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If we can take a moment to real talk, there’s something I should probably cop to. I used to be fat. Not two seats on Southwest fat, but fatter than I ever wanted to be. It started in college, because like most people in their late teens I had no real concept of what a calorie was or how they should be managed. Toss me into a world where pizza was cheap and plentiful and all of sudden I’m shopping for new pants by Christmas. I know you’ve looked at someone and wondered how they let themselves get that big. The simple explanation is that it’s like putting a frog in water and slowly turning up the heat. It happens by such gradual increments that you don’t even notice it’s happening. That’s where I was heading, until something stopped me.
Specifically, I got fired. Laid off is the technical term, but however you dress it up all of a sudden I didn’t have a place to go each day. Armed with a small bit of sales experience and a Bachelor’s in English, the recession heavy job market wasn’t exactly beating down my door. So I stayed unemployed for a couple of months, which left me depressed and bored. So I ate. And Boooooy howdy did my waist expand. This wasn’t gradual either, this was a fatsplosion, and all of a sudden I was stuck facing a truth I’d avoided since graduation.
I was fat. I think I topped off somewhere around 290, which even on my sizable frame (I clock in around 6’ 4”) was pretty noticeable. In a way it was a good thing though, because in facing where I was I had to make a choice to either continue not caring or start working my way back. I chose the second, and sitting here two years later and sixty pounds lighter I’m pleased with Past Drew for getting his shit together. I’m still not where I want to be, but that’s an ever evolving process. What I do have are a few bits of truth I’ve gleaned over my trial and error attempts to get healthy, bits I’m happy to share here with you. Take them or leave them, what works for me might not for you, etc etc disclaimer blah blah blah.
1. If it don’t hurt, it don’t work: There are more empty promises in the weight loss world than in a frat house during a mixer. Pills, potions, protein bars and all manner of regiments that claim to made the weight slide off with little to no effort. They are, by and large, all bullshit. Progress comes from suffering. Eating crap you don't like, eating less of what you do like, soreness, stiffness, exhaustion, all of these things are part of getting in shape. Supplements can help, but there is no easy fix. If there was a pill that just made you thin like magic it would be on the national news and already have a ten year back order. You want results, you’re going to be in discomfort. Get used to it.
2. Change comes from change: Lots of people say diets don’t work, and to an extent they are right. The percentage of people who keep off weight lost using a diet is shockingly small. Long-term weight loss comes from actual lifestyle changes. Switch to diet soda (I know this is mocked as cliche, but it’s one the easiest and most efficient ones you can do. Trust me, nowhere else can you so effortlessly chop out 200-500 calories per meal). Plan your meals in advance. Buy healthy stuff, and learn to cook it in a way that you can at least semi-enjoy. This sounds easy, and it is....for the first week. Then life gets in the way. But if you really want to see improvement this has to be the norm. Not something you’re trying, not something on a temporary plan. This is the new normal.
3. There is no such thing as Diet Cake: Lots of foods go out of their way to seem like they are diet friendly. Some of them even are. Just remember, EVERYTHING has calories. Those 100 Cal packs of cookies? That’s still 100 calories. It still counts. Nothing is free. It all adds up. Creamer is 25 calories per little cup. Starbucks Frappuccino’s come in around 500 calories, depending on whipped cream and syrup choices. Oh, and the reason I mentioned diet soda up above? Humans have immense difficulty factoring in liquid calories, it’s just the way we’re wired. Realizing that everything you put in your mouth counts against your calorie count is a big step in holding yourself accountable, plus it makes you really pick and choose what you’re going to eat.
4. BMI is bullshit: I’ll keep this brief because I could write a whole paper on this hunk of crap: BMI (Body Mass Index) factors your height against your weight to determine what is healthy. If that’s sounds really easy, it’s because it is. And like most easy thing, it’s worthless. Even if we leave out things like variable bone thickness and density, BMI still excludes a huge part of being healthy: Muscle. According to BMI, most Olympic athletes are at least overweight, many count as obese. I use BMI as a litmus test for bullshit, if a program advocates calculating and tracking it, then I know with some certainty the system is crap. Real health professionals use real health measurements.
5. Life is not a montage: You will lose faith in your routine before you see results. It will happen to you as it happened to all of us. We’ve all been programmed to see gradual increases with each bout of effort (thanks again, Hollywood!), to think that it should be a reasonably quick process. After all, all those other people are in shape, it can’t be that hard. Real progress doesn’t work that like. It will take much more time to lose the weight than to put it on, at least if you’re doing it in a lasting healthy way. That’s why it’s so important to pick a program or system that works, because when you lose faith (and again, it’s a question of When, not If) you’ll need to keep working anyway. That often comes from believing in what you are doing even if you can’t see the results.
6. Everybody starts at 5lbs: I avoided gyms for a long time because I felt ridiculous there. I was the fat guy huffing on the treadmill and I imagined everyone snickering at my futile attempts. As for touching the weights, hahahahaha fuck you. I’m not picking up a 5lb dumbbell and doing curls next to the dude pumping 60lbs like its nothing. I’m humiliated enough being here, thanks. Once I swallowed my pride and made myself work out in spite of the insecurities though, I found that very few people in a gym are really that judgemental. Fat guy on a treadmill is a guy trying to get himself on the healthier path. That’s encouraged, not mocked. And while some dudes are pumping mounds of iron now, they still started at 5lbs too. They just did it a lot earlier. The point of this one is simply that I know how out of place you can feel in a gym atmosphere, and for some people that is enough to discourage them from keeping at it. Don’t, the people there are working on self-improvement. Very few of them are going to be such dicks that they cast stones at someone for doing the same thing.
That sums up most of the big points. I hope someone finds some use in this, because it took a fair amount of trial and error to learn first-hand. The lessons are important though, because as I write this I have crossed below 230 lbs (which was the limit for a tandem jump at the place near my house) and I can now proudly say that I am no longer too fat to skydive.
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