No more half measures

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Half measures, full problems: Bryan Cranston as Walter White.

Every Friday, I’m going to write about something that inspires me in my pursuit of health, whether it’s an article, book, podcast, song or person. Today, it’s a scene from the TV show Breaking Bad.

Breaking Bad is, with the possible exception of Friday Night Lights, my all-time favourite TV show.

The second half of Breaking Bad’s fifth and final season premiered three weeks ago, and I’m not sure what I’m going to do with myself when the series ends on Sept. 29.

Since the show debuted in 2008, I have been fascinated by the story of Walter White, a 50-year-old high school chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. Believing he only has a short time left to live, Walter begins to cook and sell methamphetamine so that his family will have money and be provided for when he is dead.

The following four-minute clip is from the show’s third season. In the scene, Mike “the Cleaner” Ehrmantraut–the police officer-turned-private investigator, hit man and meth empire head of security–teaches Walter a lesson about commitment.

(This scene may not be for everyone, as it includes some NSFW language, as well as graphic descriptions of violence. You’ve been warned.)

I like this scene so much, I used ListenToYouTube.com to turn the audio into an mp3, and I added it to the playlist I listen to on my way to the gym.

It reminds me of a quote from former basketball player and coach Pat Riley:

“There are only two options regarding commitment. You’re either in or you’re out. There’s no such thing as life in-between.”

Whether it’s a fitness goal you’re working toward, a relationship you’re in, your job, or something else in your life, are you giving it your best?

For me, the above Breaking Bad scene is a reminder–albeit, a pitch-black one–that anything worth doing is worth doing all the way.

No more half measures.

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101 pounds

Aug6

Aug. 6, 2013.

As of this past Sunday morning, I have lost 101 pounds.

Before I left for my trip to Tanzania a month ago, I’d lost 92 pounds. Any weight I lost climbing Mount Kilimanjaro I gained back on the week-long safari I went on afterward–sitting in a vehicle all day looking at zebras and giraffes and lions, and then returning to the hotel to all-you-can-eat-buffet suppers in the evening, will do that to you.

Last week (July 29-Aug. 3), I dialled in my nutrition and got back into my exercise routine. So when I stepped on the scale Sunday morning, the number staring back at me revealed that, since the end of November 2011, I have lost 101 pounds.

November2011

Nov. 15, 2011.

Here are a few other numbers for you:

– body fat is down 10 per cent

– BMI is down 12 points

– down 14 pants sizes

– down to an XL t-shirt from 3XL or 4XL

– got rid of 35 lbs. of clothing (yeah, I weighed the bag) that no longer fit me

What the numbers won’t tell you is that I competed in a cyclocross bicycle race; appeared on Breakfast Television and exercised while dressed up like a monk; competed in a 5 km. obstacle/adventure race; went on a weekend mountain biking trip; started dating again; and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.

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Competing in the open race at DarkCross 2012 last Sept. 15. Photo by Dan Speechley.

The numbers won’t tell you those things, but they’re all true.

The numbers also won’t tell you how I have a lot more energy and don’t crash at work in the afternoon like I used to. The numbers won’t tell you how, at least in my estimation, I’m a better son, brother and friend now.

So how did I do it? People ask me that, and I tell them, “I ate less and I moved more.” And then I feel like maybe they think I’m being glib, but really, that’s kind of the answer.

I ate less and I moved more.

Now, the longer (but by no means comprehensive) answer to the question “How did you do it?” goes something like this. In no particular order:

OldClothes

Huge garbage bag full of clothes that don’t fit anymore.

I started thinking about joining a gym. Four years later, I joined a gym. A few months after that, I slowly started changing my diet. I stopped drinking alcohol for long periods of time. I went to the gym three or four or five–sometime six–times a week. I went to the gym when I felt like it. I went to the gym when I didn’t feel like it (usually). I worked out at home. I went running with a friend and I went boxing with another friend. I went to the BodyPump class another one of my friends leads.

I made mistakes. Sometimes I made the same mistake two or three or 19 times before I finally learned from it and did something different.

I fell in love with movement and became fascinated by the way my body works. When I lost a significant amount of weight and found I was still unhappy, I started seeing a counsellor. I prayed. I laughed. I cried. I felt sorry for myself. I snapped out of it. I journaled. I wrote out a plan and did my best to stick to it. I identified my reasons for getting healthier, wrote them on a recipe card and carried it around in my wallet.

CrunchingNumbers

Crunched some numbers on my phone Sunday morning. Pleased with the result.

I made mistakes. Sometimes I made the same mistake two or three or 19 times before I finally learned from it and did something different.

To get inspired, stay motivated and to learn, I listened to music, read books and articles, listened to podcasts, watched TV shows and movies, and followed pages on Facebook and Instagram that were health-related (be it physical health or mental health or spiritual health or emotional health).

I had honest conversations with family and friends. I started thinking long and hard about the kind of man I want to be. I got scared. I pretended to be brave and sometimes I actually was brave. I thought long and hard about what I think I deserve in life, and how I want to treat myself and the people around me.

I prioritized myself. I worked to improve my work/life balance. I gave up some volunteer commitments so I could focus on my health. I got more sleep.

I made mistakes. Sometimes I made the same mistake two or three or 19 times before I finally learned from it and did something different.

AaronAugust2010Edited

August 2010.

I tried to go on Facebook less. I tried to stop comparing myself to other people. I eliminated the word “should” from my vocabulary. I became OK with being uncomfortable. I explored anything I was feeling that was unpleasant, and instead of numbing that unpleasantness with food, I sat with the feelings so I could learn from them.

I got curious about my fears and the things that were holding me back. I tried new things. I questioned almost every habit in my life, both good and bad. I learned to forgive myself. I learned about procrastination, perfectionism and shame. I learned how to assert myself, as well as how to be open and honest about my thoughts and feelings. I read, thought and had conversations with people about building confidence and self-esteem.

I did mountain climbers and ground zero jumps and burpees–a lot of burpees. I got sad. I got angry. I took responsibility. I asked for help.

I trained myself to think about myself and the world in new and different ways in an attempt to change the narrative in my head. I started a blog. I let people know about my goals. I celebrated my successes with family and friends.

MennofolkTshirt

Mid-June 2013. Two weeks before this photo was taken, this t-shirt did not fit.

I surprised myself.

I chose to be happy.

Did I mention that I made a lot of mistakes along the way?

Sometimes I made the same mistake two or three or 19 times before I finally learned from it and did something different.

I guess sometimes I’m a slow learner.

Sometimes it felt self-indulgent, and sometimes it felt like I was taking everything in life too seriously. Sometimes I forgot why I was doing it, and sometimes I would have an identity crises, unsure of who I was becoming.

Sometimes I thought that maybe the November 2011 version of Aaron was all I was ever meant to be, and I was foolish to think I could be, or deserved to be, anything else.

Sometimes the “Who Do You Think You Are?” Phantom almost won out.

But that’s not a voice I was meant to give in to.

Sometimes changing felt easy, occasionally it felt natural, and every so often, it felt like the change(s) happened over night.

Aug6[2]

Aug. 6, 2013.

But a lot of the time, it was damn hard–nothing about it felt natural at all, and my body and mind screamed for me to stop pushing myself in new ways.

It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.

I started this post by giving you some numbers. Here are a few more things the numbers won’t tell you:

The numbers won’t tell you how powerful and confident I feel today, and how, for the first time in a long time, I’m proud of myself and actually feel good about being me.

The numbers won’t tell you those things, but they’re all true.

What comes next? I’m not sure. Stay tuned!

*     *     *

Check out this song and video by German hip-hop artist Casper. It’s called “Im Ascheregen.”

I’ve been listening to it over and over since I discovered it this past Saturday, and any time I get excited about music, I want to share it with people. So that’s one of the reasons I’m posting it.

But I’m also posting it because the music captures the exuberance I’ve been feeling the last few days.

The lyrics are somewhat fitting as well. In the song, Casper envisions burning down an unhealthy past and dancing in the ashes as he moves on to a better future. Enjoy.

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Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

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Chillin’ out on some boulders, July 12. In the background is Kibo, one of three volcanic cones on Kilimanjaro.

This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, I thought to myself. I don’t know if I can make it all the way.

It was the fifth day of our climb up Mount Kilimanjaro, the day we summited. I’m not sure when this thought occurred to me, or if it’s even accurate–it could be that I’ve experienced harder things in life–but at the time, this sure felt like the hardest.

Gilman’s Point, where you first get onto the Kibo crater rim, wasn’t even in sight–never mind Uhuru Peak, the mountain’s true summit.

Located in Tanzania, Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world. Uhuru Peak stands at 5,895 metres, or 19,341 feet above sea level.

In comparison, Mount Robson–the highest point in the Canadian Rockies–stands at 3,954 metres, or 12,972 feet.

Kili02

It took us five days to climb Kilimanjaro and one day to get down.

Getting to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro is not a technical climb that requires special equipment–it’s a hike, really. Still, it’s not a climb that everyone completes, and a few people die each year attempting it, typically due to altitude sickness.

“It is very hard to gauge the mental and physical strength needed to climb Kilimanjaro,” the website UltimateKilimanjaro.com notes. “If you’ve spoken to those who have successfully or unsuccessfully climbed it, you’d get a wide range of accounts. The truth is, like any other activity, some people excel at it and some people struggle.”

My journey began on Tuesday, July 9. For the first four days of the hike, I excelled.

On the fifth day, I definitely struggled.

We hiked just two hours that first day, eight hours the second day, four hours the third and six on the fourth. When you hike up Kilimanjaro, your guides tell you “pole, pole” repeatedly–Swahili for “slowly, slowly.” You hike at a slow pace so that you can acclimate to the high altitude.

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Celebratory group shot after hiking 31 km. down the mountain on July 14. Three guides and 15 porters accompanied our group of six on the journey.

I was the second youngest in a group of six men that also included my dad. Most of the men were in their late 40s or mid-50s. I hadn’t done anything special to train for the hike–in fact, I had barely broken in my hiking boots. I chose not to use the walking poles the others in my group were using and I often had one layer of clothing on while others were wearing three or four layers. At the end of each day, I had energy to spare and sometimes wondered why we couldn’t keep going further.

It almost felt too easy.

That fifth day, though–Saturday, July 13–was something else. Bundled up in winter clothes, we started hiking at midnight, with the intention of reaching Gilman’s Point at sunrise that day. We would then hike an additional hour-and-a-half to Uhuru Peak.

Although I’d only slept for roughly three hours, I started the hike optimistic. The path was much steeper and narrower than anything we had encountered up to that point, but that was to be expected.

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My father and one of our guides trekking to Uhuru Peak on July 13.

We were moving really slowly, though, mostly to accommodate a member of our group with bad knees, as well as my dad, who was so fatigued that he was falling asleep on his feet. Eventually, we decided with our guides that the three faster members of our group would go ahead, while I and the two slower members of our group continued at the slower pace.

It was discouraging to be hiking at what felt like a snail’s pace when I knew I could be going faster, but I wanted to summit with my dad.

Before long, the lack of sleep caught up with me, and I slowed down to a point where I couldn’t go much faster than my dad anyway. I could also feel the effects of the high altitude, plus I became dehydrated because I’d foolishly decided that two litres of water would be sufficient for the day.

Long before we reached Gilman’s Point, I was moving about as fast as my Opa, who is 86 years old. We took frequent breaks.

At that point, the battle was all mental. Part of me doubted I could make it to Uhuru Peak in the condition I was in. These are the things that kept me going:

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Here I am shortly after reaching the summit on July 13. In the background is Kili’s Mawenzi Peak. My face says, “I’m stoked that I got to the top.” My body says, “Let’s lie down for a nap, big guy.”

1. I kept reminding myself that every small step I took was one step closer to my goal.

2. I told myself I had put in too much work climbing the mountain to give up without reaching the summit.

3. One of the trainers at the gym I go to sent me an email right before I left wishing me all the best during the climb. “You are so strong and I know you will do well,” she wrote. “I haven’t seen anyone with your determination yet.” I’ve never really thought of myself as particularly determined when it comes to anything, so that was a great email to receive. I wanted to live up to it.

4. The Eminem song “‘Till I Collapse” kept running through my head. (Another one of the trainers at the gym I go to often plays it during workouts.) “‘Cause sometimes you just feel tired,” Eminem says during the intro to the song. “You feel weak, and when you feel weak, you feel like you wanna just give up. But you gotta search within you, you gotta find that inner strength and just pull that shit out of you and get that motivation to not give up and not be a quitter, no matter how bad you wanna just fall flat on your face and collapse.” The song was a reminder that I can go all-out if I want to.

Kili07

[Insert joke about “tickets to the Uhuru Peak gun show” here.]

Eventually, we reached Gilman’s Point. Then, we kept walking another two hours along the crater rim to Uhuru Peak, summiting nine or ten hours after our hike began that day.

Getting down to camp took an additional four hours, so what our guide initially estimated would be a nine-hour hike ended up stretching into a 14-hour day.

Still, we made it.

I recently came across an article from The Telegraph where a writer describes her experience hiking up Kilimanjaro. She puts it best when she writes:

“It was hellish at times … but I feel euphoric now at the achievement. Yes, it was worth the grief.”

*     *     *

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My old man poses for a photo in front of the Mawenzi Peak on July 11.

One of the things that made my trip to Tanzania special is that I got to do it with my dad. We first started talking about climbing Mount Kilimajaro at the beginning of May 2009. I remember that conversation distinctly because we had just gone to see the movie X-Men Origins: Wolverine. I guess we were pretty jacked up from seeing an action movie and we figured we needed to do something epic.

Hiking up a mountain in Africa seemed like a more realistic option than putting together a team of crime-fighting mutants.

If you ask me to describe my father, “athletic” isn’t one of the first words that comes to mind. He has, however, made a concerted effort to live a more healthy lifestyle in recent years.

Kili09

View from Uhuru Peak of a nearby mountain.

In July 1992, his father–my Opa–passed away suddenly after having a heart attack during his walk home from church one Sunday morning. I think that event inspired my father to get more active.

He started going on walks a few evenings each week once me and my brothers were in bed. Eventually, he started running, and in the last few years, he’s run in the Manitoba Marathon a number of times, completing the whole thing at least once and running the half-marathon a handful of times.

Health and fitness isn’t something we talked about much as a family when I was growing up. My parents signed me and my brothers up for soccer when we were kids, we played volleyball and basketball in school, and I played football for a number of years for a local community club. My mom and dad encouraged us in these endeavours and supported us by coming to our games.

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I took this photo a few days after Kilimanjaro when we visited a Maasai village.

But I don’t recall any specific teachings from my parents about the importance of health and fitness. (I don’t blame them for that at all–I’m just trying to give you some background on where we were coming from as a family.)

I think my father started running in part because he realized maybe he hadn’t set the greatest example for my brothers and I in terms of health and fitness when we were growing up as young kids, so he wanted to provide that example for us later on in life.

Prior to me making the decision to get healthier, my dad actually expressed to me that my size and sedentary lifestyle worried him. It was the summer of 2011, and I was sitting on my parents’ deck one Sunday afternoon, smoking a cigarette and reading a book. My dad came outside to talk to me about something–I forget what it was–but soon he was telling me about how he was worried about my health.

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Me and my dad a few days after Kilimanjaro.

In terms of awkwardness, this conversation was reminiscent of the time, 17 or 18 years ago, when my dad bought me a Slurpee, sat me down and told me about sex.

It was awkward because when you’re a morbidly obese, sedentary smoker, you kinda like to think it’s your little secret, even though it’s clear to the world that you’re pretty unhealthy.

It’s awkward when all of a sudden you’re confronted with the reality that it’s really no secret at all.

I’m not sure exactly what I said to him in response. I think I quietly thanked him.

Kili04

Standing with my dad on the roof of Africa after a gruelling journey.

If the conversation had happened some other time, I might have balked and become defensive. I’m not sure why I didn’t that day. Probably because I knew he was right, and probably because I recognized it wasn’t easy for him to say what he said. It took courage on his part to be willing to have an awkward conversation with his son and say, “Hey, I’m worried about you.”

Two years later, he’s still running marathons, I’m in a lot better shape than I was back then, and we got to climb Kilimanjaro together.

It took longer than we thought it would, but pole, pole, one small step after another, we both made it to the top.

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A short update

July2013

July 1, 2013. I’m wearing a football t-shirt because clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.

I was hoping to write an extensive post detailing the results of the plan I followed June 3 to July 3–what worked well, what didn’t work so well, etc.–but I’m about to go on holidays, so that will have to wait until later this month.

Right now, I’ll update you specifically on the numbers. In a little over one month, I lost 24 pounds: 12.6 the first week, 2.6 the second week, 2.4 the third week, 4.2 the fourth week, and 2.4 in the last five days.

This brings my total fat loss to 92 pounds.

Of course, it’s not all about the number on the scale, and I have experienced a TON of benefits from healthy eating and exercise other than simply fat loss since I started this whole process in late November 2011. I’ll get into those benefits in greater detail in future posts. But for now, I wanted to share the numbers, since many of you know that my current goal is to lose 100 pounds.

November2011

Nov. 15, 2011. Six days before I started going to the gym and paying attention to my nutrition.

Almost there.

I’ll be off the grid for the next few weeks, but I have a bunch of ideas for blog posts to write when I return, so stay tuned.

For now, I’ll leave you with this quote from the film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button:

“For what it’s worth: It’s never too late, or in my case, too early, to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit–stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it, and I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you’ve never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”

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Deep reasons

Commandments

It’s simple, really.

I’m a white, North American, heterosexual, university-educated, middle-class, Christian male in his late 20s. Life as we know it today has pretty much been designed to be super awesome for people who fit that description.

I get endless support from my family and friends, who love me unconditionally, which gives me another set of advantages some people don’t have.

It doesn’t mean I’m immune to doubt, fear, loneliness, anxiety and what have you, but it does mean that when I am struggling, I have access to resources and a support network that can help me get through it.

All of the above puts me in a powerful, privileged position that I can use to help others, which is an opportunity I do not want to waste it.

A Bible verse that I often think of, from Luke 12:48, says, “Everyone to whom much is given, of him much will be required.”

(Or, if you’re not down with JC, Uncle Ben puts it this way in the 2002 Spider-Man film: “With great power comes great responsibility.”)

In the fall of 2011, it occurred to me that I wasn’t living up to my end of the deal. In fact, I realized I was becoming an asshole.

I noticed it mostly at work. At the time, I was the managing editor at a small weekly newspaper, overseeing a staff of 14 people. I was often tired and irritable, which sometimes led to me being short with, and unkind to, my co-workers–the people I was supposed to be leading and inspiring to do their best possible work.

JJonahJameson

J. Jonah Jameson does not have a leadership style worth imitating.

These people really cared about doing a great job and creating a quality newspaper week after week. They worked long hours for not a lot of money, while balancing other work and school commitments, not to mention whatever they had going on in their personal lives. I realized the last thing they needed was a J. Jonah Jameson-type editor breathing down their necks.

It’s entirely possible that I’m being too hard on myself when I say that I was becoming an asshole. It’s not like I was walking down the street, kicking puppies and scowling at newborn babies. And maybe my former co-workers would tell you a different story about my office demeanour.

But during stressful times at work, in certain small moments where the way you handle a situation really reveals a lot about your character, I didn’t like who I was becoming, or who I had become.

I was experiencing a malaise I couldn’t shake.

StressedEdited

January 2012. Stressed!

I suspected that my poor diet and lack of exercise might be two of the contributing factors to this malaise and resulting asshole-ishness, so that’s when I joined a gym and started to eat less and move more.

A few weeks ago, the owner/head trainer at the gym I go to sent out an email to all gym members that included a question, which was something along the lines of this:

What is your deep reason for wanting to get healthier?

I think he wanted people to identify their deep reason because he hoped it would motivate them to stick with their healthy eating and exercising routines.

My whole health and fitness journey started because of this deep reason: I do not want to be an asshole.

(I was also haunted at the time by visions of me dying of a heart attack at some absurdly young age, or at the very least, being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and then losing my right foot. And I like my right foot, you guys. I’m pretty fond of my left one, too.)

At some point last year, I developed a list of other deep reasons for why I am trying to get healthy. I even wrote them down on a recipe card and carried them around in my wallet for a time.

1. I want to honour the body God gave me.

2. I want good health so I can serve and be an encouragement to others.

3. I hope to get married someday. I want my wife to have a spouse she is attracted to and proud of–someone who wants to go out and not be sedentary.

May2013

May 2013. Not stressed!

4. God willing, I will be a father someday. I want to be able to keep up with my children, and I want to be a good example for them.

5. I want to keep pushing myself and testing my limits.

During the past few weeks, the results I’ve been seeing in terms of fat loss are what have kept me going.

But when things are more challenging and I lose sight of why I’m doing all of this, it’s helpful to pull out my recipe card and remind myself what my deep reasons are.

What are your deep reasons?

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Self-flagellation and Pinterest-ready platitudes

flagellants

Take my word for it: If you search the word “self-flagellation” in Google Images, this is the least disturbing picture you will find.

A dear friend of mine is an instructor at a big-box fitness franchise in the city. Once a month, I go to her Friday evening BodyPump class.

I do this for two reasons: (1) To mix up my usual workout routine and do something different; and (2) deep down, I think I get some sort of perverse pleasure out of listening to awful music while women one-third my size outlift me. (It’s my form of self-flagellation, I guess. Keeps me humble.)

One Friday in May, I told myself in the morning I would go to the class later that day. It was a rainy day–the sort of day where you just want to stay inside–so when it came time to leave, I didn’t feel like going.

Still, I packed my gym bag and got in the car. In my mind, I kept thinking, “I don’t really want to go. I don’t really want to go. I don’t really want to go.” No matter how much I turned the volume up on the car stereo, the abrasive, metallic aural assault of Dillinger Escape Plan’s excellent new album, One of Us Is the Killer, couldn’t drown out that voice in my head.

I was stopped at a red light halfway to the gym when I thought to myself, “Aaron, you can still turn around and go back home.”

The light turned green. I kept driving to the gym.

I pulled into the parking lot, shut off the car, took the keys out of the ignition and sat there.

The voice in my head wouldn’t let up: “Aaron, you can start the car back up right now, turn around and go back home. You do not need to go inside.”

(Apparently, the voice inside my head has no concept of how ridiculous it is for someone to drive 10 kilometres in rush hour traffic only to turn around immediately after they’ve reached their destination.)

Anyway, I figured since I had come that far, I might as well suck it up and go work out.

JimGaffigan

Comedian Jim Gaffigan knows how I feel.

When I saw my friend before the class started, we made some small talk about how miserable the weather was.

“I almost didn’t feel like coming today,” she told me. “It took some serious self-talk to get me here.”

This was a revelation.

Setting aside for one moment the fact that my friend is paid to go to the gym and lead the class, which is a kind of motivation in and of itself, I always assumed it must be super easy for her to show up. Like, I have this image in my mind of her leaving her house and practically skipping to her car, because she’s so eager to work out.

I suppose whenever I see people who are in good shape, I figure getting motivated to go the gym must be really easy for them.

Talking with my friend before the class made me realize otherwise.

I was relating this story to my counsellor a week or two later, and telling him how that exchange really changed my perception. He told me, “Aaron, people have looked at you and thought the same thing: ‘I bet it’s easy for him.’”

“Really?” I asked.

“I’m 100 per cent sure,” he replied.

This was another revelation.

As the first 545 (give or take) words of this post indicate, it’s not easy for me, or at least, it isn’t easy all the time.

When I have my nutrition dialled in and I’m sticking to my plan, I look forward to my workouts and practically skip to the car because I can’t wait to get to the gym.

But other days, I’m fighting myself the entire car ride, and no amount of Dillinger Escape Plan can get me psyched.

idgeyjgb

All right, full disclosure: Sometimes this sort of “fitspiration” BS you find all over Facebook and Instagram actually kinda sorta motivates me. Maybe platitudes aren’t so bad.

I mention this because I figure if I can talk myself into working out, I really think anybody can.

I realize maybe that sounds trite–it’s really hard for me to write this post without concluding with some irritating, Pinterest-ready platitude–but I really think it’s true.

If I can do it, you can do it.

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How to fall in a different direction

ChrisJonesEdited

Chris Jones.

I have many writer-crushes–Chuck Klosterman, A.J. Jacobs and Chuck Palahniuk are three that come to mind–but my biggest is reserved for the man who introduced me to the term “writer crush,” Chris Jones.

Jones, who lives with his family in a 140-year-old house in Port Hope, Ontario, writes for ESPN The Magazine and Esquire. It’s his work in the latter publication that first got my attention, particularly “The Essential Man,” a poignant profile of Roger Ebert published in early 2010.

Many people know Jones for “The Things That Carried Him,” a stunning piece from 2008 in which he told the story of how the body of Sergeant Joe Montgomery made its way home from Baghdad to its final resting place in a grave in Indiana. Jones tells the story in reverse, starting with the man digging Montgomery’s grave and ending with his squad in the aftermath of the IED explosion that killed him.

The article earned Jones his second National Magazine Award for feature writing.

In addition to his exceptional longform journalism, Jones has contributed moving personal reflections to Esquire, including pieces on his depression, how he met his wife and raising a son who is autistic.

Jones also wrote an excellent article for the health feature in the April 2013 issue of Esquire. In “Fatty,” he tells the story of how he lost 45 pounds.

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The April 2013 issue of Esquire.

“Even when a friend began opening e-mails to me with ‘Hey, Fatty,’ I didn’t allow myself to believe I was fat exactly,” the piece begins. “My ego and appetites somehow remained immune to reality. Then my wife took a picture of me sitting on some steps, probably because I was winded. I was wearing a UCLA Bruins T-shirt, and one of my body’s folds was busy swallowing the B in Bruins. A million ‘Hey, Fatty’ e-mails wouldn’t have had the effect that picture had on me. My powers of self-delusion were no match for my all-consuming tits, eating their way through the alphabet.”

Jones goes on to write about how he lost the weight by eating less and moving more.

As a writer, I think “Fatty” is an outstanding piece of work because Jones is able to tell his story in less words than it took me to write this blog post. I like it because it’s compelling, self-deprecating and honest, and because he weaves certain ideas (like physics and math) throughout the piece. He tells his story in an artful way.

As someone who is health-conscious, I appreciate “Fatty” because it includes what I think is a really important fitness lesson. Come to think of it, it’s a lesson you can apply to any area of your life you want to improve:

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Change ahead, if you want it.

Start with small changes you can make with confidence, and build on those changes over time.

“I didn’t start some ridiculous diet or workout routine that I’d never be able to continue,” Jones writes of his weight loss. “Mostly I just quit being mindless.”

Instead of eating a giant bowl of ice cream, he ate a scoop. Instead of four slices of pizza, he only ate two.

“Over time, it became easier to eat even less because my body adjusted, shedding the cravings of habit with the pounds,” he writes.

When it came to exercise, Jones started by taking mile-long walks, which eventually became three-mile walks with a little bit of jogging, which eventually became six-mile runs a few times a week.

My guess is that if Jones had tried to cut ice cream out of his diet completely, and if he had tried to go for six-mile runs right off the bat, he might have become discouraged and given up.

But the little adjustments he made at the beginning led to small successes, which encouraged him to make bigger changes that led to greater results.

Jones’s article definitely inspired me to get back on track with my own health and fitness.

I’ve read the article so many times, I can recite parts of it by memory. The following sentence in particular kills me. I’m not sure why exactly–I think it’s because it’s beautifully written, and because I’ve felt the same way about my own weight loss:

“It didn’t just happen, but sometimes it feels like it did, as though gravity shifted one night, and I woke up falling in a different direction.”

If you haven’t already, read the entire article. The last paragraph is especially good.

And if there’s an article that has inspired you in your health and fitness journey, I’d love to hear about it.

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