Its 11:30 on a Wednesday night and I guess I'm in a contemplative mood. In the background, the air conditioning is on full blast. I hear my computer's hard-drive diligently ticking away, almost in rhythm with my keystrokes. What's on my mind? Lots of stuff, I guess. But most of it comes back to what I've been working hard all week at: weight loss. Now, I've always been a big guy, pretty much ever since I was little and it got me to thinking how I ended up like this. Now I know the answer, not enough exercise and a terrible diet. But it seems like it’s so much more than that. I've asked myself that question a million times and only recently do I think that I've found the answer to why I was over 300 lbs. three weeks ago: the lack of fuel and oil. Confusingly simple when broken down, but yet so hard to truly attain. Read on, friend, and I will explain to you the true meaning (in my own opinion) of the importance of the fuel and oil we put into our ‘vehicles’ every day.
So I guess the first statement I’d like to make revolves around a conversation I was involuntarily subjected to last month. “Do you think that being overweight is a character flaw, or is it just part of how you were born?” Ah yes, nature vs. nurture. The one ‘either-or’ that can be applied to almost every human characteristic. Now, every fiber of my being screamed for me to say nature. After all, if I said nurture, I’m obviously admitting to a huge character flaw and who wants to be seen as anything other than perfect?! It was nurture all the way around the table, and the bottle stopped on me. If there had been cheesy movie sounds involved, there would have been crickets and a faint heart-beat in the background. As I began to open mouth to speak, nothing came out. I leaned back in my chair, with a pensive look on my face and the silence was long. Boy was it long. As I leaned forward to speak, I found the world nurture stumble across my lips. It was at that point that I think I really started thinking about myself and where I was in life. Do I really believe what I said? I do now, absolutely. And of course there's going to be a small percentage of people out there who were born fat, with no chance to ever overcome their weight due to health issues and what-not, but for the average overweight American, there's not a whole lot of viable excuses. And I am pointing directly at myself. How is being overweight a character flaw? Well, for one to be overweight there's probably a fairly standard set of guidelines that got us here:
Number one: a poor diet. Sure, we eat vegetables and all sorts of stuff that's good for us throughout the day. But don't forget that these items do not cancel out the other things we've eaten. Yes, the 'other things'. A category many of us throw the rug over, to conceal what we're REALLY doing behind closed doors. The way we're animalishly hording our secret stashes of junk food, the obscene portion sizes better fit for the Guinness Book of World Records, the small competitions with ourselves on how much food we can actually fit into our stomachs before we may explode. There was a point for me that I would be driving down the road, absconding from a recent McDonald's visit, with a double quarter pounder half-way down my throat and I was actually giving people dirty looks for looking at ME as I ate. 'How dare they look at me! Don't they know to keep their eyes on the road?!' Perhaps they were terrified that I was swerving from lane to lane, too concerned about not dropping a French fry, lest it became a crusty fossil, laid to rest under the car seat. Perhaps they were wondering how someone can take such big bites. Maybe they were wondering who can't wait ‘till they get home to eat their dinner? Who really knows? The point is, from that snapshot in time, it was obvious to me that I didn't really care about my life that much. I was putting myself in danger both in the short term from an accident and the long term from a heart-attack. But I think the key here, is reminding yourself of why you put gas into your vehicle. Because without the gas, you essentially have no vehicle. And since you don't have a vehicle, you can't go to work, you can't go out on dates... you're pretty much a virtual hermit. So, what we put into our bodies should be infinitely more important. Keep putting the wrong type of fuel in the tank and we're bound to have an engine fire real, real soon. I believe that it is important to remind ourselves of this metaphor; when we feel like eating the entire box of pizza, or a dozen donuts, or drinking an entire 2 liter of cola, whatever the scenario. Think of these things as poison for your tank. Luckily, us overweight people aren't alcoholics (hopefully), so after a while of staying away from the sweet stuff, we can allow ourselves a treat now and then. But it's going to take a lot of damn work to get to that point, and we're not even close to there yet, so PUT THAT DONUT DOWN! But on a more serious note, as I have begun to eat well (not diet) I have tried to live by the mantra that if it didn’t come from a tree or the ground like it is when it’s going into my mouth, it’s probably not good for me. Now, does that mean I’m not going to eat bread, or the occasional snack? Of course not. That’s not really realistic and I’m not on the Atkins or South Beach diet here, I’m just trying to live as well as possible, as comfortably as possible.
Number two: a sedentary lifestyle. None of us want to admit that we're lazy. We bust our butts at work every day, we keep our houses clean, and we walk our dogs... I mean, we get the job done. But none of us really consider staying fit as a priority. We put all of these things before staying or getting fit and why do we do this? Because it's hard to commit yourself to lose weight and/or stay healthy and it's even harder to follow up and make sure it gets done. So living an active lifestyle, in my opinion, is essential. Keeping in harmony with the aforementioned metaphor, think of living an active lifestyle as getting a regular oil change for your car. The gas and the oil are almost equally important and you can run without new oil for quite a bit longer than you can with no gas. In the long run however, you're going to find yourself in a world of hurt without an oil change. I think it’s important to look at exercise as less of a chore and more of a necessity. If you have a hard time finding the motivation to get out and walk 3 times a day for a half hour, try to tie it in with one of your hobbies. For me, a big hobby is photography. So I bring my camera. And sometimes I say, screw walking down the same old block, I’m going to go to the zoo and walk extra long today. So now I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t look at my walks as exercise, but only as a means to deliver the spoils of my hobby: fun and interesting photographs.
So here we are, we’ve neglected diet and exercise for years now. We know this - it’s no strange concept to us. But now we find ourselves in a new place in life. Maybe a place we’ve never been before, and it’s damn scary… the bottom of the barrel. Now, this term means different things to different people and everyone is going to have a different bottom. I consider myself lucky that mine wasn’t so far down a comeback was near impossible, but it sure isn’t going to be easy. But let me tell you, when you get to that point, you begin to wonder how you got there. And that involves a lot of self-reflection and a lot of self-loathing. You interrogate yourself. You’ve questioned yourself before as good cop 1,000 times: “Why did I just eat that whole box of pizza?”. Now bad cop shows up and he is NOT nice and he’s really bringing the tough questions.
Up to this point, I know you've done a lot of reading. I thank you for staying with me and hope that you are finding this interesting and maybe a little motivating. Now, I would like to take a moment to tell you about myself. I am 25 years old, 292 lbs. as of today and my personal struggles with weight loss have brought me to where I am today, typing this blog to you. Right now, I'm on a paid vacation from work, I'm a restaurant manager for a large corporate food chain. What I am about to share with you is the frightening, honest truth about me, about who I really am. I will write this to you, proud that I am on the way to overcoming my past. I will write this to you, afraid that someone I know will see this blog. And finally, I will write this to you, with the renewed confidence about my direction in life and the strength to face those people that I know who will read this. My most painful memory of being overweight can be traced back to 7th grade basketball. It took all of the confidence I had to muster up the strength to sign up for basketball. I was knee deep in puberty, tall and overweight for my age, acne all over my body. The notion of wearing sleeveless shirts in public was horrifying, but I wanted to get in shape and basketball looked fun. A few practices in, I found myself in a situation where I had the coach all but force me to remove my shirt and do pushups on the gym floor, in front of everyone. I do not recall why I had to remove my shirt, but I don't ever remember understanding the reasoning. I can still see the surprised looks and hear the muffled laughter, as I struggled to do pushups on the gym floor, my male breasts (that I was horribly ashamed of) hanging down, my acne on my back and shoulders up in the air for everyone to see, I still think about it to this day. In fact, that moment may be the one reason that I haven’t taken my shirt off in front of anyone since I was little (minus a few people). I passed on all of the pool parties, all of the spring break trips to Mexico, all of the exciting things I could have been doing but was (AM) too self-conscious to do. But I use that moment as motivation; that I will never be as ashamed of myself as I was at that very moment. I take that with me, into my renewed dedication to physical (and mental) well-being.
I was at the doctor about three weeks ago for a checkup. Anyway, as I stepped on the scale it tipped around 302. Ehhh... I'm wearing clothes and shoes, I rationalized to myself. But I couldn't shake that number the entire rest of the day. I had noticed my weight gain within the past 8 months. I did have a big life change, I moved out here to Arizona from Michigan and physical fitness and well-being was definitely one of the lowest priorities for me. Admittedly, it has always been one of the lowest priorities for me. But, I thought to myself, how could I have let this happen? A bystander in my own body. And not an innocent one. In addition to the other issues, I also have four herniated discs in my lower back. I woke up one morning with the worst pain I have ever been in, to this day, of my entire life. There was no real rhyme or reason as to how it happened, or so it seemed. In retrospect, of course there was a rhyme or reason, it was the lack of fuel and oil. It finally caught up to me, in its own mysterious way. That was about 2.5 years ago, and now I'm just getting to the chiropractor and taking the necessary steps to better my life. The disc herniations had terrible timing: I was just about to start a diet! I couldn’t do it now, for God sakes! My back hurt too much. Another excuse to throw on the pile.
Anyway, for the past 6 months or so, I have felt like I was watching the world pass me by. At times like this, I always think back upon the obese woman I saw on a motorized scooter once. Here she was, probably 500 pounds, motoring down the sidewalk. A cigarette in one hand, a burger of some sort in the other. I'm ashamed to say that I laughed, feeling pity for the woman's lack of self-respect. But here I was, not really any different, just overweight and unhealthy to a lesser degree. My life was one big lie. After the doctor visit, I really and I mean REALLY got to thinking about how I want to change my life. There have been countless weekends where I say 'Self, we're starting a diet on Monday, no ifs ands or big butts about it' and just as many proceeding Mondays where I said 'Self, well… we already ate a cheeseburger today, we're just going to have to start the diet next week.' And so it repeats, and it repeats and it repeats. But when does it end? When I'm the big guy in the motorized scooter that everyone laughs at?
For the past five or six years, I've always pretty much weighed the same, about 280. So all of a sudden, I find myself 22 pounds heavier and have a revelation. I cannot let this happen. I will not let this happen. Welcome to the bottom of the barrel. I guess there is a magic number after all. So, I began to fix it. Its two weeks later since I've committed myself and I've dropped about 6 lbs. I've tried to diet many times in the past (and trust me, I do mean many), but I suspect that my version of trying is similar to many of yours, not nearly good enough. A half-hearted effort similar to aimlessly swatting a bug from your face in the sweltering heat. Just not good enough. So, I mustered every bit of will-power I possess (which was not that much to begin with) and I just started. I finally made the jump and let me tell you that life is good on the other side. It's really, really good. I surprise myself on a daily basis, and all it takes is one time to force yourself not to eat a sweet staring you in the face, and your confidence sky rockets. Now, granted, I've only been at this two weeks, and we all know how diets fail on a regular basis. But, I guess it's different for me in the way that, well, you just know it's different. There's no question, there's no fear, and something is just... different. Once you make the decision that you're tired of all the sweating, tired of all the finger-pointing or staring, tired of all the rejection and dejection and tired of all the ill-fitting clothing, it's just different. In a way that I could not begin to describe to you.
What lead me to this revelation? A lot of it I have mentioned above. My basketball memory, the realization of being 22 lbs. over my 'usual' weight, the 4 herniated discs in my back and hitting my bottom of the barrel. I hope and pray that you start fuel and oil before you hit your bottom of the barrel, I know many people out there with a lot of willpower. For me, I had almost zero willpower my entire life and had given up hope on ever being able to achieve it. Let me be the first to tell you that you DO have the willpower and if I can do it, anyone can! My challenge to you is to find your basketball memory, establish a short term weight goal and avoid health issues before they happen! If you're already dealing with issues similar (or worse) than mine, seek help! Get on the road to recovery and dedicate yourself. My short term goal weight for now is 280 lbs within the next month and a half (May 25th). Healthy weight loss is 2 lbs./week and establishing a reasonable and healthy timeframe is important. The key is being realistic and not setting goals above what you can achieve. That is where the rejection lies. I never bought in to the whole 2 lbs./week thing, because I guess I felt that if I was doing all this work, I was entitled to a lot more than that! But I think once you stop looking at this as work, and as more of a lifestyle change, everything else begins to fall in line and there’s not as much ‘diet pressure’.
I will be updating this blog at the end of April, mid-May and of course, on that all important goal date of May 25th! I am writing this not only to inspire myself but if I help at least one person, then this is completely worth it. I will also be happy to answer any questions about myself (no questions on technical weight loss stuff, I do not claim to be an expert) or be a support system for you. I wish everyone the best of luck and really encourage you to start your own blogs. It really holds you accountable when you have other people out there depending on what you do.
So, to summarize the beginning of my journey to a new and improved life comes the simple (yet so complicated) description of fuel and oil. It’s so much more than just diet or just exercise. It’s your mental state, it’s your willpower. It’s your dedication, your discipline and your lifeline. Fuel and oil is not a gimmick, it’s a way of life for me and I refuse to let anyone or anything (especially a piece of meat between two buns or a round piece of dough with sugar on it) stand in my way.
Signing off on April 9, 2009.
The year of Chris