Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Exercise is Hard but Also it's Not

Photo Cr. Frank R.

I sometimes judge people for their lack of activity, or their superfluous mass. Usually it's when I'm cranky and I need to make myself feel better. It's always an internal dialogue. But I still feel like an a$$hole when I do it.


Being fit is hard. Obviously it's hard. Otherwise everyone would be running around looking sexy as heck.

There was a time in my life when it was hard for me too. I'd sit around and think, "I should do some exercise," and instead I'd end up drinking on the couch with my dog. I don't have that dog anymore, but she was very tolerant of my girth. Dogs don't judge. I'm sure there's a lesson in there somewhere.

But now maintaining my weight and exercising every day is kind of..... easy. I realize I just made myself sound like an even larger douche.

If I want to lose weight, I just change my calorie counting app. A couple months later, bam, I'm there. It really is just that simple. It's like having a knob on my body I can turn to decide my weight, albeit one with a very delayed response.

"I don't know why it took me so long to lose weight..."


And not exercising is actually harder for me than exercising. I've been super sick the past couple weeks. The kind of thing that if I told you what it was you'd go, "ugh, that sounds like the most terrible thing ever." It was.

I still exercised as much as I could. Even though I mostly would regret it the next day. It's just really hard for me to make myself do nothing. Most folks have to force themselves to exercise. I'm entirely the reverse.

That's why I judge people who don't do what I do. Because for me, I would have to choose to eat more, or to exercise less. I would have to make myself do it. And as much I know - logically - that we're different people, my personal attitude is going to color my perception of others. Of course, out loud, I would be 100% sympathetic. "Oh you're a little tired? Yeah, that sounds super tough." But inside my head..... Awfulness.

I'm pretty lucky that I don't have a family or too many other responsibilities. It's easy for me to stick to a routine, because I know I won't have any surprises to interfere with my workout. So I can see why a parent who works full time would have a tough time with a regular fitness schedule.

Except that most of the other athletes I'm friends with online and in real life, including Meghan and Geoffrey, are parents who work full time! Their schedules are insane! The people who say they have a hard time getting motivated to work out or eat right..... are the ones who spend hours playing games, or messing around with their smart phones, or watching TV.
"It's dark and freezing out.... Why
would I procrastinate my run...?"


So it's not a matter of time or energy. It's a matter of discipline. And unfortunately there's no shortcut to it. People look for easy solutions: Easy diets or training plans that will get them "shredded fast." But it's a lie. The only method is this:

Hard work. Time.

People usually learn discipline because they have to. By getting a job, by having kids. And then they can apply that skill to something else. But if you don't have it, then everything seems hard. Doing your taxes, cooking, scheduling appointments for important things and then going to them. For some people, those things are like OMG STRESS BOMB. For people who are accustomed to responsibility it's like, whatever, just get it done.

Health and exercise is about mindset. They only way to start doing it and to stick with it is to change who you are. I can't be the person I was 5 years ago and do what I do now. It's simply impossible. The person I was and the person I am are completely different.

Now me would look at past me and say, "man, what a fat loser!"

So ok, maybe I'm still working on the judgmental jerk part.

When I started on this journey, I was worried about losing the old me. And it wasn't that the old me was such a great guy. But my life at the time was what I knew, and I was comfortable with it. Changing it for something different is scary, and there's no guarantee that new thing will be better.

And most people, when they look for the super fast and easy solution, don't want to change anything about their lives. They don't want to change their schedules, or what they eat, or what time they go to bed, or how often they go out, or anything. They want to do the bare minimum possible so that they can otherwise be the same person, just a little skinnier or sexier-looking.

It doesn't work.

New you means just that: New you. And not just better looking. Becoming someone who's obsessed with health and fitness isn't just about looking different. Your priorities change. Your attitude changes. You friends - and the time you have for them - changes. A huge amount of who you are changes. You become a different person.

And now, the thought of going back to drinking and snacking and lounging and loitering and whatever I used to do.... now that's scary. Because I'm comfortable with the new me. It makes sense, for the time being. Oh sure I'm a little neurotic. I exercise too much sometimes, I starve myself sometimes.

But I'm also not done learning. The more I've changed, the more excited I get by the prospect of further change. I don't want to be mired. I don't want to live in "comfort". The one thing I've grown to love is pain and challenge. Because those are the things that make you stronger and better.

Friday, January 13, 2017

On Running and Old Souls


My Russian translator, Maddie, just started her own blog. So if you like to read about running, but get slightly queazy every time I post something, then take a look. You won't regret it!


http://www.oldsoulmarathoner.wordpress.com/

Reading her blog made me think back to when I first started running. I wrote about it here, and probably elsewhere. But I actually ran even before that.

When I was... 11? It doesn't matter, it was a million years ago. When I was really young, I would run around the block at home and listen to Kris Kross on my Sony Walkman. Yes, that was a thing that played tapes. Tapes. Nowadays you can just tell your phone, "Play me music, phone!" And it'll probably do it. If I asked my phone to play Kris Kross, it would say, "dang your old."


Maybe they're still around. I don't know.

It was about a mile, the run. Although as a kid it was a long distance. I think mostly I wanted to have an excuse to use my Walkman. Actually, I listened to a lot of rap as a kid. I had no clue what any of the songs were about. I just liked that they rhymed. In retrospect a lot of the songs were.... not good for kids.


Most of the stuff had "parental advisory" stickers on it. My dad didn't care. He got me whatever would shut me up. Although, thinking about it now, it probably pained him. Seeing as he was a musician with a Double Masters from the Moscow Conservatory of Music. And I was asking him to get me stuff that was basically a guy rapping about killin' and pillagin' over some borrowed beats.

Shrug. I went to one of his baroque concerts recently. I'm hoping that made up for a childhood of me being a $hithead.

When I was in high school, one of my gym teachers said I should do track. I don't think it was because I was fast. It's just that I was the only kid in gym who actually ran when he told us to run. The other kids had friends, so they would walk together and talk about.... rap music maybe? I had no friends so I would just run in circles.

I didn't join track, because I didn't want to miss my soaps after school. No I'm serious. I would go home after school and watch soap operas. It was the only thing that was on at 3pm, and I got totally swept up with all the crazy drama. "She has how many babies with how many dudes now? How does she maintain her figure?!"

In retrospect I wish I had joined track. Or done anything in school really.

"You mean I could just do a LOT more of this?"


In my early twenties I had a 5 mile loop with one big hill I did. This was at a time when you had to measure distances with a map and a piece of string. I didn't stick with it for very long. I think without counting calories and tracking my runs with a watch, it's hard for me to give a $hit.

Interestingly, I've run that same loop, or overlapped it, many times since. The hill in the middle is really steep, but I can smash my way up it without much issue. I recall it being really hard when I was young. I'd be all winded and stumbly by the time I got to the top. So that's cool.

And then for most of my 20's I got really fat and lazy and did almost nothing other than sporadic weight-lifting. Without the structure of school, I just dissolved into a pile of over-indulgent laziness. "You mean I can do anything I want?! Booze and snacks please!"

"Screw future me. This looks awesome now."


And then after I turned 30 I turned all that around. But I've mostly documented that elsewhere in this blog at this point.

When I was young, I didn't really get the idea of fitness or health or anything. Running was just a thing you did because you weren't good at like soccer. I started lifting weights in college right around when I turned 19. I knew that would make me look less scrawny, so that was like a visible benefit. But I was still blessed with youthful metabolism, so I didn't "get" running at that point either.

Now that I count calories, running isn't necessary for me to lose weight. I wasn't running for the first 3 months that I started counting calories and I still lost about 30 pounds in that time. Running does let me eat more, which is fun, but that's a double edged sword. Before I quit drinking, running would actually cause me to drink more. After I quit drinking, running made me eat too much ice cream.

If such a thing is possible.

And yet I can't imagine not running anymore. It's meditative. Throughout my entire life I never had a sense of purpose or direction. I think you can tell that from the story above. Running is a thing I always do. It gives me meaning. It gives me a goal. It gives me a sense of power, control, structure, and accomplishment.

And at this point, I can't imagine quitting. Because I can look at the story above. I can look at the aimless loser I was as a kid. The meandering overweight 20-something. And all the other struggles in between. It immediately reminds me why I run. Why I need to run.

If I don't run, I don't have an excuse to wear a kilt!!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Fat is Normal


My caveman ancestor, Krog, was not a disciplined man. He wasn't thin of frame because he had the perfect diet nailed down, or because he was moderate in his eating habits. No, most likely it was because he was frickin' starving all the time.

And he didn't run to build strength or endurance. He did it to catch animals and look for water and - if he was lucky - an occasional bit of edible vegetation. Otherwise he preferred to just relax, paint some walls, throw some bones, push his friends into porcupines, that sort of thing. Krog was a big fan of laziness.

That's how we evolved. We're awesome at conserving energy. And if for some reason we're lucky enough to eat a few extra calories, it's immediately stored as fat for later use. That makes good sense! Having a bit of extra belly was a sign of prosperity! Good times were clearly being had!
Krog having a good time. I imagine he would
look a lot like my brother Alex.


We don't have to chase after our food anymore. We don't have to dig through the dirt and pray that the fungus we find is edible. We can just walk a couple of blocks and order literally a million calories of food if we wanted to. I mean, it would take them all day to make that many burgers and fries, but they could flippin' do it. They have the stock.

It's actually a miracle that we all don't explode from overeating. Food these days is blasted full of salt, sugar, and fat. All of it. Even your "healthy" breakfast cereal has sugar, salt and fat. These things were rare to Krog. So our bodies find them extra delicious. That's why you never get full from potato chips or ice cream. You could eat those for hours nonstop and still want more.

So if you take Krog and suddenly dump him into the modern age with access to all the food he wants.... He would eat it! And he wouldn't run around. He would sit on a soft fluffy thing and stare at the box with the magic sounds and colors and eat food all day. And it would be amazing!

The only reason the rest of us don't do this is because at some point our parents told us, "you can't do that."

"But why mommy? Why can't I just eat and watch TV?" You asked plaintively.

"Just... you can't. That's why."

"But why not?"

"Because I said so! Go outside you little snot!"
"But moooommy, I'll freeze to death!"


And televisions weren't addictive enough. You could at least get out of earshot of a TV. So they created devices that are literally on our persons 24 hours a day. They call them "phones", pretending that you had to carry it for, like, emergencies. And eating potatoes wasn't addictive enough, so they chopped them into bits and deep friend them and drenched them with salt. So soooo tasty.

And then it's your fault that you don't go outside and interact with real people anymore. And it's your fault that you're fat.

This is normal. You still have Krog's genes. You're just behaving the way your body was designed. All that stimulus and constant access to exceedingly addictive things.... How can you possible resist that?

By being not normal.

Exercising is not normal. That's why when a normal fat person sees an abnormal person running, they give them the stink eye. Eating broccoli when doughnuts are available is not normal. That's why there's lots of doughnut drive-thrus and zero broccoli drive-thrus. Nobody wants to be able to get raw crunchy broccoli at any time of day.

Except for not normal people.

The day I decided to stop being fat and to start eating less food and exercising more is the day my mind snapped. This wasn't a sane decision. Up until that point my body had been very happy being stuffed with addictive substances all the time. The only reason I had was vanity. Seriously. I wanted to look like.... less of me.

I'm glad I'm not normal.

"That's great and all but I can't survive on grapefruit."


Or at least that I wasn't at the time. But I've been at this for long enough now that I feel normal. And the other people like me seem normal too. And the people who don't exercise every day and who don't prefer broccoli over doughnuts are suddenly the weird ones for me. I mean, those people still outnumber us by a long shot, but we can outrun them!

Mostly now I can hang out with people who are crazy like me. And maybe Krog would be disappointed at me. But then again maybe he would enjoy us hunting a furry beast together.



That was supposed to be the last paragraph. You can tell because it has a satisfying conclusion about chasing tasty fur covered meat balls. But I wrote it yesterday and now I feel like writing more. But if your eyes are tired you can just close your browser window. And your browser. And your computer. And go outside for a run.

Just kidding. Eat a pie instead.


It's easy to blame "evil corporations" for smashing us with horrible but very cheap and delicious food. And it's easy to blame them for turning children into mindless automatons addicted to likes and thumbs-ups.

But it doesn't do you any good. It just makes you angry. They want your money. They're evil geniuses at making your spit that money up in slimy wads. Just accept it and deal with it. Thankfully you have a prefrontal cortex that says, "maybe don't eat all of the cake."

Sure, it can be an uphill battle. But you can manipulate your own mushy brain as well as Oreo ads can. I've convinced myself that I have to exercise every day or I will die a terrible death. Tomorrow. And I don't let myself eat until I've earned it. And I still loooove food.

Not all food though. I won't eat anything with hydrogenated oil because I want to live past 40. That automatically knocks out a huge number of snacks. I won't eat boxed cereal, because 7am is too early to eat candy that's pretending to be nutritious. And so on. High fructose corn syrup. Oh sure there's all sorts of studies that are saying, "no, it's like, totally fine." But who knows who's paying for those. And just assuming that it's a deadly poison makes it easy for me to avoid another huge heap of empty calories.

"Screw you deadly poisons!"


But accept the fact that you're human. You want to relax and creep on your "friends" on social media. You want to eat a whole box of cookies. That's normal and doesn't mean you're evil or weak. Don't let guilt be the thing that drives you to action. It'll fail. And then you'll feel more guilty. And fall into an endless pit of despair. Ask me how I know.

Just decide to be insane. However that's defined in your book. Break your own brain. Make crazy things into normal things. You have to fake it for a while, but eventually it will feel normal. And normal will suddenly look crazy to you.

I know. It's super weird. But it works. It really does.

[Something about chasing furry animals into the sunset.]