Thursday, May 17, 2012

How I lost over 30lbs! (or, my bday gift to myself and my LORD (or, an attempt to bring things up to speed: Part 3))

     One of the coolest wedding gifts Kaitlin and I got last year was a Nintendo Wii with Wii Fit (courtesy of my brothers and sisters, who are awesome!). On the last day of our honeymoon, we opened it, plugged it in, and tried it out. For anyone who hasn't played, the first thing that you experience after you make your character and everything is a body test that measures your weight and your posture/balance. I didn't really care that my balance was 2% off, but being 30lbs overweight (and 50lbs over my "ideal weight") was just unacceptable to me. I had always known I was probably overweight, but I had no idea how much I had gained over the years. My "freshman 15" turned into my senior 40! I knew that if I didn't change something soon, I would regret it down the road. 235 pounds may not seem like a lot (and didn't really look like a lot on me since I was so tall), but it was enough to wake myself up and motivate me to do something about it.

     The waking up and motivation took about 6 months to get going. It started out as one of my new years resolutions, and has turned out to be one of the most significant achievements I have made this year. I decided that reaching my healthy weight range (150-200lbs) would be my birthday gift to me, and accomplished it a little over a week early, when I weighed in at about 198. The same game that gave me a hard pill to swallow gave me a sense of pride in myself for my commitment and of gratitude towards God for pulling me through when I saw this:

     It was a relief on multiple levels, because not only does it give you that fancy BMI meter and reading, but it also verbally lets you know what's going on, which before meant hearing "That's overweight!" every single time. Depressing, right? Almost as depressing as when your little Mii character slowly gets fatter and fatter as the meter goes up to where you really are. Needless to say, this game is done putting me down! Not that I ever took anything personally, but you know. 

     The first question people have asked has been what I've been doing different, which is mainly three things:
  1. Running/Jogging
  2. Eating lighter
  3. No more sugary soda
     And honestly, there have been countless days when #2 probably didn't happen, but 1 & 3 usually made up for it and then some. Has it been a smooth course? Nope. Even now, there are days when I feel like I still have a million miles to go and won't ever get there, but I am encouraged when I think about how healthier I am now and how I am doing my best to glorify God with my body. If you are thinking about taking on a journey like mine or are in the middle of one and just need some encouragement, feel free to contact me with any questions! Here are some tips, things to avoid, and just general good-to-know stuff that I have picked up along the way:

1. Do it for the right reason! I have heard countless stories of people who starve themselves or pay for expensive surgeries to lose weight just in order to improve their looks. It is almost never healthy, in my opinion, to try to lose weight solely to "look better." Before you try to change anything about yourself, love yourself for who you are, and try your absolute best to adapt a positive self-esteem. Being more athletically fit, looking slimmer, etc. should all be by-products of your journey, not the main reason for it. We are all told to love others unconditionally, and we should exhibit the same kind of love for ourselves. Love yourself with the possibility of never being able to change those things that you sometimes wish were different about yourself. I know it isn't easy, because it's a mindset I had to work towards too (and I'll admit sometimes I don't feel like I'm completely there yet). God designed us with purpose and love, including our bodies. Part of loving God back is loving His creation, including ourselves (including our bodies). Love yourself first, and out of that love for yourself (and the LORD), strive to adapt healthier habits which lead to weight loss. The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 6:20 that we "were bought with a price," and we should "therefore honor God with [our] bodies." Let that be your reason, above everything else.

2. Walk by faith, not by sight. This doubles as just a great Bible verse for everyday encouragement! (2 Corinthians 5:7). Do not judge your progress based on your looks or your own perception of how much you've lost (also, see #1). There are two main reasons why we tend to not feel like we're losing anything. Primarily, the weight we tend to want to lose is ironically the last weight we tend to lose. I can only really speak for myself as a guy, but I know from studying Anatomy & Physiology that this is true for females as well. The first place the body stores fat tends to be the places I don't want it (i.e, the belly). It's where my body wants to have extra cushion/protection/insulation, because that is where most of my visceral organs are. Makes sense, doesn't it? The body strategically tries to burn fat in other areas first before sacrificing it in areas that it prefers it. Another reason we seem to look like we're not getting anywhere is the fact that while we are losing weight, we're losing it fairly proportionally. Up until you get into a normal weight range, you will likely look proportionally the same as the way you started, even if you really have significantly lost weight.

3. Set healthy goals. Losing 50lbs in 2 weeks probably isn't healthy at all. In fact, losing 50lbs period may not be healthy for you. Know where you are, where is healthy for you, and how long it needs to take following a healthy rate. 1lb a week, I've heard, is a healthy goal. Every pound of fat is equal to burning about 3500 calories. So, a pound a week requires cutting back 500 calories a day. It's best not to count calories, because that leads to a whole mess of associating food with guilt, but if you're a numbers kind of person, this is a good place to start. Be comfortable with the idea that this may take a while, because it will. It needs to. Your body doesn't want to let go of fat without a fight. It takes some major convincing.

4. Consider investing in a pair of these:

I've never gone on a run so far without them. Despite everything your mother and/or peers may tell you about Vibram Fivefingers, they are beyond healthy for your feet (exceedingly more so than conventional shoes). Besides strengthening your feet and lower leg muscles, improving your balance, and being ridiculously comfortable, these shoes are pretty fun to wear and look cool! They come with a hefty price tag, but nothing is free, right?? These were thankfully a gift from my best friend and best wifey in the whole world, Kaitlin, but if I had an extra $100 lying around, I'd buy them over again in a heartbeat. They are great for running in, and come in plenty of colors/styles (even for youth!). If ever in your life there was a time to get some, now is that time!

5. Work out. Not only does working your muscles burn calories, but just having muscle burns calories. It takes more energy to maintain muscle than it does to maintain other tissues in the body. Also, when you are burning calories, the body destroys muscle before fat. So, if you are exercising your muscles, you are more likely to conserve/build muscle while getting rid of excess fat. Don't go overboard with this though and consider it an alternative to everything else. Not only is cardiovascular exercise (running/jogging/etc) vital to your well-being, but over-working your muscles does more damage than good and could actually lead to an outcome opposite to what you desire.

6. Find a partner. Having someone to support you along the way makes it a million times easier and more fun. Kaitlin is well within her healthy weight range and doesn't need to lose any at all, but runs with me anyway. It has become a part of the time we spend together, and is a great way to fellowship and catch up with each other. Since I have given up sugary drinks, we've started to drink less of it as a family, which helps tremendously. Little things like that, when shared with people close to you, make a huge difference.

7. Give yourself breaks. There are going to be days when you don't feel like running or working out or even eating healthy. Accept that this will happen and let it happen every once in a while. Don't deprive yourself of a well-deserved break. It really wont hurt you to eat a big dessert every now and then or spend a day or two resting. Think big-picture lifestyle change, not small details. Unless eating that Molten Lava Cake from Chili's is a part of a habit you're forming to pig out every single night, or unless your nap signifies your transformation into a sloth, it will not hurt your overall progress to indulge every now and then. Remember, you're doing all of this out of love for yourself, not condemnation. Be loving toward yourself! Don't let yourself slip away from your path towards better health, but also be careful not to deprive yourself of joy!

     Seven is the number of completion, so I'll end it at that. Above all else, lean on the LORD. A friend of mine recently prayed Ephesians 3:17 over me, and it has been an extremely powerful prayer in my life, and one that will give you the strength and power to overcome every obstacle in your path:
"I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." - Ephesians 3:17-19
      Christ's love gives us the power to do all things, and the ability to live life to the fullest extent of God's purpose for us. Part of that is being free from everything that oppresses us and keeps us from experiencing God's joy. If that happens to be the need to shave off some weight, I hope and pray that God may have used me in some way to shed some light in that area of your life. If that's not where you are right now, I still pray that you may be rooted and established in his Love, so that no matter what obstacle you are currently facing, you may be freed from it by His power and love in you.

Until next time,

Saturday, May 5, 2012

AHHHH, FINALS!! (or, an Attempt to Bring Things Up to Speed: Part II)

     So, as the title suggests, I am currently studying for finals (or rather, distracting myself from studying for finals). You may be wondering why I even have finals if I graduated over a year ago, and that is a perfectly reasonable query for I have not yet revealed to my (small, but existent) group of readers a crucial update: I went back to school. Being a prospective medical student, I have come to terms with the fact that this will probably be a recurring event throughout my life (or at least for the next decade or so). Counselors from various medical schools across the state have all given me the same advice: to raise my GPA as much as possible, get more clinical experience, and strive for the highest MCAT score possible. Which, although appreciated greatly, is not easy stuff to take in. My brain translates their well-intended advise to "Hey, I know you've worked your butt off in your undergrad studies, survived studying and taking the MCAT with a pretty decent score, and through persistent bugging of every physician you know, gotten the most shadowing and experience HIPAA will allow you to. However, it's just not good enough."

    Taking their advise led me to taking some more upper-level science classes at a public college nearby, Georgia Highlands College (formerly known as Floyd College). My posion? Anatomy I and II. At the same time. It initially included Medical Microbiology too. At the same time. But my class section was cancelled due to a small number of participants. Skipping to the present time, I am infinitely glad that it didn't work out to take all three because studying for just these two finals is really taking it's toll. I know, I know. Some of you are studying for like a hundred finals right now and would trade with me in a heartbeat! I feel your pain (I've been there), and my prayers go out to you! Anyway, I've been studying human anatomy and physiology for the past couple months (and I've actually been loving it, despite the stress), and now have to recall it all in two cumulative finals, after which I am free! Temporarily. And not totally. But still.

     It's during finals and thinking about my next steps in getting into medical school that my relationship with the LORD really takes a beating. No matter how many times He's helped me get through tough tests and provided for me financially, physically, and spiritually, when times get rough the doubting inevitably starts, and I fall back into anxiety. I start questioning myself and my life, start regretting not doing better during my undergrad studies, wishing I was more secure financially, etc. The kind of questions and worries Satan loves to pitch at me, and laughs when I swing and miss, guiding me to worldly things for comfort (Angry Birds, food, Facebook, Twitter, anything he can make me turn to instead of God). Why is it that despite all the wonderful things God does for us, we are so prone to turn away from Him when hard times come?

     God has never let me fall! God has blessed me with an honorable, Holy, captivating, gorgeous wife! God has provided my family with jobs, and never let us go without food, water, or shelter. God has helped us combat everything that has come our way, exactly when we needed it the most. Will not this same perfect, Holy, sovereign God rescue me from my anxieties and pave a path for His perfect will for my life? Absolutely! Will he let fall? Never! Will He provide and care for me (and my family)? Always!

     Why, oh why, then, is it so easy to forget and doubt that He will pull through for me? Reading in the old testament (part of my reading the Bible in a Year goal via YouVersion) has provided me with some insight to this question. I used to think of the Old Testament as being all about God's wrath, as if He was always an angry God of justice before Christ came. I soon have found that this is NOT the case. The Old Testament (and New Testament (and the world as it is even now!)) tells of countless stories that follow the pattern I see in my own life:

  1. God rescues and provides 
  2. His people follow Him obediently & with thanks, but soon forget about what He's done for them
  3. His people are tempted to abandon Him and live in sin, and do so
  4. God gets angry (and rightfully so!) and disciplines
  5. His people repent and ask for His help
  6. God forgives them
  7. Repeat Steps 1-6
     Without fail, as far as I've read so far, God's people trap themselves into this pattern, and I'm not any different sometimes. I can't help, sometimes, feel like Gideon when He says this to an angel of God:
"If the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about? Didn't they say, 'The LORD brought us up out of Egypt'"? - Judges 6:13
     I hate to admit it, but caught up in Satan's lies, my "out of sight, out of mind" mindset kicks in and I quickly forget how MIGHTY our God is, and all the wondrous things He has done for me. I forget how unfailingly He provides for His people and holds them in His loving, Fatherly arms. He knows His plans for me, and they are plans "to prosper me and not to harm me, plans to give me a hope and a future!" (Jeremiah 29:11). Now, if I would only submit myself to Him and let Him guide me into that life! Thank the LORD for Jesus Christ, who is the ONLY way for me to do that. God knows as a human I am unable to serve Him by myself (Joshua 24:19). I am way too prone to turn to those things I have mentioned before. And yet still He longs to show me mercy and grace (Isaiah 30:18)! He wants me to have life, and have it to the full so He sent His son, Jesus, as the permanent sacrifice for the forgiveness of my sin, so that absolutely NOTHING could separate me from His unending love.

Worried about finals? Psh. God is bigger than your finals! Give it to all Him! He's already figured it out and has it all laid out for you! He desperately wants you to take hold of it!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Our First Christmas! (or, An Attempt to Bring Things Up to Speed: Part 1)

     For someone who loves to write and has had lots to write about, I've been terrible at it! I could pitch you a series of convincing, half-true excuses why I haven't been able to keep up with this blog, but I'll save you that and cut to the first installment of my massive catching-up update: my first Christmas spent with Kaitlin (and family!)

     As is the case every major holiday, the struggle to sort out how to visit both of our extended families began about a month before Christmas. This year proved to be less simple than years past, because while we both wanted to visit our families, we also kinda wanted to have Christmas time to ourselves, with it being our first. Most of the ideas to solve this dilemma involved too much stress (and gasoline) than our minds and bodies would be able to handle (driving from Rome to Marietta on the Eve of Christmas Eve... going to the Christmas Eve celebration at my grandmothers house in Woodstock the next day... then driving back to Rome that night to spend Christmas morning together alone the following morning... only to try to make it all the way to Macon by lunch time!). Not to mention Christmas fell on a Sunday that year, which brought church attendance into the equation!

     It was somewhere during that whole deal when one of us (I want to say it was me, but I cannot be sure =P) thought of the brilliant idea of spending the weekend before Christmas in a cabin in Tennessee, celebrating Christmas together there instead of Christmas morning. I have to admit, being too much of a sentimentalist made this hard, but after I let go of religiously and emotionally HAVING to celebrate Christmas on Christmas Day, it became the funnest Christmas idea ever!

     This was our view from our cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains! I find that I'm more of a mountain person than a beach person. There is nothing like enjoying a view like this, and experiencing God's beautiful design in creation. The Great Smokies are a personal favorite of mine, having visited multiple times during my youth (not to mention my honeymoon!). Kaitlin always gets a kick out of me never leaving out the "Great" in Great Smoky Mountains. It turned out to be a fairly cheap and endlessly fun Gatlinburg getaway Christmas, mostly spent at Dollywood (with rain checks from the time we went during our Honeymoon and it closed because of a storm), eating, and shopping.
     Although ridiculously overpriced, Dollywood is such a fun place to go, and doesn't get old (or at least hasn't gotten old yet). Being the holiday season, they had the whole place lit up, like this:

I don't remember what the name of that chapel is. It's on the picture, but pretty fuzzy. It amazed me how many people put honest, personal prayer requests in the guestbook. It really had the feel of a church rather than a part of a theme park. Kaitlin and I did a little bible study hear and then continued a long the park. Can you imagine having to put Christmas lights on buildings like that? The chapel was pretty tame compared to the countless lights put up on all the buildings in the entire park. Over 6 million lights in all! At least, that's what they told us when we were on the train:

     Kaitlin snapped this jewel. Pretty cool, actually! This train really put the one at Six Flags to shame. We soon found out (thanks to the guide) that this train doesn't stop for NOTHIN'; if you pulled the emergency line, you better have a good reason (dropping your cell phone/camera/iPad is not considered an emergency (nor is getting a cinder in your eye (I guess they get that a lot))). Aside from the lights and the train (and the rides, which I sadly have no pictures of), the blacksmith is always a winner:

     If I remember correctly, it's Kaitlin's favorite part of the park. We spent at least half an hour watching the blacksmith work his magic with the fire (and knocked out some people on our Christmas gift list too!).

     And what would Christmas (or anything in life) be without great food? If you ever go to the Great Smoky Mountains/Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge, there are three restaurants that you absolutely have to go to:

Shrimp Lover's Feast, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co
Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.,
The Old Mill Restaurant
The Old Mill Restaurant,
Hungry Bear Breakfast @ Smoky Mountain Pancake House
...and the Smoky Mountain Pancake House.

     If you happen to have ever driven all the way to this part of Tennessee and did not come across these fine eating establishments, you seriously missed out to say the least. Arrive hungry and order what you want, because it is going to be one of the best dining experience your mouth has ever encountered, hands down. If you go to Bubba Gump, freshen up your Forrest Gump trivia, because you will be tested! Also, go ahead and order the hush pups. Just do it. At the Old Mill, just about anything on the menu will be great, but make sure you order extra corn fritters. They are the best in the world! Seriously. What you see in the last picture is the Hungry Bear Breakfast! I recommend it.

     When we got back home, we still had a day to rest and prepare for all the traveling. We celebrated Christmas with my family at my grandmother's (Nanny!) Christmas Eve party, and headed to Kaitlin's house to celebrate with her family on Christmas Day. All in all, it was such a peaceful and fun alternative to running around across the state that week. Who really wants to get stressed out during Christmas? It's hard to avoid it, but should we really celebrate the birth of our Savior by stressing out, running around like chickens with our heads cut off, buying people things they don't need just because it's what we're supposed to do, etc. I'm not trying to be a Grinch at all here; Christmas is actually one of my favorite times of the year, and I don't have anything against buying Christmas presents (I bought Kaitlin a new study bible and a barn coat, and she bought me an iPhone (which produced all the pictures in this post!). I just think that anything that can be done to make Christmas more of a joyous celebration and peaceful fellowship with family should be wholly pursued, and we had such a great time pursuing it this year.

Such a great time, that Christmas in the Smokies may become our first family tradition. =] Well just have to see.