“Pie…it fills the cracks of the heart. Go away, pain.”
– Paul Blart, Mall Cop
Several years ago I decided to go for a jog around the outdoor track of my local YMCA. Like the mighty sequoias, I too believed that fresh air and sunlight were essential to life, and decided to run shirtless. I had lost some weight and was feeling pretty good, at least comparatively, about my appearance. Plus, the track was bare…well, nearly so.
Inside the track lie a playground shaped like a small fort, wherein could be found Charlotte’s most jocular and insightful youths. I know this because, as I rounded that section of track a volley of giggles were hurled toward me in ever increasing volume. As I slogged nearer, one of the children — the leader I presume — stood in the tower, pointed at me and shouted, “Ewww look, it’s the marshmallow man!” This was apparently viewed by his compatriots as being a very keen observation and was received with great enthusiasm. I looked straight ahead and continued on as though the shot had missed me entirely, and as I pulled away limping in spirit, I heard one of them say, “Let’s wait for him to come back around.” Which of course, they did.
I initially considered writing this as a two-part article series (if a series can be two parts) simply outlining why and how to quit sugar. However, I thought it might gain more credibility if I first told my story of becoming a lardy fellow, realizing it, and slowly, very slowly, making changes in my life which coincided with a commitment to health as one of the keystones of manliness. In other words, I wanted to say in solidarity with others who are going through this, “I’ve been there.”
Note: Though this article series focuses on sugar, much of it can be used for any type of food related addiction or struggle. I’m picking on sugar because, one, it has cascading effects on our health we need to take seriously, and two, it is big in the news and I want to add some balanced and rational thoughts to the conversation. Also, if you can put sugar in its proper place, you can certainly do the same with any other food.
I, Marshmallow Man
While being called a Marshmallow Man stung a good deal, it wasn’t the first time I had been defined by my weight. I was 155lbs at the end of high school and even though I had gained a bit of weight before going into the Navy, I had lost it soon afterwards and maintained 155-160lbs in my early twenties. Once I got out, though, we had kids, and like a lot of guys, I used it as an excuse to eat like each meal was my last. For many years I chased after what I considered the ideal life: eating what I wanted, watching movies, playing video games, eating more, repeat. I was busy with school and kids and work and probably assumed health and a slim figure were a given.
Around age 26, I started getting nicknames referencing my chubby figure. I was also — no kidding — asked by several strangers if I was Jack Black! Really? Jack Black? It wasn’t until I saw a picture of myself in a sweater that I grasped how fat I had become. Pictures are a strange thing in that way. We men have a way of looking at ourselves in the mirror and seeing the best, however, a picture will often catch us off guard.
155lbs to 230lbs
WTH? How did this happen? Why did no one tell me? Is there any way I can get back to the way I was? The picture below is probably one of the most embarrassing I have of myself. Meme away internet!
Notice the rolling belt-line of the jeans; the lack of muscle definition; the curved lower back and forming belly; the puffy cheeks and double chin. Perhaps, if you took a picture of yourself, you might see a guy in the same shape…or worse. There was part of me that said “You’ve already set a course. Wouldn’t it be easier to maintain than to go through the hard, perhaps impossible, work of changing direction?”
Honestly, I couldn’t remember what I used to look like. I didn’t know what I was trying to get back to. How much was simply a result of growing up? What was the ideal weight of 26 year old me? Add on to this that I had back problems and hip problems (I wonder why, right?). How was I to lose weight with these flaring up all the time? In reality, these were just excuses; the same cop-outs that had kept me on the path that led me here.
The Hard Road to Health
Looking back, the changes I have made to my lifestyle are both incredibly simple but also immense. The changes were to my mindset, not just the food. Like Eugen Sandow says, when you put your mind into your health you will begin to see results.
Four. Years. Later. This isn’t an overnight success story. To get back to where I wanted to be I had to overcome a number of obstacles.
My Love of Food
While I wouldn’t have associated myself with a food addiction, in reality, I think that is what it was. I loved flavors. I loved the quickness of take out. I loved the variety. Hear what I’m saying: I didn’t just enjoy food, I loved it.
My Love of Ease
As a teenager and young adult I didn’t have to work to maintain a healthy weight — not that weight is the deciding factor in health. It didn’t matter that nearly every adult I knew had to work if they wanted to be in shape, I wanted to be the exception. Exercise was hard and I wasn’t good at it. At least, not the kind of exercise that really gets you in shape. I would rather sit and watch a movie, even on vacation, than go for a walk, use my brain, take in the sights, etc. I was just a lazy bastard and didn’t want to change.
Back and Hip Problems
When you’re fat and you have back issues (or knee issues), it’s like a catch 22. The weight makes the back\knee\hip problem worse and it’s hard to lose weight when you are in pain. I went to the chiropractor for years, a ridiculous amount of times, and slowly and steadily dropped the weight while they kept me in alignment. However, I still couldn’t run without flaring up the hip. One day, out on that same YMCA track, I decided, “F– it! I’m going to sprint and if it puts me down for two weeks so be it!” I cranked it up and heard and felt all kinds of gristle pops and nastiness in my hip. I was sore for a few days afterwards, but something felt different. After that, as long as I stayed flexible, I had no more issues.
168lbs in 2015
As I mentioned before, I’ve yo-yo’ed a bit with my weight over the years. The old bad habits creep up and put me on the wrong path. However, I recognize them now and know how to course correct.
Let me say as well that my wonderful wife, Summer, was incredibly helpful and supportive. She was light years ahead of me in terms of health and the garbage we often eat and believe is food. Honey Rib, if you’re reading this — and you’re probably not because you are not a man and you don’t waste your life away in front of the computer — thanks! Guys, a lot of what I will write in the next few articles is stuff I learned from my wife. If you have a lady who loves you and knows about this stuff, let her help you out.
The next few articles will focus on giving up sugar, which is often at the center of any food addition. A key piece in being a man is responsibility for one’s self and this includes our health and strength. I’ll close out this post with one of my favorite quotes from Eugen Sandow:
“Perfect health is a consciousness of full vitality, of exhilaration, keen enjoyment of life, and strength to perform any task, and it is a melancholy reflection that not one in a thousand men and women of middle-age has it.” – Eugen Sandow