Friday, July 3, 2015

Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand Six Hundred Minutes

If you've ever looked at motivational quotes for more than ten minutes, you've probably run across the one that asks:

How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time.

Most of us will not actually eat an elephant, which is fortunate since some species of elephant are endangered. What you're supposed to take away from that task is that you approach a large, potentially overwhelming task a little piece at a time. You sit down with your knife and fork and slowly saw away at that elephant, and eventually some of the elephant disappears.

It's been a year since I announced to the world that I was morbidly obese and was going to change that. When I wrote that first blog about it, I titled it "The Elephant in the Room", and I was thinking of the elephant in two ways. One was the figure of speech, where an elephant in the room is a large, obvious topic that everyone awkwardly talks around but doesn't actually want to discuss. The other way I was thinking about it was as a description of myself. Mentally, I was the elephant.

I've come a long way in my self-description since then, but I'm not going to say that it's been easy, and that I'm always there. Just yesterday at work, for example, one of my coworkers tried to talk me out of walking downtown for a meeting with my umbrella because it was raining, and I blurted, "I'm still fat even if it's raining." Technically, this is true. It's been a year, and I'm still obese. Granted, I've moved from morbidly obese to just regular obese, but I'm obese. This is true. I just still struggle sometimes with phrasing it in a way that isn't self-abusive. Most days, I can do that. Some days I can't.

I take two steps forward, and I take two steps back.

All four of those steps end up in my daily step total, so there's at least one positive.

As for the rest of the elephant, I've been eating it, one bite at a time. In my particular case, I've been eating it in steps, slowly devouring the elephant and the Earth itself one step at a time. According to Fitbit I've taken 4,691,309 steps since I activated my Fitbit Flex on June 28, 2014. That converts to 2,346 miles, more or less. If I left my porch and started walking 2,346 miles in any direction, I would reach:

Every other state in the United States except Alaska and Hawaii. And I'm closing in on Alaska.

Most of Canada.


Venezuela and Colombia. Along the way I would have passed all of Mexico, most of the Caribbean, and all of Central America.

It's only 141 miles short of the equator.

I've taken 4,691,309 bites out of the elephant.

I started out at 295 pounds, and this morning after I got up and walked ten miles, two of them in the rain (because this is something I do now on days off; I wake up and walk distances that would have seemed insurmountable a year ago, and I do it for fun, without being chased) I weighed in at 221. I'm one pound short of losing all the weight I gained back in April by backsliding and going off program, and I am twelve pounds short of being overweight instead of obese. If you're wondering what 74 pounds of lost weight looks like, my friend Miggs put together this photo:

before and after

I've always known that I was stubborn and full of willpower, but if I was going to find this kind of drive in myself then I might as well have just put in for a sabbatical from work to go on "The Biggest Loser" and gotten some money out of it. Actually, given that being on that show gives people injuries, psychological scars, and most of them end up gaining the weight back, making a choice to slowly and deliberately work on this by exercising, dieting, and attempting to change my habits was probably the wiser course. And it did pay off a little bit: several friends have sent books, t-shirts, an inspiration board to hang my race bibs on (because I do that now, too; I walk in timed races where I beat other people and do not come in last place), amazon gift certificates, and pledges to races where I'm actually trying to raise money. Dozens and dozens of other friends have offered words of support, tweets, texts, and hugs.

In case I haven't been thankful enough to those people: Thanks, friends.

I've gained other things as well. I can take the stairs now. I can, and usually do, walk across campus for a meeting in a reasonable amount of time. I can walk into a store to look at clothes and feel reasonably confident that they will have my size in stock on a rack that's not in a special section. I park 1.3 miles from my office every morning and the idea that I will walk that every morning does not overwhelm me.

(I had to work up to that, though. The odyssey of my parking space probably deserves its own blog entry, as over the course of the year I've moved from the farthest space in my assigned lot to the farthest corner of the parking garage to the rec center lot to the last staff lot on the westernmost edge of the campus to a staff lot over the bridge and on the Ag Campus. Part of the reason I'm thinking of moving downtown, honestly, is that I could walk to and from work every day, and never move my car at all.)

I've noticed something else over the past few weeks, too:

I have become average.

When I'm out shopping, or at a festival (Knoxville has a ton of festivals) or a play or something, I look around at all of the other people and catch my reflection in a window or a fountain and I look like most men my age. Here, look at this other photo from last weekend:

team photo

My head is the same size as everyone else's.

I have one chin.

I look like everyone else in the picture.

Over the past year, people have asked me when I'm going to be done, and when I'll be happy with the way I look. I've struggled with answers to that, the same way it took me months to figure out what to say to people when they say, "Look how skinny you are now!" and my immediate impulse is to want to say, "I'm still obese!" I've been using, "Thanks, I'm working on that," for the past few months. It acknowledges and appreciates their comment, lets them know that the weight loss was deliberate (a necessity I realized after a campus administrator that I hadn't seen for a couple of months took me aside after a meeting and quietly asked if I was losing weight on purpose or if something was wrong and there was anything she could do to help), and is a hell of a lot less awkward and argumentative than insisting that no, I'm not skinny yet.

There are two answers to the question, though.

The first is that I will never be "done". Even when I move from obese to just overweight, I would still like to get down to an average weight someday. I've only rarely been there during my adult life, and I may not make it there again, but I'm going to keep trying. Whatever weight I am, though, I will have to maintain fitness to maintain it. There are places I want to go and things I want to eat and I want to be able to take a day off from fitness every once in a while without worrying about the consequences. If I was just going for weight loss, where I could pick a goal weight at the end and be done, then I could answer that question, but instead I'm trying to be healthy. That means there's never going to be a point when I can throw my shoes away and say, "That's it, I'm healthy now!"

The second answer is that I'm already happy. I could be happier, of course. There are clothes that I haven't fit back into and I still need to hit the milestone goal I set for that trip to Venice, but right now I'm happier than I was, and that's an achievement, too.

Now I just have to set my sights on the equator, and keep walking.


Dee said...

You are so strong! I am incredibly proud of you for your determination and commitment -- and for your hard work in putting setbacks in perspective. Building a healthier mind at the same time as a healthier body. GO YOU!!! --Dee

Thelma Vandergriff said...

I am very proud of your efforts and you have done it for yourself and that is the very best reason. You may need to share your breakfast and lunch tips with me. Keep up the excellent commitment to yourself.

Dave Gardner said...

Keep up the awesome work Joel! We know you can do it!

Marcheline said...

Joel, while I also want to add my congratulations and support and "you go" and etc. for the (pun alert) strides you've made so far, I also notice you've been plateauing a bit lately, both physically and mentally.

When a person commits to losing a considerable amount of weight, there is a combination of things that need to be done in order to reach the goal. That combination involves exercise and diet. Just from what you've been blogging about, it seems you've been focusing mainly on your exercise, that being walking.

I know you've been "watching" what you eat, but you may have just come to the plateau where your exercise has reached its limit as far as your weight loss. It may be time to get down to some serious diet planning/tweaking, as well as changing up the type of exercise you're doing.

Your body is designed to get bored, or used to, the kind of diet and exercise it receives - especially if you give it the same thing every time.

If you've only been walking, maybe it's time to start running and lifting weights. If you've been eating breads and sugars (even in limited amounts) maybe it's time to start upping your protein intake and cut out those carbs for a while. Not saying you have to commit to a life of eating only one thing or one way, but sometimes shaking up your routine gets your body to listen to you again, and start responding.

Not only will altering your diet and exercise re-awaken your body's response, it will also re-energize your motivation. You'll be doing something different, which creates new goals and the desire to achieve them.

I guess what I'm saying is, if you're starting to see your body and your mind responding less to what you've been doing, snap yourself out of it by upping the game. You've already proven you can do it.

If every level of a video game was playing the same exact graphics over again, no one would care about getting to the next level. In a game, they change up the scenery, the challenges, and the prizes. Do the same thing with your weight loss plan, and see what happens!

Justin Bower said...

What an amazing's been a privilege to watch it take place.