Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to reflect on the core principles guiding me through my journey to better health so far. I’ve come up with a few broad ideas that I keep coming back to over the weeks and months. To be sure, there are no secrets here — just a few things I have to keep reminding myself.
As with anything I may post on this topic, please remember that I’m not a medical doctor of any kind! I have an MD, Cardiologist, Personal Trainer, and others helping me along this journey, and I’m not trying to share globally applicable advice or speak for them. I’m here to share my experiences and a few things that worked *for me*.
Consistent and Sustainable over Dramatic and Drastic
As a morbidly obese person, I have to keep in mind that I’m playing a long-term game. As I like to say, the most important measure of my successes in weight loss, strength gains, and fitness is the first derivative (that is, the direction of change) rather than the current value. Sustained movement in the right direction over the course of several years is the only thing that will allow me to make the kind of progress I want to make.
This isn’t to say that I never attempt the occasional dramatic weight loss or strength gains at times — just that I can’t afford to sacrifice the more important goals of consistency and sustainability to do so.
Weight as a Secondary Measure
It’s no secret from my previous post or two (and the title of this blog) that weight loss is my number one fitness goal for the foreseeable future. As my cardiologist told me bluntly in 2015, my morbid obesity is my number one risk factor for heart disease, diabetes, and a host of other diseases that lurk on the horizon; but I have to remember that the body is amazingly complex.
I think of weight loss as a secondary effect due to a combination of factors. When it stalls, I have to remember to check or change the combination of calorie intake, eating schedules, strength training, cardio, and other inputs I’m providing: Am I getting enough sleep and rest days? Am I lying to myself about the calories I’m eating? Does my diet come unhinged on Friday and Saturday nights? I seek out the advice of my trainer and health professionals here before making any sweeping changes.
For me personally, I am often tempted (as I did in 2011) to think only about the “calorie math” of base metabolic rate and 3500-calorie deficits for pound of fat loss. I know all too well, though, that the body will correct for that approach and any other single-input approach within weeks.
Soft Factors: Theology
Above I talked about weight loss having some kind of formula with a bunch of physical inputs, but I have to keep reminding myself that there are factors at work both internal and external to my body that have a great impact as well. I see at least three areas at work in me personally that I have to keep in check: theological, psychological, and sociological. I have to use the positive aspects of these to my advantage and beat down any negatives or lies that might creep in.
In the theological realm, one of the biggest internal struggles I have is the idea that a sovereign God made me the way that I am, warts and all. [ This is a public post with anonymous readers. I don’t know how you attack your “whys” in life. I am a Christian and I’m speaking here from that perspective. ]
If God is all powerful, why was I born with cerebral palsy? Why do I have a four-way positive family history for heart disease? Why do I have such a slow metabolism? I could think about these things all day, but I don’t. There’s another side to that story, and I have to believe it’s the victorious side: it’s by the grace of God that I live and breathe at all, and by that I escape the death I deserve for the natural-born enemy of his that I am. I am called to a meaningful, hopeful, fulfilling life instead, having been adopted into it. It would be a shame to wallow in the troubles of this world in the face of that, so I beat the lies behind those questions down.
Soft Factors: Psychology
I would like to think that I’ve been able to use psychological factors largely to my advantage so far. I set and achieve maintainable short-term goals, to leverage the thrill of achieving them. When I go for a walk or do strength training, I force myself to think about next time, not this time. I think of the gains I see today as an inevitable product of what I’ve done in past workouts and since the last time I worked out — not some miracle of what I can push myself to do in this moment. This makes it easier to take a rest day, for example, because that rest gives me more energy for the next time I work out.
Another big psychological factor I leverage is visualizing results. As a fat man in the gym, the mirrors in the cardio area are not naturally my friend. The joke is on them, however, because the hand rails on the treadmill block my gut in the reflection. I can literally see in front of me some of what I will look like once this belly is gone, and it’s incredibly motivating. The same goes for the scales in the morning: sometimes I weigh in at night just to see what number I might be headed for in the morning. Simply seeing a 299 (as I did for the first time a week before New Year’s) is exciting.
Soft Factors: Sociology
Finally, there are what I naively call sociological factors. [ These may technically be another form of psychological factors.] For whatever reason, our society judges physically weak and out of shape people poorly. I have lived this my entire life.
From age 5 to 12, I wore a large AFO brace on my right leg to keep my right hamstring stretched out. This might as well have been a large neon sign that says “I’m physically weak and there are some things I can’t do.” I grew up with great friends that overlooked this, and I make no shame about balancing my physical shortcomings with heavy doses of wit, humor, and academic prowess. Nowadays, there are other natural signs I pick up on. You have not lived until you’ve been a fat man boarding in the last group of a flight. There’s something about a grown man giving you a look of terror that is oddly satisfying.
As easy as it is to get down about what people think of your weight or physical fitness, it’s just as easy to get addicted to the praise of others when you have some success. I will shamelessly use social media and this blog to get encouragement from family and friends, especially since I’m relatively new to Huntsville and have incredibly few “face-to-face” friends here. I have to remind myself that this is ultimately a personal journey that depends on me — not a few likes on Facebook.
This is Costly
Getting healthy is certainly not easy, and it’s not cheap either. I’m very fortunate (privileged, even?) to be in a position in life that allows me to invest as much as I am into getting healthy.
I honestly don’t think I could do what I did in 2017 in 2015 or 2016. It actually pains me to paint this as anything other than an excuse, but I think it’s important to realize that getting healthy isn’t just a product of “trying hard”. I’ve been pouring a great deal of financial and time resources into my Ph.D. the past several years, and prioritizing that took an undeniable physical toll on my body.
I have to actively remind myself that living a more healthy lifestyle will undoubtedly be more expensive, but that it will be worth the investment if I see it through. Time spent exercising may be the most obvious investment, but here’s a more exhaustive list of various costs:
- Our couples training sessions cost $600 a month (!) and our gym membership is $55.
- I’ve spent over $200 on clothes and equipment for exercise.
- Buying healthier food, meal replacement shakes, and supplements costs me about $100 more per month.
- I spend 10 hours or more per week actually exercising.
- I spend up to a half hour per day preparing meals, and my wife cooks three fresh meals per week at home. (For 2018, I’m starting off by eating 8 small “meals” or snacks per day.)
- I spend multiple hours every week doing research on exercise and strength training to plan my diet, workouts, and notes like the principles listed here.
Getting healthy is not cheap. (As a side note, this is yet another reason not to pass judgement on the fat people in your life.)
This grew into quite the rambling post!
Thanks for reading!