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The Big Why – The 2016 That Was

It was the best of times, it was the worst of time, it was the tritest way to open a blog post, it was an overused cliché well past it’s time. While the opening of the Dickens’ classic is such an overused analogy of contrast, it is simply the perfect simplification of how I feel about 2016.

The Worst of Times

Everyone is losing their collective minds over 2016 and the impact it had and will have for coming years. The US elected a new President, celebrities died off as if it was check out time at the Waldorf, and in general there is this consensus that 2016 was the worst year ever from the collective standpoint. I won’t get into the politics of 2016 too much, as this blog is about bettering ourselves, and frankly no good was ever developed by a person in the modern age by having a conversation that leads to politics.

2016 was the year we lost so much talent of stage, screen, and music. It was as if we were all in an episode of Game of Thrones that simply would not end, and even to the point that mid-writing of this entry we lost more celebrities

While 2016 was a bad year for me in many respects, it went from “meh” to “oh crap” in 0 to 60 beginning in late September. First it began with my mother going into the hospital with a staph infection. Shortly thereafter, I had a muscle injury that left me near-bed ridden for several days and limping for weeks. Then my mother had a stroke, followed by a decline that ultimately led to her untimely death on November 18.

You never realize how much impact someone has on your day to day life until they are gone. Suddenly the daily calls go away, the conversations for hours are gone, and the connections dissolve. There is a huge void in your life, and you must somehow figure out how to reconnect with your life with that missing part. This is what I wrote on Facebook the day after; I think it sums up my feelings well and rather than trying to rehash those moments, I’ll simply include it here. (I’ll be writing more about my mother as part of another project in the future.)

I’m just not sure what to say. I feel numb, scared, sad, and a million other emotions all at once right now.

On Friday, November 18 at 6:00 PM my mother passed away. She had been suffering from some long term illnesses, including COPD, for some time now, and suffered a stroke a couple of weeks ago. No matter how much you try to prepare yourself, you’re never prepared to let go of a loved one.

My mother and I definitely had our moments of contention. She was protective of me and my brother to the end. Perhaps a bit too protective at times. I remember when I wanted to play baseball, she said “you’ll get hit by the ball and kill yourself”. Mom always wanted to make sure I was always safe. To the end, she was always worried about my safety. Even driving to work in New Jersey, I always checked on Facebook just so she knew I was safe during the trip.

While we were raised from humble beginnings, she worked hard every day of our lives to make sure we had a good childhood. We lived in low income housing growing up, but she never made it seem like it was that bad. She always made sure we had great toys, were well fed.

She worked herself out of poverty to go to school as a single, working mother in the 1980s. No matter what, we never went hungry.

She gave birth to her first child in 1973 at the age of 13; her lover-then-shotgun-marriage-husband (and i do mean shotgun marriage literally) was 22. They divorced, and she later married my father and I was born a year later when she was 18. Five years later, she divorced my father (with some good reasons!) and was a single mother from that point forward.

As an adult, she became not just my mother but one of my best friends. She truly was my favorite person in the whole world. We would talk for hours when I was taking long drives. Even when I moved to Connecticut, we talked on the phone on a nearly daily basis.

There is more to my mother’s story than can be encapsulated in a single Facebook post. She a tough, strong woman who persevered over great odds, raised two successful children, and fought more life battles than most people will know. I do believe I lost her too soon, and will miss her so much.

My final words to her were simple, “You know I love you more than anything in the world, right?” In her stroke-limited voice, she smiled and said “yeah” and we hugged. She went to sleep from the medicines, and 8 hours later she passed peacefully in her sleep with no pain.

I love you mom. More than anything in the world. May you rest in peace.

I would say from a personal perspective, there are few events that can affect your life more than  losing your mother, especially so untimely and at such a young age. (I would say the only thing worse would be losing your own child.)

As human beings, we tend to dwell on those things that are bad and don’t think about the things that are good.

I had a pretty miserable 2016, much as everyone else did… right? Sure, in the right context. However, two things come to mind as I look back on the year.

First, that my 2016 comparably speaking is no where near as bad as a vast majority of people on the planet. Between the war in Syria, terrorist attacks across the world, famine, disease, and a multitude of other things my problems in comparison seem miniscule.

Second, I made changes in my own life that made it one of the best years of my life as well. I controlled the things I could control, rode the waves of the things I couldn’t control, and came out the other side what I feel is a better overall person.

The Best of Times

When I started 2016, I was depressed. I was morbidly obese at 287 pounds and upper-30s body fat. I was feeling sick to my stomach on a near daily basis. I had trouble sleeping at night, and during the days my thoughts were filled constantly with fear of death which I truly felt was impending. I was feeling angry about myself and the world, closed off from anyone and everyone even remotely near me.

I had started working with a trainer a couple of months earlier, but wasn’t really seeing many results yet. Sure, I felt a little stronger and a little more mobile, but my weight was fairly static and a lot of my pains, emotional and physical, were still there.

I set a goal at the beginning of the year to “lose weight”. It’s this generic “resolution” type goal that everyone sets, especially those who are morbidly obese. After all, isn’t that really the core of the problem, that I needed to lose weight? So I continued working with the trainer, and did lose a little weight.

20161229_182654289_iosThe biggest change I noticed, however, was my increasing strength and stamina. I started noticing this through the early parts of January. In my apartment, there is a rather steep stairway leading up to the second floor where my office and the bedroom are. Where in the past I would be winded by step four or five, I could begin to climb more and more stairs without the constant pain in my knees. I could get to the top without stopping for a moment to catch my breath. I could also lift things more easily; those 5 gallon water jugs on my watercooler started to become easier to pick up and move around the house.

February came, and the gym manager approached me with a rather interesting query; she asked if it would be ok if I was featured as the ‘Member Spotlight’ for that month. I’ll be honest, it made me very uncomfortable. After all, I had only been working with the trainer for about 3 months so far, hadn’t made much traction on overall weight. I know my strength was increasing but I really didn’t feel like I should be “spotlighted”. I agreed, though. I used to agree to a lot of things because I liked taking the path of least resistance.

When I saw the posting she put on the Facebook page, I read through it a couple of times. Each time, honestly, it did make me smile. I could see myself beginning to change, and this was just the beginning. I think this Facebook post was honestly the first time I felt some validation that I accepted of the effort I was putting in, and honestly it was an amazing feeling. (Aside: When I went looking for this post I past it several times. Apparently I forgot what I looked like.)

As the next couple of month’s went through, I worked on building my strength up more and more. As I approached the end of March, something really began to click in me. I went to my trainer and said, firmly, “I want to be 15% bodyfat”. He almost seemed a little stunned at the moment, as I had difficulty articulating my goals in the past. It went from “lose weight” to “lose fat”; that was the first step.

It wasn’t so much that I didn’t know what I wanted, but I needed someone to pull that out of me. I needed someone to show me, to tell me, to reinforce to me that I was capable of achieving great things. I could become as strong, as big, as lean, and as great as I wanted to be if I simply put my mind and body to the test. My trainer played that role of bringing that out, and driving me to continuing efforts towards greatness.

In April, I participated in a fun run with some other people from the gym. It was a fun time where we all got to run through color shots and just enjoy ourselves and get outside. It was the first time in a long time I was willing to do anything outside, much less anything that was with a group of people. It was just this feeling that I finally felt like I was starting to connect with other humans, something I’ve always had difficulty with. It was more and more becoming about a holistic change and less about weight change.

I immediately got my diet on point and have consistently kept it there since; I exterminated garbage from my diet and instead adopted a healthier diet and macros aligned with my evolving goals.

There was this one moment mid-Spring when I walked into the gym for a training session, and my trainer looks straight at me and says “you’re smiling.” It was this moment when I realized that yes, in fact, I was smiling and actually enjoying life and finally it felt like things were coming together. Life is good. Life is worth living.

In May I made a decision that would have a huge impact on the coming months, as well as myself psychologically. I was going to go on vacation to “Camp Nerd Fitness“, an adult summer camp in rural Georgia in September. This was going to be huge. First, it began as a huge motivator to further my body transformation. Second, it was forced cohabitation with six other people in bunks. Finally, it was out in the wilderness; sure in cabins, but out in a rural area with no cell phone service.

Through June & July, I participated in a “Fitclub” at the gym which drove me to drop a big chunk of bodyfat. I basically went into “full on beast mode” at that moment, and didn’t stop. Some days I would put in 2+ hours at the gym between cardio and lifting. It was a grueling schedule, but it was for a greater good of driving my transformation. Through that, I also began meeting more people and interacting with others much more than I had prior. Through attending group coaching sessions, I had greater chances of talking to people from all walks of life, from all levels of fitness, and all levels of social anxiety as well.

In June I also decided to launch this blog to chronicle my continued efforts. My hope is that my efforts do inspire at least one person, and if so, I’ve succeeded.

The three months between the start of Fitclub and Camp seemed like a bit of a blur. During this period of time, I also started to feel some additional changes in my mentality. I was progressing to becoming stronger and stronger. I was feeling the “pure beast” of the moments in my workouts, and loving every minute of it. As I became stronger, as my endurance began rising from the group coaching sessions, my goals began to evolve even more. Suddenly the guy who wanted to “lose weight” to “lose fat, gain endurance, gain strength”.

As Fitclub wound down, I still kept my routine going, but something else happened. One day I looked at myself in the mirror and realized that the person I was becoming was the person I always wanted to be. I saw my body changing, my attitude changing, and my whole life before me as an expanse instead of a blip.

Camp came and went in September, which I wrote about earlier this year. It was truly the beginning of Ben 2.0, as I called it. I was no longer the same Ben that began the year. That Ben was long gone, and a new one had risen. Someone healthier, happier, and more content with the world than ever before.

After coming home from camp, life went into chaos for a little while. From a muscle pull, the death of my mother, and getting whacked in the head with a hockey puck it seemed like life was throwing any number of obstacles at me.

I couldn’t let life’s bumps stop me. I had come too far, changed so much in the last year, and I needed to keep going. Not long after the muscle pull, I was already throwing up Personal Records in my strength efforts. Moving my body to new levels became more and more important to me. Whether it was continuing to push up my back squat weight, my deadlift weight, or hitting heavier and heavier dumbbells on my bench press, I just wanted to keep pushing.

Through December, my number one objective has been to get back to normal after the speed bumps life threw at me. I’ve pushed through and have begun achieving greater and greater things. I am getting heavier weights up, getting endurance back, and driving myself day in and day out to be a better person physically, emotionally, and mentally.

So 2016 truly has been the best year and worst year of my life simultaneously. It will truly go down as the year that changed my entire life. When I started the year, I was feeling awful about life and felt like I had nothing to live for; today, I feel like I have everything to live for and know I have another half of my life ahead of me.

So now, I have to begin looking towards 2017 and what that will bring…

 

detail of Hercules statue seen from behind

The Measure of a Hero

It begins with the booming voice of Charlton Heston…

Long ago, in the faraway land of ancient Greece there was a golden age of powerful gods and extraordinary heroes. And the greatest and strongest of all these heroes was the mighty Hercules.

But what is the measure of a true hero?

So what is the measure of a true hero? Maybe I am getting ahead of myself. Maybe I should go back, because my mind has a bit of baggage on this topic.

I20161218_034249000_iost’s 1997. I’m out of high school for about a year now. Disney released a new movie, part of the series of amazing movies they did in a row. The newest one was “Hercules”, based on the mythological figure Hercules (based on the Roman adaptation, Heracles in the original Greek.) I was particularly excited because I always found Greek & Roman mythology particularly interesting, and I loved anything animated. (Wow, I really am a nerd.)

As someone who was a loner in school and didn’t have many friends, I found the whole movie to be something I could connect with. I was this fat kid for my entire life and going into being a fat adult. “Herc” was a lanky kid who had to grow to become a hero. Aside from the variance there, it connected with me as I always felt like if I wasn’t this fat dude, I would be able to connect with others. The idea of being a hero who came from zero was so appealing to me, because I felt like a total zero.

hercules_flexThere was this particular sequence in the movie where Hercules is working with his trainer and begins to become bigger and stronger.

Thank goodness for home video, because I know I watched this scene and particular the part of his bicep busting the measuring tape more than once. In many ways, I think this cartoon solidified my body dysmorphic disorder that would be part of my life for a long time, and by long time I mean forever because Zeus know I still have it. (See what I did there? Where’s my rimshot?)

I had the soundtrack. I would listen to “Go the Distance” frequently. I often dreamed of a far off place where a great warm welcome would be waiting for me. I always felt alone, a solitary person surrounded by people.

This movie is part of the reason why I started working out and lost weight the first time. It finally drove me as an inspiration to become the man I always wanted to be. I worked with a trainer, and dropped a substantial amount of weight. I got down to 185 pounds and 20% body fat, the thinnest I had ever been in my life. It felt incomplete, though. I was thinner, and I was a better person to be around, but I can’t say I was happy. I certainly wasn’t as miserable as I had used to be, but I wasn’t happy.

Inevitably time and career would take its toll and my weight would rise. Before I knew it, I was over three hundred pounds again. As I barreled through life for almost a decade being fat and miserable.

In mid-2015, I was so miserable and deep in depression that my thoughts continually went to very dark places. It was a state of being that simply wasn’t sustainable. In September 2015 I would begin down a path that would change everything.

I had my first tune-up with the man who would become my trainer, Andrew. After two “tune-up” sessions, I made the decision to work with him. Oddly enough, it was a week after watching Disney’s Hercules on Netflix.

As I continued to work with the trainer, we were fixing mobility and flexibility issues and just getting me started. I certainly wasn’t feeling like a hero.

It wasn’t until April 2016 that I realized something really had to change. It was the first time I was being mobile and capable, and I realized there is more to life than what I was experiencing. It was driven by someone who saw something in me others hadn’t seen before, a drive and a fire to improve myself and be more than I am.

During this time, I was also becoming more involved in the online Nerd Fitness community, and committed myself to attending their annual camp in the Atlanta area. It was another step towards a better me, a more outgoing me. It was another step in becoming a hero.

I began to really see changes over the next couple of the months, which greatly excited me. Come June, I committed myself to a full-on hardcore endeavor to drop body fat. It meant being in the gym 12+ hours a week, every week. I was fine with this, because the gym had turned from a place of dread to a place of happiness.

Suddenly I began lifting heavier and heavier weights, getting stronger and stronger. I was always a strong person, but didn’t have the mobility to leverage it. I was still getting stronger, though. Something else was happening, though. I wasn’t just getting physically stronger. I was becoming stronger inside and out.

My emotional state was becoming stronger as I saw my body changing. I started to become more joyful in my days. I remember this one moment when I walked in the gym and started my warm up. I went up to Andrew, ready to start my workout. He looks at me and says, “you’re smiling!” It was this little moment that made me realize the changes were well underway. I was smiling. I was happy.

The muses began speaking to me and telling me that there was more to life, that life was worth living fully. I was becoming a hero.

I will beat the odds
I can go the distance
I will face the world
Fearless, proud and strong
I will please the gods
I can go the distance
Till I find my hero’s welcome
Right where I belong

I started doing group coaching sessions for cardio, suddenly comfortable working out around other people when prior I was very solitary. When we did “teamwork” exercises, I was working well with others. I began joking around with the other people. It felt good, it was a different feeling than I had in the past.

Come September, I was off to Camp Nerd Fitness for 5 days of fun and excitement and fitness. What I learned was a lot of new things, and some things I had grown to know over the last few months.

So what it the measure of a true hero? A true hero is one that not only accepts himself for who he is, but drives to improve himself constantly. A hero is someone who cares for other people, going out of his way to help.

I AM A HERO.

Let me say it again. I AM A HERO. Holy self fulfillment, Batman, I AM A HERO.

So as 2016 winds down, and I move into 2017, what’s next? Well, Muscle Dysmorphia is a real thing. I choose to accept it as part of me, and use it to my advantage. I’ve been using the word “swole” as a joke more and more, but the truth is every joke has some truth to it. I can fully admit I want to be “big” and “strong”. These are not bad things to want to be, it is simply an extension of my goals of being more of a hero every day. After all, the measure of a true hero is someone who is always improving.

What matters in life is leading a fulfilled life, one that you enjoy living. I enjoy life because I’ve realized a life well lives is one worth living. The reality is, I’ve become a kid with his act down pat, a ZERO to HERO in no time flat, I’ve gone from ZERO to HERO just like that. (Just like that? A year of hardwork, dedication, commitment, and life changing behaviors, but who is counting?) I had the brains, and thanks to the changes in my life and the encouragement of my trainer and others around me, I now have the moxie and spunk.

I went from ZERO to HERO, who’d have thunk?

 

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Squatting Towards #Normality, Life’s Speed Bumps Can’t Stop Me

Today was the first day I hit a full on, hardcore workout in what seems like weeks. Finally, I am seeing the return to normality. Today was ninety…. what? You thought I was returning to normality a week ago?

Well, I was. Then something happened. Something big. Well, actually something small, black, and hard. Not that, and you have a filthy mind for even thinking that.

On Saturday, December 3 I hit a decent return lift then went to a mid-afternoon hockey game. About 19 minutes into the first period, that small, black, and hard thing happened. Specifically, I was struck in my right temple by a hockey puck.

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The result of the impact was a mild concussion, some disorientation, nausea, and some pain in the impact area along with swelling. I did not lose consciousness, but I did go to the emergency room to have x-rays done and additional testing. The good news everything came back fine, but I had some pain, discomfort, and discoloration ahead of me for a bit.

After a gluteus pull, the death of my mother, my first Thanksgiving without my mother, and work travel this was just another speed bump for me to get over. For anyone who knows me, they know I’m not going to let something like a concussion slow me down for long.

I took the next few days off from any major activity and worked mildly during the beginning of the week. Next up, a workout with my trainer on Wednesday. We went light and wanted to let my body acclimate back. With the concussion plus everything else that happened, my body definitely wasn’t as responsive as it normally is; we did a mild squat day.

I originally planned to only lift once more this week, but decided to try another lift on Friday. As I said, I may trip but I will not fall. Went a little heavier, but still pulled it back for safety sake. Had a good deadlift workout.

Then there was today. As I walked into the gym wearing my “MAXIMUM EFFORT” t-shirt, I felt something I haven’t felt in a long time. It was this overwhelming sense of normal. Normal. I closed my eyes, breathed in and out, and absorbed this for a moment. I am approaching normality. Let’s lift.

Normal warm-up. First up, trap bar carries. An exercise I’ve been working hard on to improve my overall grip power. Load up two 45s on each side, not wanting to push ‘too hard’. As I hauled that trap bar at 225 pounds around the gym’s cage I realized I was ready and back. Loaded it up to 255 and did two more goes around the cage.

Now some toss-to-target long jumps using a dyno ball. I could feel the energy and power coursing through me as I passed the ball against the target. I was in the zone.

Now for the fun stuff. Squats time! Started at 225, then moved to 245 and did a set. That went well, so pushed it up to 255×10 for two more sets. Super-setted with 35 pound dumbbell walking lunges, that burned my legs. Next up, dumbbell chest presses with 60 pounders, super-setted with dumbbell flyes. Finally some assisted pull-ups with TRX bicep curls; the pull-ups are the area I’ve slid the most in the last few weeks when life descended into chaos. I did 8 reps on each set.

Finally, some battle rope slams with burpees. This was probably the worst part, as the up-and-down made me a little sick to my stomach, but nothing horrible. I finished them, and felt energized after doing it. I really do feel like it’s the hardest, best workout I’ve had in weeks and I loved it.

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Today, it was all about normality. Getting back to that state of being where I can have consistency, drive, and commitment towards my goals.

20161210_185347550_ios-1So what happens next week? Well come Monday, all new fun as we pass the #normality line and work to get #BeyondNormal. That’s when life will get interesting. The picture here says it all of what Monday will bring.

The truth is, this is the new normal, as my life will never be the same again after the last month. Just as 2016 as been a year of my life changing, my life truly has changed in ways that will impact me for the rest of my days. In many ways, every month has brought some degree of change that’s made me a different person than the one who was standing here a year ago. But that’s another story all together…

 

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Squat Day – 2016/11/27

Today was #squat day. Finally breaking back into some sense of normalcy, pushed my pause squats up to 255 for 12 reps on 3 sets; supersetted that with some walking lunges with 35 lb dumbbells. My dumbbell bench is still taking some time to recover, hitting 55×12 for 3 sets with some dumbbell flyes.

“Dummbell Flyes” is an interesting sequence of words. In terms of  time flies is correct. The simple present tense of “fly” is “flies” and not “flys“. The simple past tense is “flew” and the participial form is “flown“. The verb “fly” is irregular. When looking at the lifting action of doing a “fly“, the plural of the action seems to be “flyes” on consensus of articles on the Internet.

Finally, my biggest hurdle and nemesis, the pull-ups. Struggled on some assisted pull-ups; definitely need a couple more rounds to get back to where I was. The long term objective is to be able to do them “knee in band” instead of “foot in band” and then, of course, no band at all. It will come in time, it’s definitely a continued battle.

The next four days will be zero lifting as I will be travelling and won’t have access to anything resembling a proper gym. Hotel gyms are always a fun sort of exercise in futility.

Next week, I will be looking forward to restoring normality. Next week I will be back to normal meal prepping, normal lifting (I never lift normal, only awesome!), normal cardio, normal work schedule at my normal office. I’m ready to get past the last few weeks of infinite improbability.

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Deadlift Day – 2016/11/26

Today was deadlift day. This was my second deadlift session since I was out of the gym for nearly two weeks.

Today I was able to push my snatch-grip deadlift up to 275 for the final set; I also pushed up my dumbbell shrugs to 75, my barbell shoulder presses to 85, and my single arm kettlebell clean & press to 40.

Exercise Highest Weight Today Reps
Stability Ball Pikes n/a 15
Half Kneel Rope Pull 37 15
Kettlebell Clean & Press 40 16
Snatch Grip Deadlift 275 12
Dumbbell Shrug 75 10
Bent Over Row 135 10
Lat Iso Pull 40 20
Barbell Shoulder Press 85 10
Dumbbell Lateral Raise 15 15
Heavy Bag
Squatted 1-2 + 3-4
n/a 60 seconds x 3 rounds

 

oeuf dans une bote triste ngatif

Grief, Nutrition, and Exercise

You’re never prepared. Never. It can come in an instant, and no matter how much you think you’ve readied yourself for it, it hits like you’ve been crushed by a tumbling wall of bricks. You know it will happen one day, but you don’t expect it to be that day. You know there is no avoiding it, but nothing can hold you up when it occurs.

On Friday, November 18, 2016, my mother passed away at the age of 58.

While I come to terms with her death, I also realize I must also come to terms with the behavior changes I have made while she was ill for the prior two months. My mother was extremely proud of the progress I made in changing my life, my behaviors, and my overall body composition. She used to tell her friends and other family members how amazing it was that I was transforming my life, my body, and achieving goals I has dreamed of achieving for decades. I truly believe that keeping this going is what she would want more than anything; to ensure I live a long, healthy, well fulfilled life.

This isn’t the story of my mother’s life, or of her decline, or ultimately her death. Those are stories for another day. Instead, this is the story of how illness can change our behaviors and the importance of ensuring those behaviors don’t become self destructive.

When  my mother first went into the hospital in September, my stress levels began to rise. I noticed by diet beginning to slip. It also coincided with my camp trip, so already I was already thrown off a bit by changes in schedule. I noticed myself desiring sweets more and more. Some days I could resist, while others I found myself stress-eating chocolate on a too regular basis. When I would grab coffee from the Dunkin, I would also find myself subconsciously ordering a donut.

As the weeks progressed, it began to get worse. I would be snacking on a near-constant basis. When I would learn she was doing better, I eased off a bit. If something came up bad, I would find myself snacking again. Then the call came… my mother had a stroke while at the nursing facility being on the mend for an infection. I began to ravenously eat whatever I could find in the house. It simply was the reaction to stress to begin grabbing food and making myself feel temporarily better with this Band-Aid.

I constantly found myself eating food I shouldn’t be eating, neglecting my hydration, and increasingly consuming massive amounts of coffee just to try to ease myself.

After the stroke, she went to a rehab facility located by my bother. This made me feel better; she could recover from the stroke, get stronger, and be near family even though we had to be apart. While at the rehab facility, I began plans to fly in to see her in person.

Then the call came in, and she was back in ICU again. A urinary tract infection, but a nasty one that had spread. She was going to be fine, though. A couple of days in the hospital, and she’d be back to rehab again. She went into ICU for the UTI on Wednesday and by Saturday they were ready to start moving her to a room and prepping her to go back to rehab.

The next day, I received a text that I needed to be a conference call about mom’s status. She had taken a turn for the worse. Chocolate, chocolate was my friend. I was told her condition was extremely critical, and I made plans to fly out as quickly as I could. When I arrived, I was told the full details far beyond what I learned the prior day… her respiratory system was failing. I was told that, in nothing but simple terms, that she was going to die. My entire body went numb, my mind went empty. I began to hunger for more food, it was what I always used to comfort myself in the past.

Over the next five days, my mother was sent to an in-hospital hospice facility where she would be “actively dying” as it was explained to me. The objective was to make her as comfortable as possible in her final days. I was committed to spending her final days with her, taking care of her as much as I could.

In between visits to her bedside, I made trips down to the ground floor of the hospital. There were three options; the cafeteria, Starbucks, and Tim Hortons. Never in four days have a drank so much coffee, eaten so much garbage, and in general had such more behaviors for my own body. Later I would tell a friend that I do believe I consumed more sugar in those four days than probably the prior four months combined.

Each day was the same; barely sleep, spend time with mom, drink coffee, eat a donut, grab a cranberry bliss bar, eat something from the cafeteria, and keep repeating that.

When my mother passed away, the shock was simply more than I could bear at the time. I remember vaguely going to Dewey’s Pizza in Columbus, Ohio and eating pizza. Most everything from the moment I was told she passed until about the time I landed from my flight the next day is still much of a blur to me.

As I began to settle back into my life of “new normal”, I found some of my behaviors were persisting. I’d grab coffee and still be grabbing a donut. I was still reaching for chocolate to satiate my need for comfort. Each time I was doing it, I was both simultaneously conscious and unconscious of the action. As the week progressed, my actions were beginning to take a physical toll and make me sick to my stomach. This was not a physical reaction, but an emotional reaction.

As I look back today, I realize a lot of the actions I took may have been necessary as part of my overall healing process. However, I also know I have goals I want to achieve, a body composition I want to attain, and I won’t achieve these things by stress eating. More importantly, I also know my mother would not want me to be repeating the same behaviors. Many of these behaviors may ultimately may be what caused my mother’s own death, and she was so proud I was breaking the cycle of dependency on food and my desire to get fit.

To the end, she still didn’t like me lifting “heavy” weights, always concerned about my safety above all else. She wanted to protect me, she was my mother after all. I assured her it was safe, I was working with an awesome professional who was helping me, and she had nothing to worry about.

During her final days, in one of our conversations (which were difficult given the stroke) I promised her I would keep my progress going, that I would not allow bad behaviors to repeat themselves again.

So now I am facing a “new normal” without my mother. I do this with her in mind, to ensure I honor her memory and that I will break the cycle of poor health, obesity, diabetes, etc. that has caused the early deaths of many in our family. In her honor, I commit myself more than ever to the great endeavor of a healthy life.

To help steer me back, I will begin food logging once again for a minimum of 30 days. Every single item will be logged; condiments, oils, etc. Everything. I will also commit to returning to a normal workout schedule after my next work trip; four days of lifting, multiple days of cardio, and bringing #BeastMode to everything I do.

At the end of the day, we only have one life. It is up to us to ensure we do everything we can to live a long, healthy life. We can’t always control if we get hit by a bus, but we can control if we eat that extra donut. I now do this not just for myself, but for the memory of my mother who I often thought hated me working out but was simply so proud of everything I’ve done, the commitment I made, and she knew I would be accomplishing great things for years to come.

I miss her so much every single day; more than I possibly could have imagined. You’re never prepared. Never. I do know, however, that time will help… as will keeping my promise to live a healthy, strong life for many, many decades to come.

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Ben 2.0 & After-Camp

Today begins “Year 2” of my efforts in transformation. While transformation never ends, this concerted effort continues on as I work towards my greater goals. I can achieve great things when I apply my mind and body to them. It wasn’t always this way, however…

A year ago, I was in a severe depression. Every single day I woke up in misery, both physically and mentally. I felt like my body was in a complete shutdown mode. It hurt to walk, my feet feeling the pressure of over three hundred pounds of weight. I couldn’t climb half of a flight of stairs without becoming very winded. In addition to my physical problems, I was having severe mental concerns; specifically, I was constantly dwelling on death. Every day, nearly every minute I would have thought about death. I assume it was because I felt like it was impending given my physical state of being.

Around that same time, I met someone who would help kick me off on the journey of the next year, a man named Andrew. He who would become my trainer, Andrew had me come in for an assessment in September 2015. We met, discussed my current condition, and agreed to meet again. In October we met and my weight went down… but my body fat went up. Not sustainable. After some thinking, I decided to try him as a trainer for a little while.

There is a longer story around this… but that’s for another post.

Beginning in early November we began the process of basically breaking me down and rebuilding me. I was having mobility issues, so we began to work on those. We also began working some dynamic exercises. I couldn’t do a single push-up unless it was on a fairly steep incline, for example.

After I progressed a bit, he pointed to a squat rack and smiled, “we’re going to do squats.” I immediately panicked. I had only ever done squats on a Smith Machine (and not very heavy) based on advice from prior trainers. I got on and fumbled through squats. Then shortly thereafter he had me do a deadlift with a trap bar; my very first non-dumbbell deadlift ever. It felt good. It felt right.

We progressed, but I wanted to know more. I started researching and came across the Nerd Fitness community. I had been a subscriber to their blog posts for some time now, and only just rediscovered them. I decided to join.

In April, I made the decision to ‘cleanse’ my diet. I started eliminating bad food from my diet, taking everything I made poor decisions on before and kicking it to the curb. Instead I focused on clean foods made from whole ingredients whenever possible.

Sometime in May I made another decision… Nerd Fitness was hosting a camp, and I was going! I signed up shortly after they announced their third annual camp, and realized more of what I was working towards. It created a nice deadline to work towards my goals, and allow me to focus on what I needed to do.

I continued working on my body fat. I began incorporating cardio classes into my workouts. What once became a chore became easier as time went on. I discovered I could have endurance if I simply worked at it.

September came fast, and it was time for camp. I was off the the northern mountains of Georgia for 5 days of fitness, workouts, classes, and who knows what. Days before I was to fly out, panic started setting into my mind. I’ve lived with a fear of the outdoors most of my life. As a youngling, I was instilled with a fear of the outside; wild animals, bugs, and all sorts of critters that will eat you.

I didn’t let those fears stop me, and on Wednesday, September 21 I was off to Atlanta to catch a shuttle. On the shuttle ride, unbeknownst to me, I sat down next to one of the headmasters which gave me a captive audience with him for a couple of hours. (Sorry if I drove you nuts, Jonathan.) 2.5 hours north of ATL, I arrived at camp and settled into my bunk. That evening I was off to opening ceremonies. As Steve Kamb, who founded Nerd Fitness, talked about the week ahead, I had a smile on my face. In the back of my head, however, I was screaming bloody murder at myself. “What have you done?” I screamed. “You’re going to get us killed, you moron!”  I continued telling myself. I did some deep breathing, and relaxed myself. After ceremonies, I was off to the bunks; would need sleep for the day to come.

As the first full day began, I was feeling much calmer. I lived through my first night of sleeping in a bunk in a room shared with five other people. I attended Jonathan’s class first thing, Moving w/ Longevity. He told me about it briefly on the shuttle, so I had to experience it. Wow. What can I say? Wow. He taught us to move every joint in our body and be one with our own bodies.

Next up as some Martial Arts Multi-Pack action. I had zero exposure to martial arts going into this camp, so this was a good primer for me to understand the differences… and apparently roll around in the grass with another dude mounted on me; he actually became a regular I saw during the week. Then I moved into Rising Above Emotional Eating with Amy Clover who was simply amazing. She talked us through what impact our emotions had on our eating, and how to be more mindful. She also talked through being more positive about ourselves, which I found very enlightening.

Hit the lunch chow line.

Just after I finished lunch, Troy, a very awesome dude I met the earlier, asked if I wanted to go blobbing. Basically it is jumping off a dock onto a giant inflatable blob and then getting launched. Being fearful of heights, I took 20 seconds of courage and jumped off. Four times. Each time, I fell off the slippery blob. However, I did it and felt a sense of accomplishment.

As I finished blobbing, I realized I had 10 minutes to change and get to my next class. Ran like a beast from the lake to the cabin, and then off to class.

Self Defense with Rachael was intense but so helpful. It helped me understand what to do if their is an assailant after me. I worried I would be out of place as a man, but there were other men in the class as well. Having missed my morning cardio, I felt like getting my heart rate up so now it’s off to Hero’s Bootcamp. Amy again… and she built me up earlier, and knocked me down later. It was a rough class, but I will fully admit smiling through most of it. “I AM A HERO!” we all screamed. OK, I’m beat to hell, so I’m going to go take a class on solving a Rubik’s cube to calm down.

Had some amazing dinner, and as I was leaving was chatting with a few people I had met earlier in the day. Sarah, a wonderful person I had briefly spoken to earlier, was going through her checklist of quests. I sat down and went through mine. We both realized we finished the core quests, and we could go do a “Legendary Quest”.

So we headed off together, teaming up. Halfway through, we ran into two other people, Joe and Joscelyn, who also teamed up to do the quest. Suddenly there was some competition. As we met later in the quest, all four decided to team up to finish it together. What we realized was all four of us were from different houses; the camp had split people up into Harry Potter style houses for fun for the camp, and instilled some rivalry in trying to get points for your house. By teaming up, we all represented all the houses. We solved the Legendary Quest, and we were the first ones to complete it!

Then I got into my costume of Arthur Dent… don’t forget your towel.

Arthur Dent, I Presume? Arthur Dent, I Presume?

On Friday, I took a class on Speed, Agility, and Quickness that was not what I expected… and that wasn’t a bad thing. I got so much out of it. I then took Primal Movement 101 where we learned how to become more connected with nature as we walked and crawled across all sorts of surfaces, including gravel, asphalt, grass, and plastic.

Improv 101 was so much fun, although I nearly got myself killed when I suggested people do jump squats. I then was off to learn how to Life-Hack a home gym which will come in very helpful as winter arrives. Then grip strength to learn how to improve one of my weakest points.

Dinner, and a casual evening around the camp that evening. No major parties, just went and hung out at the campfire and enjoyed some S’mores for the first time in my life by a campfire.

Saturday, I was back in Jonathan’s class in the morning again, trying to build the habit of daily movement to open my joints and being mindful of my body and the connection to the world. I then spent the next several hours doing Brazilian Jujitsu and Grappling with Rog and Takao who were both simply amazing. After lunch, I learned some Wrist, Elbow, and Hand care techniques, and then attended a talk on how to apply what we learned after camp with Steve. The rest of the day I just did some relaxing and enjoying the camp before it came to an end. A glow party ended the night, and then I headed to the campfire for an hour before turning in.

Camp was over, and it was time to go back to the real world. I was amazed by the openness and acceptance of everyone in the community. I was amazed by how friendly people were. I was amazed by how people connected and hugged and didn’t think twice.

Camp ending also means that Year 2 was beginning, and that meant…

Year 2 – Ben 2.0

So what is Ben 2.0? Well, it’s a culmination of all I’ve learned and done over the prior year. I’ve learned to accept myself for who I am while continuing to work on improving. I’ve learned by body can do amazing things thanks to my amazing trainer. I’ve learned I’m not alone in the world thanks to the awesome people of Nerd Fitness.

Ben 2.0 simply means I recognize I am not the same person I was a year ago. I am a very different individual with very different life goals. I no longer dwell on death, but rather embrace life. During camp, someone said something amazing… “People say life is short. It isn’t. It’s long, enjoy it!” A year ago, I wouldn’t have believed them. Today, I know I’ve begun setting myself up for a long life ahead with better health that ever before.

As I move into Year 2, I have begun goal setting. The base of a goal is the long-term year goal. Steve Kamb may have unintentionally helped me set that. Back at the Saturday glow party, I took one more 20 seconds of courage and finally went up to Steve to say hi and thank him for creating the wonderful community he did. I told him my back story briefly about my weight loss and what the community has meant to me, and he gave me a big hug. (For those who don’t know, he hugs a lot.) He then asked me what was next. I said I wanted to keep burning fat off and build up some muscle mass. Steve gets this huge smile on his face and says, “so next year you’re coming back as Captain America.” Click. Something in my brain just went off… exactly! So now Year 2 is the year I work towards becoming as much Captain America as possible… no, I will be Captain America. Why? Because I AM A HERO!

One final note: I mentioned several people as part of the narrative. If I didn’t mention you by name, you are no less appreciated. Everyone I met was wonderful. My friends. 

Oh, and one more final note… Rheeeeeeeeeenooooooo!

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The One With the Shirt

The shirt you see pictured here as a storied past. Well, not so much storied as idle past.

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This shirt was purchased over a decade ago. It’s a Daniel Cremieux shirt I bought simply because I loved how it looked, a French designed shirt with just the right colors and feel. I didn’t try it on, as I figured it was in my size so it shouldn’t be an issue.

As I quickly learned, a French XL is definitely not an American XL and it was relegated to the back of the closet. Every time I moved (and this shirt was bought when I lived in Cincinnati) I moved the shirt along, washed it, and hung it back in the back of the closet. I suppose it was a “one day” shirt and just could never bring myself to get rid of it.

This morning I am going through my closet trying to figure out what to wear to a workshop. Since I work from home, my typical daily wear is a t-shirt and jeans or khakis and of course gym clothes, so I haven’t worn many dress shirts lately. The ones I have I basically got my last use out of them during my last trip to NJ a few weeks ago when they were hanging off me.

Then I saw this shirt in the back. There was no way this would fit; I bought it over a decade ago and I probably weighed 210 pounds when I bought it and it didn’t fit then. I slipped it on, and excitedly buttoned it up. It fit perfectly. I couldn’t believe it; the shirt from the back of the closet that was never worn, the shirt whose name should not be mentioned was now buttoned on me and following the lines of my body actually fairly well. I sat down, it was even comfortable when sitting.

It goes to show that body composition is way more of an impact than just weight. A 210 pound Ben from a decade ago couldn’t wear this shirt, but a 243 pound Ben from today with more muscle, less fat, and losing weight the right way can.

I finished dressing and went on my way, excited at this new shirt in my wardrobe. For now, I suppose. Who knows how long this one will fit?

Progression & The Four Week Update

Here we are, four weeks into my 90 day effort. It has certainly been an interesting 28 days. I’ve made some progress, I’ve tired myself out, but there is still plenty of time to push for more fat loss, greater gains, and greater achievement. 

If we look back 4 weeks at June 22, we will see I had a busy day. I had three circuits in the gym, including a deadlift workout, a run in the morning, and the “Fitclub” launch for the eight week competition at my gym. 

Before we get into a status update, I want to define something. “Hypocaloric Diet”. This essentially means you eat less calories than you burn. 

Following a hypocaloric, or reduced-calorie, meal plan can help you shed unwanted body weight. Using this type of meal plan helps you lose weight based on calories, rather than having to consume special “diet” foods or avoid others.

— SF Gate, http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/hypocaloric-meal-plan-follow-12077.html

I think this is critical to remember that I am taking in less calories than I am burning off. I do this every day. This is basically how you shed unwanted fat. Some will say 3,500 calories equals 1 pound of “fat loss”; many will refute that. Regardless of where you fall in your opinions, it is a fact that calories and a calorie deficit play a huge role in fat loss.

What this also means is that when you are in a calorie deficit, your body relies on your “reserves” to get you through the day. This means that after, say, 3 hours of workouts, you will feel a greater amount of fatigue than someone ingesting a higher calorie count.

The Fitclub effort my gym is doing is tied to three core things: taking classes, performance changes, and body composition changes. I take three cardio classes a week, but will not change my strength training routine as I have goals that may be different than others for whom the classes may work well. 

Here are the results of the core metrics from the original check-in, as well as the current one from today.

  • Body Fat – 28.9% (Using Handheld Impedance Device)
    • 4 Weeks Ago – Body Fat – 29.8% (Using Handheld Impedance Device)
  • Body Weight – 243.1 (Based on Fitbit Aria Scale)
    • 4 Weeks Ago – 253.7 (Based on Fitbit Aria Scale)
  • Waist Circumference – 44
    • 4 Weeks Ago – 47
  • Hip Circumference – 49
    • 4 Weeks Ago – 51 1/2
  • Push Ups in 1 Minute – 34
    • 4 Weeks Ago – 33
  • Pull Ups in 1 Minute – 0
  • Plank Hold – 2:25
    • 4 Weeks Ago – 2:15
  • Rope Waves – 115
    • 4 Weeks Ago – 108

What we see from this result are some interesting changes. I’ve dropped 10.6 pounds in bodyweight in 4 weeks, dropped 0.9 points in body fat. I’ve also been able to improve the push up number slightly, as well as the plank hold. The rope waves were down, most likely driven by fatigue of multiple workouts in a single day as well as ropes not being part of my core workout lately. A pull-up is still well beyond my grasp at this point, but we’re certainly working on that.

What we see from the results from the last four weeks is that I’ve improved body composition, I have made incremental improvements in performance, and I know for a fact my workout schedule is completely on point. Between 6/22/2016 and 7/20/2016 I had 41 visits to the gym, which is typically driven by multiple visits in a single day of a morning run and an after-work lifting session several times a week. 

This is only part of the story. The goals I have don’t end with the “Fitclub” goals, but begin there. These aren’t necessarily the most critical goals I have, especially those related to “performance testing” during these Fitclub sessions. The body composition goals are critical, of course, to my current effort to continue dropping my body fat and changing my overall body. 

The other part of the goals are my performance goals from my “regular” workouts. These are more critical to me than the testing performance goals. This month, the trainer and I have set goals related to weights for deficit deadlifts, diamond pushups, clapping pushups, squats, and the bench press. Each of these this round are focused on volume rather than weight to help improve form and base strength.

As I move forward over the remaining 9 weeks of the 90 day effort, I am focused on my workouts, my nutrition, and my body composition while trying to maintain as much muscle (or gain) as possible. This means being more active, including more activity during the days. This means ensuring I keep consistent with my workouts. This means driving myself hard towards the 90 day line to see what I can achieve during this time.

This gets me to the overall theme of the upcoming month. This is something that came up between my trainer and myself today. He said, “sometimes progression is a bitch.” He’s right. It’s tough, especially on those negative pull-ups I am currently working on that (which will be the topic of another post to come). I then laughed and thought about it, “then you win.” That’s the truth… progression is a bitch. If you keep at it, you will win. Progression means moving forward. No matter what you do, if you are progressing you are winning.

We’ll close today’s update with some updated photos. These were all taken today, and if we look back at the last photo set 

In Just Three Months…

Three months ago, on April 15, I attended a gala event hosted by the local Anytime Fitness clubs, including the club I go to in Ellington, Connecticut.  Part of the event was, as you entered, they were recording people talking about how Anytime Fitness impacted them. It was off-the-cuff and very quick, so I had to think quickly.

When I saw they posted a bunch of videos to their YouTube page, I went through looking to see if they posted one of me. I scrolled through the videos, and couldn’t find one. I then started watching some videos and went bottom to top. When I got back to the top, the very last video to watch seemed familiar, the person in the thumbnail looked familiar. Wait, that’s ME! They did post one of me. I simply didn’t recognize myself.

I was still extremely uncomfortable in front of any cameras at this time, but they did post a video of me from this event.

After seeing this video, I was amazed to see myself looking like this. After all, it has only been three months. I decided to put the suit back on, and look at how it fit today in comparison with then. Honestly, the difference was remarkable to me. The belt is no longer usable, even though it was on the first hole when I bought it. The pants no longer fit at the waist. The jacket is loose but still wearable. The shirt now feels more like a poncho than a dress shirt. 

I decided to put together a video of me wearing the suit again to show the changes over the last three months.

Patience is a virtue, and we must be patient when it comes to changing out bodies and our lives. We don’t gain weight overnight, and we can’t lose it overnight. If we work hard, if we have on point nutrition, and we commit ourselves, then change can happen. There is still a ways to go, and I’m looking forward to the next round.