Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Cycle of Regain

It's been a bad month for some of the weight loss bloggers I read. I won't link to them or mention them by name as I'd never intentionally embarrass a fellow recovering super-obese person, but I've read accounts of binges, self-deprecation, fear and shame and deceit.... the works, in other words. And and what is the cause of this range of behaviors?


Its a horrible experience. I know. I've been through it. And I'm living it now.

For the benefit of people going through this weighty struggle, and for those readers who don't have a weight problem, I can explain briefly how the regain cycle works. Details of course vary from individual to individual, but the basic outline seems consistent. So here is my hypothetical:

First, the super-obese person - let's call him Gilbert, for no particular reason - begins his weight loss. His energy level soars, and so does his enthusiasm. His learned helplessness, a trait in many of the bigger folk, melts with the fat. He takes up new hobbies, practices, exercises. Gilbert eats better foods and wears smaller clothes. Compliments pour in from everyone, and although Gilbert is more used to kicks than kindness, he gets used to receiving praise. Other people ask how he did it. Everything seems great as he approaches goal. Or even surpasses his goal.

But then comes the hard part. Its not that difficult for a super-obese person to lose weight. When you are nearly 500 pounds, what's a dozen or so? The problem arises when you get close to goal, or reach goal and start maintaining. Popular thinking is that the lifestyle change the super-obese person  imdergoes is a "diet" and a short-term means to an end. Once you reach goal, you've reached the finish line according to too many people.

And so this is what our hypothetical fat guy thought, even as he denied he did. After all, he struggled and worked to reach this end, and its a lot harder to lose the last dozen pounds than it is to lose the first dozen. And once he reached goal, Gilbert discovered that he still had work to do. Meanwhile the cheering stopped as his section packed up and left.

About now Gilbert discovers that, despite the weight loss and his newfound activities and appearance, the world hasn't changed as much as he has. He will still have car trouble, problems at work, bills to pay and people who are difficult. Relationships aren't always easier, but there may be more of them. Weight loss doesn't solve all your problems, it merely brings you face to face with them while depriving you of the drug you've known.

And then, something happens. It can be as dramatic as a binge or as simple as a couple of days of bad eating because of work travel. In this case, Gilbert felt heavy one morning and as he put on a shirt noticed it didn't fit him right. He ran to the scale and noticed the number was a little higher than it should have been.

Perhaps the first time Gilbert notices he's put a couple of pounds back on he takes action. Perhaps the first ten times. Perhaps for the rest of his life. Many people do maintain goal weight. But this post isn't about them, its about those of us who don't.

Gilbert gets upset about his recovered heaviness, and begins to ignore it. A man of 500 pounds overlooks a lot about the super obese lifestyle, and so going up a clothing size or cutting down on activities is second nature to him. And so he quietly does just that. His energy level drops, and he finds less joy in life. And as his enthusiasm flags, there's no cheering section.

Inside, he feels like a failure and a fraud. And especially a fraud if he's publicized his weight loss in some way. Such as, ahem, a blog. Having once had the habit of medicating emotional pain through food, its not hard to guess what Gilbert turns to....and what the predictable result is.

Like our hypothetical friend Gilbert I too fell into this trap. I had been warned long ago that maintaining feels like failure when its really success. But I didn't fully address the challenges I had when I reached my goal weight. Admittedly I had help regaining weight from my failing knees. Still, I can't pin all the blame on my defective joints, and they were bad when I lost the weight too. And while my recovery from knee replacement took a lot longer than I anticipated, I'm back to myself now.

Fortunately there are ways to break this cycle of regain. Self esteem and self confidence are important. Escaping from super obesity is about loving yourself, and seeing yourself as a person who has value. Working through whatever triggered you to drug yourself with food has to be addressed. Taking care of these struggles can be painful, but once you've got a handle on them, you have a handle on your weight too. Which is just what I'm working on. I hope my friends likewise struggling have equal success.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Dream Deferred

It was a cold night when the 400 pound man entered the gym. He waddled up to the front desk, trial membership in one hand, oversized sweat clothes in the other. After filling out some forms, he staggered to the locker room, changed, and headed towards the stationary bicycles. Seven minutes later, he was gasping for breath, sweat running down his chubby face. After a brief rest, the fat man lifted some light weights and asked some questions of one of the trainers. He in turn was asked a question.

"What are you going to do once you've lost all this weight?"

"I don't know. Travel probably. I've not been able to travel."

"You should make it some big thing, a really long trip."

"Like cross country on a bike?"

The trainer laughed. "Yeah. Now that's a big reward."

A few minutes later, the fat man left the gym. The trainer walked over to the old man at the front desk. "What do you think of the new guy?" he asked the trainer.

"He's a nice guy, but I don't give him three weeks here."


I was that fat man, and that promise I made to myself is now going on eight years. I've twice planned trips, and I've never been able to make them happen. For me, a cross country trip by bicycle means taking two to three months of my life and turning riding into my daily job. It also means giving up my job and residence, putting everything I have into storage, and finding the money to not only support myself on the road but pay my bills in my absence. And there's the little matter of what do I do with my life the day after I stop riding.

So for now my Pedalwest Destiny is pushed back again, at least to 2015. But I'm keeping it in mind as a long range goal. For now its a dream deferred. But it IS a dream still.

Labels: ,

Daniel Boone Homestead, Birdsboro, PA, January 2014

A quickly arranged meeting with my friend Mat led to a two mile hike at the Daniel Boone Homestead, located outside of Birdsboro, PA. The snow earlier in the week was still sitting on the trails, but much of our walk used the roads through the site, and aside from a jogger and some kids sledding we had the place to ourselves. Mat got to greet some of the local residents.......

Daniel Boone is often mixed up with Davy Crockett, and his accomplishments have been inflated and modified over the centuries through talemaking in books, magazines, radio, and television, but he was a real frontiersman, and he was born at the farm site in 1734. The land was sold several times after the Boones left the area, and his original cabin underwent extensive remodeling and enlargement. Most of the buildings at the Boone Homestead, such as the sawmill and smokehouse, are period, but not original. Despite the authenticity, or lack of, the Boone Homestead, it remains a great place to walk or hike, with nearly 600 acres of land just a mile or so from US Route 422. And as the photo of Mat with the sheep implies, its a great place to bring kids.

For more information on the Daniel Boone Homestead, including a list of activities, go to


Silver Lake Nature Center,Bristol, PA, January 2014

Taking advantage of the long weekend, I ventured out to Bucks Country to Silver Lake County Park and the the Silver Lake Nature Center for a guided walk. My friend Chris joined me and a couple of dozen other people to walk with Nature Center director Robert Mercer as he talked of "winter survival." 

Merce, as he's called at the Center, led us on a stroll of a little less than a mile on a loop over the dirt and stone walking paths, stopping to call attention to the woodpecker damage to a tree or frost upheaval or whatever presented itself. He gave a confident presentation, drawing in a group ranging in age from ten to seventy. Even Chris, who has an opinion on everything and wants you to know just what it is, found Merce's free form discussions interesting. You can see Chris in the photo, dressed in his typical Easter Egg pastels. 

Following the guided walk, and some warming up in the Nature Center, my friend joined me on exploring the Delhass Woods, the land owned by the County Park across Route 13 from the Nature Center. The trails were short, but as scenic as the woods always are. Between the two hikes we got in about two and a half miles. It was a good day, and as I told a reporter filming a video on the Nature Center, if I lived closer I'd come more often. 

For more information on Silver Lake Nature Center, go to
Look for the "Things to Do" link for a list of events, including the free nature walks. 


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Ringing Rocks Park, North Pottsgrove, PA

Pennsylvania is more than the Quaker State, its also the glacial state. During the last ice age the glaciers reached into the state, stopping near the border with Maryland. As a result of the coming and going of the glaciers PA has moraine fields such as Boulder Field at Hickory Run State Park, and the oddity of ringing rocks. In some areas the rocks have such a high metal content that they produce a ringing sound when struck with a hammer.

The best known such park in PA is Ringing Rocks County Park in Bucks County, near the Delaware River. But there's a smaller scale example of these musical stones north of Pottstown, just off of PA Route 663. Heading north you turn right at a hilltop and park behind the Ringing Hills Fire Company and a roller rink. A few feet from the parking lot is a half acre of boulders. I ventured into the field on Martin Luther King Jr. Day with a small hammer and began banging away. Yes, the stones do ring, or at least the ones that aren't partly buried do. The sound is more of a dull clang, but pitch varies from stone to stone and I wished my friend Sayre were here with his perfect pitch to tell me what I was hearing.

There is no website for Ringing Rocks Park, which is partly owned by North Pottsgrove Township and the fire company, but reports online indicated multiple hiking trails in the 64 acres. I found only one, a short walk through woods and rocks running downhill to Route 663. In addition to the trail and boulder field, there is a softball diamond, and two picnic pavilions. I enjoyed my short time there and my mile hike.

Labels: ,

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, January 2014

I made two visits to Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site in January, in vastly different weather. The first was on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Hopewell is closed on Mondays, I discovered when I arrived, but while the historic iron village is shut down, the trails are open. I found a pulloff and trailhead a mile from the visitor's center and headed off in the late afternoon. 

I've been to French Creek State Park, which surrounds Hopewell, but I've never been to the iron village or its trails. I found the hiking easy, with soft ground and far fewer rocks than I normally encounter here in Rocksylvania. The National Park Service did a good job of marking and signing the trails I walked, and I put in two miles that afternoon following the signs and catching up on the history of Hopewell. The ruins to your right were a woodcutter's house last occupied by a black worker a century and a half ago. He received equal pay as his white coworkers and worshipped at the same church, just as others of his race had done at Hopewell fifty years before. In other words, in at least one place freedom rang fourteen decades before Dr. King had a dream.....

Between my hikes nine inches of snow fell. Despite that, the visitor center and historic village was open, and I set off. This was my first experience hiking in deep snow since childhood, and I found the one mile tiring. So tiring that after getting home and having dinner I fell asleep at my computer. Still, the effort was worth it. I was cold, but I could duck into a couple of historic buildings opened for visitors and get out of the wind. An additional inch of snow fell during my visit, which added to the magic of the scene. I can't wait to visit Hopewell in warmer weather, and hike the trails surrounded by green instead of white. 

 For more information on Hopewell Furnace, visit


Night Ride With An Ultracyclist, July 2007

In 2007, 2008, and 2009 I occasionally commuted to work by bike. I gave it up due to the length of time involved for a 36 mile round trip and the trouble of riding at night. But I sometimes enjoyed it. My favorite night ride was with my friend Steve, as recounted below. Unfortunately for cycling Steve has moved on to politics, and he is now Chairman of the Libertarian Party of Pennsylvania. I'm not sure that's a gain for the world; we could use fewer politicians and more cyclists.

I'd only been riding a bike for a few months when the ride described below took place. I wrote this account for my old blog, and I've republished it without changes.


Last night I rode part of my commute with Steve Scheetz, one of the Philadelphia area's most active riders and bicycle advocates. Steve is an ultracylist, regularly completing double century rides and longer brevets. He's completed the Boston-Montreal-Boston event, America's answer to Paris-Brest-Paris.

I knew was in distinguished company, and I had some trepidation about being in over my head riding with such a cyclist. Would I be able to keep up? Would he become annoyed I couldn't ride as fast as he does? I brought up the subject early.

"Steve, I'm going to try not to be apologetic tonight, but I hope you realize I'm not in your class as a cyclist."

"Yeah, I do. So there's no need to mention it again. If I'm going too fast for you, say something, and I'll slow down."

With this out of the way, we both enjoyed the ride. Steve is a great talker - to paraphrase Dryden's description of Chaucer, "here is gab's plenty" - and I listened attentively to his accounts of some of his recent rides. We talked about my riding brevets one day, how to improve as a rider, and tips for riding the road bike I one day will own.

I also enjoyed watching Steve's riding technique. People learn by imitation, and while I can't pinpoint anything I specifically picked up from Steve this evening, I was impressed with his control of his bike. After one downhill I caught up with him:



"Damn you're good!"

But there's more to admire in Steve than mere bike skill. Perhaps more important is his commitment to safety and advocacy. This element in my companion's nature came out as we crossed the connector bridge over the Schuylkill River between Valley Forge Park and the Schuylkill River Trail. The bridge has recently been damaged, most probably by someone taking a horse across, and there were some broken planks.

"I took pictures of the broken planks and sent them to PENNDOT. I'd really like to find the guy who did this."

"And the horse he rode in on," I added.

We were walking across the bridge. Steve and I could have ridden across, but we were obeying the posted instructions that cyclists dismount. Steve's concern about safety, his and mine, on the roads came out from the beginning; I was given a reflective safety vest as a gift, one much brighter than the one I had been using.

On Steve's suggestion, we tried a new commuting route. At the Pawling's Road trailhead in Audubon, we turned left and rode the Audubon Loop through Mill Grove, down the 9 per cent grade, and out to Egypt Road. From there we followed Egypt and other local roads to Mont Clare, where I took Bridge Street through Phoenixville to Rt. 23. My friend left me at Bridge Street with a handshake and a renewed feeling of optimism about cycling. I felt like I was flying through downtown Phoenixville and Kimberton, and I completed my fastest return commute yet. My evening ride was 18.50 miles in two hours rolling time. Thank you, Steve, for a good ride.

Labels: ,

Weigh in, January 28, 2014

Again an early weigh in, as I'm busy tomorrow. So as of today I'm down another pound, to 313. I've lost the weight I've gained over the Christmas/New Year's/my birthday holidays. Now to get rid of the remaining seventy or so pounds.....

While that sounds intimidating, I don't feel it is. I did it before and I know what I should do. While my diet hasn't been perfect, or even close, I am tracking, which means I'm thinking before and after something goes in my mouth. No more automatic eating.

Also, thanks to my friend Sayre, I now have a gym exercise routine. I'm going to start in the gym by the end of this week, and while lifting doesn't burn a lot of calories in itself it raises your metabolism which increases your burn rate. And what guy doesn't look good with more defined muscles? My upper body strength is, well, nonexistent, and lifting will help build it up. That can only help with cycling, hiking, backpacking, and rowing.


Welkinweir, January 2014

I've been determined to be active and outdoors despite the winter. The previous winter cold hit me very hard for some reason. It could have been my sedentary condition following surgery, it could have been a side effect of prolonged Coumadin use, I don't know. But I've been out in the snow so far this season, and Monday I visited Welkinweir. 

This curiously named preserve is 200 acres on parallel ridgelines south of Pottstown, PA. My friend Josh joined me on this trip. The visitors center and parking area wasn't opened when we arrived, but a knock on the door of the manor house led to a quick conversation with a volunteer and permission to hike the snow covered trails. Josh borrowed my boots, and I hiked in hiking shoes. The snow wasn't deep on the ridgeline, but when we began to descend to the Great Pond we had eight inches of it to go through. I stayed dry until near the end of the hike, and besides, I was having fun. 

We hiked two miles up and down, to the Great Pond and back. As I noticed on a previous snow hike the cold isn't biting me as it last year, which bodes well for my stamina as the seasons change. And I'm looking forward to my next visit to Welkinweir, in the spring when the gardens are in bloom. Although winter is alleged to be bleak, it wasn't at Welkinweir, where as the name implies, the sky seems to meet the water.....

You can find more information on Welkinweir, including how to plan your visit, at


A Taste For The Woods: 2014-01-26

This page has moved to a new address.

A Taste For The Woods