Monthly Archives: October, 2012

Who are you cheating?

Sorry for the lack of a post last week. I kind of went on a bender. Not a drink- yourself-to-death-Nicholas-Cage-Leaving-Las-Vegas kind of bender, but a bit of a bender nonetheless. It was my birthday on the 14th and there were a few events as part of the weekend. It was a mini-milestone,35 years, so a maxi-weekend was in order. Saturday, there was the Brewery Market in Hintonburg. It was a great event. Kalin and I met up with our friends and enjoyed pints of local beer … for over six hours. Sunday, my actual birthday, was the traditional dinner at the Highlander. As usual, a great time was had by all. Monday, Kalin and I had dinner with a few of my friends who couldn’t make it Sunday. Tuesday, while not an official birthday event, was the monthly Mill St. Tweet Up. It was a great end to four days of fun.

I’ve been thinking about the nature of cheating again. Once again, it’s the Lance Armstrong case that has me thinking about it. It’s not Lance, specifically, that has me looking at the bigger picture but that entire era of professional cycling. Earlier this week, the UCI accepted the USADA report and stripped Lance of his Tour du France titles. Despite promising defiance, Lance, himself, removed reference to his Tour victories from his Twitter bio.

A footnote to this whole affair is the UCI, in stripping Lance of his titles, decided to do what the Grammy Awards and many other music industry awards did when confronted by the Milli Vanilli controversy and elected not to award them to the best finisher who didn’t dope.

Yes, I just compared Lance Armstrong to Milli Vanilli. I’m sorry if I insulted the talented vocalist who actually sang those songs.

If you think they did this because they couldn’t find a finisher who didn’t dope, you’re probably right. Most of the competitors who finished second and third behind Lance have already had those titles revoked for positive drug tests. Since so much time has passed, verifying the blood sample of the guy who in came in 38th in 1999 is just too difficult. The cleanest finisher probably finished so far back he didn’t actually have to provide one.

For purposes of our discussion, here’s how the dictionary defines “cheat”:

cheat

verb (used with object)

1. to defraud; swindle: He cheated her out of her inheritance.
2. to deceive; influence by fraud: He cheated us into believing him a hero.
3. to elude; deprive of something expected: He cheated the law by suicide.

verb (used without object)

4. to practice fraud or deceit: She cheats without regrets.
5. to violate rules or regulations: He cheats at cards.
6. to take an examination or test in a dishonest way, as by improper access to answer
7. Informal. to be sexually unfaithful (often followed by on ):Her husband knew she had been cheating all along. He cheated on his wife.

 

Lance certainly cheated in pretty much every sense of the word. There were long standing rules against what he did and he did it anyway.

 

However …

 

Everyone else did, too. It was the dirtiest era of a dirty sport. Yes, the UCI had rules against performance enhancing drugs, but did a pretty piss poor job at enforcing them. Laws without the promulgation of force have no effect. I think Aquinas said that.

 

Most sport federations are often behind the proverbial eight ball when it comes to doping and testing techniques are often catching up to the drugs they’re testing for. There’s a reason why samples are kept for years. It’s so they can be examined as the testing techniques catch up to the masking techniques hiding the drugs. They’re even worried about genetic enhancements.

With hero after hero being taken down by testing agencies, we’ve become socially conditioned to not believe in human greatness in athletics until some drug test confirms it. Look at the reaction to the gold medal swim Ye Shewan did in London this summer. Even one of the top people in the IOC’s anti-doping agency said the obsession with doping was detracting from the majesty of sport.

 

No offense, bud, but when your old boss, Dick Pound, goes around saying things like only 10% of dopers ever get caught and can’t open his mouth without levelling an allegation, you can forgive us if our default mood is skeptical. You still can’t differentiate some illegal drugs from Propecia, a legal prescription drug to counter baldness.

 

I was a bit of a witness to this in my last year as a fatty. I was back in New Brunswick to work a number of events that my boss was attending. The biggest was the opening ceremonies of the IAAF Junior Track and Field Championships. Track and Field geeks can correct me if I’m wrong about this, but this the age group prior to when atheletes would be able to qualify for the Olympics. I think the upper end of the age limit might have been 16. Beautiful opening in Moncton’s new stadium. There was even a girls race as part of the ceremony. After it was concluded, the winners were taken backstage and the performances continued. The ceremony ended with the medal presentation for the race. Why the downtime between the end of the race and the presentation? The winners, and a couple of randomly selected athletes, had been taken to a room and had urine and sweat tests administered.

 

That’s how deep-seated the suspicion upon athletes has become; they’re testing teenagers at the equivalent of the world’s biggest high school track meet.

 

Maybe sports should give up the ghost on enforcing prohibitions on performance enhancement and just go to an all-doped format like SNL did in the 1980s (Unfortunately NBC Universal is pretty good about keeping its content off YouTube, so I can’t find a region unrestricted clip. Trust me, kids, it’s hilarious). If we’re going to treat athletes, pro and amateur alike, as dopers until proven clean, maybe we should just let them dope. After all, if everyone does it, it’s not really cheating.

 

It’s not cheating, unless you’re the corporate sponsor of the one honest athlete of the games.

 

Oh, you thought this was about athletes’ safety and the purity of sport, didn’t you?

 

Before they dropped his ass, when was the last time you saw Lance cycling without the Nike logo on his uniform? The companies that sponsor events and atheletes have a vested interest in two things: 1) their guy winning, 2) their guy winning in such a way he doesn’t drop dead at the finish line. Dead atheletes make horrible spokespeople. Same with ‘roid rage cases. Sponsors want to see their athletes’ photo on a box of Wheaties, not a mug shot on the Smoking Gun. There have been plenty of cases where sponsors have been culpable in their athlete’s doping, and the bad publicity is enough to drive share prices into the toilet.

 

For those of us that compete in sports for the fun of it, there’s no rationale for this kind of cheating. First, it’s expensive. There’s a reason why sponsored athletes engage in this type of cheating. They can afford it. If athletes lived off winnings alone, they’d probably take home less after expenses than you and I do. For people like us who do a couple of events a year, the payday just isn’t there.

 

It’s harmful. One of the side effects of some performance enhancement drugs is shrunken testicles. Given that Lance already lost one to cancer, you’d think he’d be concerend about the viability of the other one. Nope. The desire to win trumps all. My desire to one day have a family trumps my desire to cross a finish line first.

 

For those of us who are on that weightloss journey, cheating means departing from the nutrition plan or slacking off on the exerices. In that instance, you are truly cheating yourself. I know. Remember, I was there. Every now and then I couldn’t resist and indulged a little bit. My usual nemesis was movie theatre popcorn. There were also a few special events where I didn’t have good options available or just plain indulged. Each time, the consequence was that I was up a pound or two. That was a pound or two I had to lose before I could post a net loss for the week. I had to discipline myself to think that every time I weighed in up a pound it would be another session before I reached my goal. Those additional sessions cost me money. Frequent readers will know while I don’t mind splashing out money, I do mind not getting the value for the expenditure. Only I could control the value I got from my sessions, so it was up to me to be disciplined.

 

Shortcuts didn’t help much, either. One fat burner supplement taught me a valuable lesson in reading labels.

 

In the end, it doesn’t matter if you’re a professional or amateur. There are rules in life, written and unwritten, enforced by a series of consequences and rewards. I think we’ve all learned in the last few weeks the answer to the question, “Who exactly are you cheating?” In the end, it’s yourself.

 

Allons-y!

 

The Folly of Shame

Brace yourself, I’m going to say something nice about Air Canada. Travelling to the Maritimes, we’re pretty much held hostage to Air Canada’s schedule. Yes, there are other domestic carries, but unless you live in Moncton or Halifax, you’re stuck with Air Canada to get to your destination.

I’m not going to recount the nightmare after nightmare flying with them during the winter months have been over the years. My most recent flight was my 6 am return to Ottawa from New Brunswick on Tuesday. I shared my row with a rather obese passenger, large enough they took up almost a quarter of my seat. As the passenger curled up to sleep through the flight and took up even more room, I spent the subsequent two hours thanking God that even at my peak weight I was never large enough to exceed the seat dimensions of an air plane. In fact, one of the lies I would tell myself was, “I fit in one of those tiny airplane seats. I can’t be too overweight.”

Around a year before I started my weight loss, one of my favourite directors, Kevin Smith, was kicked off a flight for being too big for his seat. Sparing myself this public humiliation and the logistical nightmare of rescheduling travel with the one airline that travels to my hometown may have crystallized my decision to lose weight.

I didn’t complain to my passenger or even ask the flight attendant to be reseated. It was a fully booked Dash-8 with all of 17 seats available to passengers (for some reason that remains a mystery to this day, row 2AC is reserved for the flight crew even though the one attendant on the plane has a seat at the front of the plane) and there was simply no seat to move to. I was also partially sympathetic. While I was never in that situation, it was only when I was travelling last year that I realized how big I was. Suddenly the seats on that little plane were … reasonably comfortable.

After the flight in my tired-ass wandering mind on the bus back to downtown , I started thinking. In 2009, the Canadian Transportation Agency recognized obesity as a disability and imposed a “one passenger, one fare” policy on the national airlines. Previously, if you exceeded the width of the seat (defined as seated with the armrest in the down position) you had to purchase the seat next to you. I don’t blame obese people for complaining. Buying two seats is a pretty expensive proposition, up to $3000. It would actually be cheaper to buy a larger executive class seat. Unfortunately, there’s no executive class seating going to and from Fredericton. None on the direct flight from Ottawa. None on the flights from Toronto and Montreal. Certainly none on the plane from Halifax. That plane barely has a luggage hold.

So, if out of the cause of reasonable accommodation, the airlines are forced to only charge a passenger a single fare regardless of the number of seats they use, is it also reasonable to make the partial seat that remains available for the 100% of the advertised fare?

I decided to investigate. I sent the following to Air Canada’s customer complaint e-mail (with personal identifiers removed):

On the above referenced flight, I was seated in 5D, an aisle seat next to an obese passenger who was large enough that the passenger would not safely fit into the seat with the armrest down. For the duration of the flight, the passenger took up about 25% of my seat. I didn’t want to cause trouble for the flight and, frankly, there didn’t look to be another seat available to move to other than 2A and C which are reserved for the flight attendant. I understand several years ago, the Canadian Human Rights Commission [Author’s note: further research revealed it was the Canadian Transport Agency] imposed a “one passenger, one fare” rule on Canada’s airline. With that understood, is it fair to make the seat available next to a passenger so obese he/she cannot fit in a single seat? Given that the Dash-8 aircraft only has two seats per row, there may be occasions where a passenger would need to be reseated. If an obese passenger is going to take up 25% of the adjacent seat, why should the passenger who has paid 100% of a fare for a seat not be entitled to an entire seat? Since there is the aforementioned row reserved for the attendant, who already has a seat at the front of the front of the plane, should not one of the passengers be reseated? It was just over two years ago that I was at my heaviest. While I was never so obese that I could not fit in a single seat with the armrest lowered, I did require come rather close to that size. Had I been at my previous weight on this morning’s flight, I would not have been able to sit in my assigned seat.

That was Tuesday morning. You know what happened? By Wednesday morning, Air Canada e-mailed me with a $150 credit for future travel as a gesture of goodwill. They explained their policy of “encouraging” obese passengers to buy a second seat when in economy class. The issue of the available row 2 which could be used to reseat a passenger remained unaddressed.

It might have helped that I selected the prefix “Dr.” from the drop down menu.

I started to think about some of the recent commentary on fat shaming. It’s basically the idea if you make fat people ashamed of being fat, they’ll lose weight. It made the news recently when this reporter responded to a viewer’s letter over her weight. Local Ottawa doctor Yoni Freedhoff even accused Disney of doing it earlier this year. There was even talk of it in the presidential race when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was being coaxed into running for the Republican nominaton. It resurfaced when he was among the politicos shortlist for Romney’s running mate and again when he addressed the Republican convention. Not all of us are lucky enough to be consoled by Sofia Vergara when someone makes fun of us, but he seems like he can take it. He did, after all, paraphrase Machiavelli and then attribute it to … his mother.

The logic of shaming is ridiculous. If you tease and troll a human being enough, they’ll make a radical life change. As a guy with unusually high self-esteem, when I was called fat I usually retorted with “Just like how your mom likes it.” Guys aren’t bombarded with images of male perfection and forced to conform. In fact, it’s the opposite. My usual nemesis, KFC, now has an advertisement where their overweight, unkempt character walks around with a bucket of the new chicken product and eventually is surrounded by a harem of bikini-clad women. Unless rufies are the 11th herb and spice, there is no way this will happen in reality. Gluttony is increasingly becoming acceptable behaviour for generation of arrested developed males. 

It’s a lot different for girls. I remember one of my feminist sociology profs complaining about the objectification of women in men’s magazines, which had exploded in number in the late 1990s (a number of which no longer exist). At some point, I snorted, “Have you been to the magazine rack at Chapters lately? Seems like women are giving men a run for their money on the objectification of their gender.”  In our exchange, which included me asking my classmates who had men’s and women’s magazines with them (interesting moment, none of the men admitted to having a men’s magazine on hand, but 2/3 of the women had Cosmo), I argued that for all the barflegarp about empowerment in women’s magazines like Cosmo most teenage girls are seeing a stick thin waif on the model on the cover. Regardless of whether the title was “Maxim” or “Cosmopolitan”, in the heyday of Kate Moss, thin was in and being presented as the ideal.

With all that cultural pressure already on women to fit into a particular ideal, those that try their whole lives and can’t get there are already pretty miserable. If you call sending young girls to the bathroom after dinner to puke their guts out a success story, give yourself a pat on the back, asshole. All you’re doing is just giving people with already low self-esteem another pummelling. I bet you make fun of the disabled, too.

For all your smug, self-appointed, self-righteousness, here’s the truth: you’re a bloody failure. You shame, society has gotten fatter. Unless there’s some immediate health concern (diabetes, high blood pressure, etc), most fatties don’t think they’re unhealthy. As I wrote at the beginning of this journal and reiterated last week, as obesity rates go up, most fat people think they’re normal and thin people are starving themselves. The truth is both extremes are full of stuff and malarkey (I wrote this after watching the VP debate).

There’s no magic bullet to get someone to lose weight. I didn’t think I was unhealthy when I was 250 lbs. The first time I was that heavy, I certainly knew it and had the sleep apnea diagnosis to prove it. It was overloaded public buses that started me losing weight and the encouragement of good friends to find ways to make a little loss into lifestyle change. Just because what I did worked for me, doesn’t mean it will work for someone else.

Don’t let the potential for failure deter you from attempting success. Even shedding a few pounds or a few inches in size will add years to your life. They might be Denis Leary’s “adult diaper, kidney dialysis years”, but you’ll enjoy your time here and now so much more.

Taunting and teasing won’t help. Shaming just leads to a persecution/victim complex which just reinforces negative behaviour, like stress eating or starvation.

You’re just another bully. You don’t even have the guts to say it to someone’s face. Having a Twitter account doesn’t elevate your thoughts to genius, it just exposes you as a coward and a buffoon 140 characters at time.

I honestly hope the passenger who sat beside me on Tuesday finds it within to start their own journey. Their life will be better for it.

Allons-y!

PS – you may notice that I’ve changed part of the title of this blog. It is no longer my year of not being fat anymore. That year ended last week. I’m going to keep writing about this journey because I’m still learning and I think I still have things in this noggin worth sharing. It’s now my life of not being fat. Hope you still enjoy the ride. I am.

Once again,

Allons-y!

My new normal

When I started this journal of my weight loss journal, I argued with rising obesity rates that obese was the new normal. It’s been almost two years since that entry, but the Globe and Mail caught up last weekend.

As this week passed, I reached a new milestone. It’s been a year since I reached my goal weight. This year, I celebrated, but nowhere near as bad as the two week food bender I went on during my downtime between finishing with my trainer and joining Greco. Since I had just completed my second half marathon and was in recovery mode, I had a few indulgences. Well, not really. Kalin and I did splurge at St. Louis a couple of hours after our race, but we had just run 21.1 km. I think we can handle it. Might have had some junk last weekend, but other than that I’ve kept to my usual good habits.

I’ve had a number of questions about how disciplined I am in my eating habits and exercise routine. The truth is, I’m not. I don’t feel disciplined. I pretty much eat what I want. The difference is what I wanted then and what I want now are two different things.

When I started this last year, I truly needed discipline.

The biggest change to my eating habits was the no starchy carbs. In fairness, it was the only change. The nutrition plan I was on didn’t keep me from eating meat and most of the vegetables I like, but gone was the baked potato with the steak, the spaghetti carbonara with my chicken, the pizza crust with my pizza.

I needed the shock therapy. Starting from scratch with new eating habits helped me build a new routine that would not just get me out of the fat suit I was living in, but keep me out once I got to my goal weight. I was also working in a relatively fast paced environment in the Senate of Canada (I know most Canadians reading that last sentence are probably gobsmacked to see the word “fast” in any sentence referring to our Senate) which forced me to adapt my routine to the workplace. I was lucky to have a kitchen with a fridge and microwave where I could store and re-heat meals. There was also a cafeteria on the fifth floor and the Parliamentary Dinning Room (but staff rarely go there without their Member/Senator).

The main thing I learned very quickly if I was going to be successful: bring dinner, too. Some days were harder to judge to when it’s going to be long day so be prepared to have dinner at the office. A routine sitting day can become a long sitting very quickly. I might have to fill in for my boss at an event or represent him at a reception. Stuff like that. While the cafeteria stays open until the House rises, anything remotely healthy would be gone after the supper hour rush. If you have your own dinner on hand, the worst that can happen is that you don’t need to use it. In that case, it’s there for lunch the next day and you have a slightly less heavy bag to lug. Some days, I would eat before I left just so I wouldn’t have to cook when I got home. There were also days where I was hanging around the office between the end of the workday and when I would go to my Running Room clinic so I would eat then. 

As some carbs and fats were added back in, I found the ones I used to eat frequently I no longer craved. I like my whole grain pasta, particularly on the Friday before  a long run on Sunday, but I don’t covet it. For all the talk of bacon in the news these days, I’ve bought all of 1lb since January 2011. Don’t blame me for the impending shortage.

Exercise was another routine I had to start from scratch. I wasn’t a total coach potato when I was fat, but I couldn’t/wouldn’t sustain a commitment to an exercise routine to save my life. When I started with my trainer at Free Form Fitness, I started with two sessions a week for six weeks and then went to three. I also needed to find a time that wouldn’t get continuously pre-empted by my professional duties. For me, the sweet spot was the morning. I was not a morning person, but I realized that I was only going to make it to my sessions if I scheduled them for the times when I knew I didn’t have to be at the office, prior to 8 am. Paying for the service also helps. I can be rather spendthrift, but I want to get my money’s worth. Showing up to my appointments was the only way to do that. Having started this new routine in January, it meant beginning and ending my days in darkness.

Today, I’m working out at Greco LeanandFit four times a week (and may ratchet it up to five) and running three times a week. I’ve completed two half-marathons, both with sub-two hour finishes.  

Speaking of running, I’m instructing again. I’m leading the 5k clinic at the Slater St. Running Room. Kalin is helping me as a pace leader. One of the big challenges with instructing the 5k is it’s the gateway drug to running. Some are using it get back into the sport after years off or recovering from an injury while some are new to running altogether. As such the groups spread out rather quickly on the runs and it’s difficult to effectively supervise everyone. The faster may get out of earshot rather quickly and may run longer their body is ready for. I’m glad she’s going to help where she can. Wednesdays can be long days for work, but I’m thankful for the help.

Going back to shorter distances and slower speeds is going to mean some modifications of the routine. Probably going to have to work out a little bit more to earn that Mello’s breakfast on Saturday, but at this point it’s more “Been there. Done that. Bought the T-Shirt.”

With Thanksgiving upon us, I’m hitting the road for the weekend. No, there’s subterfuge this year. Mom knows I’m coming home for the weekend. It’s a testament to the fact that I’ve so altered my routine that I can go to the old haunts and not succumb to the temptation to indulge … or at least space out the indulgences to fit the routine.

I’m a creature of  habit and my habits sucked. Only by starting from scratch and building new habits, could I succeed. Succeed I did. Succeed I continue to do.

Allons-y!