This story begins the summer between my sophomore and junior year in college. I was 20 years old and back home in Hawaii. I had always been a chubby kid growing up, but at this point I was largely unaware that things had started to spiral out of control. My only clue that I had a problem was that my XXXL aloha shirts were starting to get a little tight around the middle; something I conveniently blamed on my dormitory’s decrepit laundry facilities. One day on a lunch break from my summer job, I accompanied my good friend Duane on an errand to the bank. As Duane got in line I spotted one of those antique industrial “lollipop” scales in the lobby. Curiosity tugged at me and I sauntered over to check it out.
I hadn’t weighed myself in over two years (as a senior in high school I was 290 pounds). I stepped onto the scale and the hand on the face began spinning furiously, rounding past 300 pounds. As the needle whizzed by the 350 pound mark still carrying some momentum, I jumped off of the scale in horror. I stood there in the crowded bank lobby feeling completely naked and alone. I stared at the balance. My heart raced. I’m not sure what I’d been expecting when I decided to get on that thing. I knew that I’d been eating a lot of pizza and drinking a lot of beer. I knew I hadn’t been exercising very much; my athletic activities had dwindled to intramurals and some club rugby. I knew I’d probably put on a couple of pounds since high school, but I thought maybe I was 315, 320…. Did that scale really just read 350 plus?
With a cold bead of nervous sweat on my brow, I decided to give it another try to make sure I hadn’t just imagined the whole thing. I gingerly stepped back onto the scale, one toe at a time. I stared intently as the needle took off. My worst fears were confirmed as the needle again flew past the 350 pound mark with substantial inertia. I hopped off of the scale not wanting to know where it was going to stop. North of 350 was enough bad news for one day.
Eyes wide open I watched the needle return to its home and nestle itself back to zero. This was the epiphanic moment when I realized that my dormitory washing machines had not, in fact, been shrinking my clothes. I had gained weight and a lot of it. My heart felt like a kick drum in my chest. I remember feeling nauseous. “Hey! What are you doing? Is everything okay?” Duane’s voice snapped me back to reality. I can’t recall what I muttered in response as I shuffled out of the bank lobby with him. I had no idea what I was doing, and no, everything was definitely not okay. I was in shock.
As summer turned to fall I thought frequently of my confrontation with that ill-mannered scale in the bank lobby and like an echo I kept asking myself, “What am I doing? Where am I going with this?” I had gained over 50 pounds in 2 years. In my mind I considered, if I weighed about 300 pounds when I was 18 years old, and was well over 350 pounds when I was 20 years old, did that mean that I would hit 400 pounds by the time I was 25? What would I weigh when I was 30? What was the end point to this? 500 pounds? 600 pounds? Despite always growing up as a fat kid, I was mortified at my dramatic weight gain. This was something different altogether. I skipped my appointment for a physical that summer because I didn’t want the doctor to see me like that. I was ashamed, I didn’t want to experience the embarrassment of the examination, and I didn’t want to hear his lecture so I just blew it off.
When I returned to college for my junior year I started off by making an effort to be more active and shed some weight. My initial goal was to get back under 300 pounds. I began dieting, exercising regularly and to my surprise by simply putting one foot in front of the other I ended up losing over 150 pounds in about 15 months. I did this without bariatric surgery, self-induced vomiting, diet pills, laxatives, diuretics, or any performance-enhancing drugs. Just plain old diet and exercise. By the start of my senior year in college I weighed 195 pounds.
Initially, there was substantial trial and error in achieving my weight loss. That was when the desire to write about my experiences first originated. At the time, I wanted to focus on physical fitness, diet and exercise. I thought that perhaps I could spare readers all of the missteps that I had taken and help them learn from my mistakes, to allow people to take a more efficient path towards realizing their own fitness goals. I remember telling a friend of mine about the plan and clearly recall him saying to me, “That’s a great idea Uy, but who’s going to listen to a 22 year old kid with no credentials? What are your qualifications?” Slightly discouraged, I decided that he was right and so I tucked the thought away into a back corner of my mind.
As fate would have it, I completed my bachelor’s degree in biology and was fortunate enough to find my way into medical school. As proof that it is better to be lucky than good, I managed to graduate from medical school and went on to become, of all things, a psychiatrist. Throughout my education and training the idea of writing about my journey never left me; it continued to grow in scope, gestating for over 25 years. In that span, I realized that physical fitness was only one dimension of health. I found that our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual states are all connected. I arrived at the conclusion that true well-being is achieved by striking a balance between physical fitness, emotional stability, mental clarity, and spiritual faith. Perhaps most importantly I learned that balance is a dynamic process not a static condition. Hence the concept of “Dynamic Balance.”
What are my qualifications? Well, now I am a board-certified psychiatrist. During my training I was elected Chief Resident and after graduating I was appointed as faculty at the USC Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles when I was 30 years old. During my 5 years teaching at the medical school I received 5 teaching awards. I became a Medical Director before turning 36. Most importantly, I am healthier now at 48 years old than I have ever been in my life.
At my worst I was morbidly obese, drinking a half-gallon of coffee a day, smoking a pack and a half a day, abusing drugs and alcohol, and generally headed towards self-destruction. Before starting this project I would often describe myself as being “allergic” to running. But as evidence of how much people can change, I’ve since run 2 half-marathons and after recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon in 2013, I’ve gone on to set new personal records for one mile, 5k, and 10k. I no longer take caffeine, I quit smoking, and am completely sober for the first time in my adult life. I currently maintain my weight at about 180 pounds, eat a well-balanced diet, enjoy playing tennis in the summer, snowboarding in the winter, and I have never been happier with who I am and where I am heading. Many people have guided me along the way and my desire is to pay it forward: to share what I have learned to help others become who they most want to be.
What is Dynamic Balance? To explain, during my training I spent about 5 years in therapy with a psychoanalyst, Dr. Scott Carder. Over the course of our work together, I noticed a couple of recurring themes. Through all of our conversations, the chorus was consistent. Dr. Carder would urge, “Jeff, remember to be patient. Life is a marathon, not a sprint.” But most often he would advise, “Jeff, you have to find your balance. Life is about finding your balance.” To this day, I reflect on his words often and am grateful to have received the wisdom of his counsel. The truth of his message becomes ever clearer to me and I grow more appreciative with each passing day. I think that people frequently buy self-help books hoping to find “that one thing” that is going to help them reach their goals and realize their dreams. In trying to define the message for this project, I found it very challenging to distill it all down to one thing that has helped me. I realized I was struggling because life isn’t just one thing, it is many things. It is a whole mess of stuff happening to us, all at the same time. I thought of Dr. Carder telling me to find my balance. I came to understand that, like in snowboarding, we can succeed in life by finding and maintaining our balance through all of the challenges that will inevitably come across our path.
Again, balance is not a static condition but rather a dynamic process that requires focus, ongoing practice, continuous effort, and constant adjustment. Concentrating on this process has been critical in allowing me to transform myself into the person that I am today. The taijitu, or the “yin and yang” symbol, is an excellent graphic model for conceptualizing this process and is something that I focus on during meditation. Like the taijitu, balance is fluid, flowing and circular.
Establishing physical health requires a balanced exercise regimen, a well-balanced diet, and good sleep hygiene.
Emotional health is based upon learning to balance our individual needs with the needs of our friends and our family. It centers around building and maintaining healthy relationships.
Mental health is built on a strong foundation of physical and emotional health, and can be attained by having well-balanced priorities. Our brains and our minds are what distinguish us as a species, and being mentally conscious and aware are the keys to establishing our mental well-being.
The process of effectively balancing my physical, emotional, and mental health has allowed me to find my spiritual faith. I believe that true health and wellness is achieved when we can keep our equilibrium across all four of these axes.
These four elements of health are connected in ways that we don’t fully understand but can readily appreciate. For example, when I’m not feeling well physically, either due to illness or injury, I find it very difficult to feel grounded emotionally. It’s hard to feel happy when you’re hurting.
If my emotions are disturbed I find it very difficult to function mentally: when I’m emotionally upset, my mental focus and concentration are the first to go.
If I’m not physically healthy, emotionally calm, and mindfully aware I tend to wander in life and my sense of spirituality becomes an elusive thing. What affects one affects the other.
Like the taijitu, the connections are circular and seem to flow in the opposite direction as well. When our priorities and values are not clearly defined and well aligned in our minds, that is when we engage in mindless behavior which generally yields suboptimal results. If we regularly proceed through life without applying ourselves mentally, we will continue to find ourselves unhappy and emotionally dissatisfied. In turn, emotional disturbance can wreak havoc on our physical routines and habits. When emotionally troubled my reflex is to overindulge in unhealthy foods or reach for alcohol and drugs to make myself feel better. I then become unmotivated to exercise and neglect my physical health.
Interestingly, young children who are feeling sad or scared will very commonly present with diffuse, generalized abdominal pain or other somatic complaints. Their reports of these symptoms are completely uncoordinated and unrehearsed but are so remarkably consistent that there must be some underlying connection between our emotional and physical states.
The links between these four dimensions of health are what make the process of focusing on our balance so pivotal, again because what affects one affects the other. Maintaining Dynamic Balance between physical health, emotional stability, mental clarity, and spiritual faith is what allows us to unlock our full potential and truly realize what we are capable of. Accordingly, this site is broken up into 4 main sections: Physical Health, Emotional Health, Mental Health, and Spiritual Health. Within each section I examine the most common problems in each arena, outline treatment strategies and solutions for each problem, and share useful practices found to be conducive to achieving and maintaining good health. I have struggled with the same issues that affect so many of us. I continue to fight my own battles with obesity, arthritis, insomnia, addiction, anxiety, and depression. The good news is that I’ve made excellent progress and I’m feeling great.
During the research phase for this project, my brother and co-author, Bradley, and I spent over a decade examining countless articles and over 50 books ranging from medical and psychology texts to self-help best sellers. Researched topics include nutrition, sleep, holistic healing, yoga, Qi Gong, meditation, psychotherapy techniques, and spirituality. In addition to sharing anecdotal accounts, we are able to support our recommendations with clinical experience, empirical evidence and proven results.
To be honest, I started off trying to cook up some experimental shortcuts that would revolutionize the field of health and fitness. Through research and application what I learned was that most shortcuts are fraught with pitfalls and are probably best avoided. Many of the lessons contained here might be old, kind of corny, and far from original. But I believe that even if they are dated and cliched, they are still valuable. Often my own quest for “the newest, bestest, most extreme thing” that was supposed to help me achieve some selfish goal only led me astray and left me disappointed with the net results.
In contrast, by taking some basic, simple techniques and applying them consistently, I have achieved far better results than I could have ever imagined. I submit my story as testimony to the efficacy and transformative power of these strategies when practiced diligently. I still very much think of myself as a fat kid who loves comic books, fried chicken wings, and Slurpees. It amazes me to think of all of the wonderful things that have happened to me, just by doing my best to follow some good examples that were provided for me. I can’t believe my luck sometimes when I think of how far that little fat kid has come and how happy I am to be where I am now.
When I was young, my father would always say, “Try to learn something from everyone, even if it’s what NOT to do.” This is easily the single most useful piece of advice he has ever given me. I’ve really taken it to heart and I think that the benefit of the practice comes from always approaching life as a student, with an open mind, seeing everything as a learning experience and something to grow from. Maintaining this attitude protects against complacency and stagnation. I am blessed to have found many teachers along the way who took the time and made the effort to show me a better way of doing things, and for that I am eternally indebted. Again, this project is my attempt at paying it all forward. I can’t take credit for the things I have accomplished in my life because they never would have been possible without the love and support of my family and my friends. In dark times they believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself, and that is an incredibly powerful thing.
This site is intended to be a toolbox or a repair kit to help mend whatever it is that might need to be fixed or adjusted. Hopefully the organization of the content makes it easy to find the right instrument for the job. I have tried to include every tool that I’ve ever used to cultivate good health and find my own happiness. If you don’t have the time or interest to read beyond this introduction, please allow me to share these insights with you here.
I believe the process of personal transformation is remarkably similar regardless of what we are trying to achieve. Whether the goal is physical fitness, overcoming addiction, battling depression and anxiety, or learning how to ride a snowboard, the process is very much the same.
The extremely condensed version is that we really only need five main ingredients to generate change.
Awareness is the first step, the awakening. We must be conscious and realize that there is a problem or something we want to change before there can be any movement. If we are mindful of what is unfolding within ourselves and around us at all times, we will always be well prepared to make the necessary adjustments.
Desire comes next, it is the fuel that drives the process. One of my favorite jokes goes “How many shrinks does it take to change a lightbulb?” The punchline is “Only one, but the lightbulb has to want to change”. It is funny because it’s true. The burning desire to be different, to make a difference, is what forges the self-discipline and provides the motivation required to complete the journey.
Knowledge, or an educated understanding of the process of recovery, is another prerequisite. If we don’t know the recipe, how can we bake the cake? If we don’t know the rules of the game, how can we play to win? We have to familiarize ourselves with the map so that we can take the most efficient path to our chosen destination.
Commitment is crucial because we know we will inevitably encounter obstacles and setbacks. By staying resolute we know we can get over the hump and get back on track no matter what it takes or how long it takes us.
Finally, there must be Balance. A focus on finding and maintaining our balance ensures that the process is sustainable; it safeguards against burnout or other unforeseen negative consequences.
As you see, the approach is really quite simple and with practice becomes routine. Other than being extraordinarily lucky, I don’t think of myself as special in any way and that is perhaps the most important part of what I am trying to say. If I can do it, so can you. There have been many times where my prospects seemed horribly bleak and the future seemed hopeless. There were times when I thought there was no way out of the hole that I had dug for myself and I felt terribly lost, scared, and alone. Thankfully I had people who believed in me, who assured me that I was not alone, and who showed me how to go about changing things for the better. If you are stuck in the same unhealthy, unhappy circumstances, I would like to provide you with some measure of hope that things can get better and that there is a way out. I am blessed to say that I have been shown a path and I have followed it to a truly wonderful place. I can show you the way too if you’re willing to walk with me.