For some time now I’ve been meaning to write up a description of my weight loss. Everyone that has ever known me has commented on it, and several people have indicated that I’m something of an inspiration to them. That wasn’t my goal. I’m glad that I might be helping others out in some small way, though. First, I want to say that all views expressed here are my own, and they only pertain to how I feel about myself. I’m not discussing what I think about others. I feel it’s important to specifically point this out, because I think I’m probably a lot harder on myself than I am when I look at others.

Some background information is in order to fully understand the whole process. At least since elementary school, I’ve always been either overweight or on the verge of being overweight (until recently). I can vividly remember being overweight in middle school/junior high. I was rather short and heavy. I didn’t look very good, but I’ve always been a relatively positive person, so I didn’t obsess over my weight or anything. Physical appearance just wasn’t a motivating factor in my life. This continued through ninth grade.

In tenth grade, two things happened. First, I started hitting my “growth spurt”. Over the course of the year I grew a few inches in height and managed to stay at approximately the same weight. Second, and more importantly, I developed a huge crush on a girl (Julie, if you’re reading this, I’m sure this comes as no surprise to you), and she was a junior in high school (a year older than myself). She was the daughter of the minister at the Christian church in town and she was extremely friendly, as well as being rather pretty. We both worked at the same restaurant. At that time I had a job washing dishes, and she worked in the ice cream/soda fountain area. When I didn’t have dishes to wash I would often find myself hanging out up in her work area, and I got to know her relatively well. On some occasion (her birthday, I think it was) I got up enough courage to send her flowers. I don’t remember what I said on the card, but I remember getting the impression that she thought the flowers were nice, but that I was kind of being brushed aside as a younger guy and not really serious. Nothing more ever came of the relationship, but it was the first time in my life that I really seemed to care about my physical condition. During my 10th/11th grade years I was actually in a decent weight range for my height. I wasn’t very athletic, but I weighed a decent amount. On the upper end of what I should have been at.. But not bad.

College undergrad life didn’t really affect my physical condition very much. I put on a few pounds here and there, and didn’t exercise very much. In the first year or two of grad school Me in 2002I went through a phase where I was lifting weights reasonably often and managed to bulk up a little bit. Nothing major, but I could safely say that it had put me in better shape than I had ever been in before. By this time, I’d estimate that I weighed about 190 pounds (for my 6 foot height). During grad school, I slowly gained more weight, and I think I was around 195 or so at the end of grad school when I moved to Illinois. The weight kept creeping up after that and a couple of years ago I was up around 200.

October 2004Around that time (February 25, 2005 around 10:05pm in the evening, to be specific) a very long term girlfriend and myself broke up. I didn’t exactly watch my weight right after that, and, as of July 2005 I weighed 208 pounds. At this point in my life I was starting to get back into living. I had gone through a pretty dark period where I just really wasn’t in the mood to do anything. I’d sit around the house and watch TV, and that was about it. I existed. I had purchased a digital SLR camera in the spring of 2004 and I went out from time to time to take pictures of “stuff”, but that was about all that I had going on in my life, other than work. My jeans (34 waist) were tight on me, and I was buying extra large t-shirts.

Every year, there is a huge airplane festival in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. This town of 50,000 people sees about 800,000 visitors over the course of the week, and it seems to just get bigger and bigger each year. I’d heard about this festival since I was a child, and I decided that I wanted to go and see it. This was a huge step for me. I’m not much of a loner. I don’t do things on my own. I couldn’t find anyone else that wanted to go to Oshkosh with me, so I decided I’d just go on my own. They have a huge campground that they set up each year in a field, so I took my truck with camper shell to Oshkosh and spent several days there. I had an ice chest full of food with me, and I slept in the back of my truck each night and spent the day at the festival. (We won’t talk about the night that it rained and I discovered that my camper shell leaked… a lot).

But, back to the story… A week or two before going to Oshkosh I had purchased a hand-held GPS unit. They really are a lot of fun, and it let me know just exactly what I was accomplishing each day. I wasn’t trying to do anything special. I just wanted to enjoy the technology of knowing where I had gone each day. As it turns out, I ended up walking 3-5 miles each day on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of the festival. I had taken the entire week off, but I left Oshkosh on Thursday morning and headed north into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I went to the Painted Rocks National Lakeshore. This is a very pretty area on the shore of Lake Superior and there are a lot of hiking trails. One of the days I took a 9 mile hike that looped around next to the lake for a few miles. Very pretty. Lots of photo opportunities. It took me several hours, but I had a backpack full of food and water, and I wasn’t in a big hurry. I still remember eating my PB&J sandwiches 100 foot over the lake on the edge of the cliffs looking down upon the waves. Very, very pretty.

I got back to Champaign Urbana and realized that I had accomplished something over my week of vacation. I had gotten my legs used to doing some walking each day. So, completely on a whim, I decided to keep it up. I started out by walking a mile or two of an evening. Then, I started walking to the town library and back each day to check out and return things. This was a 3.3 mile round trip. Once or twice I got the bright idea to try to run, but that just didn’t work. I’d go about a hundred feet and feel like I was going to die. As I made it into August, I started noticing that I seemed to be losing a small amount of weight. I didn’t really do anything differently other than just go walking every day.

I spent the first week of September 2005 hiking in the area around Pikes Peak, Colorado. I drove my truck out there, slept in the back of the truck as the temperatures dipped into the 30s and had a really good time. I covered about 30 miles over the course of the week, and made it up to 11,000 feet on one of the hiking trails. I really wanted to climb Pike’s Peak itself, but I felt I needed an additional day to acclimatize that I just didn’t have. I’ll go back and hike it, though. Mark my words. It was a great week. I would have killed to have had a nice friendly lady to hike with, but that wasn’t in the cards. The really cool thing about the trip, though, was that it gave me a very tangible reason that walking was helping me out. I confidently went on hiking trails that would have been absolutely impossible for me to do a few months earlier. I was starting to see that being in shape was opening doors for me that had previously been closed. For me, that was a huge motivation. I love the outdoors, and being in shape was letting me experience them in previously impossible ways. I also started noticing that the shape of my stomach had changed a little bit. Instead of being perfectly rounded, it was starting to suck in ever so slightly around the edges. It still stuck way out, but I could tell an actual difference.

It’s probably a good time to discuss motivation. Ultimately, I decided to lose weight for myself. Sometimes you hear about obese people that decide to lose weight so that they can live longer and “be there for their kids”, etc etc. Not me. I don’t have any kids to lose weight for. I lost weight for myself. There were a few reasons for this. First, I’ll throw out the cliche one: “I did it for my health”. Well….. sure…. I suppose…. I honestly didn’t feel like I was on death’s door before I started this whole process. I had a pretty reasonable life. I couldn’t do much in the way of exercise, but I got by. So, there’s the health “reason”. Now, let’s get down to the nitty gritty. The main reason that I decided to lose weight was to increase my self-esteem. I’ve never been very confident about how “valuable” I am to other people (particularly those of the female persuasion), and my looks play a definite role in that. If I look bad, that’s just one more strike against me. At this point in my life I was finally getting over the bad ending to my previous relationship and was ready to start moving on. I wanted to minimize the negatives that I perceived about myself. Goodness knows I can think up enough that I can’t do anything about. No need to have others sitting around that I can change.

Back to September… I started stepping onto the scales and discovered that I’d lost several pounds. I started officially keeping track of my weight at the end of September and I weighed 192. In just 2 months I had lost 16 pounds. From what I understand this is somewhat normal. The first few pounds are the easiest to lose. Once I realized what was happening, I decided to get more serious about it. I wanted to get down to 180-185. So, I started looking into modifying my diet.

Up to this point, I was eating anything and everything, and in whatever quantity that I wanted. I ate tons of pizza. I never ate breakfast, except for a Big Deluxe breakfast from McDonalds on some weekends. I would eat out a lot for lunch. I decided to change all of this. For lunch I started eating a Healthy Choice dinner, along with a can of fruit. For the can of fruit I discovered that Wal-Mart sold a store brand of canned pears that were canned in water, so I didn’t have all of the sugary syrup. I started working on desserts that I could eat to satisfy my cravings without having a lot of calories. And, I kept walking.

Later in autumn, when the time changed, I switched from walking to the library after work to walking to the library from work, over my lunch hour. This is only about 2.6 miles. But, it provided me with a way to still get some exercise and not have to do it in the dark. I went to an apple tasting lab in the fall that really got me hooked on fresh fruit, and I added a lot of it to my diet. On January 14, 2006, I hit 180 pounds for the first time. At this point I took a long hard look at my body and made the decision to keep going and see where I ended up at. My legs, arms, and face looked a lot different, but my stomach still wasn’t real flat.

I kept walking each day and trying to eat better. On February 17th I hit 175. In early April I May 2006found out about a trip to the Grand Canyon that the campus recreation department plans each May. I took the trip. The Grand Canyon trip was also a turning point for me. I had first hit 170 pounds on April 28th, and the trip was in mid May. I hiked 30-40 miles over the course of the week, and that included a lot of vertical distance (the Canyon is, after all, a mile deep) as well as horizontal . I came back from the trip in better shape than I had ever been in. The climbing had given me lung capacity that I hadn’t ever experienced before.

Thus, the next step in my weight loss process: I started to run. As I was walking to the library one day after the Canyon trip, I was feeling particularly spritely, and I started jogging. To my utter surprise, I didn’t feel like I was knocking on death’s door after the first hundred feet. I managed the second hundred feet just fine, and then the third. About a mile into the trip I was ready to stop. So, I stopped. The next day my legs hurt. The day after that I went another mile running, and then some walking, and then a little more running. As May turned into June this continued. I made it to the point where I could almost go to the library and back jogging the whole way. At first my sides really started hurting about 1.3 miles into the run. I would have to stop. Later, my side would hurt, but I discovered that I could push through the pain and a quarter mile later the pain would go away. Later still, the pain just completely quit happening. Now, I haven’t had my sides hurt in a long time. By late June 2006, I had gotten down near 160 pounds. I could run 3 miles without stopping, and the July 4th Champaign Freedom Celebration had a 5 kilometer (3.1 mile) race that I was itching to try.

July 4, 2006 was a beautiful day to run. It was nice and cool and there were quite a few people that showed up for the race. I ran the race and my time was around 25 minutes. It wasn’t spectacular, but it was my first race, and that was important to me. I first hit 160 pounds on July 7th, and continued running. I liked running more than walking. It gave me the same amount of goodness (more, even) but it took less time. That’s a valuable thing once you get to a certain point. I just didn’t have the time to spend an hour or two each day walking. It’s much more efficient to travel twice as fast and spend half the time on the workout. After hitting 160 on July 7th, my weight went back up a bit, and I didn’t see 160 again until August 7th. Then it hopped back up again, and I didn’t fall below 160 until September 1, 2006. I could tell that I was hitting something of a wall. My body still wasn’t as flat as I wanted, so I liked the thought of losing more weight, but I would have been happy there. I didn’t feel bad about my weight at all. But, once September rolled around I dropped into the 150s, and that’s where I’ve been ever since. I’ve gotten down as low as 152, and up to around 161. So, I’ve reached a point in my weight loss where my food intake is matching my calorie burn. I don’t feel like I need to lose any more weight. I’m perfectly happy where I’m at for now.

I just ran my first marathon, and I think about where I was at a couple of years back, and I’m absolutely amazed that the human body is capable of such a change of direction. What a marvelous creation.

For me, I have tried to set a consistent morning workout time. Me in May 2007I’ve found that I function best if I get my running out of the way before I get started with work and evening activities. Otherwise, the exercise gets swept away with the other events of the day. Everyone has to set their own times, but that is what has worked for me. It’s important for me to mention that I’m NOT, in any way, a morning person. But, I have found that if I give myself appropriate “wake up” time in the morning, I can deal with this. I never start running less than 30 minutes after waking up. Thirty minutes gives my body a chance to get going. The muscles loosen up some, the bones stop creaking as much, and I can handle the run. I tried, several times, to start running right after waking up and failed every time.

Someone famous once said that the road to anywhere begins with a single step. Two years ago I didn’t say to myself that I would be doing 26.2 mile runs. I started off slowly, and I think this was key to my success. Otherwise, things would have been overwhelming.

Anyway, that’s my story. What’s yours?!

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