In October of 2014 I traveled to Israel on a Baptist Convention of Iowa sponsored trip. On that trip I rode a camel – it was quite an experience. Last Christmas I made my own Christmas cards with a photo of me riding that camel and sent it out to a few of my friends. “The Wise Men came from the East…with Jenni.” I receiprved quite a bit of feedback from people who thought the picture was among the funnier Christmas cards they had received. But as I looked at the pic, one thought overwhelmed me.
I was a skinny kid in high school. I mean skinny. I still tend to see myself that way and when I see pictures of myself it is shocking. Am I really that huge? But I was. during 2014, prior to that trip to Israel, I had reached my highest weight. I’m not sure exactly what it was, but I know that I’d packed somewhere around 370 (or more) pounds on my 6′ 4″ frame. I laughed about it a lot, made jokes, but I knew it wasn’t good. I’m closer to 60 than to 55 and health experts say that the extra weight is as damaging to my health as smoking would be. If I wanted to see my grandchildren grow up, if I want to extend my ministry, something had to happen.
I had always been the king of the fad diet. I’d lost 2483 pounds on the Atkins diet, but then Snikta Syndrome hit me (that’s Atkins backwards – when you go off Atkins you gain the weight twice as fast as you lost it). I’d done the cabbage soup diet. I’d completed three marathons at between 320 and 350 pounds. And still I continued to gain weight. I felt helpless, angry, embarrassed.
And then I saw that picture on the camel. Miller, you are a big, fat pig!
That’s when I went to my doctor. I asked about the nuclear options – bariatric surgery. She’s not a huge fan of those options – some of them don’t work and those that do are pretty extreme. But she presented me with another option that I jumped on. There is a new medication, this type of pill (actually, there are a couple) that help with weight loss in coordination with dieting. For the last 13 months I’ve been doing a simple diet program, taking this medication, and consulting regularly with my doctor. It has been the most successful diet program of my life. I’m real close to something pretty significant. One of these days it looks like I’m going to weigh in and the first number in my weight is going to switch from a 3 to a 2. I’m getting real close.
I guess I still look like a “before” picture, because of how much weight I needed to lose when I started. I’m about halfway (around 70 pounds or so). Here’s a picture from last week with me and a certain neurosurgeon whose campaign asked me to open in prayer at a local event.
1. I’m working with my doctor.
I’ve tried it on my own for 35 years and failed miserably. Maybe my doctor actually knows something I don’t. Maybe the weight really did need to come off and my wisdom wasn’t enough. So, I humbled myself and listened to what she said. I have the advantage here that the doctor is a friend and she listens to me as well. But I’ve taken her advice.
2. I’m taking medicine.
Weight loss drugs have a pretty horrible history. Uppers that got you hooked. There was a drug called fen-fen that tended to make people dead. But recently there have been a few decent breakthroughs in weigh loss drugs. They are not miracle drugs. If you see a miracle drug advertised, avoid it. But there are new medicines that simply give you a little help in the Battle of the Bulge. You still have to fight. You still have to cut back on the calories and increase exercise. They simply give you a boost.
There is a drug called Belviq, but the one I’m taking is Qsymia. For me it has been a great help. Actually, not only am I losing weight, but it is also a drug used in migraine prevention and I’ve not had a single cluster headache since I’ve been on this program, but that is a different discussion for a different day.
The doctor has been a big help. The medicine has been a big help. But the key to it all has been #3.
3. I’m using “My Fitness Pal” to log my food.
It’s a simple app on my smartphone. I told it my height and weight what my goal weight is. I decide how fast I want to lose weight – I chose 1 pound per week, a moderate amount. It gives me a calorie limit per day. It was actually pretty generous I started out with an allowance of just under 3100 calories a day. That seemed like an awful lot, but as I began to record my calories it became pretty clear why I was struggling with my weight. Had you asked me, I’d have guessed that I probably ate 3500 to 4000 calories a day. Once I started counting my calories I had to face the truth. I was probably consuming 6000 or more calories in an average day.
If you are overweight, try it. Take my challenge. Just eat normally for a week, but get the “My Fitness Pal” app – it’s free. Record your food. It’s not that hard. Most foods are in the app and all you’ve got to do is estimate how much you ate. I got a scale, but now I’m able to pretty much guess things. It also records fat, sugar, salt, protein, etc. Take an honest 1 week look at what you are eating and you make realize what I had to realize. I ate way too much – twice as much as I should have eaten. It’s a wonder I wasn’t 600 pounds. If it wasn’t for the exercise, the marathons, I probably would have been well on my way to being one of those guys they make reality shows about!
Since the Monday before Thanksgiving in 2014, I have stayed within my calorie limit every single day with few exceptions – I think in nearly 400 days I could count the days I’ve gone over my calorie limit on one hand. Probably wouldn’t need my thumb.
4. I try to be more active.
One of the nice things about losing all the weight is that activity becomes less difficult, more enjoyable. There’s a steep hill near our house (we call it Christy Hill) and going up it used to just about kill me. Now I can make my way up it without too much difficulty. The 70 pounds I’m NOT hauling make a real difference.
I do a couple of things to track my exercise. First of all, I got a Fitbit to keep track of my daily activity. I also use an app called “Map My Run” that logs my exercise. Both coordinate with My Fitness Pal and allow me to earn extra calories through exercise. If I want to go out for a big meal, I can do it. I’ve just got to earn it!
I’m nowhere near done. The Qsymia program is designed to be 2 years long. I started the week of Thanksgiving in 2014, so I’m just now beginning my second year. If I lose as much weight in year 2 as I did in year 1 I will be somewhere near my goal weight, but the fact is that after the initial 6 months the rate has slowed down.
1. My weight was no laughing matter.
I was on a mission trip working with a friend from way back in high school, one I hadn’t seen in a long time. We had a great time, but he took me out to talk one day to talk. he gently chided me about the fact that I made so many jokes about my weight. I should do something about it, not make jokes about it. He was not judgmental or condemning, but as a friend who cared about me was challenging me. It cut me deeply, though it took me a couple of years to come to the point where I got serious and did something about it.
I joked about my obesity because it embarrassed me. But for 30 years I have been slowing committing suicide, publicly exhibiting a lack of self-control and demonstrating that my fleshly desires were stronger than my ability to choose wisdom. It was a poor testimony as a leader in a church and it was nothing to joke about.
2. Fads, miracles fixes, and “breakthroughs” are of the devil!
Qsymia helps me. The apps help. But there’s no easy fix. Even surgical fixes aren’t easy or miraculous. If you are going lose weight you’ve got to pay the price. It takes work. I know there’s this science and that, but I all comes down to some pretty simple math. If I burn more calories than I consume, I’ll be successful. If I overeat I’m going to continue to be fat. There’s no magic pill, no secret formula, and if they are offering that it’s usually for THEIR profit, not yours.
3. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
I’ve been doing this for 13 months now and I’m only halfway, but the fact is that if I start in month 25 eating like I did back in the old days, I’ll put the weight right back on. I’m going to have to keep control even when I’m off the Qsymia and the official diet is over. It took me 35 years to double my weight. I’m not going to fix that overnight, not at my age. You can’t microwave significant change! There are no easy fixes to spiritual problems. Gluttony and the lack of self-control is deeply ingrained in me. It’s not going away magically or easily.
4. The easy way is seldom God’s way.
I was doing the old guy thing last night – walking in the mall. There’s good reason for that in Iowa, because the weather doesn’t really encourage us to go walking outside. As I worked my way through the crowds I thought how hard this process is. It was easy getting fat. Sit on my fat hindquarters in my easy chair and eat. Nothing hard about that. But hauling my backside lap after lap around the mall? That’s hard. But isn’t that how life is in a fallen world? The right thing is usually the hard thing. The easy thing, the fun thing – that’s usually the thing that feeds the flesh. Saying yes to the flesh is easy. Saying no is hard, it takes the power of the Spirit working inside.
5. If you love a fatty, realize the desire to change must come from within him (or her).
I think my friend who took me aside privately and spoke to me did the right thing. I knew he was speaking from a place of concern, of love. But when you care about someone who smokes, or drinks, or overeats, it is frustrating. You see that person damaging his or her own life. I caused myself a lot of pain and cost myself a lot enjoyment by my morbid obesity. I’m sure there were people with whom I lost credibility when they looked at me. I know there were people who wanted me to get my life in order. But no one could nag me into losing weight. No one could harass me into skinniness. I had to come to that point where I wanted it bad enough to give up 6000 calorie days, 5000 calorie meals, third helpings of dessert; give up stuffing my face till I felt like I was gonna pop. I had to come to that place on my own.
6. The key is to realize you want the blessing more than the curse.
I love food. I love to eat. I really do. But I want to be healthy. I want to be live a long and healthy life and see my grandchildren grow up. I want to serve the Lord for years to come. The question I have to face is this – do I want that food that will slowly kill me or do I want the blessing of health? I have to choose the blessing over the thing that brings the curse. This is true with alcohol for the drunk. Do you want the buzz or the blessing of sobriety? Do you want the moment of pleasure (whether from adultery or pornography) or the blessing of fidelity to your marriage vows? Do I want to enjoy the moment or do I want to seek the blessing?
One of the key teachings of Proverbs is about wisdom and folly. Folly wants what is fun now. Wisdom sacrifices the momentary pleasure for the long-term blessing. For all my adult life I’ve been a Foody Fool – enjoying right now what I wanted without regard to what was going to happen in the long run. I need to think about the long-term consequences and not just feed my flesh it’s momentary pleasure.
I’ve just come to the point where I decided I want the blessing. It’s hard, but that’s what I want. It’s worth the pain.
This may well be my last post of 2015. I’m headed out on Christmas day to points east (Virginia, Boston) and when I get back it’s a quick turnaround to Africa. Not sure whether I’ll get another one in before I return from that trip. But I want to say a couple of words to my fellow pastors – one to you young whippersnappers and one to you fellow fatties!
Young guys – never buy into the narcissistic, health-fanaticism (idolatry?) of the modern age, but your health matters! A healthy you is a better you, a better husband, better father, better pastor. And just about everything in the ministry will fight against it. Our job is a high stress, sedentary one. You sit in your office, in the car, behind your computer, and you deal with people. And you eat. Potlucks. Business lunches. Fellowship meals. Everything works against you staying healthy. Stay healthy. Staying healthy is a lot easier than GETTING healthy. Staying reasonably thin is easier than losing half your body weight after 35 years of bad choices.
Fellow fatties – fight the fight! You are still loved by God (and others). But your excess weight is not a joke, it’s a form of slow suicide. Don’t give in to it. Fight the good fight. You don’t have to become a radical to make some healthy choices. I can tell you that I feel better and I don’t feel that I’m missing all that much after a year without 5000 calorie suppers. Sometimes I look longingly at the cheesecake at the Factory, but I can live without it. There is hope today for us Corpulent Christians – not only the help of God’s Spirit within giving us self-control but the help of solid (not fad) medicine and some good apps – and friends who will support you. Make the choice.
Here’s to cracking 250, maybe 230 by NEXT Christmas!