Thursday, September 24, 2009

Exercising -- the beginning

Throughout my childhood, I spent most of my days watching TV and reading, and not a lot of time outside -- surprise, surprise, that I have always been chunky and sometimes downright obese.

My parents always promoted sports.  I was on the community swim team for most of my childhood, and played sports in high school.  One season of wrestling, 3 years of water polo and 3 years of swim team.  I hated competition/ meets then, and I disliked the feeling that I get when I am nervous.  Ironic now I thrive on that feeling.  The same feeling, I just perceive it differently. But I digress...

I was never fit because my caloric intake always increased proportionally to my level of exercise.  Unfortunately, I did not continue the exercise regimen during "off season" and always had to start back at square one at the beginning of every new season. This yo-yo trend continued through college.

In college, my level of exercise continued to decrease, and my junk food intake increased dramatically.  After all, I went to a college known for their dining service, and heck, it was a buffet!  I entered freshman year at 165 lbs, but at the beginning of my senior year in college I stepped back on the scale and realized that I was pushing 215 lbs.  Determined, and with the help of my roommates, I started scaling back my eating habits.  Having people around you daily that's willing to support you and "harass" you into healthy habits is very important.  This is especially true if they live with you.

Here is the theory I operated under for my weight loss, as un-politically correct as it sounds, "If there are no fat people in Ethiopia, and it's because they don't have enough to eat, if I eat less, I should get skinny too."

For the first three months from October to December I would eat only a fraction of the food I usually ate.  I was very picky on what I ate and mainly only ate canned tuna and vegetables (even today I have an aversion to cooked canned tuna).  I would not eat meals after 6pm and focused mainly eating (until I'm no longer hungry, not until I'm stuffed) breakfast and lunch.  When I returned home during the Christmas holidays I had lost 40 lbs, based only on limiting my food intake and changing my diet.  In fact, my parents could not recognize me when I got off the plane. 

I was able to successfully continue my diet through all the Christmas festivities and returned to school in January.  My weight loss through changing only my diet had plateaued, so I decided to incorporate exercise into my daily regimen.

Early on I decided I will base my exercise on "time" and not distance.  I started working out by doing 55 minutes on the exercise bike and 5 minutes on the treadmill, and slowly as my endurance build up I over time biased my exercise to where I would be running for the full hour.  I started on the exercise bike because it has a much lower impact on my body and helps stress and train my body to get used to the amount of workout I will eventually be doing.  In addition, I also chose to take a modern dance course to help me exercise even more (that and the class had a guy-to-girl ratio of 1 to 12, which helps).

Here was my exercise schedule: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, I would concentrate on cardio.  Tuesday, Thursday weights.  I would never exercise more than a hour, but I would instead push myself to run harder, faster, do more weights every session.

By spring break in March, I had lost an additional 30 lbs and was down to 145 lbs.  Although at first glance this weight loss does not seem as impressive, especially considering the amount of additional work required, keep in mind during this time much of my body has been replaced by muscle, which is much denser and heavier.  I was able to run 7 miles in a hour, and my waist went from 36" to 29".

I have never been that fit and skinny in my life.  When I returned to San Francisco during my spring break, even my best friend from since Junior High could not recognize me.  It was a very proud moment for me when he walked out of his office to meet me and walked right by me without recognizing me.  I had succeeded.

I am in no way a trained exercise professional.  But I have been excessively overweight most of my life and these are the steps I took to help me loose weight.  Here is a summary of my exercise and diet routine:
  1. Eat only lean protein and vegetables.  Avoid empty calories from starch and oils.
  2. Once you get used to the food intake, exercise for 60 mins/day, 5 days a week-- 3 days cardio and 2 days weight.  You need to give yourself the weekends to take a break and relax.  This is also the time that your body is recovering.
  3. Surround yourself with people that can help you along.  Whether by keeping you honest, or helping you continue to exercise -- like a running club.  
  4. Treat yourself to things you like, but in moderation.
I realized now that with a healthy body, many of the voids I had used food to fill I no longer needed.  This is not to say I don't enjoy the occasional Drumstick ice cream, but I don't need to consume five of them.   Once the ball is rolling, it is very easy to continue the routing but the same applies when you're first getting in the groove.  When I was first starting to work out, it was much more tempting to just sit on my ass and do nothing than have to walk to the gym.

Unfortunately, dramatic events in life can cause shifts in this mentality.  About a year out of college, I was diagnosed with mono and forced to go easy for the following 3-4 months.  When I finally recovered, I got lazy and slowly did less and less in terms of diligently working out and eating right.  It was easier just to be lazy and cheat.  I had numerous excuses for myself.  When I was consulting I told myself it was easier to just eat unhealthy with the group than having to focus on eating healthy alone.  I worked long hours but I did not make time to work out.

Eventually, my weight slowly climbed back.

In 3 years my weight increased up to 165 lbs, and eventually back to 210+.  My waist gradually increased from 30" to 34" to 36", and now 37".  The interesting thing I noticed was it actually took quite some time for me to start gaining weight noticeably, but once that happened I gained weight very quickly.  I believe this is because in the beginning, I still had my lean muscles that would burn some of the excess calories, and eventually when those were gone there was nothing to stop the downhill fall.  

It's been difficult to hop back on the exercise bandwagon, but I have come to the point in my life, again, where I know I need to make a change.  It has begun.

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