“I thought about losing weight once, but I don’t like to lose.”
It was not a New Year’s resolution per se. As the ball dropped on the strangest and, in some ways, most difficult year most of us had ever experienced, I didn’t make a grand pronouncement to lose weight. I didn’t write it down or post a status update about it or scream it to everyone I encountered in January. Rather, it was more of a hazy, general goal.
It’s time to get healthy.
I’ve always been a person that values experience over everything. That’s why I’ll go into debt for an adventure or will happily suffer through a rough day if it were preceded an all-time great night.
Tomorrow isn’t promised, so why not indulge today?
This leads to great memories, but it also catches up with you. When you live — and eat, drink, and be merry — as if tomorrow is not promised, your body begins to accumulate a lot of tomorrows.
I’m not sure what my weight was on January 1, but I know it was not the highest it had ever been. At one point in the not-too-distant past, I weighed 283 pounds. For me, my weight showed in my neck and, most especially, in my stomach. You could rest drinks on it. I’m 6-foot-3, so when looking at certain areas of my body, you couldn’t tell I was pushing three bills. Self-depreciation is the ultimate form of defense, so even when I weighed less than that, I would joke that my profile looked like a lowercase ‘b’; eventually, as I gained even more weight everywhere, I began to look like an uppercase ‘b.’
I “wore it well” (that’s a term people have for you when you’re heavy but wear clothes that don’t show every roll — it’s the equivalent of an unattractive person having a “good personality”), but fat is fat. And it was bloated fat — too much beer, fried food, and salsa con queso. From the looks of it, if someone were to stab me, you would expect Cheez Wiz to spurt out instead of blood.
I’m blessed with a gorgeous wife. I love her, but that’s not the only reason I’m saying it — everyone says it. She doesn’t look twenty-five anymore, but she damn sure doesn’t look 41. Even after two kids, she still turns heads — provided she’s not wearing the comfortable, around-the-house chic attire that she prefers.
Anytime she posts a photo of the two of us, everyone remarks at how stunning she looks while probably silently pretending I’m her bodyguard or a contest winner. We’re like the live-action Beauty and the Beast. If we’re standing next to each other, we resemble the number 10. At some point, I realized it wasn’t fair to her that I kept expanding horizontally. Besides, she said she wanted me to grow old with her.
In addition to my wife, we have those aforementioned two kids, the latter of whom is with us through the miracle of modern medicine and science. They follow me everywhere. The little one is a handful, no matter how many hands you may have. She’s the ultimate two-year-old. I’m not lying when I say that she is on my back and trying to put me in a camel clutch as I type this sentence. A super involved father needs strength and energy to deal with such things.
So, rather than doing it only for myself, I decided to make a change to be healthier, and around longer, for those that are most important to me.
“Fruit and vegetables keep us alive/Always remember to eat your five”
— Super Potato’s Theme from “Peppa Pig”
I have pretty strong discipline — when I choose to apply it.
That probably sounds weird coming from someone that had love handles in his neck, but it’s true. When I decide to commit, I channel the days of my adolescence in sports when we would run suicides until we puked or played multiple summer league games in a row in cramped gyms with temperatures in the triple digits.
Back then, I was a buck-eighty soaking wet, in the best shape of my life, with body fat below ten percent.
We all know abs are made in the kitchen, but I kept thinking that if I worked out hard enough, I could eat what I wanted. After all, it had worked pre-Y2K.
The problem? Well, for starters I wasn’t a teenager anymore. My metabolism was no longer the super engine it had been. A quote from The West Wing attests: “You could eat Tupperware and your system would deal with it.” Furthermore, I was now working in an office, sitting for much of the day, at best putting in maybe an hour at the gym. That’s a far cry from several hours of highly intense games of basketball.
And that’s why all of my prior attempts had failed. I would go super hard in the gym, but would eat and drink with abandon, so I was replacing the calories I had burned with crap rather than healthy fuel. As a result, my body never really changed no matter how much effort I put in.
So this wasn’t the first time I decided to make a change. I’m not sure anyone has ever achieved their health goals — or even come close to achieving them — on the first try. For some reason, though, this was different. I decided to be just as motivated and disciplined in my eating habits as in my workout habits — or at least as realistically as possible.
Chris Pratt went from Andy Dwyer to Star-Lord by losing sixty pounds. His “after” photo was accompanied by the caption, “six months no beer.”
So alcohol, particularly beer, packs on the pounds? Who knew?! So, I decided to follow Pratt’s example. Of course, I didn’t have trainers and nutritionists, I wasn’t getting paid to turn myself into an action star, and I’m an involved father with a lot of responsibilities, so I was going for a more generic version of Peter Quill.
I didn’t do six months, but I did go the first six weeks of 2021 without any alcohol. After that, it was strictly on weekends and, even then, it was mostly just on Friday night, when I like to unwind from the week with a bottle of red wine. This is quite the change from our 20s when we’d spend our weekend nights in bars until last call, at which point we’d go to a diner or a cheesesteak spot, go home, fall asleep, and then go get a heavy breakfast or brunch.
They say youth is wasted on the young — so is metabolism.
Beginning in 2021, I almost completely changed my approach to food. I became hypervigilant about what I ate. While my breakfast routine has been good for some time — a banana and a Clif bar — I would just consume anything and everything for lunch, dinner, and beyond. Hoagies, cheesesteaks, pizza, nachos, chips, dip — nothing was off limits.
Now, lunch was a slice of chicken and sautéed vegetables. Sometimes I would have the same for dinner. For a snack, it would be fruit or baby carrots. No more bags of Cheetos or Swedish fish from the vending machine in between meetings. When we would order out on Friday nights, instead of a chicken parm sandwich and wings, I would order a wrap and would not even touch the side of fries that came with it.
I cut out carbs almost entirely, even when I cooked them. When it was my turn to make dinner for thee three ladies in my house, I’d put together a meal like lemon garlic chicken, boiled or mashed potatoes, and green beans or corn, but I’d replace the potatoes with even more vegetables. I always loved salad, but never had the energy or desire to make my own unless we were hosting; now, I make a large salad at least once per week, the only dressing I’ll eat with it being Bolthouse Farms balsamic vinaigrette.
Yet I didn’t cut out everything. I still allowed myself some leeway. I stopped putting sugar in my morning coffee years ago, but I savor the indulgence of mixing it with half-and-half, and I would often stray from my diet to have whatever the family was having for dinner so we would all be having the same meal.
I’ve always struggled with moderation and I was determined to not go too crazy with what I cut out as to risk ricocheting back to where I had been in years past.
“I went to exercise recently, and I tried to change my life and exercise. After I finished, I was saying to myself, ‘I gotta do this tomorrow?’ Like, nothing changed. I shoulda got a lump. I don’t care what it was. Something shoulda changed. Nothing. And I gotta keep doing this until maybe I see a change. I just can’t. I don’t have that ethic anymore.”
— Patrice O’Neal
As COVID-19 descended upon the U.S. in the spring of 2020, it meant that I would not have a complete day off for eighteen months (and counting). It also meant that I wasn’t going to set foot in a gym for the foreseeable future. I canceled my membership, not exactly the move one makes when trying to improve their physical well-being.
I began a regimen of bodyweight exercises that I could do in my home office in the small gaps between virtual meetings. Depending on the day, I began doing pushups, dips, crunches, squats, calf raises, and planks. Eventually, I graduated to things like decline pushups and deeper dips, and utilized fifty pound dumbbells and pushup bars. I would also incorporate my kids into the workouts by having one lie on me during pushups like a weighted vest or doing squats with the big one on my back while holding the little one in front of me.
This final part was partially out of necessity. Living with kids means living with interruptions. Whenever I would try to get a set in away from the sanctity of my home office, I’d have someone climbing on my back, asking me for something to eat, or begging me to play with them while my phone kept ringing and the washing machine buzzed to announce its completion.
Even during the early days of the pandemic, I wasn’t always home. I was in the office every other day and began a routine off taking a two mile walk. This isn’t your average lunchtime stroll, however. It includes ascending a fairly ridiculous hill, walking back down it, and ascending it again. I even brought a change of clothes so that I wouldn’t be sitting in business casual attire drenched with sweat during my afternoon meetings.
Between the combination of food discipline and exercise, the pounds began to fall off. All those so-called experts that say combining a sensible diet with physical activity will lead to weight loss and better health may actually be on to something. The pants that used to be tight now fit more comfortably and I was using belt holes that had previously been there only for decoration. People began to notice and toss out compliments.
I made steady but substantial progress as the summer months approached.
And then I plateaued.
Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.
— Henry Ford
Of course, this story does not yet have an ending.
I would love to wrap this up by showing you my 18-pack abs and telling you that I’ll forever be in amazing shape, but life doesn’t work that way.
Staying fit, keeping the weight off, is a constant. It never ends. I once heard that physical and mental health is like sweeping a floor — no matter how great of a job you did, the floor will eventually get dirty, so it will need to be swept again…and again…and again.
I’ve noticed substantial changes, not just in my decreased waistline, but also with muscle definition in my arms, shoulders, and calves. It’s not amazing — I’m not bulging out of my shirts and I don’t have a flat stomach — but there’s a significant improvement. There’s also significant opportunity for more.
My dream weight is 220 pounds. That’s the goal I have in the app that is connected to my scale that I check every single day. I’m still far away from that. In truth, I’ve never really been close. I broke the 240 pound barrier for the first time this century and hit my personal best of 239.2 in mid-May. Of course, it didn’t stick.
At the beginning, I was incredibly disciplined. I was focused. Yet, it couldn’t last. When beginning with such dedication and determination, it’s inevitable that you’ll eventually hit a pothole. You have to, otherwise you’ll burn yourself out.
At the beginning, my willpower was phenomenal. Of course, it’s easy to stay on track when you see almost immediate changes. Once the improvements become slight or even nonexistent, it’s natural to waver from the path. After months of pushing yourself, you become exhausted, not just physically but mentally as well.
In the spring, I would never slip; now, I’ll sneak some junk food here and there once or twice in a week. The other day, I even had a bowl of Fruity Pebbles — you’ll never see that featured in Men’s Health. (Quick aside: living with kids is like food entrapment. There are temptations everywhere. It doesn’t matter if you don’t buy any of it — the stuff always finds a way into your house.) The other night, I made grilled chicken with green beans and tater tots. Six months ago, I would’ve sneered at the tots and had more greens; this time, I devoured more than my share.
I’m only human.
So I’ve hit a plateau. I have hovered around the mid-240s for most of the summer, sometimes dipping as low as 242 or creeping up all the way to 250 (blame vacation), but that’s still twenty to twenty-five pounds under what I had been rocking on a regular basis and around a drop of forty from my all-time high (or, more accurately, low).
To get down to 220 or close to it will require another drastic change. Bodyweight exercises and long walks can only do so much. I’m also fully aware that it may not happen. Perhaps this is the best I can do as a middle-aged father of two with a busy but sedentary job and imperfect genes. I hope that’s not the case, but, honestly, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
I may never reach the finish line, but as I turn around and look back, I’m quite satisfied with how far I’ve come already.
Christopher Pierznik is the worst-selling author of nine books. Check out more of his writing at Medium. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Please feel free to get in touch at CPierznik99@gmail.com.