My friend, Michael Rudderham, posted this video a week ago on Facebook.
Jay McNeil is a radio DJ in my ancestral homeland of Cape Breton who is on a journey of his own and is bravely telling his own story in a public video blog.
I say bravely because I know it’s something I couldn’t do. I tried. When I moved this blog from the privacy of Facebook to public forum of WordPress I tried to incorporate a video blog. I couldn’t get past doing an intro video. It wasn’t a technical issue. I have a good camera that records in full HD. I’m an iMovie ninja. I just couldn’t get through doing a few minutes without flubbing a line or blubbering like an idiot.
Yes, I wrote blubbering. Cried a few man tears. In my defence, even James Bond cried … twice. As I was reading from the script I had written, my mind wandered through the journey I had taken at that point. It was the end of July 2011 and I was a mere 11 lbs away from my goal. With most of the journey seemingly behind me, memories and emotions kept flooding to the fore. The early morning wake-ups. The walks to Free Form in the dark, cold winter mornings. The low feelings of hitting plateaus. The unmitigated joy of losing a single pound to break that plateau. The workouts and runs with Vicky and Christian. That first 5K race. Chris and Britt’s wedding. It all just came up. Sometimes it was the giggles. Sometimes it was man tears. Maybe it was my subconscious telling me policy advisors should be heard by the employers and not seen by the public. Whatever was going on in that crazy mind of mine, I simply didn’t have the composure to continue.
I came to realize that writing a blog and shooting a video blog are substantially different activities. There’s a bit of intellectual and emotional distance the written creates creates. Everything I’ve written goes through a couple of edits and re-writes. With video, it’s all out there. Heart and soul. Good on Jay for being able to do what I could not.
The video got me thinking about my identity, who I am versus who I was. I would like to think I’m the same guy. I just shed the fat suit. When I did my weight loss the first time to combat sleep apnea, I told one friend it was to make the outer me look like the inner me. I had positive self-esteem, but I was realistic about what my body looked like. The doctor’s diagnosis helped with that.
Maybe because I was never that heavy, I didn’t settle for less. At least that is what I thought. I’ll probably never figure out to what extent my size and lack of abilities constrained my choices and what I consider success. As worlds of possibility open up before me, it’s obvious that even though I aimed as high as I could, my size put me on a direction where certain choices and achievements were available to me.
That’s okay. I don’t intend to spend any significant period of time being retrospective. I’m not going to be haunted by past successes that just aren’t there.
I’m only starting to understand what it must be like for friends who used to be in shape who have lost their fitness. It took a while because everything I’m doing I’m doing it for the first time. When I look at the past, I don’t see great feats of physical accomplishments. I was on the winning team for “sports day” in sixth grade at Coxheath Elementary. That’s pretty much it for the glory days of youth. Hung up the hockey skates after probably a season. I did summer sports like baseball, soccer, and golf. You know the fervour fans of these sports display? That’s pretty much the level of disdain I hold for these sports. The only thing close to an actual athletic team I belonged to was the Air Gun/Archery club at George Street Junior High.
That’s not to say I hated sports. I enjoyed non-competitive sports where I could just enjoy myself, like skating and skiing in the winter and swimming in the summer. Maybe that’s why I’ve taken to running. I’m only in competition with myself.
When I look back, though, I see the geeky kid above. I don’t see provincial championships. I don’t see podiums and medals. Now, to use the vernacular of my generation’s preferred entertainment medium, video games, I’ve levelled up and unlocked new achievements. My greatest successes are in the present. That is where I choose to live.
PS – Speaking of that annual ritual of youthful sadism “sports day”, for any readers in Cape Breton, the Cape Breton Post took a photo of me humiliating myself, at the skipping station one year. For some reason, 1985 comes to mind, but it could have been as early 1982. If anyone were to find said picture and send it to me, I’d be eternally grateful.
… of my year.
What? Did you think I was calling it quits on the blog?
You should know by now I like writing too much to let this drop. It’s also a great tool to keep myself accountable.
I also have low self-esteem and am in constant need of affirmation from others.
Okay, go ahead and call bullshit on that last sentence.
In truth, I have the Doors song stuck in my head. Some techno pile of pablum on the playlist for my Greco classes samples the opening in its chorus. It’s not as bad as the techno cover of Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb I heard at Freshii one night.
I almost didn’t make it. While I reached my goal weight with Free Form Fitness at the end of September, I added a few pounds between the end of my time there and the beginning of my time at Greco Lean and Fit.
I worked the extra pounds off and then some at Greco. The indulgences of New Brunswick and a relaxed exercise routine during my trip home for Christmas holidays added a few back. Renewed food discipline and increased exercise, four Greco sessions to make up for the loss of a run night, beat it back the weight to below 170.
By the numbers
Worst (Sept 2010) January 13 2011 January 13 2012
Weight (lbs) 250ish 234 165
Body Fat % ? 36% 21.9%
BMI 38 35.6 25.1
Neck (In) 17.5 17.5 15
Chest 52 50 38
Waist 42 42 32
I’ve gone from looking like
While most of my friends wished 2011 goodbye and good riddance, I was kind of sad to see the old girl go. While it did end on a low note professionally, the preceding 52 weeks taken in total simply constitute the best year of my life. I accepted the challenge of getting to 170 lbs and I exceeded it. On a dare, I took up running, committing to do a 5K race. I not only survived that race, but a found a new passion. I did four more 5K races since then and went from 32:35 in May to a personal best of 27:25 in September. I’ve deepened my existing friendships and made a lot of new ones. Becoming an instructor at the Running Room reignited my passion for teaching.
How much have my looks changed? The facial recognition feature of iPhoto hasn’t recognized me since July. I have to manually
That’s how I did this, but why did I do this?
To protect my side gig as a Ricky Gervais impersonator. Ricky lost weight, so did I.
Well, not really. Seeing some high profile celebs that I’m a fan of, like Ricky Gervais and Jonah Hill, get fit this year helped strengthen my resolve to succeed, but the resolve was already there.
I knew I would have to do this eventually. In 2004, I clocked in at 244 lbs and was diagnosed with sleep apnea. I had the choice of the CPAP machine or lose weight, so I hit the gym and got my weight down to 180 lbs by the time I left New Brunswick for my PhD studies in Washington, DC. I had no idea my weight had crept back on me over the next five years. The sedentary lifestyle of the graduate student combined with the penchant for stupid food choices lead to it all coming back and then some.
In many ways, this last year has felt like the Doctor’s regeneration sequence. I look different. (I’m sure you’re getting sick of the Doctor Who references, but I’m not.) I feel different. More energy. More stamina. I go to bed earlier, but I also get up around 5 am almost every day. Farmers and fishermen don’t get up this early (at least this time of year).
I am still the same, though. Think of it as the 2nd Michael.
The next year has a lot to live up to. The blog will continue while I actually go an entire year not fat. What you’ve read up until today was just the prologue.
There are challenges ahead. Some, like the half-marathon, I’ve set for myself.
Others have been thrust upon me. My old flames, my most psychotic stalker ex-lovers have found me. First, Covered Bridge Potato Chips found its way to the Organic Food Store near Vicky’s.
My greatest enemy has found me. Five Guys. The Daleks to my Doctor. They stalked me all the way from Washington. Time and space meant nothing for them in their dogged pursuit of me. They crossed a border. This litter was at the foot of the stairs to my apartment building when I came home from a movie Monday night.
They’re here. There’s one in Riverside, a mere 3.5 km away.
The Doctor ended the Time War between the Time Lords and the Daleks by placing the whole conflict in a time lock, literally locking them away from existence.
I don’t quite have that capability. I’m just not going to go to Riverside.
The answer is that simple: just don’t go. If Tron: Legacy taught us anything, sometimes the only way to win is to withdraw from the game.
To quote a great admiral:
I was planning on distilling some final thoughts/year-in-review type stuff on my weight loss journey in next week’s regular blog post. Of course, waiting for airplanes this time of year gives one time to get ahead. Also, a retweet from Philip DeFranco has created renewed interest in the blog. All things considered, I figured a series of quick posts may be in order.
Since many of you made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, you’re probably trying to figure out how you’re going to accomplish it.
This is no place for amateurs. Call in the professionals.
I’ve succeeded on my own but failed on my own more than I succeeded. You can buy a million books and google a million diets, but you’re probably going to fail. The books are written for a broad audience, not you and your circumstance. I must have picked up a dozen diet books over the years. Put most of them back on the shelf when their nutrition plans started breakfast with … eggs.
I hate eggs.
I’d flick through the pages to see what the substitute for eggs was. Egg whites.
Real genius, guys (and girls).
If I wanted the substitute or additional information, there was a lovely website I could go to get what I was looking for … with a paid subscription.
What is this? Dragon’s Den? Did Kevin O’Leary put you up to this?
I tried NutriSystem, once. I tried it because I liked the idea of a month’s worth of food arriving by mail. I had just recovered from a few days of illness when the cupboards were bare, so this appealed to me.
Good Lord that food was awful. It made me want to get sick so I could go to the hospital to have better food. Despite shedding a few pounds on that plan, when the second month’s supply arrived, I couldn’t bring myself to eat it. I happened to look out my apartment window and saw a homeless person dumpster driving in my building’s parking lot. I left the box outside where he could find it when he climbed out of the bin and called NutriSystem to cancel my service.
Whether you get a personal trainer like I did, a nutritionist, a doctor, Weight Watchers or whatever, get advice tailored to your needs and goals. You’re going to need to spend money to lose weight. You’ll either need a gym membership, equipment, gear or, like me, all of the above. I did a trainer. I had a friend in grad school who had great success with Weight Watchers. The point is to get expert advice for you as an individual, not you as one of the teeming masses.
Instead of throwing good money after bad advice, pay for advice for you, not the millions of people that watch Oprah. To use the language of my generation, your professional is narrowcast, their professional is broadcast.
For me, hiring a trainer, JM at Free Form Fitness, created the motivation to succeed. I like my money. I like spending my money on stuff. Stuff I can see, stuff I can use. If I didn’t show up to my sessions, I would be out money. I was paid decently at my old job, but the training ate up pretty much all of my disposable income. If I didn’t follow the meal plan, I would be out money. Ironically, if I did everything right and succeeded, I’d still be out money, but I would see the results for which I paid. In that case, it would be money well spent.
Big picture: I may not be able to afford a tropical vacation this year to show off a beach body, but I would have a beach body to show off next year.
The best thing about calling in the pros, is that you don’t have to figure things out. That’s what you pay them for.
Their job: come up with a plan for your success.
Your job: JFDI – just fucking do it. (Apologies for the strong language. I try to keep the blog cleaner than my real world language)
January 27, 2011
Today’s Weigh-in: 228 lbs
Loss to Date: 8 lbs
To goal: 58 lbs
Again I want to start by thanking everyone for their encouragement, especially those who have shared their own stories of weight loss.
Your stories reminded me: I’ve done this before and I will do this again.
It’s funny how these things start. In my case, it was a 2004 family trip to Alberta for my cousin’s wedding. For the most part, I stayed in my own hotel rooms. I was 27 and well employed, a veritable grown-up who didn’t need to crash with his parents. With one exception: the two nights we stayed in the bed and breakfast where we were having the wedding dinner and, since Cape Bretoners were involved, party . The first night, I stayed in a room with my parents, they in the bed in an above loft and me on a pull out couch. At some point, Dad kicked the pull-out bed to get me to roll over, complaining I was snoring too loud. I flipped the bird, called him a hypocrite (among other things unfit for publication), but ultimately complied. This ritual would be repeated when I went to Halifax for another cousin’s wedding, this time sharing a room with my parents because I neglected to reserve one myself and the hotel sold out.
Dad had good reason to get called the “h” word (the others, … well … he did actually kick the bed). Neither of my parents are what you call quiet sleepers, and I spent many a night while travelling on family vacations utterly powerless to get to sleep after they started. When they tried to warn me that my snoring was unnaturally loud, my reaction when I was in a good mood was typical of my generation: “Whatever” or “My snoring isn’t my problem, it’s yours.”
Turns out though, it was my problem. In the months that followed, I noticed a whole host of things happening that simply weren’t normal for me. My memory recall was shot. More than one friend over the years has remarked at my ability to recall the tiniest bit of trivia – a skill that was very useful at Rick Anderson’s trivia shows – and one even suggested I try to get on Jeopardy to fund grad school.
I was also dozing off at work. Now I’m sure that happens to everyone now and then, but this was happening daily. With my coffee consumption at the time hovering around 3 to 4 extra-large Tim Horton’s a day, I had more caffeine in my blood than actual blood. I was especially worried about the dozing off, because it was summer and a 7 hour drive to the family summer homestead in Ben Eoin was never out of the question and I often drive with my boss to political events. I write “drive with” because he likes to drive himself, but if I’m lucky, he’ll be just tired enough he won’t want to drive home so I get to do my Jeremy Clarkson impression and get behind the wheel of his Jaguar or Caddy.
Figuring these were connected, I went to see my doctor. I hate going to see my doctor. Not because it means admitting I’m sick, but because he’s a cranky bastard. The good thing is cranky bastard doctors are pretty efficient so at least he usually runs on time. In this case, I actually got a med student doing their practice term. She looked down my throat, ruled a few things out, got stymied and was thinking of what other tests she could subject me to when I opened my big yap:
“I’ve been hearing about this thing called sleep apnea. Could this be it?”
That pretty much crystallized whatever she was thinking. Next thing, she’s ordering the sleep test.
I should probably mention at this point that I have never been a great sleeper. A good night sleep for me might be four hours. My mother says, “You’ve been a night owl since the day you were born. You just stopped keeping the rest of us up with you.” This history wasn’t quite helpful when the intern would ask when was my last quality sleep and my response would be typically, “Never” or “Two weeks ago when I went out with the boys. It took about eight hours to sleep that off.”
I’ll spare you the medical mumbo-jumbo on sleep apnea. That’s what Google and Wikipedia are for. All you really need to know is the sleep test, which uses infrared to measure the continuous levels of oxygen in your bloodstream while you sleep. If it records levels going down, you have apnea. Like most tests I’ve taken throughout life, I registered a high score. A high score in this test, however, is more like a high score in golf. You don’t want it.
The diagnosis was in. The treatment was a Continuous Positive Air Pressure (CPAP) machine and weight loss. I then weighed in at 244 lbs. In the BMI index, that was 37 or Obese Level II. In fact, just a few points shy of morbid obesity. While no causal link has been established between sleep apnea patients and obesity, there is a high correlation between the two. Since the correlation is greater than that of cigarette smokers to cancer, I figure they might be right on this one.
The month long trial with the CPAP machine made me wonder if the device was in use at Gitmo, extracting info from Taliban militants. For those who haven’t taken the hint and googled sleep apnea, a CPAP keeps your airway open while you sleep by blowing air through your nose through the airway, forcing the flap to stay open. If you’re thinking it sounds like a vacuum cleaner on reverse, you’re right. It’s just quieter. The first mask they gave me went over my head like that for a fighter pilot. Since I was a light sleeper, this was enough to ensure the next month would be a sleepless one, thus defeating the point of the machine. Two weeks in, I asked for different mask. This one was the tube kind like you see emphysema patients, it wraps around your ears and goes up your nostrils. It wasn’t much of a help. Despite having a built in humidifier, it dried out my nostrils and caused frequent nose bleeds. Cocaine addicts have less nose bleeds than I had. I ended my four week trial in week three because my mind was made up. There was no way I was going to spend $1200 for this thing. Since I wasn’t going to buy it, there seemed little reason to lug it with me on a business trip to Washington, DC.
So weight loss it was. Ironically, when I was diagnosed with sleep apnea, I was already moving in this direction for its own sake. I had already started to go swimming daily prior to my diagnosis. Since I had also moved out of my parent’s house in New Maryland for a townhouse on Connaught St., I was now within walking distance of my office at St. Thomas, albeit an uphill walk. The morning after my diagnosis, I took out a membership at the STU fitness centre. Since most of my vehicle use was meetings off-campus and the weekend, I would leave the car at the university during the week and walk to work on weekdays and workout at the fitness centre before going to work. After work, I would walk downtown to the Beaverbrook hotel to swim before walking home. I even symbolically sold my junk food to one of my housemates for a dollar and moved it from my side of the cupboard to his.
I didn’t have a nutritional plan like I do now, but I cut down on portions. No more “fourth meal” on Friday night. I would keep my Saturday morning routine of going to the Boyce Farmer’s Market as a reward, but other than that I kept true to my plan. I even cut back on drinking. At the time, I was probably drinking a couple of gin and tonics a night. I cut it down to couple a week. Fridays at the Taproom were still sacrosanct.
By the time I left for DC in August 2005 to start my PhD, I was down to 178 lbs. I was down from a 44 waist to 38. I had my suits taken in. Oddly, I hadn’t gone down a shirt size. The dimensions for men’s shirts are such that neck, shoulder, and chest size matter in determining size and those don’t change much through weight loss. The large might still have been too small, but the XLs were pretty loose, though.
The following years would see me gain almost every pound back. In part because my weight loss didn’t lead to me having some ripped body like those late night informercials, I didn’t notice the pounds coming back on. I figured the walk to places like Urban BBQ for their soul rolls was enough to justify them. Upon coming back to Ottawa, working while writing the dissertation didn’t help. I needed the quick meal so I could get writing, not the good meal. Suit sizes became an unreliable indicator, too. When designers switched to slimmer suit designs to capitalize on the Mad Men fashion trends, I arbitrarily went up to a size 52 suit while my 46s still fit perfectly.
I haven’t had the return of the symptoms of sleep apnea, but that’s not to say that I was healthy at 236. We too often equate health as the absence of illness, even though some ailments are less illness and more conditions. I started to think I was in poor condition back in late November when a fire alarm forced the evacuation of the floor of my building around four am. Walking down 19 flights was not a problem. It was walking back up 19 flights because the night shift at security couldn’t get the elevators running again that damn near killed me. Since I was already losing weight, I figured it was now time to get fit, too.
Since starting this program, I have had a cartoon running through my head. My friends from the east coast of Canada will remember a time with the cable company carried the Bangor affiliates of the US networks, instead of Boston. The NBC affiliate used to show cartoons in the afternoon around the time we’d get home from school. Many of these were old Tom and Jerry ‘toons and the occasional Fleisher Superman cartoon. Sometimes they’d throw in an old war bonds cartoon. The one I keep thinking about while I’m on this journey is about some mice who band together against their common foe, the household’s cat. They gather materials, recycle toothpaste tubes, etc. to build a mechanical dog to chase the cat away. The entire time, they’re singing a song “We did it before and we’ll do it again.”
And so will I.
January 20th, 2011
This week’s weigh-in: 230.5 lbs.
Loss to Date: 5.5 lbs.
To Goal: 60.5 lbs.
First, I want to thank everyone for the encouragement after my first note and subsequent status updates. Your support is more important than you know.
There’s even a book about it.
Of the many, many, many (get the point yet?) works I poured over the last couple of years in preparing my dissertation, one keeps coming back to mind, Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives — How Your Friends’ Friends’ Friends Affect Everything You Feel, Think, and Do by Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler (the last half of that gloriously unweildly title is actually the new paperback edition). It was about real social networks, not the virtual ones like Facebook, and how our social relationships affect our individual behaviours. Now the context in which I was reading it was the effect of living abroad on expatriate voters (something that can be explained fully by buying my dissertation once it’s published), but the chapter on the social relation network effects on health keeps coming back to haunt me. After a lot academic gobbly-gook and charts that one would need a grad programme in mathematics to understand, they came up with a simple conclusion:
Obesity is contagious.
So simple even Oprah got it and had them on the show. The plain language version is fat people tend to have their closest relationships with other fat people. What doctors, nutritionists, health fascists, would call overeating is their normal and by reinforcing this attitude, they make each other fatter. Kind of like the opposite of that attractive friend who seems to have all attractive people as his/her friends. The same logic can be extended to any number of bad behaviours: smoking, drinking, drugs, etc.
If you’re thinking, this is just a fancy way of saying “peer pressure” you’re probably right, or at least close enough. Remember, one of the goals of an academic is to get people to pay to read stuff they already know in a way to make it seem like they learned something.
At first, I was tad dismissive, largely because it seemed to minimize the importance of individual choice and responsibilty. No one ever forced me to order KFC. In my own circumstance, most of the friends in my inner circles whereever I’ve lived in these past few years were not fat. Even casting the net wider to include passing aquintainces, I seemed to be the proverbial outlier, every group’s token fat friend.
Now, not so dissimive.
Why? If obesity is contagious, maybe the opposite is true. Now that I’m here in Ottawa for the time being, I look at my friends and co-workers and see people who are all in some way, shape or form associated with fitness. Without naming names, it seems like everyone I closely associate with is involved in fitness of some form. Their goals, training regimens, and diets are different, but they’re all busting their arses to get into or stay in shape. Even the path I’ve chosen came from a friend’s suggestion as something we could do together in the new year.
I would love to say the cure for obesity is for fat people to hang out more with skinny people. If that were the case, I’d find a way to drag it out to 300+ pages, charge $30 bucks a copy and get on Oprah, myself. With our obesity rates in the Western world rising, we’re running out of skinny people in Canada to be friends with (Just thinking about this gives me the idea for a parody of George A. Romero’s zombie films), but I certainly wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t hang around people far skinnier than me.
I do need your encouragement, but not for the reason you may think. My particular brand of self-depracating humour may lead some to think I’m down on myself. As I have had to explain in the past, for whatever maladies I may suffer, a deficeit of self-esteem is not one of them. I like me. I think I’m awesome. To parapharse Churchill, I am not in the business of modest men. The problem of thinking you’re great when you’re overweight is you’ve convinced yourself you’re fine when you’re not. No problem here. It took a diagnosis of sleep apnea (and a tortuous trial period with a CPAP machine) to get me to ramp up my fitness the last time. It was when a few seemingly minor changes in the second half of the year had a rather dramatic downward effect on the waistline that I even thought of pursuing weight loss. How dramatic? Working on Parliament Hill, I wear a lot of suits. The sales people at Moore’s on Bank St. love me. I try to hit their buy one, get one sales and bought six suits at one sale there last September for just over a $1000. By December, they all needed to be taken in. It felt like I was wearing clown pants. It was you who saw me constantly hoisting them up and encouraged me to build on this unforeseen turn and get a plan together. You made me want to be better.
Sometimes you need to let the excellent be the devil of the good. I’ll need to be reminded of that a few times in the coming weeks and months.
In the meantime, I’d would like to single out a couple for recognition:
The owner of Nate’s Deli – for deciding that serving Ottawa its best smoked meat sandwiches for 50 years was enough and calling it a day. I thank you. By closing down, selling your building, and letting it be demolished you have deprived me of my favourite greasy concoction and removed a great temptation.
The students of UofO and Carleton – for voting in that awful OC Transpo U-Pass. You’ve made the bus so crowded in the morning, I’ve walked to work everyday since you returned to classes.
I want to finish by saying, in the coming weeks my successes will be ours and we will share in them. The failures, however, will be mine alone.