Fat Chances

Narcissism is a buzzword. We have more than a few, but this keeps popping up. With good reason, I guess, and not just because of the current president’s fascination with his own reflection. Social media is probably the largest target for our narcissism radars, and even a few minutes scrolling through Facebook (and even Instagram) can give us a dim view of humanity. We all look self-absorbed.

But there’s a range of behavior, and narcissism is not a bad thing at all. I couldn’t write without a solid chunk of regard for my life, or at least interest in sharing the details. It’s the pathological form that bothers us, and should.

I’m not worried about my narcissism. Compulsion, on the other hand, can keep me up at night. Pondering the range, so to speak.

People familiar with 12-step programs have a saying, which is that addiction/alcoholism is a symptom, not the disease. This is a hard concept to swallow for someone more interested in science than speculation, but after a year or so I got it. My tendency to get stuck in routines, to derive pleasure and peace from the same thing, is demonstrable (at least to me) throughout my life. It probably led to what success I’ve had, as well as down roads I really wish I’d never heard of.

So I’m used to the wary way, constantly observing my behavior with an eye out for sameness. For some things that look compulsive, I just watch and wait, assuming it will burn out. When I was cleaning our basement back in July and early August, I came across several seasons on DVD of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I have affection for this show, although I hadn’t seen it for years, and sure enough I stuck one of those disks in and I was off to the races. I’m currently on season #6 (skipping episodes along the way), and I’m racing my one-month free trial of Hulu to finish (Hulu would be an excellent addition to Netflix, Amazon, and HBO, but it’s pricey if you want to skip commercials—and I resent commercials at all, if I’m paying—and not worth it for the amount I watch, anyway), since the Buffyverse is currently only on that platform.

So, while binge-watching is certainly, by definition, compulsive behavior, I’m not really binge-watching and besides, it’ll be done and that‘ll be it.

Fitness is something else. Fitness I wonder about.

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I’m using it as a catch-all for health, although mostly I focus on exercise. I think I eat a more nutritious diet than I used to, but a switch to cleaner eating would have diminishing returns, I think. There’s a quality of life aspect here.

And a lot of this is just data. I’ve been digging into my Fitbit app, finding all sorts of fun information, and since I currently have more time than I’d like, it’s probably not a surprise that I’m as engaged with exercise as I am. A man’s gotta have a hobby.

One of the things Fitbit does is try to approximate your VO2 (volume of oxygen) level, the gold standard for fitness. VO2 is expressed in a number; anyone under 20 is in poor shape, regardless of age, while premiere athletes (primarily marathoners and skiers) range from the high 60s to 90. Fitbit gives a range, not being a lab test, and mine is currently 49-53. That puts me in the excellent range, which makes me feel just fine.

Excellent for a 25-year-old, I mean. Even more excellent for a 30-year-old, and so on. I’m in an interesting category, and it interests me.

I have no idea how accurate this is, first of all. Most of it is based on heart rate and how that responds to exercise, and then just exercise. My resting heart rate is now consistently in the 50s, since I’ve been exercising more consistently, and it does seem to be working; a few weeks ago I noticed a couple of my more extreme hikes were much easier than a year or so ago, mostly in terms of recovery from steep climbs.

This doesn’t make sense to me, and it shouldn’t to you. Granted, a lot of the VO2 metric is assumed to be genetic, although I have no athletes in my family tree that I’m aware of. And I was never a good athlete by any stretch, usually unremarkable and often not very good. I recall always having reasonable endurance, at least when I was in reasonable shape, so maybe that’s it.

Or maybe it’s 10 years of walking these streets and hills, often 5-6 miles a day, briskly. I ponder.

I suspect the good news here—and I think it’s, generally, good—is quality, not quantity. I’d rather not grow into my golden years with titanium joints and bottles of pills. I think how long I live will be due to other factors, ones I can’t control for or do much about.

But 10 years, dude. I had at least two Dean Wormer attributes for a long time (fat and drunk; I’m not stupid, but really? Might as well have been), and even once the booze had been removed and I was doing so much better, I topped out at 272 pounds the summer of 2007.

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And this morning it was 166, as solid as a rock. Rarely budges these days, as I indulge far less often and much less compulsively. Occasionally I’ll get the urge to be a pig, usually looking at a slow evening with no one else around, something to binge, and only needing fun food to complete the picture. Last Thursday I did this, ate a huge amount while Buffy-ing along, but instead of running with that habit, doing the same thing, more or less, for a week or so, that was it. No desire, and I unconsciously (or whatever; I really don’t understand) cut back on my daily intake. No harm, no foul, minor tummy ache. All good.

This all intrigues me, the way things were and the way they are now, but I’m not all that compelled to share. I’ve written about it dozens of times, anyway. I might be unable to resist boring my readership from time to time, but I draw the line when I bore myself.

I wrote about this, for this week’s column, as it turns out. My friend’s comment a few weeks ago about sharing my story with others has nagged at me, a sense that I have something that might be of use. I find this hard to believe, really, knowing how complicated and difficult change is, what roadblocks we have and find, and aware of how truly fortunate I was to stumble onto a system that worked for me. Not to mention those mysterious genetics.

So next week I’ll finish my tale, itemize and describe what I did and what happened. This is an old story, and storytelling format: what it was like, what happened, what it’s like now. It’s also thin ice, because who wants to hear about success that’s not your own? Narcissism has its claws in all of us.

Maybe there’s something, though. And at least I can cheer myself up with a decade of living better, and not worse. It was no way to go through life, and of course it turns out Dean Wormer was right.

Chuck SigarsComment