Getting Fit

I wrote this as a response to my friend Kyle Cassidy’s recent post on realizing that he’d somehow gotten overweight and needed to do something about it. He asked people to share their fitness/weightloss/body image stories.

Here’s mine:

Maybe 5 years ago I found myself having an issue with my hip going out. I also found my knees bugging me. They haven’t been great since I tore the cartilage in my late teens, but had been much better after surgery shortly after I turned thirty. I knew that I’d put on some weight both from the fact that my pants size had crept up to the high end of 38″ from 36″ where I like to keep it and because the scale told me so. I was hitting 218, which was three pounds higher than I’d ever let myself get before.

But still, only 2 inches extra around the waist, how bad was that? I wasn’t really that heavy… But I figured that losing some weight would make my knees and hip happy. I scheduled an appt with my doc, and told him what was up, and that I thought maybe if I lost 20lbs I’d solve the hip and knee problem. He just nodded and said, “yep, that should do it.” And, “every pound you carry has an effect of two pounds add strain on your hip when you walk and three on your knee.” It was a sobering moment, and I started to get much more serious about both exercise and diet.

I’m a writer by trade, so I spend most of my day on my butt on the couch. I mostly stopped driving to anyplace within two miles—which was also an environmental choice my wife and I had been talking about for a while—and started shifting my diet away from my bread heavy ways. I love bread and carbs but I can eat them in vast quantities and then two hours later I’m hungry again.

I didn’t do it all at once, because I wanted to deeply inculcate actual lifestyle changes, not just crash diet the weight off. I lost ten pounds fast, then another ten pounds slowly. Five of that kept coming back then sliding off ad infinitum. Then I signed a deal for three books that needed to be written in 18 months.

By the 2nd month of the 2nd book I knew I was starting to fall behind. I cut myself a deal. If I got 2,000 words in before afternoon I got to go for a sunny snowshoe in the woods with my friend Neil’s giant white dogs. It was a good deal. I was hitting my word marks again and I was also losing two pounds a week. By the time I was finished with the book I was under 190 for the first time since my late teens. I was also borrowing Neil’s weight machine in there and I was trading pounds of fat for pounds of muscle.

2 years on from there and the dogs and the weight machine are still a part of my routine and I’m hovering just over 185, which is my ultimate goal and 33lbs lighter than when I started—it’s what I weighed when I was a two hours a day martial artist at 17. I’m also routinely benching my own weight and running a mile or two every day, which is at least half a mile farther than I’d ever run before getting fit this time around. I recently added a weight machine, an elliptical, and a recumbent exercycle to the treadmill in my basement to make a real gym down there. The plan is to add additional bite-size exercise sessions to my main workout in the afternoons, not supplant them.

It’s been a long slow steady slog and has required significant permanent changes to my eating and exercise habits to get here, but I’m very close. These days, I get very antsy if I don’t get my workout in and my waist size is back to 35-36″.

Fwiw, I found two things of particular value to me in getting here. 1) I do much better on a diet heavy in lean protein and light on carbs. I need less food and I don’t get hungry again nearly as fast. 2) Coming to understand that I was never going to get the endorphin high some people get form exercise and to get over that. I don’t like running, not even a little bit, but I do like the strength and stamina that I get from running.

All that said, I should probably note that despite putting in a ton of work to get here and making major lifestyle shifts, I know that I was also lucky. I’ve always been something of a natural athlete. I pack on muscle easily and that ultimately makes losing weight easier. I’ve got a job that allows me to build a big workout in at the best time of day for me. I have friends whose resources I can tap. I also have the personal resources in space and funding to put in a home gym. The four machines cost me a grand total of $175.00 but that was more luck. It’s not easy even when you’ve got a ton of preset advantages.