The Seventh Almond: The Water

In the First Almond, I spoke of an essay from Joan Didion about the waterways in California. If you need a refresher, or are new to the blog, I encourage you to go back and read it here: The First Almond.

The essay discusses the flow of water from the Pacific Ocean through the various channels and into the homes and restaurants in Southern California. I believed when I began my journey that the article summarized my efforts and struggles in not only losing weight, but getting to the core of who I am and what is important to me. I reread that article in hopes to reaffirm my reasons for going through the Transformation program. The water has a purpose. The water has a journey. As it flows from ocean to stream, stream to the cleaning plants, and eventually to the pipes and runs that take it to the homes, the water transforms.

Over the past couple of months that I’ve changed my eating habits, living habits, and general outlook on life, I have gone through a number of transformations.

Before I began this journey, I chose to eat meat. Separate from the program, my girlfriend challenged me to go a month without eating meat. I accepted the challenge, honestly, to show her that I would not be able to do it. Reading that sounds so strange, but I did it to show her after a month that I was not cut out to be a vegetarian. Then a funny thing happened. I struggled through the first week, and thought about constantly eating chicken and Reuben sandwiches. Then, I began waking up and feeling lighter. I noticed my skin cleared up, and I never felt that heavy rock-in-the-stomach type of fullness that I did after I ate a big steak or burger. It has been over 3 months since I have last eaten meat, and I don’t have any plans of going back.

I am not the water that travels through the systems and transforms. I am the transformation.

In the past, I never considered myself a morning person. On Saturdays, I would routinely sleep in until 10:30 and still wake up groggy. (In college, 10:30 on Saturday was out of the question, but I am 27 and have put that time in the rear-view mirror…. most of the time at least). But, like the water, I have changed. I cannot remember the last time I’ve slept in until 9:00. I attribute it to the new found energy from eating right.

SIDE STORY: I’ll keep it brief. My senior year in high school, I lost 45 pounds doing the Adkins diet. I cut out all bread and starches and lost all that weight in 3 months, but I also lost all my energy. I played summer baseball and was almost falling asleep in the dugout. OK, back to the blog. 

This program drastically cut out the amount of bread intake day to day. When I began, I flashed back to then and had my doubts about the longevity this program would have in my life. After I finished the Adkins test, I put the weight back on in about the same amount of time as I took it off. But this feels different. I didn’t just cut bread out of my diet, but I learned what it does to my body. I feel educated, and because of that, I feel like I have what it takes to continue past this program and make this the way I live for the rest of my life.

I am going to leave you with this (and I have a terrible habit of this, which I am trying to change): when we are presented with a difficult and drastic change to our day to day, we kick, scream, fight and do everything we can to convince ourselves not to allow that change. We do it in our personal lives, in our jobs, and in ourselves. Allow yourself to do this. Allow yourself to fight it for a few minutes. Take an hour and blow off steam, but consider the advantages of where you’ll be if you follow through with that tough decision and you will come out better on the other side. Struggle. Complain. Cry if you have to, but do it. I promise you you’ll feel a sense of pride in yourself that only comes from overcoming a life hurdle. I did. And as I look down the track, I see more hurdles. But as I look behind me, I see hurdles too, and I am closer to the finish line than where I began.


The Sixth Almond: The Effort

Effort is the most important thing in anything we do as individuals. Effort is the most important thing in anything we do as a society. Effort is the difference between dreaming something, and actually doing it.

I was at the gym today and I felt myself waning effort as I tried to push through my workout. I think it is easy for us to know we need to get off the couch and make things happen, whether it be exercise, work, or study. I think it’s a little bit harder to actually get off the couch and do it, but I think a lot of times we will celebrate that act and forget that once we set ourselves into motion, we need to put forth the effort to make getting off the couch as worthwhile as possible.

When I got to the gym, I got on the treadmill (something I always do to start my workout). Strike One: Doing something because it’s routine because that’s what you’re comfortable doing. I set the treadmill to a comfortable, but quick enough pace and set the incline to something I’ve done before. (Let me know when you begin to see where I went wrong with my workout today.) I ran about a mile and a half, then hit the stop button. Strike Two: I didn’t push myself. I could have gotten my heart rate up higher, or stayed on the treadmill for another mile without much trouble. I think I, like most people, have this fantastic ability to justify why I can stop doing something labor-intensive for any number of reasons. I got off the treadmill because (I told myself) I was going to concentrate more on weight training than cardio. Why can’t I do both? I had the time. There wasn’t anyone in the gym so it’s not like a machine I wanted to use just opened up. The truth is, I got off because there was a commercial on the show I was watching in front of the treadmill, and I got bored.
Strike Three, Four, Five, Forfeit of the next game and self imposed sanctions for the post-season. 

I’m not proud of it, but that is really the biggest factor in why I quit jogging today. Now, I did go on to get a good (enough) workout in, and for that I’m happy (enough). I am happy that I am getting out of the house and going to the gym, but I’m at a point in my journey where I need to really push myself to see results. I think my body is getting used to my food routine, and this should be the point in the program where I step up and make things happen I am very happy with how things have gone thus far. I am 15 pounds lighter than I was when I started a month and a half ago, and I believe there is new muscle developing where fat was before. Just ask my girlfriend! But I know there are hours I’m leaving on the table where I could be really pushing myself, and it all boils down to effort.

My goal for this next week is to step up my “effort game.” I am going on a weekend vacation, but I am not going to let that get in the way of my training. I WILL workout while I am down there, even if it means waking up at 7am on vacation to go for a jog or go to the gym and give it everything I have. I am expecting the scales to look a lot like they did last week when I go in tonight, but next week will be a different story. If my effort doesn’t improve, then I don’t feel like I can make this program really work, and I really believe in the Transformation system.

So I challenge you to get out there and make some moves. Get off the couch, and realize that sportcenter is not going anywhere. (It’s on 24-hours a day on any one of 15 stations.) I think that this is the most important couple of weeks in the program. I have the tools to make things happen. Its time to put them to use.

The Fifth Almond: The Middle

I want this post to be something of a reflection on the program thus far. I think when I began this journey, I thought about the endgame and what the results would be. I don’t know that anybody goes on a journey like this and foresees the hard parts; the decisions to pass on your favorite foods and eat something better for your body are seldom weighed when you are at the starting gate. When I began, I thought of what I wanted to look like and how I wanted to feel when the program was all over. 

I think of the TV shows where individuals go on massive, life-changing weight loss journeys. For those individuals, there must be a compelling enough back story for them to even get on the show. More often than not, those chosen want to lose weight for their children, or because they had parents that lost their lives to weight-related issues. The show will open with them addressing the camera and saying something like, “I am not losing weight for me. I am losing weight so my children have a father/mother to watch them grow up and be there for.” They acknowledge that the journey will be hard, but they are focused on the endgame.

I do not have the same hurdles as those on those TV shows, but I shared the same basic outlook at the beginning. And right now, in my journey, I am at the point of the show where the central character looks at the camera and says, “I knew it was going to be hard, but I didn’t expect it to be this hard.”

For me thus far, the hardest part hasn’t been the eating. After last week, I thought that the detox was the hardest part about this journey. Having to eliminate just about every one of my favorite foods from my diet for 10 days seemed like there couldn’t be anything worse, but reflecting on it makes it an easier pill to swallow.

Right now, the hardest part is the emotional turmoil that I’m going through.

In the past 2 weeks, I have lost my job, moved in with my parents, and most recently, moved in with my girlfriend for the first time. I am trying to job hunt in one of the worst times for twenty-somethings to find work and I am trying to go through this diet program all at the same time. I am, in a lot of ways, emotionally maxed-out and if the program didn’t have as solid of an infrastructure as it did, I can honestly say I would have given up.

The program is built around three cornerstones: medical supervision, exercise and nutrition counseling, and emotional advocacy. Every visit, you check in with each “division” and talk about what you have found that works, and what frustrations you have. I can say that I have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge about myself through each of these “divisions,” but the one I didn’t think I would get very much out of has turned out to be the most important for me thus far in my journey.

Shannon, the emotional advocate, does a tremendous job at getting to the core of what struggles and frustrations you are having. A lot of times, food is not even the point of conversation what she meets with me. I will go in and when she talks to me, I think I have to somehow tie everything back in to how I’m eating or why I’m not exercising as much as I should and she stops me, and diverts the conversation to what struggles I am having in life. Because these last few weeks have been so hard for me, she has been a very important person in getting me through what I have been going through.

As I progress to the latter half of the Transformation program, so to do I progress to the latter half of my journey. Thus far, it has been extremely rocky. Every week you have struggles and don’t think things can get much worse, and then life has a funny way of reminding you of why you need to stay focused and stay positive. I am at a low point in my life right now, but there are signs of light at the end of the tunnel. I am happy in my relationships and I am settling in to apartment life with my girlfriend (we are only 2 days in and our apartment is full of boxes, but we are both excited and happy about where we are and where we are going).

I will leave you with this thought: when we are happy we think things will always be that way, and when we are down we think things can’t get any worse. What we need to do is constantly keep our focus on where we want to go and our individual journeys will get us there if we keep our chin up and our sights set on our goals. Life is full of struggles, but if we didn’t struggle, we wouldn’t appreciate our successes when we eventually reach them.

The Fourth Almond: The Restart

So the detox came and went and I survived. It was a grueling 10-day program that saw the steady elimination of all my favorite foods. I will admit that one of the days I took a casino trip and broke the rule about no alcohol one or two (three, four, five, who’s counting at this point?) times. I think in life it’s only realistic to savor some moments like this and just enjoy yourself; and I certainly enjoyed myself! What I think is important is that I hold myself accountable. I went into the program understanding that I was going to go to the casino and that I was going to allow myself a “night off.” I made sure that there were no slip ups leading up to the trip, nor were there any afterward.

The point is this: We can set ourselves up to succeed or we can set ourselves up to fail. I think if we go into difficult situations with the expectation to set personal records or automatically succeed, we are destined to be disappointed. I live a pretty healthy lifestyle. I think by this point of this blog that is pretty apparent. But I am not one who can go two weeks without pizza, or a diet coke. What I can do is be honest with myself. When I went to the casino, I knew exactly what I was doing. I didn’t try to justify my drinking or hide it from myself or say that “it didn’t count because…”

Looking back on the detox, I am extremely happy with the results. I lost four pounds and, more importantly, I have more energy in the mornings. Here is what I wanted the focus of this blog to be about: When we look ahead at a tall mountain, we have a hard time figuring out how to climb it. When we look back after we climbed that mountain, we realize that it started by taking the first step.

The detox seemed like a very large mountain, but now that it’s over, I realize that it is absolutely possible for anyone with the will power enough to say no to fast food or dessert to get through it. I craved food like you wouldn’t believe. For me, watching the Food Network helps. Seeing all of the grilling shows or dessert shows might be harder for some, but if I can see something being made and see people enjoy the food, a little bit of my craving subsides. Now I realize what this would do to some people, and I am not encouraging anyone to do this if it doesn’t work for you, but I do encourage you to find what takes your mind off of your cravings and allow yourself to do what’s best for you.

Shannon (the Emotional Advocate at Transformation) often says that when you have a craving, when you think you’re hungry, allow yourself 15 minutes to see if it’s really hunger, or if it’s boredom. Go clean your room, or do the dishes, and if you’re still hungry afterwards, then eat something (something sensible that is!).

So now I am about half way through the Transformation program. Five weeks in, I am down 14 pounds, down 4% body fat, and I have more energy now than I’ve had in years. I am excited about the direction my life is going, and I encourage you to look at where you are at in life and be honest about where you are at, both emotionally and physically. If you want to change your life you absolutely can. And this isn’t just about losing weight. If you are unhappy personally, professionally, or just unhappy in general, you can change.

Sometimes we stand at the base of a mountain and we look up and we cannot see the top. The question is, will your next step be forward?

The Third Almond: The Detox

I wish I had something grand or exciting to talk about this week. I have, however, lost some weight and I am excited about it. In the past 3 weeks, I have lost 10 pounds.

Thank you, thank you…. Really, you’re too kind…

But on a more serious note, this week I started the detox program. For those of you unaware, the Transformation detox program is an elimination-based system that aims at gradually taking certain foods out of your diet and slowly reintroducing them back to you to see if you have any reactions to certain foods.

The first day we followed our food plan. (Disclaimer: my girlfriend, Kelly, is doing the program with me. There will be times when I say we and I mean she and I [or her and I]… I used to be a grammar freak… See what this program has done to me?!? And yet I digress…) After the first day, we were no longer allowed to have grains or dairy. Do you know how hard it is not to eat grains or dairy if you’ve never tried not eating grains or dairy?

Side story: When I was a kid, I was a bread-a-holic. I remember going to Thanksgiving at my Aunt Karen’s house and eating 5-6 rolls before dinner would even really start. I fantasize about going to Outback Steakhouse and eating an entire loaf of their brown bread. It’s so good! (Was so good. Not anymore for me! Ugh…)

So giving up bread and cheese and milk is a very hard thing for me. I am now on day 4, which has afforded me a steady diet of onions, peppers, and the saliva I take in from seeing commercials about the kinds of food real people eat. I went to a Mexican place today after a 5k I did and they had a free buffet for the runners. My girlfriend and I went through the line and skipped over the cheese, the sour cream, the tortilla shells, the rice, the chicken… We loaded our plates up with fajita vegetables and refried beans. And to be honest, I think I may have taken some liberties on the beans. I don’t know if they’re allowed at this stage in the program, but I deliberately chose not to check my manual because I was very hungry. I actually took the salsa from the chips and salsa tray and just ate that by itself. I’m not proud of this, but a man has to eat!

By now, I hope you see that this program has taken it’s toll on me, to an extent. The only thing driving me at this point is the fact that I am seeing change. I am seeing the weight fall off and I am noticing a change in my personality. The other day at work, I walked by a staircase and thought that I could “spider-man” my way up and over the railing. Now I didn’t try it, but I wanted to, and I believed that if I had the place all to myself, I could have. The point is, I feel healthy. Before I started this program, I would judge my health by the number on the scale, or how believable I looked when I stood sideways in a mirror sucking in my gut. Now, I am daydreaming about running up walls and actually believing that, if I stick to this program (and hit the gym once or twice a week) I could do it.

I am 3 weeks away from being 27 years old. I want to believe that if I ever had a son, I would be able to outrun him when he is 15 years old. I remember my dad could do that and I thought my dad was superman when I was growing up. The thought of sitting around, idly watching him grow up and not being able to play basketball with him or race him around the track kills me.

I am doing this program for me, but not just for who I am today. I am doing this for me today, tomorrow, and the rest of my life. I think I am just starting to really believe what that could really mean. And that motivates me.

The Second Almond: The Change

I don’t know what I expected when I began this Transformation program. I guess when I signed up for it I did so with the idea that it would be pretty easy. I think I saw a lot of the patients who had gone through the process and came out the other side happier and I thought if they could do it, surely I could as well. I am far below the average age of the patients that generally go through this and maybe there was a bit of ego that just told me it would be easy.

I never had a specific number in my head as to how much weight I wanted to lose. I didn’t have an amount of inches I wanted to trim down on my waistline, although I do have a pair of jeans I kept from my “skinny days” that if I could fit into some day, well, I’d be pretty thrilled. What I wanted when I started this program was to learn what I was capable of; what I could do if taken outside of my comfort level.

What I am about to say is as honest and truthful as I can possibly be in my writing. In the beginning, I thought that because I live a relatively healthy-ish lifestyle, that I would skate through this program without much falter. But now, just two weeks into the program, I feel like I am standing at the base of a very tall mountain and all I packed was a pair of flip-flops to climb it in. THIS. IS. HARD.

I have always considered my diet one that was pretty healthy compared to the normal American. And its pretty funny to think that we use the word “diet” both to describe how we eat as a population and how we eat as individuals when we are trying to lose weight. Two very different things, but that is for another time. I thought that there would be very little change from how I ate two weeks ago to how I was to be eating during the program. Let me say this one more time so you know I really mean it… THIS. IS. HARD.

It’s not hard because I don’t like the food I am eating because I do. I enjoy fish and vegetables and the truth is, the food on this plan is not all too different from what I normally ate. What is so hard is the planning. I find myself thinking about what I’ll have for lunch when I am waking up. I think about fish at 6:30 AM and at what meal I want to have a grain. When I want a snack at work, I reach into my desk and grab a handful of almonds and drop them onto my desk. 1, 2, 3… is Greg counting with me? 4, 5, 6, 7… I feel like Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man” every time I want something to eat!

THIS. IS. HARD. Definitely, definitely hard.

But this is also worth it. I have had days where I wake up and, despite my constant fantasies about chicken wings and beer and whether or not Pizza Hut delivers in the middle of the night, I have noticed a change in me. I want it, but I do not crave the same foods as I did before I started this. I can visualize how a pepperoni pizza might taste, but be able to shift to what’s “realistic,” and make a good decision about what I am going to have for my next meal. I see my waist shrinking in the mirror.

They say that every cigarette you smoke takes something like six minutes off of your life. Maybe it works the same way with food. Maybe every time I choose water over a Coke, or fish over chicken wings, I am not only subtracting from my waistline, but also adding a few extra minutes to my life. I think that might be something that becomes pretty important down the line and I like the fact that I am doing something that is making me a little healthier in the long run.

So, despite my struggles, I don’t want to give up. Not yet. I am grateful that the Transformation team is understanding and helpful throughout this process. I am also very grateful that I am living with someone who is also going through the program with me.

I will leave you with this: do not be afraid to challenge yourself and see what you are capable of. We are all capable of extraordinary things and we will never know what that is until we test ourselves. This first step is always the hardest, but there will come a point in your life you will look back and realize that the first step was also the biggest.


The First Almond: The Beginning

The birth of an almond is a lot like the undertaking I am beginning on my journey to find my center. I should first begin this post by telling you a little bit about what I am aiming to do in creating this blog. I should tell you why I think it is important for me to chronicle my struggles and my motivations and my goals. I should tell you that I am at something of a crossroads in my life and that there is some great underlying message I am trying to get across to you, the reader, but I am not going to do that. My hope is that throughout the reading of this you begin to understand more about me than I can sum up in a few lines. I hope that you can get as much out of this as I do in writing this, and that we both come to understand a little more about ourselves throughout my journey. Ultimately, I hope that I inspire you to go on your own personal quest and that you find whatever it is you’re looking for in stumbling upon this page.

The almond is both simple and complex all at the same time. Picture the almond. Pick it up and feel it in your fingers. Understand it’s weight in your palm. Press it between your fingers and take your nail to it. Picture it’s journey from conception to your table. Do not take it for granted. I fear if you cannot dream the almond’s existence you are not ready to discover what it is I hope to impart in you.

I am reminded of an essay by Joan Didion entitled “Holy Water.” In it, she describes the life-cycle of water while sitting in a West Hollywood restaurant in the 1960’s. While she describes the journey of water from the ocean to the canals of Southern California, she takes a journey back in time and is reminded of her life from child to adult. She reminds us of of the infinity of water that has come before all that has yet to come. That essay has been stuck in my head for years and I believe it will stay with my throughout my life and will be a driving force in my journey now. I believe the almond is my “holy water.”

Before I get carried away, I want to remind you that this journey is not about almonds. My journey will be centered around a 12-week wellness program I am going on that will test me physically, mentally, emotionally. It is, in the most generic of descriptions, about learning to live a healthy life. Last week, I enrolled in a program at Transformation Wellness Center that analyzed my current diet and lifestyle to, ultimately, give me the tools to lead a healthy life. I encourage anyone with the desire and willpower to enroll in a program like this because I am already seeing the benefits in my life.

Before an almond ever takes form, it must lie dormant in an almond tree. That tree will go through a hibernation period where it gathers the strength to produce. Then, sometime at the beginning of the warmer months, the trees will bloom flowers and attract bees to pollinate the blossoms. From there, the flower will birth a soft shell and the nut will begin to take shape. A hull will surround the shell to protect it from predators, weather and wind. It is vulnerable. But then, in the swell of summer, the hull breaks and exposes the almond, and it will dry in the hot sun. Ultimately, the almond is harvested and stored, sometimes for years before it is packaged and shipped all around the world.

I believe that my life, up until now, has been in a dormant state. It is strange to think of a life in these terms. I must admit that I still struggle to wrap my head around the concept, but in my heart I honestly believe it to be true. I have lived an extraordinary life full of joy and pain and regret. I have seen things that have helped shape me, but I have always stood by passively and let the world mold me to what I am now. What I long for the most is the will to take the reigns and make the world what I want it to be. Therein lies my journey to find my center. The next 12 weeks will be full of misery and great triumph. There will be times I throw my hands up and curse the process. There will be times when I will want to give up, but I know I will use my support system to pick myself back up and soldier on. What I will not do is give in to the temptation to quit. I will be as honest to myself as I have ever been, and I will share my entire journey on these pages and I hope you will find strength in my struggles; that you will find hope in my words, and the overwhelming force to begin a journey of your own.

I know as well as the next person that there is considerable value in a river running wild and undammed, a river running free over granite, but I have also lived beneath a river when it was running in flood, and gone without showers when it was running dry. — Joan Didion, “Holy Water”