Friday, January 3, 2014

"Those who forget their history...": Looking back on my fitness journey

Snowed in like much of the Northeast today, I'm sitting here at my HP TouchSmart 9100 watching Project Runway on Hulu and looking through a file of pictures called "going down", progress pics I took of my dramatic weight loss a couple of years ago. If you read yesterday's post, you know I've gained back 70 pounds of the 165 pounds I had lost. As of the New Year, I have become once again focused on fitness and healthy living.

Today, as I go through these pics seeking some inspiration, I am amazed at how different I look at my various plateau weights, from 420 to 255 and everywhere in between. And honestly, I am taken aback at myself that I actually prefer the way I look at the heavier weights, between 270 and 290.

Looking back at my low weight of 255, I feel I looked good, more healthy in fact. But my face seems unfamiliar to me now, and I remember it did at the time the pics were taken, too. This means I have a preference for my heavier image, which could be why psychologically it is easy for me to put on weight. Fortunately, since I know the true root of this preference, I believe I will be able to remain conscious of it throughout my weight loss this time around. This is not about image, after all, its about health and fitness.

So, without further ado, here are a few of the plateau progress pics as well as a current pic. A brief description of the moment of time each pic was taken is included. Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think of the images as well as the concept of weight preference as it relates to self image and prescriptive weight loss.

Reading "The Perks of Being a Wallflower", Hollywood, FL, September 2009
420 lbs.: The above pic shows me as I was reaching my max weight. Can you tell I wore a 6XL shirt? People always told me I "carried the weight well", but shirt size doesn't lie. The fall of 2009 was difficult for me. I lost my job in Philadelphia and moved back to South Florida, about a hundred pounds heavier than when I'd left. While looking for work, I was working from home as a translator. I remember trying to go for walks, and I would barely get to the end of my block before feeling I needed to sit down. I was unable to find work in my field, so in a bold move in January of 2010 I convinced a local pub manager to hire me as a waiter. I'd been a waiter before, and I convinced him I'd be able to handle the work despite the apparent limitations of my size. This forced me to get up every day and walk. I did this all while starting a new healthier diet, which proved to me I had will-power, as I was able to turn away their discounted food even though it was all my favorite fare: meatloaf, bangers and mash, burgers and fries, etc.

Walking the dogs, the exercise that got me started, March 2010
345 lbs.: This me walking the dogs three months into my weight loss journey. Walking my dogs was part of my healthy lifestyle, and I'd lost more than 60 pounds. I was down three shirt sizes, to a 3XL. Until this point, my exercise regime consisted mainly of taking my dogs for walks. I was up to about 10 miles per week, done in two-mile increments five times a week at my local dog park. This is also just around the time I started working out at Island City Fitness in Fort Lauderdale.

Feeling fly in my first non-big-and-tall outfit in many years, May 2010
325 lbs.: Pictured above is me, down 95 pounds from my starting weight and 100 pounds from my goal weight. (This is also the weight I am at currently - see The Truth about 2013). I remember when I reached it going down. I felt amazing. I had just begun shopping at regular stores that carried 2XL. And I had garnered the confidence to go out and interview for better jobs - that's when I was hired as a teacher and coordinator at Miami Dade College. In addition to the walking, I had started biking from my house to the beach and back several times a week and was starting to go to the gym regularly. This is the look of momentum.

Time to hit the gym! Fort Lauderdale, FL, June 2010
310 lbs.: I dropped a lot of weight at the beginning of summer - probably because I upped my exercise just at the height of the South Florida heat. By the time the above pic was taken, in addition to the biking and the walking, I was rollerblading on Sundays and lifting weights at the gym six days per week. I had met a guy at the gym who was impressed by my progress and we started working out together four days per week. Until then I was mostly doing medicine ball exercises various machines in the gym, timid to hit the free weights. He gave me a routine that I pretty much used for the rest of the summer. I was doing four days of resistance training plus core work, and two days that focused on core alone.

Experimenting with fashion, Hollywood, FL, July 2010

300 lbs.: By this time the above pic was taken, I was on auto-pilot. My entire life was enveloped in fitness. I was active six days a week at this point, doing at least two fitness activities daily and three on Sundays. I forced myself to take a day off, and I was good about rotating my exercises to allow muscle groups to rest. I was starting to squeeze into XL clothing and didn't mind if my clothes fit tight. I felt unstoppable.

On the beach one year into my weight loss journey, Hollywood, FL, 2010
270 lbs.: The pic above was my first "after" pic - I had begun my weight loss journey in January of 2010, and this is me at the end of the same year, after losing 150 pounds. To say the least, the results were dramatic. Even the shot above at just 30 pounds heavier shows a marked difference in my face. I was happy with my results, but I remember at this time worrying about looking like someone who "used to be super obese". I couldn't stop talking about my weight loss to everyone I met, so that probably fed into my fears that you could just look at me and tell. 

Showing strength at Rapids Water Park in West Palm Beach, FL, May 2011

255 lbs.: By May of 2011 I had reached the pinnacle of my weight loss. I celebrated with a trip to the water park, here I confidently shucked my shirt and wandered around the park with just my flip flops. I had so much fun doing anything that required strength - at that time I looked for an opportunity to work out wherever I went. I went on several water slides, but I became frustrated when I had to opt out of some of the more exciting rides because the weight cut off was 250 pounds. At just five pounds over the limit I probably would have been okay, but I feared some catastrophe would happen if I were to attempt it, so I abstained from some of the fun. 

Eating out at a Greek restaurant, on a date, Miami, FL, June 2011

260 lbs.: I can't put my finger on the exact moment I made the decision, but after a year and a half of strict adherence to diet, I decided it was time to let go of the reigns a bit. I told myself that a little weight gain was okay - probably because I thought I was starting to look funny, like I had Al Roker face or something. But I remained committed to maintaining my weight loss and kept my weight gain below 275 for more than a year.

Over the course of the next two years a lot changed in my life. I moved from Miami to Boston to Albuquerque to Palm Springs all in search of amazing trails. I was hiking 20+ miles per week, but this was my only exercise during these times of transition. Eventually, the trail led me home to Pennsylvania, and to Philadelphia, where I currently live. I have struggle to find a gym that inspires me like Island City did, and while I am still hiking it's been reduced to about five miles per week. And until two days ago, I had been eating like a pig, which has led me to re-gain 70 pounds that I had worked so hard to take of just two and three years ago.

This guy's committed to fitness in 2014! Catoctin Mountains, MD, Dec. 2013
 To read more about my three-year (to date) fitness journey and what's going on now in my weight loss progress, check out yesterday's post - The Truth about 2013 - and follow me Google+ and Twitter (MyFitLife2Day) and Instagram (FitLifeChronicles).

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The truth about 2013 - I've let life lead to weight gain

I began 2013 struggling to maintain the 165-pound weight lost I’d achieved following New Year’s resolution I’d made back in 2010. For the two years prior to 2010, when I weighed in at more than 420 pounds, I had been struggling lose weight. In 2010 it finally clicked. I did it by working out at the gym six days a week and following a calorie-restricted daily diet of between 1,800 and 2,200 calories. On the day I reached 270 pounds – or 150 pounds lost – I met the person who I thought I would spend the rest of my life with. Happy in this new relationship, I lost another 15 pounds before reaching my low weight of 255 pounds.
Hiking Neversink Mountain at 300+ pounds, December 2013

But then the changes started. My partner and I moved to Boston, where I fell in love with hiking. Then within six months we moved to Albuquerque, NM. With the hiking, my caloric needs changed, and I began letting some post-hike junk foods seep into my otherwise still healthy diet. Ice cream was where it started. It began as a once-in-a-while treat, but it soon became more frequent. I began noticing that I was sometimes eating emotionally as I had done so many times before. It was sabotaging my stellar weight loss, but just a bit, I rationalized. I believed whole heartedly that I had everything under control.

Eventually, my partner and I broke up – apparently I hadn’t found the love of my life, but only a reasonable and temporary facsimile. I moved in with a stoner roommate, and I began smoking pot. Often. Being stoned led to the munchies, of course, but I kept up a rigorous hiking schedule that had me logging 20-plus miles a week hoofing as many trails as I could access in the Sandia Mountain Wilderness. So this kept the weight gain to a minimum, and I made it a point not to go over 275 pounds.

That was until this year. 2013 was the year of permission – I gave myself permission to grieve the loss of love and finally deal with the cold hard facts of middle age. I continued to hike regularly, but when I moved to Philadelphia in April, the distances I’d hike were not as great, and the frequency was reduced to once a week. That means just five miles a week of walking – and I didn’t step into a gym at all.

My food choices were challenged by the fact that my new living situation did not allow me to cook at home or to store frozen vegetables and such in the fridge. I began eating out for nearly every meal. And I once again began to pack on the pounds. It was inevitable. The whole crux of my weight loss was preparing my meals, knowing what was in them, and treating my food as fuel, and not my friend. 

By the end of October, I weighed 295. After that, I began to slip into a slight depression about it, so I stopped measuring my weight on a regular basis. I knew I was chunking up – clothes weren’t fitting that well and one or two people brave enough to say something mentioned they noticed I wasn’t my old self physically. The ankle I'd twisted in September began to make it difficult for me to do my daily two-mile round trip walk to work. I became bound by my conditions, and I continued to make unhealthy decisions about food, and I gave myself even greater permission to splurge over the holidays.

Now it’s 2014, and I began the New Year with a hike in the nearby Blue Mountains. It was a fairly strenuous hike and I could feel the pounds weighing me down. In fact, at one point after I had hiked and scrambled my way a quarter mile down a geological feature called Devil’s Pulpit, I sat down on the precipice and got the feeling that I was going to fall. I just felt so damn heavy. Perhaps it was psychological, and it felt a bit like a mild anxiety or panic attack, but it passed as I made my way back up to the summit and finished the hike in style.

However, this morning I woke up with new resolve about my situation. I know that if I don’t curb my poor choices now I could end up gaining all of the weight I’d worked so hard to lose – and then some! So I made a few resolutions to change the things I can change – like stop smoking pot. But for things I can’t change – like my current living situation that bars me from healthy cooking at home – I have decided that I still can control where, what and how much I eat, so I am currently working out a plan for calorie control once again. Also, while I don’t feel joining a gym is the right choice for me at the moment, I have dug out my dusty medicine balls and dumbbells and starting today am committing myself to working out at least 20 minutes a day, four times per week.

Oh, and one last thing. I weighed myself this morning. I was scared because being over 300 pounds again seemed inevitable. I figured I would be at 305 or even 310. But when I stepped on the scale I was horrified when it read 325 pounds! Really?!?!?! It took me two years to gain 40 pounds, and in just two months I’d gained 30 more. I am shocked. The last time I weighed 325 pounds I was on my way down, having achieved a 95 pound weight loss, heading for 100. Well, let me tell you, this stops now! Depression be damned! This is all in my mind and I need to get it straight! My decisions have shaped my current destiny, and new decisions will create my future. So that’s what I’m going to do – begin again making healthy food and exercise choices so that by summer I can feel good about my fitness level once again.

My goal: Lose 40 pounds by the end of April.