Wednesday, July 18, 2012

In the beginning...

there was sloth.

I won't get into all the gory details about WHY it happened, something that would take hours and inevitably end up navel-gazing drivel, and head to the end result: by the time I was 16, I was a confirmed couch potato. This lasted until I was 29, 6'3'' and 360 pounds. My knees hurt all the time. A flight of stairs left me breathless. I was a physical wreck. I started having this weird feeling, like a heart murmur. My heart would start fluttering, sometimes for twenty or thirty seconds at a time. Maybe it was growing maturity or the proximity of the big three oh, but I finally realized that I was not only a mess now, but that I was quickly approaching the event horizon; basically I didn't have all that long before I wouldn't be able to change even if I wanted to. I had seen people in my family go that way, and got to see the consequences. I didn't want to go that way. I also had the dawning suspicion that my career sucked because I was fat. My marriage was in trouble because I was fat. So I did something about it. I changed my lifestyle. I went from totally sedentary to being a bit of an athlete. I'm a pretty terrible athlete, but an athlete nonetheless.  Like the time I was 8 and I was ranked as the 59847th best tennis player in the world.

 Fast forward three years. Now, my underwear modeling career is still on indefinite hiatus, but life is wildly different. I'm doing something, whether its at the gym on the trail, 5-6 days a week. I mountain bike. I do cycling events. I'm certainly not competitive with real athletes, the people who have been doing this their whole life, but I'm getting there, slowly but surely. When normal people hear the mileage I put in a week they seem horrified. I take that as a compliment. I am primarily a cyclist, and the gains I've seen from year to year are amazing to me. I want to start building towards doing half triathlons, but the inner fat guy thinks that is ridiculous.

For the first year of this it was a grind. I was doing it for a reason. That was the attitude I needed to have at the time, because I can tell you it wasn't a whole lot of fun. I liked the results and that's what kept me going.  One of the undervalued perks of being sedentary is that you can see immense gains almost immediately just by getting off your ass.  People who have been active for their whole lives cannot conceive of the suffering that even the most minor amount of physical activity causes a sedentary person. A sedentary person cannot conceive of how much they are missing out on. This mutual incomprehension is a major problem. But somewhere along the way I crossed a threshold. I like working out. I want to do it. If I'm not sore I know I need to work harder. 

And that leads to why I'm writing this blog. I feel like I am in between two worlds. My ability to perceive the world as I saw it back before I crossed the threshold is fading, but I think I still possess it. I want to be the intermediary between the two worlds, and hopefully help those who want to cross over make the transition. Because it is rough, and it is easy to lose hope, or be overcome by embarrassment or shame or fatalism and give up. It's easy to get the idea that since you'll never have a six pack you might as well give up, or chase cheap and easy solutions that promise results in 5 minutes or less. It's a difficult transition to make. Hopefully I can help.

Now I should probably head back to the heart murmur thing for a second before people start worrying that I am about to drop dead of a heart attack; I had myself checked out. AOK. In fact my cardiograph was excellent. I believe the murmurs were psychosomatic (they went away after a few months of working out). I think they were my subconscious's way of expressing my mounting anxiety at the prospect of spending my forties in a Rascal. While I had high blood pressure, that too is now perfectly normal.

 Anyway, back to the topic at hand. There is a huge industry based on selling you on the easy way. Use our food and you won't have to work out! Use our device--- all you need is 5 minutes a day and you won't have to change what you eat! Here's some pills. Here's some surgery. Any gimmick that can prevent you from actually breaking a sweat, some asshole will sell it to you for 5 easy payments of $39.99.

 It's all bullshit.

 All of it.

 Know this deep in your heart. Any program or solution that promises the easy way out is bullshit. They want to get you fixated on weight. Weight. Weight. Always weight. Why?

 Because your weight is easy to manipulate, that's why. One football BBQ might make you gain 7 pounds of water that you will lose over the next couple of days. Would you go brag about losing seven pounds that week?  Weight is a terrible measure of health.  It tells us very little and we are easily distracted by schemes to manipulate a number.

 Of course that makes no difference whatsoever to your health, which should be the real concern. But it is hard to quantify health, and it's certainly hard to come up with an easy way to get it. It's much easier to come up with ways to cause temporary drops in your weight, then sell that to you (again and again and again). There are all these articles now telling you it's impossible to lose weight and keep it off. That the people who lose weight and keep it off for a year are statistically insignificant. I would say that is an indictment of the weight loss industry selling bogus products, and also an indication of the deeply flawed understanding of these issues in our society. Not to long ago a friend said "I lost all this weight without drugs, surgery, or exercise." It is bizarre to me that exercise is in the same category as drugs and surgery. One of these things does not belong. One of these things is not like the other. But that is our society; there are two classes. The ones who think exercise is at best a necessary evil, and those who find that idea kind of sad and inexplicable.

The truth is that you may never get thin no matter how hard you work. But being thin isn't the real goal. Being healthy is. And it is perfectly possible for a chubby guy to be healthy, and it's perfectly possible to a fat guy to absolutely wreck a thin guy in any athletic contest you can name. Hell, lots of thin people are convinced they are in great shape, right up until they drop dead of a heart attack. Your body fat percentage is nice and all, but it is at best a fuzzy proxy for the real goal. Health should be the goal. Not weight. Losing weight is a side effect of the true goal. Once lost, health is a really hard thing to get back. There will be pain (lots of pain). There will be shin splints and achy knees and muscle soreness and strange shooting pains and sore backs and wind cramps and sweat in your eyes and burning and scraped knees and insects flying into your mouth. There will be humiliation and embarrassment and shame. And you will do all this while changing how you eat too.

 The good news is that it's worth it. It's totally worth it. It won't be awful forever; if you can grind it out for six months or a year you will pass your threshold too, and after that it would take willpower to go back to the way things were.

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