Todd Philip Photography
Eight months ago I weighed 340 pounds. I wondered how I could tell my four year old daughter to get up and try again in the face of failure when I refused to do so myself.
I’ve lost the weight before. In 2003 I had great success cutting carbohydrates out of my diet and the weight fell off. I might have lost 100 pounds without exercise then. I eventually saw myself in the mirror and wondered how my weight could be so low (I eventually dropped to 185 pounds) but I was still fat. I had no idea what skinnyfat was and that I did a terrible disservice by allowing myself to shed muscle along with fat during my initial weight loss. I was discouraged by the lack of progress in the face of progress. So I ate.
I remember being fitted initially for my tuxedo for my wedding. I had already gained some weight back from my earlier all-time low. When I went for the final fitting a few months later, the staff at the tuxedo shop was astounded I had put on so much weight. Embarassed, I got married and I ate.
I tried exercise and even developed a fondness for treadmill running. I had an elaborate weight system for weightlifting, but I never had a program. I had no idea what a meaningful weightlifting session would look like and I would run for 23 or more minutes at a time, but it was occurring less and less as I ate more and more.
It’s hard to think about my unhealthy relationship with food. I suffer from equal parts embarrassment of terribly unhealthy routines and repressed memories of humiliating overeating. I bought candy any time I was in any store. If I went to the grocery store for dinner ingredients, I would purchase a large bag of Swedish Fish, or peach rings, or peanut butter M&M’s, or gummy worms - for the ride home. When I made breakfast for my daughter, often microwavable mini-pancakes, she would eat a reasonable portion of four and I would eat as many as I could fit on the plate. When we had the time and luxury of cooking or baking from scratch, I would prepare enough food for a small army. She would eat her kid-sized portion and I would binge.
My wife would oftentimes announce that we would try to regain control of our weights. I willfully ignored any attempt to diet. I was compelled to eat. I felt comforted by warm foods. I felt comforted by cold foods. I felt comfort in eating.
In the summer of 2012 at over 340 pounds, I walked up two flights of stairs to apply for graduate school. At the top of the stairs, I was out of breath, my face was bright red, and my chest hurt. I was mortified. I paused there catching my breath, too embarrassed to walk into the office and face the secretary. I started to think about possibly wanting to make a change, but I continued to eat.
Eventually my wife made an appointment with a cardiologist to talk about blood pressure concerns that she had. The doctor said he could prescribe medication, but that proper diet would cure that ailment and so much more. She came home and told me that we were making changes. I resisted for the sake of staying in character, but I was into the idea of supervised weight loss. He prescribed what I would call a bariatric diet consisting of several very low calorie/high protein snacks per day - foods prescribed to people who’ve had gastric bypass surgery thus must eat small portions. Our original goal was 800 calories per day. I started to eat less.
For our first two weeks I expected to lose big numbers. I was eating the prescribed diet, and only indulging in a few homemade beers because I made them. They were good. It was football season. My wife lost 12 pounds at our first check in. Being so much heavier than her, I anticipated doubling her number. I only lost 7. I stopped drinking alcohol and I went to the gym. I think I went to the gym every day for two months.
I studied weight loss and fitness in a way that I hadn’t before. I learned about the importance of protein in preserving muscle when losing weight. I learned about the importance of muscle, how important it is for metabolism and how muscle is hungry for calories to burn. I remember being embarrassed to climb aboard a gym treadmill and slowly walk before I even thought about attempting the couch-to-5k running program. When I first set the treadmill for the 60 second jog of C25k, I felt like the earth stopped spinning and all eyes were on me. Would this fat man jog for 60 seconds without stopping, falling, dying? I did it and then some. I kept moving.
I eventually finished the couch to 5k running program and signed up for 5k races in real life. I knew I wouldn’t be a contender in these races, but I had already won. In the past 4 months I’ve run in four 5k races and I’ve completed a 5 mile race. I found myself better able to keep up with my daughter. During soccer season, we would go to the fields to practice and do running exercises and kicking and passing and more running.
Today I have lost 100 pounds. My body fat percentage has dropped from 50 to 27 and it will continue to decrease. I feel better than I ever have because I lost the weight in a healthy way and I have realistic expectations of my weight. Today I sprung up the two flights of stairs at college that had previously defeated me and I felt great. I wished there were more flights of stairs to climb.
This isn't a finish line, but a milestone. In some respects I’m only halfway to my goal, but I wanted to pause to share this simple story of progress.