Saturday, March 10, 2018

What A Long, Strange Trip...

Okay, so, yeah. It's been a while since I dusted off the ol' keyboard.

[counts on fingers]

EEK. Six months. Guess it was time to let y'all know I'm alive... So, to make up for a seriously deficient amount of posting, here's a noveletta..

Been doing a lot of thinking lately, about fitness/health-related issues. Y'see, for the past year and a half I've been walking/jogging/running just about every day as part of a general regime to help keep my weight and blood pressure down. Since the start of the year, I've been getting back into the (home) gym to lift weights, spurred on in large part by my son, who is getting into weight-training for basketball.

And, as these things often do, it caused a bit of introspection. For most of my childhood and a good portion of my adult life, I was overweight, sometimes bordering on obese, sometimes well into obese and damn near morbidly so. I went on and off diets pretty much on a yearly basis as a kid, and even well into adulthood struggled to keep my weight in check.

Through college I lifted weights quite a bit, having the good fortune of living in a dorm with a weight center in the basement. Getting to the gym was easy, and while I may have been heavier, it was more muscle than fat. I was running about 220 - 230 pounds, which on my frame didn't look too bad. In fact, it's the curse of the large frame--even at 250 I didn't look *terribly* overweight.

I remember going on yet another crash diet after I graduated from college, getting down to 205, which was the lowest I'd been my adult life (maybe even my teens). It was the same type of diet I had been on dozens of times--rice cakes and grapefruit, little else, until the weight came off. Once it did, I went right back to eating the same way I always had, and the weight slowly crept back on.

In 1996, at a physical, I weighed 253 pounds (it was my pre-marriage physical; I have no idea whatsoever why I remember the exact weight, but I do). In four years I had managed to gain 50 pounds, despite being in graduate school, not having a lot of money, and still getting a fair amount of exercise mountain biking, rollerblading, and camping/hiking. It's evident in the wedding pictures, despite my attempt to hide multiple chins with a beard and wearing a comically large tux.

In 2000, I had my first gout outbreak. At one of the followups to the outbreak, my doctor discovered borderline high blood pressure and put me on medicine to control it. At 28 years old, I was on two different daily medicines for weight-related problems. Granted, the gout medication was only as outbreaks occurred, but they would occur quite frequently in the coming years.

In 2001, I quit smoking before my son was born, and from there the weight kept piling on. I deluded myself for quite some time, thinking that being a non-smoker was healthier than the increase in weight. The highest recorded amount (doctor's visit) was 284 pounds. However, I know that was on the downswing -- at one point, I found my size 44 waist pants getting too tight, and started watching what I ate and getting more exercise.

In 2006, I decided that I didn't want my kids growing up with a morbidly obese father with multiple health issues. I sat down, chronicled what I ate every day for two weeks, then calculated my daily caloric intake. I don't remember the exact number, but it was north of 4,000 on more than a couple days. Mind you, this is for a guy who sat at a computer for 8 hours a day, not someone climbing up and down ladders painting houses or walking miles and miles mowing lawns.

After getting an idea how much I was taking in, I decided to slowly cut back. I made hundreds of little changes in my diet, changes i could live with for the rest of my life. I didn't want to go "off" the diet and go back to eating whatever the hell I felt like, because the weight would just come right back. I use my morning coffee as an example:

I used to drink it with cream and sugar, and a lot of sugar at that. I figured that, conservatively, I was putting in about a tablespoon of sugar and a couple servings of cream, for a total of 100 calories or so. Multiple that by two, and that's 200 calories a day. I cut out cream entirely and switched to artificial sweetener, and I've immediately saved 1,400 calories a week with little effect on taste.

I made hundreds of these little changes over the following year and a half. I started out dropping my caloric intake to 2,750 calories a day, then 2,500, then 2,000. At the height of my weight loss, I was taking in 1,500 calories a day and dropping 1-2 pounds a week--a goal I'd decided would result in safe, sustainable weight loss. Despite not spooling in any sort of exercise regimen, I continued to lose weight over 2006.

In January of 2007, I hit a significant milestone: I dropped below 200 pounds. It had been at least 20 years since I had been at that level. I decided to work some exercise into the mix, and started walking on a treadmill, riding a stationary bike and hitting a rowing machine as part of my daily workouts.

In May 2007, my doctor took me off blood pressure medication. I've been off ever since. I've had *maybe* three gout attacks in the past 11 years. The medical benefits are quite tangible.

Sometime in 2011, the exercise got dropped. I still stayed moderately active, riding a bike fairly often and taking walks when the weather was nice, but no longer adhered to a formal workout routine. For a few years, this worked just fine, until we moved to Virginia in 2013. While I didn't gain back a lot of weight, maybe 15 pounds at most, I noticed that it was slowly creeping back up.

In October 2016, I started walking daily. At first it was 3 miles or so, but over the past year and a half it's ramped up to close to 5. As I got more into the routine, I'd add in jogging/light running as part of the mix. If you'd told 25-year-old me that I'd be jogging, I'd have thought you were joking.

In November of 2017, we bought a used weight bench off a local Facebook classified group. My son had heard that weight training would help him in basketball, and was eager to try. As he progressed, I found myself joining him, first as a spotter, then as a partner.

I'm no Charles Atlas (kids, ask your parents), but I'm currently in about the best shape I've been in my entire life. Five days a week I walk/jog. Five days a week I lift weights. I just dropped to within 3 pounds of the goal weight I reached in 2007, and I continue to stay off meds. I haven't had a gout outbreak in more than three years, and as I come within sight of 47, I'm starting to think about things like protein intake and increasing reps vs. overall weight for strength or toning.

And, as a side benefit, five nights a week I get to bond with my son. We communicate on a peer level; in fact, quite often he's the teacher. He's taking a couple advanced fitness classes in high school, and they've covered proper form for various weightlifting exercises. Not to mention, he's a voracious consumer of information when it comes to things that interest him, so he's researched body building and weight training extensively. He advises on form and diet, and I am better able to spot for him as he gets stronger.

I guess this is in response to something I read online, where someone was claiming that you can't lose weight just by counting calories alone. Actually, I believe the claim was that you couldn't keep weight off by calories alone. I forget if this was pushing keto, or paleo, or Atkins, or whatever the flavor-of-the-month weight loss program was, but it so thoroughly pissed me off I decided to dash off a quick timeline of my own experience.

You *can* lose weight by counting calories, and you *can* keep it off. It takes a boatload of determination and discipline, mind you, and I'm shocked as anyone else I have been able to keep it off this long. It has been a long journey, and I hope to continue it as long as I can. I don't post this to brag, just to prove it can be done. Heck, if I can do it, *anyone* can...

Side note: I forget who it was, I want to say Nutrisystem or some other weight loss program, that for a while offered their meal plans. It always amused me, because the only way those work is if you are disciplined enough to *only* eat the meals they send. And if you've got that kind of discipline, you've got enough to pick up comparable meals at the grocery store and save 2/3 the cost...

I'll try not to let another 6 months go by between entries, but I'm not making any promises...

That is all.


phlegmfatale said...

Good for you for committing to better health and a better future for yourself and your family. I started strength training several months ago with a trainer, and although the changes so far are subtle, it has had a big impact on my daily life, and has made sticking to dietary resolve much easier. It has to be a lifestyle change, and not just a temporary diet, or it simply doesn't work, it seems.
Keep up the blogging. :)

Skip said...

Good on ya, Jay.
Missed your blog.

DoubleTapper said...

Amazing how easy you make it sound!