Tuesday, August 31, 2010

260, and I'm still happy with that...

Induction has been put on hold for a few days out of necessity.  Justa bunch of stuff going on.  Good news is, even though I haven't been exercising quit as much as I'd been before, no weight is going back on, I still feel good, have more energy, and am optimistic that the progress will continue.

In a few weeks, I fly back to my old home-town, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for my mom's 80th birthday celebration.  I imagine this will be an easier trip than when I was an active vegetarian, that's for sure.  I had been holding out hope that by the time I went back, I'd be 250, but I question whether that'll be the case or not.  I'm fine if it's not.  Honestly.

I'm looking into a gym membership for the winter months.  That may be a better solution than trying to cram a stationary bike and an elliptical machine in this tiny place.  Plus, it'll get me out of the house.  The place I'm inquiring to is about a quarter-mile walk right down the street from me, so I'll have the ability to walk there and back, even if it's crappy out, which it soon will be.  Unfortunately, they're undergoing a major renovation right now, and I don't know when that location will be open again.  The place--One With Heart--is a combo dojo and fitness center.  They're Indonesian-based Tulen.  They also offer Tai Chi, which I'd really like to start doing again.  If the price is right, I think the place could really be a good fit.

I'm thinking about trying to make beef bourguignon out in my smoker grill.  I think the smoky taste and the bourguignon sauce would be awesome together.  Just do one side of the grill as the hot side, and roast everything else in an aluminum pan on the "cool" side.  Could work.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

We interrupt your regularly scheduled blog post...

Just got on the scale before a shower, and was 259.8.  Man, it's been so long since I was in the 25x's!

260! (Induction begins...)

Well, to say that the low-carb thing is working is minimizing it.  And I haven't even been doing it properly.  Well, it's now time to start, all proper-like.  But first, a few pictures.

That strapping lad to the right is me, circa 1982 or '83. I was about 14, and a freshman in high-school.  Tubby my entire life, this was me at my most healthy.  Ever.  I was playing freshman football (nose-guard / defensive end) until I tweaked my knee / ACL.  I never got to play an actual game under lights, but the exercise and weight-training helped get me in the best shape in my life up to that point.  I was also in swing choir, and was doing a lot of dancing.  Additionally, we had a 24' above ground swimming pool in our back yard.  I swam daily.

This pool is a very formative part of my life's picture.  Shortly after this photo was taken (on July 31st, 1983) I dove "wrong" into that very pool and impacted the bottom with my full body mass directly on my head, shattering my C4 and dislocated my C5 vertebrate.  Instantly paralyzed, I drowned.  That incident is a different story for a different time, but it lays the groundwork for the next 27 years of my life.  I went from a BMI of about 16 to 26 or so in a matter of weeks as muscles atrophied and lack of mobility quickly converted muscle tissue to fat.

To say that I've struggled with my weight since then is such an understatement that it's almost laughable.  The short form is this: I have always comforted myself with food.  Always.  And the years and decades that followed only saw that coping mechanism grow and grow.  Frankly, it grew in exactly the same proportion that my gut did.

Fast forward a few decades. It's now 2008.  I'm a vegan, and have been for three years.  At one point I was a 290lb vegan.  Now, I want to make this very clear: veganism is great, and practicing it really helped me understand food better, and it also helped me sharpen a few very useful cooking and baking skills.  So I want to reinforce that it wasn't veganism or vegetarianism that kept me fat.  It was me alone who did that.  This picture is me at the lowest weight I'd been at since highschool: 253 or thereabouts.  I'd been dieting (low-fat LCD) and exercising pretty regularly, including some pretty strenuous back-yard and construction work on the house and yard that my then-wife and I'd just moved into.  I was pretty happy about things, and about my progress, although I'd slowed in the weight-loss department recently due to a bit of a carb-laden blowout 40th birthday weekend in San Francisco.  Some upsetting personal news when I got back put me into a bit of an emotional shock, and obliterated my appetite.  I went from 258 to 253 in about a week.  The strife resolved, and I relaxed and started feeling a more normal appetite return.

I'd held a goal of hitting 250 for quite a while, so getting this close was a near-victory in and of itself.  And what does one do when victory seems within sight?  Why celebrate, of course!  So, I started getting lazy (or more correctly, I started eating a more reasonable amount of calories again, since frankly I'd been starving myself up until that point).  Refined carbs were back, and the weight started coming back on.  Quickly.  I'd missed my goal by three pounds,  Three pounds!  I'd never been that close to that goal in my adult life.  I got close.

Then life changed.

In late 2008, a slew of things happened that made life vastly more challenging than it'd ever been before.  My estranged step-daughter returned from California with a raging heroin addiction, and came to me for help in getting clean (something I fortunately or unfortunately have skill in myself).  My relationship with my then-wife had been in a state of flux for the better part of six months, and this was presenting its own challenges.  In early November of that year, I asked my partner for a divorce.  While amicable as could be hoped for, it was still emotionally devastating.  I was now 41, with an addicted kid, heart-wounded, unemployed, with no prospects, no resources, and very little direction.  I remembered "celebrating" Christmas eve (not that I observe Christmas) by eating a half-pound of brie, a quarter pound of smoked gouda, and a box of crackers.  By myself.  It got worse from there.

I stayed in the house with my step-daughter (hereafter referred to simply as "my daughter" because I consider her so and always will), slowly going through the accumulated crap in my life, trying to figure out what in the hell to do next, where to go, how to live, and getting progressively more depressed.

In January of 2009, I applied for residency at Great Vow Zen Monastery (the monastery my sangha operates in northwestern Oregon).  I thought this was a brilliant idea.  As a resident, you are only required to contribute towards the cost of your food (about $500 a month).  I could afford that.  Cheaper than renting my own place.  It'd give me time to work on my issues, my stress, and my zen practice (which had become increasingly more important to me the year prior), lose some of the weight I'd put back on, and possibly save some money.  I applied for residency before I'd ever gone on retreat.  That was a less-than-skillful decision on my part.

In early March of 2009, I went on weekend retreat.  This retreat--Beginner's Mind--while calendar short, was long on experience.  One thing this retreat taught me was that I was in no way, shape or form ready for monastic life at Great Vow.  I was back up to about 290, and simply couldn't cut it.  I remember the heart palpitations as I walked down to the dining hall for breakfast.  I remember the constant sweating, the dizziness as I stood up from my chair, the near-black-out I had after walking kinhin.  At the closing circle of the retreat two days later, when it was my turn to share any insights I'd had, I shared this: "I know I'm not ready to live here.  Not yet, anyway..."

-To Be Continued-

Friday, August 27, 2010

Oh, and one or two other things...

Firstly, I just popped on the scale, and the number was 261.6!  Admittedly, I haven't had anything to eat today except a mocha, but... ummm... whatevah!

And something I wanted to relay from last night.  I had a Communications Team meeting yesterday to discuss progress on our "new" website.  It was at a local Lebanese restaurant down the street from the zendo.  I have to pat myself on the back for this one.  I was soooooo good.  Everyone was eating hummus, pita, falafel, tabouli, etc.  I ordered a Mediterranean chicken salad.  I knew it would be hard sitting mere inches away from all those carbohydrates, so I preemptively rewarded myself by ordering an additional chicken skewer.  I even refrained from Turkish coffee (which has nearly as much sugar as coffee).  I still felt sated.  I left full.  Then off to the zendo.

After zazen and service, I cut out just a touch early (mostly to avoid the "tea & cookies" portion of the evening).  I was sitting at the bus stop across the street from the Dharma center.  A friend walked by on her way to her car, and sat down on the bench next to me.

"I can't place it, but something looks different about you?"

"Well, it's not my hair-cut," (zen joke: I shave my head).  "It's probably that I've dropped nearly thirty pounds since July 1st" I replied.

"That's IT!  Your face looks different!  You look great!"

We went on to discuss the whole critter issue.  She mentioned that she was considering adding meat back into her diet as well.

It's nice when people notice.  It's even nicer to know why they notice, and moreover, that they at times face the same quandaries you do.

The truth is, we all do.

Finally, some movement! (262-ish)...

Hehehe.  I said "movement".  The constipation is still here, but I'm back on psyllium-husk therapy, and that's... uhhh... "helping things along" as it were.  Bit of a drag, though, insofar as my genera-mucil stuff is CHOCK-A-BLOCK FULLA SUGAR!!!!  $^@$!!  I'll investigate tablet-form this week.

It's pretty nice to get on the scale and see that this is actually working again.  After having been stalled at roughly 264-5 since August 8th, I was getting a bit discouraged.  That's only natural, I suppose.  And it was complicated and exacerbated by this ethical dilemma regarding a diet based on critters.  I won't say that I'm not still a tad conflicted.  I also won't say that I'm not enjoying eating meat.  I'm only comfortable with being one kind of hypocrite at a time, please.

So, I made the final jump.  A few days ago, I ate beef for the fist time in nearly seven-or-so years.  Up until very recently (even post-LC) I swore that I'd never eat beef again.  I find the US beef industry to be one of the most hideous, insidious, hell-born pain machines ever to blight the Earth that Joseph Mengele didn't have an active hand in.  I still do.  But I've never been one to say that my former vegetarianism was a result of being repulsed by taste.  Truth is, animals taste good, and that includes beef.  But quite frankly, I also do firmly believe that there is BSE in the USA, and that it's here to stay.  But you can avoid exposure by buying and eating organic, grass-fed beef (which I do anyhow).  BSE is caused and spread by forcing cows to be cannibals, and feeding them cattle offal mixed in to their feed.  I refuse to participate in that cycle, and decided to buy two very nice organic sirloins for my girl and myself.  Certified Organic (Oregon Tilth) inherently means "all vegetarian feed" in the case of beef.  I will say that it tasted divine.  Check that: $^@*ing awesome.  To say anything else would be a bold-faced lie.  Frankly, I think that would be a greater breach of precepts than the eating of meat itself.

The whole issue has raised so many challenging points of practice for me.  I realize that this period of my life--this whole weight-loss issue--is really the true core of my practice, critter-eating included.  Ahiṃsā is something that is so dear to me, yet for years and years, I haven't had the ability or willingness (or, frankly, the guts) to focus that light upon myself.

Non-harming?  I wonder if there is a Pali word for "non-self-harming"?  I have been killing myself softly with good intentions about food for years.

May all animal-beings achieve enlightenment, even before me...

Monday, August 23, 2010

More on the Great Matter...

Last night (Sunday) was sanzen, or "private interview with the teacher" night at my zendo.  This is a very important part of my practice.  I'd go so far as to say that it's the core of my zen practice currently.  I took the food/meat issue to my teacher.  In sanzen, I told him that I'd made this decision, and that it was helping me with the weight (something he'd already encouraged me to deal with).  I told him of how conflicted I felt.  Guilt.  Hypocrisy.  My teacher has been a vegetarian (not vegan; do not attempt to mess with sensei's cheese!) for decades.

Now understand something: I was not there for any kind of approval or permission.  I was there to ask him if he had any advice or tools to help me deal with this feeling of internal conflict.  He immediately started to relay the story of His Holiness--The Dalai Lama and his cows and chickens.  HH wanted to help as many animals as he could.  He had a farm within sight of where he lived, and wanted to ease suffering, so he bought all the cows and chickens in order to keep them from being eaten.  He very quickly realized that he had--through good motivation--made the situation much worse because now he had hundreds of animals to see tended to, and no one to do it.  If I remember rightly, many of the animals suffered and died due to unskilled care, and went to waste because of it, and some beings went hungry because of his "kind" act.

My sensei looked at me and said essentially this: The key is to take suffering and turn it into something positive.  No energy in the Universe is ever wasted.  It all moves forward.  That suffering--farmed animals--is undeniable.  But if you are skillful with that energy, you can transform that energy into something positive by way of your own health.  That way, you relieve suffering (your own), and you affect the karma of those animals in a positive way, too, because while their lives may have been forced into existence, their deaths would not have been completely in vain.  That is a noble practice.

That's still hard to swallow (pardon the expression) but I do see the point, and the validity of it.

So now I'm going to walk down to the store and get some hardwood charcoal, some more bacon and a roasting chicken to do Vietnamese-style on the smoker grill.  Looks like a dharma friend may be by for dinner tonight.  He's a line-cook at a local restaurant.  I checked if he was a vegetarian, and he said "No not strict.  Mainly due to work.  Gotta taste what I cook."

Sunday, August 22, 2010

264 (But SOMETHING has changed)...

Well, no super weight-loss.  Sorta plateau'd, but I'm not concerned really.  Most of my clothes are starting to fall off, and belts are once again rather important.  I like that.

The change.  In one of my recent posts, I talked about strugling with the decission to eat animal flesh again, beyond fish.

Well, I am.  At least for now.

About a week or so ago, I tried turkey bacon.  I picked turkey bacon specifically so my girlfriend (who's an observant, reform Jew) could have some, too.  It was good.  I didn't faint from ecstasy or anything, but it was tasty.  Then this past Wednesday, I made the decission to open up the floodgates and let chicken and pork back in.  Pork was a less painful (for me) choice.  I got some good, smoked-cured pepper bacon.  Had it.  It was good.  Again, no spontaneous orgasm, but it tasted good.

There's been a ground-swell of a movement in the world--and here in Portland--regarding bacon.  It's nearly cult-like.  T-shirts, songs, festivals.  All about bacon.  There was that hideous KFC concoction, the "Big Infarction" (or whatever they called that monstrosity) that was nothing but fried chicken, bacon and cheese.  Hell, we even have a punk vegan bakery here in town that has perfected a vegan bacon doughnut (which is in and of itself a clone of another Portland icon: the VooDoo Doughnut Bacon Maple Bar).

The Cult of Bacon reaches in deep, grabs people by the chitlins, and apparently won't let go.  Personally, I blame Anthony Bourdain for this.  But even cynical über gastronomes like Bourdain and Gordon Ramsay wind up being affected by the reality of the meat-making process.  When you are faced with it personally, you can't not be.  This is a life, and it would much rather live in its environment than have one of its muscles land on your plate for dinner.  So it must be killed.

I have had some hard lessons over the years about food, animals, life and death.  I won't go into them here and now, but suffice it to say that I have killed many, many animals over my lifetime.  When I was a deer hunter, when I was a small-game hunter, when I fished.  And beyond.  Each and every death has affected me, and I carry the karma of those actions up to--and beyond--this very day.  I am mindful of it.  I will be for the rest of my life, be it a fat vegetarian life or a thinner meat-eating life.  Death is very important to me, in a number of ways, and I can't, and won't allow myself to ignore, or be desensitized to it.  Not for humans.  Not for animals.  This decision has been very hard for me.  I have literally agonized over it for weeks.  Some would say that's silly.

They can kiss my rump-roast.

I was chatting on-line with a close friend and dharma brother the other day, and I told him about my decision.
Me: Gotta say, eating meat again is really weird...

Dharma Brother: Yeah. It takes some getting used to. I know you're being conscious about it.
That acknowledgment took me by surprise, but I really, deeply appreciated it.  Someone whom I really care for, look up to and respect, without prompting told me that they recognize that I'm different in my approach to this situation than I once was.  That my heart is in the right place, and is engaged in the decision, and moreover, that this decision is hard for me.  I wasn't looking for a pat on the back.  I wasn't looking for consolation.  But the recognition of the fact of the moment was very helpful to my mind and spirit.  This comes as no surprise to a Zen practitioner.  That's what we do.  That's what we're all about: The recognition of the fact of the moment.

On that same bacon-fetching trip, I also bought some chicken sausages.  I had them over the weekend with my girlfriend as roll-ups on low-carb flat bread.  Again, good.  Again, no loss of control or flesh-eating Nirvana.

Yesterday, I took the big jump and purchased some frozen chicken meat.  Thighs and breasts.  I haven't eaten chicken meat in... six years.  I basted them in low-carb barbecue sauce (a southern mustard and vinegar "mopping" sauce) and did them over mesquite, pecan and cedar wood on my smoker, along with a Normandy mix of veggies.  I sat outside, looking at the thigh meat on my plate.  I said my meal prayer with a bit more solemnity than normal.  I looked at the meat before I cut it.  I looked at it after I cut it, on my fork, examining the sinew, the muscle, the tissues.  I prayed that the life this animal lived at least got it further down the path towards enlightenment.  I thanked it for its nutrition to my body, and acknowledged that it had died.  Not just died, but was raised and killed.  For ME.

Then I tasted it.

This tasted wonderful.  Better than the bacon.  Better than the sausage.  Very, very good.

I worked on processing the guilt I felt.  The niggling feeling of hypocrisy.  I was a happy vegetarian.  I was glad that I was reducing suffering in the world.

All suffering but my own.

I will be a vegetarian again.  It's important to me.  But right now, I need to take some drastic steps to bring my life back into balance.  I'm 42, disabled, and morbidly obese.  If I don't lose this weight--for real this time--I'll be dead far earlier than I should be.  I have just finally found a trajectory for my life.  I will not be able to follow this path to its fullest if I'm dead from a stroke at 54 or a heart attack at 56.

So I am asking the animals for help.  This time, though, there is a change.  A real change.  I am no longer willing to be numb to the grave importance of this Great Matter.  I refuse to blind myself to the truth of this very complex and nuanced issue.

I am okay with being looked at as a hypocrite right now.  In the end, this is about me.  It has to be.  I will always respect vegetarians and vegans.  It is without question the most compassionate and conscientious way to live and nourish yourself.  But it is the greatest demonstration of personal strength to admit when you need help.  I most certainly do.

The low carb diet is working.  I'm not dropping weight left and right, but I know I'm building muscle and converting fat.  I need that so desperately right now.  I haven't been able to walk as much as I was, yet I'm not only not putting weight on even though I'm eating more, but it's still trickling off.  This will be very helpful when winter comes and I can't go walking outside like I am now.  I need to re-arrange my apartment so I can get a stationary bike back in here.  I can't let circumstance or the environment stop this process.

Not until I'm done.

May all Beings be at ease, and may they forgive this dumb monkey for being so weak as to need their help again.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

And suddenly... 264.8!!

Well, it's been an interesting interval between now and last post.  Having been stuck and stalled at 269-270 for a while, I'll admit that I was pretty damned discourage.  Yeah, I know that I was mostly stuck due to the "starving off the first few stone" thing, but it was still quite the downer: no energy and no progress.  But I stuck with it, didn't fall off, fall apart and fall on my face with it.  That alone was encouraging.

But today when I got on the scale, I nearly jumped back off in glee-fueled shock!  264.8!  And with what I've been eating?  It boggles the mind.  Cheese and veg omelets.  Cheese.  A bit more cheese.  Mocha with Half & Half?  Salad: would you like cheese on that?  Why yes, please...

Now I haven't been going bonkers with it.  God knows not like I used to.  I buy really high-quality cheese (that hasn't changed) but I eat a very moderate amount.  Admittedly, a "moderate amount" of cheese on this diet is probably a bit more than for other folks, but to have gone from a controlled starve to eating eggs & cheese?  It's like I'm being rewarded by heaven's kitchen!

But now, onto the topic of... bacon.

I decide to buy a pack of turkey bacon (I'm not ready to eat the real thing yet).  It was... okay.  I'm a bit underwhelmed, frankly.  I think if I'm gonna eat bacon, I may check with my farmer brother in Arkansas and see if he can send me some of his stuff.  I'd consider eating that.  I suppose.  Dunno.  This is a way touchy subject, I guess.

I bought two really nice sockeye salmon fillets that I plan on smoking in my Char-Griller tomorrow.  I may wind up having a date tomorrow night (JB) and she's ultra-low-carb as well.  Then again she hasn't been the most reliable date-planner, so she may not be here after all.  Either way, they get smoked and cooked on cedar planks.  Probably going to do the dijon mustard treatment to them.  I haven't had a salmon like that in... years and years.

I have really stuck to the walking, in spite of my reluctance to do it.  Just like zazen, the best time to walk is right when you admit that you really don't wanna!  It's trite but completely true.  Which reminds me; I need to sit zazen now.

Anyway, there's the report.  PROGRESS!!!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

269 and holding...

Well, I've hit the wall a bit, and in a number of areas.  Been eating a bit more, and added back in a carb or two (sprouted grain English muffin in the morning, and a mocha).  Haven't really put anything back on, but have stalled at losing, even with the walking.

Which has me on the horns of a dilemma.

And I don't like it.

At all.

I really, REALLY need to lose this weight.  And the faster I get down to 250, the better I'll feel (although that number is not my final goal number.  The real, long-term goal is about 200lbs, which by most "ideal weight calcs I can find is somewhere between 155-165 lbs, which to me seems kinda laughable, anyway...)  As I said, I've hit the wall.  No real movement for about a week.  I know why.

I shook off this stone-plus since July 1st with a controlled starvation.  Now before you get all uppity about it, yes I know that starvation is bad.  However, I needed to get a buncha weight off fast in order for me (my knees and hips mostly) to actually be able to exercise a bit (he says whilst typing and not walking like he needs to do yet today).  I also knew full well that it was not sustainable, but I got this head-start in place, and now it's time to find an approach that is doable for the next few months, not mere weeks.

I have been a pretty ardent vegetarian for almost eight years, and was pretty strictly vegan for about three.  This is for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I believe that the entire meat industry is damaging to our country, and our world.  I have seen the cruelty that is inflicted upon animals, and I've seen it up-close and personal.  At times, it's even been at my own hand.  So I have very good reasons why I haven't eaten animals for so long.  However, I have found a way to be a fat vegetarian, and even a fat VEGAN.

A few months ago, I added home-cooked fish back into my diet for protein and health reasons.  I'd eaten sushi, but backed off that due to rice carbs.  But I knew that I needed a dense source of protein every once in a while, so I started making Ahi tuna steaks.  It's helped a lot, and every time I eat one, I'm hyper-mindful that it was once a swimming, living being.

I'm starting to understand that I've been doing things very wrong for a rather long time.  I have been treating carbohydrates like they don't matter, because it's easy to find vegetarian and vegan carbs.  But they are carbs, and I'm now really getting my head around the fact that--for my entire life--carbs are the issue.  They always have been.

I have a friend that's on a very-low-carb diet that helps induce ketosis.  When you're in a state of controlled ketosis, your body burns fat instead of muscles -via- keytones.  It's pretty restrictive, but at the same time, it does work.  Now I'd always been very dubious about diets like this because you're putting yourself in a state of unbalance.  But I've been doing some research and some soul(less) searching lately, and I realized a few things, namely that I'm already in an unbalanced state.  I am, and I have been nearly my whole life.

Let's look at an example: let's say you have a stick (like a dowel) about 4' tall, and you hang it from a string off a tree limb.  If the air is still, it will just dangle there, nearly motionless; a pendulum at the bottom of its arc.  If you wanted it to be completely motionless, all you would need to do is reach out your hand a bit and hold it there, stilling it even further.

Now let's say that you shove that stick hard, making it swing wildly.  It will do as gravity and physics dictates and swing to and fro for a good long while.  If you want that balance-point achieved again, a mere motion of your hand won't do it.  You'll need to really reach out and chase that stick down and bring it back into alignment.  Read differently: you'll need more extreme measures to bring it back into a balanced state.

The short story here is this: I am considering adding meat back into my diet, and following a very controlled low-carb diet for a while.  For now, I'll stay with fish, but I'm starting to consider fowl & poultry again.  I am NOT, however, to the point of considering red meat.  I just don't think I can do it.  I don't think I could live with myself if I did.  This is an awful place to be, these horns.  But I know that, in snagging a line from one of my most beloved cartoons "Desperate times call for desperate desperateness."

Actually, I plan on talking to my Roshi about this.  More as it develops.  But tonight, it's tuna steaks for dinner...