Losing Weight And Feeling Great, Part 2

Over the past few months, I’ve lost almost 30 pounds and 5-6 inches off my waist. People are always asking me how I did it, so I decided to write a series of blog posts to give a good answer.  In Part 1, I said that we have to talk about the “why” before we talk about the “how.”  And next week in Part 3, I’ll discuss exercise.

This week, I want to talk about nutrition!  I found that by making small tweaks to what I eat, I was able to save a substantial number of calories.  Further, I found that doing simple arithmetic (less calories in, more calories out) was the best way to achieve quick weight loss.

Healthy FoodThe biggest secret that helped me get started eating healthier was a smartphone app named My Fitness Pal.  It helped me understand the impact of what I was eating.  You begin by telling the app about yourself (current weight, target weight, activity level, etc.).  It gives you a target number of calories to hit each day.  When I was losing two pounds a week, my goal was to eat about 1,500 calories a day (unless you exercise which adds back calories to your daily budget, but that is a topic for my next post).

You log what you eat in the app, and it is very eye-opening.  For example, I used to eat hotcakes at McDonalds for breakfast.  Did you know three hotcakes are over 300 calories?  Syrup adds almost 200 more calories, not to mention over 200 calories in butter.  A medium frappe would add over 500 more calories.  Do the math!  That’s 1,200 calories.  Holy cow!  That’s almost a whole day’s worth of calories.  By contrast, I also used to get a breakfast from Dunkin’ Donuts that I liked just as much.  Did you know that an egg white veggie wrap  has only 150 calories, and a small latte has about 200 calories?  I like both breakfasts equally.  Now, the choice is easy!  It’s either 1,200 calories or 350 calories.

Seeing the calorie content of dinner choices was eye-opening as well.  Did you know a half order of Texas cheese fries at Chili’s is almost 1,300 calories?  Chili’s flatbreads are over 1,300 calories too.  Again, almost a full day’s worth of calories for someone trying to lose weight!  In contrast, Panera’s French onion soup is under 200 calories, and a small Outback sirloin is also about 200 calories.  Again, the choice becomes easy!  Both options are very tasty, but one has 5x the calories.

With the empowerment of the My Fitness Pal app, I began to understand why I had gained so much weight.  I stopped going to Chili’s and other similar restaurants so often.  When I did go, I made smarter choices.  I ate smaller portions.  I left off calorie-heavy condiments.  Even the reduction from a medium latte to a small latte made a difference.  Limiting myself to one soda a day made a difference.  Experimenting with various healthy cooking options at home also helped.  It all adds up, and the My Fitness Pal app helps you see that very clearly.

I guess you could say that the method that worked for me was calorie counting.  I know many different “diets” exist and are popular.  Some say you should limit your carbs.  Others say no animal protein at all.  But I wanted a sustainable plan that allowed me to feel like I was still enjoying life!  I still ate everything I loved (just less of it and less often).  This made it possible for me to stick with it.  God bless those of you who are strong enough to not eat bread, cheese, meat or whatever else it is that you’ve completely given up… but I can’t do it, and I didn’t need to to get healthy.

SupplementsI also want to give a quick shout out to a few of my favorite supplements and substitutes.  I regularly enjoy chia seeds, which are a great source of Omega-3 and fiber.  I also take a Mega-Red fish oil pill.  My doctor said that the fish oil was probably one reason my triglyceride levels fell so drastically.  I also take a raspberry ketone pill, which is supposed to make fat cells available to be burned during exercise.  Don’t know if it helped or not, but it definitely didn’t hurt!  I also began using Truvia as a zero-calorie sweetener.  I’ve never found a sugar-free sweetener that I’ve liked before, but this one is pretty good.  In a blind taste test, my wife actually liked it better than sugar!

All of this was fueled by a sense of urgency because I had considered the “why” more than the “how” of weight loss.  I knew I had to make a change.  I also knew that I had to explore why I was eating the way I was.  I had to stop eating for non-nutritional purposes.  No more eating when bored.  No more eating when sad.  In those moments, I instead began to turn to exercise, and I found that it made my mood feel much better than eating.  And exercising actually took the hunger away!  Win-win!  More on exercise in Part 3 next week.

[ht: Colin Dunn for the supplement photo, creative commons license]

Losing Weight And Feeling Great, Part 1

This picture from July 2014 shows me after losing 20 pounds. I could already begin to see a difference in the shape of my face. Losing weight and getting in shape takes work, but it is worth it.

This picture from July 2014 shows me after losing 20 pounds. I could already begin to see a difference in the shape of my face. Losing weight and getting in shape takes work, but it is worth it.

I’ve dropped almost 30 pounds in the past few months, and everyday, people are asking what my secret is.  I do have some pretty cool recommendations to share — websites, smartphone apps, foods, supplements, exercises, etc.  But before I get to the details about nutrition (in part 2) and exercise (in part 3), I want to first mention the foundation on which they’re  built.

I’ve carried more weight than I should have for years, but I never had a good reason to make a lifestyle change.  You have to have a reason.  That’s “Step 1.”  We have to talk about “why” before we talk about “how.”  Doing it to impress a girl isn’t enough.  Doing it to look like your favorite athlete isn’t enough.  It may sound cliche, but you have to do it for you… and ultimately for the Lord.

My wakeup call came in the form of blood work that revealed my triglycerides were over 500, noted on the printout as “critically high.”  Not “elevated” or “borderline.”  “Critical.”  My LDL cholesterol was 186, which was high.  All my numbers were off, and my doctor wasn’t smiling.

I have always only half-jokingly said that I eat like I do because I prefer to die by heart attack.  (I mean, really, cancer or dementia or a hundred other ailments seem a much worse way to go.)  But I didn’t exactly want to die right away by a heart attack.  And I didn’t want to compromise the quality of my life due to poor health.  It was time to make a change.

My doctor gave me two months to try lifestyle changes, and after changing some habits, re-testing showed dramatic improvement!  My LRL cholesterol had dropped to 107, which was comfortably within the normal range.  And my triglycerides had dropped all the way down to 154, a reduction of over 3x.  My doctor said she almost never saw those kind of results from lifestyle changes alone, let alone so quickly!

This picture of me from 2012 shows the extra weight -- not enough to technically be obese, but not within a healthy BMI either.

This picture of me from 2012 shows the extra weight — not enough to technically be obese, but not within a healthy BMI either.

I had also lost 20 pounds and several inches of my waist in just two months, and since then, I have not only not gained the weight back, but I’ve lost another 10 pounds.  My new lifestyle has helped my heartburn and joint pain.  It’s given me more energy.  It’s helped me feel less anxious or depressed.  It’s even helped my tennis elbow.  I’m now living a much richer, fuller life, full of the things I love.

Getting healthy has positively affected my ability to live and to minister in God’s world.  In Mark 12, Jesus summed up all of the law by saying it came down to this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”  A lot of us leave off that last one, forgetting to honor God with our bodies.  God created our bodies, God redeemed our bodies, and we will live in glorified bodies forever.

Our bodies and souls are married together in this life (and in the next).  There are some exceptions, but generally, when my body is not well, my soul is not well.  My ability to serve God cheerfully and skillfully depends on taking care of the body he has given me.  What better reason to get fit?

I’m excited to share with you the things I’ve found that have made a tremendous difference in my life, but if you don’t first understand the “why,” no number of posts on the “how” will make any difference at all!

Tim Keller on Sabbath Rest

This week in church, we studied the fourth commandment.  As we step away from our work once a week, we acknowledge in faith that we are finite and God is all-powerful.  As a worship leader or church leader, it’s of first importance that we incorporate the rhythm of Sabbath rest into our schedule.  Tim Keller also has some interesting thoughts about Sabbath rest:

In the Bible, Sabbath rest means to cease regularly from and to enjoy the results of your work. It provides balance: ‘Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God’ (Exodus 20:9–10). Although Sabbath rest receives a much smaller amount of time than work, it is a necessary counterbalance so that the rest of your work can be good and beneficial.

God liberated his people when they were slaves in Egypt, and in Deuteronomy 5:12–15, God ties the Sabbath to freedom from slavery. Anyone who overworks is really a slave. Anyone who cannot rest from work is a slave – to a need for success, to a materialistic culture, to exploitative employers, to parental expectations, or to all of the above. These slave masters will abuse you if you are not disciplined in the practice of Sabbath rest. Sabbath is a declaration of freedom.

Thus Sabbath is about more than external rest of the body; it is about inner rest of the soul. We need rest from the anxiety and strain of our overwork, which is really an attempt to justify ourselves—to gain the money or the status or the reputation we think we have to have. Avoiding overwork requires deep rest in Christ’s finished work for your salvation (Hebrews 4:1–10). Only then will you be able to ‘walk away’ regularly from your vocational work and rest.

Sabbath is the key to getting this balance, and Jesus identifies himself as the Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:27– 28) – the Lord of Rest! Jesus urges us, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls’ (Matthew 11:28–29). One of the great blessings of the gospel is that he gives you rest that no one else will.

Leading Critics

For as long as I can remember, I’ve clung to the false idea that one can lead and bring about positive change without encountering critics.  My experience thus far in life tells me this is by no means true.  Still, I often look to my idols — Andy Stanley, Mark Driscoll, Steve Jobs — and long for their supposedly critic-free lives.  They lead on Easy Street, right?  Wrong.  Check out the video below:

I believe Steve Jobs has brought about more positive change than any other leader in my lifetime, but even he had critics.  Why?  Because change was involved, and change is never easy.  I’m just glad Steve followed his vision instead of letting the critics take the wheel.

This video is cool because we know how the story ends.  I don’t even want to try to imagine what the iPhone would look like if Apple had bowed to its critics.

Also, the specific way Jobs handled his critics is inspirational to me.  In the video above, you can see how he compassionately acknowledged that change is hard.  He even admitted that Apple had made mistakes and would continue to make mistakes.  But, that didn’t change the fact that they were heading toward their vision and would not be derailed.

There’s an art and a science to taking criticism well — accepting the kernel of truth but rejecting the personal attacks… making some course corrections but not allowing negativity to eat you alive.  It’s an art I’m still learning, and thankfully, I’ve got some great examples of leaders who do it very well.  Furthermore, the “advanced class” is learning not to just tolerate and endure critics but to lead them — to take them with you on your journey instead of discarding them.  That’s tough, but as you can see, Steve tried to do it.  And that’s my ultimate goal too.

As Through The Lens

Spring Flowers

I love this time of year. More specifically, I love being a photographer in the spring.  God is painting in his brightest hues right now, and his masterpieces are all around us.  But you have to be quick before the bright buds fade away.

At the first sign of spring, I grab my camera and drive around, looking for the perfect shot. As I drove my family back from Pipestem State Park last weekend, the journey took twice as long as usual because I was constantly pulling over to take a picture.  I’m sure it drove them crazy, but it was almost a healing experience for me.  Having barely survived a crazy, crazy week, it was a 180-degree flip to take things slowly on purpose.

What a great mindset this is — searching for beauty! Would you try it this week?  If the speed limit is 35, go 25.  Look left.  Look right.  Peer up ahead.  Search out the sky for beauty!  And then capture it, even if it’s just with a mental picture.  Capture that moment, and enjoy God in it.

Spring FlowersMaybe we should take this mindset with us the rest of the year too. What would it look like if we looked for the good all around us?  In the office?  In the airport?  In the checkout line?  What if every mundane minute of our lives could be turned into a search for beauty?  God’s hidden it all around us, tucked away in the personalities of our co-workers and the faces of strangers on the sidewalk.

It feels like many of us do the exact opposite — searching for what’s wrong. We nitpick everything and everyone, scrutinizing every last detail, looking for something to complain about.  At least I do.  I’m paid to do that.  Whether it’s pointing out a “jump cut” in a video or a violation of the “rule of thirds” in a photo or even reminding a guitar player that he needs to tune, I’m constantly critiquing and criticizing.

This weekend reminded me that, while there is much to point out that is wrong, there is also so much to appreciate that is right. I wish I could capture the feeling of my trip back from Pipestem and spread it out across all my days… living my life as through the lens of a camera that’s constantly seeking beauty to capture.

To see more pictures from my weekend, check out Whitt Media’s Flickr page.

Sirius XM is making my ears dumber

Car Radio

I blogged about my wreck well over a month ago, and unfortunately, my Jeep is still in the shop. I’ve been driving a rental car (a ballin’ Dodge Charger) all this time, and it’s been pretty cool.

One of the “benefits” of the rental car is Sirius XM satellite radio. You can’t beat the selection of music — my favorite is Hits 1.  And everybody is raving about the digital quality… that is, everybody but me.

Call me an audio purist, but I can’t stand the compression artifacts of satellite radio. I read on Wikipedia that their bitrates vary between 4 kbps and 64 kbps (compare that to iTunes or Amazon.com downloads of music with bitrates of 256 kbps).  That level of compression just completely trashes the high-end (cymbals, the presence in vocals, synths, guitars, etc.).

I realize that not everyone is an audiophile, but I don’t know how people can stand this level of compression… and even pay for it month after month.  The sad thing is that many people don’t even notice the compression artifacts anymore because all music is so compressed.  (Some younger people even prefer compressed music.)  But as for me, it literally gives me a headache and makes me feel like my ears are becoming more stupid by the moment.

People of Sirius XM:  If you are reading this, please change your ways! How can you charge as much as you do and only offer 64 kbps music?  Maybe we could cut the number of channels in half so you could offer 128 kbps?  Or, better yet, I read that you have quadruple redundancy?  Why don’t we just reduce that to double redundancy so I can enjoy music that hasn’t been thrashed beyond belief by compression?  I, for one, will never subscribe to your service until you at least rise to the 128 kbps standard!

Even Super Stars Forget The Lyrics

I’m my own worst critic. I always have been.  It’s part of being a perfectionist… and being obsessive and compulsive about attaining that perfection.

Like many other ministry leaders, I could make a checklist of at least 20 things that weren’t perfect at any given Sunday service. In fact, that’s often what consumes my thoughts on Sunday afternoons — what could have been better.

Luckily, we video our services and make Pro Tools recordings. Many pastors say they can’t stand to hear themselves recorded.  (I wonder if they realize that’s how everyone else hears them!)  I, on the other hand, am usually encouraged by our recordings.  Yes, the band missed a cue here and there.  Yes, I flubbed a transition.  Yes, the video fired a little late.  But, all in all, the recording allows me to step back and appreciate all the things that went right!

I think that we, in the church world, hold ourselves to an almost impossibly high standard. I want my band to sing on key and never forget a lyric, but even Christina Aguilera forgot the words to the National Anthem in front of a live audience of 100 million fans.  I want whoever is speaking at our service to never lose his place in his notes or to have an illustration that falls flat.  But even Steve Jobs has technical difficulties sometimes.  I want our sound guys to make us sound like a perfectly mastered commercial CD week after week.  But even the audio guys at the Superbowl made the Black Eyed Peas sound horrible.

Black Eyed Peas

The fact is that super stars mess up too, and they have much more preparation time and a larger staff of supporters. Steve Jobs only does a few keynote addresses a year, and Christina only sings the National Anthem a few times.  But we do what we do week after week after week, utilizing volunteer teams with much less experience and many fewer practice sessions.  Maybe it’s time to give ourselves a break!  If Christina can mess up, surely I can afford myself that same luxury once and a while!

A wise man once said that you can’t achieve perfection, but if you aim for it, you can achieve excellence.  I think that’s our ultimate goal.

If Steve Jobs Were a Preacher…

Presentation SecretsI just read one of the most interesting and helpful books I’ve seen yet — The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs. It was a wonderful way to peak behind the curtain at what makes Apple’s keynote addresses rise head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd.

I decided to put Steve Jobs’ presentation secrets into action during a recent sermon. I am usually a one-point preacher (following Andy Stanley’s model), but on Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, I felt I needed to present a lot more material so that the congregation could get a sense of just how many arguments can be made against abortion.

I categorized the evidence against abortion into legal, medical and logical arguments and presented biblical perspectives in each category too. That’s a lot to present in 30 minutes. That’s a lot of facts for a crowd to navigate through without getting lost. But that’s where Steve Job’s presentation secrets came in handy! I used slides and verbal cues to give clear signposts that we were leaving one category of evidence and entering another.

I designed creative slides that supplemented what I said and helped the audience stay focused. (For example, instead reading a bullet point saying a baby is aborted every 26 seconds in America, the audience watched sand slip through an animated hourglass behind me as it illustrated how quickly 26 seconds pass by.)

Check out the video below, and let me know what you think of using Steve Jobs’ presentation style to help illustrate a sermon.

LIFE: It’s Not A Game from Bill Whitt on Vimeo.

We Made the Police Blotter!

Snow Day

I guess I made fun of the “snowpocalypse” one too many times.  It finally got me.  Here’s how the police blotter reported my wreck:

MOTOR VEHICLE ACCIDENT: Mercer County 911 received reports of a car going airborne and hitting a few buildings on Bluefield and Maple Avenue at 6:28 p.m. Patrolman J.W. Murray, Jr. filed a vehicle complaint report, but said there was no building damage done.

The winter conditions finally got the best of me. I’ve been driving now for 18 years, and this is my first wreck.  I’ve never been on roads as slick as this!

It all started on a snowy Wednesday night when we were heading to a Bible study. I left my Bible at the church where I work, so we decided to swing by and pick it up.  As we were going down a snowy hill, we hit solid ice.  My Jeep Commander’s anti-lock brake system didn’t slow us down one bit, and we kept picking up speed as we neared the bottom of the hill.  We hit a snow bank and caught some air, so the witness who called 911 was correct — we did go airborne — but we didn’t hit a few buildings!  I don’t know why they said that.  That sounds like something out of a Jackie Chan movie…

I was able to maintain directional control of our path and keep us away from telephone poles, cars, houses, etc. But we did eventually hit a the edge of a concrete wall, ironically, at the church where I work.  Seeing that coming, I fully expected the air bags to go off, but instead of coming to an abrupt stop, our forward motion was translated into a sideways spin because of the slick snow.  As a result, we walked away completely unharmed, but our Jeep did sustain over $5,000 of damage.  (Ironically, if we had missed that concrete wall, we would have made it to the next street and could have kept right on driving to the Bible study!  Wouldn’t that have been a funny sight for the onlookers to see?)

We were slightly shaken up after all that, but, as many people have pointed out, all you can do is learn from events like this.  Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Never go over a snowy hill, even if you’ve done it for 18 years and never had a problem yet. You never know if this will be the one time that there’s solid ice hidden underneath the snow.  Go the long way, if necessary.  Saving two minutes isn’t worth it.
  • A Jeep Commander is an awesome vehicle to wreck in. All the safety features worked just as they were supposed to and kept us free from injury and in control of the vehicle as much as possible the whole time.
  • Encompass Insurance rocks!!! With one call, they took care of directly paying the body shop, directly paying for my rental car, and even arranging for Enterprise to pick me up!  All this from a “cheap” insurance policy with low premiums and a low deductible (compared to the big dawgs like Nationwide and Allstate).
  • Thank God for prayer warriors. Several people had told me that they felt God laying me on their heart that day to pray for.  Without a doubt, their intercession made a difference!

I also have to give big props to Body Works in Princeton. It only took a few minutes to drop off my Jeep for repair.  The process moved much more quickly than I had thought it would.  Everyone involved, from the police to the insurance company to the body shop to the car rental company has been excellent to deal with in all of this!

Most of all, I thank God that he saw fit to allow me to leave the scene unscathed. I still can walk and talk and breathe, and that is a tremendous blessing.  Life is a blessing, and we should never take it for granted because it can end in the blink of an eye.

I May Be Wrong, But…

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt… -Col. 4:6

During my master’s education, I learned to use a lot of tentative statements when talking to clients in a counseling setting. It wasn’t hard, but it was an important skill to learn.  It involves using statements such as, “I may be wrong, but it sounds like your work environment is difficult” or “It seems like you are tense.”  These open the client up to further exploration of the topic and generally come across a lot better than more definitive statements.  It also conveys a respect for the other person and makes it clear that you desire to understand them correctly.

What’s so hard about speaking politely and with humility? I don’t believe you have to be a master’s-level student to speak with civility.  However, our political culture has become poisoned with toxic, hateful language.  The recent shooting in Tucson highlighted the need to dial back the rhetoric a few notches.  I hope that we, as Christians, will lead the way, whether we are Democrats or Republicans.  Here’s what Jim Wallis and Chuck Colson had to say in a recent article in Christianity Today:

The obligation to show respect for others does not come from a soft sentimentalism but is rooted in the theological truth that we are all created in the image of God. How we speak to each other should reflect the honor and respect we owe each other as fellow human beings.

That means that when we disagree, especially when we strongly disagree, we should have robust debate but not resort to personal attack, falsely impugning others’ motives, assaulting their character, questioning their faith, or doubting their patriotism. It also means recognizing in humility that “we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror” (1 Cor. 13:12). In other words, when it comes to policies and politics, we could be wrong.

Let’s hold ourselves to a higher standard, both in politics and in everyday discourse. The words we use are very important!!!  The Bible says that they are the overflow of our hearts.  I pray that what’s in our hearts is grace toward one another — even those with whom we disagree!