Fighting Obesity One Day at a Time
When I was a kid growing up in the Washington, DC suburbs, I was pretty active. Typically, I would ride my bike until it was dark every day after school. In the summer, I would spend most of my free time hiking the nearby woods or swimming at the municipal pool. I wasn’t great at sports, but in middle school I wrestled and in high school I played soccer. Also in high school, I played saxophone and marched with the band. We were a competitive marching band, so we were out on the field quite a bit, marching for hours a day in season, which believe it or not took more stamina than any of the sports I played.
Since I was so active, I didn’t really have to concern myself with my diet. I had a pretty balanced diet at home, but on my way home from school I would often stop at the 7-Eleven and grab a snack of Doritos, Oreos, ice cream, Little Debbie Snack Cakes or frosted donuts. Fast food was always something of a reward for me. It was also a comfort. For good times and bad, a trip to McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, Taco Bell or Kentucky Fried Chicken seemed to fit the bill. It wasn’t until I went to college that all this “treating myself” to fast food and fattening, sugary snacks started to really take its toll.
Weight wasn’t always an issue, per se. Sure, I was always a bit chunky – “husky” they called it back then. And I did have a low self esteem about it from time to time; When things weren’t going my way in some capacity or another I would tend to compare myself to the kids in my class who were thinner or more muscular and defined. There were times when my weight would flare up, and some adult – be it my parents or a coach at school – would put me on a diet or make me ramp up my activity level. But with increased activity I could always lose weight easily without making drastic changes in the way I ate. That being said, I gained weight easily, too. It was just a matter of keeping it in check. I had more problems to deal with than my weight when I was younger, so I didn’t obsess about my weight, really, until much later in life. This is probably why it was easy for me to creep into the range of super obesity without really giving much thought to it.
For me, I was always more concerned with learning and my career than with my weight or self image. But there was a point when all of that changed for me. The first time I gained a lot of weight was when I was attending college in Western Pennsylvania in my early 20s. I was in a tumultuous period. I had come out to my family and friends as being gay and was cut off by many of them. While dealing with the repercussions of my sudden unbridled honesty I packed on around 100 pounds, shooting up from 210 pounds to 310 in the matter of two years. I didn’t really even notice to be honest with you, until my mother came to visit me at school. As I opened the door, I saw the expression on her face just drop. Once I really looked at myself through her eyes, I knew I had to make a change. I went 100 percent vegetarian, got rid of my car and bought a mountain bike, and started going to the gym to lift weights a few days per week. Within 7 months I had lost 70 pounds. Once I reached 240 pounds, I became more lax in my eating habits, but I maintained because I was still active, rollerblading several days a week and living a totally pedestrian lifestyle in Miami Beach, Florida. I slowly started gaining weight again. And even though I was living in body-conscious South Beach, my career as a journalist had me traveling tons and eating out in restaurants twice a day, every day of the week. By the time I moved to New York in 2001 to work in the World Trade Center, I was pushing 300 pounds again. I had stopped myself from gaining at 290 pounds, but the events that transpired that year sent me in a downward spiral, and I unwittingly began getting fatter and fatter. Every time my pants got tight I’d go up a size, no questions asked. By 2008, I weighed in at more than 420 pounds – I don’t know the exact weight because the scale I had access to stopped at 420, and I can only guesstimate from there the weight I truly reached. I was super obese – class III obese to be exact. I wore 6XL shirts, had a 64 inch waist, and was totally and utterly miserable.
The hardest part about turning back once I reached my top weight was that my self esteem had totally plummeted. Once I was over 350 pounds, I found that an easy source of affection came from people in the “chubby chaser” community. I despised being chased for my fat physique, but somehow I found myself in a relationship with someone who said he would no longer be attracted to me if I lost weight. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but the major turning point for me was breaking away from that relationship and cutting myself off from the only community that would embrace me at that time in my life. I turned my attention to myself. It was a second coming out for me. I came out as someone who would not allow the choices and tastes of others to determine who I am or who I would become. I am on a fit life journey. I am not on a diet. I am not doing anything I do not want to do. If it isn’t fun for me, I don’t do it. If it’s good for me and I don’t think it’s fun, then I find a way to make it fun. When I lack focus or my commitment falters, I will often look myself in the mirror and recite some version of a quote from life coach and motivational speaker Tony Robbins. I read in one of his books – I think in Awaken the Giant Within – that “it is your decisions, and not the conditions of your life, that determine your destiny.” I believe this to be a powerful truth, and I say this quote over and over, with fervor, sometimes replacing the last part with what I envision my destiny to be. “It is my decisions, and not my conditions, that will lead me to overcome obesity once and for all!”
Currently, I am still considered clinically obese. I’m about 35 pounds into the class I obese category. My BMI is about 35 – down from more than 56 – and I have about 29 percent body fat. I went on Bodybuilding.com recently to use their excellent goal-setting tools and determined that I would like to lose another 60 pounds of body fat and gain 20 pounds of muscle. This would put me at about 220 pounds, and I’d be pretty solid. Since the beginning, my goal was to lose 200 pounds and achieve a BMI below the obesity line, and so I’m still pretty much in line with my original goal.
I’m happy to say that I don’t take any medications – I’m healthy as a horse! When I started my fit life journey, I was told I was borderline diabetic and possibly could be a candidate for metabolic syndrome. I never received any diagnosis as such, but that’s only because I had no health insurance at the time. I was self-employed and was considered too high a risk to be eligible for affordable private insurance.
As for supplements, I’m not currently taking any of those, either. When I was super obese, I came to the realization that my obesity was caused by two things – overeating and malnutrition. Go figure! I was eating more around 6,000 calories a day, but even then I was starving for nutrients! Now, I eat an amazing variety of foods that provide me with all the nutrition my body needs. After my workouts, I usually eat chicken or turkey breast for protein replacement. But from time to time I do rely on a protein powder. I’m trying to get away from this, though, and want to only consume natural foods, nothing overly processed or “invented”. Every morning when I wake up I down a big glass of water, pour myself a cup of black coffee and have a fried egg on a slice of whole wheat toast. About a half hour later I have some Ezekial 4:9 cereal and milk or slow-cook oatmeal with chopped non-sorbate pitted prunes.
Mid-morning, I have a quarter cup of 2% Greek yogurt with about 8 frozen cherries. For lunch, I usually have a salad made with spinach and spring mix with a heaping tablespoon each of black beans, roasted corn, cooked quinoa, diced tomatoes, and peas and topped with four ounces of diced chicken breast seasoned with dried Herbes de Provence and cilantro. I may sprinkle some sunflower and pumpkin seeds on my lunch salad, too. If not, I’ll eat those seeds as an afternoon snack about an hour before I exercise, along with two dried figs, one walnut, four almonds and three or four prunes. For dinner, I’ll have something like chicken curry with vegetables on a bed of raw spinach. And as an evening snack I might have some sugar free Jello or a few frozen cherries and milk. I also usually carry a banana or two with me every day, or sometimes an apple or an orange. I have fruit to stave off sugar cravings. I figure the added calories from fruit are better than the alternative of hitting the vending machine at work.
I exercise all but one day per week. I have three typical workouts that I do: an anaerobic weight-lifting workout, an aerobic core workout and an outdoor aerobic activity – hiking. I sometimes do two different workouts per day, back to back. Generally, I do at least four days of lifting weights – I alternate between back, shoulders and biceps; chest and triceps; and lower body and core. For my aerobic core exercise I usually do a medicine ball workout at least three days per week. Since I’m really concerned about sagging skin around my core the medball workout really does the trick! And hiking gives me an all-over aerobic and anaerobic workout that also has psycho-spiritual benefits as well. Also important to my progress is that on my day off, I take a complete rest. And I try to sleep at least 7.5 hours per night. On top of all this, hydration is a key component of my wellness routine, and I drink at least three liters of water per day, sometimes four.
For anyone lacking motivation to start their own journey, I would have to ask, how are you benefiting from maintaining the status quo? This isn’t a trick question. The truth is, our habits become our habits because we get some benefit from them, even if these habits are killing us. When you truly look deep inside yourself to see what benefit you are gaining from your unhealthy habits – come clean with yourself, if you will – you can begin to evaluate the merit of those benefits. Do they outweigh the benefits you will receive from eating better and exercising on a regular basis, benefits like extending your life and living free of chronic disease? If the answer is yes, then perhaps the time for you to start your journey has not arrived. But if the answer is no, if you want the benefits of living a fit life today, then you are ready to make a change. Remember that it is your decisions that determine your destiny, not the condition of your life and your body right now at this very moment. Let go of the past and live in the present. Walk into the future of your choosing!
There are a million ways to sabotage your good decisions but only one way to begin living a fit life today – and that’s your way! You are completely creative, resourceful and whole! You don’t need anyone else to tell you what you should do to begin taking control of your life. Find resources that work for you and model the success of others you meet in the world of social networking. Keep yourself accountable to your own journey by publicizing your decision and tracking your steps in a blog. Find others who are going through the same process as you now and seek out those who have already changed their destinies so you can model your success after them. Trust me; it’s not as complicated as you think it’s going to be. But if you need help, don’t be afraid to ask. A life coach is a great resource to help you get on track by working with you to set attainable goals and plan to achieve them. Every healthy decision today will turn into five more healthy decisions tomorrow and twenty-five the day after that. Before you know it, healthy habits form. You won’t be able to return to the unhealthy choices you now know as the norm, because your body and your mind won’t let you!
I find myself on the front lines of a global obesity epidemic. My mission is to help other people like myself to lead full lives, free from the shackles of obesity. Let’s attack obesity together! I’ve been blogging about my fit life journey for several years at the MyFitLife2Day blog (myfitlife2day.blogspot.com). My blog Man of Merit (manofmerit.blogspot.com ) talks a lot about my adventures in hiking. And I have a new life coaching blog called Life Curves Coaching (lifecurvescoaching.blogspot.com). Find my Twitter profile at twitter.com/#!/myfitlife2day. Also, find my fitness-related articles on HubPages at brianschwarz.hubpages.com. In July, I will be launching my new website at MyFitLife2Day.com.