Archive for August, 2009

Back in the Day…

This past Saturday, while I was busy doing something that seemed important at the time, I happened to glance at the calendar in my kitchen. August 15, 2009. My memory flashed, and I remembered that it had been 20 years to the day since I had gone to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas to participate in the hazing ritual the Air Force calls “basic training.”

20 years suddenly doesn’t seem like such a long time. Back in 1989, when people talked about 1969, it seemed like the distant past. After all, I hadn’t even been BORN in 1969, and the 17 years since I had been born had taken FOREVER. In 20 years, I knew that I would be old.

Well, that day has come – a bit too quickly for my taste – and I can think back on 1989 as if it were just last week. So now, although 1969 still seems like ancient history (what with all of the Woodstock anniversary chatter lately), I can at least empathize with the geezers who feel like it wasn’t that long ago.

Back on August 15, 1989 I stepped off the Air Force bus into the Texas heat and stood in a line with a bunch of other poor saps while an angry man shouted at us to pick up and then to put down our luggage. We got the picking up and putting down part ok, but somehow we couldn’t manage to all do it at the same time. I’m not sure why that was important, but the man shouted at us and said that he had never seen a group of people who were so useless. And we were – no matter how hard we tried, someone was always either early or late with his suitcase. For a while I was ashamed about how poorly we had done, but, in retrospect, if I had to have an Achilles heel, it might as well be synchronized luggage hefting.

After our dismal performance, we were led into our dorm and told to sit in the “day room.” Side note – until just now I had no idea what a “day room” was – or why it was different from any other room – so I looked it up. Apparently it is a recreation room found in a barracks. That makes sense, as long as “sitting in an empty room while being shouted at” is your idea of recreation.

So, we were sitting in the day room, sweating from a mixture of blast furnace heat and nervousness and waiting for our TI (Technical Instructor…all of the rough and tumble services have “Drill Instructors” but the Air Force likes to be different). Eventually, he strode into the room and told us that he was going to choose the leaders of our little band. To do this, in a military tradition that goes back to the Revolutionary War, he ordered everyone to remove their shirts. The guys with the best physiques were made the leaders.

I was not one of those guys. I was determined to be in need of extra exercise, and therefore was designated as a “road guard.” This meant that when my flight was told to fall out, I would have to rush to the lone water fountain and jostle for position with the other road guards to fill a canteen with water. Filling the canteen in the dorm ahead of time was strictly forbidden, as was drinking any of the water.

Once the canteen was filled and the flight was in motion, I would march a bit ahead or behind of the main group. Then, when we approached a cross street, I would sprint out to block traffic. I wore a shiny reflective vest and was, in essence, a human traffic cone. Or, more accurately, a speed bump – except, of course, that traffic cones and speed bumps don’t have men in Smokey the Bear hats shouting at them from such a small distance that they become covered in cloudbursts of spittle. That would just be weird.

Overall, lugging that canteen of forbidden water through the Texas heat while flinging myself in front of cars is not my happiest memory. Between that and all of the shouting, I would be perfectly fine if the entire basic training experience faded into the mist of long ago. But, there it is – 20 years old and still cluttering up my memory like it happened last week. In fact, I can hardly remember any of the stuff I actually did last week. I feel your pain, geezers.

Back in the Day Tim 20 Aug 2009 1 Comment

A Problem Confronted

There was a pain in my chest.

It was late last year, and I was lying in bed at 2am when a sharp pain wavered through my chest. “Probably just gas,” I thought, trying to comfort myself. But, what if it wasn’t gas? Would the EMT’s be able to carry all of my pounds down my stairs and into the ambulance? And, assuming it was just gas, how long would it be until I was having chest pains that weren’t harmless? I was 36. If I wanted to live past the age of 50, I knew that I had to make serious, important changes to my lifestyle.

I was fat, and being fat made me depressed. I would eat to comfort my depression, and things would just get worse. I didn’t want to go out, and I didn’t want to meet new people because I knew that I looked terrible. Traveling on airplanes was a nightmare. My clothes – which I had to buy online because stores don’t carry my sizes – didn’t fit right, and even if they did I still looked terrible. But, I wasn’t doing anything about it. The one thing I wanted was to be thinner. I would put time and effort into other things I wanted – graduate school, for example – but not weight loss.

So, I gave it a shot. Late last year I started jogging and writing down everything I ate in a small calendar notebook. I tried to eat healthier, and it seemed to work. I felt better…until the holidays. I stopped working out and ate with a vengeance. It was worse than before – I seemed determined to eat myself back beyond where I had been. Even my “fat” clothes started to get tight.

And then it dawned on me. I have a food problem. It is a condition that for me is not unlike alcoholism. It isn’t something I can fix in my spare time with little or no effort; I have to meet the challenge every single day. I had to change my life and my outlook, and I needed motivation.

So, I thought, why not help other people while I was trying to help myself? I decided to make my struggle public – to add pressure on myself – by asking people to sponsor me for every pound I lost between February 8 and August 8. I chose to benefit Why Me – a local charity for Central New England children with cancer.

I wrote a column about it, and emailed all of my friends – I said how much I weighed, admitted my problem, and resolved to work toward changing my life. I explained that I was not going to do any kind of radical diet or plan; rather I wanted to start a lifestyle that I could maintain after the challenge ended.

I was shocked and thankful for all of the support I received. In a lousy, uncertain economy, people stepped up and pledged their support. They sent me notes of encouragement, workout ideas, and recipes. They cheered me on every month, and their faith buoyed my spirits.

February 8th came and I weighed in at 313 lbs. I remember thinking that if I could just lose 50 lbs. by August that I would be happy and that I wouldn’t feel like I had wasted my time.

I began weighing myself every morning. I realize that many plans advise against this, but I found that the ritual of weighing myself helped to keep my mind on my weight throughout the day. I wouldn’t be able to eat poorly without facing the reckoning of the scale in the morning. Also, I wrote down everything I ate and every workout. Therefore, if I gained or lost weight, I could look back and see exactly what had contributed to the result.

There were also some other changes that had to be made. I quit drinking alcohol for the first two months, just to help me get started. I knew that I didn’t need the calories, and besides, eating poorly seemed like a better idea after a few beers. I needed my wits about me to succeed. I tried to drink water most of the time, or seltzer. No soda.

Also, I tried to eat smaller portions, and schedule small healthy snacks during the day; a box of raisins or a few baby carrots in the afternoon when I might otherwise be on the prowl for candy. I tried to eat healthier meals – chicken and vegetables instead of pizza and macaroni and cheese – and generally just used common sense about what I was eating. And, no eating late; I tried not to eat anything at all after 8pm.

I started running. First, I jogged – very slowly – a mile at a time, three days a week. After a while I started jogging 6 days a week and gradually increased the distance. Then I started going to the gym twice a week for an hour at a time to lift weights. Again, I had to make time to do this – being healthy had to be the most important thing.

It started working. Every day I would write down my workouts and my food, and every morning I would see the results of the previous day’s effort. After the first month, I weighed in at 288 – 25 pounds lost. On April 8th I weighed in at 275 lbs. Again, still overweight, but feeling much better than I had in February. On May 8th I was 265 lbs.

Then, a setback. I started feeling so good about having lost weight that I stopped working out and started eating poorly again – celebrating, I guess. I shot back up to 275 lbs. There had been a number of times during my challenge that I had setbacks – ate something I probably shouldn’t have, or didn’t work out one day. The key was always to get back on track and do better the next day, and that is what I did this time. I worked very hard and got back down to 265 by June 8th. Again, my food problem is a challenge I have to face every single day. Yesterday and tomorrow don’t matter.

This past Saturday, I finished my fundraiser when I weighed in at 238 lbs. – a total of 75 lbs. lost, resulting in over $3,000 raised for Why Me. I want to thank everyone who supported and believed in me. I feel so much better – physically and mentally – than I did in February that it is hard to quantify. It was really worth it.

My fundraiser is over, but my struggle is not. I want to get down to about 190 lbs., and I know that even then I will still have to be careful, because I have a problem that is not just going to go away. I have to try, every day, to be healthy.

If you would like to donate to Why Me and help children who are fighting cancer, please go to www.whyme.org.

tim-2809.jpg Me at 313 lbs. tim8809.jpg Me at 238 lbs.

Why Me Weight Loss Tim 13 Aug 2009 3 Comments