Saturday, December 16, 2006

Losing It 

It was Monday the 12th of December, last year, when it happened. I knew the situation was bad, but I didn't know it had gotten that bad. I was, not atypically, running behind, trying to get ready for work. The weekend was finally ending for this second-shifter, and I was struggling to enter the work week. All I really needed was to get dressed, pack the kid up, and go.

Except none of my clothes fit.

I knew that I was out-"growing" my wardrobe as I had closed in on a select group of pants. I had already been bluntly told by a since-fired, ultra-gay, ultra-outspoken, and (perhaps coincidentally) idiot co-worker, that I had put on weight. But this lack of available wardrobe was pure, undeniable, unadulterated proof. So I did the only thing that came to mind: I called my wife to complain. "None of my clothes fit and I'm a great, big fat guy who can't get to work because I ate myself out of my wardrobe and I'm going to be late for work because I'm such a gi-normous, fat guy!" It was one of the few times I recall her sympathizing with me. I think she pointed me to her closet where she had stowed away a Christmas gift of work pants for me. Actually, there were two pairs. It didn't matter. Neither fit.

I had apparently become a size 36 waist. I don't recall how I got into any pants, but I did make it into work that day. Later that night after returning home, I did 15 minutes of abdominals and then ran four miles at 12:30 in the morning.

A friend and I have described the aforementioned story as a "piece of crap" moment. In short, this is when one looks at himself in the mirror, and says: "You piece of crap. Look at yourself. Just look at yourself. You are a piece of crap." I ran 26 days straight after this, thinking I was losing weight, and genuinely feeling better about myself. I almost immediately began to fit into clothes easier. I was turning the corner back to fitness. God, life was good as a runner.

And then I came to my second "piece of crap" moment in less than a month. We'd recently gotten new life insurance. So, of course, a nurse was summoned. She asked questions, took blood, and, yes, brought her scale. "Please be in the 180s," I thought, "please be no higher than 189."


Surely, this was folly. "Is that right? Is that not calibrated correctly?" And so the nurse offered to put the scale on our kitchen floor -- a hard surface. "Sometimes it doesn't work right on carpeting," she assured me. Surely, I thought, I'll end up around 198 when this thing works right. That's . . . somewhat more manageable -- there could be no way on God's green earth that I had wheeled past the two-bill realm. Could there? It's the carpeting. I mean, hell -- I've lost weight in the last month. I've run every day. I fit into my 34" pants again.


You piece of crap. Look at you. Just look at yourself. You are a piece of crap. The only question then became: How big had I been -- prior to the December weight loss? Had I been 215? 220? Who knows? I then spent a lot of time, thinking about when was last time I had been weighed. After a long time, I realized it was in January of 2004 -- my last session at the plasma clinic. It had been post-holidays and my weight had been going up for three or four donation sessions in a row. I remembered being embarrassed at weighing in at 177 for the plasma clerk, who joked that I needed to get off of the Burger King. I was now desperately wishing to be 177 again. 177 was like a fading ghost -- how could I ever again be that not-so-fat guy, who still thought he was getting fat? Worse: how could I ever get back to the 160s? Lose 10, maybe 20 pounds -- doable. But to lose 30, 40 pounds? That's crazy, I thought.

I then ran another 28 consecutive days. But this time, I did something I had never done before: I adjusted my eating. I didn't diet. I hated the idea of diets. I just did what I always thought I could not do, but had a dim sort of fondness for -- I ate healthy food. I watched what went in.

I eventually decided that because I had lost an inch in December that it wasn't unfair to say I had probably been about 215 pounds. With that assumption, I lost three pounds in December. January was better, as I dropped 14 pounds. That, to me, was no great improvement because that weight should never have been there in the first place. February was tougher, as I didn't run as many days. Only three pounds lost. March got better: seven pounds. It was at this point, 27 pounds down, in early April that people first noticed I had lost weight. I lost another six in April. My mileage started to pick up, and I lost seven in May, and another five in both June and July.

All in all, it came to 50 pounds even, coming in at 165 and about a 32" waist. I wanted to drop a little more to get back into post-college shape, but it was not to be. Not yet anyway . . . . there's always next year. I learned an awful lot from all this.

1.) Ten pounds isn't just ten pounds anymore. It's really not that much.
2.) America has gotten heavy. Especially Milwaukee. At my biggest, I think most people would have agreed I could lose a few . . . . but only a few. I would have been considered skinny next to many of my co-workers. To this day, most people don't believe me that I dropped 50. To me, I knew I was getting bad when I had trouble taking off my wedding ring at night -- my fingers had gained weight! Fingers!
3.) There are not a lot of restaurants that serve healthy food that doesn't taste like cardboard.
4.) It is always possible to correct a bad habit.

There were really just two main things I did to lose the weight:
1.) Running. Obviously. But the key to my running, this time (in comparison to previous streaks of training) is that I did not become consumed with a consecutive days streak. The streak ended, and I let it go, not getting upset about my training schedule being interrupted. This was the main idea I had to embrace. The other was the jogging stroller, which took some adjustment, but I got into it -- it beat the hell out of running alone at 12:30 in the morning.
2.) Eating habits. This became key, namely because I'd never adjusted it before. I was 29, after all -- my metabolism wasn't going to let me lose weight and eat a plate of nachos at three in the morning just because I had run that day. So much thought went into turning around my eating, but it was all common sense. No bullshit diet or fad.
- I cut out most of the Eeees: MickeyD's, Hardees, Wendy's, Burger King...eees.
- I made breakfast a fixed meal of cereal, water and a banana-milk-oatmeal shake.
- I added some vegetables to lunch and dinner.
- I planned my work meals around the Lean Cuisine dinners, which are good. I don't like most other brands, but I genuinely like this one. They cook better than I do.
- I tried to cut out all forms of Trans fat.
- I made an effort to add milk and water to my daily consumption.
- I stopped eating after getting home from work late at night -- this was the hardest, but a huge help, especially with my June and July weight loss.

The big revelation to me, with diet, was that I enjoyed eating better foods. My body felt better. I still enjoy a good ol' fast food meal, but I keep it to once a week. If I have two, I don't feel so well, and if for some reason I have three in a week, I feel sick for a while afterward. I much prefer the basic schedule of eating.

With all that stated, I didn't quite get to where I needed to get to. A few weeks before the marathon, I put on three or four pounds. Right now I'm at 170, 45 pounds less than the "piece of crap" weight. I've been here for a couple months, give or take a couple pounds of normal fluctuation. I would make more of an effort to drop weight, but we Midwesterners are at that tough time of year in which the weather prevents guys who run with jogging strollers to get out as much as they may like to (I just can't submit the kid to anything less than 30 degrees). Hopefully, El Nino will help me out, but if not, I know I can get in three to four days a week, and still eat well enough to maintain my current metabolism, so that come March or April, I can get back to pouring on miles, and hopefully get to the promised land.

Losing weight is a little like getting younger again....which is crazy, because that is impossible. But that's how it feels. It reminds me of a Batman comic I read a long time ago -- I think it was Detective Comics # 600, if memory serves correctly. Batman had to use the body of some out-of-shape guy to fight crime. He knew what he was supposed to feel like, but his body wouldn't let him do these things he was used to doing (you know, beating up bad guys, swinging around Gotham, sneaking away from Commissioner Gordon). So when he returned to his regular body (I know, it was kind of a far-fetched storyline... yet memorable), it must have been such a relief to move the way he used to move. He was himself again.

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