Yes, It’s Possible to Push Yourself Too Hard

“Nobody told me there would be days like these!” Actually, that is not entirely correct. Every new action which you take has the potential to create an undesirable reaction. Perhaps in your enthusiasm to begin, you choose to ignore the warning label. If you had read the fine print, you would know that days like these are normal. The greatest challenges do often rear their ugly heads in the early stages of your development. Do not doubt your choice. How you decide to respond to these reactions is as important as was your initial choice to include exercise in your life. Your determination will push you through the hard times that await.

Remember, for those of you who consider yourselves absolute novices, these regular bouts with physical activity are something entirely new. Whether you are a first-timer or happen to be returning to active duty after an extended leave of absence, you just might be experiencing some unwanted side-effects. More than a few of your long dormant muscles are simultaneously beginning to erupt with joy and discomfort. They are excited to be moving for sure. Nevertheless, they are already screaming for a break. I need to encourage you to continue despite this phase which you are going through. It will pass. The soreness typically associated with periods of exercise will begin to dissipate. It will make a strange, but wonderful transition as you bravely and steadily move forward. What once was an almost debilitating feeling will become not only more bearable, but also a sure sign that you’ve worked hard. A good kind of soreness will emerge. Yes, it’s true! You will begin to recognize it as a signature indicator of a successful workout.

Your ability to bounce back from a tough experience will be crucial to your early success. Rest is so important for your body. Do not underestimate this fundamental truth. You need not worry that if you stop you might not get started once again. You are more resilient than you realize. So, if you have to momentarily cease your activity, then by all means do so. As your body acclimates to this fun-filled exercise routine, you will notice a shorter rest and recovery period is required. However, a simple modification of your activity may be all that is necessary. Whatever physical exercise you are engaged in, please, listen to what your body is saying. Being a bit too over-exuberant in the first few weeks and months is perhaps the biggest mistake which I observe people making. Yes, believe it or not, even you can push yourself too hard. Doing so will turn that natural soreness which you anticipate into pain which you dread. If it follows every step, or each push, or pull, or twist, and turn, it surely cannot be ignored. Injury can be devastating to your effort to change. You don’t want to be back on the sidelines. However, a much more common sensation for beginners is a burn-out effect. It is not wise that you should run before you can walk. When I counsel “a little at a time”, I do so with all the energy that I can muster. I have seen the unfortunate results of an over-active ego in the gym. I have witnessed the damage inflicted due to under-developed patience. You don’t have to try to be Superman or Wonder Woman. With a sensible approach and trust in good things to come, you will see the super man or the wonderful woman you are capable of becoming. The eagerness to see positive results is absolutely understandable. But rather than doing too much, too soon, I would prefer that you do as Ralph Waldo Emerson once suggested–“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”

In summery, there is no secret here. As you are quietly building your foundation of fitness upon the virtuous rock of patience, do not be distracted by age old myths. The oft-repeated saying “no pain, no gain” is not at all appropriate for your ears. It can easily be misunderstood. Hearing this, you could innocently assume that you are not working hard enough if, in fact, you don’t feel this purportedly necessary ingredient. Likewise, you might incorrectly conclude that you don’t need to listen to your body. Don’t be fooled into believing that you are quite capable of working through any such pain which you encounter. This is nonsense. Be wise. Be safe. Become healthy. What more need I say? There is no mistaking the obvious fact that you do have to work hard to accomplish anything. Nevertheless, the truth is that what defines hard work is relative to your individual situation. I hearken back to what I have preached many times before. You owe it to yourself to give your very best effort each day. I cannot gauge what that means or feels like. Only you hold the keys to that knowledge. So, be true to yourself. Give it your best shot today. Don’t fret if you are feeling like the poster child for a fitness warning label: feeble knees, sore lower back, and quick to lose your breath. The small print on your poster reads “You’re doing just fine today and tomorrow will be even better!”

Eating vs. Exercise — It’s a Toss-up!

Fear not. I am not ignoring you. I have heard your plea for some clarity on a matter which has you spinning your wheels at the starting line. You, and surely others as well, are wondering if it matters at all how you begin this exciting, new part of your journey. Specifically, you would like me to tell you if you should start exercising first and then at some precise date and time in the future add the D.I.E.T. component. You know that I am not the type of person who is going to dictate how you must do things. I understand your perceived dilemma. Exercise then healthy eating? Healthy eating then exercising? You feel that you’d be biting off more than you can chew if you attempt to handle both. In truth, you know yourself better that anyone else does. So, I am guessing that whatever your instincts are whispering in your ear is probably most appropriate for you. However, I will be glad to give you some additional information which you can use to help make that decision easier. Hey, in truth, if it comes down to you flipping a coin to determine where you begin, you really can’t go wrong. I am just so thrilled that you are ready to do something now!

Why exercise? Although some of you may dread the very thought of it, the fitness component may be just what you need to ease your mind. Some marketing genius once coined the phrase, “Milk does a body good!” Well, someone should come up with a catchy phrase like “to work out your troubles, just workout!” When you make an effort to do literally anything beyond your current level of physical activity, you begin to feel better almost immediately. Due to the exciting process of endorphin production in your brain during exercise, you will actually feel better about yourself. Yes, it is true. That which you hate can make you happier! Ironic, isn’t it? For a super emotional boost when you are down in the dumps, or to deal with those ever-growing feelings of frustration concerning your job, just start moving! To combat the damaging effects inflicted upon the body as a result of stress, regardless of the root of its existence, keep moving! Exercise beats down cortisol, even as you beat yourself up with a workout. To create a more resilient you, capable of taking everything that life has to throw at you in stride, continue walking! Exercise packs a powerful punch! Even in small doses, it really does your body good. You have at your disposal, the most efficient, 24 hour. full-service pharmacy in your neighborhood. No, not that giant, new CVS at the corner, but, rather, your very own body. By starting to exercise today, you can access your built-in pharmacy and pay nothing for hormones and neurotransmitters such as Dopamine, Serotonin, Norepinephrine, and Glutamate. These brain chemicals are responsible for helping you to relax and feel good! To refill a prescription for them, no phone call is required. All that you have to do is exercise, again! Don’t you feel great already? Doesn’t this information make you want to spring from the couch into action? No, it doesn’t. Well, you will someday soon.

Why eat right? Begin to change your eating habits today and you can expect to notice a significant difference in your mood. The instability and irritability which have previously been prevalent throughout your days will quickly become a distant memory. By choosing to eat more appropriately, you will be gaining control of your blood glucose levels. You will undoubtedly be more fun to be around. You may become the life of any party or gathering! Do you want to lose that excess body fat before the New Year’s celebration, then get a jump start today by closely watching what you eat. No, I don’t mean staring at your food like my five year old does. What this change calls for is a conscious effort to monitor the types of food that you are ingesting. Eliminate as much of the sugary, processed garbage that you have been poisoning yourself with and your body will be thanking you. Yes, you will need to purge yourself of the toxins which you have been granting free access to your body via your mouth. Every cell from head to toe will be doing jumping jacks and summersaults in celebratory fashion due to your new approach. Every system in the body will function more effectively and efficiently. Indeed, you are a mighty machine which requires the proper fuel to operate at maximal levels. Your decision to eat your way to better health will bring to pass the resurrection of your once broken-down engine. Your life can literally be reclaimed. Go green and see what I mean! Sure, recycling is the right thing, but vegetables are the real king. With so many choices available, there is something in this kingdom for everyone. If perchance you don’t enjoy the sight of vegetation, but are willing to do what is necessary, throw them in a blender. Drink it down, and lift up your heart health. It is amazing how quickly your body will respond when you treat it with respect. What have you to lose when you choose D.I.E.T. modification? Nothing, I say, except for unwanted weight, of course. By reducing the size of your meals, you will also be shrinking the size of your waist-line. That’s a fair trade-off, isn’t it? Choose you this day what you will serve for meals, and you may actually discover that you have the energy to exercise. Funny how that works! So, you say that you have been moved to relinquish the sweets and treats. Or are you feeling that inspiration may direct you to some perspiration through a delightful workout routine? Still not quite sure? I’ll provide the coin!

Whatever your decision, you will be happy with it. You have two exceptional candidates. Either choice will lead you to where you need to be. I believe it is time to vote! Let’s get busy!

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A Little at a Time

Making a transition from a relatively sedentary lifestyle to a robust, active one is not a “walk in the park”. Changing the way in which you view food, and then, of course, consume it isn’t exactly a “piece of cake” either. How overwhelming must it be for one who might be led to believe that an extreme makeover in both areas is required immediately. How damaging to one’s dream it can be to attempt the inappropriate and massive restructuring of their lives which they believe must occur all at once. I have discussed the basics of this important concept of change with you on previous occasions. Let me please address this issue of urgency and put it in its proper perspective.

I suppose this might be a good time to drop a bombshell announcement. I have never liked the show “The Biggest Loser”. In truth, I’ve only seen it a couple of times and read a random article or two concerning the program. However, between that exposure and the testimonies of others who have also viewed it sparingly in the past, I believe I have sufficient evidence to state the following: what is being lost is perspective, not pounds. These “guinea pigs” are not those whose routines you need to follow. They have consented to be part of a laboratory experiment for all the world to see. What you do see is an illusion. You cannot hope to emulate anything concerning their existence as part of the series. They cannot even dream of recreating the same circumstances and environment when the cameras stop recording. What they experience is an extremely distorted reality. Who among you can put your entire life on hold, hire a drill sergeant for a trainer to torture you, and retain a personal chef to prepare all your meals? I don’t see any hands raised. The message that this over-hyped, sensationalized non-reality show is sending is doing more harm than its producers could possibly imagine. Dramatic or forced shifts in exercise and eating habits do not translate into successful daily behavioral patterns. If the motivation behind the “shock therapy” for body transformation is purely for a monetary prize, or a brief encounter with fame, or simply to attract attention, or to please somebody else, it will prove to be one’s downfall.

Do you think that genuinely understanding why some changes in your current lifestyle truly do need to occur could actually encourage a more sensible approach? I believe that the answer is yes. Without a more complete perspective, change can easily be viewed in one of two unproductive, even destructive ways. One’s mindset might be that it is altogether too difficult and therefore any attempt will be futile. Another view of change suggests that it is something society requires of them. This offers a very strict set of standards to which absolute adherence is expected. If you are overweight, you must do something to resolve that problem now. Apparently, if you are too thin, you don’t fit in either. You are constantly bombarded with the false declaration, “Assimilate or you have no chance to fully participate.” There is so much pressure, and not just on the youth, to look, act, and speak in a manner that is deemed acceptable. Interestingly, these assigned bench-marks for behavior, by which you are judged harshly, are constantly shifting causing more confusion. Too frequently, even those who should be counted on for support amid the barrage of negativity simply add to the problem. Repeatedly telling someone that he or she has to stop making so many unhealthy choices without offering a plan, and therefore a possible solution is hopelessly unproductive. Constantly nagging another who is carrying around extra weight on their frame is not going to lighten the burden they feel. Sadly, cast aside are the virtues of compassion, understanding, patience, and unconditional love. In their place can be found ridicule, finger-pointing, bullying, and then abandonment. Pushed to their physical and emotional limits in an all-out effort to comply, it is easy to see how many people might feel that there is simply no point anymore in trying to change.

So, what is to be done? You cannot physically do for others what they must do for themselves. However, as all are commissioned to comfort those in need of comfort and bear one another’s burdens, there is plenty of good work that you can perform. Striving always to be positive, uplifting, and encouraging is a wonderful start when those who are close to you feel that the things they wish for are so far out of reach. Help them to do a little at a time. Procrastination will lead to no worthwhile destination, but that doesn’t mean I recommend fool-heartedly rushing into anything pertaining to one’s fitness and food rehabilitation. This is a serious undertaking. It can be seriously difficult. So, take it head-on, but do so one step at a time. Don’t try to run a marathon when you should really first take that walk in the park. Those with a proper perspective grasp the notion that, generally speaking, if you are healthier you will be happier. When you experience an increase in happiness, you will tend to be more productive and helpful to those around you. Willingly becoming more helpful will lead to a life that is more hopeful of the future. All of this equates to better long-term stress management. Adversity becomes easier to accept and deal with. Barring the unforeseen, with the hope that is in you, a more complete and satisfying life can be attained, regardless of its length.

When evidence of risk factors for diabetes, stroke, heart-attack, etc. becomes quite clear, I hope that you do feel a heightened sense of urgency to address it. Nevertheless, urgency does mean you have to press the panic button with both hands. “I don’t believe that good work is ever done in a hurry.”-C.S. Lewis For many of you, D.I.E.T. modification has to be broken down to this: begin one meal at a time, one bite at a time, one day at a time! If you have not been a breakfast eater in years, an excellent initial goal should be to work on making this first meal of the day a priority. It is frankly a little too much to handle to attempt to do any more than that. Once your “fast break” meal in the morning has become habitual, then move on to tackle the next step in the plan. This involves the mini meal or healthy snack concept. Slowly, but surely, you can build a solid daily routine that is manageable. Little by little, the confidence which you need to continue to refine your approach will grow within you. “I think I can. I think I can.” will morph into “I know I can. I know I can.” Some may be able to wipe their daily plate clean and revamp their D.I.E.T in total from the beginning. But, most will not be successful going this route. It may seem like an uphill battle, but keep on chugging, little by little. “Believe in what your heart is saying. Hear the melody that’s playing. There’s no time to waste. There’s so much to celebrate. Believe in what you feel inside and give your dreams the wings to fly. You have everything you need, if you just believe.”-Josh Groban, “Believe”

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You’re Never Finished

I have been approached by many sincere people in my time as a fitness trainer. I consider it a wonderful privilege that so many have sought my help. I have felt a great responsibility as I have been permitted to play a small part in their collective journeys. Their diversity is so amazing! While the differences in age, personality, education, athletic accomplishment, personal and professional acclaim, economic status, race, culture, religious creed, and physical condition are what make each so unique, I am fascinated that to some degree or another, these individuals have all been genuinely seeking a greater sense of happiness in their lives. An extreme rarity would be the occasion in which I am asked a question I have not heard before. Regardless of the varied backgrounds of the inquisitors, the questions themselves tend to be strikingly similar. The most common ones which I have fielded are as follows. #1 “Where specifically do I need to begin? #2 “How do I actually start?” #3 “How soon will I know if this is working?” #4 “How long will I have to commit?” To those whose journey has led them to this moment of pondering your present state, your immediate task or purpose, and your long term destiny, I will offer a few golden nuggets of truth which I have shared over the years.

Where do I need to begin? How about beginning exactly where you are at! The beginning that I allude to precedes the purchase of new athletic shoes and apparel. So, thus it is before you literally put one foot in front of the other and begin your move forward to improved fitness. It is the vitally important prelude to refreshing your refrigerator with healthy produce. Begin by exercising a particle of faith. Even if you can do no more than desire to believe change is possible. That is where it all must begin. “A bird sitting in a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking because her trust is not on the branch but on its own wings. Believe in yourself.”-Seth Adam Smith It is amazing what can be accomplished when you put an end to the lies which you have been telling yourself every day. The tiniest flicker of faith can help you separate truth from fiction. “Don’t let the fear of failure discourage you. Don’t let the voice of critics paralyze you–whether that voice comes from the inside or the outside.”-Dieter F. Uchtdorf “By small and simple things are great things brought to pass. Begin, here and now, with what little you think you have. Truly, there are great things which lie within your reach but beneath the many layers of falsehoods you have built. At your very core, you know that you were meant for more. “You were not created to live depressed, defeated, guilty, ashamed, or unworthy. You were created to be victorious.”-Seth Adam Smith

How do you actually start? Let your desire (to believe) work in you until you reach a point that you can give place for a portion of a plan to guide you. So, you start by having a plan. Some of you wonder if your plan should first incorporate a fitness component or whether you should reconstruct your D.IE.T. to start. “To reach a goal you have never before attained, you must do things you have never done before.”-Richard G. Scott What a blessing it is that with each new day you are granted the opportunity for a new start! So, take full advantage of this precious gift this day and try something new. Obviously, there are options available. Your choice will depend on your current overall physical and mental state. Not everyone will be able to start anew in precisely the same manner. A personal assessment is necessary to determine exactly what would best fit you as you eagerly stand at the starting line. An approach which includes your involvement in both some form of exercise and D.I.E.T. alteration simultaneously may be ideal for many of you. If you are not yet prepared to make the courageous jump with a major overhaul in both areas, please do not be discouraged. “Don’t worry about how inexperienced you are or think you are, but think about what, with the right guidance, you can become.”-Unknown Daily healthy eating and regular exercise are absolute requirements for the new lifestyle you’d like to pursue. Certainly, this is not a concept that is foreign to you. However, the formulation of a plan for you does not necessarily have to include both components immediately. It would behoove you to start in a fashion which is most conducive to success. Because of the challenges which you will face, the all important pre-assessment will guide you in the way should take. “The best paths in life are rarely the easiest.”-Carlos A. Goody The reality is that you will have to step out of your comfort zone no matter what decision you make to start. When changes that you implement begin to feel natural, even easy for you, then it is likely time, once again, to make yourself a little uncomfortable. The path you will be traveling needs to be bumpy for a while for your good. So, wear your seatbelt at all times. “Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and most of all, love what you are doing.”-Pele

How soon will you know if this is working? I say to you that if today, your very first day, you are doing something different than yesterday it is already working. If you have engaged your spirit, mind, and body in an effort to alter the course of your life, I say again to you–it is working! Please discard any thoughts of needing to be perfect right now. Do that and the plan is working. This part of the journey may resemble a dance move. You are going to take two steps forward and one step back. Repeat this many times. Now, take three steps forward and two steps back. Repeat again. You are trending upward if we were to gauge your progress on a chart. You are moving to the rhythm of your own dance, not someone else’s. You are moving forward and it is working. “In a moment of fear or doubt or troubling times, hold the ground you have already won, even if that ground is limited.”-Jeffrey R. Holland Don’t ever dismiss your efforts as pointless or wasted. The point is you are making great strides regardless of the length of your dance steps. Even a misstep will prove to be a positive learning experience. Plant your personal flag in this strange, fertile ground and stake your claim to it. You are a pioneer, and this is your new territory, and it is working! As you are happily waltzing about your business, I challenge you to take the following test. Through the course of an entire day, can you forgo lamenting aloud concerning your plight? What would it be like if you uttered not a single hint of a complaint to yourself or others? If you can do this, it is working and your circumstances will surely change. “If for a little while the harder you try, the harder it gets, take heart. So it has been with the best people who ever lived.”-Jeffrey R. Holland Do not be fooled by the apparent easiness of the way others have chosen. This plan, though hard it may at times appear, will bring forth an abundance of good fruit. So, accept the bitter cup when you must, and rejoice in your sweet victories for a moment when they occur. But, keep moving despite the occasional awkward feel of the natural ebb and flow of life, and you will discover that it is working! Now let us compare the plan you are following unto a seed. If you give place that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, and if you do not cast it out by your unbelief, that you will resist it in any manner, it will begin to swell within your entire being. When you feel this swelling, you will begin to say to yourself–it must be that this is a good plan, for it is beginning to enlighten my understanding. Yes, it is beginning to be delicious to you. You may not have a perfect knowledge of what is happening, but that seed you have planted is helping to expand your confidence. Therefore, it is working. In truth, if your only measuring stick for success pertains to the number of pounds lost in a week, or a month, or six months, that may not be enough to guarantee a sufficient increase in your faith. While dropping several clothes sizes is a sign of the effectiveness of the plan, I wish to share with you an indicator of much greater significance. For you to find that satisfaction you seek, the size of your heart must grow in proportion to the decrease of your waistline which you delight in. If your desire to share the things you have learned with others increases by leaps and bounds, then it is really working! Furthermore, the more you give yourself in service to others, and express gratitude for what you now possess and who you are becoming, the more effective, efficient, and far reaching your plan will become. It will have found a home in your heart and it can only be good.

How long will I have to commit? If you expect to see changes in your life that will last, then you must make a commitment that is ever-lasting. There cannot be an end to your pursuit of complete health and wellness. Goals attained or destinations reached are merely points along our personal journey where we must begin again. Some love to use the term “maintenance phase” to describe the time period after one has successfully met the objective of a specific plan. I see great value in always establishing new goals for yourself. It doesn’t matter how old you are, or how long your quest has taken you, or just how perfect you believe yourself to have become. It is too easy to rationalize and think to oneself, “I’ve worked so hard for so long. I’m going to take a rest.” That self-proclaimed well deserved rest can turn into another deep slumber. You cannot afford to fall asleep at the wheel. Stay alert. Remain vigilant. Thinking that you can simply coast your way through the remainder of your life is, frankly, missing the mark. This commitment requires you to faithfully focus on family, food, fitness, and fun from now on. I cannot imagine a day when you stop working on self-improvement. I do know that others will be counting on you to continue. Please remember, this whole journey is not just about “you”. If you are not “all in” for all times, then disappointment and discouragement will likely come calling in search of a place to stay. It might not be your home they enter, but don’t forget the amount of influence you have on others. Your life-long commitment must include continually building and maintaining relationships with others. You must maintain that very same desire which helped you begin your journey. This sense of connectivity to your original dream is important so that you never lose sight of the way you have come. Developing and maintaining a state of eternal optimism needs to be part of this commitment. You never know what tomorrow has in store for you. I maintain that you can’t just “call it quits” without dealing with some undesirable consequences.

Through the years, I have come to learn something that has been very helpful to me. There is not a single one among us who is either absolutely perfect or hopelessly flawed. I believe that there is a fine line between what we perceive to be the start and end of our respective journeys. Each day has its own proverbial starting line and finish line, but there really are no endings, only new beginnings. It is our duty and privilege to make the most out of every day. No matter where we find ourselves, we are never really a finished product. I hope that concept is motivating to you rather than deflating. I humbly accept the reality that I am still a work in progress. I know that you can soon begin with the inner strength that comes even from a molecule of belief. I know that you will add upon that belief as you courageously embark on a suitable course of action. I know that you will find joy in the journey as you discover the plan is working now for you. I know that your joy will be more full as you willingly share the experience with others. I hope that you remain steadfast in your commitment and never give up. I know the best is yet to come.

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Is It Time to Breakup With Some of Your Favorite Foods?

Over seventeen years ago, I came to the starting conclusion that I needed to take a little break. I surmised that I would need to go it alone during this respite. That prospect would not be particularly fun or inviting. But, yet, challenging as it would be, this layoff was absolutely necessary for my personal progress. This self imposed sabbatical could conceivably be life changing. Sadly, I would not be traveling to far away lands to walk in the footsteps of the ancients. I would not be hiking some lush green hillsides or strolling through meadows filled with wonderful fragrances. I wouldn’t be skiing in the beautiful mountain West nor relaxing on a white, sandy beach in the South. No, this adventure would not bring me face-to-face with any natural wonders of the world.  Heck, I would not even be taking off on that much desired golf vacation. So, what exactly did I desperately need a separation from, you ask?

Brace yourselves. Food! Yes, you read correctly. F-O-O-D. Let’s be clear on this. I am not talking about all food, and I most certainly was not going to subject myself to a hunger strike. While fasting once a month for a couple of meals can bring both physical cleansing and spiritual enlightenment, that was not the nature of my pursuit. I knew precisely what I wanted to accomplish. I would have to distance myself from those things which tempted me to choose poorly as it related to my D.I.E.T. At the time, I did not have any idea how long I would spend “away” from certain foods. I did recognize that this split was serious. If I was ever going to be able to enjoy them again, I had to “break up” immediately with some of the foods I loved the most. I was undisciplined and not capable of a healthy, long-term relationship with those foods. Well, it will come as no surprise to you to find out that pizza and ice cream would be near the top of my list of favorite ex’s. However, the greatest temptation and my biggest obstacle could take many forms. It would be my very own Mom’s incredible tasty delicacies. Mom could have opened her own bakery. To this day, I have not sampled a pie, cheesecake, strudel, or other mouth-watering dessert which could rival my Mom’s home-made offerings. What was I to do? How could I say “no” to her? Maybe, I didn’t have to.

I figured out a way to stay faithful to my plan and not disappoint my Mom at the same time. I would simply request a take out order for dessert whenever I stopped over to eat at Mrs. Drumm’s Kitchen. I would then share all of those wonderful goodies with others. I began by putting some of the treats in my freezer, but very quickly realized that I could not afford to have them anywhere within my reach. So, my Mom’s bakery goods made the rounds among my co-workers, neighbors, golf buddies, friends, and on a few occasions, my students. What a bad son! What a terrible trainer! No, not at all. I was completely happy with my decisions. I pleased my Mom. She put so much time, effort, and love into her made from scratch creations. I miss the amazing smells coming from her kitchen. I am confident that she never had any idea I was redistributing her dessert excesses. Because I never slapped a huge piece of cheesecake down in front of someone I was training who was having his or her own struggles, I never had reason to feel guilty about sharing with anyone. I never forced it upon anyone. Of course, we all have our free agency or the ability to choose for ourselves and not to be acted upon. Not surprisingly, though, not a single soul ever said “no” to my simple invitation to try my Mom’s baking.

When I started out on this part of my journey, I didn’t set an arbitrary end date. I only knew that I needed to become the master of myself. I believed that I should and could control my urges when temptation is nigh. I understood that while complete manipulation of the people or environment around me was going to be highly unlikely, I needed to learn to make the best choices possible under every circumstance. Every decision I made going forward would matter and would have lasting significance.

One may not be able to see the outcome of a single, seemingly insignificant choice immediately, but the cumulative effect of similar, small decisions can become very obvious over time. And, indeed, this was the case with me. With each small victory in my daily battle against the natural man within me, I noticed an increased capacity to continue improving. It is such a beautiful experience in life to be able to see and feel the progress we make. As time passed, I gained confidence in my ability to pay no heed to those things which were once so difficult for me to avoid. In fact, those trouble making foods began to lose their appeal to me altogether. I became a different man as I diligently and faithfully adhered to the plan no matter what I encountered along the way. I no longer needed the things which I had previously thought were so necessary to my happiness. I reconnected with the only true source of lasting peace and comfort. I am grateful for the strength beyond my own which I received to endure the challenges in my journey.

Believe it or not, my temporary break lasted seven years! It could have continued ’til this very day. I am able to eat pizza now. I enjoy it more than ever, because I have it so infrequently. I can eat it slower and savor every bite. Furthermore, I can stop at two pieces. Ice cream is rarely ever on my tastebuds’ radar screen. Never again will I devour an entire container of Breyer’s natural vanilla in one sitting. As for pastries, well, I can have the tiniest sliver of pie or cheesecake on a special occasion and be totally satisfied. There will never be anyone quite like my Mom when it comes to baking. She passed away over three years ago. I miss her more than I can say. Imagine my Dad’s surprise when my friends approached him at Mom’s memorial service. So many of them related stories of eating the incredible food which I shared with them over the years. My Dad ate that up. It made for a fitting and unexpected ending to a small part of my journey. Because of undertaking this personal challenge, I more fully understand my capabilities. I believe that if you put your mind to it, you can do anything! I had to do this for myself and by myself. I acknowledge that not everyone can go “cold turkey” and be successful. As I have previously stated, I don’t suggest that anyone attempt a major change by themselves. Support is crucial. Give your very best effort and that helping hand will lift you when you feel weak. So, don’t be afraid to take a break of your own. I have a good feeling that time away will do wonders for you. “Out of sight” doesn’t guarantee that something will be “out of mind”. However, putting distance between yourself and your past problems is a great way for a new beginning. I am grateful for endless second chances!

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