Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Weight, Weight, Don't Tell Me

So, once again we have discussions about the rising rate of obesity in the United States (and abroad). There looks to be an increased dialogue about whether obesity is a civil rights issue, and if obesity should be considered a disability. That is, if The Nightly Show is to be believed (they devoted an episode to this recently. I have probably discussed this before, but thought I'd talk again about my battle with weight.

I was not a fat kid. I am of an age where there typically was a fat kid. Two things led to me gaining weight. First, I was never interested in sports. I was born with poor vision, but I was probably 10 before it was determined that I needed glasses. This made me poor at sports, and by the time my vision had been corrected I was too discouraged to bother. Also, I learned to hate jocks. Second, at 16 I started smoking.

Now, as a kid, I continued to exercise in a non-exercise way... Riding bikes was an important mode of transportation in the suburbs of DC, and being a student who found himself in detention a lot, there were a lot of long walks home. I also had after school appointments that meant walking home. Turns out it was roughly 5km. I assume there was mass transit, but it likely never occured to me that such a thing existed.


So, through middle school I stayed pretty thin. In high school we moved to the middle of nowhere, and there was little within walking distance. It was many miles to friends houses. When I was old enough to drive it all went down hill.

Firstly, I got a job (which kept me fairly active), but also gave me means to eat what I wanted when I wanted. A car led to girls, and an attempt to impress a girl led to me smoking. I was less active than ever, outside of work, and I was on my way to my future obesity.

Now, lets skip the narrative a minute for some numbers. As an adult, the lowest my weight has ever been (to the best of my knowledge) was 165 pounds, my junior year of college, 1994-ish. The highest my weight has ever been (again, to the best of my knowledge) was 245 pounds, April 1st, 2011. I may have been heavier at some previous point, but 245 is the important number. That is a measured swing of 80 pounds.

Between University and 2011 (16 years) I went from roughly 190 pounds to 245. The 165 pound weight was a weird anomally caused by pledging my fraternity (apparently my pledge brothers never saw me eat, though I was not aware of this). After University I got a desk job and had some health problems. I have always been prone to depression as well, which added fate to the fire. I had some swings in weight, but was on a steady road to 245. I am not sure how it started, but April 1st, 2011, I set a goal for myself. I wanted to weigh 180 pounds. I did this in a year.

Losing 65 pounds in a year is an acheivement which I have mixed feelings about. On the plus side, I was committed to losing the weight. On the negative side, I was not very healthy in how I went about it.

First, I used a calorie counter to see how much I was eating versus how much I should be eating to reach my goal. I was religious about this. Everything I ate went into the counter, and all exercise was included. I went from someone who ate a frozen pizza and pint of ice cream a day, to someone who ate veggie burgers, and only had ice cream (my favorite food) on special occasions. Second, I began running. Being a pack-a-day smoker, running was not easy, but it was the one form of exercise I enjoyed. In May of 2012, as I was approaching the one year anniversary of my weight goal, I ran 5km every day for the entire month, in hopes of meeting my goal on April 1st.

Well, I did fail in that. On April 1st I was 182 pounds. I did not lose any weight in that entire month, and it bothered me. I eventually hit 180 briefly, then hovered around 185 pounds for two years. I am currently 190 pounds.

There were a lot of problems with losing the weight. I became obsessed. I do not like to say I had/have an eating disorder as I think that belittles people with serious eating disorders, but I think technically I did indeed have one. Part of the problem with calorie counting, both eating and exercise, is that I gave me a justification to push my progress without warnings. There were days during that year which my food calories were negated by my exercise calories. Some days if I ran in the morning, then noticed I ate more than expected, I would run again to counter it. Also, I sweat a lot, and noticed that when I ran I would lose up to 4 pounds (roughly 4 pints of water). This led me to drinking less water and I developed kidney stones. I was so obsessed with losing weight that when I was diagnosed with kidney stones and my wife (a Physician Assistant) told me I needed to stop running for a while, I refused. I did start drinking more water, but my mind was in a place where losing the weight was more important than my health. This makes no sense, but it felt justified at the time.

I also became very obesessed with body image. I still looked fat in the mirror, and was insensitive to over-weight people. I would say "not to their faces", but that is not true. My wife has a weight problem, and I'd be openly rude about people on television and for some reason think that was not me being insensitive to her. It was. It is. I still do it from time to time, and feel guilty about it.

Currently, I am unemployed, and have gotten up to 195 pounds over the past several months. I am back to 190, but am constantly bothered by the weight. Some of it is muscle, as I have returned to riding a bike, and my legs have bulked considerably.

So, returning to the discussion on The Nightly Show, there was discussion of choice and lifestyle in regard to obesity. I can only offer my own experience as evidence. I did make a lifestyle change, and I did choose to lose weight. I could have also chosen not to lose weight. I have not had ice cream in months, and I feel guilty whenever I put mayonaise on a sandwich. I don't drink soda more than once a month. I would rather walk or bike to the grocery store several times a week than drive. I still smoke, but walk to the store to buy cigarettes. These are choices, and life style changes. I am 45 years old, and some days I could care less. I won't exercise, or will eat a lot. Since being out of work I have also started drinking more, which adds to the weight.

I'll finish with this (and if you are still reading this, I congratulate you on your comittment); I see many people (particularly on Tumblr) who argue that losing weight will not make you feel better physically or emotionally. I disagree on the physical part. I am an old man, and I hurt all the time. Exercise makes it worse, but it is a different kind of hurt, and oddly not unpleasant. I am mixed on the emotional part. I have always been depressed. Around 1990 I made a half-assed suicide attempt. I dislike myself greatly for many reasons. I have low self esteem. None of these things were corrected by the weight loss, however, I can and do take some pride in having lost the weight.

So, this is just my story. Lose weight, don't lose weight. If you are happy, be happy, but if your weight causes you distress, then try to do something about it. It is not easy. It requires a lot of physical and emotional effort. Try to be smarter about it than I was.

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