Besides left-wing politics, writing, reading, and the two original subjects of this blog: scooters and Sacramento area hamburgers, this blog has sometimes seemed more like a blog on yoga than anything else. My interest in yoga lasted about seven and a half years. This blog has featured about 80 posts about yoga or something my practice inspired me to investigate (meditation, Buddism, minimalism, etc.). Seven of the posts made up a series called “Observations From the Mat.”
The eighth “observation” is a draft titled “Why I Hate Vinyasa Yoga,” but I never finished it and probably never will. After the Pandemic, when my health club reopened, we had a new group exercise director, and all the yoga classes (save for a once-a-month Restorative Yoga class) were Vinyasa style. I hung in there for a while, taking two-morning Yinyasa classes taught by the group exercise director, but I started to check out Pilates. Finally, I paid the cash to take the three required private Quick Start Pilates classes the club insists members take to get acclimated to the Reformer before beginning Level 1 Pilates classes. (I was going to bore the reader to death with explanations on what exactly Pilates is and what kind of a widget is a Reformer, but I added links above for anyone who needs answers.)
Pilates is unique and separate from all other group exercises in my fitness club. Even the club’s Group Exercise Schedule does not include Pilates—Pilates has its own schedule, webpage on the club’s website, and director. The short time I practiced Pilates was on a Reformer (see the image below if the reader didn’t check out the link above). Before the Pandemic and the club closing, there used to be a Mat Pilates class available. I have never tried that form of Pilates though I hear it is more physically challenging than practicing on a Reformer. Still, I might be practicing Pilates if I practiced the mat version instead of the Reformer one.
One of the things I noticed from the first Quick Start session is Pilates is similar to Vinyasa Yoga: the practitioner does not stay in a position for very long—a few seconds at best and then moves on to the next posture. The constant movement (or “flow” as it is called in Vinyasa) was a disappointing discovery, but I got over it—it was a new kind of exercise, so it wasn’t a deal-breaker for me. The main reason I remained excited about the new training was the trainer. Sabin was an excellent trainer and highly knowledgeable at Pilates and the Reformer. I felt in good hands.
Some challenges worried me about my new Pilates practice. For the same reason, I could never achieve balance postures in yoga (Warrior 3, Eagle, Tree, etc.); there were positions on the Reformer that required balance. In the seven and a half years of practicing yoga, I could never stick any pose that required less than my two Fred Flintstones on the mat simultaneously. (This is due to being heavily medicated.) Just a side note on me and yoga: I haven’t completely given up on it. I still try to attend my once-a-month Restorative Yoga class, and maybe someday, when my gym ends its blind love for Vinyasa Yoga and starts holding classes on traditional Hatha or maybe even Yin Yoga, I’ll sign up for a class or two.
So, after completing my mandatory one-on-one Quick Start sessions, I began taking Level 1 (group) classes. And they were enjoyable and challenging. I made it a point to sign up for the classes led by Sabin, the Pilates Director. I had it on good authority she was the best trainer. I got to know one of my fellow Pilate students, Nancy. She and I talked a few times before class while the previous course was winded down. She told me she got extra help from a Pilates expert who lived in Greenhaven—a bicycle ride from my house. I asked if it would be okay if she gave me this person’s contact information. She said sure.
I had practiced twice a week for about four weeks when Nancy gave me the trainer’s name, phone number, and hourly rate. I was excited and planned to call the private trainer for a chat and a possible session. It was that same day, minutes before our class was about to begin, when I looked through the window of the Pilates studio door and noticed everyone was standing on the Reformers (as in the image at the top of this post). Knowing the carriages their feet were on were spring-loaded and slid back and forth, all I saw was me losing my balance and landing teeth-first on the adjustable footbar and knocking out my grill. (See the above image for the footbar sans my blood and teeth fragments.) When we finally got into the room and were about to start, I asked Sabin what was with everyone standing on the Reformers. She told me that it was a Level 2 class, and we would not be performing any standing exercises in Level 1. That made me feel both relieved and depressed: relieved because I wouldn’t have to attempt to stand on a moving carriage and depressed because I once again picked an exercise that requires balancing, if not in Level 1, then definitely on Level 2 and Level 3.
It is a bitter coincidence that on that day–the day I got the contact information of the private Pilates instructor and found out I wouldn’t advance beyond Level 1–I lost my balance while executing a pose and fell off the Reformer. Remarkably, I did a tuck and roll on my way down to the indoor-outdoor carpet. (I have a knack for falling on my chest when I had plenty of time to have an arm break my fall.) Sabin saw the fall and complimented me on how graceful I looked. Not agile enough, unfortunately, it turned out I had skinned my ankle. I noticed I was bleeding when I stood up.
I left the studio with Sabin. First, she gave me a couple of alcohol wipes and bandages. Then, she filled out an incident report. She could have returned to the class, but I couldn’t read the type on the form (I left my glasses in my locker). The final embarrassment was returning to the studio to pick up some of my items. Since Sabin had to fill out the form, it cut into their class time. Nobody said a word. They were just sitting around waiting for the class to restart. It reminded me of when I had a seizure in front of my friends when I was twelve—I never got treated the same way. Then and probably now, I felt like I was treated as fragile or not whole. Sabin was very supportive and emailed more than once, wanting to know how I was and that I was welcome back, and she had some modifications for me. She is a terrific trainer, but I didn’t want to show my face again in that class.
One thing I like about Pilates and yoga (and theoretically HIIT, Step Aerobics, and all other group exercises) is that you have a specific day and time to attend and participate with others. Therefore, I feel compelled to show up. Kind of like when I was going to Weight Watchers: every week, you were expected to show up at the meeting once a week, get in a line then, stand on the scale where your weight was noted, and then, hopefully, get inspired by your leader’s speech to do better. Currently, I don’t have that structure. Post-Pilates, I’m working with a TRX system and an indoor rowing machine. Both of these systems do not require much in the way of balancing. However, the nylon straps and handles of the TRX are indifferent to whether I use them or not. Also, the pulley, flywheel, sliders, and saddle of the rowing machine don’t give a shit whether or not I employ them.
As a result, I find lame excuses for not showing up at the club and using them. At least I can’t fall off the couch and bump my head on the coffee table while sitting on my ass reading or watching whatever is on one of my streaming services. Boy, that sounds more depressing than falling off a Reformer in a Pilates class!
On March 19, 2017, I posted a 192-word blurb about the struggle I was going through at the time: laziness and overeating vs. practicing yoga and eating healthier. Unfortunately, I gave the post the uninspiring title “Battle Royale.” Also, I was unaware that the title is from a book that bares little resemblance to my personal struggle. Still, just as I was too lazy to develop a better title, I was too numb to apply myself to a healthier lifestyle. So here’s the original post with an update below. It’s not pretty, dear readers.
I’ve been practicing yoga for more than three years. It started as an Rx by a physical therapist back in 2013, who said there’s no cure for my degenerative disk disease. But practicing yoga would keep me off ibuprofen and the occasional opioid when my back pain pops up from now until the final solution to the problem—death. She was right–barring the stiffness from binge-watching streaming TV shows on a lumpy couch, I’m pretty much always limber thanks to four hours of yoga a week.
Still, I grapple with my health: my laziness and gluttony versus my life on the mat and occasionally stringing together a few days of successfully dieting. It is a mortal struggle. Since I spend more hours doing the two things that are killing me than those that benefit me, it is a losing war—all of this on the battlefield of Time–the ultimate killer.
It’s all about what element will conquer my body on a given day. This day, Sunday, May 19, 2017, goes to the Axis of Evil: an hour of TV, way too much ice cream late in the evening, and just the plain fact that I have much fewer days on this planet than the days behind me. Tomorrow is another fight.
Update August 2021: I’d love to report that things have improved over the last four and a half years, but that would be a lie. Thanks to the pandemic and my laziness, I now only practice yoga two hours a week. And because I no longer commute to work five days a week, fifty-five miles of bicycling has been cut down to less than twenty miles of walking. Finally, I’m stiffer and fatter than I have ever been.
My practice has been brutal. First, being out of shape has made my practice difficult. Also, my two yoga teachers: Heather on Tuesdays and Thursdays and Brenda on Wednesdays with an on-again, off-again Sunday practice lead by a revolving door of teachers, is now down to one teacher on Mondays and Thursdays. Of course, I have no excuse not practicing alone using YouTube, but it is extremely tough getting motivated—I need somewhere to be at a specific time on a particular day.
If I were a true yogi, I would consider myself lucky that my Tuesdays and Thursdays yoga teacher is Robert Hallworth—considered by many yoga teachers to be one of the best in the Sacramento area. I can tell that he is special, even if he wants the class to do too many balance postures. Unfortunately, thanks to a seizure disorder suppressed by narcotics in combination with a lazy eye, I cannot perform Eagle Pose, Warrior 3, Mountain Pose, any pose where the practitioner is supposed to balance on one foot. I get so frustrated when we go through a series of these postures that I cannot do that I often wish there was an adjacent juice bar I could belly up to, sit down, have a Mean Green, and yell to Robert, “It’s okay, I’ll catch up with you when both feet are back on the hard maple!”
But, of course, I’m a baby.
Ironically, I just started the book Anodea Judith’s Chakra Yoga. I recently finished her excellent book on the Chakra System Wheels of Life and wanted to check out a yoga routine that directly addressed the Chakra System. How I plan on sticking to a home routine lead by a book when I have never been able to stick with routines on YouTube or DVDs by Seane Corn or Rodney Yee will be a steep hill to climb.
Perhaps I will re-post this piece in late 2024/early 2025 with another update. Maybe that update will be optimistic, sunny. I can only hope the man doing the typing will be eating better, working out more, and not complaining about the yoga teacher leading the classes he should be so grateful to attend.
Perhaps I should take advice from this disturbingly sexy Buddha with big ears.
There are several unique styles of yoga that exist and they can be quite different from each other. While starting out, it might seem like “yoga” is one practice or style, but students quickly discover that there are numerous forms of this practice to explore. While each style has similarities in the essence and philosophy…
After a year of being closed, my gym has re-opened, and soon I will be attending my first guided yoga class in nearly that amount of time. I have gained weight in the interim, and though I began a modest home exercise regime a few months ago, I need to return to the mat.
It breaks my heart to see on my gym’s now-limited yoga schedule, the teacher who was damn near a guru to me is not returning. But I need to get back on the mat regardless of who leads the classes.
Above is a post from one of the yoga blogs I follow on WordPress.com. In the spirit of this blogger returning to the mat this Monday night, I would like to share this post.
Namaste. (Wow, I haven’t said that in quite a while!)
Con-vic-tion /kan’vikSH(e)n/noun 2a : a strong persuasion or belief
X \’eks\ 5: an unknown quantity
It was on a mid-October Sunday afternoon when I came up with the hair-brain idea. I texted my wife, who was running errands at the time, that I was going for a bike ride. She replied that she wanted to accompany me. I said okay, but for reasons revealed below, I really wanted to do this ride alone. When we were gearing up to ride, she asked where we were going. I told her to the gym and that I wanted to pick up the shoes I had stored in my locker. She didn’t ask why so I thought I dodged a bullet. At the gym, she hung out in front, guarding our bikes while I went inside. When I came out with the neon blue, new-looking running shoes, she asked why I wanted to take them home. (I guess I didn’t dodge that bullet after all.) I told her I was thinking of taking up running. The faintest of smiles shot across her face before she said something about how I should keep them at the club and get back into doing the Breakfast Club (a three-day, early morning, interval exercise class I wrote about in an earlier post). I didn’t want to argue and she graciously let it pass. I’m sure she doubted this running thing would last. It never started. Read on.
As I publish this post, I haven’t run in these shoes even one yard. Back when I was a junior gym rat, my trainer advised me that in between nights of interval training in the weight room (also known as burst circuits) I should fit in time for a cardio workout. Never having a problem throwing money at new interests, I just had to get respectable, if not top-end running shoes. While sitting in a fitting chair at the local Fleet Feet in Sacramento, Al, a sixty-something, mustachioed man with matching salt and pepper hair, talked to me about running. An ex-police officer who sold shoes part-time in his retirement, Al told me he had been a runner his whole life and now was helping his wife recover from a hip replacement. He introduced me to interval running. Interval running is running or jogging mixed in with walking or “recovery time,” as it is called by runners. I told the ex-cop, as he adeptly maneuvered his shoehorn behind my heel to nestle my Fred Flintstone foot (short, broad, and flat) into the mid-range priced running shoe that I plan to run two minutes on the treadmill followed by one minute of walking. You see after I heard his tale of running one minute and resting six I figured, I don’t have a new hip to break in so I’ll do a two/one jam. Al, probably noticing my less than an athletic frame, questioned my ratio. Then, after he found out I haven’t run since my annual high school Six Minute Run/Walk PE evaluation in my senior year, he strongly urged that I employ a less aggressive run/recovery formula. Naah. What does a svelte ex-cop who has been running daily for years know about running?
So with my brand new ASICS Conviction X running shoes on my dogs, I started hitting the treadmill. I felt I was making progress, though I did have to ease up on the run to walk ratio. I’m not sure what I ended up doing: maybe two minutes jogging (never running) and two minutes walking in recovery mode. About three weeks into my weekly routine (interval training with weights on Mondays and Fridays with the treadmill on Wednesdays) my right hip began to hurt during my jog. I ignored it. It got worse. Then I changed my run/recovery formula to the ex-cops’ wife’s bum hip formula. It still hurt. What’s worse, it began to bother me long after I stepped off the treadmill. The pain subsided while riding my bike home nor did it hurt during my time in the weight room. Eventually; however, it became a constant pain: on my bike, in the weight room, and at my desk at work. It even started affecting my sleep–feeling the sharp pain whenever I rolled over. I finally switched over to a recumbent bike where all of the bikes faced sports bar-size screens of Fox News. (I have always known my gym was a conservative bastion. My only solace is that my headphones were connected to my iPod Shuffle and not tuned to the TVs.) Finally, the pain subsided.
Shortly after I switched from the treadmill to the recumbent bike, my wife and I were binge-watching the entire six seasons of The Sopranos that had become available on Netflix. In the last few episodes of the final season, my lower back began to hurt–badly. The pain most likely came from laying on a lumpy couch for hours many nights in a row. My doctor put me on Vicodin and ordered an MRI. When the results came back, it revealed I had Degenerative Disk Disease. My gym rat days were over. To be honest, I didn’t have to give up the recumbent bike, but I just couldn’t sit on those things, looking up at Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity anymore, even if their voices were muted. My doctor referred me to a Physical Therapist.
It was serendipitous that the PT I was referred to was a member of my health club–we recognized each other immediately. She recommended a yoga class offered at our club which was taught by Amanda, a teacher who specialized in Restorative Yoga. Amanda also had worked with the PT modeling postures for photos the PT gave to her patients to do at home. As for my new neon ASICS running shoes, I stuffed them in the back of my gym locker to shine only on my water bottle and gym clothes. For four and a half years, I exclusively practiced yoga, shunning my neo blue, “Rhyno Skin” shoes for my black flip-flops until November of 2017 when I started the Breakfast Club workouts previously mentioned. At first, I thought this early morning routine to be High-Intensity Interval Training (or HIIT), but I was mistaken. It was just another form of interval training. It only seemed high intensity because I was in such poor shape.
I used to tell people that yoga saved my life. And I believe practicing the ancient art has kept me limber and that has helped manage my Degenerative Disk Disease. I rarely have back pain, my posture has improved, and I usually catch myself whenever I began to slouch. Still, yoga has done very little if anything for me cardio-vascularly speaking. Also, the practice has done virtually nothing in the way of toning my flabby body or give me something even faintly looking like a six-pack. (My eating habits get credit for what looks more like a keg.) The Breakfast Club workouts were three days a week at 6:30 in the morning. It was not sustainable for many reasons: it was too early, especially in the winter; while it was definitely a sweat-inducing workout, I never felt I was building my muscles–I rarely felt sore the next morning like I did when I was doing burst circuits. When I dropped that class, I also decided to switch my yoga classes on Tuesday and Thursday for two Power Pump classes on those same evenings. My barely-worn shoes got a new job; they gave me support while I was swinging dumbbells and kettle weights with women young enough to be my daughters. So, once again, I felt out of place, but it was a healthy workout and better than the Breakfast Club routine. Still, I didn’t like that the Thursday class had a revolving set of uninspiring instructors. The Tuesday night instructor was great, but I missed the Vinyasa yoga class I dumped that night for this one. Ultimately, I ended up returning to the yoga classes and I stuffed my new-looking shoes back into my locker. I would think about those shoes whenever I stepped on the scale. Yoga has benefited me in manifold ways, but I don’t burn many calories on Tuesday and Thursday nights, an hour at a time. Because of this and my poor eating habits, I have gained all the weight I lost when I was doing interval weight training twice a week and interval running on the treadmill in between.
Thinking about putting my new shoes to work some months ago, I thought about riding the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail (American River Bike Trail) to progressively longer and longer lengths on days off. One night (conveniently, when it was too late to go on a ride) I thought about getting an early start on that coming Saturday and riding the six-mile Sacramento River Bike Trail then continue to ride the entire thirty-two mile American River Trail to Folsom and back. I then rethought the idea and told my wife I wanted to try to ride about half that length. She looked at me as if I said to her I wanted to climb Everest. The thing is I trust her opinion over my own when it comes to my enthusiasm for bike riding and my ability to execute this or most kinds of exercise regimes. To wax the tired trope: she knows me better than I know myself. Also, I have seen my wife patch an inner tube as if she was in a pit crew at the Indy 500. I’ve heard her talk about having to do the same thing on the road more than once. I only tried it one time in the parking lot of a local Target and the damn thing leaked. From that day forward whenever I get a flat I walk the bike home–calling my office that I would be late then the house to see if someone can drive me and my lame bicycle home or to work. Getting stuck six or sixteen miles away from home on the American River Bike Trail with a flat gives me serious pause. At least I would have comfortable, nice looking shoes to hoof it back home. Maybe long-distance bike riding isn’t the solution. My poor reader is probably bored stiff by now, but writing this stuff out makes me see the absurdity some of these ideas are.
Aside from exercising more, I need to cut down on my caloric intake. In September, I began seeing online ads for something called Huel: a meal replacement shake. (The name, by the way, is a portmanteau for “human fuel.”) In early October, I started taking the product ads seriously, checking what real people on YouTube and WordPress had to say about it. I first dipped my toe in the meal replacement shake world by consulting my supplements pusher, Gabriel. He didn’t know what Huel was. He discouraged me from going the meal replacement route and suggested a diet consisting of more frequent, smaller meals on smaller plates–“perspective is everything,” as is often said. He also encouraged a healthy, filling shake near the end of the workday so I wouldn’t overeat when I got home, at the dinner table, or indulge in late-night snacking (probably my three worst diet killers). He then set me up with some healthy shakes packets and shaker–all free. I felt guilty that I was sure I was going to go with Huel despite his advice and generosity.
Huel is not necessarily a diet shake like SlimFast and the packs Gabriel gave me. That’s the main reason I continued to look into the product: I wasn’t looking for one of those bogus “miracle diets.” I just wanted to get away from the vicious cycle of skipping breakfast, having bakery goods for my morning break, then eating out for lunch. (The morning break was such a predictable ritual that the baristas at my favorite coffee house often plated a chocolate croissant before I arrived at the register.) While the personalities on YouTube reviewing Huel say they lost weight or hoped to lose weight, the marketers at the company are not selling the product as a weight loss solution. Check out this video it’s only one example of the company’s approach. Still, I wanted to use the product as part of my exercise and diet plan. The Plan has six elements:
Continue to commute to work and back on my bike–rain or shine–being aware of my travel time and trying to beat my best time
Consume Huel almost exclusively at work
Show restraint when I’m at home before, during, and after dinners
Continue to practice yoga on Tuesday and Thursday nights
Try not to binge on weekends and holidays
Find an additional, more strenuous, form of exercise and stick with it
That was and continues to be the plan. To be honest looking back on this plan three months after drafting it, Bullet Points 1 and 4 are no-brainers. “Continue” are the key words in those points. I’ve been doing these for a while–I might as well create bullet points to continue to breathing, talking, walking, and sleeping each day. Bullet Point 2 is also easy to keep, at least at this point, even though I have fallen off the wagon from time to time. Bullet Points 3 and 5 are the most difficult challenges here and Bulletin Point 6 is huge–I haven’t begun that one.
I re-downloaded my Lose It! application to my smartphone to help with the diet portions of the plan. I had used this program before with great success: I went from 222 to 198 pounds. Then I started gaining weight again. I initially blamed the weight gain on my father being terminally ill: I was spending more time at my parent’s house where I did not mind my intake and family members and friends would bring food. My mom and I would do lunch once a week then, too. I would buy the old trope that people gain weight when they are under stress. The only problem with that is I eat more when I am happy or between sad and happy–that gray void I am usually in. When my dad passed logic dictated I should have started losing weight again, but I didn’t. I doubt stress had anything to do with it. I’ve been on this rollercoaster before: dropping below 200 the first time I was on Weight Watchers about ten years ago. There was nothing magical about the Lose It! app when I started gaining weight. Where I once was watching the food I was about to eat, reviewing the calories with the help of the app so I wouldn’t go over, all I was doing now was performing a postmortem on my diet the day after going over my assigned caloric intake.
After I gained back all the weight I initially lost, I deleted the application from my phone (the weight graph and daily calorie count were too depressing to view). All this time, whether I was diligently riding to work on my bike–regardless of the weather–and doing yoga or more intense exercising I was always eating as if I had a tapeworm. Through all of this, I religiously stepped on the balance beam scale once a week at my gym. Of the men at my gym who weigh themselves, I am one of the few that weigh 200 pounds or heavier. I easily deduce this from having to move the large counterweight off the “150” notch to the “200” before sliding the lighter weight across the 50-hash marked beam to my current “fatness.” My wife thinks it’s inconsiderate not to “zero out” the scale when you are finished with it. At least it gives me a goal, though I am not working too hard to achieve it: being like the rest of the sub-200 members.
During the first week of this new diet, while the Huel was in route, I drank Gabriel’s complementary shakes for breakfast and lunch, Monday through Friday and never donned my neon-blue shoes to start on Bullet Point 6. I knew that one was going to be the hardest part of this new plan. As far as the breakfast/lunch meal replacement thing, that idea came from a fellow blogger. He drank Huel only on the weekdays because he didn’t want to prepare meals. From the blogger’s pictures, he looked like he was in good shape though he said that he had lost some unwanted weight thanks to Huel. I didn’t see a Huel diet working for me at home. The idea of making a shake in a kitchen with the aromas of baked potatoes, mac & cheese, my wife’s pizza, and pre-made/fast food was a mountain I could not scale, even if it certainly would have spared me a lot of calories. Breakfasts and lunches at work were the most convenient times to Huel it, though it wasn’t the most critical times during the week–if my fat could talk it would say things like: “Hi, I’m that huge chunk of brioche and butter Jack had when he got home from work.” “Hello, I’m the second, giant slice of sweet potato pie Daddy jammed down his gullet when no one was looking, because if no one saw him, my calories don’t count.” “Greetings, my name is Chicken Garlic Gourmet Pizza–Large Slice #5 my brain had after everyone else told him he should stop two slices ago.”
If I were to execute this plan, it meant having the bags of mix delivered to my work and possibly having to endure the smirks and cracks from the big warehouse guys who would be signing for the deliveries. Also, I would have to field questions from everyone walking by the break room as I play with my powder in the morning and lunchtime. As it turned out I was spared any teasing or questioning. No one really cared about my mystery powder or poked fun at the fat guy making the shakes. I dodged some karma. It was not so long ago my morbidly obese ex-boss, Fernando, used to have SlimFasts for breakfast and lunch each day along with an item of fruit. I remember the fruit well. From time to time when I was heating one of my Weight Watcher SmartOnes, he would tsk-tsk my choice of lunch telling me I was not going to lose weight with high-sodium TV dinners. “Jack, you need to eat fruit!” the plus-size boss would stress that last word while shaking one of his plus-size citruses in my face just to get his point across. Despite all the SlimFasts he chugged he never slimmed–fast or in slow motion.
My first shipment of Huel came in on the last Monday morning in October. When I created my initial lunch shake, it was using three scoops of the grind, which is the standard recipe. I immediately cut down the recipe to two scoops per meal. That would save me about 170 calories a meal. As for the taste: the oats is the first thing that hit me. My guess is that’s what’s supposed to make you feel full when you’re finished. I didn’t feel like I was going to hurl my Huel, but I did feel like the shake had topped me off and there was no more room for my chocolate croissant.
I commented in an earlier post that I had read Ron Roll’s book Finding Ultra and that it nearly inspired me to take exercise more seriously, not just commuting on my bike and practicing yoga. Along with training, Roll wrote a lot about diet. I started looking into plant-based foods that were easier to maintain. That’s where my Huel diet came from. I don’t need a Vitamix or a Blendtec for these meals. (Though it is fair to say you can make more tantalizing and nutritious shakes with a blender than with the shaker–adding raw fruit, legumes, and vegetables to your powder that a shaker will not render drinkable.) The main ingredients in Huel are flaxseed, brown rice, pea protein, sunflower, oats, and MCTs (medium-chain triglyceride) from Coconut. There are no animal products in the ingredients, it’s all “plant power,” to quote Roll. I am sure; however, Roll would never recommend food ground into powder. My friend Angus, a gym rat and paleo dieter, seemed to approve of the ingredients in Huel. We sat in his truck one night before a Bible study discussing my latest diet. He looked up the product on his phone. He seemed impressed, but he wasn’t won over.
But is consuming Huel for weekday breakfasts and lunches sustainable as a diet? I hate to be negative, but probably no. (And bullshit, Jack, you love being negative.) Still, I consider my Huel diet a jump start, something I am going to ride out as long as I can until I find something to replace it. My wife already has come up with a sound replacement for my breakfast shakes, but weekday lunches are a more significant challenge. I can change my Huel subscription as my diet changes. I have plenty of time to figure out what I am going to do.
Thanks to Huel’s online Forum, I can connect with hundreds of fellow “Huelers.” I’ve received plenty of recipe suggestions. Since hooking up with the message board and getting some recipes, I’ve tried Huel with a shot of espresso, Huel with leftover coffee, Huel with instant coffee, Huel with instant cocoa mix, Huel with instant apple cider mix and applesauce. Many of these recipes I have replaced water for almond milk. Thanks to Huel’s Facebook page I found out you can bake with Huel, but I haven’t hauled any of the magic mixtures back home to try making cookies, pancakes, or whatever. Huel also offers Flavor Boosts: Chocolate, Chocolate Mint, Strawberry, Mocha, Apple Cinnamon, Caramel, Chai, Banana, and Cappuccino. I bought the Cappuccino flavor boost that mixes with my Vanilla powder. It made my shakes taste a little like my favorite espresso drink. I also have Banana which I like and I just received Mocha, but I haven’t tried it as of this writing. I plan to order Strawberry soon, but all of them sound interesting. Many of these Flavor Boosts used to be only available in the UK. Huel-UK–where the product originates–has even more products including Huel bars and Huel granola. If these products become available while I am still on this diet, I will definitely check them out.
There are some negatives about the Huel diet. Huel has a bad rep for giving the Hueler horrible-smelling farts. Since I’m used to my brand I was worried this would be a game changer, but I haven’t had any problems in that area. My farts smell just fine, thank you! What did initially change in that general department is the regularity. I spent the first 30 years of my life shitting only two to four times a week and I have the hemorrhoids to show for the irregularity. My friend and fellow blogger Chip mentioned in one of his posts of a kid who refrained from shitting for a whole week. I think I’ve done that! When I got married, I became as regular as the rising sun. I didn’t have to go first thing in the morning like my father and I think my brother has to go, but if I miss a day, I’m not happy. When I started my Huel diet, everything stopped down there for the first couple of days. This, for the most part, runs counter to most Huelers’ experience. Maybe the first day had nothing to do with Huel; I had had a shitload, eh-hem, of Halloween candy the night before. On Shittless Day 2, I was on the Huel Forum wanting answers. For the Huel peeps that were stopped up, Chia seeds solved the problem. On Day 3–with an order of Chia seeds on the way–the damn broke. (Jesus and did it break! I’m glad institutional plumbing was under me when I testing my building’s flush!) Now two teaspoons of Chia seeds go in my morning Huel and everything is back to normal. Aah, regularity: it’s the thing that replaces sex in oldsters like me.
But what about the big question: has Huel worked as a diet method for this blogger? I was encouraged to lose eight pounds in the first two months, averaging about a pound a week. While this appears to be a success story, I’ve been down this road before, so I wasn’t optimistic. This weight loss, I am sure, is coming from switching to Huel, but as I stated earlier, the Huel part of my diet makes up less than half of my twenty-one weekly meals and that’s not counting snacks. In the skirmishes known as my work meals, Huel has definitely taken the hill, but the battle royale at home is far more treacherous, with sweet hazards and fast and convenient food booby traps everywhere. My willpower is tested more often on my home turf then at my M-F, 8 to 5. If I don’t stay true to Bullet Points Three and Five of the plan, the Huel part of the program will be meaningless.
Leading up to my Week 5 weigh in I was logging daily caloric overages due mostly to over-eating during dinners and postmeridian-hour snacking: I was losing weight despite what I was consuming at home. Also, I attended a doctor’s appointment where the specialist noted my body mass index had me defined as “Obese.” Instead of the usual reply of “I know, I know” I wasted her time by telling her I am drinking meal replacement shakes for half of my meals and, at that time, had lost six pounds. I was talking to the back of her head as she concentrated on a recent sleep study results then turned to face me, giving me one of those perfunctory smiles and said, “That was probably excess water.” (Read: the weight loss will end soon and you will have to knock off the Snickers, Fatso.)
I survived the long Hueless four-day Thanksgiving period with the pitfalls of stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and sweet potato pie. Considering I maintained the same weight is an impressive feat. I credit scrutinizing my food options while logging what I ate on the smartphone app. Since I started with Huel, I have had planned Hueless breakfasts and lunches. In some of those instances, I consumed fewer calories in a meal than what is in a Huel shake. Unfortunately, there have been plenty of cases where I just broke down: bagel or donut mornings at work. Damn that Tan, Gracie, and Jackie, being generous leaders. Huel now has premade shakes. Why don’t they just buy a dozen of those and cram them into a pink box?
Without seriously following Bullet Points 3 and 5, I still needed to address Bullet Point 6: “Find an additional, more strenuous, form of exercise and stick with it.” The Breakfast Club didn’t pan out, nor did the Power Pump classes. The idea of running turned out to be a bitter joke and the more I think about it, the less appealing weekend bike trips look. Still, would if I went riding with a group of people. Maybe that would encourage me. Also, would if I could never get a flat on a bike. Would if I never had to keep my bike tuned up. Would if, unlike my commute–where I rarely push myself–this ride came with a trainer telling me “You’re sandbaggin’ it Jocko, pick up the pace!” Most important, would if I can use my neon-blue ASICS’; would if the “X” in Conviction X equaled indoor cycling! My gym has an indoor cycle program with Stages Indoor Cycles–presumably the best available–not that it matters to me. I have been thinking about taking an early Saturday morning spin on my bike, now I can take a spin class using someone else’s bike. Well, the first two Saturdays started with me turning off the alarm I had set explicitly for this workout and falling back asleep until my dog woke me up. The third time I did it, barely.
I was miserable freezing my ass off on the scooter ride to the club early Saturday morning–a bad omen for doing this thing every Saturday morning through the winter. At the club, I dressed down donning the blue shoes and made my way to the spin room. I was just checking the operation out this time. I didn’t know if my saddle was too high or too low. I fidgeted with the toe clips pedals; the kind my wife always encouraged me to replace my standard platforms with: “You only generate power one way with platforms; you use an additional set of muscles with toe clips.” I also see people filing in wearing cleats, whipping out toolkits from their gym bags and switching the toe clips on the spin bikes for egg beaters–the kind my wife uses on her road bikes. What a hassle! The most significant change to get used to from my hybrid commuter is the big blue screw between my legs that determined the resistance. (I wished these things had gears like a regular bike.) I only rode the indoor cycle for half an hour then quit. I didn’t feel like working out that day but just wanted to ease into this new workout. I never returned to the class–at least as of this writing: Bullet Point 6 is so far a non-starter.
As of this writing, I weight 223. That’s only a few pounds less than when I started this latest stab at a diet at the beginning of October, but a couple of pounds more than my lowest weight in these fourteen weeks. Oh but wait, it gets far worse. Did I tell you, dear reader, that I have been tracking my weight since January of 2013? When I stepped on the scale at that time, I weighed 222. In the six years of dieting, I’ve gained one pound. If you excluded 2014 when I dropped to under 200 I’ve my dieting has a colossal failure. Christmas 2018 was no different than any other Christmas–I ate enough gingerbread cookies, sugar cookies, dip and chips, appetizers, sweet potato pie, chocolate cake, and ice cream to stuff an adult bison. The week after Christmas wasn’t much different. Is it really my job to hoover up all the remaining Nestle Toll House milk chocolate morsels, Reese’s peanut butter chips, and my wife’s rejected Christmas cookies? Apparently yes. What makes this year different from any other? It is no different. I guess I’ll end up just like the rest of the fat tourists in my club who sign up for the new year with the hope that they will lose weight. Of course, they will fade away soon enough and I will once again have more space around my locker to spread out. The only difference is I have the club membership with a weight room, four studios choked with spin bikes, elliptical machines, treadmills, recumbent bikes, rowing machines, pilate reformers, an Olympic-size swimming pool, three handball quarts, a full basketball quart and a group exercise schedule that provides options for just about anyone who can afford the membership. All of that and my many diet gimmicks and I gain a pound over five years. Not quite a Subway guy success story.
On New Year’s Eve at work, I received a text message from my old friend, Simone. She wished me a Happy Birthday. (It’s my 61st, and thank you very much!) She also bugged me about challenging a work classification consolidation that seems more like a demotion for me despite my Human Resources leads waxing on how great it is for all of us. Finally getting her to change the depressing subject she told me she had registered for the Shamrock’n Half Marathon.–an annual running event she does each year ever since she beat cancer. For some crazy reason she got me to sign up, but I opted for the 5K instead of the main event. I’m sure I’ll be walking most of the way, but I’ll call it “recovery time” so I don’t sound like a lazy ass. The race is in three months and as long as my fat ass is in this chair typing away, I can keep telling myself I can do some practice runs without really doing anything to prep myself. The 5K cost me only $44 and I get a green t-shirt out of it. Shortly after signing up for the 5K I received an email from an associate at work about SacFit a Sacramento running and walking club that includes a good friend from work who has run whole marathons so I doubt I would be keeping up with him. That email led me to look up Fleet Feet’s No Boundaries— another running and walking club that meets up in Land Park, close to where I live. (And hey, from the pix on the website it looks like I get a blue t-shirt out of it.) I sent No Boundaries an email (because that is so easy) to look into membership. I’ve looked into the Fleet Feet club before and have received a warm response inviting me to come out to Land Park on a given Saturday only to sleep in, turning off the alarm I was so solemn to abide when I set it the night before just like the night before that Saturday morning spin class. All this running talk is probably just a bunch of shit. If I am not bullshitting myself and my reader this time, I may write a post about training for and running a 5K.
I either do this running thing or maybe try a HIIT class–there’s one on Wednesday nights that I have been mulling over. Or just dump the last bullet point in my plan. Maybe the “X” in Conviction X equals zero–at least when it comes to strenuous exercise. If I don’t do the HIIT class I’ll keep the shoes in my closet until I’m inspired to address Bullet Point Six again and stick with my Huel shakes and beg my fat brain to take it easy on the snacks and go easy on the Hueless meals. Show some Conviction, for X sake!
I’ve been practicing yoga for more than three years. It started as an Rx by a physical therapist who said there’s no cure for my degenerative disk disease, but keeping limber will keep me off ibuprofen and the occasional opioid. She was right–barring the stiffness from binge-watching streaming TV shows, I’m pretty much always limber thanks to four hours of yoga a week.
And this is my struggle: my laziness and gluttony versus my life on the mat and trying to diet. It is a mortal struggle. Since I think I spend more hours doing the two things that are killing me than the hours I spend on the mat sweating it out, it is a losing battle—all of this on the battlefield of Time–the ultimate killer.
It’s all about what element will conquer my body on a given day. This day, Sunday, May 19, 2017, goes to the Axis of Evil: an hour of TV, way too much ice cream late in the evening, and just the plain fact that I have much fewer days on this planet than the days behind me. Tomorrow is another fight.