Since I am not at all in the realm of being a fitness expert (or any expert on much of anything, for that matter), hopefully I can provide a perspective on trying to get myself into shape that will feel a bit more realistic and obtainable...or give you plenty of chances to laugh at my shortcomings. Either way, I hope to inform and entertain a little while also keeping myself from an early grave.
This following series of entries are about how my friend Tracie (who is the same woman pictured above who looks like she belongs on American Gladiators) aided me not only in overcoming some potentially lethal health issues, but also helped bring me out of a terribly depressive state of mind...all while completely and utterly kicking my ass from here to kingdom come.
Our story begins this past summer, which was one of the worst ones I've ever had.
And not the "cool" type of fat where you're either very intimidating or instantly recognized as someone with a huge personality to match. I'm skinny fat, which is a nice way of my genetics loudly proclaiming "If we were in a survival situation, this would be the first guy you should give cannibalism a go with!"
There was a time that I actually used to be in really good shape. I weighed about 185 lbs., had ab muscles, and could bench press around 220 lbs. That was over 10 years ago. I now weigh a little over 230 lbs., have what I like to refer to as "a giant fuel tank to power my awesome" for a gut, and I can barely bench press the heavy blankets off of me when I get out of bed during the winter.
But all failed attempts at self deprecating humor aside, I had actually become pretty okay with my fatness. I figured that my mind and occasionally sharp sense of humor was the real important thing to draw my self worth from. I had even somehow managed to marry a great girl who loved me for who I was in spite of my chunkiness.
...and who loves University of
Kentucky basketball even more than I do
I also had a great job and my hobby of writing, which really seemed like all I needed.
But a few things happened before the start of this current school year that snapped me back out of being content with my poor physical health. There had always been signs before that I needed to do something, but I tended to just rationalize or explain them away:
-High blood pressure? It runs in my family.
-Getting tired after walking the dogs for less than a mile? I'm getting old.
-Buttons on my pants repeatedly popping off? Shoddy workmanship by the clothing manufacturer.
But two events (which are also possibly related) finally convinced me that it was time to do something about my deteriorating physical state. The first was an odd illness I suffered this summer during which anything I ate caused me to instantly need to sleep. I didn't matter if the food was healthy or not or if I had slept enough the night before. Any type of meal would cause me to feel terrible and instantly fall into a deep slumber.
I knew things were really bad when I went to see Pacific Rim with my wife and was unable to stay awake for the finale after eating one of the Cinebarre's delicious burgers. When it becomes impossible for me to stay awake while giant robots and monsters beat the hell out of each other, something is definitely wrong.
This should not make you feel sleepy.
The problem then compounded itself due to the fact that I didn't want to eat so that I could stay awake...which also made me feel really bad. I went to the doctor and had all types of tests run on me. I expected the worst: Diabetes, cancer, or some type of allergy to my new pet gecko, Apollo.
Little life sucking bastard...
Instead, the only thing that they came up with was a severe vitamin D shortage. This could be due to me staying inside all day and watching every episode of The West Wing on Netflix, but I did go outside enough that the deficiency (and its severity) was very odd. No one really seemed to know what was going on with me.
I began taking a vitamin D supplement and eventually started feeling better. But that entire episode (which basically took all summer) combined with fearfully anticipating some worst case health scenarios made me feel like I had dodged a bullet.
The other thing that happened was a terrible relapse of my clinical depression, which I had managed to keep in check for a very long time. I'd been doing great just one year ago, but a series of triggers (including the whole "eating food makes me feel like crap" thing) sent my mind into a David Lynch movie-like tail spin of confusion and sadness.
It was at this point that I decided I needed to exercise; not just for my health, but also to get away from the awful thoughts and feelings swirling around inside my head. I'm not at all saying that I thought exercise could cure my depression; I just needed an escape.
And to be honest, I'm still struggling to deal with where my head is it to this day. But I know that I'll be okay. And mental health, although a very important issue to discuss, is not the focus here. If you want to know what a person with severe clinical depression goes through, go read Allie Brosh's post about it on her blog, Hyperbole and a Half. It's the best explanation you'll ever read (and the illustrations will make you giggle).
But any quest like this is always easier to start if you have help. Luckily for me, I had help in spades. My favorite student I've ever taught, Francesca, had just graduated from 8th grade. Fran was one of the few kids that could make fat jokes about me without it hurting my feelings. But a few months ago (and during the weird eating = coma health scare), she began to carefully express a real concern that I wasn't taking proper care of myself.
The first way she did this was to point out that I took better care of Apollo the gecko (who her family had given to me) better than I did myself. This was actually quite true. I would make sure that everything about his habitat and food was prepared just right for optimal living and nutrition while I single-handedly helping the McDonald's near my house to consistently beat their monthly sales quota.
...but in Apollo's defense, he is pretty darn adorable.
She also sent this picture to me captioned "Motivation".
The picture on the left wasn't even from when I was anywhere near the best shape I had been in...and it STILL looks a million better than the slug I that I have become on the right.
This was also the first time that Francesca had really gotten on me about my weight. Her mom Tracie, on the other hand, had been trying to get me to take better care of myself for years. In addition to being an amazing band parent and great friend, Tracie is also a well known personal trainer/ass kicker in the Charleston area.
She had offered to train me before, which I always politely turned her down in favor of gorging myself on whatever food I wanted and sitting in front of my computer/television all evening. But now the band family I held closest to my heart was finally pushing me to do something about my health.
The onset/relapse of my depression made the decision much easier; it was time to unfat myself. I called Tracie and told her I was ready to do this.
One quick note before we start: I never did one of those stupid "before" pictures where I'm supposed to look sad so I can smile in the "after" picture and look happy. But I do have one photo from June of me and Francesca at my school's 8th grade graduation that should give a solid perspective on how monumental the task ahead of me is.
Two things should be pretty obvious when you look at this photo:
1. Francesca is an adorable kid.
2. I appear to be about four months into a very healthy looking pregnancy.
...or as Francesca stated once after giving me hug: "You feel like a giant marshmallow."
I've definitely got my work cut out for me.
Pre-Fitness Challenge Training
Before I began training with Tracie, I gave myself a little over a week to get a head start. That wasn't me taking the bull by the horns as much as it was not wanting to embarrass myself and/or die.
Tracie has always been nothing but a great band parent and an even better friend. She's one of those people who has a really big personality, but can still get along with everyone due to her kind disposition. I think a lot of that stems from the fact that in the back of her mind, she knows that she could kill you with her bare hands if she ever really needed to.
But this was a soccer mom who was also in MMA fighter type shape...and she was about to start training me, a fat middle-aged band director.
"I will break you."
When Tracie's younger daughter, Makayla, asked why I wasn't working out with her mom, I explained that it was because I needed a bit of a head start so that I didn't completely embarrass myself. That was supposed to be the part of the conversation where she replied with something like "You won't embarrass yourself. I'm sure you'll do great!"
Instead she just said: "That's true. Good luck."
For about one week I worked out and got a good jump start on my upcoming 30 Day Challenge. My depression was also at one of its worst point back then, so my appetite its normally huge self. I still ate plenty, just not the enormous amount I usually do when things are going well. That's a pretty dark silver lining to draw from feeling like things would be better if you didn't exist, but hey, you take the victories where you can get them.
I also tried to make sure that my meals were healthier. Not healthy, necessarily, but not the feast of wanton gluttony that I often embraced a few times a day. All of this lead to those first 10 lbs coming right off.
So yes, I totally cheated. But if "cheating" means eating healthier and losing weight, than so be it. And besides, the first 10 lbs are always the easiest. Think about how many people you know on weight loss programs who brag about losing their first 5-10 lbs for weeks until they finally go to Golden Corral and burn it all to the ground.
But on Saturday, August 31 of 2013, the day of reckoning will finally arrive. That's when I head over to Tracie's studio and begin what I expect will be 30 of the most intensive and transformative days of my life.
I should probably eat some McDonald's one last time before I go in there.
If you want to cheer Tracie on while she kicks my butt on a weekly basis, you can find her on Twitter. If you live in the Charleston area and would like to have your butt kicked into shape like mine has been, then take a moment and check out the Long Training Studios website.
Please also feel free to leave a comment below. If you'd like to sing my praises or tell me how terrible I am more personally, I can also be found on Twitter. To get updates on when new articles or podcasts are published (and occasional random musings) 'Like' the official RamblingBeachCat.com Facebook page.