For the record, I think “Transformation Tuesday” is a silly social media fad, and this will be my first, last, and only time embracing it, as I believe personal growth, be it spiritual, physical, or intellectual, is a constant process, not simply a finite project.
With that said, it has now been exactly one year since I started taking better care of myself following my 40th birthday. I know, because I took a photograph of my last can of soda on September 9 of 2014:
This was typical of my diet a year ago. I’d consume about 6 cans of soda a day, I ate anything and everything, and I didn’t get any exercise.
I can’t tell you my exact weight, because I was pretty ashamed of it. I didn’t step on a scale until I was about a month into the process, but I figure I was a bit over 300 pounds. I felt like a lousy role model for my kids, and I had high blood pressure. I was on the fast track for Type 2 diabetes and an early grave.
It was about this time I came across an article about Jared Lorenzen in ESPN the Magazine. The author, Tommy Tomlinson, wrote honestly from the perspective of one fat guy talking to another, and this paragraph in particular hit me right between the eyes:
He has trouble sleeping, and his snoring just about cracks the drywall. Stairs are starting to give him a problem, especially with his leg still healing. We see our futures, and they’re not long ones. I’m 50, and I might feel it more deeply than he does. Nobody who’s 65 looks like we do.
“Nobody who’s 65 looks like we do.”
I decided I didn’t want to be dead before I got to meet my grandkids.
The first thing I did was quit the soda. Cold turkey. It wasn’t easy. Mountain Dew was my poison of choice, and that’s 46 grams of sugar per can. 170 calories. I went from six per day (276g of sugar, 1,020 calories) to none.
For the record, the World Health Organization recommends a healthy adult keep their daily sugar intake around 25g. I was consuming ELEVEN TIMES that.
I lost at least 30 pounds in that first month, doing nothing else but quitting soda. And, as my wife will tell you, I was a miserable bastard coming off that addiction.
If you glean nothing else from this article, know this: Soda is poison. It is terrible for you, and it will kill you. It was killing me. I was addicted. If you have it once a day, you are, too. Quit. Now.
Once I’d kicked the soda habit, I started counting the other calories. There was no specific diet plan, although I naturally gravitated toward a low carb/high protein diet, just because protein calories are more useful than carbohydrate calories when it comes to weight loss. I don’t shun carbs completely, and I don’t really recommend that anyone do so – they’re important, in moderation, for muscle growth and energy. I dabbled with paleo dieting a bit, and I’ll take whole organic foods when I have the option, but I’m not a fanatic. GMOs and gluten don’t scare me, and all that really matters is that you not kill yourself with excessive calories and a ton of sugar or even artificial sweeteners.
Basically, I went from about 5,000-6,000 calories a day of mostly junk to under 2,000 a day of mostly healthy stuff.
And then I started running.
I didn’t want to run. I had intended to use my elliptical machine after I’d dropped down to 270 pounds. I dragged it to my home office, where I could work alone on it, and started using it.
It groaned terribly the first time I stepped on it.
I read the label.
“Maximum weight 250 pounds.”
I was too fat for exercise equipment. Even after losing 30 pounds. What a kick in the gut.
I live too far from town to join a gym, but I knew I needed regular cardio work. So I decided to just run. I wasn’t successful. Not right away. I shuffled, down my driveway, for about 30 yards, and then walked. Then ran some more. Walked a lot more. Made it half a mile. Walked back home.
After a week or two, I could run the whole half mile to my mailbox. A few more weeks, I could run a mile. Then a mile and a half. Then two.
Then my sister, who had to withdraw from a Thanksgiving Day 5k Turkey Trot due to being very pregnant, offered to give me her spot in the race. It was late October. I had a little less than a month to train for a race that would require me to run over 3 miles.
I finished in about 43 minutes. Slow, but not completely awful. And I had set a personal record to beat, which I discovered is the most important part of fitness: Unless you’re world-class, you’re really not competing with anyone but yourself.
The next month, I ran the Redneck Run 5k in 36 minutes.
The nice thing about the weight lifting is that I could keep what little equipment I needed in my garage, and work in the evenings, which kept me from expiring in the Arizona summer heat.
I found a good, simple, straightforward program – Stronglifts 5×5 – and have stuck to it. It’s basically just five compound exercises done with a barbell: Squats, Deadlifts, Bench Press, Overhead Press, and Barbell Row. Three days a week, and you’ll build all the muscle you need.
At this point, my weight sits somewhere between 220-225. I don’t bother with the scale much. I don’t track calories as meticulously as I used to, either, because I’m not tempted to overeat. I workout a lot – 4-6 days per week, and that amount of effort is enough to discourage me from sabotaging it with poor dietary choices.
I’d like to build more lean muscle mass, but I’m not really trying to lose any more weight, even though the NIH says I’m still fat for my height. My blood pressure is normal now, and I can run all day if I have to. I’m still slow. I still have creaky old knees that make it hard to squat heavy. But I’ll probably live long enough to see my grandkids now.