Friday, December 28, 2007

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

I hope you all had a great Christmas and Holiday season. Our Christmas was fantastic. The kids were at the top of their form, and made for an energetic and fun-filled morning. Mercifully, they did let mom and I sleep in a little bit. (Mom made a killer coffee cake that was delicious) We followed that up with going to a friends house (along with 28 other people!) for a Christmas day feast. That was a very fun and relaxing time. Kids went wild in the basement and adults relaxed upstairs. The two came together in a game of Risk 2210 AD with a few of us adults and some teens and older kids. I pulled out some 'old school moves' to crush them :)

Today a smile was brought to my face by this short video clip of a baby with some interesting facial expression. I also stumbled across a comedy show that has some very funny moments - Whose Line is It Anyway. (Check out their Cops and Ducks video clip)

Coming up on the 31st is an all-day open house and gaming event plus New Year's Eve celebration. We're looking forward to relaxing with friends, playing lots of boardgames, and ringing in the New Year. I wish everyone a very Happy New Year and a great holiday season with friends and family!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Learning to Feed Yourself

It's time to get a little bit more back on track with the focus of my blog - encouraging lay leaders to step up to the call of ministry. Hopefully the September focus on fitness and weight loss and October vacation report weren't too distracting. I've had some extra time for reading recently, so in the next few weeks I want to share some thoughts on ideas that have come out of what I've read.

Willow Creek has recently came out and said "We made a big mistake" (thanks to Tim Stevens for pointing this out in his blog). That's a quote from an article from the Leadership Journal / Out of Ur entitled "Willow Creek Repents?"

Hybels says: "We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.

The article continues, "In other words, spiritual growth doesn’t happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs but through the age old spiritual practices of prayer, bible reading, and relationships. And, ironically, these basic disciplines do not require multi-million dollar facilities and hundreds of staff to manage."

They've recently gone through a big process of survey and introspection, and found that while they seemed to be doing well with their main target of seekers, they were doing far less than expected in helping believers grow into maturity, or meeting the needs of more mature believers.

A key observation of their study was that 'mature' believers at their church were crying out for more depth, more substance, more meet. Rather than conclude they need to increase programs, they saw the problem as one of expectation management, helping people to understand not only how to feed themselves, but that they must become more responsible for this on their own. The implications are profound, in both the spiritual lives of their members, but in the church's budget as well.

In our own church we're also hearing quite a bit of "feed us better! more meat!" I think it's quite valid to some degree, but this conclusion would suggest the answer is raising awareness and mentoring our believers how to feed themselves, rather than expand the educational lineup to a great degree. I just read that Community Christian Church is about to start a series called "Arrested Development" where they highlight a view on spiritual maturation that pretty much goes:
  • SPIRITUAL ADOLESCENCE = Feeding Yourself
  • SPIRITUAL ADULTHOOD = Feeding Others

    The second most important observation from their study was that "greater involvement in activities at church does not by itself result in greater spiritual maturity." Some would say this is obvious, but for a church committed to developing fully devoted followers of Christ and that has designed activities and programs to try to achieve this goal, this has to be a huge let down. It's easy to substitute something measurable (like attendance in Sunday School or in a life development class) for something intangible like spiritual maturity. We must be careful not to look only at these metrics, but to carefully consider how well each of our development activities or programs is actually helping a person to grow closer to God and into deeper relationships with their brothers and sisters in Christ.

    In Tim Steven's summary of the report, he points out the following key points:
  • “We discovered that higher levels of church activity did not predict increasing love for God or increasing love for other people.”
  • "Church activity alone made no direct impact on growing the heart…it was a flat line, and a stunning discovery for us."
  • "The church is most important in the early stages of spiritual growth. Its role then shifts from being the primary influence to a secondary influence."
  • "Our analysis paints the picture of the church being too preoccupied with the early growing years, leaving the spiritual adolescents to find their own way—without preparing them for the journey.”

    I particularly think that last point is important - the group at highest risk (and I would say we've seen this at Calvary Baptist Church as well) are 'spiritual adolescents'. I was fortunate to be involved in a group committed to just this at a point where I was a spiritual adolescent, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Their 'Bible and Life' training weekends and their emphasis on feeding yourself had a huge impact on me. I'm surprised at how few churches make it a priority to mentor the spiritually 'adolescent' in inductive bible study or other spiritual disciplines, instead focusing solely on education and sound doctrine.

    For more info, see Willow Creek's new book "Reveal" and web site
  • Wednesday, October 31, 2007

    Back from a Wonderful Disney Cruise

    Wow! That's my one word summary of our vacation a week ago, myself and the family aboard the Disney Wonder for a 4-night Disney Cruise. That's our first time doing anything remotely like that, as most of our vacations are simply trips in the minivan to visit family. We had one of our best vacations ever - and a rare one in that despite four days with tons of activities and events, at the end I was actually refreshed and relaxed instead of ragged!

    Dawn had wanted to take the kids on a Disney World/Cruise package for the last two years, but I wasn't keen of prebooking a very expensive cruise 10 months in advance during hurricance season, nor of taking low stamina too-young kids to a place filled with long lines. The time to the kids fall break was coming soon, and this was probably the best chance to do this while all the kids were young enough to enjoyed Mickey and friends. We opted to forego Disney World (as the kids aren't that much into scary rides anyway) and choose a 4-night Bahamas cruise instead - thanks to some pretty nice last-minute specials that put this in range of our budget.

    The flight to Orlando was the kids' first flight, so that was an adventure in itself. They were champs! The Country Inn and Suites in Cape Canaveral served as an excellent place to stay the one night before the cruise, and Thrifty got us from Orlando to the ship early, with a minimum of fuss or cost. There were several impressive highlights on the cruise:

  • Live family entertainment every night. Included in the price of the cruise, the kids loved the musical, the play featuring all their Disney buddies, the comedy and ventrioquist. On top of that, they had a movie theatre where we enjoyed 'Ratatouie' and 'Underdog'. (Given the price of six movie tickets, that's a luxury we don't normally indulge in.)

  • Castaway Cay, Disney's own private island. We passed on Nassau, taking advantage of less crowded conditions on the ship, but we did disembark for Castaway Cay. What a huge mental difference it was, facing mobs of strangers and high priced chair rentals, versus a private getaway designed solely for the passenger families, and with friendly and helpful staff everywhere to make sure all your needs were met. We even got to check the kids into a kids-only zone with lots of fun activities while Mom and Dad got to spend some time along on the 'grown up' beach.

  • Oceanview Club - you could drop off your kids in an age-appropriate room where it was non-stop fun, play time, and special activities. We got a pager so they could contact us if needed and we parents got to go off and relax, read a book, take a swim, hit the spa, and get some quiet time alone. Best of all, the kids were in no rush to have us come back to get them :)

  • The food was amazing! No surprise there, if you've heard anything about cruises. We knew the stories, yet were still unprepared for just how abundant and just how delicious everything was. My biggest dilemma was "Filet Mignon tonight, or Glazed Veal?" My server's answer "Oh sir, get both! And we've got some scallops as well I know you'll love - I'll bring you some!"

  • The ship was magnificent - every detail was special, from the glass elevators to the elegant restaurants, to the cute towels in our rooms shaped like animals. Everything was in perfect shape, when and where you needed it, with no extra charge.

    This will be a vacation and family time that none of us will forget. I would highly recommend a Disney Cruise for families that can afford it - and given how much it would cost elsewhere for 4 nights in a hotel, 4 full days of delightful eating, non-stop entertainment, car rental and parking, it was really quite a good deal! (To be clear, we have no relationship with Disney, just six very satisfied customers)
  • Friday, September 28, 2007

    Weight loss wrap-up -- my story

    Time to wrap up this series on diet, and I wanted to share how things have been going for me on my attempts at weight loss, exercise, and improving nutrition. (It's intended for encouragement, not as any kind of boasting)

    One doesn't get 50 to 100 lbs overweight overnight, it takes a while! Specifically, I got there by ignoring exercise and nutrition, eating too much and too often, and ignoring the scale so I didn't know how bad it was. I hit a few walls simultaneously, each of which was a point I did not want to pass. Feeling way too winded from climbing up stairs, no energy to play with my kids, and pants starting to be too tight (again). My waist size was one I vowed I would never exceed, and stepping on the scale for the first time in too long found me just short of a boundary I never wanted to cross. Together these factors were too big to ignore and it was time to make some changes.

    In the past I've played a lot of volleyball and tennis, and at this time some friends asked me if I was interested in playing volleyball with them one or two nights a week. Overdue, I took them up on that, and played for several hours the first night. I was completely exhausted, and sore for three days. Next time, still exhausted, and sore for two days. Improvement! Next two times just sore for a day, and after a month I could finish the evening without feeling completely wiped out or hurting the next day. At this point I made no significant changes to my diet except cutting out evening snacks on volleyball night. Exercise itself led to a weight loss of 0.5 lbs per week, playing volleyball twice a week. Does that sound puny? For two reasons it's not. First, I love volleyball! This was no treadmill, and it soon became a firm habit, and something I really hated to miss. Second, the weight loss was slow and steady, consistent - and after a year it added up to over 25 pounds. I still loved food too much, and had not made many changes to my eating habits. Two helpful ones, however, were: reducing evening snacking from fatty foods in large quantity to modest foods in modest quantities (pretzels, low-fat ice cream), and cutting lunch portions at restaurants in half to save them for later.

    Those two consistent changes helped me to lose 40 pounds from my peak weight. Yet at that point I seemed to be hitting a plateau. Right at the 250 lb mark, I could not seem to go below it. I had got somewhat complacent on eating, and after a week of vacation with the family found the weight starting to creep back up. I needed to kick things up a notch and get back on track, and this time I would have to take a closer look at what I ate. Three things really helped at this point. First, I started learning about what was in the food I was eating, how many calories there were in my snacks and fast food choices. Second, I read several books on fitness including Jim Karas' "The Business Plan for the Body." Third, for several days I forced myself to work off the evening snack calories on an exercise bike before I could eat them. Boy, was that an eye-opener. The exercise bike is way too boring for me to stick to for the long term, but it was good for motivation to get informed about my snacking choices. This new information finally helped me to see my eating habits as choices I had to own, and made me consider them as strongly as I considered the cost of the meal - and as a strictly on-the-value-menu kind of guy, that's saying a lot!

    Like some of my friends who got more enjoyment out of clothing when they bought them on a great sale, I now found myself greatly enjoying foods that were a calorie or nutritional 'bargain', including low-fat snacks and (to my surprise) salads and fruits. I also found that by adding a few snacks or mini-meals I would eat far less at dinner and overall. Knowing how you are doing is very important for success, and for me it too was motivational. Knowing my calorie 'budget' for the day, and knowing I was on track through dinner, let me enjoy some ice-cream in the evening while knowing I was would hit my goal for weekly weight loss.

    Coming to the present, I'm happy to report my weight loss total has reached 56 pounds and ten inches off the waist! I'm under the 'obese' level and have a target of another 10-25 pounds to get out of the overweight zone completely (which would be the first time in twenty years!) Happy with my new food choices, having fun with the exercise, not feeling deprived of food I like, and keeping a consistent weight loss rate of 0.5 to 1.0 pounds per week, I have confidence I'll reach these goals.

    Friends who've seen the weight loss and greater energy sometimes say "I could never lose 50 pounds", but that focuses too much on the end point. I didn't lose 50 lbs - I lost half a pound, repeatedly, over the course of the last two years, and I've enjoyed it. That doesn't mean it was easy to start exercising, or start eating salad, or that I never got frustrated, but there was nothing fundamentally hard about what I did. Choosing to become fit - flipping the switch in your mind - along with taking baby steps on a consistent right path, will do it. If you have any questions, or if I can help any of my friends or family to take a few of these steps, please let me know!

    Good luck!

    Monday, September 24, 2007

    So you don't like exercise?

    One of the biggest barriers to tackling weight loss for me was that I just hate exercise. Ill-fated attempts in the past at jogging or aerobics didn't last long. The only exercise I've ever been able to keep up long term was the few that I actually enjoy. So here are a few thoughts to help get you thinking about getting a bit more active.

    * Once again, baby steps

    One reason exercise is so unappealing is that we don't have the energy for it. The good news is that as we get more active, our energy level and ability to exercise without collapsing improves rapidly. The first times doing it may well be a struggle, but trust me, it gets better. When I started playing ball again after years of near total inactivity, I was sore for four full days after playing for a few hours. The next time out, I was only sore for three days! Next was two, and before long one day. After a few weeks, playing without overdoing didn't leave me feeling sore the next day, but instead, feeling kinda good. If a total coach potato bearing an extra fifty pounds can get over the hump in a month, so can you. Just remember not to overdo it, and not to give up.

    * So little time

    The second huge reason for not exercising was that I felt I didn't have any free time available for it. That's another reason to do something you enjoy, and for starting small. For me the time ended up coming out of time playing computer games; for many people it comes out of the slice of life given over to TV viewing. Doing even moderate exercise with an exercise ball or resistance bands while watching TV is a good start.

    * But I don't like treadmills

    Neither do I! When sedentary people think about 'exercise' they usually think of things they don't like. Instead, consider just how many different things are available for someone trying to get just a little more active. Team sports: Basketball, volleyball, frisbee. Solo or with a friend: Aerobics, tennis, ping pong, badminton, tae bo. There's also a lot of activity not usually considered 'exercise' but that gets you moving. Drumming, gardening, dancing, to name a few. Find something that you find satisfying, and do it.

    Friday, September 21, 2007

    Nutrition and Weight Loss

    To say I've not put much consideration into nutrition or the types of food I've been eating is a big understatement. To not only do well on the weight loss but to improve overall health and minimize risk of disease down the road, I've had to start learning more about nutrition. A healthy eating plan is one that emphacizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk, includes lean meats, beans, eggs and nuts, and is low in saturated fats, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, and added sugars.

    Skipping a meal, especially breakfast, is not a good idea. People who eat fewer meals tend to eat more and weigh more. A low fat breakast, especially with fiber, is a useful tool in the weight loss arsenal.

    What about Low carb diets?
    * Idea: Many people eat too many carbs, which promote insulin production and lead to weight gain.
    - The good: Low carb diets tend to be calorie restricted as well, around 1200 calories per day,
    so yes, many will see a loss of a pound a week with these.
      - For those with, or at risk for, diabetes, there may be advantages to reduced carbs.
    - The bad
      - Low carb diets lump together good carbs (most grains, beans, rice, pasta, some vegies and fruit) with bad (simple sugars).
      - Low carb diets can lead people to eat way too much fat and protein
      - The initial 'burst' of weight loss on starting such a diet can be mostly water loss due to glycogen conversion
      - Fad diets tend to be temporary and hard to maintain long-term. Without changes in eating habits long term, weight may return.

    Reducing or eliminating sugary drinks is a smart choice both for your diet and for your teeth.

    "Nutrition Guidelines for Weight Loss" suggests the following:
    1. No less than 1200 calories a day, unless under doctor's supervision.
    2. Find your calorie range, then subtract up to 750 calories a day.
    3. Try to keep your carb/protein/fat ratio between 50-55% carbs, 20-25% protein, and 20-30% fat.
    4. 8-10 servings of grains per day.
    5. 7 servings of vegetables per day.
    6. 2-4 of fruits per day.
    7. 4-6 oz lean meat or 2-3 servings of soy per day.
    8. 2-3 servings of lowfat dairy products per day.
    9. Try to drink 64-100 oz of water daily.
    10. Eating disorders are common and serious.
    11. Moderation, variety and balance are key.

    They provide a 'sample day' for a 25 y/o female, 5'8", 160lbs, lightly active.
    (Calorie Range 1950-2200, Weight Loss Range 1200-1950)
    - Eats Breakfast: 2 pieces of toast w/ peanut butter and jelly (100% fruit),
    orange juice, coffee (black), water = 400 calories, 2 grains, 2 fruit, 1 protein
    - Goes to Work (desk job): more water
    - Lunch: 10" sub sandwich (w/ meat, cheese, and veggies), chips, tea (unsweetened)
    = 800 calories, 4 grains, 2 protein, 1 dairy, 2 veggies
    - More Work: more water
    - Snack: carrots with ranch dip = 150 calories, 2 veggies, 1 dairy
    - Goes Home ;Runs 30 min: more water
    - Dinner: salad with turkey bacon and olive oil/raspberry vinegarette,
    garlic toast = 350 calories, 3 veggies, 2 grains, 1 protein
    - Does Light Housework
    - Relax and Snack: Hot Cocoa = 150 calories, 1 dairy
    Total: 1850 calories, 8 grains, 7 veggies, 2 fruit, 4 protein, 3 dairy

    Remember the four food groups and the old food pyramid? It's gone through serious revision since I learned it as a kid. The pyramid has been turned on its side and expanded. There is more emphasis on individuality, balanced eating, physical activity, whole grains and fiber, and more detail on what kinds of fats and oil to avoid. They have a nicely done web site with a lot of information, and personalized charts to help users know how much of what they should be planning for their meals, and tools to keep track of these. Check out MyPyramid at

    Some other useful links to find out more about nutrition and weight loss:

    Friday, September 14, 2007

    Weight Loss and Exercise - Facts and Myths

    Ok, time for a quiz! Which of the following are true, which are false?

    1: Exercise is not very helpful at all for losing weight
    2: Exercise is very important for getting to and keeping the right weight
    3: An hour of exercise can be wiped out with one spoonful of food
    4: Some people have a harder time losing weight than others
    5: You don't need to exercise to lose weight
    6: You don't need to diet to lose weight
    7: Carbs are bad
    8: Carbs are good
    9: Fat is bad
    10: Fat is good
    11: A calorie is a calorie, what you eat doesn't matter
    12: How you get your calories is very important

    Ready for the answers? For the questions above, the answers that are true are: all of the above. The answers that are false are: all of the above. Each one contains partial truth, neglects part of the story, and may often be presented as some kind of 'secret' to weight loss success. Let's take at closer look at each of these.

    1, 2, 3. Exerercise is (not) helpful for weight loss. Whether it is or not depends on goals and expectations, as well as what kind of exercise you're doing. As discussed recently, walking five days a week for a half-hour - while helpful for your heart and wellness - is only going to burn about an extra 500 calories a week. That's less than one medium shake or large burger. On the other hand, playing full court basketball for several hours a week for six months or might be enough to lose 10-15 lbs. The longer your time frame, the more frequent or energetic the exercise, the more helpful exercise will be for weight loss. If you're looking to shed 20 lbs by the big dance next month, you would need to run up and down the court for four hours a day, every day. For short term weight loss, significant changes to your diet are necessary (and beware, fast off, fast back on). As for an hour of exercise being wiped out in one spoonful, it's possible. One very heaping tablespoon of peanut butter could indeed wipe out the gains of an hour of slow walking. One spoonful of low fat ice cream won't do too much damage to an hour of jogging though. (Not that peanut butter is bad, it just contains more calories and more fat than most people think.)

    4. Indeed some people DO have a harder time losing weight than others. There are differences in body chemistry, hormone levels and metabolism that do make it tougher for some people to lose weight. Typically women will also have a harder time losing weight than men. The problem with this statement is that so many people use it as an excuse for not even trying. It's harder for some people to do their taxes than for other people, but if you want to live right and do well in the long run, you need to make the effort to do both.

    5, 6. You can definitely lose weight by doing just one or the other. As discussed above, exercise may take longer but can be useful to lose some weight. However, if you're eating too much, or eating the wrong thing, you'll hit a plauteau with exercise - and you'll be missing out on a lot of other health benefits from eating right. Likewise, you can cut out/cut down some foods and shed a few pounds, but will be missing the significant health benefits of consistent exercise. There is also some synergy to doing both together. When you start watching what you eat and know the calories in tempting foods and the exercise required to burn off those same calories, it can be a big motivating factor to say "no." Also, using extra workouts to counteract those days where you do blow it on the diet is good for keeping you on track and avoiding demoralization.

    7, 8. Carbs are absolutely essential for your body to function. Some people have success with a low-carb diet, others don't. For me it's inconceivable to envision a long-term future where I deny myself the carbs I love, so I'm not going there just for a short-term gain. For some whose main downfall is too many carbs, it might be a good way to 'kick off' a long term change in eating habits. But unless that occurs - a long-term change in eating habits, weight taken off will not stay off. One thing that should be considered though, is that frequently we eat far too many refined or over-processed carbs, and sugars, instead of the more healthy complex carbohydrates and high fiber foods. Making some simple changes such as your choice of bread and drinks, can go a long way.

    9, 10. Fats are not evil, they too are absolutely essential for the body to function. The problem, especially in America, is that we eat way too much fat in our diet. Also, there are huge differences in the health risks associated with different kinds of fats (trans, saturated, unsaturated, etc.) This is an area I need to learn more about - but I'm starting by reducing trans fats and targeting no more than 30% of my daily calories to be from fat. I'm not at this point trying to eliminate fat from everything. For me that would unsustainable, and highly demotivating. But I have switched from a couple of kinds of high fat snacks to much lower fat and healthy snacks.

    11, 12. For weight management, a calorie is indeed a calorie; there's no significant difference in where it comes from. 3500 fat calories or 3500 protein calories will both net you one pound. But for healthy eating and getting what you body needs, what you eat and how you get those calories matters quite a bit. For more information on that, see "A calorie is a calorie, or is it" and "Calories + Nutrients = Food"

    Wednesday, September 12, 2007

    Role of Exercise in Weight Loss and Wellness

    An excellent online calculator for exercise may be found at the Freedieting website. You can enter a target number for minutes of exercise, or number of calories to burn, and find out how long (or how many) various exercises are needed for you. For a 210 lb. man, a half-hour of basketball will burn 400 calories. For a 160 lb. woman, a slow walk is about 150 calories per half-hour, or twice that number for a typical step aerobics workout. Another very useful calculator for calories burned includes household and occupational activities. (For example, scrubbing floor on hands and knees for a half-hour is 300 calories for a large guy. I think I'll stick to volleyball.) There's a similar calculator for both sports and everyday activities at The Fitness Jumpsite. Looking more closely at these charts I see entries like sleeping 100/hr and computer work 160/hr. That confirms the numbers for a given activity are total numbers, not extra calories compared to sitting around doing nothing. (So burning 300 calories in an hour of low impact exercise is only 200 'extra' calories burned above your basal metabolism rate.)

    Let's look at few examples of the role of exercise for weight loss. First, 45 minutes of basketball twice a week is an extra 650 calories per week, or a pound per month. That could improve if it motivates you to eat better, or might see no actual gain if it makes you hungry or you 'reward' yourself with a huge bowl of ice cream! Walking briskly five times a week for a half-hour is about 500 calories per week over sitting around doing nothing, taking seven weeks to lose a pound. These numbers may not seem huge, but they're an effective improvement over the long term and provide many other advantages. Besides, they add up. When I started playing volleyball twice a week for several hours I was a bit disappointed by the lack of any quick weight loss. Taking over four months to even see a ten pound loss was frustrating at first. Then the consistency of the slow weight loss, the enjoyment of the sport, and the feeling that what was coming off was going to stay off, changed my attitude toward exercise. Sticking with it, after playing for a year and a half, I had lost forty pounds and was feeling much better.

    There are several benefits to regular exercise, besides the extra calories burned.

    1) It's good for your heart and your health. The heart itself is a muscle that benefits from cardiovascular/aerobic exercise. It doesn't take a tremendous amount of time for this benefit, about 3x per week for 20 minutes. (5x for 40-60 minutes is even better, but that's a much bigger time committment.) By aerobic exercise it doesn't have to be an "aerobics class", but anything that gets your heart goin' and keeps it goin' over an extending time like tennis or cycling (target 60-70% of max heart rate, which is around 220-your age).
    2) Exercise improves muscle strength and flexibility, and helps to reduce risk of injury when you're not working out.
    3) Increasing the amount of muscle mass relative to fat in your body will increase your base metabolism and burn more calories even when not exercising. How much seems to be a matter of some debate. Strength training and resistance exercise is more effective at building lean muscle mass than cardiovascular exercise.
    4) Regular exercise can help reduce the risk for the following
    - High blood pressure — Regular aerobic activities can lower blood pressure.
    - Cigarette smoking — Smokers who become physically active are more likely to cut down or stop smoking.
    - Diabetes — People at their ideal weight are less likely to develop diabetes. Physical activity may also decrease insulin requirements for people with diabetes.
    - High levels of triglycerides — Physical activity helps reduce triglyceride levels. High triglycerides are linked to developing coronary artery disease in some people.
    - Low levels of HDL — Low levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol (less than 40 mg/dL for men/less than 50 mg/dL for women) have been linked to a higher risk of coronary artery disease. Recent studies show that regular physical activity can significantly increase HDL cholesterol levels and thus reduce your risk.
    5) Other health benefits of regular exercise
    - Physical activity builds healthy bones, muscles and joints, and reduces the risk of colon cancer. Millions of Americans suffer from illnesses that can be prevented or improved through regular physical activity.
    - Physical activity also helps psychologically. It reduces feelings of depression and anxiety, improves mood and promotes a sense of well-being.
    - The 1996 Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity also suggests that active people have a lower risk for stroke.
    (Source: American Heart Association. The American Heart Association also has a useful PDF called "How Can Physical Activity Become a Way of Life?")

    Choose some activity you enjoy, preferably with a friend whose company you enjoy,
    and get movin'!

    Friday, September 7, 2007

    Some Weight Loss Math

    I'll try not to get too much lost in the numbers, but let's take a look at what is needed to gain/lose weight or maintain your weight. The types of food you eat do affect your health and should be considered, but for weight loss, the bottom line:

    Rate of weight gain/loss = [Calories you take in] - [Calories you burn]

    This gain or loss occurs at a rate of one pound per 3500 calories of calories in excess/deficit of what you need. The second term, how many calories you burn, is made of up your base metabolism (what you burn even while sleeping, sitting, breathing, over the course of a day), calories expended during exercise, and 'thermal effect' of food (what it takes to actually digest your food, which is about 10% of your intake). Some people are more 'gifted' in others in their base metabolism - you know, those guys who can eat absolutely anything and not gain weight. Chances are that instead for some of us merely passing by chocolate can make us gain weight.

    The two main factors you have control over are:
    1) The number of calories you eat per day (on average)
    2) The number of extra calories you burn each day/week with exercise

    For most people, the first factor is by far the dominant one, the second factor can be quite important (as well as good for overall fitness). (A third factor would be to increase lean muscle mass by weight and/or resistance training. For those serious about it this can be quite helpful, but for now let's focus on the two main factors.)

    Most of you already know that one gram of protein or carbohydrates contains about 4 calories, while fat is 9 calories per gram. There are a ton of resources on the web with the caloric information for most foods. For restaurants and fast food, there are also several good sources, like Shape Fit and Calorie-Counters. These sites also give information on sodium which is helpful to watch.

    If you can consistently eat 500 calories less per day than you need, you will lose 1 pound per week, which is a great target over the long term. Actually, for most people anything over 2 lbs per week is far more likely to come back or to lead to yo-yo dieting. Feeling like you need to lose about 20 pounds for 'the big event'. Don't wait until a month before! Four months at about 580 calories per day reduction will get you there.

    Liquid calories are especially bad, providing far less feeling of being full and higher in calories than most people think.
    A 12 oz can of soda has 150 calories, and the 20 oz bottle has 250.
    A large soda at Burger king is 420 calories.
    A medium size shake is 500 calories (small around 400, large around 700 calories)

    While cutting down (or out) fast food is probably 'best', a less painful 'baby steps' approach is to simply arm yourself with information on the calorie counts for some of your favorite items, and when needed find a better substitute. For example:

    KFC's: Chunky Chicken Pot Pie (it's got veggies, so it's healthy??) 770 calories
        Tender Chicken Roast sandwich, no sauce: just 270 calories
        or the Honey BBQ Sandwich, with sauce: 310 calories.
    Taco Bell: Mucho Grande Nachos: a whopping 1320 calories, or
        the Grilled Stuffed Burrito: over 700 calories.
        Soft Taco, around 200 calories. Chili Cheese Burrito 330.
    Arby's: Roast Chicken Casear weighs in at 820 calories,
        Regular Roast Beef 350 calories.
    McDonald's: Steak, Egg and Cheese Bagel is 700 calories,
        Hash browns are just 130, 2 eggs alone are 160 calories.

    Small changes and consistently eating a little differently (or a little less), really does add up. Other things being equal (which of course is never the case), a change of one can of soda per day will eventually lead to a weight loss (or gain!) of 10 pounds. (That value comes from 150 calories per day for a soda, divided by a ballpark estimate of 15 cals/day/pound needed to sustain body weight for a lightly active person.)

    Suggested action ideas (from least involved to more)
    - Make some deliberate change in food choices or portions
       to cut out 500 calories per day
    - Look up your favorite fast food or desert calories and see if
       they're reasonable or something that needs to be changed
    - Add in some more veggies, fruits, salads (not Caesar, and dressing
       on the side or 'lite')
    - Journal what you eat for one week to get the real data on calorie intake
    - Set a reasonable goal, set a comfortably long time frame,
       and make a plan to reach it that takes 'baby steps'

    Next time I'll look at the important role exercise plays in weight loss.

    Thursday, September 6, 2007

    Some Fitness Math

    Over the next few posts I want to shift from motivation and examples for losing weight to some more quantitative information that's helpful in evaluating your needs and in setting appropriate goals. In particular, there are a few numbers that anyone concerned about their weight should know. First, what do you weigh? Simple enough, just get on a scale. Second, how much should you weigh? Third, how many calories per day do I need to maintain my current weight (which will help you know how much you you should be targeting if you want to lose weight.)

    Am I a Healthy Weight?

    One common and useful measure of the body's relative weight is the Body Mass Index (BMI). Online BMI calculators may be found at Free Dieting and HealthLink. This measures a the persons weight relative to their height. It is an important number to know because life expenctancy decreases for those with sustained BMI of 26 or more. (People who are overweight or obese are at higher risk for chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol, but you probably already know that.) Waist size above 40 inches (for men) or above 35 inches (for women) is also associated with increased health risk. The CDC has a BMI calculator for children and teens as well as adults.

    Calculation of your percent body fat is another good indicator of whether your current weight is healthy. A useful body fat percentage calculator may be found at the freedieting website.

    Several sites put together this information to give an ideal weight. In reality, any weight where you feel good about yourself and are in the healthy range for body fat percentage is a great weight.

    How do I Determine My Body's Daily Calorie Needs?

    An easy way to learn how many calories you need each day is to use this online calculator which accounts for age, gender, weight, height and activity. Another good one is the Mayo Clinic calorie needs calculator. The Healthy Body Calculator gives both caloric needs and body mass index. There are many other calculators or simple formula, but if they don't include factors like weight or activity level, they're over-simplified.

    For you engineers out there, the Health Recipes website has a very good article on "How to Determine Your Body's Daily Calorie Needs." It covers this topic in considerable detail. The question is tougher than it looks because the body's needs depend on its basal metabolic rate (BMR), energy expended during physical activity, and the thermic effect of food (energy required to digest and metabolize food, about 10% of your caloric intake). A calorie needs calculator that lets you pick the formula to use may be found at the freedieting website. This website also has an ideal weight calculator and BMI calculator as well. There is also a weight loss calculator that will give the date you should expect to hit a target weight for a variety of levels of daily caloric deficit. (Hmm, it seems that I like the Harris-Benedict formula, which overestimates my caloric needs by about 200 calories compared to what is probably more accurate, the Mifflin-St Jeor formula) What I like about this calculator is that it gives a rock-bottom value for how many calories per day I should not go under to avoid fat starvation effects.

    Next time we'll look at how this information is useful for weight loss, followed by discussion of the impact of exercise on weight control.

    Wednesday, September 5, 2007

    Baby Steps for Fitness

    One movie I've enjoyed is "What about Bob?" with Bill Murray, which portrays a man trying to overcome many phobias who is counseled to take "Baby Steps." As with other types of change that are difficult, the most important thing is starting. Waiting for perfect conditions, or choosing a path too steep can keep us from starting, and can lead to a quick and frustrating failure. If someone is doing no exercise at present, deciding to go out and start running 10 miles everyday just isn't likely to work. For many people, cutting out carbs would be too big a step as well.

    In addition to taking small steps, I think it's helpful to make choices about what we do that are sustainable and will work in the long term. Or if a short term route is taken, realize that, and know how you'll follow-up. Here are a few examples of things I've tried in the past that were too big, and some other changes made that were more sustainable and effective.

    * Snacking - I'm a night owl, and it should be no suprise that seven hours after dinner, I may occasionally get hungry. Trying to eliminate after-dinner snacking has never worked for me, though I've tried several times. Oh sure, I can last a short time, but it's too painful and not sustainable. Instead, choosing some incrementally healthier snacks has been doable. Instead of a large bowl of potato chips, I go for a huge stalk of celery. Not! That's too big a change - instead I now prefer a small bowl of flavored pretzels with mustard and habanero sauce. There's absolutely no sense of missing out on flavor or having something delicious (and the heat makes the amount self-moderating). Unbuttered popcorn is another popular choice in the family.

    * Exercise - Basically, I'm a couch potato who prefers mental activity over physical activity. Efforts at running or a treadmill were tried, but doomed to failure at the start. For me it's so mindnumbingly boring, it's not something I'll ever keep doing. So even if it helped me reach a weight loss goal, I know I would stop doing it and put the weight back on. What does work? Something you actually enjoy. For me that has become volleyball, when I found that a group of friends were playing casually competitive games twice a week. The first few times were exhausting, but I stuck with it and have been playing regularly for almost two years. Other physical activities I like are tennis and ping pong. For others, the specific activities will differ, but choosing something that you consider fun (or at the very least, tolerable) is crucial.

    * Fruits and Veggies - Ok, I've never really been big on these. I don't loathe them, but I never enjoyed them as much as good old meat, carbs and fat. Eating the typical choices in my family, apples, pears, green beans, tossed salad, was always something I did because I 'had to', but didn't enjoy them at all. But by being selective and choosing things I like, I'm finding there are a lot of choices that I like a lot, like mango, canteloupe, pineapple. One in particular I probably would never have chosen just based on the name was musk melon, but it's delicious. For salads, I'm finding out the main reason I've been lukewarm on salad has been the dressing, typically vinegar-based or lackluster in flavor. Those I can't stand, while the ranch peppercorn or caesar I like are full of fat. There's a middle ground that I've found to work well - lite (fat-free) flavorful dressings like Honey Dijon, Catalina, or a lite ranch (on the side!) have brought the fun back to salads. Using those as dips also makes a lot of other vegetables a lot more interesting.

    * Parties and Social eating - If I go to a party with food I love and force myself not to eat anything, I feel miserable. Maybe a day will come in the future where my willpower is better (ew, the 'w' word!), but for now that's too big a step for me. A baby step is however to plan for it in advance, compensate as much as you can, and strategically enjoy yourself at the party. Do not skip meals in preparation, that will just encourage you to eat more (unhealthy) food when you're there. Instead, make wise low-fat low-cal choices earlier in the day, knowing in advance the payback will come soon enough. If I know I'm going to have a huge dinner, I'll probably have a banana for breakfast, a low-cal lunch entree from the microwave, and will eat a large salad before I go to the party. I also know from experience I won't need to have a midnight snack on such an evening. Then I'm pretty much free to enjoy myself. With just a few strategic selections at the social (whether portion size, choosing some veggies with dip instead of the cheese-sticks), I can easily keep things on track for the day.

    * Portion control and better lunches - Eating out, I love to go out to a mexican restaurant, eat a bunch of chips and consume a burrito as big as my head. Eating in, I tending to go for something like a Hungry Man's chicken dinner, since memories of "diet" selections were wickedly unappealing. What are some excellent short term choices? Never eating out and bringing in a paper back with skinless chicken and some carrot sticks of course. Do I see myself keeping that up for a year? (Do you?) Two baby steps have helped me a lot. The first (which I mentioned recently) is to divide the entre at a restaurant in half before I take my first bite and ask for a box. Is there still room for improvement, eating chips and half a burrito? Well sure! But in the meantime I have a double win - 400-500 less calories for that lunch, and the same amount or more by eating the leftovers and not going out a second time that week. The other very helpful step is retrying some of the newer selections available in frozen dinner/lunch entres. Oh my goodness, have they improved!! For typically under $3, I can get something that's delicious, balanced, and leaves me feeling "Wow, that was tasty". And the best news, it's usually only 300 calories or so. Sheesh, that's one half to one third of what I eat at Arby's or McDonald's or a restaurant. I had a bring-your-own-lunch meeting recently where a friend carried in a foot long sub with fries. Out of the microwave I pulled my dish. He asked what I was having. "Roasted red-pepper chicken over a bed of creamy garlic penne, with some apple cobbler crisp. It's 320 calories." His eyes opened wide and his jaw dropped. He looked down at his bag and said "I think it's 320 calories just to smell what I brought." Even if I have a granola bar or some pretzels later to feel satisfied on volume, I'm way ahead of the game, and feel satisfied on flavor and taste.

    Again, the thing I'm emphasizing is that you can greatly improve your diet, nutrition and fitness, by doing and eating things you really enjoy, with a little thought and effort, without feeling like you're punishing yourself. These changes alone won't make you lose ten pounds in a week. But guess what, they definitely can help you lose ten pounds over the course of a few months. If you're happy with the changes and can keep going, that could easily be twenty pounds or more in a year. That's just 200 calories a day, which is easily doable if you make choices you can sustain.

    I have a feeling my friendly nutritionist would strongly recommend some further changes to my diet and would counsel me on fibers, the types of fats, and say I still need to double my fruit and vegetable intake, but I'm only now in a frame of mind (and body) to start to consider those further changes after having taken and succeeded in the baby steps described above. I also know some smaller friends and women are thinking the steps mentioned above wouldn't be baby steps for them, or maybe they've already cut way back on eating out and snacking. The specific steps, and the size of the steps, will be different for everyone. But if you can think of a few baby steps appropriate for your situation, that you can enjoy and keep doing, that burn or save 200-300 calories a day and take a step toward eating more healthy, those are steps well taken.

    Tuesday, September 4, 2007

    How did I get so big?

    It's not a nice feeling to get on a scale for the first time in a year and get shocked by the number. First there is denial, then anger (though there need not be acceptance!) Seldom is it one factor that leads to such a surprise. In my observations I've noticed that people can get into trouble with their weight in a variety of ways. The following are a few of the ways people start gaining weight despite good intentions - and ones that were all contributing factors in my own 'sticker shock' on the scale: 

    * Lack of Knowledge. When we don't know nutritional information on the foods we eat there can be little hope of losing weight, or even maintaining it! It's like shopping without looking at price tags. Start looking at the 'price tags', the nutrional label on your favorite foods and do a little research on what you like to eat out at restaurants. As I mentioned previously, switching from the Mucho Grande Nachos (1320 calories) to a soft chicken taco (190 calories) or from a steak/egg bagel the hash browns (130 instead of 700 calories) will make a huge difference.

    * Lack of Awareness. Sometimes people are aware of the facts but are less aware about how much (or how often) they're eating. On several foods I was surprised to learn that the amount I would typically eat was 3 or more servings. Another killer for me was the candy jar at work, just way too convenient to dip into. The soda machine would be similar, but I only drink water and diet soda. For others, stress eating can be a big problem. They don't intend to eat an entire sleeve of crackers, but under certain conditions (or times) that's just what happens. If you don't intend to over indulge, just move the jar, put the crackers on a top shelf where you need a ladder to get them. (If that makes you laugh, knowing full well you'll get the ladder, read the next reason.)

    * Lack of Self-Control. I listed the candy jar as lack of awareness, just because I would dip in so mindlessly and often. For others, they dip in with full knowledge and perhaps in agony, unable to resist. For me, there are several foods that if they come in the house, I'm toast. Once I open a bag of cool ranch Doritos, it's virtually impossible to stop. Egg Nog is another nemesis. The solution in this case is pretty obvious - don't bring them in the house. Do your shopping *only* when you're not hungry or craving something, and make sure you don't buy things you know you won't be able to resist. (This applies to several vices, not just food!)

    * Lack of a Doggie-Bag. The portion size for most meals at restaurants is huge! A typical lunch could easily cover two or even three meals. Do you find yourself thinking you'll take some home, only to find yourself a half-hour later staring at an empty plate, stuffed? (I sure did!) For me an extremely simple trick works great. "Make the cut before you bite" Before you take your first bite, cut the serving in half and move it well away from the rest of the food. If I know in advance what marks "done" it's far easier to stop. Clearly, there may be some temptation to go beyond, once you reach that point. Console yourself with the fact that you're going to have this great lunch *again*, if you stop now - and you won't be tempted to fall asleep this afternoon either. This technique works particularly well with chinese food, mexican food, or other restaurants in your area with large quantities (I'm not as likely to cut a burger and half and save it for later, for example.)

    * Lack of Exercise. This is a biggie that I'll get more into later, but it's quite rare to to find an overweight person that felt they were exercising regularly and effectively. Lack of exercise is not only a reason for weight gain, but for a host of other health problems (whether or not they occur now, or down the line.) Twice in my life I've been able to trace back significant weight gain to the point where I stopped doing exercise or sports that had been fairly regular (things were "too busy" at work to keep up with exercise). Getting back into some form of activity that I *enjoy* doing has been a great help in becoming more healthy and losing weight.

    In an average week of eating without thinking, avoiding the scale, the excess calories due to the five factors above might be 1200, 1600, 1800, 2000 and 1200 respectively. If done poorly and consistently, that's a gain of two pounds per week and an eventual gain of fifty pounds. If you're only consuming 1/4 of the excess calories I was, or you ignore good eating habits "just" two days a week, that's still enough to put on about twelve pounds over the course of two seasons.

    If you're facing one (or all!) of these problems, there's nothing "wrong" with you!
    - You can be extremely intelligent and have a gap in knowledge about nutrional information.
    - You can be very sensitive and aware in general, but may miss the mark at times.
    - You can be extremely disciplined and show self-control in one area but have significant
    problems with self-control in another area.
    - You can be fairly active overall but still fall short of what is needed
    in terms of exercise for weight control and for overall health.

    if you recognize there is a problem, get past the denial stage and start thinking about what it is that has led to your present situation - what are the key contributors to being overweight, and think about whether it's time to do something about it.

    Mind you, I'm not a medical doctor or nutrion expert, and there are a lot of other reasons for weight problems, including medications, lack of sleep, eating too quickly, too much fat and sugar, too little fiber, skipping breakfast, as well as eating disorders and psychological reasons. The ones listed above however are very common, and were ones that contributed to my own weight gain.

    Tuesday, August 28, 2007

    Diet is a four-letter word

    Excercise is boring. "Diet" is a four-letter word. If your focus is on these instead of on your goal, you've got an uphill battle ahead of you. If you don't understand why you're in the shape you're in, it makes it much harder to see significant or ongoing change. So before getting into the how-to of diet and exercise in upcoming posts, I wanted to spend some more time on motivation.

    People facing weight or fitness issues tend to fall in two categories: Lifelong Struggler, or Slow Gainer. These are the terms used by Jim Karas in his book "Flip the Switch: Discover the Weight-Loss Solution and the Secret to Getting Started" (ABC News excerpt at The Lifelong Struggler mave have always seemed overweight, and may not remember a time when they weren't fighting to stay fit. In addition to the weight issue, the may be facing serious discouragement or even depression by trying so hard while seeing little progress. The Slow Gainer, however, had a fairly healthy body and good self image at some point as an adult. But over time, they started putting on weight, slowly, until one day they wake up and realize they're 30 pounds overweight. It might be at college, or post-partum, or after taking a new desk job, but now they're facing an issue they've not had to face before. This is the situation I'm currently in, by the way, though I'm more of a serial gainer. In high school, when I stopped playing sports I gained almost fifty pounds. In Boston, I put on forty pounds over the course of several years when I got "too busy" for exercise. Most recently, small changes in eating patterns (in combination with no exercise) let to my getting seriously overweight. There may be big differences in how the two types see themselves, how they got in the situation they're in, and may need different strategies for addressing fitness issues.

    A good summary of his goal is given in Karis' book at the end of the section 'Believe in the Flip':
    "I want you to come to the conclusion that you will succeed at weight loss. That is infinitely more valuable than if I'd simply advise you to "eat less, exercise more," which you know and I know is the numerical basis of weight loss. If eating less and exercising more were that easy, we would all have lost weight years ago. It requires so much more than a slogan such as, "Just say No to Food." It's just not that simple. What is keeping you and others from success at weight loss is your inability to reach the point where you, you, you believe that you can succeed at eating less and exercising more. Once you've come to terms with that emotional hurdle and discipline, the physical exercises will seem easy by comparison."
    Knowing why you want to make a change, understanding the benefit, and believing you can do it, are crucial to seeing lasting change.

    Monday, August 27, 2007

    Motivation for Fitness

    There are many reasons people decide to start exercising or dieting - wanting to look better, to have more energy, for better health, or to avoid health problems, or pride. For me it was definitely a combination of these. Three things in particular hit me at once that 'flipped the switch' for me. First, it's not good to be out of breath just from climbing a single set of stairs. Second, my young kids were loving to play and wrestle with Dad, but I would get tired so quickly. Finally, I got on the scale which I had carefully avoided for the past year, and it was a shocker. Not just another ten or twenty pounds, but I was up at 290! At 6'5" I can carry a lot of weight without looking fat, but this was ridiculous. To confirm how bad the situation was, I measured my waist. Hmm, no wonder my 48 pants were so tight, I was just under 50. Two milestones I vowed never to let myself hit were 300 lbs and50 inches, so something needed to be done. Besides, I want to be around to enjoy my grandchildren someday! I could also not ignore the fact that I was not taking very good care of the temple of a body God had given me.

    As a Type-A guy, and as a businessman, I found "The Business Plan for the Body" by Jim Karas to be very helpful, both in terms of motivation and practical information that makes sense to bottom-line people. He's also the author of several books with the title (and idea) "Flip the Switch". A key point repeated is that you need to make a conscious decision that leads to action, and not just "wish you were thinner." (His books should not be confused with ones with a very similar title by Robert Cooper who is plugged a metabolic thermostat idea.) The timing was perfect, finding such a book at a point where I was completely ready to flip the switch. Karas' approach and style may not fit for everyone, but it should for many - check out an excellent excerpt of his book "Flip the Switch: Discover the Weight-Loss Solution and the Secret to Getting Started" by ABC News at (Good Housekeeping has an excerpt on his other book, "Flip the Switch: Your Year to Get Slim" at

    There's no shortage of motivational books and tapes on diet and exercise, but no matter who you read or follow one thing is clear: becoming physically fit is a noble and extremely difficult undertaking for most of us, and finding the right motivation to get you started and keep you going is absolutely essential to success.

    Friday, August 24, 2007

    Analogy between Physical Health and Financial Health

    I've been dieting and trying to be more healthy for the last year, and as I now sit at what seems to be a plateau I find myself wondering what makes healthy eating and exercise so difficult. Reflecting on how some friends treat food, and how others treat money, I see a strong analogy between being physically fit and financially fit.

    When I go to a fast food restaurant, my eyes go straight to the value menu. The idea of ordering what you want without regard to price is foreign to me. If I see someone order something for $2.49 that is just slightly different from another item that's $0.99, I can't help but wonder what on earth they're thinking. Spend $1.79 on a soda that costs them less than dime in syrup?? Inconceivable! And yet, what do some of my friends think when they watch me order? Double cheeseburger??!? Doesn't he care about his heart? Milkshake??? Does he know how much sodium is in that? Inconceivable!

    Mentally, I always see financial decisions in terms of cost and value. I know that my choices are not independent, and money I spend on something is money I can't spend on something else. I have a plan, for the short term and for the long term, to meet important goals for myself and my family - and failure to meet these goals just isn't an option. I apply my analytical skills to any key decision, and do whatever research is needed to have a basis to make a good decision. I may (and do) splurge on occasion, but it's within limits and it only happens when I've done the saving first.

    Mentally, my decisions on physical fitness are completely opposite. I don't have a plan, no goals, I decide based on what I feel at the moment. I don't think in terms of caloric budget, I'll exercise solely when it's fun, and can't say no to a desert waved in front of me. While I've lost weight over the past year, I've not changed my mindset, or my eating habits. If I stop the exercise again, it will all come back. Is there anything I can learn from comparing financial fitness to physical fitness?

    Rate of Savings = Income - Expenses. Total savings = sum of this over time. Period. It's really that simple. If your expenses exceed your income, you incur debt. When the interest on the debt becomes significant, you're in big trouble. Many people make dieting difficult, counting all sorts of things, all kinds of rules and theories. But it's not rocket science. Weight gained or lost = Calories eaten - Calories expended. If you eat more than you burn off, you gain weight. It doesn't matter if it's a calorie from fat or from carbs, 3500 of them will cost you a pound.

    If I shop and don't consider budget, or in this case, spending allowance, I'll buy the new shiny and go into debt. If I go to a restaurant and don't consider my caloric allowance, my chance of making a good decision is not good. Even worse, the "prices" aren't on the food. I can see two similar shirts next to each other, one for $19.99 and one for $59.99, and the decision is clear - not so with calories. At McDonald's it doesn't say on the menu that super-size fries are over 600 calories while the vanilla ice cream cone is just 150, or that Hash browns are just 130 while the steak/egg bagel is 700 calories. If I say 'no mayo' on my favorite chicken sandwich, I save 25% on calories. At Taco Bell, the Mucho Grande Nachos are 1320 calories (!) while a soft chicken taco is just 190 ( Doing better with a Arby melt with cheese or a market fresh sandwich at Arby's? Would you believe 340 vs 810 calories, respectively? Deluxe potato? 650 calories. The Jamocha Shake I love? 470? Ouch. How about a healthy salad? The one I like is the Chicken Finger salad. Ouch! 570 calories vs 70 for a garden salad.

    All-you-can-eat buffets are opposite from the perspective of finances and fitness. You pay one price, and the more you eat the better 'value', but basically you are paying for your calories bite-by-bite. That second large plate full of food adds a brief temporary satisfaction, but doubles your calories, makes you feel stuffed, and makes you want to lie down and rest.

    One of my most effective changes this year was driven from a financial perspective. At most restaurants, including my favorite local chinese and mexican restaurants, the servings are enormous. I was always sleepy in the afternoon went I went there. I tried saving half my meal and taking it home in a box and felt no hint of hunger in the afternoon. Two for one special on cost of meals?? I'm all over that!! It's a side benefit that I'm not consuming nearly 2000 calories for lunches anymore.

    How then do you maintain weight? You need a budget - you have to intentionally restrict your caloric intake to not exceed your caloric burn. With finances, you can adjust income or reduce expenses to meet your budget. With your body, you can reduce what you eat or increase how much you burn. If you want to lose weight, you need to burn more than you take in. Like savings, this does not happen without effort. Like savings, 10% is a great start, and up around 50% is not sustainable for the average person. In upcoming posts I'm going to say more about diet and exercise, how I've lost significant weight, the role of exercise in a fitness plan, and I'll try to encourage those of you who might be struggling with your weight.

    Thursday, August 23, 2007

    Back from Vacation

    Greetings!! I'm back from a fantastic vacation with family, feeling refreshed and feeling like a lucky husband and dad. My wrists are even thankful for the lack of internet access for quite some time. The only downside is feeling sluggish due to the outstanding food I've eaten, but I'll run around extra hard at volleyball this month to catch up!

    Ok, actually, I've been back a month and a half. My perfectionistic tendencies have been warring with my desire to blog, with several ideas for series and half-written posts that have not seen light of day. Today I want to take a (minor) stand against procrastination, to try to get back in the habit of blogging. To be honest, this tendency to procrastinate has led to a lot of stuff 'slipping' that I should never have let slip, like keeping in touch with family. I've got some practical information I want to share on diet and exercise, as well as some excellent progress on that front that's got me very encouraged! Rather than back-date the posts on Blogger, or editing them, I'm going to post them essentially as-is, starting with the rest of this vacation report, which I wrote back on July 6th, 2007...

    We started with a week at the pool and on the beach in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. My sister and her family live there, and we lured down my Dad and Mom for a surprise 80th birthday celebration. My other sister and her husband from New York were able to come down as well. Amazingly, it has been over 25 years since we've all been together in one place at the same time. (It better not be that long before our next gathering!) What a great time we had seeing each other. The SC crew knew the owners of a wonderful Italian restaurant, where we spent the whole evening dining and laughing and being serenaded on the accordian. Our four kids got to hang out with their cousins (who they had never met) which was very nice. My son and I enjoyed the "Lazy River" at our hotel, which is like a pool in the shape of an oval where you just float around in the shade. Dawn enjoyed walking on the beach and seeing the ocean again. My Dad was indeed quite surprised, and it was a fitting tribute to the man I love and respect so much. He even got to give us a good solid thrashing at bowling.

    The next week was back in North Carolina with my parents in their log cabin on the lake. (What a great place to retire for a man who loves fishing!) Even better, Dawn's entire family was converging nearby (her middle sister also lives in North Carolina). Her younger sister and husband brought down a speedboat. The kids *loved* that! Well, two did anyway, and the other two enjoyed it with reservations. I had a great "lead by example" moment when I agreed to get dragged behind the boat in a tube at high velocity. Seeing Mom do it didn't convince the kids because, well, she'll try anything. But if Dad does it, *anybody* can. So after my ride, my daughter agreed to try the tube. With this a smiling success, first one boy, then all the rest, agreed they would try the tube. We only went about 2 knots, but this was a major achievement! With an excellent dinner at the Outback, the kids were able to see essentially *all* their aunts and uncles from both sides of the family, and all but two cousins, in one trip. I don't know if we'll ever see that happen again.

    On the way back, we stopped by our alma mater, Virginia Tech, to pay our respects, visit the memorial, and generally see how the place was holding up. There was quite a bit of construction since the last time we were there. It was a touching and sober visit in the light of recent events, and we're glad we got to stop by. As an added bonus, we got to go to our favorite restaurant in the entire country - the Farmhouse in Christiansburg, Virginia. The food there is to die for, delicious, hearty, and not unreasonably priced. I tried Seafood Newburg (for the first time) and it was exquisitely good. The kids even loved their onion rings - and they hate onions!? Each time I go back there I figure it can't meet the high expectations and memories of the last visit, but each time it does.

    Of course, it does feel really good to be back home. It also felt good to get back on the volleyball court after several weeks away (and about five pounds heavier). That was a real workout when I let them twist my arm into a fourth hour of play, and 3-on-3 at this point. Thoughts of this, some recent conversations, and a niece who is just about to embark on a diet program, have put me in the mindset of improving physical fitness. For my own sake (and perhaps for my niece's sake) I'm going to do several posts on diet and exercise. Pray for me as I have ten more pounds to go on my goal to lose 50 pounds. I'm getting close! :)

    Today, Aug.23, is my 'target' date for reaching the 50 lb. mark. Have I made it those last ten pounds, or has procrastination (or gluttony) foiled my attempt? Stay tuned and see!

    Friday, April 6, 2007

    What a Great Week

    In addition to this being Holy Week and things going fairly well on the work front, I had a real treat last Friday. Our 9-yo daughter has outgrown her bike and I promised that when she learned how to ride without training wheels that we would get her a new one. Well, that time came last weekend when I came home a bit early to be greeted by "Dad, can you teach me how to ride my bike for real?" With excitement and nervousness, off came the training wheels and we headed to the sidewalk. She was ready, I could see it in her eyes. There's a ton of front wheel wobble when you're first responsible for the stability of the bike, but she seemed to be doing quite well as long as I kept her steady. "Ok, this time we're going to do the same thing, but once you've got it steady, I'm going to let go. I'll be right behind you, but let's see if you can do this all by yourself. Are you ready?" Big smile. Yes! Down the sidewalk we go, and she starts to get it steady. I let go and the wobbling starts. "You can do it, I'm right here, keep going!" Pretty soon she was going as fast as I could short of sprinting, and without further word, I stopped. There goes my little girl! (Ok, not *that* little really, but you get the idea.) When she cleared the neighbor's driveway I cheered and I could hear "I'm doing it!!" There was no looking back, no stopping, and she went straight to the end of our very long block. (While I normally hate jogging, this one I wasn't going to miss.) We came back, gathered Mom and her three brothers, got the video camera, and she displayed her new prowess for all. Afterwards she game me the biggest hug, with a huge smile, and said "I'm so proud of myself, Dad, thanks so much!" Wow, what a 'Dad' moment. I remember how neat that moment was for me as a kid, but I really had no idea how special it was for the parent too. Reflections?

    - When confidence and fear are big factors, don't rush things. Many kids are expert bike-riders by age 9, but that didn't matter to either of us. What mattered was that she felt she was ready, and I was available and encouraging.
    - "Letting go" was a foretaste of what would come later as kids mature and get ready to leave the nest. It's difficult and scary for both, though neither wants to admit it outright, yet quite satisfying, especially if you work on it together.
    - One sows, one waters, and another reaps, but the Lord gives the growth. The only thing I felt bad about was that here I was, soaking in the glow of a special moment, while my wife had been the one getting the bikes out, watching them, riding with them, at least 95% of the time over the past four years. Sometimes, like in evangelism, we're in the right place and the right time and see the immediate harvest - but remember others have gone before you to plant a seed and work the ground - and in any case, glory to God for how he grows His children whom He loves.
    - Mom rocks! She has always been encouraging to me about spending time with the family, and has been selfless in helping them have fun as well as develop. I think too this is a foretaste of letting go, as I find myself tending to look forward to the kids growing up and becoming more independent, while Dawn cherishes the smiles of youth in the park and on their tricycles. Both are good - and I'm lucky guy for getting to be a part of it.

    Wednesday, March 28, 2007

    Without Commitment

    I recently came across an interesting quote on commitment while reading a post by Jack Price of Crossroads. The quote is by the German poet, Johann Wolfgang Goethe:
    "Unless one is committed, there is a hesitancy; the chance to draw back; always ineffectiveness, concerning all acts of initiative and creation. There is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no one could have dreamed would come his way. What you can do, or dream you can begin it: boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now."
    There's really nothing quite like commitment. Almost universally feared before actually making one, once the decision is made, commitment brings a sense of fulfillment and purpose that is unattainable from partial support. "Partial commitment" is an oxymoron - it's not a halfway decision, something one is free to back out of. That's not partially committed, that's uncommitted. Mirriam-Webster defines commitment as "a consignment to a penal or mental institution." Oops! Wait, that's something else entirely! Its second definition is "the state or an instance of being obligated or emotionally impelled".

    There's power in commitment. My friend Don (who is much more down-to-earth than Goethe), likes to ask "How many chickens does it take to pull a wagon?" The answer is: you can't pull a wagon with a bunch of chickens, but get one or two committed horses and you can pull an amazing load. Friends, if you're involved in ministry, that's fantastic. But are you committed? Do you fill in 'when needed' or can the leader count on you to be there regularly. Will you stay or go when the chips are down? It may seem like a small point, but for the ministry leader, and for the ministry itself, there's a huge difference.

    Don't hesitate, don't wallow in ineffectiveness, decide what's important and commit to it. Step up - and be part of fulfilling a dream!

    Tuesday, March 13, 2007

    Praise her at the city gates

    My wife is taking advantage of the kids' spring break to visit family and has been bravely trekking east. Things have been going extremely well until this morning when my oldest son pulled a major 'what-were-you-thinking???!' maneuver. Dawn is pretty frustrated at the moment; his timing just could not have been any worse - right as they pull into the parking lot of a ski lodge for what is supposed to be the big adventure of the trip. I love Dawn! She takes thinks viscerally. She's a great mom, and her hopes, dreams, and moods soar (or dive) frequently along with their activities. An old quote I saw recently in Mark Batterson's blog pointed out this subtle difference between the two of us...
    "A woman knows all about her children. She knows about dentist appointments, best friends, favorite foods, secret fears and hopes and dreams. A man is vaguely aware of some short people living in the house."
    Back in Old Testament times, when the men would meet in the city gates they would talk about the pressing issues of the day. Since there was no Monday Night football, on occasion they had to talk about their family. Would they say good things or bad? Well, today the internet has joined the realm of the city gates, a place where men can talk about their wives and families. Today I just want to shout out in public and say I think my wife is the best, and I love her very very much!!
    "Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all. Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate." (Proverbs 31:28-31 NIV)

    Thursday, March 8, 2007

    What to Look for in a Worship Pastor

    A few months ago we were looking for a new Worship Pastor, as Matt was moving on to a great opportunity to help a church plant. There was much discussion over what we needed to look for - and the possibilities were all over the map. By far the most useful and succinct criteria came from my 8 year old daughter. Out of the blue at dinner one night she was asking about the search and I asked her what she thought we should look for...
    "Well, mostly he should love Jesus. He should like music, but love people more. He should sing nice and play guitar good, maybe a little drums. He should love kids - if he's a Dad that's good cuz he'll already know how to do that."
    Wow! She nailed it! (When the search team was discussing the final candidate who would get the call, he matched this description perfectly.) My youngest son had some ideas too. He said he agreed with his sister's comments but felt it important to add...
    "He shouldn't jump off the side of the trampoline cuz that's not safe and he might bonk his head!"
    Whether or not Lorin will abide by this advice, time will tell! Given his background as a youth minister however, I'm not betting on it.

    Tuesday, March 6, 2007

    When I'm a Dad...

    I've found no better mirror of the state of your walk with the Lord than the words of your youngest children, and your own words to them when correcting them. "Son, you know you're not supposed to do that. That was a foolish decision, you know it's wrong, and you're being disobedient to continue with this behaviour." All the while saying this I can feel the tug of the spirit telling me - "Listen closely to what you're saying. Why do you continue to disobey with things you know are wrong?" It's not a comfortable feeling, but at least it reminds me of God's mercy and encourages me to reaffirm my love for my son, a love that isn't dependent on his actions.

    His words recently were especially painful as a mirror, after he overheard some arguing. I come downstairs to hear this question from my six-year old son, "When I grow up and become a Dad, will I get to yell at Mommy?" Yikes! Only the lamest of excuses come to mind: "But I was right!" or "Well no, actually I was yelling back, not yelling." Time to get out the fork for another piece of humble pie. "No, son. Dad was wrong to do that, and I'm sorry - to Mom for being disrespectful, and to you, for showing you a bad example. We all get angry from time to time, but that's no excuse for that type of behavior. Why don't we pray together, for me to be the best Dad and the best husband I can be, and for you to grow up to be the type of man that God wants you to be."

    His little head nods in understanding, a sense of relief and a small smile comes to his face, and he bows his head with me to pray...

    Monday, March 5, 2007

    Now That's Theology

    My Savior loves, my Savior lives,
    My Savior’s always there for me
    My God He was, My God He is,
    My God He's always gonna be

    If you don't recognize this chorus of the song "My Savior My God" by Aaron Shust (Anything Worth Saying album) then you really need to check it out at YouTube. Sure, one could learn a lot more about eschatology or soteriology at seminary, but the depth of theology in the lyrics of this song really speaks to my heart. Someone who truly believes that chorus and lives in a way that reflects it is someone who knows Jesus Christ.

    What I also love about the song is how my young kids perk up and start singing whenever they hear it. "Daddy, my favorite song!" shouts my daughter. My youngest boy starts air drumming like crazy, oldest one is belting it out at the top of his lungs and the middle boy hops up and starts dancing. This happens whether we're in our living room or whether we're in the very front row at church. How many years might some kids sit in Sunday School yet never really understand or feel the full impact of the message of that chorus?

    About the song the singer Aaron Shust wrote: 'I was reading my "One Year Book of Hymns" and stumbled across a hymn entitled "I Am Not Skilled To Understand" whose words blew me away. I didn't bother searching for the melody: its obscurity indicated antiquity. So I started from scratch and sang it without the chorus for over a year at our church, which seemed to embrace itas it was. But I wanted to take it over he top. Sitting at a red light one night, a melody of excitement and a lyric that seemed to pull together the concept of Christ, my Advocate, always pleading my case, was born. And the song finally exploded on the choruse like I always knew it should. i do not understand everything, but I know that Jesus Christ loves me and is alive defending me. That calls for a big chorus.'

    (As a side note: It's interesting to see the variety of videos appearing at YouTube, from the song above or So Long Self by Mercy Me, to several items
    fun to watch but that I wouldn't want to see happen at Calvary!)

    Friday, March 2, 2007

    Called to Full-Time Ministry

    I can't really put a date on in, but sometime recently I became a full-time minister. 'Became' isn't the right word - perhaps 'realized' is closer to the reality of it. I don't mean that I got ordained, became clergy, or got paid for doing ministry. Rather, God made it clear that I'm His servant, full-time, and that in all things I do I'm to serve people and serve His Kingdom. Christian life isn't separated into convenient compartments. Pastors don't "turn their back on ministry" when they spend time with families. Spirit-led women aren't shirking their duty to the church by cancelling a small group meeting to have coffee with a friend going through rough times.

    How my view of a minister has changed over the years. In my youth, they were 'the guys with white collars who can't have any fun.' In college they were 'hypocrites'. As a brand-new Christian they were elite holy heroes, by invitation only. Later I started to understand about the 'priesthood of believers' in which we all have a role in ministry, although some of us only part-time. Now I know that my calling is no less real or important than for professional clergy - every Christian's call (to live in a way that honors God and follows His will) is unique, even though the situation we are called from and called to will differ for each person (see I Cor 7:17).

    God has 'called' me to be me. No one else can do all the things God has planned for me to do, nor love the people He has given me to love the way I can. Ephesians 2:10 reminds us that "we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (NIV). I like the way it's phrased in 'The Message': "He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing."

    God has placed me in the marriage and family I'm in to serve them. As an adoptive father I enjoy the clarity of a profound truth not understood by most parents: my kids are not mine, they belong to God. They were His before they were born, and will be His after I pass away. Yet it's no accident we're together; God has interwoven our hearts to love and encourage each other, and He has charged me with the unlikely task of demonstrating the love of Christ for them through my actions and words. It would be an absolutely impossible task but for one thing - Christ lives in me!

    God has called me to honor Him and serve people in my job. I'll spend by far more time 'at work' during my life than with any other waking activity. My projects, my co-workers, my choices made at work, have shaped me tremendously thus far. Perenniel student, visiting scientist in India, cancer researcher at Harvard, software architect, vice president in a small business - these positions have trained me, shaped or pressured my worldview, brought me in close contact with hundreds of people loved by God, and provided experience that can be used today to make a difference.

    God has planted in my heart the passions and interests that shape my 'downtime'. I'm a geek, a gamer, an aging quasi-athlete, even a musician (of sorts!). These have led to me form friendships and engage in activities that not only energize me personally, but which put the soul of a person who yearns for God in the life of some folks that have no Christian witness whatsoever, or who have been burned horribly by the 'Church' or people who called themselves Christians.

    Many of these activities seem mundane, but so was Jesus' washing of feet. The question is not how religious are the tasks, venues or people in your life, but whether or not you realize and live out God's call for you to minister - serve God and serve people - in everything you do?

    I still have so much to figure out about what are those good works God has prepared me to do - how I can be most strategic and effective in intentional ministry within the church and community? But by being faithful in whatever assortment of 'little things' He has given me so far, I'm hopeful that He will use me to make a life-changing difference in the lives of my family, church, co-workers and friends, community, and even globally. I can't wait to see what God has got in store for me!

    II Thess. 1:11 - "With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith." (NIV)

    God is calling you to full-time ministry, serving Him in all things at all times, and to live a holy life - one that is set apart for Him.

    Step Up to the Call!

    Thursday, March 1, 2007

    Praise Him Win or Lose

    I woke up and shot out of bed this morning at 4:00 a.m. with the mother-of-all leg cramps. What made this one special was that I pulled my calf muscle last night playing volleyball; putting pressure on the leg or foot was virtually impossible. I literally cried out "Jesus!!!" as if to let Him know His servant was in agony and if He wouldn't mind terribly, would He be willing to consider healing my cramp. In other words, "Help!!!" - the pain was getting worse and I didn't see any way to make it stop. For some reason an unusual thought came to mind in the midst of this... 'Praise Him!' Rather than take the time to debate this with myself, I changed my cry from "Help! Jesus?!" to "Praise Jesus!" The muscle loosened up almost immediately, the cramp disappeared and I sank to the floor continuing to praise Him.

    I knew the movie Facing the Giants had made an impression on me, but I'm thankful it's main message was so clear I was able to apply it under duress - "When we win, we praise Him. When we lose, we still praise Him!" Praise is distinct from thanks. We praise God for who He is, while we thank Him for what He has done. If you're going through a rough time and feel like you have little to be thankful about... praise Him anyway!
    Philippians 4:4-7 (NIV) - Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

    I Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV) - Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

    Wednesday, February 28, 2007

    Book Review - "The Blogging Church"

    (This post concludes this month's focus on blogging as a ministry tool...)

    Book Review - "The Blogging Church" by Brian Bailey with Terry Storch.

    Marketing expert Seth Godin says "Brian Bailey makes two things crystal clear in this book: if you've got a church, then you need to spread your story. And if you need to spread your story, blogs are now an essential tool. Time to pay attention!" Brian has uploaded to Google a video clip about the book. One of the most interesting features of the book is the inclusion of several short chapters by pioneering bloggers such as Robert Scoble, Dave Winer, Kathy Sierra, Guy Kawasaki, as well as leading pastors who have seen the benefit of blogging, such as Mark Driscoll, Tony Morgan, Perry Noble, Greg Surratt, Craig Groeschel and Mark Batterson.

    Brian Bailey is an excellent writer and pioneer of blogging for the benefit of church ministry. Terry Storch has been a member of the leadership team at Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas, where he was influential for many pastors to get started in blogging. He's currently involved in the dynamic multi-site ministry, in Oklahoma City, OK. The preface of the book explains...
    "Blogging is a revolution in communication, community, and authentic conversation; a revolution that churches cannot afford to ignore. Welcome to the blogosphere - the new online home of the curious creature. If you're feeling a little disoriented and having trouble reading the street signs, don't worry, you're holding in your hand the field manual for the blogosphere."
    This is a good summary of the book - it describes why blogging is becoming so important, why it's a powerful tool for churches, followed by practical details on how to actually get started. The chapters in the book are:

    Chapter 1. The Story of Blogging
    Chapter 2. Why Blog?
    Chapter 3. Share News
    Chapter 4. Cast Vision
    Chapter 5. Reach Out
    Chapter 6. Connect your Staff
    Chapter 7. Learn from Others
    Chapter 8. Spread the Word
    Chapter 9. Get Started
    Chapter 10. Build a Better Blog
    Chapter 11. Build a Really Bad Blog
    Chapter 12. Feed your Head: RSS
    Chapter 13. Podcasting
    Chapter 14. Warning Labels
    Chapter 15. Built to Last
    Chapter 16. The One Thing

    Interspersed between these chapters are "Five Questions With..." blogging pastors and ministry websites: Mark Driscoll, Perry Noble, Craig Groeschel, Church Marketing Sucks, Tony Morgan, Greg Surratt, Mark Batterson. These questions focus on how and why they got started and what impact blogging has had on their ministry.

    Overall the book is an excellent mix of why and how. Tips and discussion topics I found most interesting include: Don't bury the good stuff; Who is the blog for; the ten steps to a bad blog; pros and cons of comments; what problem are you trying to solve; what is the return on ministry; share the why behind the what; and, should my church become a blogging church. The final chapter gives some sage advice from several prominent bloggers including Guy Kawasaki, Dave Winer, Kathy Sierra, Robert Scoble and many others.

    The authors have covered a lot of material in 199 pages, and no doubt had to work hard to keep the book focused and brief. As one who likes tons of detail and discussion, I would have loved to see more info on the use of blogs for team and/or individual ministries within the church, as well as discussion about the relationship between blogging and other technology tools for building community and improving communication (e.g. portals, forums, social groups, wikis, video, streaming, and online collaboration tools such as those developed by 37signals). Then again, all this material would be enough for another whole volume.

    If you're trying to figure out whether your church should get involved with blogging, or how to get started in a way that will maximize impact on ministry, "The Blogging Church" by Brian Bailey with Terry Storch is a must-read.

    Larry Baxter - Deacon and IT Ministry Leader, Calvary Baptist Church, West Lafayette, IN.
    (and thanks to this book and encouragement from friends, a new blogger)