In February, when I joined a weight loss study at UNC, I had a goal of losing 15 pounds. At the time I weighed 295.5, which I found a little shocking. Apparently I had the frame to hide some (but obviously not all) of that; most reactions to that number, including my own, were along the lines of, “Wait, really? I would have guessed 250, maybe 260, but not 295.” It’s one of the advantages of being six-something (my license says I’m 6’3″, but I think that’s a tad generous). That number on the scale was such a shock that it pushed me to dive headlong into the weight loss plan the study included: some modest diet modification, lots of exercise and daily weighing.

Eight months later, I weigh 199 pounds.

I’ve held steady between 197 (after a couple of meatless days) and 202 (after the State Fair, bless its fried bounty) for three weeks now with basically zero effort beyond my now-thoroughly-established habits of diet and exercise. I’ve scaled back on the amount of walking/running/biking I do, in part because it’s no fun to bike in 50F temps and in part because I was trying to “air brake” into the ~200 range rather than shoot past it. I’ve allowed myself tiny increases in calories – the caramel dip included in my apple slices here, an extra banana there – and I even ate two slices, over a few days, of a homemade dark chocolate ganache & strawberry pie so thin it was more tart than pie. The only food I’ve completely written off is Oreos because, y’know, there’s just no healthy way to eat Oreos and if I started I wouldn’t stop.

I’ve burned through two generations of cheap jeans and shorts and am now on my third. I’ve dropped two shirt sizes in all varieties: work shirts, t-shirts, even undershirts. I’ve given something like $1500 worth of clothes to the rescue mission up the street. I knew I’d really lost weight when I had to buy new underwear. My shoes fit differently. When I’m doing the running portion of my walks I feel agile in a way I’ve simply never felt before, jogging along, dodging obstacles, jumping curbs in little leaps. A few weeks ago I was waiting for a walk signal at a place where the American Tobacco Trail crosses a major street and I realized I was bouncing back and forth in anticipation of getting to go again. I’ve walked parts of my city that I didn’t know existed. I’ve seen abandoned houses that would make great vampire havens and cute little brick boxes from the ’50s with carefully-tended gardens and a valley so thick with kudzu that it looks like a crocheted throw. I joined Pants Wilder’s gym to use the weight machines and treadmills and because I can park there, walk 9 miles of the ATT and then meditate in a steam room before going to study. I got off my ass and started my first foray into grad school after years of talking about it. I went to a running store and was fitted for shoes by people who were friendly instead of critical. I had a doctor take my pulse repeatedly and then say, “Wow. Your heart rate is beautiful.” I’ve gotten robbed without letting myself completely obsess over it or give up. I’ve had a colleague from another team say, in the hallway, “I was biking the American Tobacco Trail last weekend and I think I saw you running with a baseball bat.” I’ve gotten an email from a long-ago ex that read, in whole, “Rode past you on the Trail last week. Looking great!”

I spent years saying all this endorphin-high, body-as-drug stuff was a bunch of bullshit or, alternately, that it was simply out of reach for me because I would never have the patience/time/body-type/discipline/joints/endurance/diet/desire for it. There are absolutely people for whom that’s true and I don’t think anyone who does not go out and walk off 96 lb is a loser or isn’t trying or is unhealthy or anything at all like that. Neither am I in any way kidding myself that it’s easy or that it will suddenly get easy. In order to stay fit, in opposition to my genetics and my health history and my family’s health history, I will have to work like this for the rest of my life without ceasing.

It turned out that it was not impossible, however, for me to start and to see it through. It isn’t even unpleasant. It’s fun, even when I walk through the spot where I got robbed, and I’ll be the first one to admit how very surprised I am by that.

Added Later So Nobody Thinks I’m Bulimic

Worth mentioning, I feel, are that:

  • the nutritionist running the weight loss study worked with me to continue adjusting my weight loss goal in a sane, rational way as I continued to lose weight and she suggested ~200 as an ultimate target;
  • the doctor in question was in no way associated with the weight loss study and endorsed its effects;
  • only one colleague has asked if I am dying (hee!);
  • the actual goal suggested by my nutritionist, and which I am happily following, is that I consider any weight between 195 and 205 to be just fine and not worth trying to adjust in some conscious fashion; and
  • drifting down from 202 to 199 took a week and a half and didn’t involve any effort, it just happened, and tomorrow it could be right back up and c’est la vie.

To be honest, I have spent years scared of trying to lose weight – including this year of actual weight loss – because my oldest sister had more than one eating disorder as she battled her own body over the course of her entire adult life. I have been, and sometimes still am, scared that a program of successfully re-engineering my body might turn into an obsession. Staying conscious of that has helped me avoid it. Viewing this as an engineering project instead of a Serious Lifestyle Change has helped me avoid it. Reminding myself in frank fashion of the literal madness my sister endured has helped me avoid it. Saying that my sister was battling her own body isn’t much of a metaphor or exaggeration; she hated her body and was, I think, to some degree trying to destroy it. I am trying to build mine up rather than tear it down. The C.S. Lewis line about not having a soul but being one and instead having a body is a great line, yes, and it’s been going around a lot lately, but unless I’ve missed a news bulletin then this body is the only one I’m going to get so it’s worth maintaining.

I’ve also been a little scared that someone would think I had AIDS, after a friend-of-a-friend in college got asked that ten million times while he lost a bunch of weight, but thank all the gods we live in different times and I have better friends than he did.

I now conclude this episode of Over-Sharing Theatre.