Lessons from My Odd, But Mostly Successful Fight Against the Siren Call of Junk Food

The wonderful/diabolical man who has destroyed millions of diets, posing for a picture with his surprisingly svelte family. I don’t think they’re trying to claim this was taken at the time of their 55th wedding anniversary but if they are, I call bullshit. I know people got married young back in the day, but COME ON. Also, damn, that’s a lot of kids! It’s a good thing the restaurant chain thing worked out so well!

There is no denying it; a good diet is key to both physical and mental health. For years I fought against that concept, insistent that if I worked long and hard enough in the gym, I could “have my cake and eat it too.” And while I was successful at staying in above average physical shape that way, I ran into two problems. First, I could never completely outwork an overindulgent diet. The only way I have ever gone from good shape to great is by being disciplined about what I eat and when. Second, as I’ve gotten older (I’m in my early thirties now), the degree of difficulty has increased. Dietary sins I could easily have shrugged off in my early to mid twenties result in significant punishment today – both in my appearance and in the way I feel.

In my experience, eating enough good stuff isn’t too difficult. I love eating protein so getting enough of that is easy, although I mostly stick to chicken and fish with beef being an occasional treat. I force two to three servings of fruit and three or more servings of vegetables down my throat each day in the form of green smoothies in the mornings and evenings. From there, I just make sure there is some sort of vegetable element included with most meals and I have that covered. I make sure to get a moderate amount of decent quality carbohydrates, which is easy since I enjoy them. Making things as automatic as possible and minimizing the number of decisions I have to make helps me to maintain a solid baseline diet.

But one area has always been a thorn in my side. I love junk food. And I’m not one of those people who has only a sweet tooth or only likes salty/savory snacks. I’m an all of the above kind of guy, and a gluttonous one at that. So I want to talk about what I’ve done to combat that – what has worked, what hasn’t, and what I’ve learned from it. It probably won’t all apply to you but if any of it gives you an idea that helps, then I consider this post a success. So in no particular order, here we go.

1. Some things have been easy.

I loved soda (that’s “cokes” for my native Texan friends) as a kid. Thankfully, I wasn’t allowed to have it at home very often but when I was out of the house – hanging out with friends, for example – I went to town! I distinctly remember being “up north” (a Wisconsin term to describe “vacationing” in an even colder, more economically challenged place than your actual home, which is more than likely easily characterized by both of those already) as a young lad with some relatives when I consumed five sodas in a single day and wound up throwing up multiple times that night. I loved the stuff. But in my early twenties, I learned that it’s basically poison and almost immediately, I simply stopped drinking it. At no point have I felt any urge to “relapse” and as a result, I haven’t had any soda in a very long time. I’m almost exclusively a beer or wine guy when it comes to alcohol, so no, not even in mixed drinks. I have absolutely no idea why this was so easy for me but sadly, that hasn’t been the case with other forms of junk food.

2. Moderation has not been a successful approach at home.  

Over the years, no matter what I’ve told myself, I’ve learned I simply can’t keep junk food at home. I’ve tried everything I can think of and the result is always the same; I start with the best of intentions (I will make this last two weeks…), then make little bargains with myself (I will eat tomorrow’s allotment today, but then NONE tomorrow), then break them in favor of other less restrictive ones (It’s football season – I’ll eat the rest of this bag this weekend, but then I won’t open another until next weekend), until finally, I simply accept reality and wolf down whatever is left, swearing to never buy it again. The take away here is pretty simple; I don’t keep junk food at home. Lack of access has proven very effective.

3. Associations can be powerful.

I don’t believe in drinking milk. At all. I wish I had known what I know now as a child when I guzzled it like water. Clearly my Mother hadn’t done as much research on milk as she had on soda; or perhaps the science hadn’t gotten as far with one as it had with the other. But live and learn. Anyway, at one time, my ultimate junk food weakness was Oreo’s – a product (note, I didn’t even use the word food) that requires milk in order to be enjoyed properly. It was very rare for a package of those evil things to last three days. If I was doing well, I could limit myself to a single ROW at a time. And I didn’t often do well. Thankfully, when I stopped drinking milk, Oreo’s no longer did it for me. I even tried once but without milk, it was like going to the beach without it being warm outside. It just didn’t make sense. So in that case, cutting out one bad thing made it much easier to cut out another. This is a concept that could probably be useful elsewhere…

4. There are definitely degrees of bad choices when it comes to lunch options and my body knows the truth.

As an outside sales rep, restaurant lunches are a reality of life. This was before my working days, but I went to a McDonald’s in 2010 for the first time in many years. I was involved in a big group activity, we were in a hurry for lunch, I was not in charge of the group’s decisions, apparently there was no decent alternative anywhere in the vicinity, there was peer pressure, etc. It happened, and I paid the price. Almost immediately, I felt like my stomach was going to explode. And it lasted for the rest of the day until I gave in, went to the bathroom, and threw up. I didn’t have to try to do that so much as I just had to stop preventing it from happening. My body’s tolerance for the purest form of garbage food had been gone for some time. Today, all I can think of when I see those golden arches is that experience and I have not repeated that mistake again.

I do go to fast food restaurants sometimes, but only if they serve some form of actual food. For example, I go to Chick Fil A and get just about any of the entrees, a large superfood side salad, medium fries, and water. That’s a pretty decent meal for a hungry, athletic man. If I want a burger, I go to a place where they cost around ten bucks but you get actual meat. Five Guys used to be a good example, although based on the last few times I’ve visited, it seems like they’re going downhill. Also, Five Guys is definitely a bulking phase only restaurant and even then I only order the small versions of everything. I enjoy the abundance of quality fast casual options here in Houston which, again, serve mostly real food. Or I go to any of a handful of good sub shops – or if there are no good sub shops around, I resolve to plan my day better, sigh, and go to Subway. Every now and again, I will go to Freddy’s and splurge big time. If you’re not familiar with Freddy’s, you’re both missing out and lucky at the same time. I fully prepare for a rough afternoon on those days (although still not McDonald’s rough), but Freddy’s is worth it.

5. A balanced approach works best for me – but again, not in the house!

Lately I’ve settled into a system that seems to work pretty well. I have a good “base” diet that covers the important things as I described in the second paragraph of this post. I eat in around a ten hour window, which is a relaxed version of an experiment I tried that was way too effective at weight management for a guy that looks and feels best carrying some extra muscle and is willing to sacrifice the exposed six pack look to do it. Seriously, if you want to maintain an extremely low fat/low weight build, this is almost definitely one way to accomplish it. From there, I enjoy life without letting things go off the rails. I get myself a coffee in the lobby of my apartment at least once a day (free and great quality – just one of the many perks of living where I do) and if I want to also indulge in one of the cookies they regularly have out, I do. Same goes for Costco samples. As long as it’s not IN my home, it doesn’t become excessive.

I generally eat nutritionally decent, but enjoyable food, but I do allow myself a single cheat meal per week, complete with the happy ending. No, I’m not talking massage parlors, you degenerates. I haven’t had to pay for that stuff…yet. I’m talking dessert. For a guy in his early thirties that spends a lot of time in the gym and wants to look like it, but also wants a little of what Joe Rogan, a man I actually couldn’t stand as an MMA hype man but love as a podcast host, regularly refers to as “mouth candy,” it works. For now. But keep in mind that things are significantly more difficult for me today than they were five years ago and five years from now, I will probably have to re-balance what I’m doing to adapt to the continuation of that trend. Whatever happens, I will try to maintain some food related enjoyment, even as it will almost certainly dwindle closer and closer to none.

How I’m Learning to Be Excited When Things Don’t Go My Way

Now there’s some excitement for you. I’m not the biggest NBA fan myself, but I do enjoy watching that bearded gentleman make fools of even the best defenders from time to time. – Image courtesy of Jean-Marc Buytaert

Anyone who knows me, or who has been reading this blog for a while, knows that I was divorced in 2016 and that while I was about as devastated as humanly possible at the time, I have since come to view it as one of the best things that has ever happened to me. No, that’s not a vindictive swipe at my ex-wife, who I still believe was (and likely still is) a very admirable and impressive woman in most ways. We are all flawed; she has things to work on just as I do. Anyway, without the inherent compromise of that relationship influencing things, my circumstances have since changed dramatically, in ways they likely never would have otherwise, and I have grown immensely in the process. Terribly heart wrenching sequence of events? Absolutely. Wonderful, life changing blessing? Also absolutely. Very few incredibly valuable lessons come cheap.

Recently I’ve had another apparent setback in the form of learning my days in my current job are numbered. Given that I mostly love it and regard it as by far the best job I’ve had to date, that could have been a devastating blow. But it didn’t hit me that way – not even when I first found out. And given what I’ve learned in recent years, I believe I’ve reacted correctly. Almost every time I’ve been knocked off course in life, I’ve soon found myself on a more productive one, and have usually enjoyed significant personal growth for having been through the experience as a bonus. I fully expect that this time will yield the same result and I firmly believe I’ll be writing a triumphant, ecstatic post about that in the coming weeks.

This got me thinking back to earlier parts of my life. For example, early in my grade school years, as most young lads do, I began to realize I was fascinated with certain aspects of women. Our school was small but there were a few young ladies I took a private interest in. At the time, I would have been thrilled if one of them had displayed a reciprocal interest in me – even if I didn’t understand exactly why I felt that way quite yet. But I was a shy, skinny kid with an acne problem and it didn’t happen. At the time, I thought that sucked. But thanks to the mixed blessing of Facebook, I’ve observed how time has treated most of them in the decades since. And you know what? Every single one of the women I’ve dated or had any sort of fun with has been substantially more attractive than the adult versions of any of the girls I lusted after as a boy. If my wish had been granted and one of them had shown an interest, who knows what would have happened? We may have turned into one of those “first and only love” couples and I may have missed out on the company of numerous much more attractive women – including ones I haven’t even met yet. My past disappointment has turned to present gratitude, and even relief. And as a side note, being a late bloomer rocks!

Fast forwarding to my graduation into the worst economy since the Great Depression, neither my then fiancé or I (yes, we did that way too young!) was able to get a good job. In fact, both of the jobs we did eventually manage to get were unfulfilling and paid around $20k a year less than the type of job a recent college graduate could expect to get in even a mediocre job market. However, we worked hard to differentiate ourselves, moved up steadily, and within only a handful of years, we both wound up making about double what great jobs would have paid had we been able to get them upon graduating – and with dramatic additional growth potential from there. Looking back, what if I had gotten that “good” job right off the bat? I see two likely outcomes. Instead of having a fire lit inside me, I probably would have gotten comfortable and even with better than average annual raises, today I would likely be making roughly half what I do now at best. And I definitely wouldn’t have benefited from the same “tough love” lessons that taught me how to not just stretch every dollar and save/invest the proceeds, but to do it almost effortlessly. I could literally have lost well over $100k of net worth in around half a decade if I had received the “good fortune” I wanted at the time.

You hear this plenty but I’m here to tell you that I’ve seen it time and time again in my own life; if something doesn’t work out, something better is probably going to happen instead. In this post, I’ve shared just a few of my own examples. I’m sure if you look back at your past, you will find some disappointments turned triumphs of your own. I’m personally not at the point where bad news equals me being excited – yet. But if I can turn my recent career setback into a substantial upgrade, as it looks like I very well may, then the evidence supporting that mentality will be just about stacked to the ceiling. We will all be knocked down in life. Part of being the man I want to be involves viewing it as an opportunity, getting back up, and making something amazing happen. Mentally, I’m working on making that process automatic. I encourage all of you to do the same. Remember, successful people have bad days too. But they know how to turn present pain into future success. And that is what sets them apart from the herd.

I’m Back! And I’ve Brought A Couple of Recent Observations with Me

How they managed to do that with the couch wrapped in plastic is beyond me; but there it is.

Evening Folks! I owe you an apology for my recent unannounced disappearance. For the last few days, I’ve been moving from one apartment to another so my life has been more or less turmoil. Thankfully, I am comfortably situated in my new apartment now and so far, it is everything I had hoped it would be. But in retrospect, I should have posted something letting y’all know prior to the move. I’m still very new to the blogging thing but lesson learned. Anyway, I will resume normal posting (aiming for 3-4 posts per week) immediately. And today, I have a couple of observations from the last few days to point out.

My first observation is that most of the time, “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.” Since I don’t have a truck right now, since the quotes were surprisingly low, and yes, since I was feeling lazy, I decided to hire a moving company for this move. It will probably be both my first and last time doing that. My hope had been that I would get what was advertised – experienced, hard working movers who would more or less take care of everything from door to door, leaving me doing only the packing and unpacking. The pricing structure was the same with every company I got a quote from (and I only got them from highly rated companies) – a fixed trip charge of $60-90 and an hourly rate of $90-100. The winning company quoted me two hours and was on the low end with the trip charge, meaning I was looking at roughly $250. For that price, I had thought why not? A Uhaul rental would cost me $100 or so when all was said and done and I don’t feel it would be right to ask anyone to help me accomplish such a task without putting a Benjamin Franklin in his pocket and a hearty lunch in his stomach – and that would have involved me working too whereas this moving company didn’t just promise, but insisted, that I wouldn’t be lifting a finger. So it seemed like a no brainer.

But you know what they say; hope for the best, plan for the worst. Following that mantra, I had everything ready on moving day so that the movers would have to do nothing but load, drive, and unload. I used my car to move a large portion of my more fragile/valuable/smaller belongings in advance, I had everything that was left in neatly stacked, organized boxes, and I had all my furniture disassembled as necessary. And thank Jesus, Allah, Buddah, and anyone else up there that I did!

Once the movers arrived on moving day, it didn’t take me long to see I had been sold a bill of goods. The movers who showed up were not the promised strapping workhorses, but a couple of twig limbed kids in their early to mid twenties, neither of whom looked likely to score even a one on a 225 pound bench test. I hoped my assessment was wrong but sadly, it was not. One of them was at least a halfway decent worker who seemed to know what he was doing. The other was neither. As a result, much of what I witnessed appeared to be a training session – and it was not going well. There was a lot of standing around waiting for further instructions, a lot of “not like that, like THIS!”, and growing anxiety on my part as I watched the clock race on and on with shockingly little progress being made on the modest amount of stuff that needed to be taken and loaded into the truck.

Foolishly taking the moving company at its word, I spent most of the morning on the phone with customers, dealers, etc as the two opportunistic young men milked the situation. At first, they would take a load and be gone a reasonable ten minutes or so before returning for another. Then the disappearances got longer. And longer. At one point I went the fifty or so steps from my apartment to the loading dock to see what was going on. Both movers were in the back of the truck doing who knows what and upon seeing me, they got out and headed back towards the apartment. My second mistake, with the first having been hiring them in the first place, was taking their recommendation and working rather than escorting them on every single trip. I suspect things would have gone according to plan if I had but since I didn’t, we were well over the two quoted hours before they had even finished loading the truck.

When the truck was finally loaded, one of the movers informed me that they would be stopping for lunch on the way but assured me that I wouldn’t be charged for the time. After the spectacle I had witnessed for the last three hours, I was skeptical at best. But what could I do at that point? My stuff was in their truck and I was along for the ride at that point, like it or not – and I wanted it to arrive safely on the other end. So I drove to the new apartment and worked on getting the stuff I had already moved out of the way so the additional stuff could be moved in as quickly as possible. Close to an hour later, the truck showed up.

I watched the two gentlemen standing behind the truck discussing something for about five minutes before I decided I’d had enough of their game. Walking right past them, I opened the rear door of the truck and started unloading my own stuff. When the one in charge objected, I explained in no uncertain terms that we were already over an hour over the quoted amount of time and that unless they were prepared to start deducting time, they were going to have a new teammate for the remainder of this job. My tone and expression likely made it abundantly clear that further objections would prove futile so the three of us got to work. Unsurprisingly, it took only a half hour to unload the truck and get the movers off the clock.

Clearly trying to take the edge off the situation, because admittedly, I was PISSED and was making little effort to hide it by that point, the lead mover “generously” deducted a half hour from the over four hours he would otherwise have charged me for the no more than two hours of work that had actually been done. As a man who has done my share of real work in life, I couldn’t bring myself to totally stiff these two, even given the circumstances, so I gave them each ten bucks. However, I also advised them that had the job been completed as quoted, their tips would have been considerably more.

As I unwrapped/unpacked, I discovered the same little mishaps that would have happened had I completed the job without hired help – mostly little chips and scratches on furniture. Thankfully, most of these were easily repairable with some buffing and the occasional use of a wood crayon (seriously, if you have any chipped furniture, a wood crayon is a Godsend that will almost effortlessly make those chips almost invisible to anyone who isn’t looking for them!). I sent an email, complete with pictures, to the moving company, describing the events of the day in detail and offering the opportunity to respond before I went on a review writing campaign. I have not received one to date. I will follow up with a call tomorrow and barring an impressive act of after the fact customer service that would likely involve a significant amount being refunded, I will be spending some time leaving two star reviews (the job did eventually get done at least) with summarized versions of what I’ve just written on every review site I can find these guys on. If it comes to that, it will be part therapy and part public service.

But I wrote about it here to illustrate something important. If it seems too good to be true, it almost always is. Even if the moving service I received hadn’t come up abysmally short of what was promised, I still would have done the majority of the work. In my opinion, the real work of moving is the volume of packing – particularly those little, fragile things, many of which reside in the kitchen. It is certainly the most time intensive part. All told, best case scenario, the moving service could have done maybe a quarter of the total work for me at best. And as I’ve described, my actual experience was a far cry from an even acceptable scenario. Had I done things my way (rented a Uhaul and paid someone a hundred bucks plus lunch for the small portion I needed help with), I would have been out no more than $250 rather than the over $400 I wound up paying for results that were most likely worse than what I would have otherwise gotten. Slick sales pitches make outsourcing seem like a no brainer but in reality, the end results rarely live up to them. Maintenance/repairs on cars is another wonderful example of this concept. You pay a substantial mark up on parts and usually around $100 an hour for often fairly simple labor and the kicker is that by the time all is said and done, you’ve been inconvenienced for just as long as it would have taken you to do the job yourself in the first place. So rather than picking up the phone, roll up your sleeves and get to work.

My second observation is hardly anything groundbreaking – just something that grabbed my attention and forced me to think about something important. I was at a presentation today that highlighted the outlook of a particular company and provided an overview of the global economics of that company’s industry in the process. It was a solid presentation but one relatively minor point really struck me: 6000-30,000. One slide discussed the rapidly expanding global middle class and in order to do so, it needed to define things first. It defined a global middle class household as one with a US dollar equivalent income of $6000-30,000 a year. I did some subsequent reading and this appears to be right in line with most analysis that is done on the subject. Almost everyone in that room was extremely wealthy by global standards. Hell, there were interns present who probably make more than 30k a year.

Perspective is always valuable and so are reminders of things we already know but have conveniently shoved to the back of our minds. Just by living in the United States, we are already far better off than the vast majority of people in the world. A good portion of the global middle class income range is considered poverty level here. We’ve practically won the lottery just by being born. By my calculations, there is only a roughly 4.3% chance (300 million divided by 7 billion) of that happening for any given person and it’s actually lower than that if you factor in that tons of people had to emigrate here. So the next time you’re frustrated about something, remember that if you make over $30,000 a year, you are in the high income category from a global perspective. You may not have things easy, but most people have them a hell of a lot worse than you do.

And with that, I bid you all a good night!