The New Health Plan: 3-Month Progress

March 12, 2018 was the lowest health point of my life thus far. I weighed in at 215 pounds and my blood pressure was through the roof. Medication would be necessary but hopefully not permanent. My life began anew that very day. Physical training became a daily requirement. My diet underwent a dramatic change as well.

Weekdays now begin at 4 AM. I splash water on my face, brush my teeth, and lace up my workout shoes. My wife purchased a Beachbody On Demand (BBOD) subscription and that became the daily regimen.

In March, I trained with Chris Downing. His program was Shift Shop. Think of a football training camp and adapt it to daily 40-minute sessions. By the end of the month, it was clear that a change was happening. My stamina was better despite the lack of visual changes.

I reacquainted myself with an old workout friend in April. His name, Shaun T. His program, Insanity Max 30. This is the shorter version of Shaun T’s well-known Insanity, which I completed 5 years prior. Like the original, it uses only your body for resistance exercises in a non-stop cardio workout.

There was a visual change happening by May when I switched to Tony Horton’s P90 (not P90X). P90 is slightly lighter work than the “X” version. Had I started with this program back in March, it would have been a nice way to ease into the new daily grind but at this point in the process, it was too slow-paced.

June marked three months since my new life began and it was the month of my doctor’s follow-up. The month’s exercise program was Core de Force: an intense program derived from boxing and MMA training. Combined with my weekly visit to a boxing gym, it quickly became my favorite workout of the BBOD assortment.

I adapted relatively easily to the exercise part of the health plan but the diet has been a bit tougher to follow. The weekdays are easy enough: yogurt for breakfast, salad for lunch, and a low-carb, high-veggie homemade dinner. The weekends tend to include more takeout and meals on the run but we as a family try to choose healthier options, or at least higher-quality food than the average fast-food fare.

The morning of my doctor’s appointment finally arrived and I could not help but feel nervous. I sat in the waiting room breathing calmly to stay in control until my name was called. Thankfully, the results were in line with the sacrifices of the previous three months. My blood pressure was down to 130/79; much closer to the 120/80 doctors want to see. As for weight, I came in 20 pounds lighter than when it all began in March.

The health program is now in its second three-month period. Weight loss is now visible and I’m beginning to notice muscle definition. More important than the visual results is a normalization of blood pressure. The goal is to begin to wean off hypertension medication by the end of this period. My determination will certainly be tested by the blistering Los Angeles summer.

Thank You, Anthony Bourdain

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Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential

“I’m not going anywhere. I hope. It’s been an adventure. We took some casualties over the years. Things got broken. Things got lost.

“But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.” —Anthony Bourdain

Friday, June 8: the final morning of my latest business trip. I opened my eyes to a shrieking alarm in a Las Vegas hotel room. I reached for the phone, last night still weighing my body down, and placed my thumb over the virtual snooze button.

A few minutes passed and just before dozing off, the sound of a text message kept me conscious. I could have ignored it and waited for the alarm to start again but something told me it deserved a look. It was my wife.

“Babe, Bourdain killed himself,” the text read.

In an instant, the drinks from the night before were erased. My mind cleared, my heart sank, and my soul ached. This, over a man whose hand I never shook.

I met my wife in late 1997 at the job I took as a freshman to pay for college. Like me, she had immigrated to the United States as a child with her parents, leaving behind the civil war that tore El Salvador apart. Both of us only knew El Salvador through the stories our parents told. Our personalities shaped by the city of Los Angeles and our Salvadoran roots. We grew close quickly and married about a year after we began dating. Three years later, we had our first child.

Of course, being a young couple, reality was far from a paradise. We had no money, worked long hours, and had this beautiful girl to somehow nurture and protect. Our only respite from the daily grind was television.

We came across No Reservations one night in 2005. We both enjoyed the show but to me, it was like a drug. I couldn’t get enough of it. We’d spend hours watching television into the night but I clamored for the times at which the Travel Channel presented Anthony Bourdain’s gastronomical adventures on No Reservations and later on The Layover. Here was this chef who was foul-mouthed, loved to drink, of course worshipped food, and narrated his various life experiences in a beautifully poetic, yet honestly raw manner.

Anthony Bourdain was authentic. There were many television hosts that traveled and tasted food but none like Tony. Having earned his way up through the kitchens of the Jersey Shore in his teens starting out as a dishwasher, he was always seemingly on the same level as his viewers. It didn’t matter, to him or us, that he was a distinguished chef who had seen the world and had opportunities we never did.

Never hiding behind a Travel Channel persona, Bourdain was an open book. He shared various escapades of his life, some hilariously embarrassing, others just regrettable. He was sincere about his battles with heroin and cocaine addiction. I tuned in to watch a flawed individual with a passion for food and a gift for storytelling. Through each episode he provided a seductive account of a chapter of his life and made me feel like I was there alongside him.

Bourdain enjoyed fine dining as most chefs do but he had a special bond for street food, hole-in-the-wall dives, and local working-class spots. He had respect for the people—often immigrants—behind these establishments and he never made himself superior to any of them.

The ultimate realization of No Reservations, its predecessor A Cook’s Tour, and the final incarnation, CNN‘s Parts Unknown, was that these shows were not about food but about cultural enlightenment and acceptance. Bourdain’s shows were about the people that toiled over their food and were equally happy to share the fruits of their labor with those who respected their work and their passion. In each episode, he introduced us to a people’s plight, their struggles, their fears, their insecurities, and their love, through their food. At the same time, we learned these same qualities about him.

The news of Tony’s passing shook me as if I had lost a dear friend. And in a way, I did. Through his words, I got to know him, I got to know others, and I even learned a little about myself. I thank him for helping me get over the fear of growing older. Now, as my 40’s loom just over the horizon, I don’t envision an old man preparing for the latter, less interesting part of his life. Instead, I face these new years with optimism and confidence. I know the scars of the past 38 years have prepared me for the years ahead. I know if I enjoy life and seek out new adventures, I will never be old. I know that old is a state of mind and that I am never too old for a new piercing, a new tattoo, a new wound, or a new story to tell.

Thank you, Tony, for helping me see the world and for showing me it is possible to find happiness in being yourself while learning from those around you.

Not the Start the Dodgers Wanted

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The Dodgers finally made it back to the World Series last year but were defeated by a team destined to win it all; Sports Illustrated called it long before the series began. We fans accepted the loss and were hopeful for the 2018 season. After all, the most important Dodgers were young and should return the next year even stronger. Cody Bellinger would have one full year of experience that would include playoffs and a World Series after being completely taken out of it by the Astros pitching staff. Corey Seager would continue his growth as an all-around player, Justin Turner would return and cement himself as the leader of the offense, and Clayton Kershaw would return for another stellar year on the mound.

The season is young, we’re only in May, but things could not be farther from what was expected. The Dodgers currently sit at the bottom section of their division. They have struggled to win games against other teams with losing records like the Padres and Marlins. They have been dominated by division-rivals Diamondbacks and Giants. And they’ve won a total of 2 series out of the 11 that have been played.

The Dodgers offense has been inconsistent, going through periods of drought before waking up to score several runs in a short period of time. But the pitching troubles have been impossible to ignore.

Despite the inexplicable support he receives from Manager Dave Roberts, Pedro Báez continues to give up hits and runs each time he comes to the mound in a close game. In years past, hearing California Love over the speakers all but assured the fans of an upcoming victory as the unhittable Kenley Jansen ran onto the field. This year, he’s blown two saves in seven opportunities and has a 4.97 Earned Run Average (ERA). Compare that with last year where he missed one save in 42 opportunities and finished the season with a 1.32 ERA.

Clayton Kershaw has been a different pitcher this year as well. He sports a 2.86 ERA and a 1 and 4 win/loss record. He recorded 4 losses in 2017 and another 4 in 2016 by comparison. His Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched (WHIP) currently stand at 1.14. The last time he finished with a WHIP over 1 was 2012, the year the Dodgers were purchased by the Guggenheim Group.

We didn’t know it at the time but the omen that began the 2018 season was Justin Turner’s injury in late March during a spring training game against the Oakland Athletics. A broken wrist after being hit by a pitch meant he would be out until some time in May. Now in May, Turner is joining the team for batting practice and getting close to playing again but there are many others who are noticeably missing.

The biggest blow to date is the loss of Corey Seager for the remainder of the year. A UCL sprain in his throwing elbow means he’ll be one of the rare non-pitchers to undergo Tommy John surgery.

Hyun-Jin Ryu, who missed most of the last three seasons due to injury, suffered a grade 2 groin strain on May 2nd and will be out until some time after the All-Star Game. Ryu had been pitching well but considering the amount of time he’s spent recovering from injuries, it’s difficult to see if he can be a solid top-of-the-lineup pitcher again.

In addition to Seager and Ryu, Yasiel Puig, Rich Hill, Logan Forsythe, and Julio Urias are all on the injured list as the Dodgers continue to stumble through the early weeks of the season.

Finally, and it was bound to happen with this type of team start, ace Clayton Kershaw can be added to the list of injured players thanks to bicep tendinitis. We don’t yet know the extent of the injury but it marks only the latest in the long list of setbacks plaguing the team.

The Dodgers closed out the special weekend series against the San Diego Padres in Monterrey, Mexico with a 3-0 loss. They lost two of the three games in Mexico and now get one day off before playing two games at Dodger Stadium against the Arizona Diamondbacks; a team the Dodgers have beaten three times in ten attempts this year.

The baseball season is always long and grueling. Time will tell if the Dodgers can turn things around as the season continues. What is certain is that with the start we’ve witnessed, the joy of last year’s World Series appearance has faded for all Angelenos. If the team can’t turn it around in May, the hope we had for this year at the end of the World Series will also fade.

The New Health Plan

In the previous post, I shared the outcome of my recent doctor’s visit: I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and weighed in at my heaviest ever. That evening, my wife and I discussed both the results of the visit and what would be necessary to get healthy again.

Prior to my own visit to the doctor, my wife had already spent weeks researching alternative diets and exercise programs. The research began as a personal project to improve our family’s eating habits but it expanded into much more. She now sees health and nutrition as an upcoming career shift.

My health condition and her newfound passion interlocked like matching puzzle pieces and my only concern was if we were planning these changes in time. While she started to write a new family grocery list and outline the types of meals I should embrace and those I should avoid, I focused on devising an exercise regimen to pair with her diet plan.

The Workout Plan

Last year, I began attending a boxing gym once a week to take a one-hour group session. This weekly visit alone would not be enough to reach my new lofty goals but it should make it easy to move to a daily regimen without feeling like I am starting from scratch.

The traditional gym membership has never worked for me as a daily solution. Having to bear L.A. traffic daily to reach a gym and fight for machines always killed the drive to exercise. If daily exercise was needed, working out at home would be the only logical solution.

I enjoyed a high level of success using the original P90X DVD program back in 2009. P90X was put together by Beach Body trainer Tony Horton and consisted of alternating weight training and cardio workouts six days a week for 90 days.

A few years later, in my early 30’s, I successfully completed Beach Body’s Insanity. Developed by renowned trainer Shaun T, Insanity featured intense 60-minute cardio workouts combined with resistance training using the weight of your own body.

Having enjoyed Beach Body workouts twice before, it made sense to start there now that exercise would again become a vital part of my daily routine. The goal was to work out seven days a week whether I was at home or on the road. The new Beach Body On Demand option allows streaming on a television, laptop, or phone. If necessary, I could even download videos prior to any international trips and work out without an Internet connection.

One problem with DVD programs has always been repetition; having access to only one program at a time became boring and the drive to exercise eventually banished. Beach Body On Demand should eliminate this problem as one can access a new video or program at any time. You are even free to construct a custom plan pulling from various workout programs in their library. Exercise monotony can no longer be used as an excuse.

Having chosen the “what” and “where,” the next step was to figure out the “when.” This would prove to be the toughest part of the equation. My typical workday drags me out of the house at 6 AM each morning and I return home close to 7 PM. My wife works evenings so I’m in charge of serving dinner for a teenager, a toddler, and myself. Working out in the evening on a full stomach would be both exhausting and uncomfortable. The only choice remaining was to extend the day, waking up at 4 AM to get a workout in prior to the morning routine.

Now it was time to prepare the actual exercise regimen. I chose to begin with trainer Chris Downing’s Shift Shop: a 3-week, rapid-results regimen designed to reduce fat and build muscle using weight lifting and cardio workouts that feel like high-school football practices. With three weeks remaining in March, Shift Shop was the ideal starting point.

The workout plan was finally set. Mondays would be an intense start to the week as they would include evening in the boxing gym in addition to the morning workout. For a mid-week break from the intensity, Wednesdays would replace Shift Shop with a 30-minute yoga session to help the body and mind heal. At the end of each month, a new morning program would be selected. But while waking up at 4 would certainly be a test of will, it was the diet plan that would be the true personal challenge and test of character.

The Diet Plan

Working out may be tough and painful but I genuinely enjoy the process. Eating has always been about the experience: the thrill of a new restaurant, the sensation of new flavors, and the possibility of learning about a new culture through the food they enjoy. The thought of completely abandoning this experience was disheartening.

We were in line at Market 365 when I realized the degree of change. Our shopping cart was as full as it typically was; we are a family of four after all. The difference that day was in the contents of the cart: oranges, apples, mangoes, a variety of berries, avocados, mixed greens, kale, cucumbers, radishes, lentils, onions, cabbage, spinach, bananas, cilantro, potatoes, colorful peppers, carrots, and broccoli. In the back corner of the cart was a package of chicken breasts, salmon filets, eggs, and milk.

Like the workout plan, the new diet would begin on Monday—the first and most dreaded day of the workweek. My typical morning until that day consisted of black coffee for the drive to work and a cup of yogurt & fruit once at the office.

Lunch was usually a turkey sandwich but on days I was too lazy to get one ready, a fast food lunch was option B. If I needed a snack, it was usually a run to the vending machine.

Certain days included special treats brought in by employees to share with everyone. Not only did I partake, I usually overindulged.

After work, I would stop at a coffee shop to write before driving home. This of course meant another cup of coffee.

The new routine would prove a dramatic change from the one just described. The new drink of choice would be green tea. I would eliminate coffee from my daily intake as studies show it tends to elevate blood pressure. The fruit and yogurt breakfast could stay, thankfully. The amount of vitamin B found in yogurt helps reduce the risk of heart disease.

Lunch would go from a turkey sandwich to greens. This would prove the biggest shift in taste and enjoyment, as I gain no satisfaction from biting into multiple leafy greens during lunch. It’s a necessary sacrifice of joy for the possibility of a longer life.

Sugary snacks would be replaced with unsalted mixed nuts and green smoothies. Finally, the afternoon coffee shop run would also be replaced with tea.

Dinner would be a welcome change with minimal attack on the pleasures of eating. Red meat would be almost completely eliminated. Protein would come from chicken, turkey, or fish and only at dinner.

The nightly serving portions would consist of 3/4 of a plate or bowl of mixed greens or other type of salad with only a 1/4 of the plate appropriated for the choice of meat. Some nights would include vegetarian dishes made up of multiple colors and tastes that my wife carefully prepared. This a much better option than leaving a vegetarian dinner up to me.

Sunday, March 11, my wife prepared dinner options for the week and washed and chopped the fruits and vegetables to make everything more accessible. She then portioned and bagged the ingredients for green smoothies we would be drinking daily. Each smoothie would contain banana, apple, carrot, avocado, spinach or kale, chia seeds, and a vegan protein powder.

Before going to bed, I prepared my lunch bag for the following day. I filled a rectangular dish with mixed greens and added chopped bell peppers, cucumbers, radishes, and cherry tomatoes; this would be my lunch. I blended the smoothie ingredients and poured the concoction into a reusable water bottle. I filled a small cup with yogurt, mango slices, and granola on the surface. This would become the new normal.

Everything was ready for the next morning. I took the dog for a short walk, brushed my teeth, and set the alarm for 4 AM. That obnoxious blaring sound would mark the beginning of a new challenge.

 

The Red Flag I Neglected

The wake-up call came on March 8, 2018. I had spent the better half of that week terribly congested: my head felt two sizes larger than normal, I couldn’t breathe or hear well, and was speaking with a nasal tone. By that morning, it had become too much to ignore. I contacted my doctor to try to set up an appointment for the same day.

The receptionist said I could see a doctor that afternoon but she followed it up with the question I was dreading, “Are you an existing patient with us?”

I had been assigned this doctor three years ago when my previous doctor’s medical group stopped working with my insurance plan. I had not visited my new doctor even once since the switch was made. I was granted a 3:50 appointment but the visit would include drawing blood and an initial batch of tests they run for all new patients.

I arrived at the clinic and a nurse proceeded to draw blood even before I was finished with all the paperwork. After drawing blood, they confirmed my height and weight. I’m 5’9” and weighed in 214 pounds—the heaviest I had ever been. I knew then there would be further conversations about my weight but it was the next test results that came as a complete surprise.

The nurse sat me down, wrapped the elastic band around my right arm, and began to pump. An ideal blood pressure reading is 120/80 (Here is a great explanation of the two numbers). My reading came in at the 150/90 range—twice.

It wasn’t long after that test that two young doctors went into the room to talk to me. My congestion was the least of their concerns. They diagnosed and treated that quickly.

The rest of the visit revolved around my blood pressure and the red flag this represented. The doctors emphasized the need to decrease my alcohol and sugar intake. They also insisted I would have to exercise at least three times a week in order to chip away at the problem. Failure to change my current lifestyle, they said, could potentially lead to a heart attack or stroke.

The fear was real that evening as I left the doctor’s office. It had been just over a week since director Kevin Smith suffered a massive heart attack and lived to podcast about it. I had followed Smith’s career since the release of Clerks. The news of his ordeal had already made me wonder how close I was to facing a similar situation. Apparently, I was much closer than I originally thought.

I went home that night and planned out the necessary changes with the help of my very supportive wife. In the next few L.A. Noise posts, I will detail the progress as I strive to get to a healthier position in life. The act of writing about this process will serve as motivation. Los Angeles Noise is not becoming a fitness blog but it will now have a fitness section interspersed with posts about local food, sports, events, and all other things L.A.

Daylight Saving Time in Los Angeles

March marks the beginning of Daylight Saving Time (DST) in California. The idea that we must adjust our clocks one hour twice a year is outdated but it does bring one benefit: the return of sunny Los Angeles evenings.

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A clear evening at Echo Park Lake

When visitors think of L.A., they usually envision “fun in the sun.” Unfortunately, that’s not really the case in the winter months. The sun still comes up and makes an appearance most days—it’s one of those L.A. perks—but it’s just not around too long. Darkness covers the city by 4 PM at times. Throw in a storm during the day and it’s likely to be a gray day followed by a pitch-black afternoon and deathly night.

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What do you mean it’s 3 PM?

Everything changes once DST begins. Days begin to lengthen as we approach spring. The additional hour means the average sunset takes place at 7 P.M. or slightly later. Driving down the freeway in a sunlit evening is invigorating. And when you’re facing the unforgiving L.A. traffic, any boost is welcome.

After only a few days of the new time format, most Angelenos start to think of warmer temperatures, cookouts, outdoor concerts, and Dodger baseball. This is the Los Angeles we know and love. It never completely goes away in the winter, and we’re mindful and grateful of this fact, but it is still exciting to see the trademark sunny disposition return practically overnight as our phones automatically advance one hour while we sleep.

This is the time to enjoy everything Los Angeles naturally has to offer. Wake up early and find a hiking trail. Start while it is still dark so that you climb as the sun is rising. You are sure to find a picturesque view at the summit. Head out to the beach and take in the sound of the waves before summer temperatures make it tougher to relax. If you prefer not to drive (and who would blame you), take the cover off the grill and toss some steaks on it. Invite some friends over and make it a fun evening. However you prefer, be sure to take full advantage of the hours of natural light that have been missing the last four months.

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DST also means it’s almost time for Dodger baseball!

 

Making Noise in Los Angeles: Fernando Lopez

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Fernando Lopez, Sr. standing in front of Guelaguetza at its Grand Opening. | Photo: Courtesy of Guelaguetza | kcet.org

The city of Los Angeles is filled with stories of people who came to L.A. to make their dreams reality—to make some noise. The American Dream may be harder than ever to define and achieve but in a city that welcomes immigrants from all over the world, that dream still exists.

One person who came to Los Angeles in search of that dream is Fernando Lopez. Like so many others, Fernando made the difficult decision of leaving his wife and children behind to come to the United States in search of better opportunities.

He came to Los Angeles in 1993, as the city was undergoing a painful recovery from the riots of the year before. City neighborhoods had been burned to rubble, people were assaulted and killed, and L.A. was considered a dangerous place to live. This was particularly true in the neighborhood of Koreatown, where racial tensions exploded.

Mr. Lopez immediately began to set the groundwork for what would become Guelaguetza. Armed with his beloved Oaxacan recipes, he started to sell food door to door. Los Angeles has always had strong Mexican food choices but most restaurants and street vendors in those days focused on the more commonplace tacos and burritos. In fact, some people thought he should stop working to bring something new to the city and focus on tacos for a faster source of income.

The Oaxacan population in Los Angeles, however, was waiting for someone to bring them a taste of home. Mr. Lopez made enough inroads to open Guelaguetza only one year later on the corner of Olympic Boulevard and Irolo Street. Before long, food lovers of all nationalities and backgrounds flocked to this intersection of Koreatown to sample the recipes Fernando had brought with him to America.

Guelaguetza strikes a balance between Latino and Korean cultures. The architecture is representative of beautiful Korean structures with curved roofs including a pagoda-style top at the front of the restaurant. The white decorative uprights resemble columns found on Korean temples.

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Guelaguetza Restaurant | Photo: Courtesy of Guelaguetza | ilovemole.com

The exterior walls are painted a vibrant red-orange but it’s the murals depicting immigrant life in Los Angeles that truly connect with the people. Inside, it is undoubtedly a genuine Mexican restaurant. On any given night, the place is packed. Noise from the crowd, combined with the live music that plays nightly, fills the air. This is a place to eat, drink, socialize, sing, and have fun while doing all of it.

Fernando and his wife, Maria Monterrubio, spent 18 years serving the Los Angeles community and raising their three children. At the height of success, the Lopez family owned and operated six restaurants. The family business allowed them to provide a college education for all three of their kids, preparing them to one day take over and perhaps even take the business beyond their father’s original vision.

The economic downturn and other factors forced Mr. Lopez to contract the business and refocus his efforts—and those of his children—on Guelaguetza. Today, Fernando Jr., Paulina, and Bricia Lopez run the restaurant. The music continues to play, Angelenos still love it, and the food and drinks are superb. If you’re outside of Los Angeles, you can even buy the family’s highly acclaimed mole through the restaurant’s website—it’s Guelaguetza for the digital age.

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The Lopez family | Photo: Maya Sugarman/KPCC | scpr.org

Fernando Lopez came to Los Angeles with a dream. He worked tirelessly to reach his goals and create a better life for he and his family. The road was not always easy but the Lopez family persevered. Guelaguetza is a staple of Los Angeles, a mark of Angeleno unity, and a symbol of the American Dream.