Saturday, June 8, 2013

The making of an action hero.

            I’ve always wanted to be an action hero—stylishly dressed, well armed, innovative, capable…etc.  One finds that delivering the clever line can be learned.  Enough research and the particulars of good food and drink may be acquired.  I’ve read enough books, seen enough movies, played in enough games, that figuring out what the bad guys are up too comes naturally.  I have a boring desk job which simply begs for adverse conditions to bring out my hitherto unseen heroic side.
            Only one obstacle stands between me and Bond-hood, about 140 pounds.  By now I’ve heard it all, diets, surgery, drugs, you name it.  There was a time in college where I was working out 4+ days per week.  I was doing sets of ten on the bench at 185 pounds.  I squatted super sets at 800 pounds.  I ran the gym’s treadmills till they quit, literally.  For the record, you don’t go from that level of fitness to my current plumpitude over night.  It is the death of a thousand value meals.  It is the product of a young person moving from an active round-the-clock lifestyle to one where less time and motivation are available for things like exercise and a good night’s sleep.  After a year I’d put on a few pounds.  After a few more years I had to buy new clothes, but I had to do that for work anyway so no big deal.  After 13 years I’m almost twice the man I used to be, and not in a good way.  I know how nutrition and fitness work.  I let things get out of hand and one day I was so far behind the eight ball it was easier to stay where I was than make the painful choices it would take to get back on top of the mountain.
            So what to do?  I want to go out into the world and do things.  I want to play with our son’s kid as he gets older.  I want to live an active lifestyle again.  Past experience has shown that while I can change in the short term, bad habits come back.  So some fad diet or miracle supplement isn’t going to do it.  I have had consistent success in weeding out bad behaviors in small steps.  We don’t order out at all anymore.  I rarely get lunch from the cafe.  I’ve cut my alcoholic intake significantly.  I’ve cut caffeine down to a manageable level.  My blood pressure is great and I’ve lost 20 pounds.  So I’m on the right track.  What I need to do is find fun and productive ways to expand on that start.
            When you’re five foot six and 300 pounds, a trip to the local gym isn’t as much of an option as you might think.  Workout clothes don’t stay where they should.  Any high impact activity is out because of the danger to your knees and ankles as well as the fact that most machines aren’t rated for your bulk.  So to beet that 140 pound monster I’m going to have to find a way to start working out at home.  I’m going to have to find a way to keep motivated.  Any consistent activity will do, but it has to be active and frequent.  If this were a movie, I’d be placed with a dojo, retired boxer, or an eccentric but brilliant Special Forces captain to train off the pounds.  Lacking that I’m going to have to find other ways to motivate myself.
            I need something fun.  I need something that will keep me interested after the novelty has worn off.  As the title of this post indicates, I’m going to try something different from south beach or Atkins.  The concept I’m working with is a combination of daily themed exercise, specialty projects, and reward levels based on achieving certain goals.  I’m going to view everything through the lens of a pulp action hero and make the exercise and diet part of a larger project.  Some of the ideas I’m working on are:
1.       Revising Chief wife’s and my diets to something a little more primal—cutting out some dairy, pasta, rice, and processed foods.  I’ll try and replace those items with fresh fair, things Bond might consume on his off days.  I’m under no illusion that we’re going to cut out all cheese, but going from 5 Greek yogurts a week to 2 seems doable.
2.       Reading through the health information for the menu items where we tend to eat out so I can pre-select healthier options.  I’ll start that off by intentionally looking at salads and wraps that don’t come in value meals.  We don’t order out as much as in the past, but it’s better to be prepared if and when.  Having just done this with Chick-fil-a, I can say that simply reading the calorie count on my normal selections is a great motivator in and of itself.
3.       Setting myself a firm bedtime that will allow me to get a good night’s sleep.  My bus comes at the same time every day.  If I get to bed earlier I’ll have less free time, but I’ll be better rested and more able to start my day off right.
4.       Find a themed exercise program that I can do in the morning for 30 minutes without the need for complex equipment.  I’m looking at the Indian steel mace workout.  It’s essentially isometrics using a heavy weighted mace for resistance.   Not perfect, but it’s fat-boy friendly and is enough like warrior training that it should keep me involved at 5 in the morning after the novelty wears off.
5.       I will get a scale to track progress.  To say I’m not looking forward to this is an understatement.  It has to be done though.  If John Conner can face down the terminators, I can face the talking demon in the morning.
6.       I will cut my alcoholic intake further.  Small social drinking is fine.  I will limit myself to drinking at special occasions, eating out, and group get-togethers.  I’m a social drinker anyway, this just means I’ll only be buying for specific events.
7.       I will ask friends and family to walk with me at home and elsewhere.  Patrolling and recon are important as is getting outside and doing things.  Establishing mentally that walking is fun will help later when I lose enough weight to use public exercise facilities.
8.       I will give regular progress updates.  I will hold myself accountable by ensuring that everyone knows what I am trying to do and why.  Knowing that everyone is watching will keep me involved even when I want to quit.
9.       I will set myself goals that are reasonable and actionable.  Rockie had to become a champ-een.  I will have to look at something a little more mundane.  For starters, I don’t have a montage to compress the time; so we’re probably looking at four years to hit the end result.
10.   I will think, write, and speak in terms that presuppose my success.  I will make good habits part of my daily routine.

That’s a nice list of generalities.  If I’m going to work up to Jack Bower’s level I need a concrete objective.  Losing 140 pounds sounds nice, except that it’s arbitrary.  Maybe in the end I’ll need to lose more weight than that.  Maybe I’ll build enough muscle that 180 pounds will leave me ready to chase the lost arc.  Let’s say rather that the goal is to get back into fighting condition.  Fighting condition is defined as:
1.       I can bench-press my own weight in sets of ten.
2.       I can run, bike, or engage in dedicated aerobic exercise for at least one hour at a meaningful rate.
3.       I can wear standard sized clothes again.
4.       I can put on a swim suit without being embarrassed.
5.       I’m proud of my physical condition.

Let’s start by explaining why previous attempts have failed.  Any given day I have a finite amount of cope and drive.  When they’re gone, they’re gone and the little things are going to slip.  Friends and family remember my high school and college days with fondness.  They remember a healthy athlete who prized fitness.  I was thinner, stronger, faster then.  What most of them don’t remember is that the reason I was in such good shape was a combination of mandatory exercise in high school and slacking off in college.  In high school I had weightlifting as a class every day.  I wrestled two thirds of the school year.  I went to wrestling camps in the summer.  In college exercise was one of the ways I slacked off from studying.  I had very poor physical discipline because life had been structured in such a way as to make fitness a default setting for me.  Yes, I was in shape, but it wasn’t because I was in control per say, it was because being fit was either something I was compelled to by circumstance or a way of avoiding less interesting priorities.
            After I graduated college I had other issues, other priorities, and other interests.  It wasn’t that fitness ceased to be important, it came down to the fact that learning how to live on my own, deal with corporate America, handle serious romance for the first time, and find out who I was ate up all the will and cope I had.  After a long day at work, it was just easier to order dinner than it was to make something for myself.  I was more interested in socializing and gaming than I was in blocking out major periods of time for working out.
            Physically I might have overcome those challenges.  However mentally I was all messed up.  I had coasted through high school.  College wasn’t much better.  I had a lot of potential.  Unfortunately K-12 had taught me that hard work was relative.  I un-learned a lot of those bad habits but not enough.  Worse for me was the expectation, set from an early age, that I was someone special, above the ordinary.  College constantly pushed the idea that freshly minted graduates had but to walk through the doors of their next employer and star power would be theirs for the taking.  I had a lot to offer the open market, but not nearly as much as I thought I did.  I didn’t know the first thing about networking, office politics, or self promotion.  I was told by my employer and wrongly believed that just doing my job well would get me promoted…because I was special and above the rest.  Five years later I was professionally experienced, paid well, and unhappy with my job.
            In my personal life I made new friends, started dating a wonderful woman, got a handle on my priorities, and learned how to live in the real world.  I was fatter, older, and not as naive.  I began rebuilding my career bit by slow painful bit.
            While all that was going on eating was a safety blanket.  Food and drink were controllable, happy-making, and readily available.  Call it emotional eating if you want.  Food and drink were the only constants that stuck with me from college through present day.  When I was eating and drinking I was with friends having a good time.  Family gatherings were based around meals.  Friends went out for food together.  We would order delivery and mix drinks before gaming.  I knew I was in a downward spiral, but I didn’t want to stop.  Food represented all the good associations I had with life.
            If you’ve never dealt with an addiction, it’s difficult to explain the part guilt plays in motivation.  You start the day with the best of intentions.  Little things begin eating away at your resolve.   By the end of the day you’ve lost it.  Guilt over your failings doesn’t help.  It should be negative reinforcement.  It should keep you from doing the bad thing.  In reality guilt makes it much more likely that you will give in to temptation.  Several years ago a family friend, seeing my greatly expanded girth, advised me in a carrying voice in front of other friends and family that all I had to do was stop swallowing.  She then proceeded to tell my wife that she should help me in that endeavor.  Believe me when I say that public humiliation, guilt over disappointing people you care about, and personal hatred for your own weakness are not good tools to encourage positive change.  Recently a family member told me in complete seriousness that some day they would get their boy back.  In the context of that conversation, they were saying that their boy, the thinner me, was how they remembered me.  They rejected the adult, the mature man who had built a life on his own, married, built a career, supported himself, and found love and friendship because he was fat.  That’s the kind of damage that well intentioned criticism can reap.  I love these people deeply.  Intellectually I know that they are trying to help.  But there’s a weak part of me that says that all the good I’ve done, all the happiness I’ve found, all the personal identity I’ve accepted is meaningless in the face of my ugly overweight body.  In the throws of guilt and self-hatred eating well becomes the lowest priority.
            I own that behavior.  Others may not have helped, but ultimately it’s my decision every time I go back for a second helping or super size a meal or go on a carb binge.  It’s a choice every time.  Deciding to lose weight once is easy.  Deciding it hundreds of times a day for four years is a huge challenge.  The difference between then and now is that I am truly a different person.  My lovely wife and I have mastered our finances.  My professional life is under control and heading in good directions.  I have great friends.  I have constructive hobbies that support a positive self image.  There are people in my life now who will help me and hold me accountable.  Most of all though, I want to do better.  I can make the choices, build the framework, and live the life that will lose the pounds.  I couldn’t before, but I can now.

            So what to do?  And what does all of this have to do with becoming an action hero?  Three things.  First, I’m going to make those hundreds of decisions easier by putting them in the context of a hero training up.  Yes, it’s fiction, it’s not real.  But it’s a narrative that will help me positively view the experience.  It will make them less onerous.  Diets don’t work for me.  I need to fundamentally change the way I live.  I need to make sustainable choices.  I need to start seeing myself as that guy.  As noted above, I’m going to put a humorous filter on the process.
            Second, I’m going to make the eating, exercise, and living better parts of a larger project.  I’m going to redecorate my office/work area as a personal lair.  I’ll build a toy armory for my friends’ kids…and me of course.  I’ll put up new posters and trophies on the wall.  I’ll write blog entries from the perspective of the hero training up.  I’ll get friends and family involved in the process.  Losing weight is boring.  Playing with kids/sidekicks is fun.  I’ll apply this logic to the entire process.
            Third, I will set my self reward levels for achieving and sustaining results.  Maybe that’s a new belt.  Maybe that’s a new holster.  Maybe it’s a new piece of style to fit the action hero persona.  What ever the case, I’ll publicly set myself goals and rewards.

            I know this isn’t going to be easy.  Even so, for the first time in a long time, I feel like I have a chance.  So it’s time to get into character.  It’s time to assemble the components.  It’s time to buy the scale, build the plan, and take the first step.

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