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Gender: Male
Hometown: New Hampshire
Home country: USA
Member since: Sun Oct 3, 2004, 03:16 PM
Number of posts: 12,845

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70 lbs. down. Now I can rant about obnoxious fitness fanatics.

Everything I have to say now is just as valid (or invalid) as it would have been 70 pounds ago. Before I started seriously working on my weight this past April, however, much of what I have to say would be too easily dismissed as "making excuses" or "defeatism". I had been fit for a very long span of time once before too, however, and I would have said many of the same things back then as I will say now, but when I've tried to say these things during my out-of-shape years, somehow any experience from my past, when I'd been fit and trim for eight years, didn't count.

Hear me now and believe me later, fitness fanatics, your experience of fun and exhilaration in exercise is not universal. Just because you love to "feel the burn" doesn't mean everyone else will (if only they'd give it a chance!). Not everyone who runs gets a "runner's high". Not everyone gets a big thrill out of lifting ten more pounds than they could lift last month (at least not a thrill that it exceeds the pleasure of a pint of Ben & Jerry's). Not everyone will feel like an exercise session is "my special time for myself".

For some of us, exercise and a healthy diet means unpleasant work. Worth the effort, but work. Drudgery even. For me the rewards of diet and exercise are in the results, not, by far, in the process that gets me there.

I'm all for trying to psych yourself up for a big effort, and for a sensible, non-fanatical form of positive thinking. I'm not, however, for the magical quasi-religious version of positive thinking, where people speak as if they're going to bend reality to their will by blowing sunshine out their asses, by the sheer power of determination combined with gross oversimplifications crafted into unctuous motivational slogans.

For example: I personally have to translate "Find something you love to do!" into "Find something you can tolerate". It helps for me to have something I'd rather do even less than my exercise too, so that exercise becomes a break, relatively speaking, from that other thing that's even less appealing. I've run into fitness fanatics so certain that there's a FUN! FUN! exercise option for everyone that if you don't agree there's something fun you'd like to do, then you must (in their eyes) simply be looking for an excuse not to exercise, and you must be deliberately setting yourself up for failure.

The most tolerable exercise I've found so far is walking -- fairly brisk walking, often getting up around an average speed of 4 mph for as long as two hours and change. The trade-off here is that for a given span of time, walking doesn't burn as many calories as jogging or running or many other exercises focused on calorie burning, but at least walking is the closest thing I've found to a pleasurable form of exercise. Walking certainly has its very pleasurable moments, particularly on a nice, sunny day, but it's still more on the side of hard work when you're putting up with bad weather and putting in more than 120 miles per month.

I managed 112 miles of walking in December before the weather got too bad for doing much walking in my favorite park. I've since done a little snowshoeing, but now most of my exercise is on indoor equipment, with a much lower pleasure/drudgery ratio there. I have to rely on the trick of exercise being a way of getting out of doing something I like doing even less, which is where having a gym at work comes in handy. Using the sort-of-elliptical-rider-like-thing at work counts as a break when compared to sitting at my desk. I have an elliptical rider at home, but using it seldom feels like a "break" from relaxing at home, so it's harder to motivate myself to use that conveniently located equipment.

I've wondered how widely applicable the common advice of going to the gym (or doing other exercise) with a friend might be. While I can see how some people might get something out of making exercise more social, it certainly wouldn't help me much. I can hardly be alone in that. Given many people's busy schedules, trying to coordinate exercise time with someone else sounds like a recipe for failure, an opportunity for bad excuses to pop up when your friends aren't available.

Further, I imagine a lot of the people who need to get into shape later in their lives were people like me who weren't in great shape when they were younger, who don't have strong, positive associations with exercise and team sports. Maybe for some of the enthusiastic fitness fanatics out there they find their fitness activities to be a recapturing of joyful memories from their youth. Some of us, however, are trying to get in shape without being reminded of what it was like when we were picked last for teams in gym class.

Some fitness fanatics have an obnoxious, Republican-like "we built that!" sense of their own glorious self-made achievements, one that admits little to no room for luck and fortuitous circumstance.

While I think I have a lot to be proud of in what I've accomplished over the past 9 1/2 months, I'll gladly admit to having some great advantages that certainly aren't due to any particular special virtue of mine.

One of the biggest advantages I have is that I've got a lot more free time than many other people: I work about six miles from home, so I don't use up a lot of my day commuting. I have no children, so I'm not spending time playing taxi driver or sitting through soccer practice. I've got a good paying job that nevertheless seldom keeps me in the office late or follows me home after hours.

When you add in extra time for changing, showering, going to and from the gym on top of 45 minute workouts and two hour walks, I've easily been spending 8-12 hours per week on exercise. I certainly wouldn't blame others for having a hard time trying to make that much time in their lives for getting fit. In fact, it was going from a mostly work-at-home job to a commuting job where I spent 1.5-2.5 hours/day stuck in my car, depending on traffic, that killed my first eight years span of staying fit. Over the course of a year "fuck it, I'm tired!" slowly won out over my commitment to fitness. Even once I was working close to home again, it took years (until just last year, in fact) for me to finally get sick of the weight I'd put on and get started working out again.

Now that weather has reduced my walking time, I've got a great advantage in working at a job that provides free membership to a health club in the same building, and where my boss doesn't mind me taking afternoon workout breaks when my fairly flexible schedule permits.

One dieting advantage I have: I'm not a big fan of heavy helpings of sauces, sandwich spreads and salad dressings. It's no sacrifice at all for me to say "hold the mayo". There's 100 calories or more saved right there by doing something that makes a sandwich taste better to me. I like this dish at Friday's called "Cajun Shrimp and Chicken Pasta", but I ask for 1/4 of the sauce (as well as substituting multigrain pasta and adding extra red bell pepper), and I love it that way. Big puddles of sauce at the bottom of a dish of pasta frankly disgust me. I like just enough sauce to slightly moisten pasta, and that's it.

I cringe to see the amount of salad dressing that many other people drown their salads in. I've decided not to bother with low calories dressings because I can get by with 100 calories or so of bleu cheese on a big salad and be perfectly content.

Another dieting advantage: I seem to be someone who gets a bit of an appetite suppression effect out of exercise. It's not that I'm never resisting cravings, not by far, but I'm seldom racked by hunger pangs either. (Sorry, ladies, from what I've read men are much more likely to benefit from this suppression effect than women.)

I'm doing just fine losing weight without adopting any particularly special or strict diet. No puritanical elimination of this or that, no all-organic, no low-carb, no gluten-free. I'm not spending a lot of time trying to find "superfoods" or other foods with this or that purported fat-burning, immune-boosting effect. I'm simply eating less overall, cutting out a lot of desserts I used to indulge in (but not all of them!), eating more vegetables and a little more fruit, making more of the carbs I eat whole grain, eating lean meats and a little more seafood. I certainly am not freaking out over GMOs, diet soda, or artificial additives. While I think we should all be a bit careful and wary about what goes into our food supply, I certainly do not buy into the hair-on-fire "OMG!111!1!1! TEH CORPORATIONS R FEEDING US POISON!1!!1!" histrionic freak out that's popular on DU.

I used to do the low-fat diet thing, during the first long span of fitness in my life, but this time around I've decided not to worry so much about fat, so long as I favor healthier fats. Not only have I lost a lot of weight this way, but I've got my cholesterol down to 133, with good HDL levels and low triglycerides, all while suffering much less from hunger pangs than I did on the low-fat diet.
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