Archive for July, 2008
“Get busy living, or get busy dying.”
– Stephen King
I first realized I was dying in the Spring of 2006. I don’t mean in the zen sense – such as how from the moment we’re born we begin to die – but rather in the actual, keel over suddenly and prematurely sense.
I had just turned 30, which itself isn’t such a big deal, but for someone as introspective as me, it was a good opportunity to reëvaluate my life. I felt awful all the time. Any kind of exercise left me out of breath and feeling run-down. I was thinking about this for a few weeks before I did anything about it. Then I started eating better (subjectively) and started walking. I couldn’t do much at first, but little by little, week after week, I could walk a little longer and farther, and I started to lose weight.
Actually, I lost a lot of weight – over 70 pounds in just under five months. Then I moved to Chicago, and while I was still doing a lot of walking, I also started eating poorly. I switched from doing freelance work where I could set my own schedule to working a 9-to-5 job where I had to work (and eat) on someone else’s schedule. I still did okay with my weight until February 2007 when the weather stayed below 10F for a solid month. Walking wasn’t an option. I started taking cabs both to and from work. When the summer came, my train stop was closed for construction work, and I kept up the cab habit. I also started to get bone spurs in both of my heels which made walking painful at the time (I still have the problem – it’s just not as bad now).
Of course, there was more to not exercising and not eating right other than just laziness. By the end of the work day I’d just want to get home and do other things (some of those “other things” are just more work sometimes) and taking a fifteen minute cab ride and having someone cook and deliver food gave me an hour or two (at least) of extra time every day. However, in a little over a year I not only put the 70 pounds I’d lost back on, but I also added on another 40-50 lbs of extra weight on top of it.
Eating at work was a problem too. The office buys a lot of food for us, which is great, but they always stock Pop Tarts and lots and lots of candy and other junk food. There are candy dishes everywhere around the office, and it’s really easy to just pick at it all afternoon. Also, the fridge is always stocked with lots of Coke, and there’s always coffee. So in my average work day I’d eat or drink:
- 3-5 cups of coffee in the morning
- 2 Pop Tarts (usually the brown sugar ones – without the pretense of fruit, although ironically they’re lower in calories than the fruit variations)
- A lunch of pasta or fried foods, along with a large fountain Coke
- 4-6 cans of Coke in the afternoon
- Various “fun size” candies – maybe 3-4 a day
- A cappuccino or iced sugary Frappuccino during an afternoon Starbucks run
(aside – the afternoon coffee run where a few of us would leave the building to go somewhere to get a drink – is pretty essential to the work day and makes those last few hours of work far more productive then if I’d just sit at my desk and get more sluggish and brain-addled by the hour)
- On some days, birthday cake for someone in the office, sometimes in addition to my morning Pop Tarts
A nutritionist would call my daily eating habits a “target-rich environment” since there were so many possible areas for change. It’s no wonder I’d get out of breath getting up from my chair. And that list doesn’t even count the crap I’d eat when I got home (or often, went out after work).
My Kind of Town
Chicago is a fantastic city, and I think it has more bars per capita than any other city on the planet . You can get beer and wine at any convenience store. The local drug store has a champagne aisle. Even some movie theatres here have a liquor license. As I met people and started to do more social things in town, I started to drink a lot. Back in Philly, where I grew up, I hardly drank at all. Actually, I didn’t drink at all until I was in college, and even then I’d just have a little wine from time to time (excepting a few times that I got shamefully drunk that I can count on one hand).
I don’t think I’m an alcoholic – I would probably count myself as an Extreme Social Drinker (I could’ve had a show on ESPN. I was actually considering joining the U.S. Olympic Drinking Team for a time…) I was drinking in excess – and I’m being kind by calling it merely “excess” – at least 3-4 nights a week. Some of my friends outpace me, too, so clearly we’re all a bunch of lushes.
Then in early June I flew back to Philadelphia to attend my Nana’s funeral. My mother died when I was 11 so Nana was for all intents and purposes my surrogate mother. Her death hit me pretty hard. After I got back to Chicago I went to a friend’s party (there is always a friend’s party to go – I didn’t go to parties this much when I was in college) and drank about as much as I could swallow. Actually, I met up with some other friends who were going to the party before that and got pretty smashed before we even went to the party.
Three hours after I got home and tried to sleep I woke up and felt that “dying” feeling again. Something was very, very wrong. I got dressed, somehow managed to walk downstairs, got into a cab, and went to the emergency room.
Now, a Saturday night (or really, very early Sunday morning) in a downtown Chicago hospital is quite an experience. I was competing with gun shot victims for attention. I actually ended up falling asleep, or perhaps unconscious, in the ER waiting room. When I finally saw a doctor it was too late to pump my stomach (probably just as well), they took some blood, told me to stay awake as long as I could, gave me a cup of coffee and some aspirin, and sent me on my way.
The Long Sunday
I called my dad later that day to wish him a happy Father’s Day. I didn’t tell him about my binge drinking. Otherwise I spent the rest of the day thinking a lot about my life, my weight, and what I could do about it. Since I’d lost a lot of weight before I knew I could do it. It was just a matter of actually doing it.
I had actually been thinking about getting back into better shape for a long while. A month or two prior I bought a scale that went up to 450lbs so I could weigh myself. The only problem – when I got the scale I couldn’t weigh myself. I weighed more than four fucking hundred and fucking fifty pounds. I think I may have actually said “Holy shit!” out loud.
So when The Long Sunday came I was ready to make a change. There was never any question that I needed to make some major changes in my life. This was just the initiating incident that prompted that change.
The next day was Bloomsday, 16 June 2008. It seemed a fitting day to make a major change toward healthiness. I didn’t immediately start eating better, but just about. I started to walk a bit, which was a chore at first but I started to see some major improvements in my capabilities after just two weeks. I transitioned into eating more healthily at the same time. I started using the fitness center in my apartment building (it’s been there since I moved in a year and a half ago – I just never really used it before) and started walking more. Rather than finding ways to get somewhere with the least amount of walking, I started finding excuses to walk, adding in an extra walk somewhere throughout the day.
Then I decided to up the ante even further, to remove any possible excuses for not working out, and joined the $90/month fitness center in my office building. Their facilities are only so-so, but they have all of the equipment I’ll need, and a nice locker room with showers. Even without working out it’s nice to have a place to change and take a shower at the office so I don’t have to go home first if I’m going out somewhere after work.
I also hired a personal trainer through the center with whom I’m meeting twice a week (to start, then I’ll probably switch to once a week). It’s expensive, but once I reclaimed the money I’d previously spent on take-out, alcohol, and taxis, I think I’m actually saving money by paying for the gym membership and training sessions. My trainer is pretty much kicking my ass, but I’m really seeing improvements already after only a short time, so it’s encouraging.
I’m currently finishing up Week 6 and it’s been pretty easy so far. Sure, it’s a lot of work, and a lot of extra time to walk to the train, then walk from the train to my apartment, then cook dinner, clean up from cooking dinner, etc. Things that used to take twenty minutes are taking two hours, but I’m more active and Chicago is pretty much paradise in the summer. I’m getting out more and enjoying what the city has to offer (other than alcohol).
I do worry about the upcoming holidays and extreme Winter cold. We had an especially nasty Winter this year and I probably won’t have nearly as much fun walking outside when it’s dangerously cold out. I know that’s why I have the gym memberships, but the treadmill isn’t nearly as enjoyable as just walking somewhere, seeing more of the city, people watching, etc.
However, by that time I expect my workouts and eating better will be habits (if they aren’t already – they say it only takes 21 days to form a new habit – and it’s been twice that already) so maybe I’ll be okay.
Everyone has been really supportive so far – friends, family, coworkers, strangers posting comments to the healthy foods I’m posting on Flickr – so I’m grateful for that support because it makes getting healthier a lot easier.
This is the story of how I lost over two hundred pounds and got into fighting shape by making incremental adjustments to my lifestyle. Within I will reveal what I’ve learned about fitness, nutrition, exercise, and the various industries centered on helping you get fit or fat. I’m looking at fitness and health as a new hobby, and whenever I develop a new interest I tend to turn my innate geekiness toward learning as much as I can about things in which I’m interested. I’m reading the books and blogs, talking to experts, specialists, and trying to coalesce as much knowledge as possible down to its essence. While this is my personal story, I expect there are many more people like me who may benefit from my efforts.
I started this site because my personal trainer suggested that I start a log of my goals, progress, feelings about exercise, dieting, food, &c., and I thought it would be easier to type it than write it, and easier to keep it on the Internet then tied to a particular computer or location. As I started writing, I thought I’d keep myself more honest by making it public so anyone reading could view my progress and comment on my findings.
My goal is not simply to be thin, or generally fit, but also healthy, athletic, strong, agile, active, and (most importantly), to look great naked. To achieve my fitness goals I’m also changing other habits (slowly) and taking this opportunity to foster overall self-improvement. I’m not just losing weight, I’m trying to be a better person. It isn’t easy, but little that is worthwhile ever is.
However, if you’re trying to get fit in modern society, you’re fighting an uphill battle. The deck is stacked against you, and getting fit can be made a whole lot easier and more fun than most diet specialists make it sound.
Here we go…