Saturday, 31 December 2011

The Fat Guy in My Mirror

Since I started my IT career I have gained exactly 50 kg of extra weight. This statement of fact was made painfully clear this morning when the scale creaked under me and steadied itself to depressing number of 142.0 kg. The irony is that when in the spring of 1999 I weighted 92 kg I thought I was fat and many enough people were happy to say so too, but the reality was that I had good muscles, flexible body and wide shoulders, I practiced judo three times a week and also swam and went to gym on other days. When I look pictures of myself back then all I see is a fit, healthy guy with a bad self-esteem.

Now when I walk past the mirror I see all those fat men I used to sneer at while telling my friends to shoot me if I ever become so disgustingly fat. As it turns out I haven't been shot yet and the chances of that happening anytime soon are slim (no pun intended) so I may be forced to deal with the situation I find myself now.

It is not that I haven't lost weight before. Losing weight is easy. Unfortunately it is even easier to regain that weight and then some. Do this often enough and one ends up carrying around extra 50 kg when initially trying to lose measly extra 10 kg.

The Usual Case of Fatness
People, including my wife have thought me lazy and not having any self-control when it comes to eating and undoubtedly they have the truth of it. I no longer excercise as I used to. I suppose meeting my wife all those years ago after over three years without dating anybody filled the spot in my life that used to be reserved for sports. True or false, all I know is that I stopped excercising for few years when we started dating and never really picked it up again since then. 

In the end this is just an excuse, or as Urho Kekkonen (a war veteran, statesman and the President of Finland 1956-1982) often said: "Kaikki syyt jotka estävät meitä liikkumasta ovat tekosyitä", which freely translates to "all causes that prevent us from excercising are excuses". He should know as he was an active sportsman almost until to the end despite all the other activities and distractions in his life.

It is easy to say that I don't have the time or the energy to exercise, but in the end I have to admit that I did not excercise because I did not want to. I preferred working late, or fiddling with my own personal projects or just sitting in at home reading books, watching TV or playing computer games. At least I took the dog for a walk everyday but even then often opted to take a short route instead of a longer route. When I finally woke up and wanted to start doing fun things again like practicing aikido, medieval swordplay, going for a reservist weekend training or even swimming I realised that I was too fat and out of shape to do any of those things. But that was some 20 kg ago and again I realise that all I ever did was to give myself excuses not to excercise. Am I still doing it? Thinking that I can't do things because I'm too fat and out of shape when in fact nothing really prevents me from starting except my own attitudes?

When it comes to food and eating I can only blame myself again. Slow metabolism, big bones, genetic predisposition to fatness matters very little when most of the eaten food is commercially manufactured junk food rich in fat and sugar while drinking sugary drinks and eating crisps and sweets for snack between big meals. Combine that with tendency to eat some extra when feeling sad or drepressed as well as when feeling good and one needs to wonder no longer why clothes always seem to shrink in the washing machine.

In the end I am fat because I allowed myself to become fat. That is not a matter of opinion but a statement of fact. So if I allowed myself to become fat all I need to do is to decide to get slim again, right? Well, no. This is where life becomes exceptionally unfair: once a person becomes fat and tries to lose the extra weight person's own body will fight and resist and do everything it can to prevent this from happening. 

The Unfair Fight
This is because over 10% weight loss triggers complex changes in body's physiology and metabolism. The body changes muscles to consume less energy during excercise, it makes us feel hunger more strongly, it rewards us with extra pleasure when we eat, it reduces our capability to self-control and when we do eat, it stores the extra energy more efficiently - and this altered state lasts for years, if not permanently. The classic advise to eat less and excercise more works up to a point which is when the weight just won't drop no matter what one does and when one eventually stops active dieting and returns to "normal" life the weight returns with a vengence.

This situation is very well described in the New York Times article The Fat Trap by Tara Parker-Pope.

It is really  h a r d  to accept that fighting obesity is not just some project one completes and then walks away from when the target weight is achieved. Instead one has to start by acknowledging that fatness is very much like addiction and illness combined, and in order to keep things in check one must excercise discipline and control every. single. day. To fight against oneself every single day for the rest of life until death. To me this is appalling and disheartening to realise: I have never been good at keeping up with things for extended periods of time as I tend move on to something else as new things catch my fancy.

But then I remember something from my teenage years. I used to end up in fist fights often, both in school and at home. Sometimes I would have a fist fight with my step-father after already having fough once or twice in the school or on my way home from school. I typically ended up fighting alone against two or more older boys and never received any help from the ring of watching people that usually formed around any fight in the school yard. I gave as good as I got, and lost at least as often as I won - but it didn't matter. Back then it was not about winning or losing as long as I did not give up and submit. Hit me, beat me, kick me - I would still get up, if I could and I never, ever ran away. Afterwards I wiped away the blood and tears, but deep down I felt good and proud about standing my ground.

So why should this coming fight against my obesity be any different? Fat and out of shape as I am I would not run (or in my present case, walk) away from a fight against another man so why should I shrink away from a fight against myself? Do I feel like giving up, yielding and submitting when facing odds that are greatly against me? I never did before so why start now?

In the end I am faced with a simple choice: either fight every day of my life until I die or give up and die sooner without having much of a life. I think I still have at least one good fight left in me and as it happens the New Year of 2012 is upon us, and I have a good feeling about the coming year. I think I'm ready for round one - bring it on!