The most popular New Year’s Resolutions are staying fit or losing weight. For everyone who is looking to maintain or improve their physical health in 2017, I am sharing the story of my trials and triumphs in the battle for fitness. While everyone has a different physical and psychological make-up, I hope that these words can help motivate others!
This is a picture of me and my better half – Elizabeth – between August and December 2014. At that time, I tipped the scale at roughly 195-200 pounds. I stand 5’8” – meaning my Body Mass Index was in the “obese” range. [Granted: BMI is an imperfect measure, but still a useful barometer]. I still remember what my thought process was when I bought that blue T-shirt: it had to be baggy enough to hide my “man boobs”. As you can see in the photo, I didn’t succeed.
Throughout my youth up until the age of 22, I had a slender body type. For this reason, when I began to put on weight, I was in a state of denial. When I grew out of my size 32 jeans into a 34 … and then a 36 … and then a 38 – I couldn’t face the truth. When I had to get my rings re-sized because they were too tight on my fingers – I couldn’t face the truth. Doing so would shatter my psyche.
I gave up on myself spiritually, so I let my physical health deteriorate as a consequence. I was unhappy with where I was in my life in relation to where I wanted to be. When I was in high school, I was bagging groceries. But years later, even with a Bachelor of Arts degree, I was still bagging groceries. Making matters worse was the fact that I was a cashier – meaning I was readily visible to all customers whenever I worked. I graduated from one of the best high schools in the country – and some of my peers would frequent that supermarket. Every time I saw someone from school – I wanted to die – because I knew they were judging me.
Additionally, despite having a romantic relationship and family, I began to feel lonely and estranged. I began to feel that my worldview and needs were incompatible with the world; and that everyone was out to get me, somehow.
There was a hole inside of me – and food was an attempt to fill it. And when I say food, I am not talking about salads and veggies; I am talking about large portions of fried chicken, pizza, and potato chips. I could polish off an entire bag of Sweet Chili Doritos in one sitting. Instead of eating to live, I lived to eat. I would wake up at 2 A.M. to raid the refrigerator – and then go back to sleep with crumbs all over my blanket.
Over-indulging served three psychological functions: 1). it was a temporary distraction from my problems, 2). it made me feel good temporarily, and 3). I was able to punish myself with foods I knew were unhealthy. This, of course, created a vicious cycle: I was lonely, so I ate, and gained weight – which decreased my self-esteem, which made me feel lonelier, pushing me to eat more, and gain more weight … ad infinitum.
A turning point came for me when I started to get compared to overweight celebrities. A co-worker of mine kept insisting I looked like Jordan Peele from the Key & Peele show. I mean … I understood because he is a black dude who sometimes wore glasses – but I was offended on the grounds that he is heavy-set. Then, one of my cousins said I looked like Tamar Braxton’s husband. I had never seen him before, so I had to Google him. When I pulled up his image, once again, I was offended because homeboy was about 300 pounds. That was the final straw! It finally clicked: the image I have of myself is not what people are seeing.
Around May 2015, I had a doctor’s appointment for a routine check-up. My least favorite part was stepping on the scale – because it always revealed a truth I was unwilling to confront. I hated getting my blood pressure taken, because I would always register in the “pre-hypertension” range. I was 193 pounds – but instead of making excuses, I demanded accountability from myself. So I promised my doctor that by my next appointment in 6 months (November), I would be down to no more than 170 pounds.
After 6 months, these were the results:
I now weigh between 160 and 163 pounds – meaning I lost over 30 pounds! I went from a 38 inch waist to a 32/33. My blood pressure is now in the “normal” range. When I went back to my doctor’s office that November, he was unbelievably happy for me. My doctor paraded me around to the secretary so she could congratulate my hard work, lol!
I attribute my weight loss to at least 10 contributing factors:
1). Soul-searching. I had tried losing weight a few times in the past. What all of these attempts had in common was their failure to address the psychological roots of the problem. This time, I asked myself: why am I over-eating? What are the stressors that trigger this process? Once I brought the answers into consciousness, I gained a higher awareness over my emotions and could control my consumption.
2). A More Positive Self-Image. After realizing the reasons I was over-eating, I endeavored to raise my self-esteem. I had to combat the negative voice in my head which kept saying I deserved the torture being inflicted on my body. Over time, I began to develop a more positive self-image that demanded better.
3. Assess Nutrition & Keeping Track of Intake. I sat and jotted down what foods I ate, how much I ate, and when I ate it. Using the free cellphone app “Calorie Tracker” I saw the difference between what I was consuming and what my Daily Needs per the Nutrition Facts were. Every meal I ate, I recorded in the tracker which ensured I did not consume too many calories, or too much fat, salt, or sugar. I also purchased a scale and a tape measure, so that I could keep track of progress over the months.
4). Portion Control. Being busy or lazy were often contributing factors for not making healthier food choices. I often saw Jenny Craig or Nutrisystem commercials on television, where people purchased pre-portioned foods, placed them in the freezer, and warmed them up when ready to eat. So I went to the supermarket and bought a few days of Lean Cuisine or Healthy Choice meals at a time – that way I could get relatively cheap, healthy food in a reasonable amount of time. And, not to mention, the varieties they have are good!
5). Learning to Cook/Prepare Meals. There can be problems with relying almost exclusively on processed foods. But one of the reasons I was inclined toward them was that I did not know how to cook. To lose weight, I had to learn how to prepare my favorite foods. There is a treasure trove of recipes available online, so I learned a few healthy ways to prepare chicken, rice, pasta, etc.
6). Drinking More Fluids. Not only was I not drinking enough fluid, but I was drinking the wrong fluids. Juice and soda were all I drank – both in which are packed with sugar. The problem was: I do not like plain water, as the lack of taste is unbearable. To get all the health benefits of water and all the taste benefits of juice, I used Crystal Lite: a sugar-free powder that is added to water – giving it flavor. Another benefit of drinking more fluids is that it made me feel ‘full’ and consume less food.
7). Increase Physical Activity. While cutting back on intake is important, increasing physical activity helps boost metabolism. I went out and purchased a gym membership. Of course, I felt like a fish out of water during my first couple of trips – being around a bunch of muscle-heads who had a better grasp on their workout routines. But after a while, I overcame the self-consciousness, with the help of a pair of headphones. I made sure to visit the gym at least 3 times a week to do 30 minutes of cardio and/or strength training. After a while, the gym became a sanctuary in and of itself. Whenever a stressful situation confronted me, instead of coping by reaching for the chips, I went for a run.
8). Planning Ahead/Choosing Healthy Alternatives. One of my weaknesses is over-indulging at social gatherings to cloak the fact that the situation is boring, awkward, or both. Seeing as most functions are unavoidable, I had to start planning ahead. For instance, if I knew a family cookout was coming, I would either eat food at home, or bring food. If I was forced to dine out at a restaurant, I would order the healthiest option on the menu – which was typically the salad.
9). Don’t Be Too Hard. While losing weight is hard and requires discipline, it should not be a boot camp. The struggle is to have a regimen that is structured enough to produce results but loose enough to maintain sanity. An allowance must be granted for snacks – as long as they are in moderation. I could not cut out my beloved chips – so I would eat a small portion once a week. And sometimes, there were bad days where I ate too much of the wrong foods. When this happened, I simply forgave myself and moved forward.
10). Support From Loved Ones: All of these photographs are of my girlfriend and I. Theoretically, I could have cropped her out of the pictures, but that would’ve been unrepresentative of the entire process. She was instrumental in helping me along this journey. She was by my side every step of the way taking walks, going to the gym, eating healthy, and giving encouragement. I could not have done it without her unconditional support!
Every day, I struggle to maintain my physical fitness. It is a constant battle. But as long as I have support and keep these basic items in mind, I am confident that I can stay healthy! Hopefully you can too!