Jason Olson

Finding my path back to health

Well, I’m now a year older than I was previously. This birthday in particular has me reflective on the decisions I’ve made in the past about my personal health and wanting to share my story.

This is going to be a very personal post. I’m going to mention numbers, habits, and details that I’m quite embarrassed or ashamed about. But I feel it’s the right time to share my story with others and to share the steps that I’ve taken to get my health back on track. I wanted to wait to write this until new habits have been formed and I feel like I’m on track. That time has come.

I hope that by sharing my story, it might reach and help even a single person out there. Even if it’s just one single tip or piece of inspiration. Who knows, maybe it is future me that will need to come back and read this someday.

“To keep the body in good health is a duty, otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.”

Buddha

So who am I?

I’ve never been a fit person before. Ever since 5th grade, I’ve always been on the larger side and had low self-esteem issues that arose from it. As my life continued on, my health continued to decline. I’ve had an unhealthy relationship with food for as long as I can remember, and have never really focused on taking care of myself.

I’m a living example of the sheer overabundance we are faced with in the modern world. We have nearly immediate access to anything we could possibly want at any possible time. We have stocked fridges, stocked pantry cupboards, 24 hour restaurants and stores, drive-thru food where we don’t even have to leave the comfort of our own car, or food delivery services where we don’t even need to leave the comfort of our own couch. We can get same-day delivery with Amazon Prime, or even have a job where we never have to leave the house.

I’ve had many people over the years express concern for my health. But change has to come within. Otherwise, it is short-lived. I had to find my own inner motivation to get the ball rolling. My long bout with depression and anxiety hasn’t helped for sure. Through it all, I never really embraced life for the miracle it is. I never took the time to define what I care most about. In some ways, perhaps I never felt worthy of deserving a life of good health.

As I write this post, I finally feel like I’m not depressed at all. With help from my physician, I got on a medication that took the edge off my depression and anxiety enough to make the changes in my life I’ve long needed to. With help from my therapist, I’ve started exploring the things that I care deeply about and the impact I want my life to have in the world.

I suppose, I could say that I’m finally finding my own inner drive and will to live. And it feels great.

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, not to worry about the future, or not to anticipate troubles, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.”

Siddartha Guatama Buddha

The final straw

The final straw came at a recent annual check-up at my physician’s office. I stepped on the scale and….. dayum, 481 pounds. NO, NO, NO. Nearly 500 pounds. HELL NO. This can’t happen. There is no way in H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks I’m going to cross the 500 pound mark. But unless I made some serious changes, it was going to happen.

I was already wearing 6x shirts and pushing towards needing even larger. Sigh. This is what I’d done to myself. I let it get this far. Nobody else did this to me. I needed to take ownership of this. I needed to change.

Me close to max weight

I started tracking my calories on MyFitnessPal. I started calculating how many calories were in fast-food meals that I had eaten in the past. I’d had meals that were over 3000 calories in a single sitting. Heck, there was even one that was over 4000 calories. Talk about behavior that will lead to massive weight gain and much worse. Perhaps it’s sheer luck I hadn’t had a heart attack already by the age of 37.

I got a wrist band to track my physical activity. I found that it was common for me to take fewer than 400 steps in a day. I might as well have just stayed in bed all day. I was drowning myself with inactivity. My body and mind was just languishing. It’s no wonder I was dealing with depression and anxiety. This needed to stop. Something had to change.

So I set out to make the changes I needed so that I would be able to go hiking with my kids, to easily walk out to lunch with coworkers, to be able to comfortably buckle the seat belt in my car, and to be around long enough to be a grandparent.

“Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it.”

Plato

How I finally made changes

I’m a lazy person. I needed to find things that I could do and stick to. It wasn’t enough to try a change. I had to make changes that I knew I could continue with. This was a lifestyle change I was embarking on, not a temporary fling. Expecting myself to make a bunch of healthy food on Sunday and plan out my entire meal week was not going to work. With the depression, I simply didn’t have the energy for many changes.

I needed baby steps. My goal was to make more good decisions and fewer bad decisions. One decision at a time. I would take the time to celebrate each good decision too. Skipping a fast-food meal and having a salad instead. Skipping soda and having water instead. Going into work and being social instead of working from home and being a frowner.

One decision turned into two decisions, turned into three decisions, turned into many more. It’s a lot like compounding interest. The wins, no matter how small, build on each other. By focusing on a single step at a time, you are pleasantly surprised when you look up later and realize you’ve walked several miles. The more I won, the more I felt better about myself. The more I felt good about myself, the more good decisions I made. I was turning my downward spiral into an upward arcing virtuous cycle.

Of course, what works for me may not work for you. But I always found that “change your life completely cold-turkey” was not a recipe for success for me. If you feel like you have hit rock bottom and even a single change feels overwhelming, there’s very little chance that huge sweeping changes are going to stick.

My first step was to focus on what I consumed. I knew that at my size, and with my basal metabolic rate, the most impactful change I could make was to my eating habits. I needed to get my caloric intake under control. So I cut out sodas (pretty difficult when there’s free soda at work). I ate out at fast-food less. I ate more salads. And I found small healthy snacks I could munch on instead of potato chips or cookies. I count the calories I eat and I track as much as I can in MyFitnessPal (which is super easy to do).

The weight started coming off and it got easier. I started at 481 pounds on December 1st, 2017. As of this writing, I’m at 427.6 pounds on April 9th, 2018. That’s ~53 pounds lost over 18 weeks, or about 3 pounds per week. That’s with the inevitable plateau weeks and falling off the bandwagon that I’ve hit on my journey so far. I’m trying to hit 1-2 pounds per week of loss to make it healthy, so I’m pretty happy with the progress.

Now I’ve started to focus on movement. Not exercise, but simply more movement. I started parking my car further away in the parking lot. I went from 800 steps at work, to one thousand, to one and a half thousand. I’ve started taking the stairs more often.

Each change I’ve made, I wanted to make sure I could stick with it at least for two weeks. I find it gets much easier after that. And by the time you hit the two month mark, much of these become habit. Once it’s habit, bring in some more changes. It’s a transformation slowly over time.

Happiness By Design

One of the best phrases I’ve heard to describe my approach is “designing your life for happiness.” I first heard about this on a podcast interview with Paul Dolan, author of the book “Happiness By Design: Change What You Do, Not How You Think.”. Long story short: make it easy to do the important things, and difficult to do the other things.

Sometimes, willpower is simply not enough to do the things that make us happy. Sometimes, “our ingrained habits sabotage our efforts to do them”.

“The solution… is to deliberately make it very easy to do the things that make us happy. If an action seems difficult or hard, our brains will be inclined to avoid it. But if it seems easy, it takes less willpower to do them.”

Paul Dolan

So not only did I seek to make the important things easy, I’m intentionally trying to make the less important things harder:

  • “I want to read more / spend less time on my computer” -> my work laptop never enters my bedroom
  • “I want fewer meals where I’m tempted for fast-food” -> having some Soylent shakes at home so when I’m super lazy, I don’t have to worry about any meal prep
  • “I want to work from home less often” -> The only place I can work at home is in a place that’s uncomfortable to sit for extended amounts of time
  • “I want to spend less time on my phone” -> Delete all games and most apps (outside of the ones I use during my commute and for music/meditation) from my phone… temptation gone
  • “I want to spend less time on Facebook” -> Delete my Facebook account (I know this one is a little extreme, but it went hand-in-hand with some other principles I wanted to live by)

Of course, that goes hand-in-hand with making things easy to do that bring me happiness:

  • “I want to read more” -> with no electronics near my hammock, and a large collection of books within arm’s reach, I’m now reading more
  • “I want to eat more salads” -> buy pre-made salads so I simply need to grab one out of the fridge, no prep needed

Where am I at now?

Frankly, while the 53 pound lost sounds big, it feels small when I am still over 400 pounds and have 150 more pounds to go for my first long-term goal. On the other hand, it means I’ve lost over 10% of my weight since I started and I’m over 25% of the way to my goal. So I’m celebrating it. Better yet, I feel like I could keep on going forever at this rate. It doesn’t feel exhausting. It feels doable.

I continue to focus on my mental health. I do counseling. I’m doing meditation and working on mindfulness. I have a CPAP machine and am focusing on getting more sleep every night. It’s a good start.

Heck, I’m starting to do experiments too. Just in the last week, I’ve started doing intermittent fasting (16/8), and plan to start doing some high-intensity interval training using the 7-minute workout. Longer term, I’ll start doing strength training and really work on building up my lean muscle mass.

But all of that will come in time. For now, one day at a time, one step at a time, one meal at a time. More good decisions than bad. I’ll continue working on walking more and reconnecting with my body.

The future looks exciting and bright. And for the first time in many years, I no longer feel depressed. I can’t wait to share the “Jason of the Future” with all of you.

© Copyright 2018, Jason Olson

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