverance.

Embarking upon the quest for better health can easily turn into the “current project” or “hobby” that takes up a big chunk of our time. What’s wrong with that, you ask? Well, for starters, as long as it remains the primary focus of our discretionary time, we’re probably neglecting other important elements of our lives, like relationships with others! This, in turn, can end up working against us, as we feel pulled in too many directions and become overwhelmed with the attempt to hold it all together. At that point, we’ll usually give up altogether, and fall back into our former, usual, way of doing things. It’s also simply not possible. As we say, “life happens,” and many times we find ourselves facing circumstances over which we have no control. Disruptions to routine, such as unexpected car failure, traffic jams, railroad crossings, etc. happen all the time, and we need to be ready to “roll with the punches,” if our plans for healthy living are to succeed.

What are some signs that a desire for a healthier life is more of an obsession, rather than a healthy intention?

1. Attempting to reach a weight loss goal at a rate of anything more than 1-2 pounds per week (unless under the strict orders and direction of a physician). This is the recommended rate of weight loss that has been agreed upon by experts for decades, and when I look back at my own weight loss journey, this was the average rate, over a 14-month period. And it’s important, once again, to keep the “big picture” in mind—there might be some weeks when a person might lose 3-5 pounds or more, and in another week not lose any, or even gain a pound or two. It’s the trend over time that matters. This is my biggest complaint about shows like a new one on TLC called “Fat Chance,” wherein a person attempts to lose an amount of weight in a certain amount of time, in order to become more appealing (in his or her own mind) to another person. In the first episode, Daniel set a goal of losing 84 pounds in  90 days. That’s a little more than 6.5 pounds per week! If we’re attempting this rate of weight loss, it’s going to involve adjusting your lifestyle in such a way that the weight loss becomes the primary focus of your life—and that means it’s not “just the way that you live.” Drastic, sudden changes to eating habits, as well as level of activity, will be necessary. This can easily lead to disappointment, frustration, and other negative emotions, to say nothing of the fact that it can potentially lead to injury (through excessive or improperly done exercise, or malnutrition). Far better to adopt eating habits and exercise routines that support good health all the time, not just while attempting to reach a specific goal.

2. Feeling excessive irritation and anger when “life happens” and our plans are disrupted. I woke up last Thursday with the intention to go to the gym and do cardio. About 20 minutes before leaving the house, I learned that others in the family had made plans that weren’t going to allow me to do this. While I could have gotten angry, made a big deal of it, and, basically thrown a temper tantrum, I decided to simply take the morning off, and enjoy a little bit of extra free time. Since my overall pattern of cardio, weightlifting, eating habits, etc. is consistent, an occasional, unplanned, day off doesn’t negatively impact my long-term goals in the least. If anything, it’s beneficial, allowing the body time to more fully rest and recover.

3. Feeling that missed workouts must be “made up” at another time during the day or week. This was once a big one for me. Back in the 1980s, right after I’d lost a lot of weight, I walked 6 miles or more every day. Six was (in my mind) the minimum. If I couldn’t get the 6 miles in the morning, then I’d feel that I had to get it later in the day, or, make up for it with additional walks during the week. 42-mile weeks were nothing to me, and I’d often get 50+, even, on occasion, getting 60+. I still remember the way that it would “hang over my head” if I hadn’t yet reached the six miles for the day. The nagging feeling would distract me from living fully in the moment, and I am sure that I often gave up time that would have been better spent with family, just so that I could “get those miles.”

4. Feeling strongly about just giving up, if and when things don’t go according to plan. Self-explanatory, but I think it applies especially to weight loss. You may remember reading about my experience losing weight along with my parents: I had lost 42 pounds, but, upon discovering my dad’s secret cache of cookies in the freezer, just gave up and regained the lost weight and more.

I think you get the idea. A sure sign that you’ve got the right perspective about all of this, is that you’re ready to “go with the flow” when necessary, and have no problem getting back on track at the earliest opportunity. Remember…

Keep the big picture in mind; it’s the trend over time that matters the most.


Spirit and Soul

What’s the difference?

Both may be defined as “the nonphysical part of a person that is the seat of emotions and character” and are often used interchangeably. But over the years, I’ve come to regard these words as distinct from each other, although they do share the feature of being “the nonphysical part of a person.”

Before proceeding, I must state that I owe much of my thinking about this subject to the author, Thomas Moore, who, in his excellent book Care of the Soul, explores the differences in great detail. I first read this book nearly twenty-five years ago, and have recently returned to it, along with one of its sequels, Soul Mates. Moore is a fascinating person, with a background that includes music, seminary, religious life, and Jungian psychology. Other authors whose works have contributed to my thoughts about spirit and soul include Erik RoutleyMary McDermott Shideler, and Madeleine L’Engle. I encourage you to explore their work.

I’m not attempting an academic, historical research project on these words, but rather, an essay on facets of our inner being, born from my own contemplation over the years. Whether my thoughts fit with traditional, philosophical, or theological doctrines isn’t really important (though I write from within Christian tradition and experience); that’s not my purpose here. I believe that we all, to greater or lesser degree, spend at least some of our time in reflection and introspection, and what follows is my attempt to offer some perspective on this activity.

The ancient Hebrew and Greek words, “ruach” and “pneuma,” respectively, are both used for “spirit.” The same words are also used for “wind,” and “breath.” This suggests that “spirit” is associated with movement, vitality, and power. It is dynamic. In our experiences, spirit is associated with inspiration, with single-minded focus, and with feeling energized to accomplish a specific goal or task. Inspiration can result in the sudden production of literary or artistic works, or to the exceptional performance of a musician, dancer, or other performing artist. During the inspired phase, the individual is completely “taken up” with the task at hand, and other thoughts are eclipsed or submerged. Inspiration is sudden, focused, and has immediate, obvious, effect.

Soul, on the other hand, may be thought of as that part of our inner being where our conscious thought does not dwell; where we find the seat of emotional responses, “gut” feelings, and the like. The etymology of the word soul includes Germanic influence, and carries the meaning of “coming from the sea, or lake.” Borrowing a metaphor from Genesis, it is akin to “the Spirit of the LORD was brooding over the face of the waters.” Brooding describes the act of the mother hen, resting upon her eggs until they hatch. The verse from Genesis provides us with the idea that before God unleashes the life-giving energy of creation (“Let there be light”), there was a period of stillness, of waiting—this “brooding over the face of the waters.”  If “spirit” is likened to inspiration, with its sudden burst of creative energy and action, “soul” is more associated with depth of emotion, with sub or even unconscious rumination, and those parts of ourselves that find (often inexplicable) pleasure or satisfaction in things, places, relationships, and so on. Moore uses the word “attachment” to describe the longing of the soul—the desire for connection. In contrast, he describes the desire of the spirit to be unattached, free, and energized to pursue a lofty goal.

I like the word fermentation to describe some of what happens in the soul—a word we use to describe the process whereby pickles are made, beer and wine are produced, cheese is made, and yeast breads are leavened. All of these processes involve combining ingredients and allowing them to develop over time. It’s worth noting that most of these processes involve the anaerobic action of bacteria or yeast. They happen without air, “under the surface,” and often “in the dark.” While each of these processes requires being set in motion, after the initial “getting started,” there follows a period of simply waiting, while the microbes do their work. Sometimes, during the waiting period, brief acts of tending are needed to keep the process headed in the right direction—taking the lid off and stirring, adding more ingredients, pouring from one vessel to another, etc. This quiet and subsurface “percolating” often goes completely unnoticed by us until it has begun to manifest itself in emotional states we cannot explain, feelings of sadness with no apparent cause, or, conversely, experiences of sublime joy or satisfaction.

Fermentation, or “soul work” is probably always happening, to greater or lesser degree, deep inside all of us. Some of us never take the time to take the lid off the pot and tend it, or, to even see that anything is there at all. Sadly, I believe that a lot of people aren’t even self-aware enough to engage in this kind of self-reflection. I can’t help but wonder if this becomes the root (or at least a contributing factor) of issues such as addiction, depression, neuroses, etc.

Left alone, most fermenting substances will eventually spoil from lack of tending, or failing to properly preserve the resulting product at the end of the process. Take sourdough bread starter, for example. It needs to be fed every few days by stirring in additional flour, and the liquid “hooch” skimmed off the top. Properly tended in this way, it can be kept going indefinitely, with bread being made from it on a regular basis. It can also be left alone for longer periods, in a cool, dark location, and allowed to go almost dormant. Later, it can be revitalized by discarding a large portion of it, and adding the remnant to a new batch of flour, in effect, starting over.

What are the kinds of things that end up “in the pot,” hidden in the recesses of our souls? Here, undetected by others and sometimes even by ourselves, these powerful elements combine with the raw, primal pieces of our personality and identity, and form a lush, fecund “soil” where the various aspects of “who we are” take root, grow, and blossom. For me, relationships, treasured items, special places, music (both listening and performing), cooking, and special occasions, all belong on the short list of the things that I find “in the pot.”

Both of these facets of our being, spirit and soul, though they may be distinct from, cannot and must not be separated from the physical parts of our essence. Being human is being fully alive in our own bodies, along with these non-corporeal parts we’re discussing here. As we care for the body (or should), I believe we do ourselves a great service by also attending to the needs of the soul and spirit.

Thoughts? Feel free to comment, and begin a discussion!


Before and After

Several years ago, a man named John Stone turned a personal weight loss/fitness journey into a thriving website by taking pictures of himself each day as he transformed his body. Unlike him, at the beginning of my journey, I did everything possible to make sure that my picture was not taken!

I couldn’t avoid the camera all the time, though, and, looking through some old pictures, I found these gems:


These were taken July 4, 1981, and I’d actually lost about 30 lbs. at this point (putting me at 255 lbs). I was nearly two months into my weight loss plan to lose 50 lbs by the beginning of the 1981-82 school year. If I remember correctly, those jeans I’m wearing were probably 46-inch waist (down from the 48 and 50-inch waist pants I’d worn a few months prior to this picture), 32-inch inseam, and the shirt was an eighteen, sleeve length unknown, probably 35/36.

This is me, now, at 165 lbs; pants are 34/32, shirt is 15.5, slim fit, 34/35 sleeve:


I’m posting these to provide readers with a “real life” example of before and after pictures of a big weight loss (135 pounds, total). In this case, weight loss followed by nearly 34 years of learning how to eat, and exercise. During the last 2 years, especially, I’ve come to feel very good about the balance between cardiovascular exercise and weightlifting that I’m doing—and that’s been a journey in itself, with a lot of experimentation and “tinkering.” More about that in future posts.

With all of these posts about health, fitness, weight loss, etc. I’m hoping to provide encouragement and “food for thought” for those who may be about to embark on their own journey to better health. I have always believed that if I can do it, then anybody can do it, and I still believe that today. All it takes is desire, information, persistence, and perspective.

Exercise? Who has time for that?

Exercise? Who has time for that?

This is the number one reason that I hear from people, regarding why they don’t exercise. And I get it. Work, school, civic organizations, church, family responsibilities, house work… the list of activities that take our time goes on and on. And the things I just mentioned are all legitimate, reasonable, even admirable, ways for us to spend our time. You can probably think of more.

But… if we really want to do all that we can to keep ourselves in optimum health…

Let’s reflect back for a moment, to the “tripod” that I’ve mentioned before:

1. Generally taking care of yourself (regular checkups, following doctor’s orders, managing stress, getting enough sleep, etc.)

2. Fueling your body with proper nutrition.

3. Physical exercise.

I propose that if you’re too busy to exercise, you’re too busy. It may be necessary to reevaluate your priorities, and make some adjustments to your routine. Or, maybe it’s just a matter of being creative with the forms of exercise you choose. (If you haven’t yet made the list described here, now would be a good time.) Most of us have discretionary time in our week that we don’t realize that we have; the key is to find out where that time is going, and how to use it to create time for workouts. Having said that, it may, at the present time, actually be impossible for you to make time for workouts in your schedule. Perhaps you’ve accumulated an over-large list of responsibilities, or they have simply fallen to you for one reason or another. No need to despair; even in such circumstances, it’s usually possible to add beneficial physical activity to your routine, until such time as you’re able to begin a more structured fitness regimen. Examples of this kind of thing include:

1. Parking the car farther way from your destination to increase walking distance.

2. Taking the stairs rather than the elevator. “But I need to get to the fifteenth floor,” you say. Then take the stairs to the second floor, before you get on the elevator. Make it the third floor after a couple of days, and so on.

3. Walking whenever possible. Need something from the store down the street? Walk. I live two blocks from a drugstore, yet I often drive to get there (mostly in bad weather). I remember visiting New York City, and walking far greater distances!

4. Riding a bicycle.

Just don’t give up on the idea of becoming more fit! Where there’s a will, there’s a way, as the old saying goes.

If you’ve decided that you do have time in your life for some sort of exercise regimen, then I recommend that you do some research about exercise and fitness. Find out for yourself. Sure, you could just find a good personal trainer and/or nutritionist, but there is an extraordinary amount of information readily available online. The United States government has information here, and this website is packed with information about types and execution of many forms of exercise.

Some points worth remembering:

1. Check with your primary care physician before beginning any weight loss or exercise plan.

2. Make time for cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise, and resistance training (anaerobic) exercise. Both are important, and contribute to overall good health in different ways.

3. Learn about maximum heart rate and how it relates to exercise.

4. Choose exercises that you enjoy doing.

5. Build flexibility and variety into your regimen.

6. Don’t become a prisoner of your own plan and expectations. There’s no quicker path to feeling like you might just as well give up, than to bind yourself rigidly to a fixed plan. Be forgiving of yourself when you aren’t able to accomplish what you originally intended for a day. I’ve been guilty of this myself; beating myself up because I didn’t accomplish all that I had in mind for the day, for only walking 6 miles, instead of 9, only doing 20 minutes of cardio, instead of 45, etc. Be prepared to change your plans at the last minute. On days when I’m not sure that I’ll be able to exercise or not, I pack my gym bag anyway, and have it with me throughout the day. Just yesterday I was able to take advantage of an unexpected opening in my schedule to insert a weightlifting workout into my day. This wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t brought my prepared gym bag with me that morning. Always allow for variation and flexibility. You get to the gym and the pool is unexpectedly closed? Get on the treadmill or stationary bike, instead. The gym is busy, and there’s a line waiting to use the flat bench for dumbbell presses? Use a chest press machine instead, or drop to the floor and do old-fashioned pushups. With this kind of mindset, you guard against feeling disappointment, frustration, or even anger, that things didn’t work out exactly the way you wanted.

And, when it gets right down to it, that’s a good outlook for life in general, isn’t it?