5'5" and 283 pounds. (That's 165cm and 128kg for anyone living in any country in the world except this one) Like a lot of less than wonderful things in our lives, it snuck up on me slowly. I didn't wake up one morning, and suddenly find that I was enormous. It took years.
I snacked too much in college, and went out to restaurants too often.
I got a job with a free cafeteria.
I spent too much time on my butt.
I found myself in an unhappy and unhealthy relationship, and used food to replace happiness.
I had a World of Warcraft account.
What was sudden, was realizing it. About a week after the unhappy and unhealthy relationship came to a close, I was looking in the mirror. While I'd been aware of my weight along the way, and even tried to lose a little weight from time to time, it had never really hit home for me until that moment. As I looked in the mirror, I realized that the best word to describe me had shifted somewhere along the line from over-weight or stocky or fat to enormous.
As I took stock of my appearance, I realized (while standing under the spotlight of a days old divorce) that I was probably going to stay alone if I continued to look like Jabba the Hutt. More to the point, I realized I was going to stay celibate.
Now, I realize that's a pretty unhealthy attitude, not to mention immature, piggish, and generally distasteful. I've grown up enough since then to realize that, and to admit it for what it was, just as I can admit that the best adjective to describe my appearance at that point was 'enormous.' However, at that particular point in my life, it was also a very strong motivator. With the fear of celibacy firmly set in my mind, I set out to do something about it.
I started walking. At first, I was able to walk 4-5 miles, and get back to my apartment looking like I'd just run a marathon while wearing one of the crazy vinyl sweat suits. Before I knew it, I was doing 8 miles and jogging half of it. Somewhere along the line I started eating better (and much less), and eventually joined a gym. My motivations changed too. After a while, I had spent so much time thinking while out on late night jogs, that I'd come to a lot of realizations about myself and my life. I'd realized that I really was going to stay alone for a while, but not because of my weight. I was going to stay alone for a while because I was a huge jerk. I was going to stay alone for a while, because I was so bad at relationships that I needed to spend some time fixing me before I tried again. My workouts became a time for reflection. The exercise was secondary.
All together, I lost 90 pounds.
At the time, people would ask me how I did it, and I told them what I'll tell you now, which also applies to almost anything you want to change in your life. You need 3 things:
- Motivation. I want to be clear on this one. Your motivation does NOT need to be noble at the beginning. If you find a strong enough motivator, it can be the most despicable thing in your life. Disgust, pain, fear, anger and even hate can be strong motivators. (...come to the dark side, Luke...) Want to get in better shape so you can show up an old friend at a class reunion? Go for it. Want to get a promotion at work just so that jerk in the next cubical doesn't get it? Shine up that resumé. As long as the end goal is a healthy one (lose weight, get in shape, get a promotion) it's okay if the motivation that gets you rolling isn't the nicest one in the world. Don't feel guilty if the thing that makes you start isn't the nicest part of you. As you make progress towards a good and healthy goal, better and healthier motivations will often appear.
- A game plan. You need to spend at least a little time figuring out how to get there. You don't need to lay out every step. (On day one I will skip my snacks. On day two I will walk 1.5 miles, and do 7 push-ups. On day three....) When you lay out a game plan that is too detailed, every misstep will feel like an enormous failure. Instead, make a plan that has some wiggle room. (I'm going to go walking until I'm exhausted. I'm going to keep doing that until it starts getting easy. Then I'm going to mix in some jogging. I'm going to tell a lot of people what I'm working on.) You need to have a little room in your plans for things to go wahooni shaped.
- Accountability. The other thing I did was to tell people I was losing weight. This was back when MySpace was not yet completely passé. And a big shock to all, I had a blog set up there, where I retold my adventures in being single (not very exciting). With each blog post, I'd put my current weight at the top of the post. It was a small thing, but it kept me accountable. A lot of self help books recommend going through a detailed process of sharing, which is fine, but it can be really informal. It can even be private. Something as simple as a private journal where you write down what you've accomplished. If your goal is to lose weight, you can even take photos of yourself and hang them on the fridge. As your butt shrinks, your motivation will grow.
Over the last couple of years, I've fallen into another fat-trap. People often gain weight when they're unhappy, but when you're in a solid relationship with a woman who is a great cook, it's every bit as easy to let yourself go. Nobody does that on purpose, of course. We talk about it as though people wake up one day and say, "well, I'm married now. I guess I don't have to work out anymore." The truth is that you get busy, and you think about other things, and it sneaks back up on you.
Altogether, my back-slide regained about half the weight I lost, but I've been working on that for a couple of months now. I've lost almost 25 pounds, and I'm feeling better. I sleep better, I look better, and my clothes fit better.
The difference this time was the motivation. There may be some less than awesome aspects to my life right now, but there's other parts that I don't want to miss. I want another 70 years with my wife. I want to live long enough to meet great-grandchildren.
I guess it's time to dust off the old running shoes.