Sunday, February 22, 2009

I can see clearly now...

I've had an interesting past few weeks. Last week, I reached a new milestone. I'm down 85 pounds since I made a decision to get fit, and 60 pounds since I started working with my trainer. That's pretty cool. But it is in fact not this new milestone that I have found most exciting. In the past few weeks, I've had an unusual number of people approach me asking me if I was losing weight, working out, etc. At work, at the gym, in my personal life -- I've had a lot of people pull me aside to tell me that I look fantastic, that I seem really "radiant", and most interestingly, that I'm "shrinking."

Remember -- I look at myself every day. So, I don't necessarily see it.
But I see it now.
And it didn't really see the difference until yesterday.

I was sitting at C5 -- a wonderful restaurant on the top floor of the Royal Ontario Museum, in the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal overlooking downtown Toronto. I was with three friends (Tony, Liza and Alison) having an afternoon champagne tea to celebrate Liza's milestone birthday. We had a wonderful, relaxing meal -- quiche, petit-fours with foie gras, caviar, and lobster, champagne, and of course, tea. We had been sitting there for close to three hours, when Alison and Liza excused themselves to visit the ladies' room, and Tony and I remained at the table. I had just taken out my credit card to pay the bill, when I inadvertently pulled out my drivers' license. I've not looked at my license in a long time, but I saw it. Right then, and there. I looked at Tony and said, "I see it now. Holy shit, I'm shrinking!"

A lot of people have told me that they can really see my weight loss in my face. Seeing it elsewhere is a bit more difficult, since I'm still wearing the same clothes, and everything still fits really big. I see my progress a bit more when I'm at the gym -- wearing smaller t-shirts, and enjoying the view of my legs... let's just say that I've got a closet full of clothes that formerly did not fit -- and now they do. But again, I look at myself (with the most critical of all eyes) each and every day. But I never really noticed the difference in my face, again, until yesterday.

So, I decided to take a look through my pictures on the computer ('cause I don't have any real photographs anymore), and realized that they were difficult to come by. I've never really enjoyed having my picture taken. I never really wanted to have any sort of official 'documentation' of just how big I really was. I have an idea of what my heaviest weight was (about 100 pounds more than I weigh now), but I never documented it. Documenting or recording this information would have been the ultimate exercise in vulnerability -- admitting that I had a problem. It's the same idea as I've been taught about goal setting: if you write it down, you're more likely to achieve it, because it becomes real. Writing down my weight, or taking a photograph would have made my weight, my sadness, my pain, more real than I was prepared for. And it already hurt too much. I didn't want it to hurt anymore. Sebastien has suggested several times that I take pictures so that I can chronicle my progress. I haven't done so, and I'm starting to realize that I regret it.

So, back to this new phenomenon of people telling me how good I look. It was, at first, very uncomfortable. But now, I'm kind of starting to like it. I've attracted the attention of others for most of my life -- negative attention. People think they're being subtle or discreet, but I went through many years of my life seeing people make faces, sensing that people were whispering comments, or more often than I care to remember, actually hearing people insult me. Sometimes even to my face. So, attention hasn't been in any way comfortable -- so much so that even when people were taking the time to tell me something good (positive feedback at work, encouragement, even a simple thank you), I recoiled in discomfort because any sort of attention reminded me of how much it hurt to be the focus of attention -- and not the good type of attention.

Now that people are giving me 'good' attention, I've had to adjust and get used to it. I even noticed that when Sebastien was giving me praise or feedback when we're training, that I quickly laugh it off or change the subject -- because just as much as I felt vulnerable getting the negative attention, I feel equally exposed getting the good stuff, too. Saying yes to the question, "Chris, are you losing weight?" still requires me to acknowledge that I have a problem and that I need help. But I'm at a point where admitting both is something that I'm almost completely comfortable with. And as I said, I'm getting used to it. I'm learning how to respond with a smile and say "Thank you." I'm learning to engage people in honest conversation about what I'm doing as opposed to trying to quickly change the subject and think to myself "Mind your own friggin' business." In many ways, starting this blog was the easiest way for me to control the type of attention that I anticipated would accompany me on this journey. Instead of having to answer the questions from curious (and genuinely caring) people, and actually admit that I was struggling and needed help (not something I do well at all), I took advantage of this technology to control the ways in which I communicated with those who are closest to me about the life-changing journey I've been on. Of course, over time, I've made my blog public, and nowadays, instead of dodging the question about losing weight, I'll sit people down, talk to them about what I'm doing, teach them some new fact about nutrition or exercise, and even show them my kickboxing video on the blog. So, I've done a bit of a 180-degree turn. And it feels good.

My license picture was taken in September 2007, when I was easily at my heaviest. Considering I've lost 85 pounds since December 2007, I was probably closer to 100 pounds heavier in September of that year. In July 2008, I had just made the decision to work with Sebastien -- that was 60 pounds ago. In September 2008, I had commissioned a former student to take some headshots for me (for my work) -- the first time in a very long time I ever willingly allowed someone to take pictures of me. It was an hour-long photo shoot and one of the most unusual things I've ever done. And finally February 2009 marks my 60/85/100 moment -- when I feel like I've turned a corner and am far enough down a path that I will never ever turn back.

So, I finally see the difference. Can you???

Kia Kaha.
Stay Strong.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Mmm.... Butter chicken....

Butter Chicken is one of my absolute favourite Indian dishes – it’s rich, creamy and spicy. But it’s also loaded with saturated fat and calories (sometimes upwards of 1500 per serving) because it’s made with a lot of cream and gobs of butter. So, I’ve engineered a bit of a healthier version using skim milk, non-fat plain yogurt, and only a small amount of butter. Oddly enough I got the foundation of this recipe from Guy’s Big Bite on TV – but I’ve jacked it up and made it a lot healthier.

This recipe makes 6 very generous servings. It could possibly serve up to about 8 with additional sides. The nutritional analysis is only for the chicken dish. I would recommend serving it with brown basmati rice – nutty, aromatic, and more nutritional that white basmati rice. The recipe may seem like a lot of work, but it's actually VERY straightforward. Hell, if you buy the ingredients, I'll teach you how to cook it!

Drumroll please....

For the chicken:
1 tablespoon of a ‘good’ oil (eg. canola, grapeseed, olive)
¼ cup of fresh ginger, pureed (chop it in a mini-chopper)
¼ cup of fresh garlic, pureed (chop it in a mini-chopper)
1 tablepoon chili powder
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 tablespoon garam masala
¼ cup beet juice or pomegranate juice
¼ cup white wine
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

In a small sauté pan, weat the ginger and the garlic in the oil over a low-medium heat. As they start to soften and yield some of their natural liquid, add the spices and stir them until the ginger and garlic are fully coated. Turn the heat to low and add the juice and wine, and stir everything together until it forms a nice bright burgundy paste. Remove it from the pan and set aside to cool.

Cut your chicken breasts into bite-sized chunks. Toss them in the paste, making sure that each piece is coated well. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

Pre-heat the oven to 400 F.
After 30 minutes, spread the chicken out on a non-stick cookie sheet (I recommend lining it with foil, because the turmeric will stain your sheet otherwise), and bake it for about 15 minutes.

For the butter sauce:
1 tablespoon of ‘good’ oil (eg. canola, grapeseed, olive)
1 large red onion, finely diced
¼ cup of fresh ginger, pureed (chop it in a mini-chopper)
¼ cup of fresh garlic, pureed (chop it in a mini-chopper)
1 tablepoon chili powder
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 large can (about 3 cups or 28 ounces) of low-sodium diced tomatoes, drained of their juice (reserve the juice)
1 cup of skim milk
1 cup of non-fat skim milk yogurt
3 tablespoons of butter, chopped into small cubes.
1 package (10 ounces) of frozen spinach, drained and dried
2 cups of frozen green peas

In a large saucepan, sweat the chopped onion, ginger and garlic over medium heat. Once the mixture has started to yield its own liquid, add the spices, along with the drained tomatoes. Simmer this mixture for about 5 minutes until all of the ingredients are well combined and the tomatoes start to break down. Add the tomato juice in small amounts if you find that the mixture dries out too much.

Once everything is simmered, place it into a blender. Add the milk, yogurt and the butter, and cover your blender jar tightly with its lid. Don’t fill the jar more than ½ full because hot liquids expand. Turn the blender on low and gently stir all of the ingredients. Turn it off and open the lid for a few moments to allow some of the steam to escape. Return the lid to the jug, and then puree the ingredients until smooth. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan, and return it to the stovetop with the heat on low.

Add the baked chicken pieces into your butter sauce, and simmer for about 30 minutes, slightly covered. In the last 5 minutes, add the spinach and peas, and stir well.

Serve over brown basmati rice. Jack up the basmati rice with about 1/4 cup of toasted sliced almonds, and about 1/4 cup of chopped dried apricots. If you like Indian-style breads to dip in your curries/sauces, go for a whole-wheat roti bread instead of the naan. It’s better for you -- it only has 150 calories and 1 gram of fat per piece. Naan bread is about 350 calories, and about 14 grams of fat.

Nutrition Facts for the Butter Chicken (courtesy of

Per Serving of chicken and sauce (approx 560 grams, or 1/6 of the total recipe)

Calories 512
Calories from fat 119

Total fat 13g (approx 21% of daily value)
Saturated 6g
Trans fat 0g

Cholesterol 159mg

Sodium 303 mg

Total Carbohydrate 33g (11% of daily value)
Dietary fiber 9g
Sugars 15g (eliminate the wine, and this amount drops!)

Protein 63g

About 3/4 cup to 1 cup of brown rice will add about another 200 calories to this dish, including about 40 grams of GOOD carbohydrates and another 5 grams of dietary fiber!

Enjoy! Let me know if you like it!

Kia Kaha.
Stay Strong.

Friday, February 13, 2009

I know what I want, what I really really want....

Admittedly, after a workout, all I want is a steaming hot bowl of poutine. Seriously, I crave the carbs, the melted cheese, the gravy. Mmmm... On a good day, poutine is a bowl of death. Imagine eating it after you've just spent two hours in the gym burning off 1600 calories. That would all be shot in one bite! But I've never succumbed to the temptation. Instead, I knock back my protein shake, and the desire for poutine subsides. All good.

But that's not what I want, what I really really want (pardon the Spice Girls homage...I've always been a bit of a closeted fan of girl power -- ha!). This week I learned a valuable lesson about being in touch with what I want -- and knowing how to ask for it.

I've always been pretty assertive. Some people would say that I don't call a spade a spade, I call it a f*$%in' shovel. Seriously. But that confidence and assertiveness comes from a place when I feel that I have a strong base of knowledge and experience upon which to stand -- firm ground that cements my viewpoint, and allows me to see things clearly. As you can imagine, I've not always been that way when it comes to health and fitness. This week, I think made a bit of a breakthrough on that front.

Now, having started my first formal 'diet' program at age 10, I've tried pretty much everything. The list of programs and gimmicks is exhaustive. I have half of a bookcase beside me filled with books written by supposed 'experts' who were going to show me the way and help me solve my problems. I've read them all -- taken morsels of wisdom from some, but for the most part, left them behind after having tried what they espoused only to re-enter the vicious cycle of serial dieting. I've tried pretty much every program out there, too. Weight Watchers (more times than I care to admit), Jenny Craig, NutriSystem, 'medical' weight loss clinics, hospital-based nutritional programs, SureSlim, the Zone, Atkins, South Beach. You name it, I've thought about it. I never did Bernstein, because frankly, I couldn't afford the injections -- but if I could afford the insane amount of money to have someone inject Vitamin B supplements into my ass twice a week, I would have done it. And none of the above worked. Some of these things worked, to a degree, and the most weight I've probably ever lost in one attempt was 10 or 15 pounds. That said, if you read my last post, and my reactions to Sebastien's recent blog post, you'll know that I'm particularly skeptical about the diet industry. I've wasted thousands of dollars. I've put on more weight as a result, and grown more frustrated, upset and disappointed with myself.

Was it worth anything?

In terms of actual progress, not at all. But in terms of educating me about what I do and don't want, the past 25 years of trying to find 'the one solution' have been ironically invaluable. When I started training with Sebastien, I gave him a copy of my food log -- I had recorded everything I ate for a week so he could get a sense of what my nutrition was like. It was solid. No problems, no changes. I was pleased, but wasn't surprised. Because frankly, fat people are some of the sharpest nutritional minds out there. I know what's good for you, and I also know what isn't. Thanks to the very useful Canada's Food Guide (my new anchor point), I know what to eat and what not to eat. I know how to read a label. I can quickly analyze the percentage of calories from fat in any given food, and also make on the spot decisions about what will or won't find a place in my shopping cart.

So, nutritionally, I'm in a great place. But over the past six months, I've been learning so much about exercise and strength training that I finally feel like I get it. Now, I have lots more to learn, but I feel like I finally have my feet firmly planted in all three worlds that I believe are critical to weight loss success. Nutrition? Check! Mental preparedness? Check! Exercise......check! Sebastien has taught me a lot, and I've learned a lot on my own. But I've also learned a lot from within, and figured out just how important it is for me to assert myself and make my needs and expectations around this journey very clear.

This past week, Sebastien and I came to a bit of an wall with regards to my workout program -- and with some good thought and planning, I felt more confident than ever before to give 'the expert' some feedback and let them know that I needed something different. Sebastien kind of chuckled at first, enjoying the fact that I was getting more confident because apparently, I "used to be shy." I don't necessarily think I was shy. I was quietly absorbing everything I needed to know -- through questions and observation -- and quietly synthesizing all of this new information. So shyness wasn't necessarily the issue. The important thing for me this week was becoming confident enough in my knowledge base, that I was able to speak assuredly about what I wanted to do and how I was truly feeling about where we were at in my program.

Now, I'm fortunate that I have a trainer who took in everything I gave him and made good sense of it. I'm looking forward to switching gears a bit in the weeks ahead and trying new things to rekindle my interest in my workouts, because things were getting a little mundane and boring. I'm glad that Sebastien listened to what I had to say, and put the pieces together. Now, I realize that I've been dropping subtle hints for the past few weeks, but only this week did I come right out and articulate exactly what I needed. I can't blame Sebastien for not totally picking up on my 'hints' -- it's a bit of a passive aggressive way of giving feedback. But I felt like I was getting to a bit of a breaking point where I had to really put my thoughts together logically and give it to him all in one go. And surprise, it worked.

Why am I telling you this? One of the most important lessons I've learned this week is that the health and fitness industry is ruthless. It was only in stumbling upon 'my expert' who isn't corrupt, and who operates from a true place of compassion, conviction and integrity, that I realized just how problematic all of my other attempts have been. At first, I thought it was all my fault. But there are problems with each and every one of the programs I attempted -- because they either worked on the starvation principle, or simply promised results that were nutritionally impossible to achieve. And at the end of the day, I finally gave in and tried good old healthy balanced nutrition and exercise... and eureka! It works. Go figure.

As I responded to Sebastien's blogpost:
I don't necessarily buy the 'all is fair in diet and exercise' logic. I think it's a bit of a cop-out for an industry which, without a doubt, benefits from preying on a vulnerable (and sometimes unknowingly so) population of people who are often at the point of desperation to find a solution to their struggles. Yes, [Sebastien is] a problem solver, [who works] with integrity, care, and compassion. I can't say that the rest of 'the industry' is capable of doing so -- they're too caught up in capturing the almighty diet dollar. Yes, 'buyer beware' does play into this equation, but I can't forgive companies who knowingly convince people to engage in unhealthy behaviour with the promise of quick results, an unsustainable lifestyle, and an easy buck.
So, if summing it up as 'buyer beware' makes sense, then that's what I guess I'm trying to say. It is so important for any person who is heading down this path to exercise the highest degree of caution and self-responsibility in order to ask, observe and get informed. It is only from that place of complete confidence in one's knowledge about health and fitness that individuals will be able to truly identify what is important.

Kia Kaha.
Stay Strong.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Talking back to Sebastien....

As many of my faithful readers know, my trainer has also started his own blog -- which I think is a wonderful idea, because it is a wonderful way for him to share with anyone out there his thoughts, ideas and viewpoints on how we can all become healthier. I'm a full supporter, not only because I have benefitted from his realistic and straightforward approach to this battle, but also because it's a great way for others to benefit from his approach to doing things (even though he sometimes thinks it's nothing particularly unusual). So, I'm a regular reader of his blog, and sometimes find that I do not necessarily agree with what he's saying. However, one of the wonderful things about working with Sebastien, not only in the gym, but also as we interface regularly through our blogs, is that he takes a well-considered and insightful approach to the 'business' of health and wellbeing. Not only does he trigger my motivation to move my butt and make physical change happen, but he also challenges me to think differently about food, weight, exercise, body, and self. Although, he recently learned that by rebutting some of my assertions is easier while I'm on the floor doing 100 crunches and can't talk back. Regardless of this new-found tactic, I will cross-post my responses to Sebastien's blog to my own. I think the interplay in our conversations and in our thinking will make for interesting reading for all of our friends and supporters, known and unknown.

That said, in response to his latest entry, I offer the following reaction:
So, I agree with your list of ideas... because they've really worked for me. And as a guy who has tried pretty much everything you've listed here, I can attest to the efficacy of your approach and belief in balancing healthy eating with regular physical activity.

However, I don't think I necessarily agree with your overlooking programs like Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, etc. I think that these corporations (remember, they're corporations, NOT health care providers) are equally implicated in the raging problems with the 'diet industry'. They're a part of the industry, and I'm not totally convinced that leaving my health and wellbeing to the corporate ideals of an industry is the best choice to make. More importantly, given my multiple experiences with many of these programs, they all neglect to fully and adequately address the psycho-social/cognitive dimension of healthy living and weight loss. A support group can be a good thing -- but they're not led or facilitated by trained professionals who are skilled at truly helping the 'consumer' to get at the core of why he/she is struggling with weight, body image and health.

Now, I try not to judge those people for whom these sorts of programs work -- but I challenge anyone out there to defy the statistics and not become serial/yo-yo dieters. Remember, they're corporations that rely upon recurring business by yo-yo dieters to keep them alive -- take it from a guy who has given thousands of dollars to these corporations on a repeated basis. Each promises that with the right balance of point counting, portion control and exercise that the battle of the bulge will be won. Yes, I'm a cynic from my past experience, but at the same time, I have now personally reaped the benefits of ignoring the glossy allure of the 'industry' and focusing on the glossy allure of my own potential to work with my trainer, to not count points, but balance mind, body and soul to truly realize the type of change I have been searching for for so long.

Kia Kaha.
Stay strong.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Joy. It freakin' rocks.

I've been having amazing progress since the turn of the new year, and knew that tonight was time for my monthly assessment. And I was particularly excited about this week not only because I'm loving kickboxing, and Wednesday nights have become the highlight of my week, but also because this week, I was aiming for a milestone.

I started this whole journey back in October 2007. I made a decision to take control of my life and get healthy. I got active, and started eating better. In June of this year, I cranked it up a few notches and hired Sebastien who, with persistent coaching, unconditional support and unshakeable focus on helping me to become my best self, quite simply, has helped me to save my own life.

Tonight, my weigh in would have marked a 50 pound loss since June 2008, and a 75 pound loss since December 2007. My target was in sight, and it's all I could think about all week. I hardly slept last night, knowing that this was an important day for me... in fact I could barely focus at work, and I rushed out of the office at 4:30 to make sure I got to my session on time at 6:30.

Well, I hit it out of the park. (Note the butch sports analogy).

Tonight, my total loss since June 2008 is 54 pounds.
My loss since December 2007 is 79 pounds.
Say it with me -- I freakin' rock.

I've been sitting here trying to find a quote, a song, a YouTube video - something to help convey to you what exactly I'm feeling right now. They've helped me communicate on this blog what this journey has been like for me so far.
However, after an hour or so of searching, I've realized that nothing can quite convey to you or capture what I'm feeling right now, beyond six simple words:

this, is what JOY feels like.

So, wherever you are, whatever you're doing, celebrate with me and take a moment to think about, remember, or savour a moment of joy in your own life.

Joy. It freakin' rocks.

Kia kaha.
Stay strong.