Tag Archive: LessonsLearned

After struggling with weight issues for most of my life, I finally made the decision on 16 Sep 2012, that it was time to go on a journey to health rather than just lose weight. That year had been the lowest in my life –filled with deep stress over my job and corresponding bad choices that caused my weight to shoot up to 319.4 pounds, my blood pressure to rocket to 1997/106 (June 2012), my self-esteem reduced to a sliver, and my legs too swollen to move easily without pain some days. Because I have allergies to chemicals additives in medicines and foods (including residues from the manufacturing processes),  I couldn’t even do the medicines that might help with many of the problems I had. But without doing something to remove the stress and promote healing, the medicines are really pretty much useless and can be quite harmful at times. Additionally, at 60 years old, I only have so much time left and I didn’t want to spend it housebound because I couldn’t move. So a lifelong journey to attain and maintain a healthy life style and fitness became the obvious option – but it took about 4 months of sick misery before I finally made the decision to get on with that journey.

Because I’ve had several people ask me how I lost the weight despite health issues, I’m going to outline some basic principles that I have incorporated into this journey. A health journey is unique for each person since we all have different genetics and life experiences. So I’ll try to tell you what worked for me in a way that can help you think about your own journey. And for some facing similar problems such as chemical allergies, perhaps we can share solutions that have helped. I hope to take each of the topics below and write a more detailed post as time permits. And I have many more lessons to learn and challenges to face. I still have about 90 pounds to lose and will need to rebuild muscles weakened by years of inactivity coupled with growing old and a car accident this summer. But it’s just another set of steps in the journey.
1. Always think of your health as a continuous journey – not just a “one and done” fix. Quick fix programs almost always tend to fail (mine did). They can help supplement a long range strategy but should never replace it. Remember that you only have one body and spare parts are still hard to find. And just like getting rid of a bad habit, it takes much longer to fix something that’s broken than it does to break it.
2. The human body is one of the most complex, wonderfully integrated organisms in the world. You must think holistically about every part in your health journey. Understand that your mental, emotional and spiritual health are just as important to your physical health as the food you put in your body.
3. Learn to handle stress. While stress has value in revving up the body, we push it into overload. This causes bad things to happen such as weight gain, high blood pressure and other health problems. If stress is a big problem for you, try to figure out what is causing the stress and look at ways to minimize that stress. Perhaps it’s a self-esteem issue that is eating away at your heart – part of mine was. Or finances,health, child-care, a job and so on. I found online training at Coursera to be very beneficial in restoring my self-esteem. At my doctor’s recommendation, I also learned to use meditation and mindfulness techniques to help control my blood pressure.
4. Document everything and look back to find patterns and trends. I keep a daily health journal where I almost faithfully record things like weight, blood pressure, peak flow (for asthma control), food, problems I am having, exercise, even stressful events or weather which can sometimes cause problems. Although it may seem time consuming, it has helped me pinpoint patterns on problem areas that I would have forgotten (did I have an allergy attack after eating that food; how many times did I have a vertigo attack). It’s especially critical if trying to lose weight – we often are not aware of how much we eat. A journal helps remind us of how much we may be eating.
5. In the beginning, measure everything. Unless you’ve been done the road before and understand what carbs, calories and fats look like on your plate, measure everything – portion size, amount per portion, etc. Once you get a feel for it, you don’t need to do it for long (maybe 1-2 weeks). Take nothing for granted like you’ve done it before. You’ve probably forgotten (I had)
6. Record both your daily weight and then your measurements every two weeks. The daily weight is just for looking at possible problems. Don’t beat yourself up if you’ve gained. But think about why – time of month, weather, ate too much, stress, etc. If it’s something you can control, then fix it. If it’s not, don’t worry about it. Measurements are hugely critical. As we lose fat and gain muscle, we can actually gain weight yet look better and be healthier. So your victories can come from both weight loss and measurement loss. I’ve lost 39.25 inches from my neck to my calves along with the 65 pounds. I went from a 3X (24-26Women’s) to a 0X (14-16 Women’s) with all those inches lost.
7. Don’t be afraid to try new ideas, foods, treatments (unless dangerous at the beginning). Get creative and have fun on the journey. But make sure you document the feedback on how they worked.
8. Enjoy food but go as close to raw as you can. It is critical to eliminate processed foods with preservatives and sugars from your life (you can still cook foods but preferably from scratch or with organic prepared foods). Keep vegetables and fruits raw when possible especially the dark leafy greens. But never hesitate to add additional veggies to soups, stews, smoothies when cooking. They add additional nutrients. Go organic if possible to keep out pesticides and herbicides.
9. Read labels on everything – food, hair/skin care, medicines, etc. Understand what is going into your body. Some of the additives are not on the labels, but the first start is to get the ones that are labeled out of your body. If possible go organic to keep out many of these additives although even organics can contain harmful additives.
10. Planning – planning – planning.
a. Plan your meals and your snacks especially if you work. Cook them ahead and store individual prepared sizes (your own healthy version of fast food meals). Make them up the night before so that you have no excuses forgetting them and having running down for a quick snack in the cafeteria. Always have 1-2 in the freezer for the times you are too tired to cook when getting home late. That will save a stop at the fast food joint just a mile from home
b. Go for big rich tastes – fresh herbs, spices, healthy oils, honey, dark agave syrup (low glycemic index but rich flavor like molasses), lots of vegetables and fruits. Just be careful on the portions since they do contain calories.
c. Savor your first bite. It’s best if you can chew all your bites slowly as our grandmothers used to say, but if you don’t have time then savor the first bite. Taste and smell and feel that bite. The memory of that bite will satisfy your cravings as you inhale the rest.
d. Plan special treats. Don’t deprive yourself needlessly of something you love. Especially if you are going to have cut out something like sugars in the beginning. When I first started, I decided to cook a pan of organic brownies cut into 1/20th serving size and have just 1 per night. Nothing else sweet but that brownie. I froze the bulk of them since 20 brownies would go bad or get eaten in 20 days. I did that for the first 4 months. I craved that brownie and I savored every small bite when I ate it. And I lost 40pounds that first four months eating that brownie.
e. Look for alternatives. Potatoes are delicious but very high carb. Think about cauliflower or sweet potato instead. You can grill/bake both into something like French fries or mash both of them. You can turn the sweet potato savory by adding pepper and chili powder. There are wonderful recipes for anything online. Again get creative – don’t be tied to a recipe. Just make sure you understand the hidden costs of whatever you put together.
f. Put together foods that work for you. I am not really a smoothie fan. I like “CRUNCH” in my food. My crunchy smoothy equivalent might be a small serving of plain Greek yogurt (high protein), 1T honey, and about 6 walnut halves broken into smaller pieces. Crunchy and smooth in one dynamic taste treat. Or celery and walnuts together (very tasty).
g. If you travel, think about portable alternatives. I use organic nuts and dark chocolate for snacks. They go everywhere. But remember balance. A snack might be 4 small pieces of chocolate and 6-7 walnut halves (see picture). DarkChocWalnutSnackSizeIMAG0389-withlabel
11. Forgive the transgressions , delays and setbacks that may occur along the way. Take control of those things you can fix (like stress eating) and look for ways to handle those things you can’t help (how to get through a health crisis).
12. Find an encouraging support network that can help you through the bad times and celebrate your successes with you (mine is on Facebook but it can be anywhere and in multiple locations). This is hugely critical. If anyone is trying to tear you down while on your journey, you need to avoid them or figure out how to make them part of the team. There is no middle ground on this. The journey can be very hard without the strength that comes from this network.
13. Celebrate every victory (no matter how insignificant it may seem) with your support group. Capture the victories in some way like pictures of clothes you’re giving away now because they are too small. I have a photo of the two sales tags for the pair of 3X slacks I bought in August 2012 and the 0X pair I bought in April 2013 (you can see them on my Flickr set http://www.flickr.com/photos/kelcym/sets/72157633425346350/). It’s inspirational to see the change. Periodically celebrate with something special at a key milestone like 10pounds lost or dropped a dress size. While a planned food treat is ok, try to make the celebration a non-food event like a spa visit or something you couldn’t do before like hang gliding or getting a new top in a smaller size. My one year anniversary gift was a pendant on a 19inch chain. I had lost enough weight that my neck was now small enough for the chain to look great while feeling comfortable rather than choking me. And it’s now a constant reminder when I wear it that I have lost all that weight.
14. Build a health team especially if you are seriously overweight or have health issues. My team increased this year and includes my primary care physician (also does acupuncture), a chiropractor, physical therapists, dentist, ENT doctor, regular eye doctor and glaucoma specialist, and a master fitness trainer. I don’t need them all the time but I have professionals that I trust and can work with when needed.
15. Exercise is critical but it doesn’t need to be strenuous especially if you are very out of shape like I am. My exercise plan is coordinated with my health care professionals because of health issues. I found that as I lost weight, I also lost mass. I felt that I should be getting stronger but I was not. My physical therapist reminds me periodically that the weight (the fat) gave me strength. As I lost it the muscles were not yet strong enough to support the weight that still remained. But I can’t exercise at superhuman level to rebuild the muscles yet. It will happen but that will take some time.  One of the worst things you can do is push yourself so hard that you get an injury that sets you back.
16. Get enough sleep. This is critical and something that I have problems with because of an early morning work schedule. If you can’t sleep enough at night, try to take power naps (20-30minutes) during the day. It’s not enough but better than nothing.
17. Don’t set an impossible goal. Setbacks will happen. For me it was two surgeries for sight-threatening glaucoma, severe debilitating vertigo attacks and a car accident. Yet I still managed to lose weight. I just had to slow down my goal of losing 100 pounds in the first year – but I still made it to 65 despite the setbacks. Think about the time delays as a period of healing for your body and as a way to learn to maintain those new healthy habits.
Remember that it’s the journey that’s important.  I’m sure this list will keep growing over time. It will be interesting to look back and see what else I learn along the journey.

I’m creating a new  category called Health Journey where I hope to share some of the struggles and lessons learned from a lifetime of trying to fit in with society’s ideas of beauty.    Just recently, I’ve come to realize that my focus needs to be on the journey to getting  healthy and then maintaining it not on some individual component like the pounds lost or gained.   Because good health isn’t just about weight loss or exercising – it’s about understanding health holistically from physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional realms (and any other I might have left off) and putting together all the parts in a way that contributes to a healthful life no matter how many setbacks may occur along  the way.   I’d also love to hear your stories and your lessons from the journey to better health. Image

I created this memory box in July to commemorate the first 9 months of the journey.  You can find out  more about it in an earlier post so I won’t repeat the explanation.  But I hope to use my artwork to both nourish my soul and share the memories of the journey.

At the end of 2012, there was a call in our community to write about what individuals learned in 2012 and share it using the hashtag #learn2012. I started thinking about that a lot and put together a draft which I’m just now publishing. I’m not sure the answers are yet clear but here’s my initial draft for #learn2012. Please note that I am not sure if there will be a final draft. My lessons learned may evolve into other lessons that are less temporal.

I would call the first 8 months of 2012 a blur of overwork and stress followed by grieving as changes were made in the summer that stripped away all the activities that I had been engaged in. While there were bright new promises starting in January 2012, they quickly turned sour as expectations were improperly communicated or understood. During this time I put my personal life on hold (more so than usual) and attempted to meet those expectations based on my current strengths. As I have since learned, I needed to stop and question whether those expectations were realistic for my current skill set or needed to be modified. I also needed to determine if I would need to change or grow or learn in order to handle them if they remained unchanged. As a result, I came out of the experience with an evaluation of “minimally successful”. While no one likes being treated as a failure, perhaps I needed that evaluation to shake up my thinking.

At the same time, stress had taken its toll on my health and I was literally falling apart physically. My blood pressure was through the roof and I had gained 30 pounds on top of my other weight. I was constantly sick and finding myself housebound when I went home because I had no energy to do anything or go anywhere. The best I could do was continue to search the internet for new knowledge and engage with communities on Facebook and Twitter. But even the search for new knowledge was no longer satisfying as it didn’t seem to be needed (or wanted?) in the workplace.

Sometimes in order to take actions for new growth or learning, you need to move on. That might be through a new job, new activities or new connections. I chose not to go for the new job which might have even more stress because of new expectations. Since my activities were restricted to the mundane in the current workplace, I looked outside to find new challenges. My first focus was my health and surprisingly my second focus became elearning. Both of these activities would have benefits if I were successful and I would be able to juggle them while still carrying a full work load.

In September, I started on a new lifestyle health plan that meant building up a team of health professionals to assist me. I still have a long way to go but so far I have lost 55 pounds and almost 28 inches while growing stronger and able to handle stress more effectively. Unfortunately, I also discovered problems with my eyesight that resulted in two laser surgeries in March 2013 for glaucoma and continued problems even after the surgeries. I am continuing my quest for health but it is tempered with the knowledge that I may have further challenges ahead.

Elearning would not have been my first choice for an alternative activity, although I do thrive on learning from others in my social media networks like Facebook, G+  and Twitter. But in August, I joined a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) in machine learning that others in the community were taking. While it brought back some good memories of monitoring research efforts in the early 2000’s, I was not able to wrap my mind around linear algebra. I tried several other MOOC classes but linear algebra or the need to learn a new programming language kept defeating me. Then I started the Gamification course taught by Kevin Werbach at the Wharton School/UPenn. It was challenging with an element of creativity that drew me in. The same thing happened with the Design: Artifacts course by Karl Ulrich also at Wharton School/UPenn. These two classes engaged both my critical and creative thinking. I’ve written a bit about my experiences with MOOCs on this site, but the one thought that I walked away from all the early MOOC classes was that I hadn’t fully engaged with the collaborative communities that were available. I may explore the possible reasons why in later posts. But as Thanksgiving approached, I received an email from the instructors for the e-Learning and Digital Cultures (EDC) course taught by the University of Edinburgh. They encouraged us to gain familiarity with various collaborative tools prior to the start of the course and use the hashtag #EDCMOOC to acknowledge that use. One of the students established a closed Facebook group and G+ community which enabled small groups to connect and interact before the course started sharing knowledge on tools, techniques, cultural insights, tradecraft on elearning and getting to know each other as “fraingers” (strangers who met online and became friends without ever having met in person). It reminded me of the early days between 2005-2008 when the same could be said for the virtual community that was being formed in our community.

So what did I learn:
1. Continually being a change agent is exhausting. Sometimes you need a break to recharge and maybe reinvent yourself.
2. Collaboration is time-consuming.   As a mindset, collaboration is sorely underutilized in our community – even by those who may be natural collaborators. Most of the focus is on the tools rather than on the mindset that makes collaboration successful.
3. Collaboration is the foundation for digital learning. If you walk away from a MOOC having only watched the videos and completed the assignments/tests, then you have achieved only half the learning that is possible
4. Leaders and managers need to be involved in collaboration

I have no earthly idea where these lessons learned will take me. I find myself sadly bored these days in the workplace as I see the same problems still unsolved after 10-20 years. And chaos masquerading as change. So I doubt that these lessons will have value there. I think my best value will be to continue to work broaden my horizons through my health journey and working on elearning as time and eyesight permit. The idea of broadening my horizons is summarized in a great tweet that I forgot to write down attribution: “ Creativity shouldn’t be focused in one area for too long. Just as runners need to cross-train, people need to broaden creative horizons”

I started gardening in 2010. The most I had ever done before was the lonely tomato plant that died due to lack of watering. I decided to start small with a container garden on my front porch where I would be forced to see them every day as I came and went. I found it to be rewarding and yet frustrating much like the job that I do. Plants grew at their own pace with some spurting up and others dying. A lot of work goes into planting, weeding and watering just for the moment that they bloom with great beauty or bountiful food harvest. The same can be said for projects that I try to do to improve analysis in both my agency and the community. As I looked back over my very short gardening journey, I have realized there were some lessons learned from gardening that were relevant to the workplace. I’m sure that there are more lessons to come but these are the initial lessons I have found in reflections about gardening.

I planted a number of marigolds and some bulbs (lilies, dahlias) along with many herbs and other perennials that caught my fancy. Since it is a container garden, my first lesson learned was that I could not go beyond certain boundaries. So just as I had to limit what I could grow, I need to think about the same thing at work. What limits are realistic (constrained by the environment) and what limits should I ignore (small minded thinking or lack of resources).

At one point I had marigolds in three separate areas that were growing very differently. In one area the leaves were being stripped from the plants. All that seemed to be untouched were the flowers. In another area, they were growing strongly and reblooming time and again.  What could I do to fix the problem?  The following lessons concern mostly this incident but there were some following this.

1. Don’t hesitate to ask questions from many places: I found that I would ask the same question of Google, my Facebook and Twitter networks, and gardening shops. Google was generally the fastest but it didn’t comfort me when my gardening went awry. Gardening shops were not much help; perhaps I need to spend more time building a relationship with one of them.

2. As I investigated the possible reason for the demise of my marigolds, I was directed to take a flashlight out after 10:00pm to see what might be wondering around. As I investigated my garden, I found new insights by changing my point of view to a different time of day. Something that is very key in the workforce – it is too easy to get locked into one point of view especially if you have expertise in that area. {Garden note: I did indeed find slugs and went in search of ways to get rid of them. Again I turned to Google and my networks and got directed to SLUGGO and Beer bath. I tried them both and seemed to have resolved the problem. I don’t know which worked best but at least they died happy.}

3. A key lesson learned came from pondering why marigolds in one part of the garden were doing so well while in the other part they were being systematically decimated in another area. The place in the garden where I have the most problems is the area that I didn’t properly clean out. I decided to use the old leaf debris as ground cover/mulch. I liked the look but it is filled with old debris and therefore those things that are harmful to growth. So in order to nurture new growth and create a healthy environment for long term growth it is essential to get rid of those things that have served their purpose in the past. That is definitely the case with our workplace. While there are many good things that need to be kept and cared for, there is also old debris – old ways of thinking and doing and old technologies – that need to be cleaned out.

4. As time went on, I found that another plant near the dead marigolds was now being eaten. The slugs seemed to be back eating my plants again. This led to a little reflection on how fighting slugs in the garden compares to fighting sluggardly thinking in the workplace. Only temporary successes with current methods; you must be constantly vigilant or tender shoots (aka projects) get eaten alive. But SLUGGO and beer baths did not seem to help so I took another evening trip to the garden to find a new threat – some kind of brown bug. I tried to find out what it was but it remains a mystery although I did try Neem Oil. Not sure whether it worked but the plants seem to be a little better. Just as in the garden, you need to be vigilant and try new methods to combat what seems to be each new threat –prepare a defense in depth in order to nurture growth.

5. Today a very large branch crashed down across my driveway near the front door. Fortunately it didn’t hit any of my garden or power lines or the house. I’m truly thankful I was not parking in that spot today (I often do). The branch seems in good condition but it is so large that I cannot move it. But looking at that branch, I realized that sometimes conditions occur over which you have no control. Perhaps the branch was weakened from past storms; whatever the reason it came down. The same thing often happens in the workplace where events occur that cause people to fail and offices to close. The best thing that can be done is to be thankful for what didn’t occur (e.g. damage to my house, garden, or car) and to consider if anything could have been done to prevent the damage that did occur.

Two good comments came from folks reading a few of my thoughts. They gave me a laugh so I’ll repeat them here.They’ll remain anonymous because I truly forgot who wrote them.

*Heh heh! Had I known that a can of Sluggo on my desk (when applied judiciously) would have helped nurture projects……

*Management sprays RoundUp and calls it MiracleGro……

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