Compassion – Sermon for 7/9

The texts for today’s message are Romans 7:15-25a and Matthew 11:28-30

A couple months ago I read, The Hungry Brain: Outsmarting the Instincts That Make Us Overeat.” Sounds wonderful for leisure time reading. Right? It is a fascinating book that presents much history of obesity research in a very interesting and readable manner. Parts of it were also downright depressing.

I’m going to share one small part, and try not to get too technical…about the satiety factor. The author, Stephan J. Guyenet, describes this as one of the ways in which our brains regulate weight. For us non-scientists, an analogy is the heating and cooling system in a house. When the thermostat indicates a low temperature, the heater kicks in. When it becomes too hot, on comes the air conditioner. This system works very well to regulate body temperature but when it comes to fat it is as if our “home thermostat has very good heat to prevent the temperature from dropping, but weak air conditioning to prevent the temperature from rising.” (133)

His analogy works well for us here in Oxnard, where most of us don’t have, and where we usually don’t need air conditioning.

How this all works in relation to body fat and weight is that as the body fat percentage goes up, our bodies adjust themselves and begin thinking that this extra fat is necessary. This then makes it incredibly hard to lose and keep weight off, with our brains “undermining our conscious desire to be lean and healthy.”

When I read those words, “undermining our conscious desire…” I immediately thought of Paul’s letter to the Romans.

15I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

It always seemed to me that Paul was describing an inner battle. Where he wanted to do the right thing, but something else frustrated his efforts. Amazingly, through science, we now know that some of our struggle is because of our brain.

Sometimes there is no amount of willpower that will help. Guyenet touched on the show The Biggest Loser. Do you remember it? I watched it for a few seasons. For me the inspiration was towards hard physical exercise. Anyway, a previous contestant said, “NBC never does a reunion. Why? Because we’re all fat again.”

This is very sad… and from a scientific perspective, not surprising.

15I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

Thankfully there are things we can do to live a healthy life. For all of us, this struggle is a reminder to have compassion for one another. Having compassion for one another is how we love one another.

In the greater context of the letter, Paul is writing about The Law…biblical law and even some natural law. The law is at the basis of his struggle. He’s also writing to churches that are having trouble working together…they seemed to be having a struggle over who was the best…over who was better at following the law.

For Paul, its obvious that the law has merit, while in his experience it is also burdensome. In one sense he’s describing the struggle in doing what he thinks he should do, but then discovering that rather than following the law he had actually sinned.

This all sounds rather circular until we remember that Paul, in his efforts to enforce the law, persecuted Christians. This is his sin…committed in the act of following, of attempting to enforce, the law. His sin was, in this case was a failure to love, maybe even a failure to show compassion.

I think that he discovered that the ends do not justify the means…in that love of neighbor is more important than for people to live according to our interpretation of the law. This is not easy to figure out…as we all have our ways of judging neighbor.

What can we do? I like the gospel text that is assigned for today. Jesus invites those listening (and us) to take his yoke, for his burden is light and he will give rest. The yoke (that farm implement that guides animals) meant, the law.

Jesus summarized the law: love God, love neighbor.

I think that for Paul, and for us, love of neighbor includes compassion. Because we all need it. We all fall short in so many little ways…and it turns out that some of our struggles are because our brains seem to have minds of their own.

One last thing…in regards to the struggle that so many have with overeating in today’s culture. It turns out that there is a way to confront the issue. It’s not easy but its not completely hard either, and that is to eat food that is not processed…I think of it as eating the food closer to the way God created it.

Living a life of love for God and neighbor is not always easy. In the next few sections of Romans, we’ll explore the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives of faith. Meanwhile may you experience the love and compassion that are yours through Jesus and may we all share this love and compassion with one another.

Amen.

Slow & Steady – Racing Weight Week 4

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A friend gave me a bike so I’m getting used to this in between runs!

In completing 4 weeks of a more focused effort on losing those last few pounds, I’ve remembered a few things.

Weight loss is not fast, nor is it easy.
Unfortunately many of us expect both. The weight loss industry perpetuates this lie with adds that promise quick results…for a fee. Fad diets also promise quick results, but are often unhealthy or unrealistic. I’ve tried many fad diets over the years. I’ve also given Weight Watchers hundreds of $$$$ over the years. But neither approach resulted in long term, healthy weight loss.

In much reading over the years…and with much experimentation, I’ve concluded that the best approach to weight loss is to expect slow progress while focusing on a sustainable, enjoyable, healthy lifestyle.

What does this mean for me?
Regular, vigorous exercise. Eating healthy, which includes:

  • The occasional use of a food diary. It is important to check food quantities as well as quality on occasion. It’s amazing how portions can slowly grow, while unhealthy food is consumed more and more.
  • A conscious choice to eat a wide variety of healthy food. Sometimes people will say, “I can’t eat carbs.” So, they won’t eat something healthy, like fruit. I ask them, “how many people have you seen become obese by eating too many apples or too much watermelon?” A good piece of advice that I’ve seen in many places is to eat the rainbow. I love rainbows! And I love eating a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetable.
  • Cutting back on unhealthy, processed, calorie dense food. If I were to stray into fad diet territory I would do it here and say, just cut this crap out entirely. But this is not realistic. So if you have a favorite processed something my advice is to make it a very special treat and only eat it occasionally. Go back to the previous point…if you’re hungry eating an apple and natural peanut butter will be more filling and better for you than say, a bag of Doritos or a cookie. Something I discovered is that when all the processed sugar is gone, real fruit tastes wonderful. Try it!
  • Eating enough. If you are constantly hungry, you won’t succeed…and you will easily overeat when crappy food is place before you.
  • Last, think of it as a life style and enjoy yourself, which means don’t deprive yourself as social events.

Slow is ok
I discovered these tips while very slowly losing 80+ pounds. If you can focus on the journey and enjoy what you are doing each day, you’ll be able to look back at your success. I probably lost about 30 pounds a year, over a few years. Now that I’m trying to tackle those last pounds I need to remind myself of my own tips!

How Was the 4 Week Focus?
After 4 weeks of my renewed focus I lost 5.6 pounds. As I reported last week my other gauge of % body fat is off in that my scale now thinks I’m a bit dehydrated (which I’m not), so it had an increase in this number…but I don’t believe it and will write on that later. And, I had at least one day (sometimes 2) each week of social eating and drinking.

Now the intensive focus will end, but I will continue to eat healthy…because that is what I do. As my training miles increase, I will increase carbs in my diet. When I feel that maybe I’m out of control, I’ll use the food diary…because it is a helpful tool for the occasional check. I’ll report back periodically.

Last, if you are looking for some good advice I recommend a couple books by Matt Fitzgerald, Racing Weight and The Endurance Diet. I read these recently (after losing my 80 pounds) and was pleased to read that I had done mostly what he recommended. They are great resources.

You can read the previous entries on this series here:  Racing Weight – Getting ThereOOPS – Racing Weight, Week 1Ummm – Racing Weight Week 2Really?!?! Racing Weight Week 3

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A few years ago…

Ummm – Racing Weight Week 2

I weigh myself most mornings, which is a good or bad practice, depending on whose advice you listen to. It’s generally helpful for me. Over the last couple years, as I’ve lost lots of weight, I’ve recorded it whenever I reached a lower number. Of course with the daily fluctuations that we all have it might not stay at that lower number, but I just didn’t record the increase. It might go up for a few days…it might go down. Over time the trend was always down. If seeing these daily fluctuations cause stress, then a daily weigh-in is not for you.

Last week my body seemed to be melting away the pounds.
Monday: 169.4
Tuesday: 168.2
Thursday: 167.4
Friday: 166.6
Saturday: 166

That’s a weight loss of 3.4 pounds! Wow! And totally unrealistic! But part of me was whoohoo…at this rate I’ll get down to my best racing weight in no time at all.

Then Sunday came. Sunday with Father’s Day. Sunday with a family BBQ and appetizers and margaritas and dessert. I sat away from the appetizer table which means I ate less than years past. I filled my margarita glass with water between drinks…and didn’t have that much. I took less food than I have at previous family gatherings. I only sampled the dessert. At the end of the BBQ I was full…but not stuffed and that felt good.

I got on the scale this morning and seemed to erase all of last week, checking in at 169.6 – a weight gain of .2 for the week. Hmmm. I would certainly not have recorded this weight except that I chose to make myself accountable on this blog. My % body fat went down a very small fraction, so there’s that!

Here is where wisdom gained through experience is so helpful (and hopefully is helpful for you too).

  • I know that I didn’t gain 3+ pounds in one day! Nor did I really lose that much over the course of last week. It is somewhere in the middle and will eventually be reflected on the scale. If you are trying to lose weight, don’t be discouraged by “a bad day,” just continue on in your healthy choices.
  • Self worth is not reflected in a number on the scale. Don’t allow your weight (whatever it is) to be anything other than a measurement. Your true worth is reflected in the truth that you are a beloved child of God and are worthy.
  • Participating in life is a good thing…and that means family parties. It’s ok to not deprive yourself of “celebration food and drink.” You have the freedom to indulge, just as you have the freedom to resume your healthy eating and exercising habits as soon as the party is over.

And my last thought… I went to a strength training class this morning, followed by a nice little run along the beach. Both were easy…both felt great and both remind me that the ability to move is so much more important than a number on a scale.

OOPS – Racing Weight, Week 1

How was my first week of my renewed efforts to get at my best racing weight? (for context you can read racing weight)

The first realization was that I had allowed some not-so-healthy processed food to creep into my diet. This is mostly in the form of bread, Belvita Breakfast Cookies and chocolate. As I look back its easy to see the unhealthy progression. First, I would eat these (dunked in coffee of course!) before a long run. Then I justified the sugar in the morning before a medium length run. Which led me to justify enjoying this treat with my coffee in the morning of any day that I was running. And then of course that led to, “its all good!” I can eat these every morning. Who needs oatmeal?249433_p

And that my friends is how we so easily head down the wrong road…with eating, or drinking, or any other bad habits.

So week 1 encompassed a return to the healthy eating habits that got me where I am. Will I ever eat Belvita again? Sure…but not now.

Week 1 was also the time to temporarily return to a food diary and a focus on fewer calories. Some days were a bit difficult because I seemed to be hungry all day…some of that is psychological and some is true hunger.

In the end I lost 1.2 lbs and .3% body fat. I must confess that this was disappointing. Shouldn’t all that hard work should show something tremendous? I spent the rest of the day reminding myself that this is a slow journey. Its funny how easy it is to forget!

What about you? When have you allowed something to creep back into your life?

Racing Weight – Getting There

A brief background. I mentioned in previous posts that I started running in an effort to lose weight (Not Always about Speed and About Sugar). It worked as I’d lost approximately 80 pounds by September 2016 (this has been a multi-year journey). I say approximately because I don’t know my heaviest weight…at a certain point it’s depressing to get on a scale. Now it’s time to start again.

It’s about running. Want to run faster? Then lose some weight! Of course this advice is only true for those who have excess weight…like me. I can also attest to the accuracy of this as my speed improves as my weight has dropped. At one point I thought that “all I needed to run a Boston Qualifier was to lose more weight.” When I started working with my coach I told home that I’d read that I’d gain 2 seconds per mile for every pound lost. So if I lost 20 pounds I’d run 40 seconds faster per mile and would qualify. Sounds simple, right? He was a bit skeptical and suggested that I focus on training. I focused on both.

But then I stopped losing weight last fall…and I was training for a marathon, followed by training for another marathon. I began more intensive strength trading and have noticed changes – good changes – in my body. So, I decided to measure my body fat percentage as a better measure and with my new digital high tech scale I immediately “gained” 4 pounds. Of course it wasn’t real but rather a different measure. It also let me know my body fat was 28.5%. In the final weeks before Mountains2Beach I decided that staying off the scale would be better for my morale.

The good news is that I qualified for Boston (story here M2B recap). A couple days after the race I weighed myself and discovered a 4 pound weight gain, for real this time. Yikes! I could have been depressed but instead I thought, “how cool that it was my training that got me there.”

4-6 Weeks of Focussed Eating. Now, I have a bit of a break and have decided to put a little renewed focus on losing those last pounds. How? By doing what I did to lose the first 80… eat real food and not too much of it. I will also target a daily 400-500 calorie deficit. This is not a permanent change. The permanent change is the eating real food and not too much of it.

I want to emphasize something important here…and that is that I am currently happy with my weight, with my size. If I hadn’t become an endurance athlete I would have been happy to maintain here. But I think I have more speed in me and in addition to training hard, I’d like to see what I can do when I get to my optimal racing weight. There’s also the added benefit of less weight for my body to carry.

It’s interesting that I’ve successfully done this previously…and I’ve successf maintained weight loss… and yet I’m a bit nervous as to whether I’ll be able to stick with it for my 4-6 week. So I share here. And I’ll let you know how it goes.

Gratitude 1/27

Yesterday was a very stressful day, starting with some ugly family drama from my childhood. Historically I would have dealt with this stress by eating and eating and eating some more. This was how I dealt with stress and how I came to weigh 80 pounds more than I do today. Last night I realized that it never occurred to me to eat in this way…progress!

Today I am personally thankful for: a long walk at the beach with a good friend (way better form of self care than food); the reminder that healthy boundaries are always a good thing; the absolutely beautiful weather yesterday.

Recovery is training 

Today is 4 days post marathon and I’ll go out as soon as the sun rises for a 2 mile run. I can’t remember the last time I went on a 2 mile run. If I were making my own schedule I’d probably go 4… and go too far next week… and then hurt myself. I know this because I’ve done this. I’ve learned that one of the most beneficial aspects of working with a coach is to not do too much. Recovery is that important first step in preparing for marathon number 6!

Today I am personally thankful for: good coaching; getting back to work today after a restful vacation (yes, one can run a marathon and still experience a vacation as restful); chicken soup…it’s what’s for dinner tonight.