Tell Me, What’s Your Flavor?

The Health One Meal Replacements I eat come in four flavors.  Chocolate, Vanilla, Strawberry, and Potato.  Potato is the most versatile for creating savory things, like corn muffins, potato chips, and pizza.  The chocolate is great for shakes, pudding, and cookies.  The strawberry.  Well, that’s an acquired taste.

Low-calorie add-ins

Low-calorie add-ins

UAMS program participants are allowed to add additional seasonings and low-calorie, flavorful foods to their meal replacements to make meals replacements more interesting.  On my last trip to the grocery store I picked up some Mrs. Dash seasoning, taco seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, sugar-free instant pudding mix, and enough salsa to last me a month.

What do you add to your meal replacements?

Where do you exercise?

Resuming this journey requires I resume exercise.  I’m doing it now the same way I did it the first time — by committing to walking at least 30 minutes per day.  When I started in 2011 I couldn’t make it across the Two Rivers Bridge without stopping to rest my ankles.  I felt a huge sense of accomplishment when I first crossed the Big Dam Bridge.  This was the gorgeous sunset I saw the other night as I crossed the Big Dam Bridge.

BDB Sunset

Where do you exercise?

The Knowing-Doing Gap

Let’s just rip this BandAid off.  I haven’t posted in over a year because I’ve been struggling with weight maintenance.  There.  That’s better.  What I love about the UAMS program that helped me lose over 250 pounds is when I walked in the clinic door last week having gained about a hundred pounds back, they didn’t do any of the negative things I worried they might.  They just said, “Daniel! We’re glad to see you!”

May, 2015

May, 2015

That was me this weekend waiting to start a Color Dash 5K to benefit KUAR, our local public radio station.  It had been a while since I walked that distance, but I made it through the whole course at my own pace.  I remember walking about 3 miles with a coworker each day on our lunch hour at my previous school.  I miss those walks.

How does this happen?  More calories in than out.  I’m confident that if I went to the gym and swiped my card tomorrow, confetti and balloons would fall from the ceiling.  We don’t want that.  I honestly don’t know the last time I went to the gym, and I’m too ashamed to look it up.

I do know that Wendy’s has kids meals on sale after 4PM for $1.99 each.  I also know where you can still find Cadbury Creme Eggs for 27 cents.  I know too well where $1.59 will buy you a cinnamon roll the size of your face with more than a quarter inch of cake frosting on the top.

I know that one pound of fat is equivalent to 3,500 calories.  I know that weight gain occurs when an individual consumes more calories than he expends.  I know how to plan a healthy meal.  I know how to cook foods low in fat, high in fiber, and rich in flavor.  I know.  I know.

It’s not about what we know.  It’s about what we do.

What I’m doing is re-enrolling in the UAMS weight loss program and joining a Foundations I class.  I’m walking the walk with a room full of new patients who are simultaneously excited and frightened as they begin their own journeys.

We all had the same question at some point, “What if this doesn’t work?”  What if it does?  It did for me, and it will again.  I walk into this classroom knowing what the end-game looks like, and this time I’m going to make the most of every session, picking up the knowledge, skills, and abilities that I missed the first time so I can be sure I’ll never have to retrace these steps again.

The lyrics to a show tune keep coming to mind at this moment.  “I know where I’m going, and I know where I’ve been.”

Summer 2011

Summer 2011


The Foodtritionist, whom I recommend you follow on Facebook for the humor as much as the sound nutrition and recipe advice, recently posted a cartoon that resonated with me.  “You have many weight-loss options:  gastric bypass, donut shop bypass, pizza parlor bypass, buffet bypass…”

Bypass Cartoon

For me, it’s gas station bypass.  Keeping foods that I would have difficulty consuming in healthy portions and at reasonable frequencies out of my pantry has long been a key to encouraging myself to make sound food choices.  Have you been inside a gas station lately?

I commute about an hour each way to and from work, so I get gas once every two or three days.  I am signed up for the rewards program that my gas station offers so I save between 5 and 10 cents per gallon.  When you burn fuel as rapidly as I do, every little bit counts.  With that rewards program came free treats.  A free fountain drink.  A free coffee.  A free Cadbury Cream Egg.

These freebies are designed to lure us inside.  Once there, they want to keep us inside.  Buy 6 fountain drinks and get the 7th for free.  Scan this QR Code and we’ll send you a coupon for something each Thursday.  Free donut.  Free hot dog.  Free coffee.  Free calories.

It wasn’t long before I was stopping into the gas station when I didn’t even need to get gas.  The people were very friendly.  The bathrooms were always sparkling.  The employees were so helpful — “You know, if you get another one of those it’ll only be 49 cents more.  They’re on sale this week.”  How can you turn away an offer like that?

Food addiction was never something I really thought was a thing.  Sure, people make bad decisions, but addiction?  When I drive past a gas station and my mouth begins watering, what do you call that?

I’m going to have a radical gas station bypass performed.  I don’t need the fountain drinks.  I don’t need the freebies.  I can pay at the pump.  When the receipt tells me that there are free things inside, I’m going to tear it up and drive away.  When the rewards system sends me a text message encouraging me to come inside to try a new product, I’m going to delete it.  When the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup calls my name, I’m going to let that call go to voicemail.

I can bypass the unhealthy options in the grocery store, but I seem to have difficulty bypassing them in convenience stores.  The answer is to bypass convenience stores.

What are you going to bypass?

70,000 Calories

I’ve gained just less than 20 pounds since my last official weigh-in.  Since there are 3,500 Calories in a pound of fat, that means that I’ve consumed just shy of 70,000 needless Calories in the past few months.  As one would do when getting a household budget in line, I sat down with a spreadsheet to think about where some of these needless Calories were spent.

Until my gas station bribed me into trying one with a free t-shirt, I had never tasted a “Whoopie Pie.”  It’s essentially two sweet, sticky muffin tops that sandwich a creamy filling that’s somewhere between butter cream icing and marshmallow goo.  You can get miniatures 5 for $1.99 or larger ones 3 for $2.49.  I wear the tshirt to the gym.  I wear the extra weight I gained everywhere I go.

Whoopie Pie Shirt

For the purposes of our budget, let’s say I had 17 of the miniatures.  That’s 3,400 Calories — just shy of a pound.

I have also developed a habit of eating Reese’s Cups.  I’m not talking about the cute miniature ones or even the two-pack classic cups.  These (plural) are the thick super-sized “Big Cup” variety.  They’re delicious, and do very little for me from a satiety perspective.  Why, then, did I find myself in possession of a case of them from Sam’s Club one weekend?  Because they’re cheaper in bulk.

Let’s add a case of those dudes into the calculation.  That’s 6,400 Calories.

I also discovered a product that didn’t exist when I began my weight loss journey — Snickers PB Squared.  It apparently won some awards last year.  It has the nutty-creamy quality of Snickers, and it also has the je ne sais quoi of peanut butter that makes it super double addictive.  The regular pack comes with two squares, but you can also get it with 4 squares  I bought a bag of miniatures at the grocery store.  Again, cheaper that way.

I honestly have no idea how many there were in that bag.  Let’s go with 28.  If there weren’t that many in the bag, I know I’ve eaten at least that many at gas station stops alone.  7,000 Calories.

While we’re on the topic of peanut butter, I have been known to sit down with a jar of it and scoop it out on saltine crackers.  A similar motion also works if you’re holding a jar of Nutella and gripping graham crackers.  My rational brain knows that peanut butter is a very Calorie-dense food — one that must be consumed in careful portions in order to prevent consuming it in excess.  Those Calories don’t count if you’re wearing your Whoopie Pie shirt, right?

A cup of peanut butter contains 1,518 Calories.  Over several months, I know I’ve cleaned out more than one jar.  For our budget, let’s put 16 cups.  That’s a gallon — 24,288 Calories.  I know I haven’t eaten that much excess peanut butter, but I’m still shy some Calories to meet my 70,000.

If I were to fill in the remaining missing calories in terms of large pepperoni pizzas, it would take a dozen of them to tally up the remaining 28,000 Calories.

A taste here, a nibble there, a cheat on occasion, and endless promises to do better tomorrow.  That’s how weight is gained.  Establishing a Calorie deficit — consuming fewer Calories than are expended — is how weight is lost.

The momentary pleasure of eating that Reese’s Cup quickly fades.  The impact registered on the scale does not.  These are poor choices, and I know better!  Why, then, did I make them?

This fascinating podcast from Radiolab, which has long been one of my favorite shows to listen to on my commute, discusses the way scientists believe our brain makes decisions.  They describe it as bundles of neurons voting, as if on a committee.  I can clearly feel the struggle in my own mind.  “We want a candybar!” shout the pleasure-seeking neutrons.  “Those are empty calories,” scold the bookkeepers.  It’s not that any one set of neurons is me, rather they’re all me.  I just have to wrangle the electorate and make sure the votes fall the way I want them to — I’m like the Minority Whip.

Minority Whip.  Cool Whip.  Never mind.



So I’m Obese Again.

Thanks to the wonder that is the Body Mass Index, I’m now clinically obese.  My BMI, which is a very rough estimate of body fat based only on height and weight, is 30.4.  Anything 30 and above for adults is considered obese.  When I began this journey, my BMI was closer to 60.  My immediate goal is to get it below 30.  My eventual goal is to get it to 25.

I’ve related this fact to several friends, most of whom say, “If you’re obese, I’m dead, kid.”  Although I don’t feel obese, and most people would never guess I’m obese, the numbers don’t lie.

Now, to fix this…

One pound at a time.


Which Stairway Are You In?

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Program for Weight Loss and Metabolic Control, the program that helped me lose 250 pounds, recently opened a new office on the UAMS campus.  While I’m still technically a patient, I haven’t been stopping by for weigh-ins for several months.  The last time I was there was in November.

Their new office is lovely!  It’s in a much easier to find location, the classrooms and exam rooms are all in the same spot, and the clinic doesn’t share space with any other groups.  If you’re a former of future patient, you MUST check it out.  Park in Deck 2, go down 1 level, and go into the hospital building — it’s just inside on your left.  G600.


As I was leaving the clinic, sticky note in hand with my current weight, I was confronted by this choice.  “Stairway Down” on the left, “Stairway Up” on the right.  What an excellent metaphor for my current situation.  I’ve been living in the Stairway Up this school year, and today was the day to make the right decisions to get back into Stairwell Down.

  “The scales are your friend when you’re losing.  It’s not much fun getting on them when they’re moving the other direction.”  In 1999 or 2000, a professor at my undergraduate institution spoke these words to me as I was happily relating to him a weight loss success story.  They have stuck with me, and they are oh-so-true.  It took me many weeks to summon the courage to walk back into the clinic with my tail between my legs.

From day one, the dietitians always stressed the importance of returning to the clinic in the event of weight gain.  Rather than scold or ridicule, we were told that they would welcome and support us.  That’s exactly what happened.  Margaret, the woman who sat with me at 448 pounds, explaining the program the meal replacements, hugged me and said, “This is nothing.  You can do this.”

This is nothing.  I can do this.  I will do this.  I have done this.  “This” is to overcome the 19.9 pound setback that has come since my last weigh-in in November.  In coming weeks I’ll be sharing a bit about how I ended up gaining, the struggles I’ve faced in maintaining, and the plans I’ve made to get back into the “Down Stairway.”

This story isn’t over.  Who’s with me?

Choosing My Own Adventure

When I was a kid, I really wasn’t very interested in reading.  It took more effort than watching a movie or listening to a story.  As well, it required that I concentrate for longer than my hyper-active attention span could muster.  The one exception to that was “Choose Your Own Adventure” books.  In those, you’d read a page or two and then make a decision.  Do you explore the dark cave or go back the way you came to investigate the noise you just heard?


Since starting at my new school, I’ve been faced with an avalanche of decisions.  

  • Do I go home and grade the open-response items I put on the Chapter 1 test so the kids will have feedback before they move on to the next big thing, or do I go to the gym and spend some quality time with the elliptical machine?
  • Do I stay up an extra hour preparing healthy meals for the coming days, or do I go to bed at a reasonable hour so I’ll have the energy and patience needed to make it through a full day of problem-based learning facilitation with 60 9th graders and 60 10th-12th graders?  
  • Do I take the much-needed 3-day weekend retreat that has become a tradition, or do I stay within the confines of civilization where there’s access to the Internet so I can grade online writing assignments (360 of them)?
  • Do I take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime, week-long professional development opportunity out of state requiring me to prepare an entire week of lesson plans and substitute-friendly learning activities, or do I stay here and do things myself?

Most of these decisions are interwoven.  If I go to the gym, I’ll have a higher energy level and a better attitude for the problem-based learning activity.  If I go on the weekend retreat, I’ll be relaxed, but I’ll probably also make poor food choices.  If I prep my meals, it means I’ll have more time to do work at school during my 30 minute lunch break, so I can at least print off the seating charts for the substitute folder for that week I’ll be out.

“Make Good Choices.”

Kristen, the registered dietitian who has been my source of knowledge, inspiration, and, when needed, consolation, has always told me to make good choices.  When I tell her that I’ve taken an action or made a choice that turned out not to be in my favor, she always asks, “what would have been a better choice?”

The difference between “then” and “now” is not that I didn’t want to make good choices “then.”  It’s not that I lacked the analytical capacity to make good choices “then.”  It’s simply that I was nutritionally-illiterate then.  I wasn’t equipped to make good choices about what to eat, what not to eat, and what the role of physical activity (and inactivity) played in weight control.

You haven’t heard much from me in the last month because I’ve been covered up with work and life.  I haven’t been to the gym since September 5th.  I had to log into my gym account to look that up!  My work obligations, for better or worse, often take precedence over my life obligations.  As a professional educator, I cannot bring myself to let the intellectual well-being of 180 young people fall to the wayside because I haven’t done “leg day” this week.

So how am I doing?  Surprisingly well.

My last weigh-in was 193.0 pounds.  The last time I updated you on my progress I weighed 191.8 pounds.  I lost my weight by making good choices.  I’ve kept it off by continuing to make the best choices I can.  In the real world, we have to deal the hand we’re dealt.  Sometimes the best choice is the least-worst choice.  When those days come, I learn from them, taking steps to not get myself in those types of situations going forward.

If you’re trying to control your own weight, make good choices.  Learn how food works.  Learn how to balance your caloric intake with your caloric expenditures.  When I can’t get to the gym, I eat less.  When I’m eating less, I I make sure that the foods I do eat are whole grains, lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, and the “good fats.”  When I do have time to get to the gym, that gives me a bit more flexibility in my food choices and my “discretionary calories” (Fun-size Twix, I’m talking to you).

A good friend recently told me that he and his wife had decided that they were going to focus on losing weight.  As badly as I know they both want and need to lose weight, success all comes down to how well you play “Choose Your Own Adventure.”  In my previous life, I wanted to lose weight.  In my previous life I needed to lose weight.  The difference between then and now is that I have equipped myself with the knowledge and nutrition literacy resources necessary to make good decisions.  I know how to look things up.  I know who to ask if I can’t make sense of what I find.  I use my brain to decide what I put in my mouth.

What do you need to help you make better choices?


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