Felix’s Weight-loss Journey

There are few things more difficult in this life than trying to maintain a healthy weight. I have struggled with it my whole life, watching the scale going up and down like a ping pong ball. When I got married I was in a good spot. I had lost a lot of weight while living in Peru, since I barely had two pennies to rub together and ate only one full meal a day. But after coming back to the States and getting married, we enjoyed wedded bliss along with plenty of food and desserts. We were happy and carefree.

I noticed my pant and shirt sizes were going up but didn’t give it much importance until I realized how hard it was getting to chase my kids around, get up from the couch and pick things up off the floor. I stepped on the scale at a yearly check up and it glared back at me with a whopping 290 lbs. The doctor prescribed a complete blood panel and suggested I begin an exercise routine, especially cardio. When I looked at myself in the mirror, I seemed normal enough. My size 44 pants were even a little loose.

I got bloodwork results back from the doctor and I had high cholesterol, my good cholesterol was low and my sugar was borderline. So I started looking for exercise videos on youtube and found a 30 minute aerobic workout. I read the commentaries and those that tried it said they quit after just 5 minutes because it was too intense. I saw it as a challenge and told myself I was going to do the whole 30 minutes, with God’s help, for my children and my wife.  

I started with three times a week and let me tell you, it was not easy! The instructor had us jumping all over the place and then I did sit ups for 10 minutes afterwards. It wore me out, but I kept it up for nine months and never gave up. I had lost 40 lbs and was now at 250. Summertime arrived and I was so sick of exercising that I lowered my intensity to once or twice a week and I allowed myself my fair share of ice cream, so I gained 10lbs back.  

Once fall arrived, I looked up how much a man my height should weigh and it said 160-196 lbs, so I made a goal for myself to get down to 220 and I returned to my former exercise routine, adding 30 minutes of stationary bike on the off days. But I seemed to have plateaued and every time I got on the scale it still said 260. I talked about it with my wife and she said that I needed to change my diet as well. She found me a Weight Watchers book and we began counting our points together. Each food has a certain number of points according to calories, fat grams, and dietary fiber and each person is alloted a certain number of points according to their height and current weight. As you begin to lose, your points decrease so you can continue losing.  

It was a huge sacrifice, but I stopped eating chocolate chip cookies, cheese, milk and bread products, stopped drinking Coke, and began drinking lots of water. I lost 10 lbs the first week… I was floored! I did not lose quite as much during the following weeks but continued to lose steadily. I looked up videos on what to eat for breakfast and lunch and began to analyze what my body needed to remain active without being so hungry all the time. I realized that oatmeal made me anxious and I was hungry again an hour later. Two eggs didn’t fill me up, nor did cereal. One day I tried eating a grapefruit and a breakfast salad of tuna with celery and grape tomatoes, and realized it was perfect. Between breakfast and lunch I would have piece of fruit or a cup of cereal to tide me over.

For lunch I would make myself a big salad with tuna, lettuce and spinach and just fresh lime juice and salt for dressing, along with a can of soup. This menu has been a great help for the past 20 months. When I have a hankering for something sweet, I enjoy ¼ cup of prunes and that helps to take the edge off.

There have been many difficult moments along this weight-loss journey, especially when I really want something sweet. I have to calm myself down, drink water and ask the Good Lord for His help. These moments of temptation happen quite often but thankfully I have been able to resist. I would always give myself a free day on Sundays and eat whatever I wanted. That way I didn’t feel completely trapped and without treats. I saw the numbers on the scale continue to go down and my clothes getting looser and looser until one day I was down to 205 lbs! I couldn’t believe it! I had lost 85 lbs and felt like a different person! I am still tired quite often, since I am almost 40 and my active boys keep me busy, but I am in a much better spot and am so happy.

For the past few months I have been maintaining. I continue eating the same diet Monday through Friday afternoon and then enjoy the weekend eating what I wish. I usually gain 5-7 lbs over the weekend and then shed them back off during the week to remain right around 210 lbs.

It is still a constant battle, as I struggle with anxiety, fatigue, and a big sweet tooth, but somehow I always find the motivation to continue on with diet and exercise. My children, my wife and my God are my motivation. They give me the strength to continue on. Even when it’s really hot or really cold, I continue consistently because I want to feel better, and now I have much more energy and am able to do much more.  

I wanted to share my story because I know so many can relate to it, whether it be in the arena of food, exercise and weight, or some other habit. We all have our own struggles, our own motivations and our own levels of faith. May you find the motivation you need to be the best you possible!

 

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Happy Anniversary

One night in Peru in 2011 I couldn’t sleep, which was often the case, because although it was a bit difficult to find in Lima (a large and bustling city), I enjoyed the tranquility of the night.  I was always waiting for the right person to come into my life and I wanted to be awake so I wouldn’t miss seeing her for the first time. I enjoy writing about the things of love and that night I wrote this poem for that person who is now my wife:

You arrived at the perfect time

To hold you in my heart,

It was an autumn night

And I only had eyes for you.

You arrived at the perfect time

To hand over to you all the feelings

That had grown over time

To make the tree of love flower.

You are the smile that fills me

Every day of my life,

Simply knowing that you’re there

You are always with me.

You are the happiness that makes me dream

Walking together through breathtaking landscapes

With our fingers intertwined

So that we may never be separated.

You are the woman I always dreamed of

The one I had always been waiting for

And now I have the opportunity to write you

A love poem.

You are the woman that came into my life

To remain on this path together

Of morning after morning and night after night

Watching each other grow old for the rest of our lives.

 

It was May 18, 2012,  a special day for me and my bride. Who would have thought that I would get married? Everything I had ever dreamed of was about to take place in a few hours, minutes, seconds. Many people spoke to me as I got to know my bride’s family and friends. They were always very kind to me, but I didn’t speak much. I mostly talked only with my bride, because everything was brand new, a new city, a new Catholic church, a new family and new friends. We got married on a Friday. It was the first time I had heard of having a wedding on a Friday. They normally take place on Saturdays. It’s not that we were desperate, but rather we wanted to step outside of the norm and get married that day, and I liked the idea.

While I waited inside the church, I spoke very little and didn’t know if my bride was even going to show up. It was all a great mystery and I wasn’t sure if it was really happening or if it was just a dream. I wanted to pinch myself to wake up, but all of a sudden, my bride appeared and I continued right on dreaming. I said to myself, “Wake up, Felix! This is your wedding! You’re getting married for real!”, but I continued on in a deep dream. After saying our vows, which I could barely pronounce because I was in such shock, we went to pray in front of the Blessed Virgin Mary for a moment while our niece sang a Marian hymn. I recalled all I had gone through in the past in order to arrive at this moment and find true love. I thought I was going to cry as emotion overtook me, but I kept right on dreaming. Thanks be to God, this dream was real. It took a long time to find true love, but now we have been married 6 years, have 3 sons and another on the way. God has granted us the gift of being parents and with the love that we share we have formed an amazing family. Dreams really do come true together with God.

And in celebration of the 6 years we have shared together, I have written another poem reflecting the seasons of Michigan, our current home, and the love we share:

Every day is sunny with you at my side

While we melt with passion

And your eyes are like fire

Just like I always dreamed.

The rain makes me come alive with at my side

While we are drenched in love

And your eyes are full of tenderness

Just like I always dreamed.

The snow makes me come alive with you at my side

While we are frozen in love

And your eyes are pure innocence

Just like I always dreamed.

Your gaze reflects the sky and Lake Michigan all at once,

Because of your intensity, loveliness and beauty

While our love continues to strengthen us

At the rhythm of the waves.

 

Happy Anniversary, my love!

Life’s Wake Up Calls

It was a rough night. I watched the season finale of my favorite historical fiction and was bawling the whole time. How could they do that? How could they bring us through a romance and finally a wedding after 5 seasons and then kill off the main character? It was cruel and unfair. Our favorite hero, our handsome prince was gone. And together the fans go from disbelief, to sadness, to anger, each attempting to manage their own grieving process. Then I take a step back and wonder if I sound absolutely ridiculous. Are these just pregnancy hormones at their finest or have I really become so invested in a TV show? It was as if I was living what they were going through right along with the actors.

I was in a daze and finding it hard to shake the emotion to continue on with real life. My thoughts drifted on in a hazy cloud when suddenly I realized there was another man who died, and this one died for ME. How could I possibly cry and grieve this way over an actor and not over the death of my Lord?? Am I as devoted to Him, as wholeheartedly dedicated in my relationship with Him as I have been with this series? The answer to my own question was a deplorable embarrassment.

This drama has taught me lessons of faithfulness, dedication, and compassion. I notice how the main actress treats her students with such gentleness and understanding and do a self-check. How have I been treating my own kids lately?

My rough night continued with my 5-year-old waking up with a nightmare at 2:00am. In my sleepy stupor I gave him a hug, a few rubs on the back, prayed with him, blessed him and sent him back to bed. But when he came back a second and a third time, still frightened and unable to sleep, my tone hardened and I became frustrated that my precious zzzz’s were being interrupted by my oldest child who should be the last one to wake me up. Where was my motherly love? I recalled my own early years when I suffered greatly from repetitive nightmares for months on end. I was even older than my son is now and my parents still let me sleep on a mattress in their room or nestled in between them in their bed, yet I did not extend the same kindness to my scared little boy.

You never know where your wake-up calls will come from, whether it be a coworker with cancer, the death of a family member, a car accident, a candid conversation with a dear friend or a TV show. But whenever they do appear, I pray I will have the humility and the openness to change, fortified by God’s grace.

 

Beauty

Sometimes beauty takes you by surprise. You would expect to encounter it in an ocean sunset or on a Colorado peak, but not necessarily in the everyday. As winter turns to spring, the drive to work becomes less obscure and more luminous. The sunrise greets me with its glorious colors, kissing high-rises and painting silhouettes out of church spires. Shades of pink and purple and orange give way to a cloudless blue and it takes my breath away. What awe-inspiring beauty!

I suspect I appreciate the earth’s beauty so much because I often fail to see it in myself. As one who has struggled with obesity my whole life, frequently teased because of it as a child and squeamish in front of mirrors and cameras as an adult, I seek it outside of myself.  I love drives through the countryside, trips to the beach, hikes through the woods and nature scenes. I even discovered a series on Netflix called Extraordinary Homes that captures intense beauty in every episode. The owners seek out the most exotic, unconventional, and picturesque locations to build their abodes. Most of them wealthy, but too busy to enjoy life in their everyday atmospheres, desiring an escape.

And perhaps that’s what I am trying to do. Escape. Escape from the reality of my ever growing and ever aging physique. Sometimes I just want to know why. Why do I struggle to find clothes that even fit, while others can shop anywhere and look gorgeous? Why do I want to look away every time I see a picture of myself? Why am I jealous instead of more supportive of those around me who have lost weight?

I recently found myself reminding him of the need for a healthy self-love. “I hope you reach the point one day where you feel you are not just putting up with yourself but that you see yourself as a child of God with true dignity and learn to love yourself.” Whoa! Look who’s talking, lady! Let’s work on practicing what you preach!

I have read books on true beauty, inner beauty, the beauty of God’s children, and they all help for a while, until I fall into a slump again. I begin to believe the Hollywood lie of size 4 beauty. I stare at the “big girls” all around me, compare myself to them and criticize them in my thoughts. “My tummy’s not THAT big,” “I don’t jiggle THAT much,” “My arms aren’t THAT fat” “At least I can WALK around the store and don’t need a motorized cart!” So much ugliness floating around my brain…

And then on days like today, the beauty of the sunrise hits me like a slap across the face, and I am reminded of the Creator of ALL beauty. Only HE could create something so phenomenal it takes your breathe away. And that is precisely why I am beautiful, why we are ALL beautiful, because we are HIS creation. Not because we are a size 4 or a muscle-bound 6’5”, but because He created us and God, by His very nature, only creates beautiful things. When we think we are ugly or anything other than beautiful, we are believing the lies of the evil one, allowing ourselves to be entrapped in his snare.

Each and every one of you is BEAUTIFUL and I hope you will tell those you encounter today just how beautiful they are, cuz I guarantee they need to hear it!

To Divide and Multiply (John 6:1-15)

When I was a child, my dad often listened to Gospel music while he did projects around the house. Tunes by Canaan, Don Francisco and GLAD often wafted through the air, and whether intentionally or unintentionally, I came to memorize the lyrics. One I find myself singing to this day was called “Break Me.” It spoke of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, one of my favorite Bible stories.

“Break me Lord, as you broke the bread and fish there by the sea.

Take what little I can offer, multiply it, Lord, for Thee.

Break me Lord, break me.”

These words speak to me in two distinct ways: A call to multiply and a call to divide.

A Call to Multiply: When we allow our lives to be driven by God, even our feeble attempts at virtue can be used by Him for the good.  If we spend an afternoon at a soup kitchen, perhaps another person or two will decide to follow our example and do the same. (Or if you’re like me and have a little brood, my decision to go, and take the kids with me, is already multiplying.)

Perhaps you are asked to give a talk at a church. You speak only once, yet it falls on the ears of many and the positive message is multiplied.

Even letting someone go in front of you in the dreadfully long grocery line does not go unseen and may inspire others to perform a random act of kindness as well.

A Call to Divide: “Break me Lord, break me.” I see broken people all around me. Broken by an estranged child, a death in the family, financial distress, mental health issues that cause one misunderstanding after another… but what does it truly mean to be broken by God? To be spiritually broken? I may be over-simplifying, but it helps me to compare it to breaking in a horse. Breaking it of its wildness and willfulness so it obeys and moves as directed. Is it so different with me? If God breaks apart and divides my vices, my excuses and my complaints, He can conquer them one by one and win me over for His Kingdom.

As we come to an end of this Lenten season and look forward to the joy of Easter, in what areas is God trying to multiply you? To divide? May your brokenness make you whole in Him.

 

True Success

Many years ago when I was young boy, I would observe adults, whether professionals or not, with new cars, new homes and other material possessions and I would say to myself that he or she is successful. They have everything anyone could ever want and are recognized wherever they go. But deep inside I was confused about what true success was because it always seemed to be related to money. I looked for the definition of success in the dictionary, which stated: “the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one’s goals, the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.”

After reading these definitions I realized I wasn’t so wrong after all, because success
was always related to material things, but at the same time I wanted to do a little
digging to find out if successful people were happy. I started watching videos
of athletes, actors, and illustrious characters, and many of them said they
wished they had a normal life just like many of us do, and others said they wished
they could just go out and have a coffee with their friends in peace but since
they were so famous they got stopped all the time to get their picture taken or
to autograph something. Some of them found God along the way and discovered the
happiness they were lacking, realizing it was something money couldn’t buy,
because God is always waiting for us with open arms to embrace us and receive
us with love.

After watching dozens of videos and reading a multitude of interviews, I realized
that success does not bring happiness and happiness does not bring success, but
rather happiness comes from God. The closer we are to Him, the more he leads
the way and opens up our eyes to follow His will. True success is finding God
in your heart, not earning gobs of money.  

I have a big house that we are fixing up little by little, two older cars that run well, three healthy children and one on the way, a wife that loves me to pieces and a fulfilling relationship with God.  We don’t have money to spare, nor are we lacking anything. And love abounds, so I consider myself the most successful man in the world.

Convincing a Child He’s Beautiful

This is something I wrote several years ago, but a sentiment still worth sharing. I hope you enjoy…

As I endured yet another night of insomnia at 9 months pregnant, my thoughts drifted to a young boy I met over a year ago. He was about 8 years old and a patient at Hogar San Francisco de Asís—Home of St. Francis of Assisi – in Chaclacayo just outside of Lima, Peru, where I had spent a month doing missionary work. I had originally hoped to work at this location the entire month, but upon learning they were at capacity with a high school volunteer group from the U.S, I made other arrangements. Nevertheless, I wanted to check this place out.

My boyfriend (now husband) Felix and I set out just two days after I arrived in Lima. We traveled almost 2 hours by bus through poverty stricken areas and finally disembarked in a nice neighborhood with large houses. An American doctor from Florida left a successful practice in Atlanta to dedicate his life to helping Peruvian children with serious medical issues. The children, up to 50+ at a time, stay at the house free of charge until they are well enough to return to their families. Dr. Tony Lazzara either treats them himself, brings them to a medical facility for treatment or on rare occasions even brings them to the United States for surgery.

When we first arrived, Felix picked up a little girl with Down syndrome. They were both smitten, as she grinned at him from ear to ear. After interacting with her for a bit, we noticed a large group of children gathered around watching TV. It was Sunday afternoon – movie time! However, a few of them were restless and not into the film, so Felix and I wandered outside with some of the younger children. Despite deformations, burns and illness, they were playing happily. The beautician was there and one by one they were getting their haircut. We would tell them how handsome/beautiful they looked as each one finished. I’m not sure if they believed us, but they smiled politely.

Wandering back into the house, a moment or two later, I noticed this young boy. He wasn’t interested in the movie and kept repeating that he wanted to go to the park. After inquiring with the volunteers, we decided to take him. He scooted along the sidewalks in a tricycle made for someone half his size and we walked along behind him. All of a sudden, he stopped dead in his tracks. We were directly diagonal from the park at this point and he could see that there were other people there. We tried to talk to him, reason with him, and even push his tricycle, but nothing was going to convince him to move on. His feet were cemented to the ground. “Allí están las chicas,” (“There are girls there”) he kept telling us over and over. “Allí están las chicas.” His head was bowed in shame and defeat.

You see, this young boy was a burn victim, his entire body wrapped in scar tissue, his face deformed. He lost his mother and siblings in the fire and had somehow escaped with his life. He was grieving the loss of his family, the loss of his home, the loss of a positive self-image. I began asking myself: How do I convince this child he’s beautiful? I tried telling him he looked so handsome after just getting his hair cut, but in the end nothing helped. Instead we took him to a neighborhood store for some ice cream to cheer him up. He enjoyed his ice cream, and we took a peak at the park again. The girls that were there before had gone, but there were still other children. After convincing him that they were all his friends from the Hogar, he hesitantly agreed to go.

Once in the park he took off like a shot and we hardly saw him again as we mingled with other kids, playing on the monkey bars and kicking a soccer ball around. We kept an eye on him from a distance and noticed he was a solitary little fellow. He rode around on the sidewalks by himself, at one point stopping meditatively at a plaque in the middle of the park. It was almost as if he were visiting a tombstone at a gravesite. But whose was it? His mother’s? His siblings’? His own?

I will never forget my encounter with this young boy, nor the deep sadness in his countenance. Through his pain and through his scars he was beautiful. I just wanted to scoop him in my arms and tell him so.