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.

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.