Atrophy is a Helluva Place to Start

Whenever I get frustrated along this crazy winding journey of mine I have resources at my fingertips that help me recalibrate and regain my motivation. It’s easy to find visuals such as “before” pictures but it’s the memory that fails in most cases. I do have a tremendous long-term memory yet my short-term memory can best be described as “CRS” or “Can’t Remember Shit.”

I have written on my occasions what my childhood was like from sports and play perspectives. From an early age it was play all day – basketball, baseball, football, street hockey, Frisbee, cops and robbers, you name it, we played it.

In the military, physical fitness was a requirement. That’s a relative thing since I was in the Navy. We weren’t Marines. But I played basketball, softball, tennis and flag football. I bowled. I was physically active. I did smoke a pack of cigarettes a day, but I was still very active. I got out of the Navy in 1997 at age 27 and pretty much stopped any and all “exercise.” I’d shoot hoops in the driveway once in a while but here was no running, there was no weight lifting. After I moved to Columbus, Ohio, in 1998, I think I played tennis twice.

I moved to California in 2000 and I don’t think I started any kind of exercise until 2007 or so. I may have weighed about 185 pounds at the time. I lifted weights and used a nautilus machine maybe three days a week. I had no program and I didn’t follow any diet.

There were no more teams to suit up for, there were no more practices, no more calisthenics, no more pick up games – no nothing.

My point? I have spent the last two years eating right and exercising to not only lose weight but to get in shape, and to get fit. I have documented this journey and my memory of it is pretty fresh. What doesn’t register is that from age 27-43 I really didn’t do a whole helluva lot when it comes to exercise.

at·ro·phy

medical : gradual loss of muscle or flesh usually because of disease or lack of use

That’s Merriam-Webster’s definition.

“Lack of use” is the operative phrase here. I know people who have achieved more success faster than yours truly. They either have a better physique or can run faster or run further or lift heavier weight. That region of my brain that houses my memory, that data warehouse, the repository of my experiences all of sudden loses connectivity with the time-space continuum and I don’t process that 16-year gap of relative inactivity. I have often opined, whined even, that I don’t understand where I am supposed to be when it comes to progress and my physique. And then it hits me like an anvil dropped on Wile E. Coyote from a 250-foot cliff. I am not trying to undo a couple of years of avarice and gluttony. I am trying to undo the better part of two decades of pure, unadulterated laziness. After spending nearly 30 years as tear-ass through the neighborhood kid, an athletic high school student, and an intramural sports playing sailor, I became a lazy, sedentary sloth who decided that exercise for the sake of exercise was stupid. This was fine until my metabolism betrayed me.

So, as I continue to try to improve my physique I have to avoid fitness envy. I need to learn to measure my progress and do for me and not worry about what others have done or can do. I am currently off the running regimen due to a calf strain and a hamstring pull so I have been hitting the weights four days a week. I’ll do Shortcut to Shred again as soon as I feel I’m up to it. I think, since I am down to my goal weight or so, that this six-day a week, six-week program will produce some very visual results this time.

The bottom line is there is a very real disconnect between what my mind believes and what my body actually is. I still think that I am still that 21-year-old who should be able to do this or that without thinking much of it. No, I am a 45-year-old who has to think about avoiding a stick from about a quarter-mile out. I still have the agility of a dead cat.

I know you folks were wondering why you haven’t seen any running updates – clearly the blog comments and Facebook posts have told me how concerned you were…wait, what? Just messing folks. I’ll be running again soon but since I’ve managed to get down to this weight I won’t obsess about it so much. I think I’m done losing weight, now I just need to carve it up.

I read something interesting lately. You can only make a muscle bigger or smaller, you can’t get “cut.” The definition you seek comes from losing fat. I think my muscles are made of fat and I also think they’re still covered in fat. That’s the next mission – to uncover these muscles and show them off.

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Epic Blog

You would think this progression is labeled the wrong way, but it is correct. These were taken at the same NFL stadium roughly a year apart.
You would think this progression is labeled the wrong way, but it is correct. These were taken at the same NFL stadium roughly a year apart.

I’m warning you now, this is the advice blog. I am now hovering between 180-183 pounds. I feel pretty darn good about what I’ve done and how I’ve gotten to this point.

Today marks the two-year anniversary of adopting diet and exercise as a way of life. Not “diet” as in Atkins, or South Beach, or bread and water. My exercise regimen has evolved over time as I have learned harsh lessons. I began with walking, moved to weight lifting and learned to run again. One of the things I have found astonishing about myself throughout the process, and I wrote about it the last time, is how much self-discipline I have, how much willpower I am able to muster.

New LookI started this blog as a creative outlet and as a way to keep track of my progress, vent about my setbacks and failures and pat myself on the back a little…okay, a lot. This has been hell at times. I’m not going to lie. So many nights I wanted to just go to bed. So many weekend mornings the couch and cartoons looked inviting. The chips, the cookies, the cake, the pie…all so tempting.

Another interesting aspect of this journey has been the mistakes. I have read so many articles, and tracked my calories and followed so much advice. The bottom line, you just have to find what works for you. There are some universal things you can do that apply to just about everyone.

I’m not a professional. I’m no expert but my keys and lessons learned are as follows:

  1. Drink lots of water. I could not wrap my head around drinking water for drinking water’s sake, Your cells will hold water if they don’t get it from intake. You bloat, carry water weight and don’t really feel like you’re getting anywhere.
  2. Cardio. This is the wild card variable. You start with cardio and lose some weight quickly. Your body will get used to it and you’ll plateau. Only way to fix it? Do more cardio. You end up repeating this cycle until you step your way to oblivion on an elliptical. But not running, walking, biking or using a treadmill, stair climber, or elliptical for part of your training is a no-no. But that leads me to the next point.
  3. Strength Training. This is a must. I have read in numerous places that people don’t want to do strength training because they think they’ll gain weight or add too much muscle. Muscle burns fat. Simple as that. Add muscle. Burn fat. What’s wrong with getting stronger? Feeling more powerful? Not a damn thing. You can lift weights, do cross fit, do boot camp style, old-fashioned sit-ups and push-ups. Whatever you prefer. Just add some strength training and build muscle.
  4. Nutrition. I won’t use the word “diet” in this instance because it’s not about deprivation or severely retarding your caloric intake to fit into an old pair of jeans. It’s about eating right, being aware of what you put into your body and knowing what food does to your body. Meat and green veggies is key. Also, eating healthy snacks between meals helps speed up your metabolism and keeps you from overeating at meals. Look, I still love my apple pie and dark chocolate. I’ll still have ice cream or sherbet. I don’t deny myself. I just exercise moderation, which is a word I had to learn.
  5. Carbs and protein. To expand on the thoughts on nutrition, learning the role of protein and carbs and what your body needs from them and what it does with them is very important. I have had a hard time of getting over 100g of protein per day. My between meal snacks were carb and sugar heavy and I got stuck at 190 pounds for the better part of a year. Protein helps burn fat. Too much and the wrong carbs make you retain water. Up the protein (if you don’t work out, you will gain weight because of the protein, so exercise is key), and drop the bad carbs and you will undoubtedly lose weight and start to get lean.
  6. Sugar. This is the hard one. I used to justify my sugar intake with one statistic. Sugar only has 16 calories per teaspoon. Well, I’m here to tell you that sugar IS the devil. Your body basically takes sugar and turns it right into fat. I only consume sugary treats in small quantities on a not so regular basis. I’ll indulge once in awhile on special occasions or holidays. I think long and hard before I pop a confection in my mouth and make a conscious decision to do it. There are days, weeks even, that this willpower is tested and I fail. I know that I have to work even harder.
  7. Calories. Learn what your body needs. Your body doesn’t need as many calories as you think it does. It doesn’t need as many as you have trained it to want. I have read that the average daily intake should be about 2,200 calories per day. You want to lose weight? Drop that to 1,200-1,700 to go with your exercise regimen.
  8. I picked this as my ideal and I look more like ot today than I did two years ago.
    I picked this as my ideal and I look more like it today than I did two years ago.

    Deficit/Surplus. You need to understand one mathematical truth with regard to how this works. One pound=3,500 calories. You want to lose a pound? Burn 3,500 more calories than you take in. It’s almost that simple.

  9. Pick an ideal. Many people say they want a certain celebrity’s body. Well, don’t we all wish we could look like our fit celebrity or athlete of choice. This will sound like a pipe dream and I do have a bit of a man crush on him but I found out that Daniel Craig and I are the same age and height and now, pretty damn close to the same weight. I found his workout online and no, I don’t have his physique, but I am closer to it today than I was two years ago. Find someone similar in age and height and weighs what you want to weigh, find their work out and nutrition plan and give it a shot.
  10. This is work. Once you have gotten out of shape and added a significant amount of weight, shedding the pounds and getting back into shape is a bitch. Again, I am not going to lie here. Dropping 55 pounds has not been easy. It has been a struggle. You have to be willing to put in the work EVERY DAMN DAY. You can have off days, you can have cheat days, you can get hurt and recover, you can get sick and recover, you can have a cookie, but you have to commit to this. This has to be how you live every day. This has to become the new normal.

I really wish I had learned to enjoy running sooner. I am now addicted to it. I am obsessed with it. I run near the house, I run near the office and the squirrels now know I mean business and hide when this badass comes through. Damn squirrels.

I wish I had figured out the protein/carb thing sooner. I knew about the protein but I kept eating carb heavy snacks.

Stuck? Switch it up. Bored? Switch it up. There’s always something new to try, new to do. Get off your ass EVERY DAY. That’s the first thing. Get active. Get a FitBit, challenge a friend, workout with a friend. Do this with your spouse.

Two years of this process is chronicled in this blog. Learn from me and my triumphs and mistakes.

I used to use the RunKeeper app and I don’t have that data anymore, I switched to the Nike Running App. A few stats since then…my first walk with the Nike Running App – Feb. 27, 2013 – 3.11 miles in 1:02:06 at a pace of 19:56 per mile. Jan. 1, 2015 – I RAN 3.12 miles in 26:39 at a pace of 8:32 per mile. My waist is now 38 inches. I have gone from 2XL shirts to men’s large. I was wearing 40-inch waist pants and I am down to 34. I am pretty damn close to what I would call “normal” and what I used to be.

I am not done yet. I never will be. Forgive me if I have written these things before. If I ever get discouraged, if I ever want to give up, if I ever want to quit, I just look at the photo taken Jan. 3, 2013, when I weighed 236 pounds. I don’t know that guy. I don’t recognize that guy. He’s gone. Gone for good. I’m just glad he didn’t stay too long. He was eating me out of house and home.