What I Have Learned So Far….

When I started this blog I weighed 365 pounds. Please, let that sink in. That is the size of three of the people I normally see running on treadmills when I go to the gym. I bought all of my clothes in the Big Men’s section of Wal-Mart of K-mart because that was the only place I could find clothes with enough Xs in the size to fit me. 365 was not my weight when I decided to stop slowly killing myself, I couldn’t even bring myself to step on a scale back then. To be honest I couldn’t even tie my shoes back then. I could, but not easily and not the way most normal people could. I had to blow all of my breath out and hold it while I tried to reach the laces. A lot of times I would leave them tied loosely so I could just step in and out of them. That is also one of the reasons why I knew I had to make a change. Imagine how frustrating you would feel about your life if you couldn’t reach your shoes to tie them and it was your fault.

Things have changed. I am 80 pounds lighter this morning. I have lost as much as 90 pounds but I hit a wall over the winter. I went from a size 48 inch waist to a 38 inch waist. I have slowly lost Xs from my shirt size. Yesterday I bought a XXL shirt for the first time in 20 years. I still buy three and four XL shirts because fat people will always buy clothes that are too big for them, but my wife is helping me buy the right sizes. She complains when my clothes look like they are falling off of me. I think I do it because in the back of my mind I might gain all of the weight I have lost. I think anyone who has lost any amount of weight shares that same fear.

I am not done with this journey but I have recently had a good reason to take a minute and look back. My amazing wife has decided to join me and start getting into better shape. I wanted to use this week’s blog to talk about the things I have learned to help her and anyone else that is about to start losing weight. I want to stress that this is what has worked for me. Please do not use my story as medical advice. It is not. I have no training and very little knowledge about physical fitness other than my own story. I am not a doctor or trainer. As they say on television, don’t try this at home.

Lesson one is that you have to have an inspiration. I am listing it first because for me it was the most important thing in my finally finding some motivation and success. I had been riding my bike for a little while and I had lost some weight, but I was constantly gaining it back. I would commit to exercising for a few weeks then take a few weeks off because I was sore, out of time, or whatever other excuse I could find. I was failing. I went to a bookstore and was browsing the cycling section when a title caught my eye. Heft on Wheels. How does a fat guy who likes to read and ride bikes pass over Heft on Wheels? It was written by Mike Magnuson and it told his story of being a fat guy who liked to ride bikes and he lost a lot of weight doing it. I identified with the “before” image he painted of himself in almost every way. Formerly athletic if stocky, he became fat when his life slowed down after college. He hit middle age like a brick wall and decided it was time to turn his life around. He got on his bike, changed his diet, and stopped drinking. He rode himself thin. I was hooked. When I hit a plateau or a setback now I still look back to Mike and think if he can do it so can I. Find an inspiration and use it to remind you that anything is possible.

Lesson two is to be honest with yourself. This lesson is for the obese and morbidly obese. It is not for anyone suffering an eating disorder. That is a serious condition and I don’t want this to be misunderstood to be something that might be putting pressure on people who are dealing with that kind of problem. This is a lesson that I learned about myself. The world has gotten used to using euphemisms for everything that might be wrong with people. Fat has become the new F word. People refer to themselves as chunky, more to love, big boned, or stocky. They talk about maybe needing to lose a few pounds, but they rarely call themselves fat. I know I never really thought of myself as fat even if I joked around about it. My wife and family never treated me like I was fat, they always defended me and said that I was really not in bad shape. This was happening when I would get out of breath tying my shoes. Before I could change what was causing me to be fat, I had to own the fact that I was fat. Pretending to be a little overweight was causing me to take weight loss and fitness less seriously. How serious do you need to take having a little extra to love? Not much, but the term morbidly obese is serious. Fat is serious. Take it serious and your family will too. At first my wife wanted to help me feel better so if I cheated on my diet she would be supportive and tell me it was okay, I could always start again tomorrow. By owning my issues and being able to talk to her, I could tell her that wasn’t helping. It was causing me to take everything less seriously. She didn’t want me to suffer for failing, but I was taking her kindness as another excuse. Now if I fall off track she will make a healthy dinner and tell me I can get back on track right now.

Lesson three is to find some form of exercise you like and stick with it. I always loved riding my bicycle as a kid. I never thought about it much because it was how I got around before getting a license to drive, so it never felt like exercise, it felt like freedom. I didn’t mind lifting weights when I was a kid, but it was always a means to an end. There was gym time before football and baseball practice, but it was something to do to get to play sports. I never liked running. I think it was because every coach I had for every sport I played used it as punishment. A mistake on the field resulted in running laps. This all came into play as an adult when I tried many times to get in shape. Everyone always suggested running or weight training and I didn’t enjoy either activity. One day I rode my bike to get some form of movement in and found it to be challenging. I decided that if it was that hard to ride eight miles, it must be exercise, but I loved that first ride. I found the gateway to fitness because I really liked riding my bike and fitness was the side benefit. I would ride even if I didn’t lose weight by doing it. Cycling has turned into a passion for me, and a motivation to do the pieces of training that I don’t like. I am running on a treadmill and strength training now because it will help my riding. I want to lose weight because it will help my riding. I would have failed completely at losing weight and finding fitness if I didn’t enjoy the activity that was getting me there.

Lesson four is the most important one. No one knows what will work for you but you. If you don’t like an exercise, find another one. If you don’t like certain aspects of a diet, work around them. Don’t like exercising in the morning, do it at night. I start every day with stretching, crunches, and push-ups. Sometimes I add planks or bridges, but sometimes I don’t. Every evening I concentrate on cardio. I will either head to the gym and run or I will head to the basement and ride the trainer. I have started weight training but I still tend to concentrate on cardio because that is what is working for me. Your results may vary. They will vary. You might like running. You might like swimming. It really doesn’t matter as long as you are doing what works for you. Listen to trainers, friends, web sites, some fat guy’s blog, or wherever you find advice, but do what works for you.

Lesson five is dress for success. There are specific clothes for working out and at first I didn’t see the point. I would wear ratty cotton t-shirts and shorts. I would sweat and everything would stick to me. Then I tried tech fabrics. Suddenly I didn’t feel like the world’s most disgusting human being ten minutes into a workout. The tech fabrics wick away sweat letting your body cool itself more efficiently and allowing you to be more comfortable. You don’t feel like you have swamp ass as soon as you start exercising and can actually enjoy what you are doing. Once I tried tech fabrics I tried cycling shorts. There is a pad sewn into the shorts called chamois. This allows you to be far more comfortable and avoid the dreaded Monkey Butt, or amazingly sore ass that hours in the saddle will cause. Whatever your form of exercise, there is clothing to make it more enjoyable, do yourself a huge favor and try it.

While writing this I thought about many more lessons that I have learned, but those are the top four. They aren’t really tips on a specific exercise, but they are the most important lessons I would pass on to someone just starting. I might revisit this topic every once in a while. What are some of your top tips for someone just starting out?

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11 Responses to What I Have Learned So Far….

  1. Greg Mischio says:

    Good luck, Joe. My biggest recommendation would be to make a change in diet. I used to exercise a lot, but I wouldn’t lose weight. Then I cut sugar out of my diet (use stevia), move to whole grains or gluten-free, and cut back on the carbs. Lots of fruit. Lots of veggies. That with moderate exercise (got to stick with it, don’t have to kill yourself) and you will get sustainable results. Be realistic, it’s not going to happen overnight. When you change your diet, its amazing how many great things you can find to eat that are healthy. You’ll also be disgusted by the toxic slop big corporations put out there. Our national diet is the cause of obesity – more so than exercise, etc. But don’t get me started. Good luck Joe, you can do it – and eventually you’ll change the name of this blog to Average-Sized Joe!

    • Joe Johnson says:

      Thanks Greg! Diet is the next thing on my list to really concentrate on. I have been working my way through quitting smoking, cycling more, getting a formal routine, and my diet. My wife just started focusing on her diet as well so it will be easier to work together on this. Thanks for the encouragement! It would be nice to be average size one day!

  2. TuiSnider says:

    Wow! I love reading true stories of transformation. You are an inspiration to anyone who needs to develop new habits. Good for you! Keep up the good work. 🙂 (Btw, I’d never heard of Heft on Wheels, but it sounds like a good read.)

  3. TuiSnider says:

    p.s. In case you’re wondering how I got here, I popped by from #Mondayblogs on Twitter. Nice to meet you. 🙂

    • Joe Johnson says:

      Nice to meet you too, and I love that you found me from #mondayblogs. It has really been a great blog meme to fall into and there is a ton of great writers and content to see every week!

  4. Tara says:

    Love this weeks blog and can totally relate. It’s a lifetime struggle for some but you are doing great and so inspiring! Keep it up :). And lots of love and hugs!!!

  5. You da man, Joe. Keep it up! It’s such a brave and lovely thing you are doing for yourself and those you love – who love you too.

    Little formatting thing. I probably overdue it on headers and readability on my blog, but this entry could benefit greatly from some boldfacing of first lines to set off the “lessons.” The idea is to create something like an outline that gives people an idea of the content of the post. Sometimes that means they just skim, but other times it alerts them to the depth of content, and gives them a roadmap.

  6. julia says:

    In response to your inquiry on tips: I recently told a female friend of mine, who used to work out but stopped and is now looking to get fit again: Be Patient With Yourself. This comes from my own experience. When I first started working out, I had no real idea what I was doing or — as you referenced — what would actually work for me. I was about 28, and had never really done much exercise deliberately or willingly. Less than a year later, I was pregnant and wondering how far the body changes would set me back. (A lot, of course.) More time passes, I have a beautiful baby girl, and the doctor says, Ok, it’s been X weeks (I think it was six), you can begin to exercise again. Well, it took at least a year for me to begin to feel comfortable in my own skin again, and even more time after that to reach a skill level that was further beneficial. Now, after more than 4 years of exercising seriously, I am finally beginning to see more of the results I thought I would either get sooner or not at all. Sticking to it paid off, as it has become something that my body asks for, something that I think about everyday until I go and do it. Even so, I continue to remind myself how essential patience is to the entire process…as well as what you put into your body. But that’s an entire other response. Lovely work, Joe. Thank you for writing about it, as I know parts of it were not easy. I think this would inspire pretty much anyone that happens to read it.

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