What I Learned Losing Weight

What I Learned Losing Weight

That title doesn’t have a lot to do with comics, you’re probably thinking. Well, since the comic is on hiatus it feels like a waste not to fill this space with my many opinions, like how cake is inferior to pie in every conceivable way. You cake lovers dress up that tasteless dry sponge in all the icing you like, it’s still not a food.

Speaking of pie, it makes you fat. Or at least it made me fat. Well, pie and many, many other things. Mostly Doritos. Heavily dust a broken taco shell in “cheese” and you’ve made a shard of my own personal kryptonite. I used to pulverize two large Zesty Nacho bags every Friday night while hate watching Star Trek: Nemesis, if there was anything left over it was breakfast in the morning.

It doesn’t take a cartographer to know that those kinds of eating habits are a one way ticket to The People’s Republic of Cankles. At one point in my early 20s I was lugging around 200lbs with my tiny 5’9″ frame. I looked like Kirby, if Kirby wore maternity jeans.

There were a lot of reason why I was overweight, but the biggest was that at 24 years of age I still did not understand the law of conservation of mass. I reasoned that my stomach was a black hole food disappeared into forever. Turns out when you eat Taco Bell burritos for lunch your poor body must scramble to find a place to store all that lukewarm Meat™ product.

And I might have kept going on like that if kids weren’t always hugging me at McDonald’s yelling “Grimace!” Something needed to change, so I decided to alter my eating habits, adopt a regular exercise routine and begin one of the biggest challenges in my life, to lose weight and get (relatively) fit.

It’s been ten years since that decision and I learned many tough lessons about slimming down. Should you be thinking of dropping a few pounds yourself, perhaps you’ll find some of the things I learned useful. Things like…

Losing Weight is the Easy Part
Dropping a few pounds is a fairly simple equation, consume less energy than you expend. Sure you could do this by exercising more, but the truth is that if, like me, you eat like crap you’re never going to be able to exercise enough. If I run on the tread mill for 10 minutes I’m probably going to expend somewhere around 120 calories. Great! As a reward for all that running I’m going to eat an Oreo, because I deserve it.

The Oreo is 160 calories. Fuck!

There’s no way around it, if your primary goal is to lose weight you have to eat less. Somehow you must find a way to harness the herculean level of discipline necessary not to crush an entire 12″ pizza. I handled this by cutting my portions in half. At home I prepared half the food and when I went out to a restaurant I only ate half the food I was served. Yup, 50% of every buffalo chicken sandwich and yam fries stayed on my plate.

“I thought you said losing weight was the easy part, I love buffalo chicken. That sounds really hard!” You’re right, it is really hard, but every time you step on the scale it’s rewarding. You see measurable progress and that pushes you to keep going. Soon you’re looking in the mirror and noticing there’s less you there. Each week you look better and better and that progress becomes every bit as addictive as the all the Oreos you used to eat.

But all good things must come to an end because…

Keeping the Weight Off is Nearly Impossible
So I improved my diet and reached my weight loss goal, victory right? Not exactly. Then came the incredibly, excruciatingly, impossibly difficult task of keeping off the weight. This is the part that Slim Fast won’t tell you about, because if you knew that the rest of your life was going to be full of tasteless granola you would have stayed friends with Brit Marling. Really, it’s unfair to sell anyone on weight loss without first expressing the gravity of what that means.

When you are losing weight you’re in a kind of discipline/reward loop. You say no to over eating, are rewarded with a lower number at the scale, feel good as a result and the cycle repeats.

So what happens once that loop is gone? Now there is no reward cycle. Now it’s just tedious, tiring maintenance.

The temptation to eat more slowly chips away at your discipline. At first I was allowing myself to have desert on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Pretty sensible. Then it was dessert twice a week and on weekends I could drink as much pop as I wanted. Then somehow a big bag of chips got added into the mix. Soon the weekend was an unstoppable hurricane of sugar and salt.

When you read that only 5% of weight loss attempts are successful, as unbelievable as that statistic sounds, when you get to the maintenance stage it makes perfect sense. The temptation to eat junk is intense, your body makes you feel like you need it and you’ll perform all kinds of logic acrobatics to rationalize eating another slice of pumpkin pie. It become clear you can either struggle with an insufficiently satisfied belly forever or you can gain the weight back, those are your choices.

I’ve had to accept that I will always be a fat dude in a skinny dude’s body. Only a thin thread of discipline stands between keeping fit and dipping a Twix bar in melted butter. That’s not a euphemism, but I gift it to you to use as one.

And because keeping the weight off is so difficult you should probably…

Be Realistic
One of the last things I learned, quite recently in fact, is that there is a balance to strike between your weight and your love of food. Eventually I began to understand that scraping and clawing to keep off every pound wasn’t sustainable over the long term. The struggle eventually gets exhausting, making the prospect of falling back into your old doughy body all the more inviting.

Not being 200 lbs was definitely important to me, but I also wanted to be able to enjoy food without constantly doing the calorie math. So long as my shirt buttons weren’t exploding off my chest and I was fit enough to score a few goals at ball hockey every week I was going to be pretty content.

Adjusting my diet to affect a happy medium made a lot of sense. I picked a weight range I could live with, something that afforded an indulgence or five but wasn’t going to make it necessary to buy larger sized tighty whities. I still have to be careful, of course, but I’m not stressing when a co-worker brings donuts to the break room.

So yes, losing weight is really hard, but it is possible to manage it in a smart, sensible way. Still, before you even get started first consider…

Do You Really Need to Lose Weight at All?
I’ll wrap it up with this question because it’s an important one to ask before making a monumental change in your life.

Most of us who try to lose weight do it because we’re unhappy for one reason or another. We don’t like how we look in the mirror, or we’d like to be more athletic, or maybe we’re just concerned about our long term health. So long as the source of your unhappiness can legitimately be traced back to your weight, great! Diet away! But don’t put yourself through all this only to find out you’re still miserable, because now you’re just miserable and you can’t have pie.

If you like your size you should keep it, fuck being a size zero or some kind of hairless Hercules. If it isn’t going to make you happy you should spend your energy on something that does.

God bless the People’s Republic of Cankles!

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