I have always struggled with my weight and body image. As a child I was big. My family jokes that as my mother was giving birth to me the doctor looked up and said “With shoulders this big you better hope it’s a boy.” It was very easy for me to put on weight and it was often difficult for me to watch my older brother shovel mountainous plates of food into his mouth and never put on a pound. As I got older I realized that he actually struggled with putting on weight, and while I was being bullied for being fat, he was bullied for being thin. The grass is always greener I guess.
I’m not really sure why I turned to food as a “comfort”. It didn’t make me comfortable… especially when trying on clothes, going to the pool, playing sports, or hanging out with girls. I would binge eat treats, sneak food, buy crap in the cafeteria instead of eating my lunch. It is very cliché; however, I got depressed over big I was, I got bullied for it, and I ate to comfort myself. My anxiety increased, due to the bullying. Of course I never told anyone that I was afraid to go to school each day because I was afraid to tell my parents, especially my dad, on the premise that he would think I was a coward, or that I was weak. My friends were awesome though. They would tease me every once in a while, but everyone in the group got teased a little and I think we all knew that it was never out of malice. I would develop a crush on one of the girls and when I expressed how I was feeling, I would get shot down, and I would blame the way I looked. Then I would turn to the old comfort again.
It got worse when I began lifeguarding. No one made fun of me in that environment; however, the damage had already been done. I spent summers guarding outside surrounded by young people who were very much in shape, shirtless, or sporting swimsuits and I was constantly asked “Aren’t you hot? Why don’t you take your shirt off?” The truth is I’d rather suffer through uncomfortable heat and sweat than expose the “Man Boobs” and “Pillsbury dough boy” belly that had been pointed out to me so many times when I was younger. I was definitely suffering from “The Adonis Complex” a term coined by Harvard psychiatry professor Harrison G. Pope, Jr., Brown professor of psychiatry Katherine A. Philips, and Harvard clinical research fellow Roberto Olivardia as they document a “health crisis that is striking men of all ages.” The Adonis Complex was named for the Greek god Adonis, whose body represented an exquisite standard of masculinity; it runs a wide spectrum of male body image problems that can include compulsive weightlifting and exercising, steroid abuse, eating disorders, and full-blown body dysmorphic disorder. I was very much comparing myself to every other male that was around me, and in the environment of the swimming pool most of them were in excellent shape.
It wasn’t until I was 20 that I had had enough. I had been to the doctor for a physical and the results weren’t good. I realized that I needed to make a change; however, I had no clue what to do. I had tried before. My mom had even bought me Slimfast once to see if that would work. I was going to college, full time, and lifeguarding about 30 hours a week. I needed something easy… Subway!
Yep… I did the Subway diet. I knew exactly how many calories were in each sandwich. I would buy a footlong veggie and a six inch roast beef almost everyday. That is all I would eat. I remember that those two sandwiches, loaded with all the veggies, on whole wheat bread, with mustard and pepper would equal under 1000 calories. My brother had also helped come up with a bit of a workout plan. I began working out between ending classes and lifeguarding; about an hour and a half a day (45mins cardio, 45 mins weights). I was in a major deficit. As Trump would say, it was YUGE!
I lost 85lbs in 3 months. I dropped from 6’2″ and 265lbs to 180lbs. My sister had been travelling in Europe when I started and when she returned home she didn’t recognize me. I was feeling pretty good about myself, but I kept getting sick. I went back to the doctor and he diagnosed me as anorexic?!?! Now if you can imagine being 6’2″, 180lbs and being called anorexic you may think that it’s crazy, but the Doctor told me that due to my low caloric intake I was losing weight dangerously fast and that was why I kept getting sick. I had become obsessed with the number on the scale and would weigh myself morning and night every… single… day.
I did not want to lose the progress I had made; however, my doctor told me that if I could put on a little weight I would probably start to feel better. This was an insanely scary concept for me; I knew that if I wasn’t careful I could over do it. I also knew that I didn’t need to lose more weight so remaining in such a deficit was unneeded. I decided to go to see a nutritionist. I also took a class on nutrition at the University I was attending. I learned a lot about macronutrients, the “4,4,9” rule, the importance of fat, etc. This was pretty eye opening for me. I also did a lot of reading about weight training vs. cardio.
I began being more away of my macro intake (not counting, more doing it by portions) and started doing less cardio and more weight training. I was eating about 2500 – 3000 calories a day, I put on about 10lbs of muscle and stopped getting sick. At this point I was around 190-195lbs. Everything was going well.
Then I broke my knee.
I could continue to watch my diet, but my workouts suffered and so did my self-esteem which increased my anxiety. I became depressed and watching my food intake just didn’t seem important. I jumped back up to about 230lbs.
This really sucked. The only thing that saved me was my knee. Once the break had healed, the physio started. I had to train my knee to regain strength and mobility. This led to me riding a bike and since I was already swimming, as a lifeguard, and riding a bike all I had to do was add running to complete a triathlon. A number of my friends were training to complete their first triathlon, so I signed up. New Motivation!
I loved triathlon for a while; however, I became obsessed. Each race was a competition against myself. I wanted to beat my time. In my head it was…
I knew that to be faster, I needed to be lighter. I dropped back down to 180lbs, and began to get sick again. I was still working and going to University so time was pretty limited. I think my breaking point was when I came home from work one night around 11:15. I had been up since 5:00am (swim practise was at 6:00am) but I skipped my lunch time run to complete a paper. I went to bed but couldn’t sleep due to feeling so anxious about missing my run and it effecting my race times. I got out of bed at 1:30am, got dressed, and went out to run 14km. When I finished I remember standing on the gravel trail thinking, “What am I doing?!” In that moment I decided to quit triathlon. I felt like the mental toll it was taking on me was not worth staying skinny.
After I go married and started working full time and had kids, I realized that working out was not as much of a priority and I began to gain weight again. I had stopped pretty much all outdoor activity (see post titled “Jeers for Fears… facing my anxiety” I tried all kinds of different things including a number of Beach Body programs like P90X, Insanity, and T25. These are great programs and the results are great; however, these programs are typically only 3 months and after completing them I struggled with the maintenance of them.
It was not until after my divorce that I realized that the one consistent thing through all of my weight increases and decreases was my love of going to the gym, putting on my headphones, and throwing some heavy weights around. It was my escape, my Fortress of Solitude. If I stopped going, for any period of time, I would notice that stress and anxiety were harder to manage and my mood would change, self-confidence would drop, and even my work efficiency would suffer.
I also realized that I needed time outside. Just walking. In the trees, along the beach, or down the seawall. I needed that fresh air and space.
As far as diet goes. I eat in moderation. I am aware of what I am eating and approximately how many calories, or even macronutrients might be involved. I limit treats and alcohol, but I do not deny them. I would not call how I eat “Intuitive”. It has been years of work, guess and check, success and failure. In fact, I hate when I am online and see certain dieticians and nutritionists pushing this new trend of “Intuitive” eating and belittling people who count their calories or carefully watch their macronutrients. You need to know what is in food in order to be “intuitive” about it. I still definitely check nutritional information if I am unsure what is in that meal I am about to eat.
I still struggle with weight. During this pandemic I have suffered from “The Quarantine 15”. Workouts at home are not as satisfying as going to the gym, and while stuck at home with a kitchen right beside me led to some bored snacking. By the way… unplanned snacking can build calories really quickly.
Now that gyms have reopened I have managed to drop 10 of the excess quarantine pounds that I put on, but honestly the gym is more about crushing stress than attempting to “get shredded”. I have found a balance in how many times a week I workout and I do not beat myself up over missing a gym session, especially if it is to spend time with loved ones and friends.
I guess for me, over the last 22 years of going through this up and down weight loss journey, I have learned that the best thing to do is what works for you. Take tips and pointers from people and if they work, add them into your repertoire and if they don’t, get rid of them. People will often become quite passionate about “what works” because it is “what works for them”. I like to think that most of these people are genuinely just trying to help; however, some may have another agenda or are just not nice.
So try different things. Figure out what fits into your lifestyle and allows you to be consistent, make sure you get enjoyment from it and that you feel good inside and out, and don’t beat yourself up if you slip. Failure is a part of learning and becoming stronger.
The Walking Dad.