I used to be a disgusting fat body. Now I’m just disgusting.Posted: April 20, 2011
I went through my hard drive last night and found a few things that made me laugh. Some journal posts from 2009 were delightfully silly, as was an old resume of mine. No wonder my last patch of joblessness lasted so long! I used to have a five page resume. Once I compressed it down to two pages, KAPOW! Here come the callbacks for job interviews! But I’m a longwinded blowhard who has to learn things the hard way. Alas.
I also found a picture from two years ago. I forgot how bad I used to look. Voila!
What a bloated, alcoholic mess I was!
This story is old hat for everyone who read my manuscript, but I was a physical and emotional wreck when I worked offshore. I was stuck in a vicious circle of long hours, bad food, no exercise, massive booze binges during my free time, and no fulfillment whatsoever. My wakeup call came a few days before my 35th birthday. I had to take a helicopter out to a diving boat in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. We had to be weighed before we boarded the whirlybird. When I hopped on the scale, I was horrified to learn that I weighed almost 200 pounds. I’m 5’9”. I have absolutely no business being that heavy.
There were some warning signs along the way, but I tried to ignore them. I would huff and puff while hauling sonar gear from our truck to the boat. I would be exhausted after two or three sonar mesotech drops – tossing the tripod and handling a few hundred feet of cable would destroy me. I would get stabbing, twisting chest pains when I was pissed off, especially when I was watching an LSU or Saints game. I honestly have no idea how close I was to a heart attack, because I was too scared to go to a doctor.
Well, that day was my nadir. I resolved to get back into halfway decent shape during that chopper ride. Every time I worked on a large boat or a rig that had cardio equipment, I made use of it. When I was on a boat without gear, I’d exercise in my bunk room, up on the heliport, or out on the weather deck. Even if it was nothing more than jogging in place for half an hour (and looking like an absolute idiot in process), I’d try to do it every day I was offshore. I wasn’t home much, but I tried to run for at least half an hour a day, regardless of the weather. I still drank like a fish and ate a bunch of crappy food, but I did lose about 10 pounds by the time I left for Iraq. And more importantly, I passed a comprehensive physical exam before I left.
Once I got to Iraq, I lost another 20 pounds. I had no access to alcohol, which certainly helped drop a few quick LBs. I also tried to run at least three miles a day, and I cut out most of the junk food. I’d have one “cheat day” a week, but I ate a whole lot of baked chicken & fish, egg whites, and steamed veggies. I also sweated off some weight working in 140 degree heat. I eventually got down to 163, which was probably too skinny for me. I had to punch three additional notches in my belt to keep my pants on. When one of my friends saw this picture, he told me that I looked like an AIDS patient. That was when I decided to start lifting weights again.
Now my exercise routine is an hour’s worth of weight training MWF and a three to five mile run MTWThF. I take the weekends off unless I’m feeling especially energetic or stressed. I hover between 175-180 now, due to the weights and nutritional supplements. I feel good about my physical appearance for the first time in ages. I’d like to put on at least another 10-15 pounds of muscle mass, but I’m not going to hang myself if that doesn’t happen. I can lift more weight and run longer distances at age 36 than I did in high school. I can get pissed off and stressed out without feeling like I could drop dead from a heart attack. So I must be doing something right. I’m probably going to switch my workout routine to one that’s more conducive for gaining mass, but I’m not expecting any dramatic changes overnight.
I made some major lifestyle changes, but it was a series of baby steps. I used to hate working out. Now I’m addicted to it. If I skip a scheduled workout, it will ruin my whole day. I used to eat horribly. Now I eat fast food about once a week. The same thing goes for my alcohol intake. I might drink once a week these days. And I don’t need to get drunk to have fun or escape boredom anymore. Sure, I’ll cut loose once in a blue moon, but I’m perfectly content to nurse one or two beers if I’m hanging out. But most of the time, I don’t even need that anymore.
And that’s my advice to anyone who wants to get healthy: one step at a time. If you’ve been inactive for a while, you’re not going to destroy the gym when you get back in there. Instead, learn to slowly ratchet up the intensity of your workout routine. And don’t worry about embarrassing yourself in the gym. Chances are there is at least one other person in there who’s in even worse shape than you, and very few people will pay attention to how much you’re lifting or how fast you’re running anyway. I’ll make the occasional peripheral glance at a lithe female in spandex or running shorts, but I usually pay no mind to anyone else in the gym unless they’re blocking my equipment. Slowly drop the bad crap from your diet, otherwise you’ll probably get bored with steamed vegetables and revert to cheeseburgers. If you don’t take vitamins, make them part of your morning routine. Don’t fall for the crash diets; you need balance in your food intake. Get a workout partner. You’ll keep each other motivated.
Don’t get discouraged if you have a setback along the way or if you can’t see any dramatic changes in the mirror. Indulge yourself every now and then. An occasional catfish poboy, cheeseburger, pizza, or beer won’t kill you, but you have to view those foods as treats, not staples. Instead, ask yourself, “Do I feel better?” “Do I have more energy?” “Are my stress levels lower?” Once you adopt a routine and stick with it, I can assure that you will answer “yes” to those questions.
Don’t get frustrated if you can’t recapture your shape from high school. That person is long gone. Instead, learn to accept who you are now and embrace the positive changes that come your way. I’m currently in the best cardiovascular shape of my life and I’ve never been stronger. But I still have plenty of goals. I want to complete a marathon one day. Maybe I’ll never do it, but I’ll probably knock out some more 5Ks, 10Ks, and half marathons before I croak. And that’s significant progress, given the shape I was in two years ago. I want to add more muscle mass and definition. I’ll probably never have a bodybuilder physique (that’s almost assuredly a losing battle against genes, metabolism, and age), but I think I could achieve the same build Henry Rollins had during his 30s and 40s. Maybe I’ll only put on another couple of pounds, but I’m already comfortable enough with my body that I can wear a tight t-shirt and I don’t worry about a protruding gut. I’d like to eventually bench press and squat at least double my body weight. But I’m satisfied knowing that I can already throw around more weight in the gym now than I ever thought possible a year ago.
We all have to break down sooner or later. I want my physical decline to come later. And I’m also a superficial ass. If another female comes my way, I want her to look good. So I should return the favor by staying in decent shape. Besides, maybe I can rope her in before she realizes just how awful I am spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually.