Confessions of a Junk Food Junkie

Yeah, in the daytime I’m Mr. Natural
Just as healthy as I can be
But at night I’m a junk food junkie
Good Lord have pity on me…

-Larry Groce, Junk Food Junkie © Peaceable Kingdom Publishing

Okay, true confession time. Despite all my talk of working out, my “bodybuilding journey,” my cardio, so on and so forth, the thing that has always tripped me up in my fitness journey is my diet. Despite my best intentions and knowing all the rules I have never had good control of my weight. My leanest years have not been because of strict attention to what I put in my mouth they have been due to illness and other factors. Why is this? Simple really – I cheat. I justify. I find every reason I can to bend, ignore, and trash the rules.

Sound familiar? If so, welcome to the club. It’s a big one and not just because of the collective size of the members.

The Problem

I make a show of recording my meals, checking calories, and all that diet theater. But in reality, I eat things that I don’t record. Not just occasionally, but every day. Worse, I actually find ways to justify every single bite. Everything from telling myself that one treat won’t hurt to convincing myself that if the food has enough protein it’s actually good for me even if I go over my daily calorie limit.

I’ve tried every trick in the book as well: Food substitution (eat this, not that), low density and high volume foods (grapes, celery and the like), don’t eat gluten, don’t eat starches, don’t eat- well, you get the idea.

All these strategies have failed. Because the simple truth is that if you want to lose weight you need to expend more calories than you consume. That’s it. The only thing that actually works.

Simple, right?

Food A Love Affair

Like most of us my diet efforts have been sabotaged from day one. Not just from the usual suspects like the fast food and convenience food industries (worth several blog entries in and of themselves) and a very sweet tooth combined with a love of sugary carbs (I know, sugar is a carb) but also certain emotional and habitual triggers.

For example: I always have to have – and I mean have to have – a corn dog when I visit and amusement park or fair. It’s an urge that is as strong as any other I have. If I’m at a movie theater I need a bag of popcorn and a giant Diet Coke. At home watching television? Then it’s snacking from my “snack table.” These are for some reasons part of my eating habits or emotional triggers.

It doesn’t stop with those triggers either. After lunch I feel the need to have something sweet. But, I don’t eat chocolate like everyone else – so I choose a Pop Tart and these come in packs of two with twice the calories of most chocolate bars. Worst of all regardless of how well I’ve prepped for a meal at home – if I’m running late and am hungry I’ll swing through the drive-thru to get something to “tide me over” until I get home to pop my prepped meal in the microwave. Sometimes, I go so far as to eat both meals!

Sound familiar to anyone else?

Is There An Answer?

Obviously, some people over come whatever emotional feelings they have regarding food and are able to carve out their abs, sculpt their chest, and build the body beautiful. Are they superhuman? Have they discovered the secret diet, supplement, or pill? Do they really just love grilled chicken and plain rice?

Of course not.

What they have done is make a decision that their fitness goals are more important than any transitory pleasure that they get from eating a particular food. They realized that they control what they eat and are not slaves to their taste buds.

Was it easy for them? Maybe. Is it easy for me? Obviously not. If you are still reading this it’s probably not easy for you either. But here’s the ugly truth as I see it: if you want to lose weight it’s the only thing you can do that will work.

Expend more calories than you take in. That’s the only rule that you need to follow (why does this sound familiar?).

Don’t Beat Yourself Up – Learn From My Experience

However, I need to stress something else. Though I have failed in my weight loss efforts I have stopped making myself miserable over it. I used to stare at vending machines for far too long deciding whether I’m going off my diet or not. Finally take that “forbidden” treat, scarf it down and then feel guilty for the rest of the day. In short, I was making myself miserable over not being able to lose weight even though it is something that is actually in my control. I’m an adult. If I decide to eat something it is my decision and I know what the consequences are so I’ve learned to live with that fact.

Take ownership of the fact that you are the only one who can make the change. Be an adult and admit that you have are not reaching your goals because YOU are your biggest obstacle. Stop blaming your metabolism, getting older, and the fact that Big Macs are just so good (especially followed by a cheeseburger for “dessert”).

Lean or fat – my choice. It’s your choice too. Make the right one.

The Good News

Once you’ve taken ownership of the issue – you can now take ownership of the solution. If you are your biggest obstacle you can also be your biggest champion. You have the power, you can do it! Was it easy for them? Maybe. Is it easy for me? Obviously not. If you are still reading this it’s probably not easy for you either. It won’t be easy. You will feel hungry. You will get “hangry.” But own the solution, be the solution and eventually you will lose weight.

Or so I think. I’m willing to give it another try if you are!

Crohn’s Update: It Finally Happened – Surgery!

“Mr. Wahr, Mr. Wahr? Do you know what’s happening?” the young med student who just woke me at 4:00 A.M. asked me.

“I think so,” I replied. I had come in to the University of Michigan Hospital less than 24 hours earlier with abdominal pains that didn’t feel like a normal Crohn’s attack. Something was off so after much hemming and hawing I finally decided that given my heart history I really couldn’t take the chance that something was really wrong. Especially since the pains had started the day before and weren’t lessening as was the usual pattern with my Crohn’s, “but why don’t you tell me.”

She looked at me with sympathetic eyes and said, “you’re going in for emergency surgery. A surgeon will be in shortly to explain.”  Surgery? I had certainly anticipated this. In the Emergency Department they had determined that I had what they called a “micro fissure” of the fistula in my ileum. But, at least at that time, they didn’t think I needed surgery within 12 hours. So I had been moved to a room for observation.

Almost as soon as she finished her sentence a young man appeared at my bedside – why are all doctors so young now? –  in a polite, but firm tone he said, “Mr. Wahr, I’m sorry but you need to sign some forms to authorize surgery. Here, here, and here.”

“Surgery?” I asked.

“Yes, we can’t get your fever under control. Our only choice is to go in and remove the cause of the infection. Otherwise your prognosis…we’ll it isn’t good,” he said in a quiet, somber tone. I understood what he was telling me and started signing the forms.

“I need to tell you of all the possibilities of having this surgery,” and he listed off the usual complications and issues and then added, “and you may end up with a stoma.” By this time another surgeon had joined the growing group at my bedside. She seemed to be in charge.

“May end up with a stoma?” I asked, “how likely is that?” The new surgeon answered, ” well, we never go in planning to create a stoma, but until we go in I can’t say for sure. They’s be coming to move you to surgery in a few minutes.”

The doctors disappeared and my nurse appeared to start prepping me for moving to pre-op. As she moved my IV bags the transport team came in. “We’re going to take you down to surgery now,” the nurse said. I grabbed my phone and sent a quick text to my brother. If something happened during surgery, I wanted someone in my family to know what happened while they slept.

In pre-op I was greeted by even more medical staff. One of the anesthesiologists started to ask me a slew of questions, a woman who identified herself as a nurse held my hand and spoke to me in a comforting manner, then I heard doors open, multiple footsteps and could feel the group around me stiffen a little.

“Mr. Wahr, I’m the faculty surgeon overseeing your operation. Here’s what’s happening. The fissure you have is worse than we thought. The contents of your bowels are emptying into your abdominal cavity, causing infection. If we don’t go in and stop this, we won’t be able to bring the infection under control. The outcome will not be positive. Do you understand?” I nodded that I did. “We’ll remove the damaged areas of your intestine and when you wake up you will have a stoma. Do you know what this is?”

“Yes,” I replied, “but it sounds better than the alternative.”

“It is,” the surgeon replied. “You’ll be going into surgery now.” And with that they began to wheel me to the operating room. I noticed the time on a clock. It was not even 5:00 A.M. They were not wasting any time which told me all I needed to know about the seriousness of my situation.

A quick trip down the hall, during which I mostly observed the ceiling, and we were in the operating room. A white, sterile looking space filled with equipment and a woman sitting in the corner covered with a blanket around her shoulders. Part of the anesthesiology team perhaps? I’ll never know. A quick transfer from my bed to the “table” and the voice of the anesthesiologists who spoke to me earlier. “Are we ready? Okay, here we go.” A mask was put on my face and just as I was wondering if this was it and would I ever wake up, everything went black.

Next thing I knew, I heard a disembodied voice asking me questions, “Mr. Wahr, can you tell me where you are?”

“U of M Hospital, I’m having surgery.”

“Very good, everything went well. You’re going to a room now.”

I continued to drift in and out of consciousness for an unknown amount of time. It was about 10:00 A.M. when I finally seemed to actually wake up. I said a silent prayer thanking God for letting me wake up and yet another doctor came into my room. This, I would later learn, was the “attending” doctor for the intensive care unit I was in.

“Mr. Wahr? How are you doing?” he asked.

“I guess fine. Considering.”

“Yes, I understand. The good news is that the surgery went well. You do have a stoma, but the infection and fever are gone and you should make a full recovery. You were lucky,” he paused to consider his words carefully, “this was the kind of thing that people die from.”

“So I hear.”

He went on to tell me a little more about the surgery and that the surgeon would be in later to check on me (as he did each day I was at the hospital). He then left me with the nurse so I could settle in.

Thus begins my newest adventure with Crohn’s. In a way I always suspected that this day was in my future – yet it was still a surprise when it happened. Many Crohn’s patients end up in surgery and with stomas. I’ve managed to avoid it for more than 30 years so in that sense I’ve been fortunate. And there is the possibility that in 6 months or so, presuming that the Crohn’s is under control, that I could be “hooked back up” so that my colon can be useful again. So, all in all, I’m handling the situation pretty well.

My current concerns while I recuperate and adjust to life with an appliance attached to my side (which does get changed every three to four days): 1) dehydration – most of the water for the body is absorbed by the colon. It will take time for my small intestine to realize it needs to pick up the slack; 2) weight loss – even though my appetite is good, food is still passing through my intestine too quickly. As a result, I’ve been slowly losing weight (almost a pound a day). Something a lot of folks dream of, but be careful what you wish for. When I was first diagnosed with Crohn’s I dropped down to about 140 pounds from my then previous weight of 180 pounds before being stabilized. I sure don’t want to be that thin again. Plus, all the weight seems to be disappearing from my chest and shoulders and thighs. Not my belly where I really don’t need it. Muscle loss is certain at this point. There goes the last 30 years of training down the drain; 3) infection, which I’ve avoided so far, always a risk after surgery but especially for someone with a weakened immune system; 4) controlling the Crohn’s. My past medical regimen didn’t prevent the fissure which is an indication that the treatments weren’t working. The interesting thing now is that my Crohn’s has historically been localized to the ileum. Now that my ileum, about a meter’s worth of small intestine, is gone the question is will my Crohn’s flare up somewhere else?

That’s it in a nutshell. I’m managing to deal with the appliance pretty well so far with only a couple mishaps (one in the doctor’s office) and I’m looking forward to returning to work soon.

Of course, I’ll keep blogging about my experience in the hopes of helping someone else with the same or similar situation. There’s always hope folks and we are all in this together.

On a side note, I had an interesting experience that was repeated with three nurses as they prepared to give me an injection in the back of my arm. It went something like this:

“Left or right arm?” the nurse asks.

“Doesn’t matter. Left.” I reply.

“Okay,” takes my arm to prepare the injection site. Stops and says, “oh, I’m not sure what this is. Is there a tumor in your arm? Or is that your tricep?”

“I hope it’s my tricep.”

“Yes, I guess it is. Not used to seeing a tricep like this. Very impressive.”

Now, I can’t be sure if the comment – from three different nurses – means I have an oddly shaped tricep or if they just don’t expect a relatively well developed tricep on a…ahem…mature man (though I think it’s looking pretty puny right now). I’ll go with the latter as it makes me feel better about myself. You have to look for the positive in every situation after all.


Not a Tumor

Fitness Quest: April 2018

Several positive items to report in my renewed quest for fitness since the discovery that I had a heart attack sometime in the past (likely, in my mind at least, in January of 2017).

Mental Health: first and foremost, my mood has improved considerably. Thanks to cardio rehab and the natural adaptation process that we all go through after experiencing major life events I’m happier than I’ve been in a while and am functioning again. At least in my opinion (my friends and co-workers may continue to disagree but that’s their problem). I am looking forward to the future for the most part again and not afraid that each day will be my last – even if it turns out to be.

Physical Health and Exercise: cardio rehab goes well and I’m making progress. I’m biking and walking like I should on days I don’t have rehab – even beating several other “steppers” in my weekly Fitbit step challenge – which I wasn’t doing for a long time. I get through my tap dancing each week without feeling like I’m going to pass out and I’m in general feeling more energetic.

More exciting is that my bodyfat percentage has been on a downward trend for about four weeks now even though my body weight has increased slightly. In bodybuilding this would be known as “making gains.” Not by huge amounts, after all I’m not a newbie or a teenager anymore, but a clear trend. It does mean that I’m not losing fat as is actual goal, but it means that I’m gaining more muscle than fat which isn’t bad either. Especially for someone who is in late middle-age (unless I live to be 130).

Last month I mentioned I was being tested for asthma and the good news is that my lungs are “normal” and have no obstructions. Something is still going on with my breathing though and my gastroenterologist has put me on iron thinking that my anemia could be contributing to the issue.

I do have sleep apnea, both obstructive and central, for which I’ll be getting a CPAP machine for this coming week (I hope). I have one more night of testing with various devices to see which will work best for me.

Crohn’s: speaking of gastroenterology, we’ve decided that my Humira may not be doing the best job for me. So we are switching things up and I’m going to Entyvio. The plus side of this is that I only get an infusion every 8 weeks (at home) instead of a weekly injection. I’ll be blogging more on this as treatments begin.

Nutrition: here’s the hard part. I’ve discovered something that I probably should have known all along. Sugar is bad for you. At least added sugar is. And like sodium, the stuff is everywhere. According to the American Heart Association men should restrict their added sugar levels to just 9 teaspoons a day (4 grams = 1 teaspoon) and women only 6 teaspoons. This means that if you have one 12 ounce can of pop a day, non-diet variety,  you’ve gone over your limit. Not to mention the mega servings most of us consume! I drink the diet stuff so that’s not a source of sugar for me, but my sweet tooth may literally be the death of me. Especially when you consider that sugar has inflammatory properties – which can aggravate my Crohn’s, which may have caused my heart attack in the first place!

Overall: I’m doing as well as can be expected and maybe a little better even. I thank God for each day I’m given and that I’m not worse off.

It’s an old saying but true: it could be worse. Oh well, it’s back to the grocery store I go!


Mediterranean Diet

Sodium, Sodium Everywhere and Not a Bite to Eat

Question: which do you think has less sodium, a medium order of McDonald’s French Fries or a small salad?

Answer: It depends. Are you going to put dressing on that salad? If so, the fries win. In fact, the fries win even if you go up to large size and small fries can win if you are looking at overall fats, too!

Surprised? Don’t be. Since discovering that I had a heart attack sometime in the past, I’ve been working harder than ever to get my diet in line. I was already doing pretty good in keeping my fats low and started cooking for myself and am getting a little more “Mediterranean” in my eating and food choices each week (more fish, more veggies, less sugar). So, I thought it was time to take the next step and reduce my sodium intake.


I now understand the trials and tribulations of people with high blood pressure. Sodium is in everything that is even slightly processed. Fast food, sit down restaurants, frozen food, soups, canned vegetables, frozen vegetables (but not always), baked goods, lunch meat, you name it and I bet it’s got more sodium than you would think.

Fat free means “added salt.” Pizzas should be called sodium pies. Surprisingly, things that taste salty, like potato chips, may have less sodium than a small can of spring peas.

According to the American Heart Association we should be eating no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day, 1,500 if you have high blood pressure. But, the average American consumes more than 3,400 mg each day (more at the AHA website)! And I know from MyFitnessPal that I’m somewhere north of that figure on any given day. How much is 2,300 mg of sodium? About 1 teaspoon of salt per day.

Now in my case, I do not have high blood pressure and my heart attack does not appear to have been caused due to any dietary issues (arteries, with the exception of the one where the damage occurred are clear and “beautiful” according to my cardiologist). It’s likely, in fact, that the heart attack occurred due to my Crohn’s. And, I could choose to side with some of the research out there which suggests that if you don’t have high blood pressure sodium intake isn’t really an issue. However, with one big strike against me, I don’t think I should risk a second. So, I’m going to keep doing my best to get my diet in line and that means lowering my sodium intake.

Now should we talk about the amount of potassium in salt substitutes and the effect that has on someone taking ACE inhibitors?

The struggle continues.


The Day After…Thanksgiving

Warning – I deal frankly with some bodily functions in this blog (not graphic but more sensitive types might want to take care)

Okay, so as I mentioned last blog I got through Thanksgiving pretty well. And I was happy as this was the first Thanksgiving ins a while were I didn’t feel sick during or after wards. Understanding now that I have a permanent “narrowing” of my intestine due to scarring from the Crohn’s has given me a different attitude about eating. Keep the portions smaller, eat more frequently (if I’m really hungry) and no more giant meals…which is an issue since I still haven’t been to Tony’s in Birch Run for one of their famous BLT sandwiches (either Google it or follow this link to the Foursquare entry –  I guess a doggy bag is always allowed…

Side note: I was never a big portion guy anyway, I remember at the now long gone Trail Duster restaurant while visiting my sister and her husband in Denver, CO that I could barely get through the “cowgirl” steak while my brother-in-law polished off what appeared to be an entire side of beef. I was in awe, and a little in shock – not quite like the old 96 ouncer in the classic movie “The Great Outdoors” with John Candy and Dan Akroyd but close. I tried to look up the menu but it appears that it is no longer served at even the original Trail Duster which is still open in Arlington, TX. They do still cut off your tie after 5:00 PM though!

Anyway, so things were going pretty good yesterday as well. Some mild pain and discomfort but nothing unusual. I ate lightly during the day after a bad start at breakfast. Handy kitchen tip – don’t get a sudden diarrhea attack when the waffles are in the maker and the bacon is on the stove. Or at least turn the bacon off (can you say “extra crispy?”). A delicious turkey sandwich for lunch (by the way, what makes leftover Thanksgiving turkey the best turkey for sandwiches anyway?) and a little leftover Ruby Tuesday’s ravioli for dinner. Then while watching television later in the evening I started coughing.

Now coughing isn’t rare during this time of year and I’ve had a nagging sinus drip for about a week now (no fever, just drip, cough, etc.) and tonight something from my sinuses was trying to go down my throat but not quite making it. As a result my coughing got violent as did my gagging. Well, after so many years of vomiting on a regular basis I think that my guts are just ready to “go” on a moment’s notice and sure enough – upchuck city without even feeling ill! I did have the good sense to move to the bathroom before the moment occurred at least. To me the worst part was that my sinuses still didn’t clear!

The good news, if any, is that the food from earlier in the day did seem to be digesting well as very little solid matter came back up and I would say my gastric juices were working well. No real burning sensation as I had just drank some water a little earlier. All in all, not a bad vomit if I were to rate them – and sadly, I do now.

The point of this post? Not much, just that with Crohn’s you always have to be ready for the unexpected. This is why I sometimes find it tough to go to the movies. I like to sit in the center but also like to have a clear aisle. If I’m feeling a little off I’ll just go ahead and sit on the side so if I need to get out I don’t have to disturb anyone else. I try to take a little plastic bag with me a lot, too – and have even quietly thrown up during a broadway show (at least I hope it was quiet, no one glared or looked at me from what I could tell and they all came back after intermission. Of course it was a good show). And, just like the commercials, I’m always very aware of where the nearest restroom and/or trash receptacle is. Life with Crohn’s, even a mild case like mine, is always an adventure.

Of course, it does make it easier to pretend that I squatted until I puked in the gym!



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