Mirror Mirror on the Wall

I am going to write a little bit about body image this time out. I have never liked what I saw in the mirror. From my crazy curly hair to my lack of physique, I have never liked my appearance.

“Mirror, mirror on the wall
Tell me, mirror, what is wrong?”

De La Soul

I have mentioned before that I was always the skinny kid growing up. My parents spent countless hours trying to get me to eat dinner. Mom was a great cook but I never did care for many of the dishes she put in front of me. My folks weren’t the “clean your plate” types and mom always accommodated her spoiled only child with something I would eat.

My friends convinced me I should take up weight lifting when I was in junior high. Of course I had no idea what I was doing so I managed to develop some muscle tone and definition but no mass. My ribs could have doubled as a xylophone.

With all this talk and concern about childhood diabetes and obesity, you’d think I’d be thankful I was skinny. My slight frame was nothing but a target for ridicule, even by my closest friends.

Forgive me if I am rehashing some old memories that I have already relayed. I was 97 pounds when I was a freshman in high school and weighed 122 when I graduated in 1987. I had to gain four pounds before I went to U.S. Navy boot camp in November 1987. I probably hovered around 165 at my heaviest when I was in the service and that was in the mid-1990s or so. I got out in 1997 and I honestly cannot remember my weight at the time of my exit physical.

From age 20 to 38 I was a pack a day smoker. I’m sure the nicotine intake helped keep my metabolism high and my weight down. Sometime before I quit smoking I started to put on some belly fat. I don’t remember this very much, but I see it pictures from about 12 years ago. Sometime around age 35 I started to gain some weight and I got to about 185. I exercised on a semi-regular basis but there was this ever-present belly.

I had to be about 225 pounds when I tried to lose weight the first time. Although I lost 20 pounds, I didn’t like how I looked because I didn’t change my diet. I was lean in a few areas but I still had that round belly.

When I got to 236 pounds in early January 2013 I really hated what I saw in the mirror. It wasn’t until I took the before pictures did I realize how large I really was. Now, you’d think a successful 40-something wouldn’t really care about such things. I’ve never been vain, except when it comes to my hair. Again, when you can’t tie your shoes or pull on your socks…or you get out of breath and sweaty when you get dressed…it was time to do something.

Throughout this process I have posed for photographs. The most recent pictures have finally convinced me of something. I am not the fat guy anymore. Prior to the pictures I posted two weeks ago I kept seeing the fat guy in the mirror. It didn’t matter what the scale said or the waist size of my pants. Mentally, I kept seeing the 236-pound guy in the mirror.

Three weeks ago I started a new weight-lifting program. I took pictures after a week and at the end of the first three weeks. Compared to the last set of photos from November, I am much slimmer in the middle, I no longer have the round barrel belly and I don’t see that fat guy anymore. That does not mean that I feel like I am finished by any stretch of the imagination. I am trying not to obsess over the scale. I have stopped charting and writing down my weight every day. I’ve just been using it as a guide to keep from overeating. I may even go back through this six-week program again. I think I can live with my weight as long as I am fit and in shape.

I have not become narcissistic. I still don’t “love” what I see in the mirror. However, I like it more today than I have any other time in my life. I am “average” sized. I could buy I watch with a metal wristband and not have to have links taken out, people don’t look at me funny because I am awkwardly skinny or overweight.

This is the part of the blog where I get on top of the soapbox. I have been reading about the mom with kids who is in incredible shape and has been blasting people for making excuses about life getting in the way of getting in shape or being healthy and fit. I think many people miss the point about such things. For years, beauty and gossip magazines have been accused of creating an impossible standard of beauty by showcasing the impossibly slim and skinny. By the same token, the overweight have screamed that they should be accepted for who they are.

I have come full circle. I have been both. I understand both ends of the spectrum. I have been on the edge of major health problems that are associated with being overweight. I have also found every excuse there is to not eat healthy and exercise. Convenience, laziness, too busy, comfort food, fatigue, workload, sweet tooth – you name it, I’ve used it. I have also run the gamut on how I feel about obesity throughout by journey. I’ve gone from judgmental to understanding to apathetic and all the way ‘round again.

If you have resigned yourself to being overweight, obese, or even just out of shape, so be it. Just don’t be surprised when you develop aches, pains, heart disease, back problems, knee pain, diabetes or any number of health issues – don’t you dare bitch about it because all you have to do is look in the mirror and you’ll know who to blame.

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What a Difference a Few Pounds Make

Even thought I haven't lost much weight, the effects of diet and exercise are still dramatic.
Even though I haven’t lost much weight recently, the effects of diet and exercise are still dramatic.

The mirror and the camera don’t lie. I posed for new pictures yesterday after wondering if my exercise and diet regimen were having an effect.

I have a love hate relationship with the scale and I feel like I am on the never-ending plateau. The last photos were taken November 3 and I weighed just over 190 pounds. Since then I have vacillated between 187-192. I don’t seem to be able to bust through and get to my goal weight. I have been trying anything and everything to break up my routine and adjust my diet. I survived several days of restaurant food and no exercise and only gained half a pound. So, obviously, I am doing something right.

Everyone keeps telling me to stop worrying about my weight, that it’s just a number. Maybe I’ve had my goal weight of 180 pounds stuck in my head for too long. I always had two goals in mind. I wanted to get to 190 first, see what I looked and felt like, and then decide if I wanted to go to 180. I looked and felt much better at 190 but not as good as I wanted so I decided to soldier on to 180.

I have accomplished so much in the past 14 months. I have lost almost 50 pounds, I’ve run two 5K races without having to stop or walk, my back hasn’t gone out in more than a year and a half, I can get dressed without getting sweaty or winded, I can stand non-stop for two hours, and do all kinds of other things we all take for granted. I’m stronger, I have more endurance and I generally feel better than I have in a long time. Believe me, there is no “finishing,” there is no end. I’ll just work on getting better. Exercise and eating right are now part of my life, there is no going back.

I’ve taken a few measurements since Christmas, just to make sure that I am still headed in the right direction even though the weight loss seems to have stalled. However, until I put the new pictures side-by-side with the previous photos, I didn’t realize how much I’ve changed in the last four months. There’s definition where there wasn’t before, and I’m leaner and slimmer through the middle.

I am one week into a new workout program. In the interest of changing things up every so often and doing something different to keep from getting bored or to challenge my muscles, I started a program I found online. Jim Stoppani’s Shortcut to Shred on www.bodybuilding.com features something called Cardio Acceleration. There is no rest between sets, you do 60 seconds of some sort of cardio – step-ups, running in place, kettle bell swings, etc. I sweat like I’ve never sweat before, I’m sore like I haven’t been sore in months and it almost feels like I am starting over. I’ve noticed a difference in definition in just six days. Today is a rest day. And boy do I need it.

The before and during photos (notice I didn’t write “after”) have served as a revelation. Any time I feel unmotivated or discouraged, I just look at the pictures from January 2013. When you’re a 44-year-old man, looking like you’re 14 months pregnant is a great motivator. Just when I didn’t think the photos would show dramatic changes and only subtle, I find myself mistaken. Pleasantly surprised is more like it.

I’ll check in during the Shortcut to Shred program and update you, my true believers (to borrow a phrase from Stan Lee), as I go through this self-imposed torture.