It should first be known that I don’t have anything particularly against cheeseburgers. I still have them from time to time and I still list ‘finding the perfect cheeseburger’ on the Interests portion of my resume. It’s just that I don’t eat them for breakfast anymore. You see, I am a fat person much in the same way that ‘once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic’ and cheeseburgers were once an acceptable meal anytime of the day. Salad was what you put on the cheeseburger, but things have changed drastically since those days. There was no such thing as ‘Healthy Options’ on restaurant menus, nor did we have ‘Blue Menu’s’ at the local superstore. It’s doubtful that I would’ve have cared less even if there had been.
I’ve been sensitive about my weight ever since high school. In grade school I was skinny – ‘athletic’ almost. Back then, I even managed to win the “Male Athlete of the Year”; not necessarily because of any athletic prowess per se, but because I simply participated in absolutely everything – albeit poorly. Volleyball, basketball, cross-country, soccer, etc.; I sucked at it all equally. Of course, it was more of a ‘Sportsmanship’ award than anything else as I can’t ever remember winning anything particularly important or even placing in anything above dead last in any sports meet or event, but Lord knows I tried hard.
Outside of school I enjoyed swimming, baseball and badminton, all of which I fared pretty well, especially badminton, but never to any significant degree. But then I got my first job, a paper route and, with it, a means of instant income and a rather compulsive addiction to chocolate bars and junk food so that by the time high school came around I had the definition and blood sugar level of the Michelin Man. From that point forward it was ‘So long sports! Hello Snickers bars!’ I still played badminton with a certain amount of skill, but my only other ‘athletic’ endeavor was participating on the curling team, mostly because there was a lot of sitting in between ends. So while everyone else was out making touchdowns, hitting dingers or sinking buckets…I was sweeping rocks, making drop shots and sitting on benches. Not exactly the stuff that true jocks excel at.
Eating junk food was where I really shined.
Likewise, I wish I could tell you that I have fond memories of spending lots of quality time with my mother and grandmother in the kitchen learning healthy family recipes but, in actuality, I was usually too preoccupied in the living room watching Loony Tunes.
In fact, this was me each and every time dinner was called:
I could do the basics I suppose; toast, cereal, spread peanut butter over crackers, what have you, hardly anything that one might qualify as ‘fine cuisine’. When I was old enough to use the stove I could boil water for hot dogs or maybe some Kraft Dinner; skills that would serve me well into my adult life. We ate well enough as a family, despite not always having the ample budget to do so – in fact, how my mother continuously fed our family of five as well as she did must have been akin to Jesus feeding the masses on five loaves of bread and two fish – it’s just that I didn’t play much of a part in the whole preparation process as I did at turning my nose up at what was placed in front of me, unless it was dessert of course. It was the late 1970’s and my mom was in charge of the kitchen as were most mom’s of that particular generation I suspect , and Rule #1 was our getting lost to leave her to her work which suited me fine given that, mostly, I was pretty lazy.
These poor eating habits continued on when I left home to attend university where, instead of following the recommended meal plans provided by the residence cafeterias (if residence meal plans could ever be considered as ‘healthy’ that is), I gravitated to Taco Bell…every day. I could consume my body weight in soft bean burritos if necessary. I probably did. Despite playing badminton once or twice a week, the quantities of crappy food and beer far outweighed whatever calories I was burning off on the courts. More often than not, I could be found at any one of the university bars on campus indulging in a liquid lunch and, maybe, a plate of fries and gravy instead of engaging in anything healthy or active. By the time I left university I was well on my way to a severe weight problem, not to mention a liver that probably looked like a discarded sponge. I also started to smoke pot…a lot.
I like to refer to these years as “The Fattening”.
The next few years were similarly unkind on my body. After I graduated university I moved away to London, U.K. to work in pubs and restaurants and my diet mainly existed solely on peanut butter and kebobs. Lord knows, the English aren’t well known for their healthy cuisine; at least they weren’t back then as this was then the pre-Jamie Oliver era. My weekly paycheck, or what was left over after rent that is, was primarily reserved for beer and cigarettes, so fruit and vegetables were seldom ever factored in unless you consider ‘mushy peas’ or ‘chips’ a vegetable. My daily meals were often compromised of whatever leftovers I could scrounge up in the kitchen after service. This is no one’s fault but my own, and my managers were very nice and accommodating in allowing me to get away with this as it wasn’t really their obligation to feed me, but my priorities were all eschewed after years of poor lifestyle decisions. By the time I returned home six years later I had ballooned out to well over 275 lbs.
Even when I returned home, this poor eating style continued and was complimented by many, many other unhealthy choices as I continued working in the local bars and restaurants. ‘Dinner’ had become what you managed to have on your break and, maybe, something else later in the wee hours of the morning on the way home again (i.e. MacDonald’s, Burger King, or whatever else happened to still be open at 3:00am for Take-Out). By now, this had all become learned behavior over the years; ‘cooking’ was about as alien to me as advanced nuclear physics. Seriously, I’d have about as much luck in making a simple casserole as I would have of stumbling across the formula for cold water fusion; I was that hopeless at preparing my own meals. If it hadn’t been either pre-prepared or pre-packaged I had absolutely no freakin’ idea what to do with it as, by that time, I had developed a full on love affair with high calorie, fatty food. Fresh fruits and vegetables in my diet were almost unheard of and had taken on a near mythical status in my life, like unicorns and leprechauns.
Later, I managed to quit working in bars and restaurants altogether and bumped around from job to job until I ended up working in a call center. I had excellent communication skills and, so, solving customer disputes and handling billing problems didn’t pose much thought or difficulty. It was an ‘easy paycheck’ involving next to zero physical activity or exercise. Part and parcel with this new employment, however, was my living out of the cafeteria vending machines, of which, pre-packaged microwave cheeseburgers were my favorite; breakfast, lunch or dinner, I loved those cellophane-wrapped heart attacks-to-go.
Around this same time I also discovered Jam music and music festivals. Basically, it was an opportunity to sleep in a tent over the course of four or five days, drink a shit ton of beer, smoke a lot of grass, ingest whatever was handed to me, and all in the guise of “listening to music”. Whatever it was, I was there to party and party I did. If sitting outside a tent and drinking Bud Light by the can was an Olympic sport, I’d be Michael Phelps.
This continued on for a few more years before I actually started to be concerned for my health. I did manage to quit smoking but I had just turned 30 years old, weighed approximately 320 lbs. and would break out into a sweat simply by walking to the corner store for a loaf of bread or, as in the case on this particularly fateful day, from my car to the front at work. After years of living poorly and making unhealthy lifestyle decisions, I had turned myself into a gelatinous blob of fat with no muscle whatsoever. My personal self-esteem suffered awful, I still smoked copious amounts of marijuana a day in order to maintain my sanity in the face of it all and dating was simply impossible. I was entering into my middle age and I felt awful most of the time and, ultimately, I grew very bitter and angry at myself and the rest of the world. I had, quite literally, become the ‘Fat and the Furious’.
Eventually, after seeing that repugnant reflection, I made the decision that things needed to change. I had no idea how I was going to manage this at the time but, finally, the initiative had hit me that I was going to do something…anything. So where most people sign up for Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, or whatever fad diet program that happens to be occupying the majority of prime time air slots on the boob tube, or run out to purchase the latest, convenient, fold away, body sculpting piece of shit being hawked by some celebrity has-been…I started walking and, heaven’s forbid, eating more salad. I still wasn’t a whiz in the kitchen, but I bought some healthy eating cook books from the local secondhand bookstore and started to bookmark basic recipes that even a chimpanzee could muster up. It was a start.
It was something.
At first I simply walked around the neighborhood for an hour or so. There are some very unflattering photographs of me from around this period. It was amazing to me how little I really knew about the area I had lived in for the majority of my life. Now I was discovering what lay at the end of certain side-streets, or laneways that I had never bothered to turn down before, and what pretty landscapes lay in hiding along remote walking trails and local parks. Little by little, these neighborhood walks grew increasingly long in both duration and distance and I completed them faithfully every night after getting home from work. I enjoyed these ambles, in the beginning anyway, and they were every bit as challenging then as some of the crazy workouts I attempt nowadays, yet I still had no invocation of ever completing a triathlon. That notion hadn’t even begun to formulate itself in my mind yet.
I started to plan out my meals with a little more consideration as to what I was actually putting into my body. I began to make the connection that what I ate was directly related to the quality of the workout – however basic – that I would inevitably take later on that day. I also learned another, well, not so pleasant side effect of suddenly switching to a healthy lifestyle after nearly two decades of self-indulgence; real food makes you poop…a lot. Who knew? And I’m not talking about the usual evacuations I was accustomed to when eating all that high calorie, greasy food either, I’m talking about huge spires of earthly-colored crap that would make most circus elephants envious. Every time I needed to go to the bathroom I practically had to clear my afternoon schedule. Let it never be said that getting healthy is a beautiful thing.
After nearly a year of sticking with the plan, through good times and smelly, I wasn’t quite so repulsed with the reflection I saw in passing windows during my walks but, there was still a long way to go in my mind. I even started dating (albeit never for very long) – which was a huge breakthrough in and of itself – just to know that someone could actually find me attractive. I also quit smoking (click HERE) and, most exciting of all, was that I could once again see my penis in the shower without the aid of a box periscope.
I’m all about the small victories.
The time was also approaching I decided, to ratchet up the plan to the next level and included my first foray into what I considered ‘No Man’s Land’; the local gym. Soon there would be no looking back. I latched onto a triathlon training group known as TryForce and, well, the rest is history as lovingly detailed in the past five years worth of entries into this blog.
But why am I dredging all this up now you ask? Well, recently, my two worlds have come crashing together with the full force of two complete solar systems. I was just added (invited) to a Facebook page that is aimed at reconnected friends and acquaintances of mine from that long ago era of total debauchery.
It’s true we all moved on since those times and have gone on to become different people over the last 13 years or so (I’ve been since married and helping to raise a 10-year-old girl), but I’m still conflicted. The immediate drawback is that I’m having issues seeing photos from back then that I had hoped would never ever see the light of day again. I know it was a different time n’ all and that I’m finally on the right past towards leading a happy and healthy lifestyle but, still, it’s a bit discomforting as it genuinely hurts to see myself again so unfit, unhealthy and unhappy. I mean, once you pass through a significant crossroads in your life, do you ever go back there to just stare down the route never taken?
Are these people I even want back in my life?
In some cases, I built some very strong relationships during this time that I’ve been able to successfully foster and maintain over the years. “Uncle Lance” and “Aunt Amy” make regular appearances in my Music in Motion blog and continue to play an important role in my ‘maturing’ as an adult. In another case, Chris, we also reconnected recently and I was thrilled to discover that he has also taken on a keen interest for running as a hobby and is now on point to tackle his first Ultra-Marathon for ‘Team Healthy Kids’ and, hey, that’s some pretty inspiring shit right there folks. What more do you need?
But other relationships, well, not so much. Some relationships just had to end so it’s not without a little trepidation that they all come parading back into my life now. So while I appreciate getting to rekindle a few of these old friendships that I enjoyed back then, it all inevitably comes at the expense of those ghastly photographs resurfacing from an era when I was not on the right track; a look I don’t much ever care to ever revisit.
Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely believe that these are good people but, I’m not clinging to the past with the same kind of dedicated tenaciousness that some of them seem to be. They were good times, sure, but I no longer want to be remembered for my ability to chug a can of Bud Light in 3.2 nanoseconds or be able to make sunrise for days on end before going to bed. Definitely not the kind of adventures I want to be remembered and endeared for.
Having said that, it has lit a little more of a fire under my ass to take this training to the next step in 2016 when I’m going to step back into the Ironman arena again. Seeing these bloated photos of me have inspired me to get rid of this last lingering remnants of a beer belly and fine tune myself into the lean, mean, triathlon machine I was back in 2012, come the start of Ironman Wales. I will do this again. So if having all these old memories from my life long ago should help fuel that desire and motivate me to get back to business, then so be it.
Maybe it’ll all work out after all.