Obesity, exercise, and Tina Fey
Old readers will recall my periodic posts on weight, willpower, and morality. I have struggled off and on with my weight for all my life, having been an obese kid. On my old blog, we used to have really intense, strongly felt discussions about weight loss and personal responsibility. For my own part, I have always known that my being overweight was mostly a matter of my own lack of willpower. That’s not the whole story, of course; for one thing, genetics works against me, and for another, I am deskbound all the livelong day. I fully recognize that different people face different challenges here. I am capable, I think, of judging my own case, and in my case, I know that I am just flat-out lazy when it comes to physical activity.
I had gained a fair amount of extra poundage over the past two or three years, and as recently as this winter, had more or less resigned myself that this was the new middle-aged normal. I had my wife discard all the pants that I’d held on to for a while, thinking that maybe I would be able to fit into them again one day — the triumph of hope over experience, I thought. But I couldn’t have foreseen what was coming next.
Lent came around, and I observed the Orthodox fast (no meat, no dairy) faithfully. I ended up eating a lot of lacinato kale. I mean, a <i>lot</i>. Very low in calories, and very filling stuff, especially when you shred it and dress it with fresh-squeezed lemon juice, olive oil and sea salt. I got to the end of Lent having lost about seven or eight pounds. Then my wife signed the family up for a YMCA membership so the kids could have swimming lessons and a pool to play in for the summer. She’s been nagging me for years to exercise for my health, but I’ve never done it. But I’d just bought an iPad2, and decided maybe I could stand the crushing boredom of exercise if I sat on the recumbent elliptical trainer and watched “30 Rock” on Netflix streaming.
It worked. Tina Fey distracted me from the tedium of exercise, and by the time I worked through all the seasons available on Netflix, I found that I actually liked exercising. I left the iPad at home, and started working out on the other machines there at the Y. Suddenly, I found that I had lots more energy, and felt really good. I mean, <i>really</i> good, like I hadn’t in years. My allergies didn’t seem as bad, even. Before long, I was waking up every morning at 4:30, 5 a.m., and driving out to the Y to exercise for an hour and a half. I know that this is completely ordinary for many, many people, but for me, it’s like, I dunno, Kim Kardashian getting up before daylight to pray the Daily Office. I started losing weight at a slow but steady clip. A couple of weeks ago I had to go to the doctor for some minor thing, and got weighed. I had lost 22 pounds. If I still had those old trousers, I could now wear them.
The point here isn’t, “Yay me.” As I told Julie yesterday, I really had just about given up on ever being in shape again. I had yielded to the fatalistic conclusion that I was never going to exercise, and that I should just get used to feeling so run-down, and buying a bigger waist size of pants. What I achieved this summer showed me that I was wrong to give up, and to accept that I couldn’t change, that my weight was something outside of my control. Of course I feel better about the way I fit into my clothes, but more importantly, I feel better, period. I almost never eat crap food now, and I cut way back on drinking, not out of any moral decision, but because that stuff gets in the way of how good I feel from working out.
Philosophically speaking, it seems to me that without really understanding what I was doing, I was living out a conservative principle of taking personal responsibility and making hard but necessary changes to live within my means. The fact that I was so overweight was a sign that something was out of balance in my life. That something was the lack of physical exercise more than it was a poor diet. Because I haven’t been in shape like this since I was in my early 20s, I hadn’t realized how I walked around feeling like I was a spirit trapped in a body that didn’t move like I wanted it to, and that I basically had to drag around. I am not accustomed to feeling so integrated with my body. I don’t experience it like an encumbrance any longer, but actually like, well, myself. It’s hard to express this without sounding weird, but it guess the thing to say is that all this exercise and more sensible eating has created a more harmonious situation, spiritually and psychologically, between my mind and my body. I didn’t know it was possible to experience this. I thought the sense of alienation was simply how things were.
I’m still not where I want and need to be on my weight, but I’m still working on it, and I expect that going to the gym is going to be a part of my life from here on out. I hope so. What I can’t let myself do is buy into the excuses that I used to use to hide from the fact that I simply didn’t want to do the hard, boring work of daily exercise, and watching what I eat. It seems faintly ridiculous that I had to use an iPad and a funny sitcom to distract myself enough to get into a good and sustainable workout routine. But I did, and it worked, and you know, strange as it sounds, I kind of owe my taking responsibility for my health to Tina Fey.