One of my favorite things was my Die Hard ventilation shaft Xmas ornament, one I made. It even had a hole in the back of the fake ‘shaft’ to illuminate John McClane’s outstretched lighter as he crawled through. Because one of my neighbors is a Die Hard fan, I walked over and gave it to him. His face lit up. Even more in the Christmas spirit, as much as he was surprised and happy, he said, “Oh man, my mom LOVES Bruce Willis.” Without hesitation, I said, “Give it to her then and pay it forward. We can’t stand between Bruce Willis and your mom’s infatuation.” My neighbor’s son celebrated his first birthday yesterday. I’d already given him the decorated and painted ornamental box I made, for when his son is old enough to put his special things inside. I love imagining some future day when someone sees something I made and thinks about the randomness of strangers. And I think all the time about much I misjudged those neighbors when I was first around them. I like to be surprised and reminded that appearances can be so deceiving.
In my personal life, I am struggling so hard with another variant of “Choose your hard.” I’m stuck at the nexus of a decision that it is intolerably emotional. My therapist told me once to imagine that if I had died instead of surviving my emergency surgery. And from that vantage point, how hard would such a decision seem from there? She’s right. Have you heard this saying: “If you’re okay with something you shouldn’t be okay with, you’re not okay.” Experience tells me that it’s true but wisdom tells me that I’m weak. Such self-knowledge is not something that warms me.
Yesterday, I gave everything I had to try to run a mile in under six minutes. I didn’t quite make it; I missed by six seconds. Though I failed and for the last half of the mile I was sure I was going to make it, I look at six seconds and know it’s a stupidly small amount. P.S. My heart was trip hammering so hard I could s-e-e it beating through my shirt like a drum.
One of the advantages of living upstairs is well… the stairs. Between sets of exercises, I can go out and do ten floors at a time. It doesn’t take any time at all to accumulate a LOT of floors and stairs. I like to watch the law of increments add up. My goal is to do at least 50 flights of stairs by 9 a.m.
One of my favorite people recently compared me to another person and described us both as obsessive-compulsive about goals. She’s not wrong at all. This Fitbit accentuates it because I can see it in real-time.
Do y’all know what “you by default” means? It’s used by some interviewers now and it helps you figure out where not only you are in your journey, but also to measure other people in your life.
You By Default
A lot of people haven’t heard this line of thinking regarding behavior, usually involving exercise and sometimes healthier eating. It was powerful the first time it was explained to me by someone who walks the walk.
If exercise takes a lot of effort – or adds procrastination or stress to your routine – it’s not you by default. It’s something you’re doing rather than what you simply do. If you miss a day or several, it isn’t important in the scheme of things. You’ll go back naturally to it and without stressing that you might not ever return. All of us have weird and surprising enthusiasm and commitment cycles in every aspect of our life. Exercise. Diet. Love. Irritability. Dark chocolate.
If you need willpower and constant self-talk to avoid eating chips at 10 p.m. or fast food twice a day, it’s not you by default.
“You by default” becomes your natural process, one that doesn’t require a lot of cognition or secondary support to maintain. You’re active because you are an active person. You eat healthier because you are a healthier eater. You behave kindly, well, because you ARE kind. You’ve internalized natural or learned behaviors. It is possible.
You show love and lovingkindness because it’s “you by default.”
Find a way to become whatever goal or attribute you want in your life. It’s now a part of you, never to be stripped away or requiring intangible willpower. It is a type of discipline turned to automatic.
Whatever it is that you want to do or become, practice. Even if you don’t know the vocabulary to describe it. If you can overcome the natural reluctance slope that allows new behavior to become permanent, you will find that you can do this in other areas of your life, too. You will have shifted your default.
It’s also interesting from an interpersonal point of view. If people haven’t shifted their internal values, their behavior isn’t their default. They’ll revert almost every time and abandon their attempts to change. It’s not impossible, but it is a rarity.
The screenshot is of this week’s sleep for me. Months ago, part of my therapy was to learn to sleep again. My benchmark is 6 hours, which probably seems low to most of you. It’s not. I CAN sleep more, but my natural rhythm at this weight is six hours. At some point, I’m going to take a week and see if I can sleep for eight hours and see if it lowers my motivation again. It did before. I’m not sure I actually fell asleep as early as I did on some of those nights; the Fitbit interprets low heart rate and breaths as light sleep, even if I’m awake and listening to music or a podcast, or wrestling with my cat Güino.
In February, I wrote a post titled “Shirtless in February.” I never felt too weird about people seeing my body. We all know what people look like, more or less, whether they’re layered in two shirts, a tunic, and a bathrobe. It’s anatomy, not magic. (Although there is magic and chemistry in the process of seeing someone, that’s for another post.) 🙂 We fool ourselves by thinking we’re being clever. In my case, I wish someone had been creative enough to tell me to stop eating and lose weight twenty years ago, and in such a way that I would have HEARD the concern. We don’t have a way to lovingly talk to someone about this sort of thing without setting off a firestorm of defense or anger. That’s a problem.
As a side note, the world would also be much better off if you accept the compliment if someone thinks you are pretty, beautiful, handsome, or attractive. There is no universal standard for such things. Can we stop insisting there is? One of the most beautiful things is a quick smile and a sense of humor, even if the teeth behind it are crooked. I’m being serious. There’s no single formula for beauty or even attraction.
Yesterday, I had tons of energy. I ate an abnormally large lunch and then had a therapy session. We laughed a lot, which is always a good sign. As I often say, she can laugh easily because she’s billing me. I already knew I was feeling better due to the volume of pranks and creative things I’d been doing. After, around 4, I felt anxious. Having a Fitbit pays off in these circumstances. Because I have the premium option, I could see the metrics in real-time and progress. Seeing the physiological effects helps me deal with it.
Today, I woke up feeling like I was walking on air, which is becoming very common -and when I don’t feel that energy, I wonder what causes it. I realized that I expect that I will always wake up ready to ring the bell and step into the day. I wanted to go running all morning. Unfortunately, work intervened. Work “let” me walk 15-20K steps, though. It wasn’t until after work that I realized that not running yesterday affected my level of anxiety in the afternoon. It should have been evident to me. I’ve only missed a couple of days of running in the last couple of weeks. If I find myself incapable of constant running, I switch to running in intervals and burn through the miles or minutes that way. Anything incremental is better than not doing anything. I’m not sure I will continue running. I’d do it if someone agreed to chase me each day. Add a little danger and/or mystery to the equation.
I hit the streets this afternoon. I enjoyed the incredible 75-degree afternoon. Weirdly, I could sense this might be the last such incredibly temperate afternoon to enjoy – maybe for weeks. The Upper 70s in December? Yes, please! And so, I ran. After a few minutes, I took my shirt off. The slight breeze gave me wings. Even though I didn’t want to, I stopped. I felt like I could run ten miles, which would be a discomfort payment I wouldn’t want to make tomorrow. I did run up and down the apartment stairs a few dozen times when I got back, though.
An actual test of whether someone cares what they look like is if they can run without a shirt on. Forget swimming without one; the litmus test is running, where there’s no water to hide your body. For 54, I look normal. My scar left what looks like a second belly-button indentation a few inches above my real one. The surgery left a “pooch” between the two indentations. When I think back to how I looked and felt before, it is still hard to believe I fooled myself for so long. I’m not a fan of people being ashamed of their bodies, no matter what shape they are in. I understand it, but when you compare the vast variety of body types and shapes, everyone has something they hate about themselves. Except for me. I accept it all because it’s me. I did the work needed to remove the excuses I kept whispering in my head. Looking normal is something I hadn’t anticipated.
Don’t worry; I’m still not going to ACT normal, so you can cross that expectation off of your list.
I’m going to put a picture below. Not so that people could say something nice – or mean. Anyone who wants to snark is welcome to as long as it’s creative. I love creative snark, and I need to practice not caring that other people think I look like Danny DeVito grown up and thinner. I’m not sucking my gut in. I don’t have one. I have a weird pooch that can’t be fixed without surgery, which will not happen. I already lost a knife fight with a surgeon. He got the last laugh with the catheter.
People keep telling me to stop losing weight. I haven’t lost any weight since before my surgery. I’m just working to change my body mass. I ate a donut and seven Ghiradelli chocolate squares this morning.
I’m still experimenting with the ‘how’ of it. There are days when I’m glad I’ve done it all for no other reason than to know I did it. The future could hit me with any number of calamities or illnesses. It’s a question of when not if.
I’ve encouraged anyone interested in doing something to change themselves. No matter what else I’ve done, I can’t imagine how I would feel if I still weighed 230, 240, or 250+ lbs. The voice in my head answers: “Dead.” You don’t have to go to the gym, buy supplements, or do a lot of cardio to lose weight. You don’t even have to invest a lot of time. All it takes is a change of mind about how you want to look and feel. Small changes, constantly reinforced. Because I’ve learned to say so, I’ll include the caveat that there are exceptions. But I’m not writing about the exceptions. As the year winds down, the barrage of New Year’s Resolutions and commitments ramp up. And I reply, “Why wait? You can do one thing today to start. And you can do it right here and right now.”
If you’re happy with your body, stop struggling to worry about your weight. And don’t worry about how people perceive you. You can’t change that.
Despite what I’ve been eating, I still weigh about 148 lbs. There’s a ‘but’ here.
I can’t tell y’all how many times I’ve stepped on the scale lately, expecting to be over 150.
I think back to when I had the vision of what I’d look like. I didn’t expect a huge abdominal scar. But I love that it’s there. Really.
I’ve worked really hard since surgery to change my body. It’s working. My muscle mass is increasing. That creates the issue of burning more calories at rest than I previously did. I was wrong about needing to incorporate more weight training into my routine. Wrong seems to surround me when I think about what I thought I knew. I’m so grateful that I can do pushups again. Before my surgery, they were like meditation to me.
Now that I have a Fitbit, I know how easy it is to surpass 20,000 steps just on a normal day, one without a “walk.” I was fat with the same amount of activity. For years. That tells you how many bad choices I was making with the foods I was eating. It’s the fundamental truth of losing weight. Generally speaking, it’s the only reason you’re not where you want to be.
Fitbit watches are great for metrics. I thought I wouldn’t find it interesting. I was wrong, as usual. I got the 3-month trial premium plan. It tells me my heart rate, O2 level, sleep patterns, snoring, and of course steps. The threshold is 10,000 steps. It’s obvious that I will always go over 20,000 if I’m working. If I take a long walk through the streets around me, I can hit 30,000, or 50,000.
The Banana Apple Rule has helped me. If I go into a store, even an inconvenience store, and there are apples or bananas, I buy one and eat it. It’s a bit simplistic, but it works. It might not stop me from eating a bag of something stupid; it reminds me of why making different choices is a necessity.
When I lost all the weight, I didn’t change anything except what I ate.
Now that I’ve eclipsed a year of different choices, I feel humbled. No matter what else has happened to me, I can’t resist running up the stairs or wanting to hurdle over the side as I go down them, wondering if I might float.
When I think about where I was thirteen months ago, I float.
Thanksgiving is approaching. I thank the universe every night that I’m still here. I’ll make a lot of dumb choices because I’m human. But I’ll also make a lot of moments better because I’m still alive and being me.
During the cheesecake fiasco at Whole Foods the other day, I bought a reasonably-priced jug of protein powder. I should have known!
Anything reasonably priced at Whole Foods is 100% a mistake. Trust me.
It’s like buying your auto insurance from a guy named Honest Pete. You just don’t do it.
This brand is plant-based. Today, I made ten servings of it. The label said “French Vanilla.” The flavor is so opposite the label that I decided it is a new form of reverse marketing.
I made mine with skim milk. When I took the first gulp, the truth is that I thought it tasted like a chalky fart.
Yes, you read that right.
You know how you drive past a weird part of town and realize that the municipal wastewater treatment plant must be nearby? It was exactly like that but without the nostalgia. You have to drive a mile to rid the smell from the interior of your car.
The grit and residue left in my teeth was remarkable. Had someone thrown an urn of ashes in my face, I wouldn’t have noticed, probably even if threw the actual metal urn in my face, too. I decided that it reminded me of a mix of flatulence, diet tonic water, black licorice, and the tears of Tibetan monks.
As I stood there drinking it, I read the label. I couldn’t find “bile” anywhere in the list.
By the time I finished the serving?
I realized that it tastes so terrible that I LOVE it.
Just ignore me if I swallow and shiver as I imbibe it. I wouldn’t be surprised if I grow horns or an extra ear after drinking this stuff.
It’s rancid. I’ll buy it again if I catch it “on sale” at Whole Foods. Or possibly in their dumpster. Yes, I’m conflicted!
“Your body reflects what you do habitually.” I’d add, “Your life is the same.”
Choices. Habits. Focus.
Stupid buzzwords that also are true. There’s no magic formula for most of it. It’s just consistency and using our intelligence and creativity to let our bodies do what they are supposed to. It also requires silencing that negative voice in your head. You are not your past or your past choices, even though that’s precisely what most of us think when we’re alone with our thoughts. Life would be staggeringly bad if we believed that we were incapable of striking out on a new path. I look at my hands each day and find it impossible to think that I bit my fingernails for 50+ years. It’s stupid. I look back at my pictures, and even during years when I was appreciative of life, I can’t help but wonder how much more life I could have experienced if I’d woken up sooner. I can’t recapture those years, but I can tuck them away as a constant reminder.
I’m a few days away from my original year-long health/weight plan. My brother died on October 5th of last year. Following that, I had the morning where I thought I had covid and felt like I would die. It seems like five years ago. But I still feel the gong of that day in my head when I remember ‘seeing’ my new self. Over the last several months, I’ve worked on reading, watching, and absorbing as much science-based material that I could about health, weight maintenance, and exercise. For me, it is painfully obvious why most people fail in their efforts.
I know people read some of my thoughts and wonder why I feel like I can give advice. All of us have our moments and experience. I know what I learned and what worked for me. Almost everything can be boiled down to wanting to change and then experimenting with what I thought I knew versus what works. I can’t help but be a little evangelical about it because not a day passes when someone doesn’t express a desire to get control of this aspect of their lives. I’m insistent on telling them that they can, even if they do so, without disrupting their days with crazy programs and “musts” that don’t hold up to science. Major change can be achieved incrementally, one little choice and habit at a time.
I started on June 1st with pushups. Within weeks, I was doing hundreds a day, culminating in me doing 1,500 some days. That makes me laugh. A week before my emergency surgery, I decided to limit myself to 500 a day for maintenance and modify my diet to add protein and more calories, in part to shift to more muscle-building. How ironic that I’d made the shift just three days before my surgery on Monday, September 13th. It is unfathomable to me that it’s been only three weeks. For anyone who doesn’t know, my surgery didn’t result from overexertion. I had a tiny bit of scar tissue that caused my intestinal loop to get lodged in the void created by the scar tissue and cut off. The only way I could have ‘caught’ it would have been to have a colonoscopy very recently; even then, surgery would have been required.
The surgeons look out the small loop. Pain saved my life, even though I will never forget rolling around on the cement floor of the ER for hours. Being thin made my recovery incredibly faster. Since then, I’ve followed the advice of surgeons and nutritionists. I’ve used dumbbells relentlessly so that my transition back to work will be less eventful. What happened to me could happen again – or to anyone. I’m thankful it wasn’t a tumor, a heart attack, or an aneurysm. After I woke up alive, I found out that my initial CT Scan had a mass that looked indistinguishable from a tumor. The surgeons thought it was going to be a complicated surgery. They were surprised to find it was straightforward. Life’s lottery gave me a pass for another day.
In a nutshell, here’s the gist: the simplest way to stay thinner is to control what you put in your mouth. (Sounds obvious, doesn’t it?) Beyond that, move around, preferably with activity. But while you’re at it, get rid of the idea that you have to artificially block off time or engage in rigorous (and likely boring) traditional exercise. Walk your dog, cat, or opossum, vacuum, play frisbee, walk across long parking lots instead of hovering by the door. Be creative.
Anywhere from 75-90% of every calorie you burn is from just living. You burn 10-20% of your calories exercising at most, and that’s pushing it. Yet, most people jump into health kicks thinking exercise is the critical component. It’s not. Controlling your diet and maximizing your ability to consume and burn calories when you’re not moving is key to any long-term weight maintenance routine. Since most of your calories are burned from everyday living, the biggest bang for your time is derived by taking the effort to control what goes into your mouth. The second biggest results from moving, no matter how you choose to do so.
Exercise is essential for a lot of reasons. But you’re going to have to get over the mindset that it’s the single solution to weight maintenance. You’ll note that most healthy people incorporate activity into their everyday lives. It does not need to include weight-lifting, running, or other dedicated activities. If you enjoy those things, knock yourself out! If you don’t, find something that works for you – things that don’t cost you a fortune, injure you, or make you resent activity. We have so many options to entertain ourselves.
Most people don’t stick to unnatural attempts to exercise. Much of the gym universe is predicated on taking financial advantage of people’s inability to stick to life changes that become habits. All that time you spend driving to and from the gym would be much better served walking or finding ways to stay active during your day. (IF you’re not going to stick to it long-term, I mean) And if you do enjoy the gym, by all means, go! If you find that the routine of the gym galvanizes you into continuing with exercise, don’t think I’m saying it’s a waste. It’s not. Any routine that works for you is worth the effort, no matter what it is. If you’re willing to learn new comfort zones, you’ll more likely stick to what works for you. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing.
And if you don’t, find inexpensive equipment to achieve the same result at home. Most of us are not athletes. Feel free to run if you want to. But a 180-lb person burns about 170 calories running a 10-minute mile. You burn roughly 100 calories walking a mile. This isn’t a cardio-versus-exercise post. The point is that if you commit to a sustainable diet and activity, you’ll be more likely to be successful. Sheer bouts of willpower don’t work very well. And they contribute to that creeping feeling of failure or disappointment when you fall off the wagon.
Quit fighting the science that tells us that slower-paced exercise yields almost the same benefit as intense bouts of bone-wearying exertion. If you do activity or exercise that builds muscle, you’re going to burn more calories when you do give in and sit on the couch. You don’t have to spend an hour at a time to get healthy. However, you have to commit to making habits that make staying fit and healthy an inevitable consequence. Taking six ten-minute walks yields almost the same health benefit as an hour-long walk.
If you do build muscle mass, you’ll burn a lot more calories than by simply losing weight. It’s one of the reasons you need to keep in mind that muscle will increase your weight and keep you healthier and adjust your metabolism. And you’ll look better and feel better. I’m not anti-weights at all. I’m anti-starting-what-you-can’t-always-continue-to-do. Every activity you choose pushes other alternatives out. If you’ve got the time and stamina for weight training, that’s great! I don’t want you blaming your perceived ‘failure’ for not going to the gym. You don’t need a gym if you have the motivation to do things differently.
Recently, someone I know was lamenting that she hadn’t “went to exercise the entire week.” I asked, “But if you’re at home on the couch, you can do 1,000 exercises. Pushups, dumbbells, walk in place, run in place, etc. If you can watch four hours of tv, you can definitely do 30-60 minutes of activity – and still watch tv while you do it.” She looked at me blankly, knowing I’d eviscerated her excuse. “Yes, but a couple of those evenings I was at sporting events or with a friend.” I paused. “Okay, but you can still do a lot of activity when you’re at a sporting event or a friend’s house. Or, heaven forbid, while you’re working. Instead of getting out your phone, do sets of exercises. How is that any ruder than ignoring your friend while you’re on the phone? You can still talk to your friend even if you’re on the floor doing pushups. You have to normalize your choices and stop normalizing your excuses.” My sermon was over.
Use incrementalism to achieve the same objective without devoting your precious time to artificially forcing yourself to exercise. If you can’t do it the rest of your life, you’re making it worse for your future self.
Pick something you know you don’t need. Doritos, for example. Eat less of them. Just that tiny step will, over time, reduce your weight and improve your health. Keep adding small changes by choosing differently. If you’re not hungry, stay out of the kitchen. If you can, don’t bring home things that you know you can’t resist. Use them as treats rather than staples. In our world, there are so many options we can choose from instead of empty calories. You’re not going to get where you want to be by doing the same things; change is mandatory.
It’s day one for you, rather than “one day.”
Keep moving. Eat less.
Find ways to make food both enjoyable and rational. If you don’t choose to do this, your hard choices are already made for you – and the person you’ll be next year will have to deal with your current inability to focus.
Food is not going to stop being delicious. Food manufacturers are beyond incredible at what they do. They design foods that make you want to eat more. Don’t feel wrong about being normal and loving such foods. Feel bad that you know it and won’t choose a different way to react.
So what if you binge on terrible foods? It’s more about the arc of your effort than a single day. Eat a large pizza or a pan of lasagna. A single day’s extravagance will not derail you. It’s all mental.
Choose your hard until it becomes easy.
I’m just a few days away from October. I started my journey and promised myself I’d take a hard look after a year. Despite having surgery, I’m more convinced than ever that I’ll never be fat again.
It’s just math: keep my intake lower than my exertion. It’s not much of a secret formula, is it? You already know all of this.
WW, Jenny Craig, and the hundreds of other programs are out there if you need them and if they work for you. But it is entirely possible to achieve your goals without paying for an extra program.
The secret is a desire to be the person you want to be and find a way to get there.
Put it into literal action.
P.S. Yes, that picture behind me is of a monkey seeing my reflection in the handheld mirror..
This post is personal. Please forgive me if my tone is harsh; it’s not my intention. Like I always do, I write vaguely at times, use a word or adopt a tone carelessly. Read this with the idea that you’re getting to know me better. If you read it looking for errors or a fight, you’ll of course find motive.
I woke up this morning to find myself weighing 146.9 lbs. I was shocked. I knew my day yesterday had been intense. I walked over 40,000 steps and managed to do 2,500 pushups. Not to mention an insane amount of physical work during the day, too. I’ve always imagined 165-168 as the control setpoint, with 170ish as the upper limit.
I am a little amused that anyone would lecture me by saying, “You’ve lost too much weight.” From my perspective, it is a great compliment. Losing 35% of who you were makes for interesting stories.
I’m sorry you don’t see my weight as normal. That’s a problem.
Not for me. You. 🙂
My cousin is concerned, and rightly so, because she recognizes how easy it is to let a goal turn to obsessive madness. I’m not anorexic or suffering from an eating disorder. There are days when I burn as many calories as an athlete. Work alone is so intensely physical that I look back over the last 16 years and wonder how I managed to be obese so many times. My cousin has earned the right to be the chiding voice in my ear. Her voice is in my head, reminding me to eat a wider variety and more calorie-rich foods in the process.
It was in part due to my cousin that I started doing pushups on June 1st. If you’d told me that I’d do 2,500 in a day 13 weeks later, I would have said, “You’re crazy!” But I did learn an invaluable lesson: there is no upper limit to how many I can do. At the outset, I had to be careful of my right shoulder. Work is intense and taxing. The pushups have largely eliminated the pain. I’m going to do my best to limit myself to 500 a day for a while. Yesterday will be in my head for years, though, because I surprised myself. That can’t be taken away from me when my body finally gets old and surrenders.
In October of last year, I had an epiphany. I saw myself as thin. Explaining the certainty of it doesn’t translate well when I talk about it. While my goal shifted increasingly downward as my vision became a reality, I didn’t plan on going past 170 in my wildest fantasy. While other parts of my life exploded, whatever happened to my head in October didn’t fade. As the months passed, I was amused that people attributed my success to willpower. It wasn’t that. It was clarity and stubbornness. Looking down at the scale and seeing “155” is a fantastic feeling. 146.9 is a bit disconcerting. I’m working on that without succumbing to many bad eating choices: Doritos, thick pizza, cheese, 54 pieces of chocolate, that sort of thing. I eat “unhealthy” food at times. (I hate labeling food as healthy or unhealthy; it’s volume and frequency that are the culprits.)
There are a couple of precursors to my “moment.” In February of last year, I started the process of losing weight, in part due to Covid. Stress took its toll, and I regained most of the weight I lost. Not all of it, thank god. At some point, I replaced the relatively new stove in the house with a bigger, better one to be able to more easily cook batches of healthy food. That drive to finally kick the fat bucket was brewing inside me. I know that reeks of an excuse. In October, my brother Mike died. Thereafter, I thought I had Covid and felt like I was dying. That morning is when the light bulb went off with an explosion in my head.
I often think about what would have happened to me had I not lost the weight. Would I have experienced a health issue? Or died? I know that losing weight during the long stretch of the Covid run saved my bacon on countless days. It let me stop feeling my knees hurt and my back. The converse of that is whether or not the rest of my life would have blown up had I stayed obese. It’s a real question for me. How much did my massive weight loss and attitude change have to do with my marriage imploding? There’s no question that staying so fat was going to cost me a part of my mobility – and perhaps forever. Being so overweight takes away a bit of so many corners of a person’s life. It’s because we gain incrementally and in ways we don’t notice. From there, we realize, “I’m fat. Oh my god.” We choose the hard that we’ve learned rather than embracing the hard of making positive choices.
For anyone who hasn’t experienced it, the feeling of eating healthy and making endless good choices is sublime. It’s a self-reinforcing mandate. This is true for any personal goal.
Today was the lowest weight I’ve hit. I got close Monday night after foolishly running five miles. Upon returning, I had to drink a gallon of water and then attempt to sleep. I think I dreamed about a running river, and that made me nervous for reasons that should be obvious.
For weeks, I’ve been in the low 150s. This week has been a barrage of work, running, walking, and pushups.
I get a lot of compliments. Questions. And some criticism. Some people are waiting for me to balloon back up. When I started, I repeatedly objected with, “Let’s see in a year.” The year is coming fast upon me in October.
One morning, the wife of a friend passed me in the hallway. “You look amazing, X!” We both laughed. Yesterday, someone said, “If you lose any more, you’ll dry up and blow away. You look great.” She lost a lot of weight herself for health reasons not too long ago. There’s rarely a day that passes where someone doesn’t notice that I’m thin. Today, a security guard who resembles me was standing by the elevator and saw that it was ME standing there. He thought I was someone he didn’t know. “You need to tell me your secret and how to do it.” He patted his stomach. “I’ll call you,” he said. He’s going to be disappointed when I tell him the big secret is to choose healthier food and to listen to what his body actually needs. “Keep your mouth closed” is a terrible name for a diet book.
On a recent morning, someone asked me in all seriousness, “How did you do it? You’re not sick, are you? Or did you have the surgery for weight?” I told her that it was simply eating well and that I didn’t have a secret. I told her about my friend Tammy, who managed to do what I did and that she was also about my age- and that if she could, I had nothing except excuses. I indeed started doing pushups on June 1st. But I had already hit 150 by the time I started.
“Just don’t lose any more weight, X.” My coworker meant it in kindness.
I have a couple of people in my life who resent that I lost the weight. It’s a bit bizarre to me, even now. I made it clear when I started that I was a bystander to my transformation. While I did adopt a diet that I experimented with, a big part of what happened was as if it happened to someone else while I observed it. All I can is that obsessively following a system yields results.
I’ve tried to avoid being too evangelical about weight loss. Some people do have medical issues that make it impossible or difficult. For those who’ve been less than enthusiastic about what I’ve done, I attribute it to that odd human proclivity toward pettiness. Watching someone do it renders many objections that it is difficult or impossible to be completely moot. With enough motivation to move from ‘wanting to’ toward ‘making it a reality,’ most people can do it. Anyone who decides that it is a ‘must’ will find a way. Or try. I remember a cartoon from years ago. A man was sitting on the pavement, having stopped halfway through the race. He said, “It’s too much. I can’t run 26 miles.” The next panel showed a man with prosthetic legs racing past. The people with the “sitting on the pavement” mentality often don’t appreciate it when people go racing by, ignoring objections. I used to find myself being that type of person, too.
It’s tough to be around someone who steps into a new motivation. Though I never intended my weight loss to be an insult to anyone else, it did happen. This sort of journey inevitably changes a person. A success in one arena drives them into others. Of course, the person is going to change. Sometimes fundamentally, especially as behaviors become habits and a new way of life. A common complaint in relationships is “You’ve changed.” A trite but true rebuttal to that is, “And you haven’t.” We’re not meant to be static. If you’re in a relationship and one of you will transform themselves, my word of advice is to have frank conversations about it – and go to a counselor if you see that it’s becoming a wedge.
One critic insisted that people were constantly saying how ill I looked. That I am too skinny. Relentlessly adamant. They quoted the anonymous “they” to me. When I’m ready to hire a consultant about my choices, I’ll let them know immediately. IF such people care for me, they will find a way to communicate it to me. Since they didn’t, I have to attribute what ‘they’ allegedly said to a polite conversation with my critics. There’s no crime in honestly talking to someone about their weight if you care about them. The bigger sin is not to do so.
So, of course, despite having the tools to show otherwise, I visited a nutritionist. She said, “Oh baloney!” She agreed that some of it is attributable to the fact that I was obese for so many years and that the change was abrupt and substantial. She looked at my pictures at 252 and 232 and then as I am now. “You’re great, X. If you do add muscle, your BMI will seem off. But it won’t mean you’ve become unhealthy. You have to balance your body against more than a simple BMI. If someone still incorrectly tells you that you are underweight, send them to me. I’d be shocked if they don’t realize how overweight most people tend to be now.”
If I continue to be as active as I am now, muscle mass will increase, resulting in a higher weight without the associated fat content. I chose 168 as my set point. My job is very physical, and I’ve kept my leisure time activity rate higher than average, too, without going to a gym. I’ve channeled my anxiety into exercise. As the counselor I saw told me, short-term measures are warranted; if they become long-term measures, you’ll have to figure out that, too.
Most of us don’t have a realistic idea of how much we should weigh, nor how many calories we should eat on an average day. I look back at my pictures and shake my head. I missed out on a lot by being so overweight. I can’t get that time back, so it’s on to the next goal of ensuring my habits remain permanent – without risking developing a food issue. They are rare in men who are 54 years old. Food is too damn good and calls me by name like everyone else.
The majority of people around me don’t think, “Ugh, he’s TOO thin and looks terrible.” They think, “X looks normal.” So, if you’re in the minority who feel like I’m too thin, get online or talk to your doctor.
Or get a hobby.
The consensus is overwhelming: I’m at a normal weight, with a buffer of loss and gain comfortably on both sides.
This is how I’m supposed to look, so get over it and be enthusiastic for anyone who can do it. If you love me, of course, you should step in and tell me I’ve got my head up my ass if I continue to lose weight.
To be clear, I’m not talking about my face; whether that’s normal is up for the monkeys to decide.
My weight, though? I’m good. It’s not just my body saying so. It’s science.
In time, people will see this as the new normal. It looks normal, but it feels fantastic to be able to move with agility, walk for miles, do pushups, and run even if I stupidly decide to do so.
There’s always the danger of forgetting the lessons I learned.
One of those lessons is to stop letting critical people get inside my head. They can make fun of my brooches all they want. Just not my weight.
And if I get off track or fail, I proved to myself that my objections and excuses about why I couldn’t do it were all dumb. And that I could do it again. We all fail until we don’t.
No matter who you are, you can do something today. That’s enough, no matter how small. Tomorrow, a little more. The law of increments seldom disappoints.
If you see someone finally get past their excuses? Take the time to applaud. We need it. We’ll return the favor when you succeed.
PS For my cousin: I don’t plan to stay quite this thin. I love you. Please keep an eye on me, though.
A friend of mine waited until she was around 50 years old to change her life. Though health issues motivated her, the ‘how’ of her success falls to the wayside when compared against her ongoing success.
Part of Tammy’s ongoing triumph lies with her husband, Chris. He’s the only person I ever lost a weight loss bet to. Unlike most, he’s managed to stay in great shape since. Tammy having an enthusiastic person in her corner is undoubtedly a fantastic advantage.
Seeing Tammy’s ability to achieve her goal lit an additional fire in me when I had my own epiphany. Though my mental light switch flipped in October last year, I had the unusual idea that I KNEW I would be thin. Knowing Tammy did it with so many health obstacles convinced me that it would be a waste of life and ability if I didn’t see it through. I told her that I was feeding off her success; it became an optimistic and self-fulfilling prophecy.
But if you don’t have someone in your corner, or if you suffer self-doubt? You’re still going to be able to find a way to get healthy if your focus is tuned to your goal. My cousin Lynette gave me the phrase, “Choose Your Hard.” One way or another, life is going to be obstacles, difficulties, and stress. Whether you sail through it while at least trying or struggle with the consequences of not doing so, it will be hard. Attempting to make positive changes will at least give you a purpose; psychology and science prove that having such a purpose makes you happier. It’s a self-fulfilling cycle.
If you try and fail? So what! Life is just as much about failure as success. Try again. You will not succeed until you do. It’s stupidly simple. You don’t need complicated diet plans, gym memberships, or supplements. If you use them to find your success, though? Good for you! Do what works and work that program until what you do becomes a habit. Suppose you can implement small, incremental changes in your attitude and behavior. In that case, you’ll begin to find joy in meeting your goals.
Start from wherever you are. It’s the only place you can.
Tammy faced 2019 head-on. In December 2018, she suffered a sprained ankle. When she went for medical care, she found herself to be at 335 lb. The injury caused blood clots to travel to her lungs. While hospitalized, she had a moment of clarity, very similar to mine, in which she confronted the real possibility that she might die, leaving a beautiful family behind. As life does, it added a kidney stone surgery to her list of obstacles. She started Weight Watchers in April. After six months of care, she had gastric bypass, during which she found out she also had a hernia. She clocked 4 hospitalizations and 3 surgeries in 2019.
Now? She’s still down 160 lbs. To say that her transformation was remarkable is an exaggerated understatement.
Tammy knows that losing weight might be easy. It requires only a short-term adjustment and a frenzy of starvation and exercise. Losing it and maintaining that weight belies a massive shift in behavior, consumption, and environment. Most positive changes do. It’s a lot of invisible work and constant right choices in a world stuffed with delicious food. Tammy puts in the work because who she is now is who she wanted to be all along.
At this point, Tammy gave me the phrase, “Nothing tastes as good as this feels.” While the food might bring temporary delight, it cannot compare to standing on top of a monumental success like Tammy experienced. Success itself feeds her self-image in a way that food can’t. It’s also part of my secret ability to have done 1,500 pushups in a day. That obsession and confidence come from within. You don’t think you can do it until you start succeeding.
No matter what stage you find yourself in, all change starts with a thought. It might be a little seedling in your brain. You might feel powerless to get there. Most of you have the capacity to steal Tammy’s thunder and experiment until you find a way to stop failing. She would want you to. All of us who’ve managed to sidestep our lifelong habits are evangelical about the enthusiasm such changes bring. It didn’t just reduce Tammy’s waistline or make her more beautiful. It made her more HER, a woman brimming with energy and self-confidence.
My goal was to give it my all for a year. That’s October for me.
Tammy’s stayed on course since 2019.
I hope you read this and feel the optimism that my words probably can’t convey.
Whatever your goal or purpose is, take Tammy’s example and try.
I’ll start this post by commenting on the picture. This woman is beautiful, no matter what age she might be. She reminds me of one of my aunts, had she had the chance to live an entire life. “Everything’s eventual,” old age included. If we are lucky. A bit of advice? If someone timelessly admires you, take a minute to nod in their direction.
One of the sublime emotions that is hard to pin down is the let-down one feels when others fail to take advantage of the knowledge of someone right there who has been there and done that. At 54, after many failures, I bite my tongue quite often. If someone asks me, I tell them my story and do whatever I can to motivate them. I’ve learned that preaching entrenches people.
My healthier eating journey seemed like a miracle to some; to me, it was inevitable. I’m not saying I have all the answers and certainly not that I’m doing things correctly. But if that’s the case, very few are. No matter what else I’ve mismanaged, I’ve lost a considerable amount of weight, as well incorporated a staggering amount of better choices into my diet. I did all this without feeling hungry. That’s a success.
And because I did it, I know other people can do it too.
And a certain percentage can do it as easily as I did, without upending their life or putting themselves on a literal treadmill to do it.
I see people struggling and unhappy with their weight and some of the consequences it brings.
It’s needless for most of them. Not all, because some people have circumstances or medical issues that prevent them from accepting their body how it is and learning to be happy about it – OR, taking steps now, from where they are. If a non-diet or intuitive eating approach is what they would rather do, then get with it!
People aren’t going to change their habits unless they want to or are forced to by external forces. Wouldn’t it be simpler to listen to a dork like me now instead of waiting for a harsher force to intercede?
We don’t need complicated formulas, expensive supplements, a gym membership, or much of anything, not really, to lose a lot of weight. BUT if you do need those things to get you there, I’m not pointing a finger. If it gets you to your goal, for heaven’s sake, do whatever you need to, even country music. If you do it to prove me wrong, I’ll be happy for you. Success is a beautiful thing. People who’ve achieved a goal radiate in a way that others don’t. We all gravitate toward them.
If you don’t want to, that’s great. Stop paying homage to the diet rat race and stop focusing on external programs you honestly aren’t interested in. I’m here to tell you that you can do it in incremental steps OR with sweeping, immersive life changes. Something will work for you. Please keep trying! My penultimate post was titled, “You Fail Until you Don’t.” Whether it’s weight, work, or any other change you would like, staying where you are is the bigger problem.
But if you are interested, take a moment and pretend that I might know what I’m talking about. I can undoubtedly uncomplicate it in your head, which is ALL the battle, anyway. Once you commit yourself, the road becomes more apparent.
Here’s the first step: tell yourself that you’re going to make changes. Stop focusing on the things you perceive as failures. If you’re smart enough to love yourself for who you are, one of these days, tomorrow or 2026, you will succeed. If you have a fan in your corner, give that flame of admiration some encouragement.
On June 1st, I started doing pushups due to my cousin. She’s been going to the gym and building muscles. While I wasn’t willing to start going to the gym for several reasons, I decided that pushups would be the ideal experimental exercise for me to incorporate into my daily routine. They are free, don’t require equipment, and can be done anywhere. I’ve proven that the “anywhere” part can be interesting too. It’s led to many anecdotes, most positive, a few awkward, and all of them interesting. Being able to do pushups in all manner of places is also excellent training to reinforce the idea that I shouldn’t be worried about what people think. People do all sorts of weird things that we accept as normal – even though many of these things are harmful or idiotic when taken logically.
Initially, I promised myself I’d do them for six weeks, allegedly the habit-forming mark. After reaching that point, I decided to do six more weeks. So far, I’ve made it seven weeks. Likewise, in early October, when I had my epiphany, I promised to stay on guard for an entire year. It’s incredible that I’m in my tenth month and have maintained all my goals. Whether true or not, I feel like if I can stay the course for a year, my chances at keeping my oath never to get fat again might become my permanent reality.
Friday, despite being tired from work, I decided to go all-in and do more in a day than I’d ever done previously. Oof! And I succeeded. So I then broke Friday’s record on Saturday. I’m not going to say how many, other than it was a lot for a fifty-four-year-old man. Truthfully, it is a lot for anyone who isn’t in boot camp. Ha! Today, I’ve done 1/3 of my record yesterday. I’m not committing to beating yesterday’s mark.
Even though it’s vanity for me to have been pleased by someone’s comment the other day, a coworker who was enthusiastic about my weight drop since October stopped me; he hadn’t seen me in a few weeks. He asked if I had started boxing. I looked at him quizzically, expecting a joke or jab. He told me that he could tell I was doing something physical, as my shoulders and arms had changed shape. Since he is a decent boxer, I took it as high praise. While I didn’t tell him what I had been doing, he told me to keep it up, and whatever it was, it was working. A couple of days later and another coworker, someone who works out often, told me that I had somehow avoided the curse of looking ill when I lost so much weight. Someone we both knew had lost a lot, but she looked gaunt and frail. In the last few months, I did have a couple of people tell me that they thought I looked ill. I remind myself that two out of five hundred is a great track record.
A few weeks ago, when I saw my favorite cousin for the first time in a while, it was notable how much her arms and shoulders had progressed. The gym is working for her. Seeing people succeed is such a blessing and seeing her do something for herself is a blessing twice over.
Whatever your goals are, I hope you are figuring out a way to fail until you succeed. That’s all any of this is. You fail. Until you don’t. At that point, it seems inevitable. Eating better can be incremental. Exercise can be cumulative. Take small steps, literally, until you see progress. Any progress you make, celebrate and appreciate it. When you find that people aren’t celebrating with you, you’ve at least identified people that probably shouldn’t be squandering your time or attention.
PS The picture is from a couple of Sundays ago, on a hot afternoon. People do tease me about my preference for old school headphones. And that’s okay. I walked that afternoon to time how quickly I could walk to work from my starting point. That kind of consideration is going to be more common as I transition to another kind of life.
“You show up for work every single day regardless of whether you’re motivated or not. You do that because you’re a responsible adult, but when it comes to your training or nutrition, you allow your consistency to rely on your motivation. You have to get to the point where you realize your health and confidence are just as much your responsibility as something like your finances would be as well. When you finally make that mental switch, your actions will no longer be dictated by your emotions, and you’ll start making real progress.” – Chaz Spackman . I’m 38 days into my pushup challenge. (And NINE months into my year-long eating commitment!) When I started, my right shoulder was hurting like a rejected suitor on prom night. Because I’m not too fond of the idea of ritual workouts (and gyms), I opted for pushups, even though my job robs me of most of my physicality. I do them in increments, no matter where I am and no matter who might be watching. (It’s more natural than standing there with a cellphone.) Some days, I stop counting. My friend Joe says none of them count until it hurts, anyway. I promised myself I’d do at least six weeks of this craziness. My shoulder feels much better, and I know something positive is coming from doing this, even if it’s to lose more self-consciousness. Whenever you make significant changes, you’re always going to draw scrutiny.
It’s transformational to make a goal, any goal, and just do it. I wish I’d had my epiphany twenty years ago; that time is gone. No matter who you are, surely there is some change you’d like to see in your life.
I’ve been accused by a couple of people of being suddenly vain. That’s not it at all. I’m a 54-year-old man who has acquired a renewed sense of confidence thanks to luck and a commitment to consistency. I want everyone to experience what it feels like not to recognize themselves and realize that so much of what stops us is between our ears.
Pick a goal. Walk. Run. Bike. Learn Spanish. Be kinder. Eat better. Write your story. Read more. Stop voting like an idiot (no matter which camp you vote for).
Acquire consistency in whatever it is you aspire to.
Almost all consistency is a decision.
PS No matter how successful you are or you become, remember that life is going to hit you with a hammer anyway. You can’t avoid the hammer but you can avoid wasting all the opportunities you have in front of you.