Losing a Third of Me
This story of weight loss starts at, of all places, Subway.
The day was January 23rd, 2011, a Sunday. My mother had been declared legally braindead following a stroke, and the family had decided to pull the plug. My uncle drove me home, to what would gradually morph in conversations from “mom’s house” to the “house on Lehigh Street.” Seeking some sort of normalcy in this surreal landscape, I walked up to the local strip mall, and I ordered a footlong sandwich, with the biggest cup of soda I could. I ate it quickly and without any satisfaction.
It would be the first of many.
In the interest of trying to hurry to the main point of this essay, I’m going to try the impossible: to sum up what my mom meant to me. She was my confidant, my protector, and my fan club. While I don’t get as sad as I used to that she isn’t physically around anymore, I think it comes out the harshest when I listen to friends who complain about their parents for doing embarrassing things like trying to talk to them on the phone for more than five minutes. It’s more of a seething jealousy than a desperate sadness – the ability to take that for granted makes you a more fortunate individual than you will ever care to admit.
For the next five months, my life was the embodiment of the Dark World theme from Final Fantasy VI. Trying to jumpstart my writing career to the next step was being met with a lot of pity for my story and a lot of “no, we’re not hiring.” My grandfather decided he wanted to sell mom’s house – the house on Lehigh. His house. I was losing the roof over my head at a time where I had nowhere else to turn to and wasn’t making enough money to continue to write full-time. There were days in May and June where I went to bed thinking of things like “places I could say for a few weeks,” or “family members I hadn’t embarrassed myself in the eyes of.”
One thing I haven’t mentioned about my mom yet: outside of a dorm expedition with a catered cafeteria, I had never cooked for myself in my life before. My primary chef was gone. I didn’t even know how to make a scrambled egg. So I ate. A lot. And it was all terrible. Pizzas, Subways, and burgers. Stouffer’s Macaroni and Cheese. Whataburger if it got late. The biggest fattest Frappuccino you can have made. All of it.
Obviously, things turned around at some point, or I would not have much of a story to tell you. I got the Football Outsiders gig, which helped me find a little stability. I was gradually able to come to terms with my world, even if there was still so, so, much that I hated about it.
I spent a lot of time lamenting the lack of healthiness that my parents had and what it had meant for them. They both smoked constantly and never quit. They’d done drugs in their youth – and my father had continued to well into his adulthood. Sedentary lifestyles had put a lot of pounds on them. Not that I felt like there were people in this world who cared about me like I cared about my mom at this point, but surely there would be some day, right? And did I want to expire before I hit 60? And did I want to lose prime years of my life? And put the theoretical people I love through this? Hell no.
I did some research on this a bit before my mom passed on, eventually settling on The 4-Hour Body as the necessary guide. I never started before because, well, she still controlled the kitchen. After some more time spent lamenting this pathetic existence and stuffing a few extra wheat bombs down my foodhole, the day finally came when I made the decision to stop reading and start acting. I stepped on the scale the day when I decided to change it all – September 28, 2011 — and the needle pointed to 255.
Later, I would find out that this scale was not what you would call “accurate,” or “reliable.” My ex-girlfriend bought us a new scale when we were living together, as she was convinced that the scale I had was shortchanging her and that she was getting fat. It turned out she was right – not that I cared that she was thicker since I had puppy dog eyes for her anyway – so I got to listen to a panicked spiel about how nothing she wore fit perfectly anymore and the world was probably ending.
It was only later on that I had the chance to reflect on the fact that … if she was getting a 40-pound difference, this meant that when I weighed myself…
So, at my known peak, it was 295 pounds.
Today, I weigh 206, and have been as low as 201.
If you are as neurotic and as much of a perfectionist as I am, the hardest part of doing something isn’t finishing it; it’s beginning it.
With this amount of weight loss, it probably sounds like I spent a lot of time doing radical training. I know if you’d told me two years ago that I’d be this weight, I’d imagine myself doing Crossfit, Insanity, or P90X, and generally hating life. The total cost of me losing nearly 90 pounds Is maybe 12 hours a week, none of it incredibly intense. A lot of it is just dietary changes. And it’s important that you recognize that this wasn’t a highly-coordinated effort of perfectionism. I have been knocked downright off the horse at times. When I lived with my ex, I changed diets to embrace her vegetarian lifestyle. I’ve had weeks or months where I didn’t eat well at all. Exercise comes in fits and starts as well, and generally I’ve been unable to live up to my high standard of working out five days a week for more than a month or so. There’s just been too much else going on.
One of my biggest mental barriers is that perfectionism. Thus, one of the reasons I am publishing this today is because I’m not under 200 pounds yet, like I’d planned to be. I probably won’t be until they stop playing football again and I stop working 50-60 hour weeks. I am embracing the flaw that is these seven pounds.
A couple months ago, I bumped into this video. It’s short, and it’s been very inspiring to me. In that past, I have had a lot of cascade problems. I miss one thing, which leads to missing another, and suddenly the whole world is in chaos and why don’t I have an extra day to fix everything up all perfect? Today, I just say to myself: If I wanna be excellent at some things, I have to allow myself to be mediocre at some things.
So look, here is what I’ve settled on as my ideal diet and exercise program. I can understand if you feel like I’m trying to sell you things. All I can say to that is that the one trait I’ve always held truest about myself is that I feel I am a great arbiter of the things in life that really are good. Tim Ferriss’ books are incredibly well-researched and, as a stats aficionado, I see him as the empirical master of the subject.
In parentheses, next to these things, I’ll share how little of it I’ve actually done since football season started..
— Follow the Slow-Carb Diet. (I’ve been having a few more meals out that don’t fit this than I’d like, maybe two a week or so, but generally this is a staple for me. Lentils with spinach and mushrooms, Chicken, Steak, and whatever recipe I’m trying in a given week.)
— Two cold showers a day, and one session with an icepack on my neck for 30 minutes. (Really easy to do once you get used to it.)
— Supplements. The PAGG stack. (I intentionally take a week off every month or so, and I’ve also missed a few when I’ve been out and about. It happens.)
— Grapefruit juice and caffeine on cheat days. (Always. And I have abused this stuff.)
— Workout schedule as follows:
Sunday: Basic Kettlebell workout as described in 4HB, jogging/walking for about an hour.
Monday: Yoga for an hour, jogging/walking for about an hour.
Tuesday: Head to Jan Orda’s gym for about an hour – frog jumps, jump rope, free weights, trampoline weights, among other little things – Basic Kettlebell workout.
Wednesday: Yoga for an hour, jogging/walking for about an hour.
Thursday: Orda’s gym, Basic Kettlebell workout.
Two days off. (And since I’ve started the football season, I’m lucky to do more than jog/walk twice a week. It hasn’t mattered one damn bit. I’ve been gaining maybe a half-pound a week, and that’s all because of the extra food I’ve had eating out.)
Why am I sharing this? Firstly, to thank the people behind the scenes who have helped me, and endorse their products. Secondly, because I’m hopeful I can convince you, hypothetical neurotic guy or girl that reads this, that you don’t need to expect perfectionism to get lasting results. Life moves in fits and starts, and sometimes you have to ride them out. Even half-assing things can get you much better results than you’d actually think.
And then, selfishly, because I want to make sure I have learned that same lesson.
My mom’s death was a tragedy, but it was also a launching point for the second version of me. For the first time in my life, I had to let go of all the neuroticism and the feeling that I wasn’t good enough – and just take some actions. This isn’t the only front I’ve worked on, but it’s been the one with the most long-lasting effects. It was like a caveman discovering fire.
I still constantly feel like I am behind on this world, and that I sleepwalked through the previous years before she left. It’s incredibly hard to not push myself with crazy deadlines and demands and goals. And I’ve been guilty of it time and time again, even as I’ve gotten better at understanding and scheduling life to cover that.
But the true state of perfectionism comes from the mind that realizes it will never win that race.
The proof is in the pictures.
And, behind here, shirtless.