Every once in a while life brings us a rare moment of clarity. A moment when you actually see things as they are and not as you wish them to be, or through the filter of your ego’s denial. Buddhist monks call this clarity, when it's a permanent condition, enlightenment. Most of us are lucky to get mere glimpses of raw truth. I know I’m waxing philosophical in what is essentially a cycling blog, indulge me a bit.
A few weeks ago I caught a glimpse of this type of unvarnished reality, unfortunately the glimpse came via my bathroom mirror. The one I always avoid looking at. Those of you who struggle with weight know exactly what I mean. We get really good at avoiding mirrors and reflections of ourselves. That glimpse however came in a moment of careless absentmindedness. I had no time to mentally prepare, which meant that with no filters and no softeners, I saw myself. I had no time for a forgiving “it’s not so bad” or the optimist “It could be worse” or the existential “you just have to be comfortable with yourself.” There was none of that. It was a basic simple stark truth: “Oh crap, you’re fu#@ing fat man! What the hell have you done to yourself?” It’s not like I was deluded before and all of a sudden I saw the light. I mean, I’ve known for a long time I’m dangerously overweight, but in that little unhindered peek at my self, it all came together as one huge reality lightning bolt.
In that instant, random facts such as my actual weight, the size of my pants, the feeling of discomfort in my own skin, the lack of energy to hop on my bike which I love to do and the troubling thought that if I didn’t want to see myself in the buff, why would anybody else? All of these independent thoughts and many more that are easily dismissed when dealt with one at a time, became impossible to deny in that one instant when they all came together.
I’ve wrestled with being overweight all of my adult life. The last time I weighed below 200 lbs. was December 1987. That year I had lost about 60 lbs. going from around 240 to the low 180s in preparation for my wedding in December of that year. Since then I've steadily gained weight. There have been some ups and some downs but mostly it's been an upward trend: weight gain leading to plateau, leading to an effort to lose, small loss then up more than before. Repeat. A familiar pattern for most of us dealing with weight issues. All of this begs the question...What now?
Step 1: See the Problem for what it is.
The first part of solving a problem or reaching a goal is looking at the current situation as clearly as possible. A couple of weeks ago, when the lightning bolt struck, the first thing I did was to step on the scale: it read 330. The suspicion that I was at my highest weight ever was confirmed. And while I’ve never been this public with my weight, it’s important to call a spade a spade.
In an effort to find my ideal weight I looked for a BMI (Body Mass Index) table. I knew I was in trouble when I couldn’t readily find a chart that listed 330 lbs. I’m off the chart. I finally found a chart that listed my weight. At 5’10” and 330 lbs. my BMI is 47. Obese. I know, big duh!
Having established the current condition, I looked for what would put me in the “normal” range. According to the BMI table the highest I could weigh and be in the normal range would be 173 lbs. Setting aside whether this is a realistic goal for someone that doesn’t even remember ever weighing below 180, the chart was telling me that I had to loose 157 lbs.
Operation Losing Lance
As I wrestled with the hard cold numbers I was reminded of an event a couple of years ago after the Rosarito-Ensenada Bike ride. It’s a 50 mile ride with a pretty tough hill right in the middle of it. The tough climb is known to locals as “El Tigre.” At a family get together my oldest brother asked me how I had gotten over the climb. I remember telling him jokingly that it was difficult, because for me it’s like two guys on the bike and only one is doing the work. Those words have been constantly buffeting me over the last two weeks. Needing to lose 157 lbs. made them real.
Out of curiosity I checked some websites looking for weights of some of my favorite pro cyclists. It didn’t take me long to find how accurate I had been when joking with my brother.
I looked up “The Big Man,” Thor Hushovd, on the Cervelo Test Team, and the big guy comes in at 183 lbs., if my conversion of 83 kg is correct. Those two riders combined weigh 339 lbs. Just 9 lbs. more than myself. I’m also sure that in the middle of a Grand Tour like the Tour de France, by week 3 they weigh less than I do.
Thus, Operation Losing Lance was born. I need to lose a full Lance Armstrong to get within the border of a normal BMI range. My 330 lbs. minus Lance’s 156.5 lbs. gets me to 173.5 lbs. Right on the border of a normal BMI
I don’t know if this is a realistic goal or not. I will consult with my doctor along the way. What I do know, is that If losing a full Lance isn’t realistic, I do have to shed a pretty large portion of him.
The Basic Plan
I’m not approaching this without a plan. A lifetime of struggling with weight has taught me a lot about what doesn’t work. For this task I know that nibbling around the edges definitely won’t work. I have a plan which I will share in the coming days, but I’ll outline some of the basic points here:
- See the Problem for what it is. I’ve shared that process above.
- Diets don’t work, a lifestyle change is absolutely necessary in regards to food and how I relate to it.
- Keeping a food journal is critical.
- Exercise is key. While I love cycling and it will be a big part of the plan, I need to do more than that. I’ve already started that, more to come on this.
- Accountability and support. Between the time I was working with Coach Sean on my cycling, and working with my current trainer at the gym, I know that accountability is important for me to be successful. Which is why I’m being so public with this process. Not that I expect you to “take me to task,” although I’m certain some of my friends will, I’m hoping that by putting it “out there” I feel an added sense of responsibility to follow through.
- Make this the number 1 priority. I can't give the best of me, either to my students, or in service to colleagues or to Molly, who puts up with me on a daily basis, if I'm not at my best.
Ok, this is enough for today. There will be more to come in the upcoming days and weeks. I hope you'll join me on my journey. For now...