I’ve been trying to come up with a blog post with a summary of my long and sordid history with weight. The problem is, it’s long and sordid, and therefore difficult to summarize. In my first post, I mentioned that I have undergone a major transformation in my attitude about weight and my body, but I don’t have a big physical transformation to show for it. This is what I mean.
Here I am in 2006:
I weighed about 350 pounds.
Here is a more recent photo:
I weigh at least as much as I did in 2006, if not more.
The difference (besides the fact that now I have my picture taken of my own free will) is all in my level of fitness. Today, I’m able to do things I never would have been able to do even when I weighed much less. I can walk, run, squat, lift, kickbox and do yoga… and more importantly, I look forward to doing more. Even just last year, this wasn’t a possibility I could see for my life. Unless someone scary was chasing me, I had no interest in running, much less the other stuff.
As a kid, I was allergic and asthmatic, which doesn’t exactly encourage a person to frolic outdoors. More than that, the repressive church I grew up in taught me that anything that felt good to the body was suspicious and possibly a sin. I learned to place a lot of value on sedentary, intellectual pursuits. Any chance that I might enjoy a physical activity was soon squashed by suffering through gym classes where I lacked the coordination to keep up with games I didn’t even really know the rules for. As I got older and started dieting, exercise became a means to a calorie-burning end. It was a punishment for being fat, and liked most people… I avoided punishment whenever possible.
This all came to a head a couple of years ago. Between giving birth in 2007 and a very sad and stressful divorce in 2010, I lost about 80 pounds, down to the 270’s. I thought that I was turning my pain into something healthy and positive, but mostly I was just obsessing over calories 80% the time and bingeing miserably for the remaining 20%. After the worst of the divorce was over (and I figured out that I wanted to be with a woman way more than I wanted to “save my marriage”), my eating habits got back to my old “normal”, and I started gaining again.
I panicked. No matter how painful the process of losing my weight had been, I wanted it to stay lost. At the end of 2011, I decided it was time for something drastic.
I did some research and scheduled an appointment with my doctor to talk about getting weight loss surgery. I didn’t want the lap band- not extreme enough. I told her I thought there was no hope for me without a gastric bypass. My doctor said that she would support me completely if I wanted to get the surgery, but also that she didn’t think it would give me the results I was hoping for. “I have patients who have had the surgery. They’ve all lost some weight, but not nearly as much as they thought they would. And now, they come here every week to get shots with vitamins because their bodies will never be able to get them normally again. I don’t want that for you.”
My heart sank, but she dangled another hope out in front of me. Instead of extreme surgery, she wanted me to try an extreme diet and exercise program at a local gym with a medically supervised program. “It’s like The Biggest Loser for Louisville,” she said. When I went home, I googled their website. Being at the point that I was willing to do something as extreme as re-routing my intestines made a crazy workout schedule seem, well… not so crazy. I went into it with the attitude that this was my Last Chance, and I meant to take it for everything it was worth.
The program consisted of a “diet plan” that called for cutting calories to very low with working out at great intensity, at least an hour every day. I started early in the morning and worked myself to exhaustion. I got sick spectacularly on my first day, and a couple more times after that. They told me that it would be that hard for a while, but the weight would come off so fast, it would all be worth it.
I sucked it up for a few weeks, but not long enough to see any weight loss. Let’s face it- most people are not going to keep doing something that miserable for long, and I am no exception. I quit, telling myself I was taking a month or two off to regroup, but the relief of not having to do it any more was so compelling that I think I knew in my heart I was never going back. No one ever called and asked me why I stopped coming. I’m sure they knew why. My guess is, they get a lot of drop-outs that they chalk up to the “weak will” of fat people. I certainly felt like a weak-willed failure at the time, but not so much that I wanted to subject myself to the voluntary torture.
So I was at an impasse. My doctor, combined with a well-timed article from the New York Times, had effectively talked me out of surgery. I had discovered that wanting to be thin wasn’t enough to keep me doing things I hated doing. Frankly, I had a full life and better things to spend my time on. I had just started dating an amazing woman, so I was pretty busy getting to know her and her daughter. I had a growing daughter of my own, and friends, a job, hobbies… it was pretty easy to just let it go.
So I let it go to the tune of 110 pounds. For those keeping score at home, that’s more than 30 pounds over my original starting weight.
It seems like that amount of weight gain should have been depressing, but mostly it was a very happy, exciting time. I fell in love with the woman I was dating, and her daughter too. I proposed and for some crazy reason I have still not figured out, she accepted.
Pretty soon, we were getting married, buying a house together, and blending families. If you’ve ever done any of those things, you know they make life very full. I worried about my weight sometimes, but I didn’t have the time or energy to micromanage it the way I once had. Life with my wife and family healed places in me that I thought were long broken. Even when settling in together was really tough, it was pretty awesome. I felt 100% loved and wanted. I knew I would be for the rest of my life, even if I never lost another pound.
Even with all that love, it took a long time to feel like I wanted to work on my health again. I joined a team at work called the “Well-being Wizards”, a cheesy name for a volunteer group that helps with initiatives to improve the well-being of our co-workers. After a few months of trying to convince people to take small steps to better their health, it sunk in that I better put my money where my mouth was. April 9th, 2013 was the exact date I decided that there would be no more extreme-calorie-deprivation-and-working-out-until-puking crap. I would do my best to improve my health, without going crazy and burning out. There wasn’t going to be any falling off the wagon, because I had decided to let the wagon roll on so I could walk the path myself. Slower, yeah, but way less slippery.
Of course, there have been ups and downs since then, but it’s nothing like the roller coaster my weight (and life) was before. It’s been almost a year and I’m just now getting back to that “starting weight” I was at over 6 years ago, but the number on the scale has ceased to be the driving force behind what I do. I focus a lot more on how much I can do, instead of on how much I weigh. For example, I now know I can run for 8 minutes straight. To me, that means something. It has an actual use in the real word. Weight doesn’t have much application outside my head. I always tied too great an importance to that number on the scale. When it was “low”, I let it make me feel strong and accomplished, even when I wasn’t. When it was “high”, I let it define what I could and couldn’t do, but I’m finding out that I can do an awful lot even within the limitations of my big body.
Training for this 5K is all about seeking out the limits of what my body can do, and trying to push them just enough. It gives me something to strive for that is bigger than losing X amount of pounds. Do I think losing weight will make running easier? Uh, yeah. I do hope that someday, I won’t be carrying all my extra pounds. At the same time, I acknowledge that even if I lost every bit of excess fat overnight, it wouldn’t instantly make me a better runner. Being a better runner comes from practicing running, and I can practice running as long as my legs will carry me.
I started this blog because when I Googled around for “fat runners” or “fat people running 5k”, most of what I found was either fat jokes or runners who are “fat” by running standards, but nowhere near my size. I hope that someday, people with a lot of excess weight and a desire to run will Google the same things I did and find post after post saying, “You can run if you want to! Here is how someone else did it!” It feels a little presumptuous to hope to inspire, but this is exactly the kind of thing I would have liked to here when I was on the fence about running as a suitable activity for a person of size. I think we can be what we can’t see sometimes, if it’s important enough. But it’s nice when we don’t have to.