It doesn’t take magic to go from chunk to hunk — just 16 months and a lot of determination
You don’t realize how fat you’ve gotten until you get thin (or at least thinner). That’s the lesson the last year and a half has taught me.
I was never opposed to exercise; my dad was a phys ed teacher who went to college on an athletic scholarship, so fitness should be in my blood. But getting off your ass can be a task. For years, I joked about having "the fattening beat" at my newspaper: dining reviews, travel writing, theater and film … anything that kept me in my seat, often feeding my face. It leads to a sedentary life. Especially once you pass 30 (and eventually, 40) and are in a long-term relationship.
But when that relationship ended, I decided to get off my ass … and make it smaller.
The problem was, I didn’t know much about going from fat to fit — it hadn’t come up much in the prior 10 years. To save money and for many other reasons, I decided against hiring a personal trainer or even changing my diet much (no obsession with protein shakes or cutting out dairy). After all, I was still a dedicated food critic, and eating was happily part of my job. Instead, I bought a new pair of sneakers, went to a gym, and started Day 1, on the treadmill.
I set the incline on zero, the speed on 2.8 mph and the time on 30 minutes. About 12 minutes later, I felt like I needed to be defibrillated. I had gone less than half a mile.
Good start, I thought.
Obviously, I was in pretty bad shape. But I was serious about calling it a "good start." The biggest mistake I could make, I decided, was losing my motivation too quickly. I had to think long-term, not short. Baby steps. I gave myself a reasonable goal: Drop 40 lbs. in one year.
It made sense to me to start with cardio, which required little training, could show some results quickly and was good for the heart. I did change my eating habits slightly — not skipping breakfast, not eating too late, keeping smaller portions and upping my bran, water and vitamin intake.
I soon started dating a guy who had been a personal trainer, and he offered a few free suggestions. Score! When he amazed me at his ability to run 6 or 7 mph for long stretches, he cautioned me not to give up. "You’ll get there," he insisted kindly. (Eventually I broke 10 mph, running one mile in 5:53, a speed that seemed inconceivable a year earlier.)
Another friend in great shape offered advice when I added weights to my regimen. I stuck with the machines as much as possible at first to maintain form, and I had heard triceps look better quicker than biceps, so I started there. The magazines were right — I bulked up quickly. And people began to notice.
Compliments went far in motivating me. "You’re half the man you used to be" was one clever comment. "Look, the Incredible Shrinking Man!" was another. The applause was (is!) welcome, but I take it with a grain of salt. The worst thing I could do is reward myself by getting lazy and complacent, just as I do not feed my exhausted body after a workout with junk food (well, not often).
The 40-lb. reduction ended up being a false goal (although I did achieve it). But I had not anticipated that as I put on muscle, my weight would increase (muscle weights more than fat), even as my body reshaped itself. The most dramatically apparent difference: Going from size 38 waist jeans to size 32 in about six months. And doing it after at 40 was all the more gratifying.
The hardest part of exercising isn’t really the motivation once you establish a regimen; it’s defying boredom once the routine becomes, well, routine. There’s no easy fix for that. An iPod with a good shuffle helps, as does flitting between locales and finding workout partners on occasion. Learning new exercises (I workout about six days a week), and going to yoga at least once a week also make a difference.
It goes to show you don’t need to be young or spend a fortune to look good naked — you just need a reason, an hour and some resolve.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 19, 2010.