How to Become Somewhat Less of a Fatass in Only 6 Years
This post is rather far off-topic for me, wicked sorry about that.
As often happens to men of a certain age, when I was about 41 years old I took an objective look at myself in a photograph, and I thought: I do not look at all that totally awesome dude in my head. I don't look like Keanu Reeves in the Matrix, and not even like John Cusak in Grosse Pointe Blank.
Not that I ever did look like I could be a movie star. But I had deteriorated from young, nondescript nerd with crazy hair into a pudgy, balding, dough-faced, hobbit-looking fatass. I felt like I probably should do something about it.
Also, I have known enough forty-something men who have dropped dead suddenly (one is really all you need to know, to be honest) that creeping mortality was quite often on my mind. This is also de rigeur for 41 year olds. I wanted to try to do something to give me a better chance of avoiding that most grim of surprise visitors.
To put some quantity to this article, around that time I weighed about 190 pounds. I'm 5' 9" and that weight didn't impede my ability to walk, but it did make me perilously close to being medically obese, and a good 50 pounds heavier than I had been at age 22.
I've never been one for sudden changes of lifestyle. On several occasions, I've made a snap career change decision. I have no problem at all going from working at my job in the morning, not a thought in my head of changing, to handing in a resignation letter by the end of the day. Sometimes that has worked out, other times not as much. But I don't fear change per se.
However, I'm not one for changing habits of home. My schedule, my clothes, and of course what I eat are things I hold fast to for years. So I felt like I would have little success in going on a strict diet of any sort: low-carb, vegetarian, Atkins, whatever.
So my approach was to try to start changing things in small bits, and build them into life habits that I would embrace and keep permanently.
Here is a critical aspect of my story. Around that time my wife was trying to get more exercise and lose weight. She had started going to a personal trainer 3 days a week, and was cutting down on carbs. It was working well for her, and to show solidarity with her, we made a pact: neither of us would eat any sweets without checking with the other. So if we went out to a restaurant together, we might get dessert, but otherwise we made a solemn promise not to eat those cookies at the office. I really committed to it: when I saw that candy bar that I could eat, I told myself that eating it would be tantamount to kissing another woman. I suppose this technique depends on your attitudes towards infidelity, but it really worked for me.
This first step was almost like quitting sweets cold turkey, except that we would still decide to have something if we were together and the sweet in question was really worth it. Oreos or some chain restaurant ice cream? Not worth it. Butter crust fruit tart from the pastry chef at our favorite restaurant? Yessssss.
As months went by an unexpected thing started to happen. It started to be pretty easy to refuse a piece of cake at an office birthday party, and not becaust of the pact, but because I really didn't feel like I wanted the sweet stuff. Eventually we ended the no-sweets pact, but I kept skipping candy and cookies. Once in a while I would think that a Three Musketeers bar would be just the thing. But then the assault of sweetness would practically knock me over. And if I did manage to actually eat a glazed donut, I would feel physically drained and out of whack for hours afterwards.
And she had started going to a local personal trainer. That seemed crazy to me: it was so much more expensive than a gym, not that either of us had ever belonged to a gym. But she stuck with it, and started to really feel better. I decided it would be worth a shot.
The personal training gym we went to had a whole program: they wanted to change your life in a wholistic way, by tracking what you eat and changing to a different diet and also a different way of eating. That was way too much change at once for me. For me, it was about having an appointment. If I say I'm going to meet somebody at 6am to work out, I'm going to do it. I only went two days a week, and it was mostly weight training. I would do some cardio on a treadmill afterwards. It was hard, after being a slug for so many years, and I was pretty much sore all the time.
But it worked for me. I slowly began to feel stronger, and I pretty quickly dropped about 10 pounds, just with that little bit of activity, and probably also cutting out the sweet stuff. I stuck with this same regimen for three years. In that time I hadn't really lost weight, but I had lost a lot of fat and replaced it with 'lean weight.' I had to buy all new pants because I was no longer a 34-35 but 31-32. I had to get new dress shirts because my neck size had gone from 16 to 17. I had reached a plateau, however.
My wife (who is a medical doctor) gently suggested that I really needed to do a lot more cardiovascular exercise. I hated running on the treadmill at the gym or in our basement. I had tried distance running a few times in my life. My memory of it was always terrible, burning lungs and stitches. But when we were on vacation in Florida, I went out for a run with her, just three miles. To my amazement, I could do it. I could run and not feel like I wanted to die!
Also, on that first run, I used a running app on my phone to track the distance and pace. I'm not sure, but I think this had a lot to do with me adopting running as my main activity. I would like to think that I could just put on my sneakers and hit the road for a run. But there's something about having some data about what I do that is very compelling. Maybe it's because I played a lot of video games, or maybe it's just because I'm a programmer. But having that result in real numbers: pace and distance and time is very motivating.
When we got home from our vacation, I started trail running on the conservation land in my town. This was perfect for me because I didn't have to worry about traffic, and it's very peaceful to be out in the woods in the early morning. It's like a little 45 minute vacation.
The next thing I tried was running in races. I started with local 5K events. My goals were simple: don't die, don't come in last. As I did a few more, I added two more goals: try to do a little better than last time, but don't get injured. (I pulled a hamstring in one race and it basically ruined most of the summer as far as running was concerned.)
While I was running 5K's, my wife had started doing half-marathons. I thought that was crazy! (See a pattern here?) But I decided to try to do one with her. We trained together and ran the Maine half-marathon in 2013. This year we did two half-marathons in one month, and it was fun and very gratifying. We didn't come in last.
So that's where I am today. In only six years, I was able to go from being a 195 pound fatso who would get short of breath running across the parking lot from the car, to being a 185 pound slightly less fatso who can run 13 miles.
Here's my awesome formula in brief:
Years 1-3: - quit eating 99% of sugary crap - do whatever it takes to go to a gym 2 days a week
Years 4-6: - run 2-3 days a week - participate in 4-6 organized races a year
What could be easier?