San Antonio is a city filled with people silently obsessed with their own weight and wellness issues. I know: Everywhere I go these days, people are telling me their stories. Confessionals would be a better description.
In a city with an epidemic health and fitness problem, the overweight, out-of-shape people approaching me seem keenly aware they are part of the problem, and they understand the long-term implications if they do not make big life changes. People remain uncomfortable addressing the subject with friends and family – many of whom suffer from the same issues and don’t want to talk about it. The end result? Too many people in our city spend every day of their lives wishing they could do something about it. Too few find a way.
Two weeks ago I publicly disclosed that my Body Mass Index (BMI) had reached a tipping point and pushed me from being overweight, itself a fairly recent condition, to obese, meaning 30 percent of me is fat. Five years ago, my body fat was less than 10 percent.
I’ve run marathons and many 10K and 5K races, pedaled century rides (100-mile cycling events), and generally been a healthy, food-conscious guy most of my adult life. My wife, Monika, is Miss Moderate, and both of our adult sons are fit and eat well. Two and half years of 24/7 work on the Rivard Report, a digital media startup, undid me. It also added an unhealthy dose of stress that doesn’t read on the scales, but it matters just as much as the extra weight. It is an extra weight.
I reached my own tipping point this year and finally decided enough was enough. I wanted the old me back. Through events and circumstances you can read about in my first two articles in this series, I started my comeback at One Lucky Duck at the Pearl. At the same time, I recommitted to regular cycling workouts and using my membership at the Tripoint YMCA.
Different approaches work for different people. I spent the first week eating only raw foods and vegan recipes as a way of jump starting my return to good health and a more balanced lifestyle. I cut out alcohol, but decided to keep drinking coffee. Hey, I’m a newsman.
One Lucky Duck is breaking me in easy, I think, as I start my Day Two by sipping on a delicious banana nut shake for breakfast. It’s so smooth and rich it’s like eating Blue Bell ice cream out of the container. Not that I’ve ever done that. It’s a good morning, even if I slept poorly. After 24 hours without meat, with little fat or sugar, and without alcohol, my body definitely knows something is up.
The day starts with good news. Before I started my five-day cleanse, I weighed in at 210.6. This morning, the same scales read 207.8.
I don’t deceive myself: A one day, nearly three-pound loss is mostly about fluids. I was starting to look like a barrel. For the first time in my life, my stomach rather than my chest defined my T-shirt profile. My waistline was taking on the classic pear shape of middle-age, which researchers equate to a higher incidence of heart attacks. I’d succumbed to a sedentary, bloated lifestyle.
I feel hunger pangs by mid-morning and follow Stella Shafer’s advice to drink water when that happens. She works at One Lucky Duck, having moved to San Antonio to help care for her brother in the military, badly wounded in Afghanistan. She is knowledgable and helpful, and has become my vegan guide.
Most of us never experience hunger. I’ve read about various Paleo diets that make hunger or missed meals part of the deal, a kind of pretend throwback to our hunter-gatherer days when we didn’t always return to camp with a kill. I suppose my cleanse is as much of a “diet” strategy as any other program. I see it as a way of restoring balance to my life, to break bad habits. I don’t mind a little hunger. It reminds me of my mission.
Lunch is three Thai lettuce wraps filled with a spicy cabbage mix, chopped basil, mint and cilantro, mango, Asian cashew, sesame oil and a little Himalayan sea salt. I’m surprised how full I feel afterwards.
That evening I join my fellow cyclists on a training ride from the Pearl south past the Missions. It’s a 28-mile ride, out and back, and I get dropped by the pack at the 10-mile mark.
I’ve bonked. I’ve spent my energy reserves, and I can’t keep up. By the time I make the turn at 14 miles I feel light-headed. I stop and buy a Gatorade. Temperatures are in the high 90s and I need electrolytes. My hand-eye coordination is a bit shaky, I notice. I think I’m burning fat. I finish far behind the B Group of riders on the team.
Back home, I’m too spent to even eat dinner. I shower, swallow four Advil, and lie down. An hour later I’m starving. Dinner is the Mean Greens Shake I forgot to drink at lunch, and a Mediterranean Salad.
The pre-packaged salad greens barely fit on a dinner plate, so I save half for later. The basic ingredients are spinach, kale from LocalSprout, pitted Kalamata olives, pumpkin seed parmasagna, vine ripe tomatoes, and a balsamic vinegar dressing. Everything I am eating is rich with flavor, variety, and texture.
Some readers are telling me they can’t afford to follow my path. I disagree, and will devote my fourth article to eating well affordably.
The scales read 204. Did I really work off that much weight running and on the bike ride after two days of eating like Peter the Rabbit? That’s 6 lb., 6 oz. reduction in 48 hours.
Breakfast is a science lesson. I have a red ginger shake with chia seeds. I carefully pour the chia into the drink and then shake the thing vigorously, the seeds absorbing the liquid and swelling into a tapioca kind of mush. The drink goes down slowly. It’s super filling. The chia is said to block some food calories from being absorbed by the body and help with hydration, too.
More Thai lettuce wraps for lunch, which I eat at One Lucky Duck, where I’ve come to continue to interview Noah Melnagailis, the owner. While I am waiting, a woman I know professionally comes in with her husband. Both are large people. She is eager to be there and places a shake order and says she was motivated by reading the Rivard Report. He looks like he’d rather be just about anywhere else.
I eat one of the lettuce wraps and can eat no more. My stomach is shrinking. I take the rest home. I run three miles at The Y that evening, and dinner afterwards is a Mediterranean salad. I save half the greens again. Our refrigerator looks like the produce aisle.
“Our meal plan isn’t enough if you are going to exercise vigorously every day,” Noah tells me. “You need to eat a power bar before you cycle tomorrow night, and replace electrolytes, but Gatorade has a lot of sugar in it that you don’t need or want.”
My morning weight is 204.2, a slight increase from the previous day, and 202.2 after another evening 25-mile bike ride. I stick to my meal plan, which includes a different shake and two other salad varieties. I do much better on the bike ride, although I still lack the energy levels I had when I was eating a meat-centered diet. I need to find an alternative to Gatorade, but I will have to wait. I have a power bar before my workout and drink a Gatorade cut with water on the ride. It’s 98 degrees when I start the ride. I roll back into Southtown feeling euphoric at the end of the ride, endorphins doing their work.
It’s Friday already. The week has sped by and the experience has been nothing like I anticipated. The hunger has been only occasional, the suffering non-existent, and life without meat, fat, and alcohol is agreeing with me nicely. I’m productive at work, and I’m getting better at not editing into the wee hours.
I weigh 202.4 before my breakfast shake, which tells me two things: One, the easy weight loss is behind me. Two, I’m not adding lost pounds right back on the way I usually do when I try to lose weight and inevitably lose focus or give in to temptation.
As I shake my Red Ginger with Chia shake, I allow myself to think about a couple of psychological barriers I hope to cross soon. One is weighing under 200 pounds, seeing the scales start with the number “1.” The other is a sort of elaborate closet ceremony I have planned for myself, packing away all my 36-inch waist slacks, khakis, jeans and shorts; my XL T-shirts, and my 2XL cycling jerseys. I’ll keep the wardrobe for awhile as a reminder of how easy it is to lose my way in life. Another mental image is seeing me in the mirror again. Not the fat guy hiding me, but me, without the unwanted physical weight and emotional baggage.
I decide on Day Five there will be no end to the program, just a transition to the next five days. I’ve come to feel that One Lucky Duck is sort of home field for me and that a visit there every few days for a meal or shake is a smart thing. I’m starting to plan my own meals with Monika and our son, Alex, so I can integrate myself back into their lives at meal time and still stick to my plan.
I’ll be back with another progress report soon. Week One has been a success, but I’m not kidding myself. I’m still of this city’s fat guys. I have a long way to go.
*Featured/top image: Three days worth of food for the One Lucky Duck cleanse. Photo by Claudia Zapata.