As I Ponder My Own Awesome Self

I went to bed last night after midnight, so anything can happen today. Once you get into this kind of crazy lifestyle, everything's on the table.

I think it's good to have my routine upended, don't get me wrong. I just don't know what happens next. Crack cocaine, maybe.

...

I was burning the candle at three ends last night because I had a late meeting at church. It's always late, this one. It's the end of the fiscal year, and we have a budget to prep and get ready to place before the congregation on Sunday. There are also new officers to elect, etc.

I don't do much with the financial situation in this church, other than lead the stewardship campaign (you would think...but you'd be wrong). I just write a funny letter every year, telling people not to lose their pledge cards. If anything, I'd rather push harder on the basics, telling people how a church functions financially. It's essentially a co-op, but it's hard for people to grasp that. They tend to intuit a higher power, and not that kind, that pays for everything.

But we balance that budget, every year, and we do just fine. We're a small congregation in a working-class neighborhood, with an evolving mission to focus on social justice. That's how we roll. The Sunday sermons are often on this subject, our privilege and comfort compared to the invisible lives that exist outside of our walls. This is mostly sweat work, as, again, we're small and don't have a lot of money. We're pretty good at feeding people by now, though.

And that budget? I think there are several families in our church--at least several--whose household incomes top our annual budget. Our biggest expense is personnel, and we have hardly any employees. Our senior pastor makes the equivalent, maybe, of a middle-school teacher. The associate pastors, my wife being one, could earn more working part-time at McDonald's. We just raised the janitorial hours to 12 per week. There's no office staff, just volunteers.

I don't know why I'm going on about this, except this community has been incredibly valuable to me over the years, and it has an original sin: it's 30 miles away. It just happened that way, my wife needing a home and a welcome offered. It's almost all interstate, and on Sunday mornings we get there in about 35 minutes, which is actually not that much longer than a couple of places we've attended up here in our neck of the woods.

But during the week it's a nightmare. In order to make our 7PM meeting last night, I had to leave the house at 4:30, and we didn't get home until 10PM. That's a chunk of my day devoted to a church budget, and it irritated me. I don't have an answer, other than to sell my house and move closer. I just get an attitude.

...

I wrote a column yesterday that bounced off something I noted last week. The FDA announced that May 7 was the deadline for certain chain restaurants (and some kinds of vending machines) to post calorie counts on their menus. A lot have already done this. I rarely notice it, in fact, and I'm the guy who notices that sort of thing.

And I think it's fine. I wonder a lot about the nanny state, the tendency of some in power to persuade us toward living better. I'm suspicious, I guess, although I can see the merit. Some things strike me as knee-jerking and overkill, that's all.

But I think more information is a no-brainer, a dangerous term in 2018 America. I was surprised to see some push-back articles, talking about what a downer it is to learn how much food we're eating. It led me to wonder in print whether any of us really know how to feed ourselves.

What's funny about this is that it's another thing in my life that gives me an attitude. I can't imagine someone reading this who doesn't know the whole story, but 11 years ago, clocking in at just north of 270 pounds (with a bullet, apparently), I decided it was time to downsize. I made it a game, a personal science project, and I did it by the book. You say it's all about calories in, calories out? Let's test that theory.

So I taught myself about calorie counts, learned how to use a kitchen scale and read nutrition labels. I weighed myself every day and wrote it down, along with my estimates on intake and output. I made adjustments all the time. I collected data.

And data is seductive. Get enough data, and you'll see patterns. See enough patterns, and you'll begin to understand cause and effect. Get a handle on that, and you can do anything. Give me a big enough lever, etc.

It worked, obviously. Worked like a charm. My tendency is always to say this was an individual thing, just something that worked for me and might not work for anyone else, but it's hard when I set out to follow the rules we've all been taught over the years. It worked exactly as advertised.

Yadda yadda yadda. The point is I lost all that weight and then some, and for years now I've had a different body. It was as though I infiltrated a secret society of thin people, after all those years.

And still people talk. Old friends, current friends. My neighbor of 30 years says the same thing to me, about every six months. "You look like you're losing weight again."

Considering I had a pretty well-publicized adventure with losing my appetite and dropping pounds unintentionally a few years back, to my ears this is the equivalent of watching me trip over a curb and saying, "You look like you're drinking again." That's how I hear it. I have tons of problems with attitude.

Other people, too. Some of them are insistent.

"You're losing weight."
"Nope. Same."
"No, you really seem thinner."
"Exactly the same as last year and the year before. Hardly a pound or so in either direction."
"Yeah, I think you're losing weight, though. I can tell."

Oh really. I stepped on the scale this morning and wrote it down on a spreadsheet I keep, so I know what it said, and you know what else? I'VE GOT 4000 MORE DAYS OF WEIGHTS BEFORE THAT, SO I THINK I'D TRUST ME ON THIS.

See? Attitude.

...

As long as you've got your health. Boy, some things just eventually make sense. Health is always on my mind these days, and it's not just me. Most of the people I know are in it to win it at this stage of life. Aging Americans are no longer suffering the aches and pains of such long life; they get new hips and run marathons. We don't smoke, and we shun those who do.

And we like our data, we do. I yawned at the idea of wearable exercise technology, thought it unnecessary and a distraction, and then my daughter gave me a Fitbit and I got it. Tons of data, more than you know unless you dig around in the app.

Motivation, too. Every night lately, my wrist starts to buzz as my Fitbit has what is now a regular orgasm, all of my goals having been reached or passed. I walked nearly 100,000 steps last week, and covered 45 miles. That's damn near my routine exercise back a few years ago, when I was very consistent. Elevation, pace, overall minutes of exercise--all breaking records. I've only had this thing 18 months, so I'm unsure of exactly where I am compared to where I was, but this feels good.

As does this:

IMG_6332.jpg

I was pretty excited when I discovered the fitness score here. It reinforced me, gave me a pat on the back, said I was doing well and maybe was getting a handle on healthy.

What this is is an approximation, or estimate, of a VO2 test, the gold standard for fitness. That test involves a laboratory and specialized equipment, and pushing yourself to the limit in terms of exercise. This is much easier. It's based on heart rate and other factors involved in exercise, and apparently it's a reasonable guess, at least according to what I've read.

So I take pleasure in this, of course. I may not die soon. Exercise works. Weight loss is possible. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about my VO2 score, but it's fun. I even read up on it a little, wondering if I had time to get a little more fit before the inevitable decline, and that's when I discovered this.

Screenshot-2018-5-15 Does VO2 Max Make You a Better Athlete .png

I have no idea what this means. My wife didn't understand it. I read a bit more and got more confused.

It's certainly braggable, if I felt like bragging. Yay, look at me, all athletic and shit. Except I'm not an athlete. I was just an obese middle-aged man who tried to knock off some pounds and had success in that, go figure. I walked because of calories and then because it made me feel better, but that's all. Just walked. Ate a bunch of ice cream, but eventually stabilized the eating patterns. Exercise has been spotty the past few years, but it's getting better. I feel OK about everything, really. I don't bike or run or take classes or have a personal trainer, or even a gym membership. I just walk and weigh myself.

And according to this, I have a level of fitness equivalent to a 15-year-old track athlete. I actually read that.

I mean. This can't be true. I'm myself, and I'm very interested, and I will take all the strokes and compliments I can get, but this can't be true. It just seems to be true.

But let's assume it's true. Explanations would seem, to me, to be:

  • Genetics. Duh. Like everything else, including my cholesterol level. Except no one in my family is anything like this, or was. Nobody.
  • Luck of the draw. Some people get it. Some people, for no particular reason, are just natural athletes. They have the sweet swing or the large lungs or the huge arm span. That's just how it is, except I've never been a good athlete. I could jump a little. I was never fast or particularly skilled in any sport, including track. I was OK. I was average, or maybe normal. Maybe a little less so.
  • Hard work, stupid. I put in the hours for a lot of years, and I completely reversed decades of sedentary living and ended up a 15-year-old. This makes me feel pretty good, but I don't buy it at all. I think it's happy horseshit.

I think I don't know, and I think I have to accept that it's possible--possible only--that a fat man pushing 50 discovered a truth about human potential. Maybe I stumbled across something here. I mean, I just took walks. I just lost some weight. I don't eat a spectacular diet and never have (and probably never will), even if it's a little better.

And I have to consider that these Fitbit estimates are just way off, at least sometimes, and that if I wound up on a treadmill with an oxygen mask, my score would be more reasonable. Maybe good for my age. Maybe not a track star.

But maybe. And it's kind of obnoxious to write about, but I truly am baffled and not in a falsely modest way. I know what I've done. I'm OK with it, even proud. But even though I changed my life in positive ways, they were pretty tiny ways, all things considered. I walked.

The next time some friend gives me grief about being 164 pounds, a statistically perfect weight for me, by the way, I may be rude. I may bring some data. I may fight with numbers, if only to persuade them to STFU.

So this is really all about attitude, which I think I said.

Chuck Sigars1 Comment