Life As I Know It

My Ongoing Battle With Food Addiction, Body Image and My Upcoming Soylent Adventure

I was a pretty skinny kid until I was about 18. 30 inch waist and mostly skin and bones. When I hit 18 my metabolism screeched to halt plus I was driving and not walking nearly as much and I had formed horrible eating habits. I loved sweets, fast food, junk all around. I think that full sugar sodas were the only liquid I put into my body and did so in great quantities. Strangely, I didn’t really notice myself getting bigger. I’m not sure how it slipped by me but one day I went to get some new pants and realized I was wearing 40″ pants now. I occasionally tried to jump on whatever train I had overheard was the way to being fit, but never with any success. I topped out at about 230 pounds on my 5’10” frame. Apparently, I wore it well. When I went for a costume fitting once, the costumer didn’t believe me when I gave her my measurements.

Fast forward to 2004. I was married and living in Austin and somehow stumbled upon the South Beach Diet. I read the book. It was the first “diet” that really clicked with me. Mainly because it wasn’t just some fad diet that was a quick shortcut to losing weight. It was a scientific explanation of how the body processes the fuel you put into it and it just made sense to me. It was a change of lifestyle, not just a “magic formula.” With the help of my (now ex) wife, I managed to drop 60 pounds and get into the best shape of my life. I still wasn’t where I would optimally like to be, but I was definitely in the healthy weight range for my body. I could feel it. My body finally moved right and didn’t feel like I was wearing a fat suit. Since then, I’ve mostly kept it off with some small swings and backslides on the dietary front.

A few years ago I got into hot yoga and did that 5 times a week for about a year or more and definitely got in the best shape of my life. Eventually my diet slid a little farther than I would have liked and eventually the exercise did too, a bit. I was now a single guy who doesn’t like to cook, prepare or really spend any time on eating at all. Once I got back into a full time day job (as opposed to all my years freelancing) then yoga disappeared. Carving out an extra 2 hour window to go, do the class and shower felt like a Herculean task. I also hate deciding what to eat (which is usually my downfall). Now, 9 years after I finally got my diet in line, I am in the worst shape I’ve been in since dropping all the weight. I’m hovering at 190 which is at least 20 pounds more than I’m comfortable with (though I have added some muscle as well so the weight can’t truly be trusted to judge by). I toyed with “4-hour body” but quickly abandoned it. Food and the state of my body have become a major point of frustration and depression at times for me.

Let me divert for a moment to say that I know I have severely warped body image issues. I really have no idea what I really look like. Or maybe I do, I guess I don’t know but I know I’m not happy. As an actor, sadly, physical image is something I have to be concerned about. When I see myself on film it’s even worse than the mirror. I personally do not believe the “camera adds 10 pounds” crap. It’s a device that captures an image and I believe that it probably shows us truer than we see ourselves. I will also be the first to admit that while health is a factor on my mind, that vanity is the larger factor. I don’t like the way I look.

Lately I’ve found trying to eat healthy to be overwhelming and frustrating. I know low carb seems to work for me but I’ve now realized that I was probably not taking in nearly as many calories as I should have been either. Trying to eat low carb and get enough calories seems like a lot of work. I tried simply calorie counting a la Weight Watchers or MyFitnessPal but, puzzlingly, did not seem to get results. I’ve accrued a lot of nutritional knowledge over the years to the point where I now end up going down a rabbit hole and getting overwhelmed. For example, I think I’ll try to go low carb. Oh but I need to get enough calories as well. I don’t really like to cook or spend time eating so I go pre-packaged. But with pre-packaged, it’s hard to find low-carb options. I end up with some microwavable chicken breasts and a microwavable bag of seasoned broccoli, and then don’t like what I’m eating because it’s bland. Oh, and you should stay away from processed foods anyway which rules out almost everything I would normally eat that’s easy, pre-packaged or microwavable. Forget it, I’m tired of it and will just grab something somewhere. Just the other day, I went to the store with intentions of starting a new healthier lifestyle and within minutes, felt on the verge of tears, defeated and just grabbed some bacon, egg and cheese Lean Pockets.

Let’s address another big point. I truly believe I am a food addict. I don’t drink, smoke or do drugs of any kind. I’ve cut out diet sodas and am trying to cut out sugar (which I’ve done before back when I lost all the weight). Food is my vice. My drug. My addiction. It’s where I turn for comfort. It’s what I look forward to. It’s a source of happiness. I heard someone (I believe it was Riki Lindhome) make a great point which is that if you kick heroin or alcohol or many other addictions, you can go the rest of your life without those substances, but we all have to eat. We can’t give up food so there’s an extra layer of temptation there (and please know that I am not at all trying to compare or devalue the amazing accomplishment of kicking any substance addiction). I often feel out of control and like I “can’t stop myself” from getting and eating that thing as guilt sets in before I’ve even taken a bite because I’m unhappy with my own body and have no one to blame but myself. I suck at moderation. I can’t seem to eat a cookie or two, I eat the whole package. With foods I like, I can devour them in bulk, while sometimes I have trouble choking down a “healthy” meal if it’s something I’m not enjoying. I have a lifetime of really crappy eating habits to fight against and my tastes naturally run to the not healthy side. While I have had vegetables prepared that I have enjoyed, they still don’t exist in my mind’s database of “things I like.”

More frustrating is that I have done it before! I changed my diet and dropped 60 pounds so why can’t I find that place is again? Is it because I no longer have a wife who knows how to shop and cook? I remember how after a couple of weeks of changing my diet, that “I must have the french fries! I can not resist!” turned into “I would like some fries, but I can live without them.” I have not been able to find that place again yet.

I have often said that I wanted to find some kind of “People Chow.” Something I could make a huge batch of for the week that just had all the nutrients I needed. I don’t mind lack of variety if I don’t have to think about it and can just get rid of the hunger and give my body fuel. Enter my next adventure, Soylent. I’d read about Soylent quite a while back when it was basically one guy experimenting with formulating a drink he could drink 3 times a day to fulfill all his nutritional needs. Now they’ve raised millions of dollars and are going into mass production. They’ve been getting feedback, consulting scientists and dieticians and refining the formula and will start shipping by the end of this year. I will be trying a one month supply. The more interesting implications are as a solution to world hunger. I’m sure it will be controversial, and many will cry that no magical formula can replace nutrients from whole foods and such. I guess we will see. I’m certainly willing to give it a shot. The makers even make the point themselves that even if it’s not as good as eating a healthy whole food diet, it could still be a huge step up in health for many people who eat like crap.

Tonight as I once again battled the grocery store, determined to kick start my body again, I once again came close to giving up out of frustration. I grabbed some fully cooked microwavable chicken breasts and then my mind went down that rabbit hole again, “these are probably processed and not nearly as healthy as cooking and seasoning a chicken breast yourself and that microwavable bag of Tuscan Seasoned broccoli has who knows what else in it and the regular unseasoned broccoli is probably way healthier, but then I won’t want to eat it because it will be bland and, and, and…”

Eventually, I just stopped my mind and instead of giving up completely, I got the microwavable chicken breasts and broccoli. Because it’s still a lot better than grabbing burgers, fries, shakes, pizza and ice cream. I always want to do these severe and complete overhauls when it’s been proven time and time again, that small changes are far more likely to stick.

So that’s where I am. At least until my Soylent arrives, I will keep fighting this battle. I’ve failed before, and probably will again, but I guess what’s important is to keep fighting.

Imminently Forgettable?

I’ve noticed a strange trend in my life. I am often “forgotten.” Accidentally left off of invites, left off the credits, etc. Now first of all, let me say that this is not me whining, or “whoa is me,” or “nobody likes me,” etc. That is not my point, nor how I feel. It is more a genuine bafflement with this ongoing phenomenon from an analytical point of view as I feel it happens often, or certainly more than normal. There must be a reason for this.

If I were to hazard a guess, there are many factors that could come into play here. First, I tend to be a major homebody and isolate myself from the world quite a bit. I also, in general, tend to want to be unobtrusive and not bother people or force myself on them. I only like to be where I am welcome and wanted. Consequently this can sometimes come off as being aloof or distant or maybe disinterested.

I am not generally an initiator and if I do initiate, I will only do so 2 or three times, maximum and if that does not produce results or at least some initiative from the other party, then I will give up and assume I should leave them alone (lunch dates or meetings for example).

While, admittedly, I do sometimes enjoy the spotlight, I don’t like asking for it, competing for it or fighting for it so if there is someone who is bigger, louder, more gregarious, then many times I’ll meld into the shadows. In my acting, for example, I strive for a Gary Oldman-like career of variety and disappearing into characters more than being some blockbuster star.

Of course, some may posit the argument that maybe it’s no “accident” that I get left off of invites, but in the examples that I’m talking about here, I do truly believe it is not intentional for a variety of reasons.

Does it suck sometimes? Sure. Does it play on my own insecurities? Absolutely. But in the end, I truly believe it’s merely the effect of some cause within myself. I don’t mean being a bad person or anything like that, but just my own isolation inertia.

And just so I don’t seem completely myopic, believe me, there are many people who never forget me and plenty of times when I’m always included. Perhaps I’m not “forgotten” more than anyone else on the planet and there is no real phenomenon at all other than the human phenomenon to focus on the one negative aspect while being blind to the 10 positive positive aspects. That’s probably it.

Ode To My Fitbit One

One day at work, an email was sent out about having found someone’s “Fitbit.” I think there was another email or two about people who really liked theirs and would hate to lose them or something. This got me looking into this “Fitbit” thing. At first, I wasn’t really interested. Basically just a pedometer that counts your steps. It just didn’t seem like something I would care about or use. Yet it stayed on my mind. I kept researching. Started considering the Nike Fuelband, Jawbone Flex and others. After a whole lotta internet reading, I decided the Fitbit One was the one I was most interested in for various reasons too long to go into here. Suffice to say, do your own research and see which one sounds best for you. One day I finally just decided to get one from Best Buy and try it out and judge for myself.

I’ve been shocked at what a difference it’s made. I definitely think it will work better for certain types of people, but it’s definitely worked to motivate me. Having that goal of 10,000 steps a day is constantly planted in my brain. I park further away or take a longer route somewhere to get those extra steps. I get home, and while previously I would have just parked my ass on the couch and watched TV all night, if I see that I still have a few thousand steps to go, I’ll go walk a couple of miles to hit that goal. If it’s raining, I’ll run in place while I watch TV. When playing gigs with my band, they have been known to look on in confusion as I do laps around a courtyard, parking lot or whatever is in the area to get my steps for the day, and it also makes me more active on stage, putting on a more energetic show. That simple little number drives me to try to reach it however I can, always encouraging those little extra bits of activity. On the one day I forgot it at home, I went home at lunch to get it because I didn’t want to lose those steps!

At work I set a timer and ever 25 minutes, I walk around the building. This actually serves multiple purposes* and usually nets me my 10,000 before the work day is done (or at least very close to it). Of course, I’m lucky enough to have a job where I can do that.

All in all, I think it’s definitely had a positive impact and at least doubled the amount of physical activity I get in a day, or more. It does have other function such as estimating how many calories you burn, showing elevation change (equivalent to how many flights of stairs you’ve walked up/down), tracks your sleep patterns if you want (though I am dubious of this accuracy), and more. And as silly and trivial as it is, I like the little positive message it gives me when I pick it up like “HUG ME,” or “YOU ROCK, HEATH.”

As I said before, it probably works better with certain types of people. Maybe more obsessive or compulsive people. If you’re like me, you’ll feel the need to hit that number. Other people might just ignore it and think “I’m at 4357. Eh, whatever.” If you’re competitive (I am not at all), then you can also add friends and see your comparative step totals as well. It’s also pretty small and versatile as to the places you can wear, keep or hide it. That’s one great reason I prefer it to any wrist worn devices. I highly recommend this little device. I give it 10,000 steps up.

*Aside form my step count this also falls in line with the “Pomodoro” technique or other similar techniques that claim you are more productive when you take breaks every 25 minutes. It also helps with the “20/20/20” idea to reduce eyestrain for people who work in front of computers, the idea being that every 20 minutes you should look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. In addition, it also is supposedly healthier to get up and move around every 20 minutes or so and not sit down all day. Many of my colleagues have gone to standing desks but I’ve also read that standing all day has it’s own adverse side effects and after much research, it seemed to me the getting up every 20 minutes was the best of both worlds and healthiest compromise between sitting or standing all day.

The Dark Corners of Our Minds

I don’t know exactly what propels me to write this. I suspect it’s at least partly because of Eddie. Eddie committed suicide a few years back (addressed in its own post here) and I’ve found it surprising how much I still think about him and feel his absence in this world despite the fact that it has no practical effect on my day to day life as I hadn’t spoken to him in many, many years or really had any active friendship for a long time. His website is still up (a little internet sleuthing showed me that it’s paid for through 2015, I believe). And I’m still sad that he got to some place where he felt like that was his only solution.

Now let me get intensely personal. I consider myself a generally positive, well-adjusted guy. Yet I have had many or my own dark periods. Periods when I kind of just didn’t want to live any more. Now, I do think that this is still quite different than wanting to kill myself. I never wanted to actively take action to end my own life. It was more like “You know, if I just don’t wake up tomorrow, if the universe wants to take me in the night, I’m good with that.” I’ve had random trains of thought about how I could just “disappear” or if one were to end their own life, how it could be done so that you just disappeared and no one ever knew what happened to you. We’ve all had dark times. We all have dark corners of our minds, but for many, they don’t want to admit that, even to themselves probably, much less to the world. It’s scary and people don’t want to feel freakish or worse yet, have others judge them as somehow deficient.

Now this is probably the most important part of this post. Why do I write this? It’s not a cry for help, or attention or for everyone to tell me how much I’m loved and would be missed or anything like that. I’m good, really, and I know all that thanks to all my wonderful, loving friends and family. I write this because if anyone reads it and has ever had anything even remotely resembling feelings like this…

You are not alone. You are not broken, or deficient, or crazy or a freak. You are human. People are scared to talk about darkness, especially inside themselves so you may feel alone or like no one could possibly know or understand. I am not a mental health care professional. I don’t really know what to say other than that. But much like Eddie, we all probably have a much farther reaching and profound effect in this world than we will ever know.

Confessions of a Shirtless Yoga Dude

I started doing hot yoga at Sunstone Yoga a couple of years ago. I bought a a bunch of shorts and tank tops made for working out, made of “Duo-dry” material to wick the sweat away, I guess. Of course in hot yoga you end up completely drenched so there no amount of wicking in the world that can help you. Over the years there were maybe a few times when I just felt so hot or uncomfortable that I removed my shirt. Now, there are lots of guys who don’t wear shirts in class. Seems pretty common, but I always preferred to wear one, both out of consideration for the rest of the class who might catch a glimpse of my hairy and flabbier-than-I-would-like torso being contorted and compressed, despite their best efforts to just concentrate on their own practice, and because my own insecure body image issues.

However, a few weeks ago I had a turning point. I showed up to class and realized I’d accidentally grabbed 2 pairs of shorts instead of shorts and a shirt so my choices were to either just skip class and go home or do class shirtless. I found that not only was I much more comfortable but that I could concentrate on my practice much better as I wasn’t being distracted by a sopping wet, bunching up shirt. At that moment, I decided to try life as a shirtless yoga dude. Since then, I have definitely confirmed my experience and accepted my new role. It’s also been a good mental exercise on not caring what other people think (about my body or my choice to go shirtless) and to do what’s best for my own yoga practice and experience.

I still try to position myself in the back right corner though, out of consideration for my other yogis.

Technology and the Human Connection

I often think about how my life today compares with my life in the past as it pertains to the technological differences. For example, if I could go back 10 years and show myself my iPhone, it would blow my 10 years ago mind. Lately I’ve been thinking about how social media has changed my life.

I’ve had many discussions and probably written about it here before as well. While I think there are 2 sides to every issues and I can certainly see the negatives that come with it, overall I am extremely pro social media. Facebook has allowed me to stay in touch with people and foster friends and relationships that probably never would have happened otherwise. More than that, I realized that it just makes me feel “connected” to other people and the world at large so much more. We can all participate in conversations that as we have the time and will that we might not be able to otherwise. It is certainly not a substitute for real human contact, but I know most of us just don’t have the time to meet up with, or even call and catch up with all the people we would like to. I can’t sit down one Saturday afternoon and call my 20 closest friends, but we can all converse at will online and carry on conversations over the day or days as we have time.

I’ve particularly appreciated this during difficult times. It’s strange remembering that there was once a time that I didn’t have this luxury of constant connection. The only connection I had was if I called someone on a land line and then maybe arranged to see them. Apart from that, I was alone with whatever I might be going through at the time. That seems so incomprehensible to me now. Just the thought makes me feel so cut off and isolated. I fire up The internet, Facebook, whatever and I instantly feel at least a tiny bit better. At least a nano-increment more in touch with the world and people and energy of the universe.

Of course I also wonder if this constant connection also makes us not make real and in person connections as much. Do we sometimes allow it to be substitute? Would we maybe see people more or take a friendship to the next more real, in person level if we didn’t have the luxury of this constant virtual connection?

Like anything, I think it can be used for good or bad. It is a tool for you to use as you see fit and you must be vigilant to see how it’s affecting you and how you are using it.

It’s great that my life is full of so many amazing people. It’s a shame that the vast majority of those relationships are fairly shallow with only the most tenuous of connections.

The Day/Night Conundrum

I am a night owl by nature. When things are normal and going well, I prefer the night. I feel more alive, energized and uninhibited. However, I’ve noticed that in times of strife, the night becomes oppressive and filled with an acute loneliness but that the sun seems to chase away the shadows both figuratively as well as literally. It’s nourishing and recharging. I find it interesting how they have such different effects depending on my mental state.

Manifesting my Own Destiny

I have long been a believer in the power of the mind and have been greatly intrigued by the Laws of Attraction and the writings of Eckhart Tolle (the closest thing to “religion” that I’ve ever identified with). For some time now I’ve been having a lot of trouble finding peace and happiness within myself. I feel anxious and tumultuous, frustrated and tense. After living some microcosm of my dream life for the last 6 years, the money ran out and I went back to an office job. Now I still try to recognize my bountiful blessings and what an amazing life I do have in the grand scheme of things. It’s a good office job, with a good company and probably more flexibility than most but it is still 40 hours a week and something that I’m doing for a paycheck and not because it’s my love and passion.

Lately I have made a step in the right direction though. A step toward creating and attracting the life I want. Several times a day I take a walk around the building. I take in the wind and the sun on my skin and I look at the world through different eyes. Through the eyes of the person I want to be, living the life I want to live. In other words, I actually look around me through the eyes of someone who is making a living as an actor, musician, creative artist who is not working an office job. I actually feel it. I put myself in that mind space and pretend so hard that I believe it. I look at the halls of my building as if they are the halls of some studio where I am filming or doing some voiceover work. And it helps.

I’ve started doing this more and more letting this permeate my life while driving, walking, sitting, existing. Any time I feel that discontent, I transport myself into the Heath Allyn of an alternate world or a future timeline who is doing exactly what he wants to do. I’m like Sam Beckett in Quantum Leap. I see through those eyes in hopes of manifesting the life that I want. I don’t just wish or hope, I genuinely feel the joy and gratefulness of being where I want to be.

I am thankful for this job and that it came along and has allowed me to pay my bills but I also must believe that somehow, it is a step in the journey I must take to where I want to be.