My Life (Part 1): In the Beginning There Was Fat

Posted: August 31, 2016 in In Transition, Lifestyle, Nutrition
Tags: , , ,

Now that the race season is practically over, I’m feeling somewhat at a loss.

For the past seven years I have competed in several triathlons, running races and long distance bike challenges.  This year with the cancellation of my planned Iron-distance event (click HERE), I didn’t compete at all…like, at all.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  I competed one 30k running race…and I totally sucked out (click HERE).

Needless to say, it hasn’t exactly been my finest year fitness-wise.

I mean, I’ve had a great summer – don’t get me wrong!  I helped run 10 kids triathlon all over Ontario and British Columbia with the SunRype Tri-KiDS series and I completed another 10k Swim for Strong Kids…even though that wasn’t my finest hour either.  What I have done well enough though is drink lots of beer and consume stupid amounts of BBQ…like a champ!

Now as I’m beginning to get squared away mentally for the pending 2017 challenges which – *knock on wood* – will mark my triumphant return to both triathlon and a healthy lifestyle, I’ve been reflecting a lot on how I actually ended up going down this road in the first place.

How did I get here?

What can I learn from this?

I guess I’m preparing to go all Rocky IV here by going back to basics, beginning with my diet.

This post then is the culmination of about three weeks worth of reflecting on how I did end up at this juncture in my life as well as what I’ve learned, as a means of using that to motivate me to do the right things again for the next 11 months leading up to July 2nd, 2017…my (hopeful) return to Ironman.


 

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 professional 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 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” award in Grade Six upon graduating Maplecrest Public School; 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 sporting meet or event, but Lord knows I tried hard.

Outside of school I enjoyed recreational 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 as a pre-teenager, a paper route and, with it, a means of instant income and a rather compulsive addiction to chocolate bars so that by the time high school came around I had the inflated physique (and likely the 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 in high school 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 and sinking buckets…I was sweeping rocks and sitting on benches.  Not exactly the stuff that true jocks are made of.

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.

Essentially, this was me every time dinner was called:

giphy1

I could do the basics I suppose; toast bread, pour cereal, spread peanut butter over crackers and, 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 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 multitudes on five loaves of bread and two fish – it’s just that I didn’t play much of a part in the whole 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, and Rule #1 was our getting lost to leave her to 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 towards Taco Bell…every day.  I could consume my body weight in soft bean burritos.  I probably did more often that I’d like to admit.  Despite playing badminton recreationally once or twice a week (thank God for my wicked drop shop which spared me having to run on many an occasion), 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 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 British-style pubs where 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 still the pre-Jamie Oliver era.  My weekly paycheck (or what was left over after rent anyway) 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 eight 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 whatever I managed to throw down my throat on my break and, maybe, something else later in the wee hours of the morning on the way home again (think: MacDonald’s, Burger King, or whatever else happened to still be open 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, leprechauns and the Loch Ness Monster.

Later, I managed to quit the service industry altogether and bumped around from job to job until I ended up working in a call center, mostly because it was air-conditioned and I could sit for eight hours a day.  Besides, I had excellent communication skills so solving customer disputes and handling billing problems over the phone 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 becoming used to 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.

Fortunately by this point, I had managed 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 the car to the front door 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 was practically non-existent and I still smoked copious amounts of marijuana every day in order to maintain my sanity in the face of it all.

Dating?

Impossible.

I was entering into middle age and I felt awful most of the time and, ultimately, I grew very bitter and angry at myself, not to mention the rest of the world.  I had, quite literally, become the ‘Fat and the Furious’.

Eventually, I had a bit of an epiphany.

Well, not so much an epiphany as it was a “moment”.

I very real and ugly moment.

It came while looking at my reflection in the front window at my place of employment.  I was sweating profusely and out of breathe; I was enormous, unkempt, and very unhealthy looking and I had only walked a short distance from the car.  Instead of going in, I just stood there in shock taking in the miserable looking behemoth staring back at me.  I felt terrible.  I was overcome with a profound sense of shame and disappointment.  How had I let things get to this point?  When did I become so fat and out of shape?  I decided then and there to pack it in for the day and went home.  Judging by my reflection, I was justified in taking a sick day as I was most certainly not well; physically or mentally.  It was while sitting on the couch at home that afternoon, smoking pot and eating a candy bar while feeling sorry for myself, that the ultimate decision was made.

Things needed to change.

Fast.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I had taken the first significant step to changing the path of self-destruction.

I had no idea how I was going to manage this change 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 the latest 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 and 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 longer 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 whatever I ate that day was directly related to the quality of the workout – however basic  – that I would take on later 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.

I remember one particular evening when the toilet in my meager apartment had clogged up after a rather glorious passing.  I attacked the drain with a plunger like I was grappling with the control stick of a plummeting B-52 bomber, but to no avail.   After three or four unsuccessful attempts to unblock the offending obstruction, not to mention cleaning up the three or four inevitable overflows, I decided to call in for back-up to my landlord who also conveniently lived on the main floor downstairs.  Unfortunately, he was still at work for the evening so I left a message and settled down on the couch for a nap.

Hey, pooping is hard business don’t’ cha know?

Later that evening when he returned home he immediately came upstairs for a looksee and after a few more unsuccessful “plunge and mop ups”, he too threw in the towel – quit literally actually – and offered to call a plumber in the morning.  It was late and he was tired, so dealing with plugged toilets I’m sure wasn’t exactly what he wanted to be doing.

Who could blame him?

Defeated, he left to go downstairs and shortly thereafter I heard a scream followed by a very vocal “Oh, shit!”  As it later turned out, more accurate words could not have been chosen.

I hurriedly raced downstairs to see what all the commotion was and upon reaching the bottom of the stairs, I saw him standing in the doorway to his apartment – frozen – with a look of pure horror on his face.  It still wasn’t immediately clear what had happened at that point, so I carefully maneuvered around him in the narrow passageway to sneak a peek inside.  The grizzly spectacle I was greeted with would have been on par with any murder crime scene.

It was gruesome indeed!

Bucketful’s of dirty toilet water had poured out from the ceiling just underneath where my bathroom would have been; all over his leather furniture, his home entertainment center, his, well, everything really.  Everything in the apartment was completely saturated with dank, smelly sewage.

It seems that the pipes in my bathroom had completely burst under the floor and released with it an absolute torrential tsunami of shit.  What was revealed later when all was said and done was that, being an old house, the bathroom pipes had literally exploded under the force of my massive meaty turds over the past few monthly.

Oops.

But it’s the truth; I was squeezing out these new Tyrannosaurus-sized turds on a very regular basis, the likes of which I’d never experienced before.  Think about it:  making healthier choices including eating foods with high fiber and more cruciferous vegetables was ultimately wreaking havoc on the poor outdated plumbing in the apartment.  One hundred year old drainage pipes were no match for my reenergized bowel apparently.

Thankfully, my landlord had the proper home insurance to cover such disasters and all would be rectified thanks to nearly three months’ worth of detailed renovations during which time he had to sleep on his sailboat.

All thanks to my new healthy lifestyle.

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 daily walks but, there was still a long way to go in my mind.  I even started dating – albeit never for very long.  This was a huge breakthrough in and of itself just to know that someone could actually find me attractive.  Most exciting of all was that I could once again see my penis in the shower without the aid of a box periscope.

What can I say?

I’m all about 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.

(to be con’d…)

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