On Fitness: Learn from my weakness, my mistakes, and my bad habits

Greatest Glory

I sit here typing this blog two weeks after having the gastric sleeve surgery. Gastric sleeve surgery works by removing a large portion of the stomach, leaving a banana-shaped "sleeve" that connects the esophagus to the small intestines. I was at a point in my life where my body just would not burn calories, even with vigorous exercise and my weakness was I liked to put the calories in. I do a lot of critiquing of police, the tactics and methods we use in an effort to become more effective and safe. This is my critique of me and how I let my fitness go and what I am doing to get it back, to be more effective and safe. My hope is that writing this will help some cop, some person, reshape their lives.

We all have strengths and weaknesses. At 50 plus years of age I spent more than the first half of my adult life maintaining a high level of fitness. I ran, lifted weights, tossed kettlebells around, and dabbled in the martial arts. I bicycled miles and miles a week. I even jumped on the hot finesses trends like cross fit and plyometric s. I even once knocked on my neighbor’s door with sledgehammer in hand to ask them if I could use the old tractor tire in their back yard to hammer away at, in an effort to try and burn calories. I got both a strange look and a “sure Fred whatever you like you can use down there”, with the door quickly closing in my face. This still comes up with a huge laugh when I bump into neighbors on the street. I continue the workouts over the years much like I always had only as I aged I was a little bit more cautious because I noticed I didn’t quite bounce like I use to.

Over the past 15 years despite the workouts and even being called “the most in shape fat guy I know” by a brother officer, my fitness (My Health) slowly began to deteriorate. While working out my strength and flexibility would always improve, but the unhealthy fat body always remained. Over the last fifteen years my weight slowly evolved in an upward direction until I early on reached the 200 club. I would diet back down to 170-180 pounds and then yo-yo back up to 210 and then do it again till I hit 220, and then 230, and finally until two weeks ago and after 15 years of up and down dieting I hit 255 pounds. My cholesterol and blood pressure are high. I have sleep apnea, exercise induced asthma my joints hurt and I cannot move anywhere near as quickly as I use to.

My strength was working out! My WEAKNESS was food and a bad diet! And it was taking me down a road to a bad older lifestyle full of medical issues. The habits I had formed around my diet were just poor.

Habits scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. Left to its own devices the brain will try to make almost any routine into a habit, because habits allow our minds to ramp down more often. The effort saving instinct is a huge advantage. An efficient brain allows us to stop thinking constantly about basic behaviors, such as walking and choosing what to eat, so we can devote mental energy to more pressing or important issues. But conserving mental effort is tricky, because if our brain powers down at the wrong moment, we might fail to notice something important, like a predator hiding or in the case of dieting, THE FOOD CHOICES YOU MAKE! In the book the Power of Habit is a three step loop. First there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. My cue was walking into my house after my 4-12 shifts. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. My routine was mental and emotional (relax and let the shift go). Finally there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future. My reward was food and it was indeed worth remembering at least in the moment, I figured I deserved a good feed.

Over time, this loop cue, routine, reward; becomes more and more automatic. The cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and craving emerges. Eventually, my turning into my driveway after my shift at 12:30AM, a habit was born, a bad habit that lasted until two weeks ago. Habits aren’t destiny but I had to do something to remedy this.

The Power of Habit says “the problem is that your brain cannot tell the difference between bad and good habits, and so if you have a bad one, it’s always lurking there, waiting for the right cues and rewards. This is why it’s so hard to create exercise habits, for instance or change what we eat. Once we develop a routine of sitting on the couch, rather than running, or snacking whenever we pass a doughnut box, those patterns always remain inside our heads.” To remedy the diet problem I met with nutritionist, a counselor and doctor. I read every book you can think of on the current diets. Hell I can rattle off information on high and low glycemic indexes and foods like I was a nutritionist myself BUT I could not mentally stayed disciplined when it came to food.

At 53 and with two new grandsons in my wife and I’s lives I had to change something. Plus I love being a police officer, and allowing myself, to go, unhealthy is not how a professional police officer should be. It does not matter what you know or how good a cop you are. Perception says you don’t give a shit! Not true but it’s the perception just the same!
The gastric sleeve was my answer, the tool I needed. As I write this piece I am down 27 pounds already. I have to say I needed this procedure and think of it as a tool to shape and reshape the bad habits I had formed that were so powerful they established a set point in my body that regulated body weight and fat levels. These signal control your appetite, digestion, energy balance, and metabolism to keep your body weight and fat at a steady level or “set point.” Without getting too into the science behind set points the bottom line is your body works to defend its set point, dieting and exercising are rarely effective in helping people with obesity achieve and maintain a healthy weight long-term. My body’s hormones are working against me because I ALLOWED them too with bad dietary habits. The gastric sleeve surgery not only makes the stomach smaller so you eat less. It also resets your set point by altering the complex relationship my body, has with food. Sounds crazy? Yes it does but after 2 weeks of eating like I am supposed to and begin to develop new habits I can see and feel how bad I was when it came to food and now see and feel the difference of a healthy diet.

I wanted to write this piece to help other police officers learn from my mistakes and bad habits which was in reality, too much focus on work and not enough focus on my health and well-being. As Otto von Bismarck said; “Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.” Learn from my weakness, my mistakes, and my bad habits and live a balanced life, mental, spiritual and physical. It does indeed make a difference.

Stay Oriented!