This is a followup from my most recent blog post — because even though that one was 5,600 words, apparently I haven’t yet said all I needed to say. I’m sure there’ll be more after this too. I can’t seem to shut up about it. Jesus. I might make it a semi-regular thing. I don’t know.
First, thanks for all the nice things that many of you said to me. I appreciate it, and I’m flattered that a lot of you actually read all of it. It’s long. That’s a lot to ask. There’s a little more.
A common reaction I got regarding my calorie-counting and eating regimen (meaning, I heard this more than twice) was this: “That sounds like a lot of work.”
Yes, it is.
I’d like to blow smoke up your ass and give you the whole inspirational “it’s actually really easy” speech, but I can’t, because it isn’t — at least not at first. When I first started, it was much easier to not do that stuff, eat whatever the hell my stomach felt like it wanted, and not bother counting what I eat, because that’s the habitual behavior I’d been operating with for decades. It takes work to alter a habit that ingrained. Counting calories was a pain in the ass at first, and occasionally still is. I estimate protein sizes by sight, and I do pretty well, but to this day I still wonder if I should buy a scale. And god forbid I get put in a situation where I eat something that isn’t available in the My Fitness Pal database, or any other — I’ve trawled the Internet for hours attempting to deduce how many calories there might be in a box of french fries from my favorite clam shack. I still have no idea. Making my dinner salad every afternoon takes more work than slapping together a crappy salami sandwich used to, although I’m streamlining the process. Avoiding lousy non-nutritious food takes work, because there’s so much of it around, and well-meaning people keep trying to give it to me. Even when it all comes together nicely, it can still be difficult because the results are slow and very gradual. It’s not like “The Biggest Loser” where I post 12-pound weight drops every week. Most weeks it’s about 1 pound, and sometimes that figure is not really set in stone until weeks later. And lately I have to be careful not to eat too little because I’m worried I’ll stall.
That said, I do all this anyway. The fact that it’s work is not a good enough reason for me to say screw it, I can’t do this. It gets easier the more I do it. It’s like anything you practice. If someone wants to be a great piano player, he can’t look at all those keys, declare it’s too hard to bother with, and just wish he had piano skills instead. No. He practices that shit. Either that or he doesn’t end up being a piano player. You fit things into your life because they’re important to you, and you do it all the time until it’s just what you do. When I started counting calories, I told myself that I’d count for at least three weeks, not skipping a day, to build the habit. Within two weeks I forgot I’d made this pledge, because it went from being a new behavior to a habitual behavior. Now it’s not necessarily work anymore. It’s just what I do — the way some people brush their teeth in a certain direction or have a sock they put on first.
I spend about 20 minutes before I leave for work packing my dinner and snack, 5 nights a week. That might be hassle to some people, but it’s just what I do now. I think the result is worth it, because it’s pretty much the simplest, safest, most guaranteed way to change the way I look and feel, and so far it’s taking a positive direction. If that’s something I want to happen, I need to work for it. Wishing or praying for things to change is a pointless act. Less than that, actually — it’s counterproductive. The time it takes for me to feel bad about myself and think, “Maybe one day, if I wish for it hard enough, I’ll be less fat,” is time I could use to chop some vegetables.
Another reaction I got a couple of times is one that I remember from my good friend Norm the Ruminative Runner on Twitter: “Now that you’re skinny…”
Norm was just kidding, but I think the following stuff is important to go into. And I want to be clear so it’s obvious where I stand so other people don’t get the wrong idea of how I think about myself: Nobody in their right mind would call me “skinny” at the moment, not with the pooched-out gut and lovehandles still hanging around my midsection, and the soft arms and these weird pouches around my knees. I still have a lot of work to do.
Also, I don’t want to be “skinny.” That’s not why I’m on the weight-loss kick. Being skinny is pointless. I want to be fit, not skinny. I can’t count the number of times I’ve run road races and seen skinny girls struggling to run just ahead of me, and I passed them without effort — me, a thumping flat-footed chunkmonster. I’d think,Shit, how the hell could I pass someone who looked like that? They were skinny but not fit. You put both me and one of those skinny girls side by side and ask someone to pick which one is the fitter one — you’d assume the skinny girl because she’s thinner, but the clock doesn’t lie. Being skinny for her is meaningless if she can’t even outrun a flabby fucker like me.
Being skinny means you don’t weigh very much. Being fit means you have muscles and can do things that are required of big, strong people every day, like picking heavy shit up and putting that shit back down, climbing onto and over shit, bending down low without going “eghhhh,” shoveling elderly neighbors’ driveways, hiking up mountains, fending off wild animals, and so on.
Being skinny isn’t for me, even if the skinny people are fit in their own way. Here’s an illustrative example from pictures I found online.
The group of guys with the twig arms and bony knees are skinny. The ones with the abs, broad shoulders, and arm cannons are fit. The guys at the top are thin, very fast, elite endurance runners. Some people prefer the look of those guys. Personally, I don’t. I think they look like arts and crafts projects made out of popsicle sticks. I’d trust none of them to help me move a couch, except maybe the cat on the right with the mustache. The ones on the bottom have lots of muscle and are probably very good to have around if you ever get in a jam. I’ll bet every single one of the guys in the bottom photo could deadlift the guys in the top photo — for reps. If I had to guess, I’d say they weigh more than the medical guidelines suggest, and they have too many bulges to qualify as skinny.
If I have to pick one of these two groups of guys to be my Spirit Animal Guides, I’m picking the strong ones.*