I posted this picture on Instagram yesterday, being gone most of the day and feeling as though I should mark my anniversary, somehow. I have a thing about anniversaries.
But ugh. As much as I wanted to find something profound here in this life change, the sentiment feels awkward. I wrote a column this morning because (a) I said I would, and (b) deadlines, duh. Have to write something, no matter how uninspired I feel.
Not that I’m uninspired. Just unorganized. These 10 years represent a continuum, to me, a set of points between where I was and where I am, with not much expectation that any of this is permanent. It’s hard to find coherence in a decade of constant change.
And I can’t resist bending over backwards to explain that I’m not that guy. Not much for the discipline, or rigorous self-control, or willpower (I don’t really believe in willpower as a thing, but that’s another story). I want to explain all of this, particularly to other people in my age group who’ve struggled with extra pounds and may think the time for change has passed.
At the same time, I want to say, meh. Let’s not go crazy here. There are worse things to worry about, in this age, than being fat. A lot of people do just fine. I wish no one misery, and would like to share that there’s serious joy in changing what we can, but big picture? Fat and happy aren’t contradictions, and I’m all about the happy.
But if somebody is miserable, and it’s something I might be able to help with? Sure, of course. I’ve made dozens of course corrections over the past decade, maybe more than dozens. I’ve never stopped thinking about what I do, or paying attention to it, or tweaking it. I’ve learned stuff, stuff I think is general and absolutely necessary.
I think it’s necessary to understand energy, not the way we feel when our coffee kicks in but the thermodynamic kind. If you persist in believing that a calorie is some sort of mystery substance that gets shoved into our food—or subtracted—rather than a unit of measurement like an inch or a meter, then I dunno how well this will work out. I don’t know how you lose weight if you don’t understand how you gain it.
That’s the true marvel of my story, in fact. Not that I lost a lot of weight; that I gained it in the first place. If photos are to believed, I gained about 100 pounds in about five years. There’s a story there, and an important one.
And I’m torn about the walking. I’d advise anyone who is physically capable to walk from the very beginning, because numbers tell the tale: A heavy person burns a lot more calories with even moderate exercise than a slim one, and it speeds things up. A lot.
But walking also changed me, in a way that made weight irrelevant. Psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, philosophically: I can’t think of an area of my life that wasn’t changed, for the better, with walking around my neighborhood for hours. It sustained me, and I needed the sustenance. It’s hard to project that onto somebody else. It’s just so personal.
It’s always about the calories in, though. An hour of strenuous exercise can be wiped out with a few well-placed cookies, there’s just no arguing with biology and math.
And math is important. We’ve all heard somebody say, wanna lose weight? I got your weight loss plan right here, buddy. Put down the fork. Eat less and exercise more, boom.
This is a quick way to identify an asshole, of course. Particularly if they also say Get over it a lot.
Eating less doesn’t mean you’ll lose weight, any more than spending less means you’ll save money. If you spend $1000 more than you make every month, adding a notch to your credit cards every 30 days, and you cut back and spend only $500 more than you make, your savings account isn’t going to do anything impressive.
Same thing with weight. You don’t need to eat less than you’re eating; you need to eat less than you need to maintain your current weight, and that means you need to understand the math. You need to grasp the feedback loopiness of this process, forget the theory and focus on what you observe, and adjust.
Or you do if you’re me. Sigh. That’s the problem. Again. It’s personal.
And it never gives you a break. The heaviest I’ve been over these past 10 years, around 200 pounds, came when I appeared in a film, of all things, forever immortalized by photography. The lightest was around 155, which came after a year of decreased appetite, depression, and what I suspected was some deadly disease, rather than mildly disordered eating.
I still weigh every day, and write it down. I still log what I eat, even though by this time I know anyway. I still weigh a lot of my food, a bizarre thing to do but which gives me comfort, somehow. A sense of control.
And I still walk like a crazy person, usually covering 50 miles over a week.
I went back to my blog yesterday, reading what I wrote 10 years ago as I began this trip. I had some odd ideas about what I expected, and I was minimizing my hope, but I could still discern it. And if I have a secret, and I really think I don’t, it would be this: I knew it was highly unlikely I could reach an ideal weight, what I weighed in high school, what I weighed in college, what I weighed when I got married. Probably not gonna happen, you think? I was nearly 50 years old, not physically fit or particularly interested in becoming so, and at the time I was doing OK, really. Happy to be alive and all that. The chances of being slim again were, you know. Slim.
But it wasn’t impossible, and for whatever reason, at that moment I got very interested in what was possible.
And that, as I wrote this morning, turns out to have made all the difference. I’ve got pictures and everything.