In the early summer of 2004 more than a decade of poor health choices caught up with me. It’s was hard to think of it as a decade of poor health choices, and if you’d have asked me about my health up to that point I’d have described it as “fair.” Which would have been grossly inaccurate.
When I was in high school, I remember how frustrated I was that I could never gain weight. Perhaps that doesn’t make sense from a mid-thirties perspective, but when you’re seventeen and weigh a-buck-forty at five-eleven (and one-forty was probably after a heavy meal and wearing a winter jacket soaked in water…or concrete), all you want is to “bulk up.”
I ran everyday, I had “a runner’s body,” and I hated it. My best friend had a naturally broad build with a thick chest and strong shoulders. He looked like the cover model from romance novels…and it drove me crazy. My jealousy was both good-natured and palpable.
I ate everything. And a lot of it. When I was actively running regularly and working manual labor jobs for six hours a day, I estimate I was consuming somewhere in the neighborhood of 5000-8000 calories a day. And I didn’t gain a pound. Not one.
I used to go to class in the morning with an entire box of hostess “chocolate covered donette gems” and eat the whole thing. By myself. I’d go through liters of Dr. Pepper and Mountain Dew; hell, I even ate Coco Puffs in a bowl topped with Dr Pepper instead of milk because I needed the energy hit before showering and heading to the Cafeteria before my 7:00 am class start. I never learned portion control, I just ate as much as I could at every meal.
It didn’t get any better once I left Academy and joined “the real world” and took more direct responsibility for my meals. Even when money was tight and meals were controlled, I didn’t watch what I ate, I just ate as much as I could and enjoyed cheese and refined white flour and sugar seemingly in everything. I worked construction, hefted an industrial nail gun made entirely of steel around for 10+ hours a day, and while I did begin to see my shoulders broaden and my muscles develop, I was still skinny as a rail.
I remember one time, when I was sitting in class eating an entire box of highly-processed imitation-food “donettes,” a health conscious classmate of mine looked at me and said “someday you are going to really regret eating that.” I also remember laughing her off. After a year of marriage and working at a sedentary desk job for the government, I began to discover what she meant. Nineteen, Twenty, Twenty-one…the birthdays kept coming and so did the inches on my waist.
While I “paunched up” a bit around the middle, I still looked pretty good. I rode my bike, roller-bladed with my wife, went hiking on the weekends…I was pretty active. Then the internet bubble began, and I climbed on for the ride.
The amazing thing about dot-com companies in 2000-2001, we worked crazy stupid hours, drank beer by the keg, and ate THE WORST SHIT imaginable. I can’t tell you how many times we’d buy a “bag of Big Macs” because it was close by, or eat multiple pizzas or breakfast burritos or whatever starch and fat filled monstrosities we could stuff into our bodies.
When you work 12-16 hours a day, have an hour commute each way, and a wife who works an opposite schedule, your home meals aren’t any better. We ate out or had pizza delivered for about 80% of our meals together. The ones we did cook at home were lethal; filled with cheese, pasta, breads, and heaped and mounded on our plate like we were afraid we might never see a scrap of food again. Cans of Pepsi and Dr. Pepper were major expenses from Costco, and our weekend activities involved discovering the joys of DVD movies and online video games.
There’s a reason that in 2002 I was captured in a company photo titled “the fat man committee” sitting with two close friends, our collective weight well clear of 1000 lbs. I started that job weighing in at about 220, moderately overweight and moderately active in reasonably good health. I ended that job weighing over 300 lbs and virtually inactive with sky high cholesterol and blood pressure, and with a doctors warning about elevated protein and pre-diabetes ringing in my ears.
And then we moved to Boise. Where I worked, sitting across from my Dad and my Grandfather in the family business, doing a job I sucked at, under pressure, and feeling like a failure. If I thought the dot-com environment was stressful, the family businesses made my prior job look like a stint as a quality tester in a hug factory.
Which brings us back to the summer of 2004.
A part of me wants to write a detailed accounting of the events of that June night, but just thinking about it makes me ill. I’ll be (uncharacteristically) brief and sum it up for you:
- Two bleeding ulcers, an ovoid duodenal ulcer about 8 millimeters in diameter and a lower gastric lacerative ulcer about 3 centimeters long.
- Waking up at 2:30 am and promptly throwing up more than a pint of blood into a trashcan in the bathroom.
- Being carried out of my house on a gurney by four struggling EMTs while my three-year-old daughter watched from the stairs.
- Being told by the EMT in the ER that she decided to start the largest IV because she’d “seen gunshot victims who looked better” on the drive to the hospital.
- Not one but two blood transfusions.
- Waking up from Endoscopic Cauterization alone in a hospital room.
- Having to get a second Endoscopic Cauterization two weeks later because they didn’t see the lacerative ulcer “the first time.”
I ate no solid food for more than a month. You live on Jell-O and broth while taking powerful antibiotics and pain killers, you lose weight. Unfortunately, that weight loss is not sustainable. I dropped from an all time high of 313 lbs to a haggard and sallow looking 265 lbs as of two months after my ride to the ER.
The whole ordeal shocked me into action. Once I was cleared for exercise, I was all about the exercise. We got a treadmill, and I started walking and then running during Mariner’s games, racking up an hour every night. I counted calories, watched my portions, recorded every meal and snack and drink that crossed my lips…and I lost weight.
I got down to 225 lbs without really trying. I lost 20 lbs in two weeks, almost like magic. I kept it off for about a year.
Then it started to creep back. We were moving, the marriage was hitting a rocky stretch, four-year-olds SUCK UP YOUR TIME; I stopped paying attention to what I ate, I stopped exercising, and then the weight started to show up one pants-size at a time.
I spent 2006 in hell. My marriage went into the crapper, and my health pretty much followed with it. I ended up spending days at OHSU being tested for MS and ALS and every other scary acronym you can imagine. I started living alone for the first time in my adult life, and cooking-for-one three days a week. I tried to stretch out and do some things “for me” so I took up fencing, a sport I hadn’t played since high school. I took classes at the Salem Classical Fencing school and I loved them. I found myself eating better by default and exercising strenuously three or four times a week for upwards of three hours at a stretch (and more on weekends).
And my weight dropped without my noticing to under 220 lbs again. I was wearing size 32 pants for the first time since ballooning out of the 28’s I’d worn through high school, college, and my first year of marriage. For the first time in nearly a decade, I went home (alone) to my parents house for Thanksgiving and they didn’t feel compelled to remind me that I was overweight, grotesque to look at, and a big fat disappointment. Well…I was still a disappointment, but the collapse of my marriage was now the ranking source of failure.
A month later I started using eHarmony and eventually met OS (there’s a whole story about Christmas and Birthdays and Roses and Cheesecake that is yet to be told). In the four-and-a-half years since then, the weight has slowly crept back in. OK, not so slowly. Three years ago things were not good.
Then, my little brother decided to get married in Cozumel and I didn’t want to look like this. I constantly thought about starting another diet, buying running shoes, doing SOMETHING to get into shape.
Clearly, round is a shape. I looked like I ate the Michelin Man. Whole.
There’s a funny thing that happens when you’re overweight, you begin to develop an ignorance defense mechanism. You avoid scales and mirrors and cameras. If someone DOES take your picture, it looks like this:
Not a happy face.
A little over a year ago, I wrote about my goal of running in a triathlon. It was inspired by two people, first by my cousin who started running in regional triathlons at the age of 40. He has worked his way up to some pretty good results including age-group wins and overall top-tens.
So, earlier this spring, knowing I was flying to Portland for a company conference with all of my peers, I spent more than $120 on a pair of running shoes specifically designed for “large frame” runners. To provide extra impact cushioning. Because I’m fat.
I used them exactly three times.
While I was in Portland, I saw my Dad and a few friends who all pointed out that I’d lost weight. I was feeling good and took that to heart.
They were liars. Nice liars, but liars none the less.
I’m not all that good at unstructured life changes. I still felt unhealthy. I felt fat. I bought clothes in XL that didn’t fit when I tried them on. I knew I needed to change something.
There’s a secret about doing significant travel professionally, you end up watching a lot of infomercials. A LOT of infomercials. For more than a year I’ve been seeing Tony Horton pitch P90X like it was the answer to all the world’s ills. Adult obesity? P90X. Epidemic increases in heart disease and diabetes? P90X. Sluggish economy and a jobless recovery? P90X. (OK, just kidding on the last one.)
I talked about it with my little brother, he knew people who’d done the program, and done it multiple times because they liked the results. I talked to co-workers and found out that I’m not alone in my interest. I went online and read literally hundreds of unpaid testimonials.
So, for my Birthday, OS and I decided to commit to doing a BeachBody Inc. program. Though I was interested in P90X, OS wisely suggested trying P90 first and “working up” to the more X-tream version after 90 successful days. We bought a new scale, new target outfits, and tossed out a kitchen full of crap food and replaced it (at no small expense) with healthy alternatives.
We have been on the diet for more than two weeks now, and I’m really enjoying it. I honestly like the food (which OS doesn’t believe because I’ve always resisted whole grains, white proteins, healthy carbs, and expanding my vegetable range when cooking).
We’ve been on the P90 exercise plan for more than a week now. Tomorrow is day 10 actually.
When you start the program there’s a little card you fill out with your weight and measurements. Actually using a tape measure and a high-end scale inspired me via mortification. On April 29, 2011 I weighed 282.6 lbs, and I was stuffing my ass into 42″ pants when I should have been looking in the 46″ range.
So I dove into the exercise regime with gusto. The first episode is the cardio program called “Sweat” that lasts 30 minutes followed by 100 ab crunches broken up into 10 sets of 10 reps of different types of crunches. By the 15 minute mark I wanted to cry. Oh, that’s a lie. I wanted to cry three minutes into the “Power Yoga” warm-up.
“Do WHAT with my legs?”
“That asshole is made out of rubber. He thinks this shit is funny!”
“Hey look! My Toes! I haven’t seen those in forever! Why can’t I feel them?”
The next day was easier, the “Sculpt” program being strength training, which is simply easier for me to grind through. I can work the pace a bit to give myself the right mix of breaks and effort, so it actually goes faster.
Then back to Cardio, which was easier the second time; then Sculpt again…etc.
I was feeling healthier. My blood pressure didn’t shoot up every time I walked up three stairs or carred in the groceries. I was beyond diligent with the diet, counting calories and watching what went into my body.
Finally, the one-week mark came, and I weighed myself to see what a week would do. I was so confident. I’d always been able to lose the weight when I applied myself, and DAMN did I apply myself to this.
I was so frustrated I sat down on the toilet and cried. This is NOT how it goes on The Biggest Loser. Those dudes lose TONS of weight. I just wanted to lose a couple of stinking pounds, give myself something to build on. Instead I gained 1.4 lbs. I ate less than 1800 calories and worked my fat ass off…and I gained 1.4 lbs.
On the side of every BeachBody box, and running across their videos and websites is a three word mantra:
Decide. Commit. Succeed.
We decided to do this. We decided to exercise and become active. We decided to fundamentally change what we ate and how we ate it.
Now is the time for the Commitment. The Commitment is hard. Gaining weight on a diet and exercise plan when you try, when you put in the effort, when you just want to see a sliver of light at the end of the tunnel…that’s crushing. But we didn’t decide to “try” and change, we decided to change. In the words of Yoda, “Do or Do Not, there is no Try.” It might be corny and it might be pop-mysticism, but it’s also true. One week does not constitute an actual evaluation period for a life change. Ask me again in a year.
If Ben Davis could get his tired lard-ass up and run. If he could get his ass up in the rain, and the heat, and the dark of night because he believed it would help…then I want to believe it will help me too. Dude is a hero. He’s a hero to HIMSELF. I want to be my own hero. I want to get to the other side and be able to say that not only did I decide, and not only did I commit, but in the end I stuck with it, and I am living proof that we can all succeed.
This time next year I will be healthier, skinnier, wearing pants I’m not ashamed to buy, and getting ready to run in a triathlon. I don’t have to win at the triathlon, I just have to do life. Because that’s so much better than the alternative.
Working in the eldercare industry for several years, we used to pass around a rather grim truth: There are no morbidly obese old people. If you don’t believe me, wander the halls of your nearest nursing home. Two weeks ago I was in no better health than I was on that night in early June of 2004. That time it was ulcers, next time it could be a heart attack, or a stroke, or a brain aneurysm. All of which run in my family.
Decide. Commit. Succeed.
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