Beep beep beep beep. Beep beep beep beep.
I roll over and pick up my phone off of the hotel nightstand and turn off the alarm. I check the time. It’s 6:30 a.m. It’s early, but not too early. I’m not tired – I barely slept. Excitement will do that to you. Countless people have had this same excitement – it’s my wedding day.
I get up, along with the three others in the room, get dressed then head to a state park in Sonoma County California. When we arrive, we wait a few minutes for the other groomsmen and the wedding planner and get started. It’s a large park, and the area we’ve rented is a beautiful shaded area with a large field to one side and small boulders littered around behind the seating area. We start setting things up, making sure no trash has blown in overnight, putting table cloths down – then it starts raining.
I feel like I should be nervous, but there is nothing but excitement – and then I see the bride.
Rain on your wedding day is supposed to be good luck. But no one wants to see rain on their wedding day when they have an outdoor wedding. The forecast shows that the rain should stop soon. We change the tablecloths to plastic so they’re easier to wipe down later in the day and head back to the hotel for breakfast.
The wedding is at 1:00 p.m. and the forecast was correct – it’s a beautiful day.
We take photos, talk to guests, and at 12:55, we’re all standing in our places. Our officiant is my father-in-law. He’s standing at the end of the aisle waiting for his only daughter – his little girl – so he can walk her down the aisle.
I feel like I should be nervous, but there is nothing but excitement – and then I see the bride.
My wife, Jen, has five older brothers. When she arrived, each brother walks her from the vehicle one-fifth of the way to her dad. Her dad then walks her down the aisle, I walk down and take her hand. We’re both smiling, excited for the start of our journey together.
Her dad takes his spot as the officiant and then sings a short song he wrote called “Daddy’s Little Girl”, embarrassing her along the way. There is laughter, there is fun, she shoves cake in my face – I, of course, reciprocate – we give toasts, take more photos and the day is over.
I still remember his reaction when I said I topped 180 pounds.
Looking back at photos from this day, almost nine years ago, Jen almost always says two things: “We look so young.” and “you were so skinny.”
I was skinny. I am about 5′ 10″ (178 cm) and weighed a whopping 155 pounds (70 kg). In our first 6 years of marriage I went from: being active, playing basketball or biking; to stationary work sitting at a desk all day. It’s easy to make excuses, and I could give some: I was in a car accident, I didn’t have many opportunities to work out as much, etc, etc. But the reality is, I wasn’t trying to say healthy.
I always joked about how much weight I was gaining with a friend. We got married two months apart and were groomsmen in each other’s weddings. I still remember his reaction when I said I topped 180 pounds (~82kg).
But I wish it would have ended there.
In mid-2017, I started going to the gym with another friend. I knew I needed to lose weight. My doctor told me I needed to lose weight. I saw a picture from a baseball game and thought, “Man I’m getting fat.” I stepped on the scale, and I couldn’t believe it. 210 pounds (95 kg).
I’d never dieted before and honestly, I didn’t know what to do. So, predictably, I lost (maybe) five pounds over the next seven months.
I really didn’t believe, so I stepped on a different scale later. Same result. I not only needed to lose weight – I wanted to. From a medical standpoint, I had finally crossed the line from overweight to obese**. Friends and family said I could lose a few pounds, but I didn’t look that bad, “Don’t overreact”, etc. But the problem was, I couldn’t do a single pull up. My heart rate would hit 150 walking at a “brisk” pace on a treadmill. I couldn’t jog a mile downhill without stopping to take a break.
I’d never dieted before and honestly, I didn’t know what to do. So, predictably, I lost (maybe) five pounds over the next seven months.
Nick, a friend/co-worker/ping pong rival, mentioned that he does a diet each year for Lent. I’m not catholic, but I asked if he’d give me the details and I joined him on his diet. He was in much better shape than I and was prepping for a half-marathon as well.
However, it wasn’t just a diet. I started working out more often and got serious about being healthy. That one mile I couldn’t run in 2017 turned into running two miles in 17 minutes, and that one pull up I could not do turned into 10. Nothing to be impressed with, but a huge improvement.
The hardest part was probably friends and family. Hearing things like, “you’re wasting away”, or “you’re losing too much weight”, or “are you eating enough”, etc, are not actually encouraging when someone is trying to make a lifestyle change. I think that people want to be encouraging. People don’t want to make you feel bad. They don’t want to call you fat.
But I’ll be honest, I wish someone would have. I wish someone would have said something.
Yeah, my doctor told me I needed to lose weight, but doctors have to say that if you don’t fall within a certain BMI. So it’s not as impactful as a friend telling me. It’s not as impactful as realizing in a photo of myself how big I’d become.
If the concern was that I would develop an eating disorder, I understand. But please, if you cannot trust me not to diet myself into an eating disorder, at least trust my spouse to go to you for help if she thinks I am.
That was Lent 2018. This week marks the end of the third year of doing this diet. And the third year of a friend’s influence helping change my life for the better.
I’ve now lost more than 40 pounds (18kg). I’m not trying to get back to my wedding weight. But I am trying to be healthy, and trying to be a good example to my children.
The image at the top of this post shows a photo of me before my wedding beside one of me at 210 pounds. The photo below is the same 210 pound me beside the current me at 168 pounds (76 kg). The current photo was taken the same day as this post. I’m even wearing the same shirt to make the difference more obvious.
** A person is considered obese if they have a BMI of 30 or higher, or are 30 or more pounds overweight.
Several months ago I posted My journey to Getting healthy. At the time, I wasn’t planning to post a “part 2”, but I noticed one glaring flaw in my post – I focused entirely on my weight while ignoring everything else about my health. If you have not had a chance to read that post, feel free to read that one before starting here. I will be discussing some things that are related to weight, but that will not be the focus of this post.
As I mentioned in my previous post, there were several things that I observed and thought that I needed to lose weight. From pictures to the numbers on the scale. But the pictures and the numbers on the scale were simply symptoms of my poor health.
In 2014 at my yearly health checkup, my doctor told me I needed to exercise and eat healthier. And while I don’t have the results from the blood work, I do remember one thing. At almost 25 years old, I had high cholesterol. I don’t recall my weight at the time, but it was probably around 175 pounds (79kg).
When I finally saw the results, I couldn’t believe it – my body fat percentage was thirty-eight percent.
Fast forward almost four years to early 2018, and that is when I started to take my health more seriously. One of the first things I did was participate in a program at my gym. The specifics were simple, they would measure your body fat and muscle percentage, and whoever had the best results throughout the program would win. (I don’t recall the prize.) The cost was small (less than $50) to participate, and you would have a DEXA scan done before and after to measure the changes. Fat percentage lost + muscle percentage gain = results.
I was a bit nervous about the results and was expecting to see something around twenty-five percent body fat. My logic was simple – I had barely crossed the BMI obesity threshold, so I assumed I’d barely be past the body fat percentage obesity threshold. When I finally saw the results, I couldn’t believe it – my body fat percentage was thirty-eight percent.
The mental impact was so large I put the results paper in my bathroom so I would see it every day.put the results paper in my bathroom so I would see it every day.
A little more than six months later, I had lost twenty or so pounds (9kg) and put some back on during the fall and Thanksgiving. It had been over four years since I last had a health checkup. I’d always put off going to the doctor, but since I was trying to make a change in my life it was time to go. I also had to get health results as a part of starting work at the company I was moving to Japan to work for.
Same doctor. Guess what he told me? You’re probably right – he told me I needed to diet and exercise. Pretty sure he told me I was fat again. My weight was more than the last time I saw him, so from his perspective, all the work I did to be more healthy and also to lose the weight wasn’t there. My health was worse than when I was there four years prior.
I do still have the results from this checkup. I’ll post the highlights here:
|Weight||BMI (< 25 healthy)||LDL (< 100)||HDL (> 40)||Triglycerides (< 150)|
My cholesterol was through the roof. I can only imagine it was probably much worse a year before this. But I didn’t know. I knew it was high, but not this high.
I decided I needed to continue being more health-conscious. As mentioned in my previous post, I did the diet with my friend, Nick, again. Exercising the way I liked was a bit more difficult here in Japan. In the US, I would go to the gym at work. I was blessed to work for a fantastic company, MessageGears, that subsidized my gym membership. I didn’t realize that gyms (even the one subsidized by my company) in Japan were more than twice the full price cost of what I was used to. I opted to just run outdoors for my exercise a few days a week.
My ankle turned, I felt a pop – and a lot of pain. I “walked it off” and then jogged home. The next day I could barely walk…
Unfortunately, I hurt my ankle a couple of months before moving, and I didn’t realize that the injury was going to have a large impact on my plans. The first couple of weeks was fine. I wore a brace while running, and my ankle was just a little sore. Then, one morning, about a kilometer from home, my foot landed halfway off a slight drop in the sidewalk. My ankle turned, I felt a pop – and a lot of pain. I “walked it off” and then jogged home. The next day I could barely walk, and ever since then, running causes me to limp for a day or two if I run.
Effectively, I stuck with just dieting and Judo (with a brace of course). Judo was usually fine and was pretty low impact on my ankle and it was good cardio.
October rolls around, and it’s time for my yearly checkup. Honestly, I was a bit excited to get the results. I knew I had lost weight of course, but I hoped my cholesterol had finally come down. This was the first time in my life I was excited about a health check – aside from the blood draw part of course.
“Fun fact”: I have trypanophobia – a fancy way to say I’m scared of needles. “No one likes needles” you may say. And you’re probably right. But does the room start to spin five minutes before you get blood drawn? It does for me.
I go through all the tests. Thankfully I live through the blood draw. They take my weight, etc. A few weeks later, I got the results. I’ll share some of them here:
|Weight||BMI (< 25)||LDL (< 100)||HDL (> 40)||Triglycerides (< 150)|
While my cholesterol was still high, it had dropped by thirty-five percent and was no longer high, but now “borderline high“. I was almost out of the “overweight” category for my height. From a health standpoint, things were looking in the right direction.
Then came 2020. If you read my previous post, you have already seen the results from the third year of dieting. Unfortunately, that post was published when all of the COVID lockdowns started happening. I’ve been working from home now every day since March. That in itself has been great, but like many people, I put on a little bit of weight due to my lack of calorie burn.
In May, I decided to buy a road bike. And I was determined to ride it often. I kept it up all summer. I even rode at least ten kilometers for twenty-one days in August. I’ve done less now with the colder weather, but in general, I could still jump on the bike and ride at least 80km (~50 miles) if I wanted to – probably more.
The problem was that is wasn’t over. After what seems like forever, she finally is able to get enough from my other arm. At this point, my face has gone pale and my blood pressure had plummeted.
As October rolled around, I was right in the middle of my 75Hard Challenge. It was time for my yearly health check. I arrive at the health check, prepared for everything except the blood draw, and excited to see how much more progress I had made.
Did I mention I have trypanophobia? Yeah – for the first time ever, I almost passed getting blood drawn. As usual, the room was spinning one I knew it was time. I told the lady I was fine, and to proceed. She has trouble finding the vein. I’m hating every second, thinking to myself, “just get it over with”. She inserts the needle, starts to draw blood, and then tells me she wasn’t able to get enough. At this point, I’m a bit light-headed, but knew it would pass in a few seconds. The problem was that is wasn’t over. After what seems like forever, she finally can get enough from my other arm. At this point, my face has gone pale and my blood pressure had plummeted.
The staff help me over to a table, have me lay down for around ten minutes until my blood pressure went back up. And now I know that I can handle one needle – if you call the room spinning “handling” it – but two needles is too much.
Three weeks later the results came in. Here they are:
|Weight||BMI (< 25)||LDL (< 100)||HDL ( > 40)||Triglycerides (< 150)|
For the first time since 2014, my Triglycerides were not high and had dropped another 50% from a year prior. I did some research and spoke to my doctor about my LDL not lowering any further. My doctor said that my numbers were good, and to keep up the good work. From my research, if your triglycerides are low, but LDL is still elevated, it’s probably a sign that you’re consuming good fats instead of bad fats, and it’s not necessarily bad.
If you’re struggling with health – whether it’s weight, fitness, or anything else – take if from me: You can do it! It may take time. You might fail, but keep at it. All the dieting and exercise that turned into lifestyle changes have been worth it.
It took over six years to finally get my cholesterol down. And now, in almost every category, I’m probably the healthiest I’ve been since I got married.
Just a note about the health results I shared:
I’m aware that there are many other tests other than cholesterol that will help paint a more full picture of health. Personally my results were almost all within a normal range except for my cholesterol.
There are other things that I have not tracked over time, but have noticed are doing well. One of these is my resting heart rate. I don’t know what it was 6, 4 or even 1 year ago. It has gone down since I started cycling, but I don’t have any longer term data on this.
Three months ago I was scrolling through Instagram and I saw a post by a high school friend, teammate and workout buddy. He announced that he was starting 75 Hard. Daniel (@hyde.fit) has done a great job staying in shape, working out, and being consistent with his fitness – I, on the other hand, have not.
If you’re active on social media, I’m sure you’ve heard of the 75 Hard Challenge, but I was not familiar with it. Seeing Daniel’s post was when I became aware of the challenge. After Googling 75 Hard I was interested.
Different people succeed with different types of challenges. The “common” wisdom has been that doing “too” strict of a diet leads to failure. A lot of people have success with things like the Slow Carb Diet where they get one full day to eat whatever they want each week. Many people choose Saturday and term this day as “Faturday”. For me personally, I’ve typically done well with things that are more strict. Mentally, if I know I cannot have something at all, I won’t even purchase it – so it’s not there if I have a craving.
My initial thought was, “I can do this”. I listened to Andy Frisella’s (@andyfrisella, https://andyfrisella.com) podcast covering the challenge and decided to do it.
For seventy-five consecutive day, you must do these things – if you miss any you have to start over at day 1:
The diet can be any diet that focuses on becoming more healthy. The only limitation on the diet that was mentioned on the podcast is that you cannot just do a macro diet and “eat junk” but still hit those macros. A macro diet is fine, as long as it’s healthy. Up to each person to decide if they’re being healthy.
My diet was broken into three parts with a different focus on each. While I wanted to lose weight, I also didn’t want to lose muscle.
General diet rules:
Part 1 – Start Cutting: Days 1 – 28
Part 2 – High Calorie Low Fat to build muscle: Days 29 – 56
Part 3 – Cutting until the end: Days 57 – 75
For me, the diet wasn’t the hard part. Yes, I missed pizza, pancakes, pie, etc; however knowing I couldn’t have those things at all made me only want them when my wife or I would cook pancakes for the kids for breakfast – or when my wife, on day ~55, decided to make a batch of chocolate chip cookies.
As a side note, I already choose to not drink alcohol, so that part was easy for me. Some people might have a harder time with that part of the diet.
There were some difficult times here. There was more than one occasion where I did not eat because I was on a long cycling trip with friends and we stopped at a restaurant that had literally nothing on the menu I could eat. That always ended up with me grabbing a couple protein bars from a convenience store. My favorite was Strong Bar. They’re expensive and hard to find, but pack 20g of protein and zero carbs or sugars.
The workouts are really the only thing I don’t like the format of. As per the rules, the workouts have to be separated by a few hours. This becomes an issue when I would do a bike ride starting at 6:30 a.m. and riding, with only a couple of breaks for water or lunch, until 3 or 4 p.m. On one ride I burned almost 5,000 calories, but it was technically only one of my two workouts.
In general the two workouts are fine, but I would suggest a change in the requirement from “two workouts of 45 minutes each – one outdoor” to “90 minutes of workout, 45 min must be outdoors.”
Honestly the water is the most difficult thing in this entire program. There was more than one occasion where I drank two liters of water in the last 2.5 hours of my day. That’s a recipe for waking up multiple times during the night, and being tired the whole next day.
I used to read a lot. And I prefer physical books over digital. I can’t really explain why, but I know there are many people like me in this regard.
The reading wasn’t difficult as I enjoy reading, and it was nice to bring time for reading back into my daily routine.
Pro-tip: Be careful if you’re going to read at night in bed. You could fall asleep and not finish – it almost happened to me twice. (I dozed, then got up to finish reading.)
It seems a lot of people fail on this one. Not because it’s difficult, but because they forget, or their routine gets messed up for some reason.
During the pandemic, I had put on about 4kg and got up to 81kg. Not “terrible” but not great either. So I had a goal to get down to 75kg. But this program isn’t just about weight loss, it’s about lifestyle changes and bettering yourself.
I’ll post my physical results here:
Weight: 81.2kg (179lbs) -> 74.8kg (164.9lbs)
Waist: 90.8cm (35.75in) -> 84cm (33in)
Chest: 102.8cm (40.5in) -> 104cm (41in)
Biceps: 31.75cm (12.5in) -> 34cm (13.5in)
Shoulders: 115.5cm (45.5in) -> 120cm (47.25in)
Japan is a land of many things – from anime to cherry blossoms, and ramen to sushi – but above all, Japan is a land of tradition. Japanese culture is full of it. Both children and adults participate in fun traditions. There is one called Setsubun in February where children throw soybeans at their parents – who are dressed as Japanese ogre or demon known as an “Oni”. There is even a tradition of Yamayaki (山焼き) in Nara. Yamayaki literally translates to “mountain burning”, and is the burning of the dead grass on Mount Wakakusa each January. Though its origin is debated, Yamayaki is now a traditional festival that includes fireworks and is viewed from several nearby locations every year.
There are also several traditions during pregnancy through adult-hood for children. One such tradition is Oshichiya – announcing the name of the child seven days after the child is born. Things continue with special events for girls and boys depending on either age or time of year until they’re twenty years old. One of the biggest traditions is “Shichi-go-san”.
Every year for over one thousand years a festival is held on November 15 to celebrate the growth and well-being of young children. Shichi-go-san literally means “seven-five-three”, and is celebrated the year girls turn three or seven, and boys turn five (less commonly for boys, also at three). Although the age part can be a bit confusing as the traditional way to calculate age in Japan was that a child is one the day they’re born, and gain a year each New Year’s Day, so the children would be a year younger using modern age calculation.
While the tradition has changed over time and some families do opt for a more western wardrobe, today children still typically dress in kimonos – most for the first time. Three-year-old girls also wear a kifu – a padded vest – with their kimono. One thing that has become increasingly popular over the last few decades is the shift from simply taking the children to a shrine or festival to also having photos taken.
After moving to Japan, our family decided to embrace the culture as we navigate and try to fit in. As a “gaijin” family, some things are more difficult than others. Thankfully, getting prepped for our photos was much easier than expected. You see, many Japanese people don’t know how to put a kimono on, and we were utterly lost. Upon shopping for a kimono for our five-year-old son, we happened upon a kimono shop called Gokaya.
The shop owner not only had the perfect kimono for our son, but she also offered to dress our son and our three-year-old daughter the day we were going to take photos – for free.
After the kids were dressed we rode our bikes over to Showa Kinen Park. Showa has a fantastic Japanese Garden where we wanted to take our photos.
When we arrived the kids sat on a bench while eating snacks. (As an aside, parenting pro-tip: bring snacks to your photoshoots.) We had at least a dozen people stop and request to take pictures of our kids. My oldest son (8 years old) even joked that we should start charging the people for the photos.
I asked a friend to take a few photos of the whole family, so a special thank you to “Jay” for traveling an hour by train to help me out!
Odaiba has several interesting things to photograph. Some of which are simple, yet beautiful, and other “Instagram worthy” spots. I had the privilege of shooting with my friend Frank (@francoimaging). Frank showed me some great photo spots, so let’s take a look!
The first spot is more of a tourist attraction – the Unicorn Gundam Statue. If you’re not familiar with the term “Gundam”, they’re essentially giant humanoid robots. They are the subject of many anime and manga. When I was younger, I enjoyed “Gundam Wing” on Cartoon Network’s Toonami after school every day.
This gundam statue moves and lights up for around 5 minutes twice an hour, so it’s a fun spot and children enjoy watching it.
The next place has a few photo spots – Aqua City. Aqua City is a mall and entertainment area. If you’re visiting with your family, there is a LEGOLAND Discovery Center an indoor amusement park, and more.
As far as photo spots, there is a great spot to take a photo of both Tokyo Tower and the Rainbow Bridge in the same shot. This shot is, in my opinion, best taken at night. If you catch it at the right time, you can get a photo of the Rainbow Bridge lit up in multiple colors as well. See Franks Instagram for a nice shot.
There is also an Instagram worthy “LOVE” display that is also great to photograph at night and a Statue of Liberty replica that was initially erected as a tribute to Japan’s ties with France.
The last place that is actually in Odaiba on this list is the Soho Building. The Soho building could be one of the hardest places to photograph in Tokyo. Getting “any” shot isn’t that hard – the courtyard is a publicly accessible space. But, as you can see, it’s not a great photo.
The photo that many want to take is much more difficult due to two reasons.
The first hurdle is relatively easy – you can just follow someone in, or go in as someone comes out. The second is more difficult. They always have security on-site, and if they see you – on camera or in person – they will escort you out. If they catch you a second time, they will call the police (which is 100 meters away).
When we visited in January I witnessed two photographers getting kicked out soon after I arrived. Fortunately for us, we were not caught.
The last shot is pretty interesting. It is a somewhat technically difficult rolling shutter shot. This is taken on the Yurikamome Line train going to or from Odaiba. From the front of the train, you can get an interesting motion blur shot around a turn in a “tunnel”. The interesting thing is that you can see the buildings, etc, in the background.
There are other spots to take photos as well – the Fuji TV Building, whose observatory has great views, a ferris wheel close to Aqua City that is lit up at night and a few other places.
Have you had the opportunity to explore Odaiba? Any hidden gems you’d like to share?
As a photographer, I love shooting amazing scenes. I’ll go out of the way to find opportunities to take a photo. Chureito Pagoda definitely meets the criteria of “amazing”. It is one of the best places to view Mt. Fuji and is one of the most iconic places to take a photo in Japan. You’ve probably seen a postcard or photo of the five-storied pagoda with cherry blossoms around it and Mt. Fuji in the background. It truly punctuates Japan’s image. Visiting and photographing Chureito Pagoda with Mt. Fuji was something I wanted to do, so I hopped on the train and went.
I arrived later than desired at Shimoyoshida Station. I walked from the station to the large Tori Gate (~500 meters), then started my trek up the 396 stairs to the top.
Unfortunately, when I arrived at the top, clouds were covering most of Mt. Fuji. I settled in and started taking photos for a timelapse – hoping to catch the clouds revealing Japan’s holy mountain at dusk. I wasn’t that lucky – I barely caught a glimpse of the peak, and that was only for 10 seconds. I took a few decent shots of the pagoda, but it wasn’t what I was hoping for.
It was my first attempt at creating a timelapse, and to be honest, I failed pretty hard. I didn’t account for how drastic the lighting would change. But, I was happy with the result for my first try.
Several months later, I decided to try again. This time I left earlier, and it was a beautiful, clear, day. Here are some of the photos:
For this second trip, my family came with me, and due to my wife not feeling well, we did not stay long. That just means I’ll need to go back again to get a few more photos another time.
One interesting thing that I learned after showing these photos to several Japanese friends was that this place is iconic for foreigners, but not so much for Japanese. Not one of them knew what “Chureito Pagoda” was.
It was in these conversations that I learned “pagoda” was not a Japanese word. I don’t remember when I learned what a pagoda was, but it was at that point that I thought it was a Japanese word.
This pagoda is a 五重塔 (gojuunotou), which literally translates to “five-storied tower”. When other Japanese people have asked where this is I will tell them 五重塔 if they don’t understand “Chureito Pagoda”.