O Machine, ye Machine of American consumption.
Don’t worry, this isn’t a political post.
Just a nod to the effects of latent Americana. Based almost solely on information garnered from watching “American Pickers,” Americana must mean farm houses, gas station signs and rusty bicycles.
Don’t worry, this isn’t a post about art either. Just an attempt at an esoteric build up to talking about how I lost 45 pounds in the last two months.
If the American Dream is getting fat, I just woke up. Hopefully for the last time. Like how you press snooze a lot of times and the other person in the bed gets agitated because you #1 set the alarm ambitiously early and #2 the song doesn’t play clearly, and it’s an annoying Top 40 hit. But then the whole scenario is so horrible you just stand up.
15 Years Old
Here I am as a wrestler at Tokay High School ca. 1992. My head was full of Metallica and my hair full of some magical potion that makes it do what it’s doing here. I weighed 160 pounds, give or take. As a wrestler, you give everything you have, and the almighty pound can take everything from you in a heartbeat.
I didn’t care too much about health or diets or barbers here, only girls, wrestling and Metallica. I didn’t have to, because surviving the gauntlet of my coach, Rod Gaines, was hard enough as it was.
As overweight people will do, I had my ups and downs through the years, crystalline achievements of bodybuilding in college (weight 240) and terrifying realizations of slovenliness when I stopped paying attention (weight 270 a year after bodybuilding). The mid-to-upper 200s have been my playground for well over a decade now, in some cases satisfactory, in others paralyzing sluggishness. In this year’s case, for too damned long.
35 Years Old
Observe the rapidly-approaching middle-aged man in his natural habitat. This is what 280+ pounds looks like. Not cool. It’s not that I didn’t know. But I also wasn’t calling Richard Simmons to bust me out of my bed-pallet with a crane. It was a combination of laziness, my brother dying and grotesque anesthesia. Acceptance.
I’m all for people loving and accepting themselves for who they are, but one must know who one is, and recognize that knowledge is relative.
This wasn’t okay, and I decided to cash in on the beloved American novelty of New Year Resolution.
The Build Up
On my 35th birthday last June, I knew the following 6 months would be life-changing. I had accepted that my brother might die and I anticipated the changes. I toyed around with different weight loss plans and saw that it was all a build up to something big I wanted to do, and would need to.
I’m of the personality that physical is tangible. Discipline the body and the mind will follow. It’s what works for me and, though it works either way, I see my power when the strength to manipulate tangible things transforms into clarity of mind. No one can hold an honest mirror up to myself but me, and this winter I found it in the recesses of my spirit.
Surprising as it might sound, many people want to lose weight. And of course the age-old question is how? Ultimately the question becomes why, but we must start somewhere. I saw myself clearly, and beyond, what I could be – but I knew I would not find the impetus alone. I enlisted some friends to humor me, engage in weight-loss competition for money, the competitive nature of which I knew would spur me on. None of this is worthy of the disclaimer *I am not a doctor, please consult your physician blah blah blah* but it turns out that my idea was research-driven.
Here’s literally what I did:
1) Made my friends help me lose weight by competing with me for money
2) Got the MyFitnessPal app to track my goals, eating and exercise habits
3) Used the smart idea from my wife to put half our money in the pot for a personal goal, which could be earned back under our own control, and half our money in the pot for highest percentage lost among all competitors.
What followed was one of the most motivating periods of my life, in which I had daily accountability through an app and commiseration with my friends about the tough journey. For the next two months we cut calories, hit the gym, learned about personal physiology and exactly how many and what styles of alcohol we could still get away with.
Literally, How the Weight Came Off
There are plenty of diets out there to follow. I mixed and matched. I am a firm believer in cutting calories. Everybody’s different, and environment, hormones, genetics and specific homeostasis come into play. But I took in less calories than I burned, through cutting and exercise. I didn’t run much. One or two slow jogs a week, no more than a mile or so, with occasional one-lap sprints to stimulate Human Growth Hormone (HGH) naturally. Also, heavy weight lifting which, as a man, induces muscle growth and subsequent long-term calorie burn. Some weeks I ate around the same calories every day and lost weight. Some weeks I utilized Intermittent Fasting (IF) and lost even more weight. I did a 5-day juice fast with primarily green vegetables losing yet more weight. But the moral of the story was switching things up with the intensity of my calorie intake, the nutritional density of my food and my workouts. It was hard–there’s no way around that. It took, above all, mental toughness and it sucked staring at a static scale days at a time. But it worked.
In the end, which was this last Saturday, I didn’t win the competition. I took second place (at 45 pounds and 15.5% body weight lost) to my good buddy, a worthy and fierce adversary. No matter how much I like to win, it became quickly clear that although games are an impetus, my health is not a game. It’s a life. And I want a lot more of it.
This leaves me over halfway through my end-goal. I won’t pretend that I’ll ever be that 160 pound kid again. I still like Metallica, and I found a barber who can cut my hair for under $15. But the physical is tangible. I hold the mirror and see the changes. And I look around at my friends and say, we did that. And I retreat to my psyche and know that there were times, when it counted the most, that I did that.
What do you want from life? That’s for you to decide. I’ve decided that slogging through days fatigued and weak is not good enough. I’m stronger than that. There is a part of me that wants to hold the mirror one day and see the boy I was, so I could talk to him. Learn from him. Ask him again how I made it through the years before, and how he plans to live his remaining days. I can only pretend. But imagination makes the world go ’round, and if you close your eyes and dream for awhile, you will eventually wake up and see the way ahead.