Monday, March 30, 2009

Creature comforts...

As I'm sure you recall, Sebastien started blogging a while back, and I was posting my responses to his blog posts here. I've since started following a few other blogs, including that of Toronto Star columnist David Bruser, who is chronicling his move into the world of fitness and exercise. It's an interesting take on things, and encourage you to read it... for a bit of variety, if nothing else. That said, I'll also post my responses here.

So, in response to his most recent post, I offered my thoughts. Ironically, I was beginning to wrap my head around the same idea of how comfortable the gym has become, and how I know that when I go there, I can maximize every minute and get the job done. I know that I can put in 1 1/2 - 2 hours and burn 1500+ calories. I know who will be there, and what to expect. But as daylight lasts longer, and the temperature slowly warms, maybe it's time to think about taking it outside and maybe shocking my system with the outcomes of something new and exciting. But, we'll see. We'll see.

My response to Bruser's blog post:

It's amazing how comfortable you get in your own space. Just tonight after a workout at my gym (Riverdale Fitness), I was talking with one of the staff there about the fact that spring is in the air... and it's time to try something new -- maybe bring all the energy I'm cranking at the gym to some new outdoor activity. I kind of winced at the idea knowing that there is something very comforting to knowing what and who to expect at my gym. Now that the post-new years' resolution craze has died down, it seems to be back to the usual crowd of regulars who know one another, and most importantly, respect one another. We know that we're all there to get a job done, and don't get in one another's way in the process. It's like the unspoken code of how things work -- no one really goes over it with you, but there's remarkable comfort in the certainty that the regulars are there. So, for me, the thought of taking it outside to try something different now that the weather is looking better, is a bit of an intimidating prospect. Doing a 50-minute run on the treadmill at the gym is one thing... doing it in a new environment outdoors, where I don't know who's watching (probably no one, I should get over myself), or what to expect is kind of scary. So, I completely get the feeling of comfort. I understand how, when it's sometimes difficult to just show up to the gym in the first place, that you know what you're getting when you walk through the door. And it seems that once you're there, everything is alright. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

PS. It would be interesting to think about whether or not the dirty-sock pasta was really as bad, or if your tastes are evolving because your body is changing and your attitude is transforming. Although, kudos to you for indulging... even if it was in some soggy poutine. Complete deprivation only makes the craving stronger!

Kia Kaha.
Stay strong.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Lots of balls in the air....

Trying something new here... hope it works!
(Just click on the video for my latest post! Video runs about 10 minutes. And yes, I realize that the frozen image of me at the beginning of the video is not terribly flattering... so press play already and get on with it! LOL!!!)


Kia kaha
Stay strong

Friday, March 13, 2009

It's about showing up...

In 1995, I was a residence don at the University of Waterloo. One of my responsibilities as a don was to be a role model to a group of first year students – an older brother, an experienced peer, someone who had been through the trenches and knew what it was like to be a first year student. I have some very clear memories of what my own first year was like, and many that weren’t so clear. But one of the most vivid memories I have of my five years at university was in September 1995 when I was sitting in a large room, with over a thousand first year students listening to then university president, James Downey, give them their official welcome to the university. A skilled orator, and tremendous educational leader, President Downey saw the university through some tough times, including a period of significant financial retrenchment. In spite of those challenges, or even perhaps because of them, he always seemed to be connected to students, and this humid day in early September when he took the time to speak to new students was evidence of the fact that he never lost sight of the core purpose of his role as university president. Part of why that day still stands out for me is because of the message he conveyed to those students, who were undoubtedly nervous, anxious, afraid, excited about the journey that awaited them. At the heart of his message was the idea that one of the most intimidating, yet important steps one can take towards facing fears, and ultimately succeeding (in this case, at a university education) was to show up. Show up to class. Show up to sporting events. Show up to theatre productions. Whatever the university experience offered, all one had to do was show up, and the rest would come naturally. This made sense to me then – it makes even more sense to me now. Why? Because when people have recently been asking me what I’ve done to make such progress on my health, or what gimmick I used to lose this amount of weight, they’re generally quite surprised to hear my very frank, straightforward, and uncomplicated answer:

I showed up.

For so many years of my life, I did show up. Not for myself, but for others. I’ve always been a very generous person – my time, my support, my attention – and have had no qualms about offering more to others than I ever dared to offer myself. To an extent, that’s what I was taught growing up – that giving is more important than receiving; that the good we put out into the world would come back to us in return. However over time, giving so much of myself, in my work and in my personal life, wasn’t generating the return on investment for which I had hoped and prayed. I used to think that if I was good to others, then some universal power (however he or she is defined) would return the favour by some day magically bestowing unto me the gift of health and happiness. In spite of that, or perhaps because of this na├»ve hope in the possibility of the unknown, I would wake up every morning, take a look in the mirror, and be disappointed -- not only by the fact that I didn’t have a Freaky-Friday moment and all of a sudden wake up in the body I always wanted, but most significantly by the fact that my own reflection continued to be a source of absolute pain and sadness. As I mentioned in my post entitled ‘Proud’ , looking at my own reflection (in mirrors, windows, or anything shiny) has been so very difficult. And it was only in a moment at the gym when I decided to be brave, focus my eyes and learn to acknowledge the reflection that stood before me. In fact, every morning, I now look in the mirror, smile and even let out a bit of a laugh at how much I am enjoying those moments when I actually like the person I see looking back at me. But it took me over 20 years to get to this place.

So how does learning to look in the mirror relate to this idea of ‘showing up’? Well, I guess that in order to make the changes I’ve made thus far, I’ve had to show up for myself in every aspect of my life. ‘Showing up’ not only means actually physically showing up to the gym, to do my workouts, etc., but it also means ‘showing up’ emotionally to do the work that I’ve needed to do. I’ve had to, in some ways, learn to be a bit selfish, and put the need of others aside so that I can focus on (show up for) myself. I've had to face my fears, confront my demons, and take them on, staring them straight in the eyes, with the confidence and strength i knowing that this time, I'm going to kick their ass. And this sometimes meant staring them down through my own reflection.

This was a tough lesson to learn. Spending so much time focused on me made me feel a little bit guilty about the ways that I’ve been neglecting other people and responsibilities in my life. But I continue to assure myself that in order to be fully present for my friends, family, etc. I have to now be fully present for myself during this critical time in my life. And sometimes that means saying ‘no’ to doing things I would otherwise do. It means spending my Friday night at the gym instead of being out with friends. It means giving up a few things that I wasn’t sure I wanted to, but eventually knowing that in order to stop giving up on myself, I had to give up other things in my life. Again, this has not been easy. I realize that I'm making many sacrifices to get to my highest of higs. But I also acknowledge how much of myself I've sacrificed to get to my lowest of lows. Getting healthy and losing weight has become a bit of a full time job. It requires a tremendous amount of focus – not because it’s incredibly complicated, but for me, because I used to spend so much time and energy focusing on what I never liked about myself, that I need to expend as much (if not more) energy on learning to like myself. And contrary to what some people might say is the path to redemption on this weight loss journey, I found that learning to love my former self was not an option. I couldn’t learn to love the morbidly obese man who stared back at me in the mirror each and every day. I couldn’t accept that my reflection was that of someone who was completely fine with himself. I simply could not accept the idea that the hurt and pain that I experienced each day when looking in the mirror, was not a result of the fact that I was truly unhappy, but instead the result of mainstream (read: thin and beautiful) society rejecting the fact that I moved through the world differently. And by ‘differently’ I mean in a larger body, weighed down not just by fat, but by sadness and hurt. I couldn’t accept that once I learned to love the ‘fat me’, that I would have the epiphany I prayed for and all of a sudden ‘be the change’ I wanted to see in myself (to adapt a line from Mahatma Ghandi).

At the same time, I could no longer accept the unhappiness – the shame that came from knowing that each time I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror or in the window, that I winced not necessarily because of what I saw, but because it hurt to see what I saw. But learning to like my own reflection, to be happier with myself, was all about showing up. It was about making the VERY conscious choice to allow myself to be my best possible self in whatever way possible. And it’s a choice I have to make each and every day. I know that is sounds like that guy on Saturday Night Live who looked at himself and said ‘I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and people like me’, but at the end of the day taking a moment to look at my reflection -- being present with myself in the mirror – and notice how my jaw line is thinner, how my chin is more defined, and how my smile grows more each and every day, is all about showing up.

And on tough days when I don’t feel like going to the gym, because I don’t really have the energy or the desire, I remind myself of what President Downey said in 1994. The hardest part is showing up. It’s hard because going to the gym is sometimes still scary. Doing my weekly assessment with Sebastien is sometimes still difficult. But it truly gets easier with time, because showing up is without a doubt the most difficult part. That’s what I’ve learned. It gets easier because each and every day, I keep showing up.

Show up in your life. Show up in your own way. Just show up.

Kia kaha.
Stay strong.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

And what goes good with chili??? GUAC!!!

Not only is my chili recipe highly sought after, but so is my guacamole recipe. So here goes...

  • 1/2 cup of unsalted raw pumpkin seeds, ground up in a food processor/chopper
  • 1 tablespoon of cumin
  • 2 tablespoons of chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon of smoked or sweet paprika
  • 1/2 tablespoon of freshly ground pepper
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • pinch of oregano
Put these dry ingredients aside.

In a the bowl of the food processor, combine
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 8 small or 6 regular avocadoes
  • 1/2 cup of frozen green peas (thawed) (these add a bit of natural sweetness, and keeps the guac green)
  • 1/2 cup freshly chopped cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons of hot sauce (watch the salt in this stuff!)
  • Juice of 3 or 4 large limes
Process all of the ingredients (dry and fresh) until smooth. Store in an air-tight container with a piece of plastic wrap covering, and in full contact with the surface of, the guac. This should store in your fridge for a few days. Keep the air out of it and it will retain its colour.

This recipe yields about 24 1/4 cup servings (the trick is to stop with one serving!) Use it as a dip with veggies or chips. Smear it on sandwiches instead of mayo. It's loaded with good fats and good vitamins. In other words, it's worth the calories. Here's the nutritional analysis (courtesy of

Per serving (65 grams)
Calories 104
Calories from fat 75 (but they're good fat!)
Total fat 9 grams (1 saturated, 0 transfats)
Cholesterol 0 mg
Sodium 20mg
Carbs 7 grams (4 grams of dietary fibre, 1 gram of sugars)
Protein 2 grams


Kia kaha.
Stay strong.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Mmm... Chili

I'm often asked for my recipe for Chili. It's very healthy and filled with dietary fibre. One of the tricks is to make sure you use low-sodium everything -- you can used canned beans/legumes, but rinse them really well and that cuts the sodium right down. Also, cut out the brown sugar if you'd like to lower the total grams of carbs, although I find that the brown sugar balances with the balsamic vinegar. And yes, there's spinach in it -- you won't taste it, but you'll benefit from it being there. Adjust the spices to taste, and enjoy!

Place 6 hot italian turkey sausages and 1 pound (450g) ground turkey in a pot with about 1 Tablespoon of olive oil
Sautee until turkey sweats
Add 2 small chopped onions, 2 cloves garlic, 1 chopped red pepper
Sautee until veggies sweat
Add 2 cups of chicken stock or water
Add 1 teaspoon each of chili powder, smoked paprika, chipotle powder, ancho chili powder, dried oregano
Add 1/2 teaspoon of cinammon
Add 2 teaspoons cumin
Cook out spices for about 5 minutes
Add 1 tin each (rinsed) of black beans, kidney beans, white beans, 3 cups (2 large cans) of tomato sauce (low-sodium diced or pureed tomatoes), a few shakes of hot sauce, worsterchire, and balsamic vinegar
Add 2 teaspoons brown sugar
Simmer on low for an hour
Thaw and drain, and then add a package of frozen chopped spinach
Add 1 cup of corn kernels, 1/2 tin of tomato pastes
Simmer on low until it's the consistency you like
Before serving, add the juice of 1 lime
Top with chopped cilantro, low-fat cheese and lime wedge.

Makes 8 servings.

Nutritional Information (courtesy of per serving:

Calories 389
Total fat 11 grams (3 saturated, 0 trans)
Cholesterol 87 mg
Sodium 493mg (keep the sodium low by rinsing all the beans)
Carbs 41 grams (10 grams of dietary fiber, 8 grams of sugars)
Protein 34 grams

Kia Kaha.
Stay strong.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


One of the most significant things I've learned over the past nine months that I've been working with Sebastien, is to confront my fears and realize that I am indeed truly capable of doing pretty much anything I set my mind to. Among the fears i've managed to confront are going to the gym; looking at myself in the mirror; and trusting in the uncertainty of the process of getting healthy. This has not been easy to do. For a control-freak like me, letting go of my fear and embracing the possibility that lies within the uncertainty of new experiences has been a pretty daunting challnge to overcome. It's also been incredibly humbling.

Last week, I had to face one of my biggest fears again -- the fear and anxiety that overcomes me every time I set foot into the doctor's office. I realize that with every visit to a doctor, even when it's a proactive step towards better health, I may very well be told what I've always been afraid to hear: that I'm severely overweight; that my health is in really bad shape; and that I'm quickly spiralling down a path towards killing myself. Now, these were things that I didn't already know -- and every time I've been to the doctor for blood tests, check-ups, etc. I've had to face this fear head on. And I've had physicians tell me these things in many different ways. But I've never really listened. However, I've never been to the doctor when I've been more tuned into my health and wellbeing as I am right now, so I knew that whatever I was told on this visit, I would hear loud and clear. Even last week, after having done so much in the past 9 months to conquer all of my health issues, I was extremely anxious and fearful of what the doctor might tell me. I was afraid that I would go for my check up and be told that in spite of everything I've done, that I still haven't made a dent in my health problems. Now, I wasn't expecting to get a perfectly clean bill of health, but I was hoping and praying for some positive news. At the same time, I was afraid that any bad news might set me back and send me back to a place of doubt, fear, and self-pity that got me into the worst shape of my life about 18 months ago. Essentially, I was afraid that the doctor would confirm the negative self talk that has filled my head for so many years -- that I don't deserve to be healthy, and that I'm a failure.

In spite of that, I had to face the fear.
It was time for my check-up.
And I hate to say, that it didn't go well.

I went to see a new doctor at my clinic for my medical. The doctor I've seen previously at the clinic on a regular basis was by virtue of him being on duty during the walk-in clinic hours. However, this time was going to be better. I was a little excited by the fact that this new doctor had agreed to take me on as a regular patient, and that I would finally get a health professional who could be regular part of my 'success team' -- the group of people, including Sebastien, my friends and family, and others, who surround me with the reassurance and support that is so essential to my success.

Well, this new doctor, we'll call him 'Dr. S', spent all of nine minutes with me during my check up. He took the fastest family medical history I've ever heard, and after typing a few things into the computer, asked me if there was anything else about my health history that I needed to know. I shared with him that I had been working out with a trainer, that I've been eating really well, and that I had lost a significant amount of weight. I figured that this would be the moment when Dr. S would tell me that I've done great work thus far and that I'm moving in the right direction -- and that it was about continuing to take big steps towards success.

That's what I thought he would do. He didn't.

Instead, Dr. S. told me that I should consider going to Weight Watchers. After all, "it's a great program that promotes portion control, and makes it easy by counting points." I told him that I have tried Weight Watchers several times in my life and that my nutrition was solid. He obviously wasn't listening, because he then continued to lecture me about health by saying that an essential part of weight loss is good nutrition. Apparently it's about a balance of healthy eating and physical activity! Who knew!!! By that point, I realized that sitting before me was yet another insensitive 'health professional' who, the minute I walked into the exam room, had decided that I was a weak, uninformed fat person who obviously lacked the self control necessary to overcome his issues. And that pissed me off. BIG TIME.

I respectfully remarked that I hadn't managed to lose close to 100 pounds just from exercise -- that I was well aware of my nutritional needs and was doing very well on that front. Again, he wasn't convinced. He then told me about a program (the name of which he didn't know, ironically) that matched patients with a doctor and a nutritionist, and it was covered by provincial health insurance. So I might want to consider that. Getting agitated, and even more pissed off that he wasn't listening to me, I again said that nutrition wasn't a problem, and both that Sebastien and a naturopath (Dr. Kim Whitaker) had both given me gold stars for my food planning. He finally let go of that topic, realizing that time was ticking and he had to get through this exam. After all, a high turnover of patients means that he'd make more money that day!

So we moved on, and it was time to measure my vital signs. I was exepcting him to take my resting heart rate, my weight, height, and blood pressure -- after all, he had just met me! He took my blood pressure on my right arm, and then switched the cuff to my left. I was trying to relax (in spite of the fact that I was already angry), and explained to him that I was feeling very anxious about being at the doctor's office in the first place -- as such, the reading might be a bit higher than normal. He told me that 'white coat syndrome' is still hypertension, and needs to be treated regardless. He then told me that my BP reading was 180/120. WHAT????
I explained to him that my previous readings were drastically lower (still in the pre-hypertension range) but not that severely high. He didn't listen -- remember, to him, I was a sad, uninformed, powerless fat person. Instead, he gave me a prescription for blood pressure medication and told me that he didn't want me to feel like he was rushing me into anything, but he also didn't want me to have a stroke (you can feel the empathy and bedside manner dripping off the page, right???). I explained to him that I didn't want to take meds that would interefere with weight loss (as blood pressure meds are known to do) -- but he told me that there wasn't much of an option. Then, without taking any other vital sign, he led me out of the office, handed me the prescription and told me to make an appointment for a few weeks later -- a visit during which we would check my BP and IF (not WHEN) I lost more weight, we would revisit the need for medication.


I left the clinic, in a bit of a daze, and walked next door to the pharmacy to get the prescription filled. I took a moment to send Sebastien a text message to let him know how the visit went -- all the while feeling completely defeated and that I had not only let myself down, but that I had also let Sebastien down. With a BP reading of 180/120, I apparently had Stage 2 hypertension, which had the potential to drastically change the intensity with which I work out. The result even had the possibility of my having to no longer work out with Sebastien, because the risk was tremendous.


It didn't make sense to me. It didn't make sense to Sebastien. If you knew the intensity with which I work out (sometimes 2+ hours in a session, burning close to 1800 calories in one workout), it would be nearly impossible to have a BP reading of 180/120 and not keel over at the gym. It made absolutely no sense at all -- but I still felt completely battered, and that I had failed. I had a moment of saying 'why even bother. I've done all this work, and I'm worse off than when I started.' In that moment, I felt angry. I felt powerless. I felt afraid. I wanted poutine. LOL!

After a lot of ranting back and forth on my BlackBerry with Sebastien, and with his wise counsel, I decided to not take the meds and get another opinion. I had my BP checked by other health professionals at other clinics over the course of the two days that followed, and low and behold, it was NOT 180/120. My actual reading was 135/82. Now for a guy of my size, who works out with the intensity that I do, with a resting heart rate of 57 -- 135/82 isn't anything to sniff at. After second and third opinions, including that of my naturopath, I have happily concluded that my BP isn't anything to worry about. Yes, I'm going to continue to monitor it, along with all of my other health signs. But I'm not going to let one prick's negligent diagnosis stand in my way.

I'm in great shape, and am doing everything 'right' to continue to ensure my greatest possible success along this wieght loss journey. The only problem I really had, was that I gave one doctor (who had a horrible bedside manner) the power to make me feel worse than I have in a really long time. I deserve better than that. I deserve the respect of my health care team -- who I expect to honour where I've been and celebrate what I've accomplished. Spending time with a doctor who, after meeting me for only 9 minutes, and with no other medical informaiton, gives me a prescription for drugs that I don't want to take, isn't worth my time. I deserve way better than that. And coming to that conclusion isn't something that I would have been able to do a year ago. But I can now, thanks to the confidence and self-assurance that I draw from my focus on physical and emotional wellbeing.

All that said, I flushed the pills down the toilet, and cancelled my next appointment with Dr. S. I'm now working with my naturopath to monitor the progress in my health, and I'm pleased to say that I've added him to my 'success team' -- finally a health professional who understands who I am, and who is prepared to walk along the path with me -- not push me down the road and throw a bunch of pills at me.

All that said, I faced my fear. I overcame it. I flipped the bird to the source of my fear, and have decided to turn the negativity from last week into new-found momentum that will continue to propel me towards success. I've got so much momentum that in fact tonight, I ran for 40 minutes on the treadmill. Nine months ago, I couldn't even WALK for 40 minutes on the treadmill. I can't beleive that tonight, I conquered the treadmill and cranked out a 40 minute run. I've never felt lighter on my feet. I've never felt as liberated. I've never felt as fearless.

So, that's the update. I've got nothing more to report other than having had a crappy week and turned it into something positive and powerful. I turned my fear into strength and said 'screw you' to my doubters. I continue to find faith in the strength that I draw from my sessions and exchanges with Sebastien -- and still know that I need him, and others around me to be strong, so that I can be strong for myself. I also continue to learn that I am so very fortunate and blessed to be surrounded by so many people who are invested in my success and supportive of my journey. "Dr. S" isn't one of those people, but who needs him anyway.

Kia kaha.
Stay strong.

PS. Did you know that the standard Blood Pressure cuff (the one most doctors use, and the one on those machines in pharmacies), is suitable for a person whose arm measures 12 inches around or less? So, if you're arms are 13 inches or more, you might be getting wrong readings, and should make sure you ask to have a large cuff. Also, the arm size is printed on the inside of most cuffs, so insist on double-checking at the doctor's office, or read the fine print on the machine at the drug store. It could make a difference of more than a few points on either measure!