Category Archives: health

thoughts on, once again, losing 100 pounds

If you’ve come to brip blap via search, you probably landed on one of a few pages: How to make money without a job is still popular, and 25 quotes on ambition spikes up all the time. However, one post is far and away, the most popular: 101 thoughts on losing 100 pounds.

I wrote that post in 2007. I had actually started losing weight in 2000, but by 2006 had really hit my stride. I was eating well, exercising constantly (running and weight lifting), and was in tip top health. The post seemed to resonate simply because most of it was anecdotal – it’s almost like one of those “Chicken Soup” types of books, where you can jump in, read a few points, then move on. But it was quite popular – it generated hundreds of thousands of views and I was quite proud of it. It was an odd topic for a personal finance blog (which was what I was concentrating on at the time) but it got people interested.

So why am I writing about this?

I gained it all back (practically).

Last time I basically went from 300+ down to 185. So in all actuality it was more than 100 pounds. Some of it was fat being replaced by muscle, too, so there was a lot to lose. And once your metabolism is operating so well that you can slip up with a pizza once in a while and still lose weight (due to exercise, muscle mass, etc.) it becomes easy to make excuses.

  • I had kids – sleep went out the window.
  • I hurt my foot running; took an “extra” few months to “make sure” before running again.
  • I got bored and started eating worse.
  • I took in a lot of empty calories from snacks and alcohol.
  • I ate out for convenience all the time.
  • I had a long commute – a bagel and cream cheese on the ferry was easier than a light breakfast at home.
  • [Insert random excuse here]

And so on and so on, ad nauseum. The thing is, if you are in good shape, you can go a year or two eating worse, exercising less, before you really see results. I thought I had just permanently fixed my metabolism. Nope. The weight crept up. I thought “tomorrow” every evening. I quit running. I stopped biking. I lifted weights intermittently, which does no good. I basically did everything I could to get back OUT of shape.

And it worked.

By 2012, I was back up to (probably) 270 pounds. I say probably because I wouldn’t get on a scale. I was demotivated and giving up. Doritos were back in the rotation. I’d pass on salad for fish and chips or burgers and fries. I tried, here and there: there was a vegan phase (tofu pizza!) and a calorie restriction phase (works for me for about two days, then…pizza). I lifted weights (wow, what a workout…let’s have a pizza). But despite some bounces back and forth, I slowly increased.

Most studies show that dieters will have life-long yo-yo struggles with weight. You can’t diet and then alter your lifestyle…being healthy is a lifestyle that simply means certain foods can’t ever be consumed on a semi-regular basis. You can have a 1400 calorie mongo burger once a year on your birthday…but you can’t just drop in and grab one because you are out running errands. The lifestyle has to revolve around making healthy choices on an almost constant basis, and by almost constant I mean “default to healthy” all the time.

So why am I writing this?

I realized a few months ago that following other people’s advice was pointless. I had written a guide as to what worked for me 7 years ago. Why was I chasing other diets? I had a quantified, proven system that had worked brilliantly for me before.

So I took my own advice, and it is working.

I’m down from the 270s. My chosen form of exercise this time has been biking (seems easier on the joints) and soon I plan to begin weight training. I have read a lot about the ketogenic diet; reviewed Atkins and various nutrition sites. I’m not happy about eating so much meat; philosophically I’d rather be vegan. But I had to recognize what worked for me. I drink bulletproof coffee (coffee with butter), lots of eggs and egg whites, grilled chicken and beef, and drink seltzer instead of alcohol unless I’m going out. I have gotten lazy and let diet sodas creep back in, but I’m quitting that. When I go out I have salads with ranch dressing, so I get vegetables. I am monitoring my sleep (using sleep apps on my phone), too, which seems to be important.

Result so far? Down to 225 (45 pounds down). 

I’m not done, far from it. I have several actor role  models for physical fitness – Daniel Craig, Jason Statham, Christian Bale, Matt Damon and Tom Hardy.  I don’t see any of them, other than Statham, as being any more of an athlete than I am – they were actors who needed to get super fit for roles. So healthy eating, targeted exercise and discipline could give me similar results. It won’t be easy – their JOBS are to get fit like that, and they have time-saving resources I could only dream of (chefs spring to mind). But it’s doable. Take a look at Chris Pratt, from Guardians of the Galaxy: before and after. Or this guy from a thread on Reddit: progress pics. Both pics are slightly NSFW (nothing too bad, just guys posing shirtless).

What have I learned? It’s a lot easier to get fat than to get fit.  But you can recover from your mistakes, and the recovery can make you even stronger. You have to be vigilant in all aspects of self-improvement, and if you are not improving, you are declining. And no one can do it for you. You can certainly have support and encouragement and motivation, but at the end of the day YOU have to put down the slice.

And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.

 - Quote from Thomas Wayne:, Batman Begins

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.  And check out 101 thoughts on losing 100 pounds, too.

A year.
A year.
before and after losing 100 pounds

so it goes

before and after losing 100 pounds
before and after I lost 100 pounds

“So it goes.”  - Kurt Vonnegut, in  Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty Dance with Death, by Kurt Vonnegut, a Fourth-Generation German-American Now Living in Easy Circumstances on Cape Cod [and Smoking Too Much], Who, as an American Infantry Scout Hors de Combat, as a Prisoner of War, Witnessed the Fire Bombing of Dresden, Germany, ‘The Florence of the Elbe,’ a Long Time Ago, and Survived to Tell the Tale. This Is a Novel Somewhat in the Telegraphic Schizophrenic Manner of Tales of the Planet Tralfamadore, Where the Flying Saucers Come From. Peace.

I’ve always loved that title, that book, that author, that quotation.  I can’t think of better words to describe a healthy lifestyle, at least from a mental point of view… but I’m actually thinking more about the physical.

Speaking of that, I’m going to make an attempt to write more about health on this blog, and the effect of health on (and against) gaining financial independence.  I was an exceptionally healthy guy who’s now slid into, well, unhealthiness, even while doing well financially.  I’m going to write more about getting healthy again and how that affects finances.  It’s a fairly good niche, although it’s been covered before, but it’s the biggest single challenge facing me, and since I need something more specific to focus on, that’s it.  I’m making good money, I have a good career, but health is becoming a challenge thanks to a desk job (you don’t think when you’re healthy that you’re going to get early signs of carpal tunnel syndrome…) and my own poor choices, and I’m going to write about getting back to success in health and fitness.  I’ve written about it before in 101 thoughts on losing 100 pounds and you’ll see more of it soon.  It’s going to have to be my focus, even exceeding finances.

I was in a couple of carnivals, and one article I’d like to mention:

 

who hates The Lorax, and links

lorax

Went to see “The Lorax” this weekend.  Here’s a short commentary on expectations, politics, and message.  I expected the theater to be packed.  I loved the book as a kid, my kids have heard it many times and we were all eagerly awaiting the movie for a while.  Since we were going to the first matinee showing on the first day of release, I expected a madhouse.

Not so much.

I think it may have to do with many factors.  Florida’s still in bad shape.  In northeast Florida, more than half of the homes are underwater, and the unemployment rate stubbornly lingers at 10% or more.  But there’s also a fairly conservative population here, and let’s be honest: conservative politics and movies that say the environment needs to be protected even at the expense of business are not buddies in America circa 2012.

So the theater was half empty.  My brother, by contract, lives in a fairly liberal area (and I’m just going by political definitions here based on who they are voting for).  He took his kids to see it and he said it was packed.

I think it’s safe to say that the environment, like abortion or contraception or unions, etc. and etc. ad nauseum, is a topic that has become inextricably linked to our political parties.  It’s not hard to figure out what side I’m on.  I drive a Prius.  Every time I pull up next to a housewife getting out of a Hummer, I make a guess as to what side she’s on, too, and I bet I’m right.  But once it starts filtering down to kids, the differences which will arise in 20 years are going to be more and more stark.  My kids are going to grow up with a certain set of values, and Hummer Mom’s kids will have a wildly different set.

It’s always been like this, of course – Catholic vs. Protestant, Romans vs. Christians, all the way back to Neanderthals versus Cro-Magnons.  I think it will continue, too.  But it is startling to see that a cute, friendly movie, which teaches that trees are a good thing, seemed (in my opinion) to be anathema to a large chunk of the population.  I’m sure there is a conservative equivalent… I wouldn’t see something that they would love.

Oh, well.  Unless….

Off to the links.  If you’re a blogger and want to be included, send me an email via the contact form – I’m always happy to see a few good new articles.

Also, I’m part of a blog network, The Money Writers, and I’ve been working on starting up a Twitter account and a Facebook page for the group, so follow/like, etc., I’d appreciate the support. It’s a work in progress, though.  Plus, I’ve added “Pin It” buttons to my posts – I’ve been messing around with Pinterest and decided to see if anyone has any interest in pinning my stuff.

being healthy

One of the things I come back to again and again in my conversations with family, friends and colleagues is that there is no way to waste money on good health. Organic food can be pricey. A gym membership can be expensive compared to working out at home. Vitamins or medications can be burdensome. But if you can spend your money on one thing in this life, don’t let it be education, or your family, or your belongings. Spend it on health.

Warren Buffet is 78 and the second richest man on this blue dot. Do you think he’d be getting the accolades for wealth and investing acumen if he had died at 42? Maybe. Many rich people have died young. Many poor people have died old (and unlamented). Wealth and health have long been completely unrelated. I’m sure every one of us knows old poor people and young rich people, and the opposite, and many variations. But age has long been seen as a virtue, at least as valuable as wealth.

But the key question is: would you rather be old and moderately well to do, or die fabulously wealthy at a young age? I doubt many of us would wish to live a highroller lifestyle and die at 40 versus living a moderate middle-class lifestyle and dying at 80. Health is, in a sense, the ultimate prize.

If you consider a long life a valuable thing to pursue, it’s doubly amazing that so many people don’t bother. I pursued my career at the expense of my health for the best part of my twenties. I wasn’t thinking about life in my sixties – it was my money and I wanted it now. How many times have you told yourself that you’re just too busy at work to take some time to exercise?

I don’t exercise as much as I should. Five years ago I was running competitively, lifting weights 3-4 times per week and eating a 90% vegetarian diet – I was in the best shape of my life. But work, kids and life got in the way and I slid waaaaay back on the health scale. It’s easy to do, and if you’ve ever gotten in shape you know how simple it is to slide back. But that’s no excuse. Your health is the only thing – other than your mind – that you can control in this life.

Don’t neglect your health. I lost 100 pounds (actually a bit more) and it’s possible for anyone (although I’ve regained a good chunk of that and need to work harder on keeping it down). Remember that your health is worth more than all the money in the world. Just ask someone who’s not healthy, and you’ll get a straight answer.

Photo by ~ggvic~
70s bike

was it easier to be simple in the past?

70s bike

Minimalism and frugality* have been hot topics since the financial crisis of 2008 dropped the US into a deep recession, a shallow recovery and now apparently the beginnings of a second recession. As I’ve read about the minimalist, frugal lifestyle and thought about my own childhood, I’ve wondered about whether the ability to achieve a simpler lifestyle is more influenced by the times in which you live versus your own desires, regardless of the times? In medieval Europe, people lived a simple lifestyle, for example. In the future, I am sure in 2085 there will still be people living in cabins in Montana without Smellovision or AI robots whose lives will still be far less simple than ours because of the advances in technology. And just by the accident of my birth in America, my life was inevitably less simple than someone born in a remote part of Indonesia.

My childhood in the 70s USA was fairly simple. There were no answering machines/iPads/cable TV/DVRs/Starbucks/organic foods/etc. etc. to waste money on even if you had the desire. So all of the posts from people like myself who cut cable television only bring us back to the status of, well, everyone in the world, pre-1980. When Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegel and Gordon Bowker sold their coffee shops to Howard Schultz and he created what we now know as Starbucks, he didn’t create a new product, but he did create a new way to make people pay for something that used to be, for all intents, almost free (the same thing happened with bottled water). So these types of products – which are now frequently used as examples of things you can quit consuming in order to save money/become more environmentally responsible/etc. –  just weren’t on the table 30 years ago. Nobody was making a smart choice in avoiding these items; they just weren’t available. People didn’t use credit cards widely or get deeply in consumer debt because credit cards weren’t easy to obtain and once you did, few stores accepted them. The only ones that did so widely were gas stations.

My dad was in graduate school until I was 10, and my mom didn’t work. They had limited money and therefore did many frugal things: lots of vegetable gardening, only one car, simple clothes and so on. Some of that was rooted in my parents’ moderately hippie-ish lifestyle choices, and some of it was based on lessons passed down to them from their Depression-era parents, but part of it was simply the way things were – you couldn’t buy a bottle of spring water or diet Coke. You couldn’t waste money on cell phones. You didn’t need to buy organic meats because feeding animals with corn, which then requires they be pumped full of antibiotics, was not a widespread practice.

So I’ve argued with my parents and other people from earlier generations that their simplicity, frugality and more natural/organic lifestyles were often the product of the era in which they lived. Our choices are both more complex and more difficult, particularly concerning food and debt. I am glad we have some of these choices, of course – I love the internet and technology and some (but not all) of the food choices we have today that were either prohibitively expensive or simply unavailable 50 years ago. But the challenge to be simple or to live a natural lifestyle is much greater today, and finding the balance requires more knowledge and a more critical attitude (maybe even paranoia) than it did in the past.

*I know minimalism and frugality and simplicity are not all the same thing, and I often use the terms interchangeably, but let’s assume for the sake of this post that we’re talking about some vauge point in the overlapping part of a Venn diagram of the three. I’ll use the term “simple” or “simplicity” to cover all three.

 Photo Attribution Some rights reserved by NJ..
chairs2

the chairs and links

I’ve been stuck for blogging topics recently, and I realized that part of the problem is that I’m less interested in personal finance and productivity now than I was in the past since I feel I’ve reached a bit of a plateau.  I understand some of the core lessons, and while I’m not perfect in implementing them, I’m confident that even when I do the wrong thing I’m clearly aware I am and have some reason for doing so.

What I am excited about these days is the concept of sustainable living, which encompasses a lot of areas.  I’m heavily influenced by a few sources:  Early Retirement Extreme (see my review), The Good Human, and several other websites.  I’ve realized that while I’m always happy to save money and do things more efficiently, I feel better when I waste less and do more for myself rather than having others do it for me.  I have a long, long way to go in this area – I still have a lawn service cutting my lawn, for example, although I plan to change that soon – but doing better in this area makes me feel, well, better.

Case in point:  thanks to Bubelah, on the way home from somewhere one weekend a few weeks ago we saw someone was throwing out lawn chairs.  Now, they looked nasty: plenty of dirt and bugs and leaves ground into them.  They were on the curb and ready for trash pickup.  Bubelah asked me to turn the car around and take a quick look, and after examining them I hauled them into the back of the minivan and voila:  lawn chairs will get a second life thanks to us, scrubbed and cleaned and ready for sitting for another decade.  And we’ll do our best to pass them on to someone else who can use them.  That’s better than seeing that plastic in a landfill, right?

On to the links:

how to lose weight in 2011

One of my most popular posts on brip blap for several years now has been my “101 thoughts on how to lose 100 pounds” post.  It still gets 100 or so views a day, three years after I published it.  It’s an inspirational post, I hope, based on the true story of my efforts to lose a huge amount of weight in a healthy and safe manner.  Every new year it gets a boost in traffic.

So for the early days of 2011 – when many people might be struggling with their “lose weight for the new year” resolutions, I thought I’d publish part of my post again. I need to lose weight myself.  Not 100 pounds again, but I’m not at optimal diet and exercise levels, for sure.

My before and after pictures, and some of the original article…

losing 100 pounds before and after
losing 100 pounds ... before and after

I lost a lot of weight a few years ago. I lost even more a couple of years ago, then gained some of it back when we had our first child. It’s not just women who gain weight during pregnancy! However, I have still managed to keep most of it off, and I have learned a lot about weight loss along the way. The Atkins book is where it all started for me. The following list is in no particular order. It’s simply 101 observations I had from losing 100 pounds. I am not a doctor or a nutritionist so take all of this with a grain of salt and discuss any weight loss plans with a professional.

  1. You will never lose weight because someone tells you to. Don’t even bother trying to motivate yourself to lose weight because so-and-so told you that you should. If you do, it won’t work. This may sound trite, but you have to want to do it for yourself. Then, and only then, you’ll succeed.
  2. Everyone has advice on weight loss. Mention you’re trying to lose weight and every single person will have their own 2 cents. Be patient – in most cases people are either looking to help you or help themselves through reinforcement.

  3. Calories, carbs, fat grams and other measures of food content are not as important as the quality and quantity of food that you eat. Each diet has some truth to it, but the secret to weight loss is simple: eat less, exercise more.
  4. Each measure of food content has some benefit, though, and each has some problems. Try not to eliminate anything completely, but a general tip is that your diet probably contains an excessive amount of carbohydrates. Look at that first.
  5. Get help. Research before you dive in. Do not start a diet before talking to a doctor or reading a book. You may be knowledgeable, but there can be weird interactions you’re not familiar with (for example, a low-carb diet gave me some really significant, er, constipation).
  6. If your dietary needs are expensive – for example, if you find that what you buy on a diet costs more than the junk food you were eating – ignore it! You cannot – I repeat, cannot – spend too much money on your health. All the money in the world is useless if you are dead.
  7. Soda has a lot of calories. Diet soda has a lot of sodium. Quitting both of them makes you shed a couple of pounds in days. Do it now. There is no reason for soda in your life as a regular drink. None. Seltzer is just as good, if not better.
  8. If you MUST drink soda, drink regular soda, not diet soda. One regular soda will at least satisfy you and fill you up for a while. Diet sodas just bloat you and fill you with sodium, not to mention aspartame.
  9. It is very difficult to cut high fructose corn syrup out of your diet, but you should. Bread should not normally need sweetener as the #2 ingredient, should it? Read labels.
  10. Once you quit eating junk food, some of it starts to taste pretty awful. Twinkies have a strange metallic taste. Have you looked at the ingredients in the food you eat?
  11. My personal opinion is that even low-calorie sweeteners like Splenda and Nutrasweet are a bad idea for dieters. Eating something sweet fired off weird hunger impulses in my brain, so I found it was easiest to just avoid every single type of sweets other than chewing gum altogether.
  12. Chewing gum, however, serves a lot of purposes when dieting. It keeps your mouth busy, it satisfies cravings for sweets and if you’re a typical dieter it hides the nasty halitosis (bad breath) that dieting causes.
  13. Ricola is an excellent herbal-flavored substitute for chewing gum. If you haven’t ever tried it, give it a try.
  14. If you have an organic foodstore near you, try some organic foods. I never would have looked twice at edmame/tofu mixes but I decided to try one at a local health foods store. It was amazingly good. Today I would rather eat that than potato chips. I wish I had some right now, in fact.
  15. On the other hand, there are some good diet aids that are non-natural, non-organic but still worth looking into. If you love sweet drinks, try Crystal Light, for example. Tea would be better but not everyone can “get into” tea.
  16. Farmer’s markets vegetables will show you why you don’t like vegetables. Once you’ve eaten never-refrigerated straight-from-the-farm tomatoes you’ll realize that the little flavorless round red balls in the supermarket are not really tomatoes. Farmer’s market veggies are a great way to fill up and learn to love veggies all over again.
  17. Almost any roasted vegetable can be made tasty with the right oils, herbs and spices.
  18. Spice has minimal calories, and so do herbs.
  19. Put enough cayenne pepper on anything and it will slow down your eating. It may even kick your metabolism up (albeit a very, very small amount).
  20. Coffee and tea without milk and sugar will taste just as good once you get used to them. Try a little less added stuff every day. Black coffee has 0 calories.
  21. Fried foods are always bad for a dieter. Always. Without exception.
  22. If you only eat foods that you have to cook or prepare, it slows your eating speed down. Buy blocks of cheese and cut your own slices for a sandwich and you will see what I mean.
  23. The exception is raw vegetables. They are very filling, have minimal calories and plenty of other benefits (fiber, vitamins, antioxidants). You can eat as many carrots as you feel like and probably only take in minimal calories.
  24. Water has volume. Drinking water fills you up, at least temporarily – but the nice thing is you can keep drinking it non-stop. You can always add a lemon wedge if you want.
  25. Alcohol has calories. Lots. I like alcohol, too, but it’s 100% unneeded calories.
  26. Some alcoholic beverages, on the other hand, are a lot worse than others. A margarita or a whiskey sour has lots of sugar, calories and carbs – almost any mixed drink is a killer. A glass of wine has some calories and carbs but there are some possible health benefits, as with a glass of beer. And one of my all-time favorites has some calories but no carbs: a dirty martini, shaken, straight up, dry with an olive and a twist. Maybe it doesn’t have so many health benefits as wine or beer, but it’s a nice way to flag the day as “over” and the evening as “beginning.” Plus, it’s hard to chug a martini.
  27. A salad bar is an invitation to disaster. 2000 calories of vegetables are still 2000 calories.
  28. Salad dressing has a lot of calories. Huge amounts, in fact. I love ranch dressing, but I stick with oil and vinegar – lots of vinegar and a little bit of oil. If you eat a salad drowned in dressing you’re probably better off just having some chips.
  29. You hear this often: multiple small meals make you feel much less hungry (eating 6 times a day instead of 3 times per day). I found this generally doesn’t work if you have a 9-to-5 type of job. What you can do fairly easily is eat a hearty breakfast, a raw food snack mid-morning (i.e. fruits or veggies), a largely raw food lunch (i.e. no heavy carbs or meat), a moderate-carb midafternoon snack (shortly before heading home have an energy bar) and then eat what you want for dinner but don’t eat too late. Trying to eat 6 equally-portioned type “meals” was very annoying. Snacking smart made better sense.
  30. Eating carbs within 3 hours of your bedtime is a bad idea - you generally tend to be at your least active late in the evening, and those carbs will not be burned off.
  31. Eating carbs for breakfast is a bad idea. You will be hungry again in an hour. Eggs, cottage cheese, or turkey is better. Fruits are OK, even though they have carbs.
  32. Eating carbs for lunch will make you drowsy in the afternoon, so it is a bad idea.
  33. Carbs are generally a bad idea. Other than natural bread once in a while, maybe rice and some pasta, there’s not a whole lot to say for carbs unless you’re training for the Tour de France. Even then, keep in mind Lance Armstrong gets his carbs from pasta, not from chocolate.
  34. Read the rest of the 101 thoughts: how to lose 100 pounds.

how to stop drinking soda

Many of the choices we make in terms of the substances we ingest determine our health, of course, but also influence our wealth, happiness and emotions. A lot of the “ingestibles” in America are really bad for you. This is not solely an American problem but it seems to be exacerbated to a greater degree here.

Americans eat and drink a lot of bad things. Big culprits:

  • Fast food (it’s not just McDonald’s, either – supermarkets, schools and high-end restaurants are selling the same junk)
  • Highly processed foods
  • Artificial flavors and colors
  • Pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables
  • Hormone-laced milk and milk products
  • Tobacco products (one of the few things on this list that has no redeeming features whatsoever)
  • Alcohol (although in moderation, alcohol can actually be good for you)
  • Genetically modified foods (jury’s still out on this one – and while the jury’s out, I’ll call it unhealthy)
  • Drugs (prescription, over-the-counter and illegal)
  • And finally the subject of this article, soda, but I could probably think of 20 more examples.

I started drinking diet Coke in high school when it was first introduced to the country. It seemed to have a lot of advantages for a serious high school athlete in a sport that demanded quickness and strength without being muscle-bound.  Tennis also requires alertness. I drank more and more throughout my 20s and early 30s, drinking up to 8 cans per day at some points. I even kept it up throughout my time living in Russia, making frequent treks to the bakery across the street from my apartment which inexplicably sold diet Coke in addition to home-made black bread.

I quit drinking soda in 2005.  I still might have one on occasion, usually root beer or 7-Up, but my rough guess is that I won’t drink more than 5-10 sodas in a year now. Ironically at the same time I quit drinking “diet” soda I lost 100 pounds – not just because of that, of course, but I think it helped. I have given up diet drinks altogether, though – I touched a diet drink one time a couple of years ago, and it was horrific.

From Wikipedia’s article on diet Coke, a list of ingredients:

  • Carbonated Water
  • Caramel Color
  • Aspartame (known better by the brand name “Nutrasweet”)
  • Phosphoric Acid
  • Potassium Benzoate
  • Natural Flavors
  • Citric Acid
  • Caffeine

Why quit drinking sodas?

According to Food Chemical News June 1995, FDA Epidemiology Branch Chief Thomas Wilcox reported that aspartame complaints represented 75% of all reports of adverse reactions to substances in the [US] food supply from 1981 to 1995. Sodas cost a lot of money, they eat away at your insides and your teeth, they dehydrate you and the long-term health effects of aspartame (for diet drinks) are still being debated. I can’t really see any particular reason for drinking sodas other than continuing to get that sugar/caffeine/aspartame high, which isn’t really a high; it’s the lack of those substances that makes you feel bad, so you only bring yourself back to normal when you ingest them. So how do you escape your tastebuds’ cloying captor, the soda?

My tips for quitting:

11. Drink seltzericon or club soda mixed with fruit juice (but make sure it’s 100% natural juice, not sweetened or artificially flavored. You can’t go wrong with this – if you try it, it’s much better. You will be amazed the first time you try this – it’s much better than straight juice or straight seltzericon, and certainly better than overpowering soda. If you take a 12 ounce glass, fill it about 1/3rd full with juice and then the rest of the way with seltzericon, it’s very tasty. You can use any kind of juice, although personally I prefer apple or cranberry juice. I love having my Soda-Club Home Soda Maker (that is an affiliate link). I can make seltzericon right at home – no lugging it home from the store, no wasted plastic bottles, and fresh fizzy seltzericon any time I want it. I can’t recommend it enough.

10. Drink lots of water. I sometimes suspect that when I used to drink a lot of soda it had somewhat of a vicious circle effect. The sodium-laced soda would make me thirsty enough to grab for another soda. Water counteracts that desire and seems to tamp down on my appetite, too. Ideally everyone should drink approximately 64 ounces a day of water. It seems like a lot when you first start, but after you get used to it you won’t notice it.

9. Don’t drink mixed drinks with soda. This only applies if you’re a drinker, but it’s a big one. I used to drink Stoli Vanil mixed with vanilla diet Coke (while it still existed) as my drink of choice. Frankly, Stoli Vanil doesn’t mix well with juice, seltzericon, etc. What’s the solution? I switched to drinking wine instead of vodka. It has some (somewhat unproven but reasonable enough) health benefits and it doesn’t need to be mixed with soda. That was a conscious decision to get away from drinking hard liquor, and killed two bad habits with one shot.

8. Start drinking tea. Let’s face it, no one wants to drink water all day. I work in big corporate hives where I can’t exactly keep a fresh supply of seltzericon and juice, so I get a little bored with water. I find that having a nice pile of herbal and decaffeinated teas gives you something to drink that’s flavorful and healthy.

7. Drink lukewarm water. I think one reason people can’t drink a lot of water is that they drink ice-cold spring water bottles out of the fridge. Room temperature bottles taste terrible if you aren’t used to them, but you’ll notice they are easier to sip if they aren’t 33 degrees Fahrenheit. Plus, you can keep them sitting on your desk/in your car/wherever. Since you won’t expect chilled water, it will be easier to drink.

6. Don’t buy soda. This sounds obvious, but maybe it’s not. I stopped buying my poison of choice, diet Coke, and simply didn’t have it in the house. I had tried to “cut back” before, by buying a few two-liter bottles and telling myself “only one glass per evening”. That didn’t work for me. I removed the temptation entirely by not bringing it into my house.

5. Drink coffee. If you are a caffeine junkie, I won’t lie to you – withdrawal hurts. I think the addiction to aspartame hurts, too, and nothing really helps that. But you can ease your caffeine DTs with a cup or two of coffee in the morning. Just make sure you don’t waste your money buying it – brew some at home. Don’t skimp, either – buy something flavorful or you’re going to hate it. And learn to drink it black. You’ll save money, calories and your teeth.

4. Think of all the money you will save. Soda is fairly expensive. In all fairness, spring water is, too, but if you learn to drink from the office cooler at work and from the filtered water tap at home you can cut your expenses pretty significantly. I was working in one office where the diet Coke was free, which was fine, but when I moved into consulting I found I was dropping $1.25 four or five times per working day (let alone at home) to get a soda. That’s almost $1600 per year. I buy a box of tea bags for $3 (usually about 20 to a box) so even drinking five cups of tea per day, which I seldom do, I would only spend about $190 per year.

3. Tell your friends, family, co-workers and anyone else who cares to listen that you are eliminating soda from your life. A lot of people will laugh, but by and large I think most people realize that soda is bad for you and will be supportive. I wasn’t asking people not to drink soda in front of me, or anything, but the simple fact is that if you tell a lot of people who will be with you at mealtimes or other times you might drink a soda, you will be too embarrassed to drink one and look like a backslider in front of them. Public goal-setting is a great way to maintain a resolution.

2. Read. What? Read about aspartame. Read about Coke’s uses as a toilet bowl cleaner, or how it dissolves a steak (Google it). Do you really want that in your system?

1. Wait. If you stop drinking soda and give it a few weeks – and that’s it – you won’t want soda anymore. I never meant to completely quit drinking soda when I gave it up, but somehow I lost the desire for soda when I quit drinking it regularly. It just doesn’t seem appealing. Diet Coke is downright nauseating – it has a chemically, bitter taste. Regular soda, quite honestly, still tastes good. But the cloying sweetness is overpowering after you drink juice/ seltzericon or water or tea or black coffee for a while. I just don’t want soda. In the two years I have had a few sodas – on vacation I drank a root beer, and maybe once every six weeks I’ll find myself at a food court or some such place where my choices are tap water or soda. In those cases I’ll stick with 7-Up (supposedly all-natural) if they have it and Sprite if they don’t. But I haven’t had a Coke or a Pepsi in two years, with one exception. I was waiting overnight in a hospital on Little Buddy, who was briefly ill with a terrible virus a couple of years ago, and late at night I desperately needed caffeine to stay awake. The vending machine had nothing left but diet Pepsi. I choked half of it down, but even then I couldn’t drink it. Fortunately a very kind nurse (the wonderful-but-oddly-named Expie who seemed to me that night one of the most wonderful people on this planet) brewed a pot of coffee for me.

Soda is just one of those things you’ll never miss once you give it up.  Trust me.

(You might also enjoy my article “101 thoughts on how I lost 100 pounds“.)

My Up Close Look at Health Care

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By Curmudgeon.  Just to make sure none of my anxious relatives read this and think this is me, I’ll repeat – no, I didn’t write this.  That having been said, Curmudgeon has a few important notes about health care in America that we’d all be better off thinking about now rather that later.  My family is also struggling with this with some of our family members, as well – the good and the bad.

I was just discharged from the hospital. I went in through Emergency, with a life-threatening condition.  I had my wits fully about me during most of the time (when not on painkillers), and tried to pay some attention to what was going on around me.  The hospital was a mid-sized facility in a small city in New England, and is probably fairly typical in that regard.

I’ll start with a couple of neutral observations.

  • Health care, and health care delivery, are highly complex and involved.  The machines used for diagnosis and treatment are big, highly sensitive, and expensive to operate and maintain.  Yet because my hospital had them on site, I was able to get a diagnosis within two hours, rather than days.
  • The machines are not compatible.  They produce paper as output, and are not wired together in any sort of process as we might understand in business.  This result in a huge paper file that must be available to the caregivers, and must be read and comprehended.

The processes involved are enormously complex and individualized. No two persons’ care is identical, and while individual steps are well-known and practiced, the process as a whole is driven by the needs of the patient.

Now a couple of positive observations.

  • I was attended to by a large number of dedicated and caring professionals.  I can’t say enough about the people who attended and assisted me.
  • In the hospital no one is asked how they are going to pay for a particular test, procedure, or treatment.  This is a really good thing; patients are in a poor position to make economic tradeoffs with their health.

Next a couple of not-so-positive ones.

  • At my estimate, approximately a third of the time of these dedicated professionals was spent checking and correcting errors, omissions, or inconsistencies caused by others, or by the system itself.  Some of this is to be expected; the processes involve humans, after all.  But not this much.
  • As a patient, you deal with a confusing array of care providers on a daily basis.  For example, I counted a dozen different types of nurses before giving up, and that doesn’t include specialty nurses.  No doubt these distinctions are made to differentiate both function and skill set, but to the outsider it is pretty opaque.

The number of specializations concerns me, but perhaps is justifiable by the complexities involved.  However, I’m much more concerned by the lack of a seamless and accurate flow of information between them. There is also not one “master truth” in the system, as many professionals hold many different understandings of what tests were conducted and what treatments administered.  I had to go through a stress test, for example, because the admitting doctor’s offhand remark that I seemed to have a mild heart murmur lead others to believe I was experiencing chest pains, which I was not.

I would like to think that much of the confusion and misunderstanding can be eliminated. As a computer guy, my inclination is to think of a set of automated solutions, but that may not be the full answer.  But there are inefficiencies in the system that can be corrected, letting the health care professionals do the jobs they need to.

photo by Rodrigo Basaure

there is no cost to good health

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One of the things I come back to again and again in my conversations with family, friends and colleagues is that there is no way to waste money on good health. Organic food can be pricey. A gym membership can be expensive compared to working out at home. Vitamins or medications can be burdensome. But if you can spend your money on one thing in this life, don’t let it be education, or your family, or your belongings. Spend it on health.

Warren Buffet is 78 and the second richest man on this blue dot. Do you think he’d be getting the accolades for wealth and investing acumen if he had died at 42? Maybe. Many rich people have died young. Many poor people have died old (and unlamented). Wealth and health have long been completely unrelated. I’m sure every one of us knows old poor people and young rich people, and the opposite, and many variations. But age has long been seen as a virtue, at least as valuable as wealth.

But the key question is: would you rather be old and moderately well to do, or die fabulously wealthy at a young age? I doubt many of us would wish to live a highroller lifestyle and die at 40 versus living a moderate middle-class lifestyle and dying at 80. Health is, in a sense, the ultimate prize.

If you consider a long life a valuable thing to pursue, it’s doubly amazing that so many people don’t bother. I pursued my career at the expense of my health for the best part of my twenties. I wasn’t thinking about life in my sixties – it was my money and I wanted it now. How many times have you told yourself that you’re just too busy at work to take some time to exercise?

I don’t exercise as much as I should. Four years ago I was running competitively, lifting weights 3-4 times per week and eating a 90% vegetarian diet – I was in the best shape of my life. But work, kids and life got in the way and I slid waaaaay back on the health scale. It’s easy to do, and if you’ve ever gotten in shape you know how simple it is to slide back. But that’s no excuse. Your health is the only thing – other than your mind – that you can control in this life.

Don’t neglect your health. I lost 100 pounds (actually a bit more) and it’s possible for anyone. Remember that your health is worth more than all the money in the world. Just ask someone who’s not healthy, and you’ll get a straight answer.

Photo by ~ggvic~

guest post: a kick in the pants

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By Curmudgeon, brip blap’s favorite guest writer…

I have just had my annual physical examination (I passed, although some of the parts that have gone out of warranty are getting a little creaky).  What? You haven’t seen a doctor in ten years?  Are you, well, nuts?

My parents were children of the Great Depression (not this little blip we are currently living through).  The prevailing attitude of that generation is that you went to see a doctor only when you were about ready to die.  It’s a stark commentary, but it’s largely true.  A part of it is cultural, but a part of it is a distinctly human trait that encourages us to avoid hearing bad news, and having to act on that news.

A decade or so ago my mother took my father into the hospital emergency room, for his first time in 40 years, because he could no longer stand the pain of the cancer that infiltrated his body. He lived for a year and a half afterward, although I can’t call his quality of life anything to write home about.  For the last several months, he was delirious and bed-ridden.

While we decry the state of health care in the United States, at least in comparison with nationalized programs in other countries that the media describes (all of which have their downsides), the fact of the matter is that if you are fortunate enough to have a decent employer-sponsored health care offering, and are not taking advantage of it, you are a fool who is taking unnecessary chances with your life and livelihood.  Despite the costs, paperwork, and general confusion, it is largely the best program in the world.

I recognize that there are those of you who don’t have access to such a program, and in my older years I have been an advocate for a drastic change in how the US delivers health care. Yet even so, it is more important for you to find a way to obtain the care that is the privilege of living here, because you likely need it all the more.  Without good health, you can’t fulfill any of the goals that Steve describes as the cornerstone of his postings.

photo credit: mikemariano