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.