Warning: whiny first world problems ahead. Seriously. Because really, isn’t it a horrible indication of where we are as a country when the stuff I write gets read by anyone? Millions starve all over the world, and yet America looks like Wall-E will happen within five years. And I am part of that problem, and it’s not OK.
But, but, you’re doing something about it! Yeah for you! That’s what I hear. And here’s the dirty truth no one will say out loud: actually, no I am not. I was, for a very very brief time, but for a long time now, I have not. This is all a smokescreen. This is all rearranging deck chairs on the titanic. This, in simple terms, has been a complete and total load of bullshit. And for that, I need to apologize.
This was supposed to be the point in the year where I post my 2nd year end video, hopefully inspiring other wanna be triathletes to get off the couch and get moving. Season two was full of way more setbacks than the beginner’s luck year of 2011. And I may still have to make that video. But for now, I am sitting squarely in the truth, and it is not pretty.
Let’s put this in terms that other 40 year old hopelessly fat guys can understand: The Star Wars trilogy. The original, where Han shot first.
Star Wars Episode IV was A New Hope. The rebels took a shot at the empire. They blew up the death star. Everyone rejoiced. Hope was all around. This was 2011 for me. A beginner season in triathlon, everything was a small victory. It was great. It was movement and momentum. You don’t defeat the empire overnight, so progress was measured in miles and medals, but not necessarily health. OK, good enough for a start. Even Star Wars ends with three guys on a podium getting medals.
Then came 2012. The empire struck back. I spent the first half of the year quite optimistic. I got myself to OA and started to deal with the question of why was I the same weight after a year of new activity? It wasn’t a hard question, just one I avoided. The same one everyone avoids around me. But I thought I was ready to deal with it. And I was all sorts of spiritual about it. I was Luke with Yoda, becoming one with the force. And for a time, I was seeing results. It wasn’t easy, but I rushed off to slay Vader on my own, training incomplete. And at some point in July, the wheels came off and I turned back to the dark side. I distracted myself with race goals, which were fine on their own, but they were really just that: a distraction. Luke was too focused on saving his friends in the moment, that their long term fate was threatened even more. I gave up on food addiction recovery and focused on finishing a half ironman. And I did it. At what cost?
At the end of 2012, I have now regained all the weight I had lost. I weigh the same as the beginning of 2011. I bought two new suits in April of this year, and I am already unable to wear them.
This was a brief, fleeting moment:
The empire struck back. And I have lost this battle. The progress I thought I made has been erased. What good is a pile of finishers medals in a coffin? The title of this self-indulgent meandering blog is Doughboy TO Ironman. Not, Doughboy and Ironman simultaneously. I told myself in January, as I watched people way bigger than me, finishing the WDW Marathon, that I wantewd to do it, but not at 285.
As for emotional progress, it too is tenuous. I feel it slipping. I am much crankier to my family lately than I had been the previous year. It’s like I can see shades of 2007 Andy coming back. And honestly, he’s a dick. He’s not fully back yet, but he’s only partially covered by the endorphins. Deep down, he’s making a comeback as long as I continue to let the sugar rule me.
This is the dirty secret of endurance sports. There are plenty of us who use it to mask the real issue, our deep problem with food. For some people, it provides just enough to get by, for others it is simply a way to pretend things have changed, when we know it really hasn’t. And this is where it gets tough. Cheering on your friend for finishing a long race is a definable, tangible undertaking. And I have been so appreciative of the support I have gotten from family, friends, and strangers. But when it comes to what really makes me the doughboy, it is a rare moment when anyone has a thing to say.
And maybe it should be that way, as this is something I can only do myself. But the more I pay attention, the more I see that we are collectively in an extremely dysfunctional system, whether morbidly obese or not. And no one wants to talk about it, except for some small farm advocates and cultural outliers.
If I was dying of cancer, people would ask my about my treatment. As I am dying from a completely preventable condition, no one says a word. And, to be fair, I don’t say anything either. Not to anyone else clearly suffering the same self-imposed malady. What would I say? Who would listen? Look at me. Would you take food advice from this guy?
But why can’t we be honest? Worried about hurt feelings? Confusion over what to say?
What really makes this particular moment the worst, is that I feel like I failed in a way that is so final. All my life, my half-hearted efforts have had a safety built in, a way to feel like failure wasn’t really failure. If I wasn’t really trying, then I didn’t really fail. This is a deep character flaw that I am not proud of, but I know it exists. I thought I had overtaken it finally. I thought I had actually made a real effort. The scary part is, if I make the fullest effort and still fail, then what? Now I’m an ACTUAL failure. So for the last six months, I’ve gone back into that half-hearted mentality as a way to shield myself from the feeling of full-on failure.
Well, Nucky Thompson said “You can’t be half a gangster.” And you can’t do recovery halfway. If you do, and you leave Dagobah half-trained, Darth Vader cuts your arm off, freezes your best friend in carbonite, and the rebellion looks dead.
Welcome to the end of 2012 in the doughboy to ironman project. Uplifting eh?
That’s where I am right now. If this blog is going to be anything but another lame attempt at being clever, or pandering for encouragement, it has to be brutally honest. I mean, there are plenty of fat guys and gals out there at the races, all of us with similar stories. This story is not unique. What I have tried to offer by way of this blog, is an honest look inside the mind of someone who is struggling. Well, I’ve been slacking in that regard. I’ve been hesitating to post the last few months because I wasn’t ready to lay out the real deep stuff here. So, you got race reports and good times. And those were real, don’t get me wrong. But 2011 ended with the question “why am I still obese?” I got my answer, and at the end of 2012, I’m asking the same question. That is not OK.
So now what? You can blow up the death star, but the empire will just build another one.
Well, you take another shot. Of course you do. Because the alternative is unacceptable. I am not giving up, but I cannot proceed the same way I have been. That spinning wheel is for hamsters. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
So that I completely beat this Star Wars metaphor into the ground (right next to the several dead horses that have been victims of this blog over two years, here’s how I see it. In Jedi, blowing up the second death star was not what won the war. Eliminating the Emperor was. And that took converting Vader back to the light side of the force.
For me, that means doing things differently. And I don’t mean run training, though I will be doing that somewhat differently in 2013. I mean, in regards to my relationship with food, it’s time to listen to some other voices. I allowed myself to drop out of recovery, because I was honestly never fully free of my addiction. I had allowed the conventional wisdom of endurance sports to prevail and I talked myself into eating the same stuff that keeps my addiction rolling, just in smaller or more “healthy alternative” packaging. But when you’re addicted to heroin, you can’t have just a little heroin. And methodone only works so long.
In year three of this personal saga, I am going to go in a direction that will seem not only unorthodox, but to many, a recipe for failure. But who thought ewoks would help bring down the death star? (OK, this metaphor is officially dead now.)
There is plenty of hard science to back up my new plan, and to some it may seem extreme. (No, it is not surgical.) But when an alcoholic gives up alcohol, that’s extreme, but necessary. In my case, I am going to follow the advice of my new favorite voice in the wilderness, Vinnie Tortorich. Vinnie’s mantra is simple: no sugars, no grains. Not just Atkins, mind you. And all the conventional wisdom that you can’t do endurance sports without tons of carbs, is being challenged by more and more science. Vinnie himself runs some serious distance, and does 8 hour bike races. I’m delving into The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance, by Volek and Phinney, a follow up to their more general Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living.
It is not the only way to live, but for an addict, it may be. And more important for me, than finishing a half ironman, or 5k swim, or any other arbitrary distance, is getting off my addiction. No half-measures. Even if it meant not doing endurance sports, I would have to go in this direction. But once I heard the message that you can do distance ketogenically, I paid attention.
If you don’t mind some random f bombs and pretty direct, aggressive opinions, check out Vinnie’s podcast, The Angriest Trainer. Like Weight of the Nation, it could be about half the length it is to get the same information, but unlike the documentary, I could listen to Vinnie and Anna shoot the breeze for hours. And over the last two weeks, I have.
The Jedi in me is not dead, but wounded. He’s not fully trained, and he is humbled. Luke went into that tree to face Vader saying “I’m not scared.” Yoda shoots back “you will be.” I threw myself into this thing two years ago thinking it would be fun, and it has been. But the easy part is over. And I do mean that. Running 13 miles with this much weight may not be considered easy to most normal people, but it pales in comparison to kicking sugar and grain addiction.
So for anyone I might see in person over the next few weeks, I will likely be exhibiting withdrawal symptoms and I may be grumpy. I apologize in advance. I have to focus fully. I have gone back and forth for years over my all-or-nothing mentality. Normal people make incremental changes and baby steps. Addicts need to quit cold turkey. When I finally accept that it who I am, an addict, I hate to hear it, but it is somewhat freeing. This is what it is to no longer let it control me. Total elimination. No half-measures. No “well, I need to grab some honey for that 10th mile.” I’ve found the people who can show me how to reach these athletic goals, while actually treating my body well, and taking the SHAPE of an athlete.
I’m sure there will be a number of people who are going to think I’ve lost my mind, and that I’m going to mess up my liver with Atkins. Au contraire. You want a lightbulb moment that distills the science on grains and sugars? Aside from the genetically-modified nature of all modern wheat, think on this: pate foi gras. Do you know how it is made? Geese are force fed nothing but high volumes of grain. This yields a fatty liver. California has outlawed the practice in geese. Yet, the entire nation subsidizes the wheat and corn industries and continues to pump us full of it.
You’ll hear more about this in the months ahead. I’ll be a much more open book as a sample size of one experiment with this. And I’ll refer you to many others doing the same thing, so this doesn’t come off as some unsupported crackpot desperate idea.
By the end of 2013, I plan to be posting results in terms of weight and overall health. There will be more trinkets along the way, but they are not the focus. They are no longer the means to this end. I said before I wanted to shift from “running to lose weight” to “losing weight to run.” It’s time to do that, whatever it takes. I don’t want to negate all I’ve done in running and triathlon, and saying “it’s all bullshit” certainly comes off that way. It has given me a positive “yes you can!” outlook, and it is motivating. But I can no longer use it as a screen for the real issue.
In 2013, I plan to have my steak, and run too.