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Where I present the unforeseen downsides to getting in shape

by John on December 15th, 2014

No – this isn’t one of those tongue-in-cheek “you don’t rest midway up the stairs” lists. I still don’t know if I truly consider myself “in shape,” I’m certainly in better shape than I have been, previously, at any time in my life, and I can tell you that there are some downsides to being in better shape that I did not consider, when I started this journey.

Being Cold
I used to jokingly say that, if I could get away with it, I’d never wear pants. No matter the weather, if I were heading to a holiday party? I was going in shorts. Sure, work functions, typically, frown on shorts – but I was the guy who, in the middle of winter, wore shorts. But as your body fat drops, there’s less insulation — I get cold, now. Heck, I’ve thought about getting myself long underwear, just so that I can make myself a little more comfortable if/when I’m heading somewhere that just might be chilly.
The Toilet
When my legs are sore? When I have pushed them especially hard the previous day . . . and sit down on the toilet? Well, I’ve given some serious thought to taking my work laptop into the bathroom at work, just because standing up, when I’m done, requires serious commitment, and the thought of sitting with my laptop on my lap, all afternoon, just seems easier.
Letting Down Friends & Family
A few weeks ago, I was at a family event, and chose not to have a cupcake. My mother-in-law, who made the cupcakes, made sure that I knew that she made a selection of cupcakes without chocolate, especially for me. I, basically, had to say “thank you, but no thanks” because a cupcake, while delicious, provided empty calories; I was trying to “keep myself good” ahead of Thanksgiving. I can’t help but think that my mother-in-law took the cupcake refusal personally.
It doesn’t really get easier
Well, maybe it does get easier, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it. Maybe it’s because I’ve “been down this road before.” As much as I want to say that, “yeah, but this time is different,” I’m afraid of falling off the wagon like I have, so many times before. So, I keep on top of my calories. I watch my macros. I ensure that I get enough fiber while limiting my carbs. I prioritize protein intake at most every meal. I especially don’t allow myself regular “cheat days1” or allow myself a reward for hitting a goal/target (I cringe when I think about how I allowed myself to stop & get a cinnamon bun on the way to work, each and every day, provided that I made myself sit on the exercise bike for at least 10 minutes in the morning . . . I was doing far more harm than good, back in those days).
Your complaints about your body don’t go away – they just become more specific
We all hate our bodies. I just watched Pumping Iron (the bodybuilding documentary that essentially launched Arnold Schwarzenegger from a bodybuilder to a movie star), and I’m convinced that, Schwarzenegger, at the height of his body-building career, when he was Adonis, personified, had a constant list of stuff that he wished to change about his body. Instead of thinking “I want a flatter belly,” you start looking at the loose skin around your stomach, wishing it weren’t there. “I want more muscles” morphs into “I want bigger shoulders”. Self-complaint doesn’t go away . . . it just becomes far more specific.
Clothes shopping becomes a different kind of stressful
It used to be that I would fear going clothes shopping because I’d have to try on clothes and, gulp, I didn’t know if I, maybe, had gone up a size. Now? Well, I’m cheap . . . not long ago, I went to TJ Maxx to look for a new pair of dress pants. I had no options in my size — 30″ waist and 34″ inseam pants, apparently, are, simply, not available at discount stores. So, I’ve essentially given up on shopping at discount stores, and thrift stores . . . and even the big box stores – well, shorts are easy enough to find – but pants? No. Heck, even on eBay, I commonly strike out, and I’m loathe to purchase anything that I can’t try on.
You still think about food just as much as you always have
They can say “nothing tastes as good as being fit feels,” but I really don’t know about that. The enjoyment I get from food is, truly, astonishing. The saving grace is that, because I’m so careful about what I eat, and want to ensure that every calorie “is worth it” (meaning that it’s going to taste great and provide nutritional value), I spend as much time daydreaming about cooking, and figuring out what I want to make myself to eat as I daydream about eating. All that said – I’ve been having flashbacks to the feeling of opening a fresh back of tortilla chips . . . you’ll have to forgive me if I need a moment.
You’ll always need the occasional kick in the ass
“Not feeling it” happens to everyone. Seriously. The most disciplined person in the world will, still, need a pep talk every now & then. Honestly, I treat a skipped workout or a cheat snack much like I imagine an AA member treats a beer — I text/tweet when I’m feeling vulnerable. I have several great resources who live inside my phone, and, when I have a serious case of the “not feeling it’s, they’re great at telling me “it’s just 15 minutes” for a workout, or reminding me that “a doughnut isn’t going to actually make you any less hungry”.
People will come from anywhere to ask you how you did it, and always be disappointed in what you tell them
You know, it does feel good when someone notices that you’re “looking better” (though the little old Greek ladies at church have been asking if I’m sick, lately, so it’s probably time for me to doubly-ensure that I’m maintaining my body mass), but “hey, you’ve lost weight” or “wow, looks like you’re working out” is, almost always, followed by “how did you do it?” Whatever you answer, you’re going to disappoint the person. Did you have gastric bypass surgery? Well, then surgery will scare the person. Did you focus on diet & exercise? That’s “too much work”. Did you adopt a low carb diet? The person will need their bread. Really, anything short of “I sat on my ass and ate pizza and bonbons” is going to be “too much” for someone looking to casually follow what you’re doing.

1 I do allow myself some cheat days – but I try to make them few & far-between, and to follow the calendar. Thanksgiving, for example, I allowed myself to eat what I wanted, and as much as I could eat. If anybody has been following my My Fitness Pal Diary closely, you might see that I’ve been especially strict at of late . . . the reason is because I’m looking at a string of: Christmas, Anniversary, Birthday, and New Year celebrations, all in the same week.
13 Comments
  1. Tracey Shaver permalink

    I get frustrated too with folks who want you to eat all of their food. I’m sorry, but I’m not wasting calories on stuff I don’t want to eat! The clean plate club also frustrates me. No wonder we are all so large!

    • Yeah, though with two kids who would rather “play now, eat later,” I do find myself trying to push back to “eat something now because there won’t be anything later.”

      It is a fine, fine line.

  2. I’m not in my ‘best shape’ right now, but a lot of this still rings true for me.

    I do not have a sweet tooth (give me salty, spicy, fried any day and I’d rather have an extra garlic roll with dinner than dessert afterward).

    So I shout a hearty “Amen” to the part about disappointing your family members. Nothing quite like telling my 91-year-old Grandma no thank you when she pulls out the homemade Christmas cookies.

    But seriously. That’s not even denying myself. I joke often about cake and ice cream but the truth is, I’d fight you for that bag of tortilla chips.
    And wine. Yum. Wine.

    p.s. I would carry around a space heater all the time if it were possible.

    • Oh, wine. I used to go through a 5L box a week . . . now, one lasts me well over a month. This is hardly a bad thing, but, boy, do I miss regular “get a little fuzzy” nights.

      I think I’m using wine to make my tarts for Christmas — they’ll be posted here. I may also try making wine ice cream . . . because why not.

      I’m, honestly, not sure how Christmas Eve is going to go down – my mom is going to have a ton of food – most of which I’ve tried to leave behind, and I won’t be able to say “no” because I’ll be hungry and sleepy and tired from playing really, really long church services, and I know it’ll be yummy, and it’s my mom.

      A night off isn’t going to kill me – but, still, I’m trying to keep on top 🙂

      I don’t think I’m EVER going to be used to being as cold as I have been.

  3. you’re right. People want to hear that it’s easy but it’s not. They want magic but there isn’t any. Even for those who had weight loss surgery (like me) want to believe that it could happen by itself. It can’t. You still have to work. And after a few years from surfer goes by you’re probably back in the same boat as everyone else. I identify with so much of what you said. I think your idea of no cheat days is smart. Except planned big ones. The cheat days you decide on “in the moment” when the food presents itself is always a bad idea. Before long every day will be a cheat day in that case

    • Nothing worthwhile is ever easy, is usually the way I respond. But, yeah, people don’t want to hear that, either. Fortunately, I’m big enough that the general populace is afraid to punch me in the throat when I respond in cliche.

      I said the “no cheat days,” but I’m fully aware that Christmas Eve will be a cheat day. And Christmas day. And my anniversary (though maybe not quite), and my birthday (though, again, I may be able to rein it in), and New Years.

      Can you tell I’m nervous about this stretch? I’m barely going to be able to work out, I’m going to be FAR outside of my routine. I know I’m going to be eating foods that I’ve deemed as “no-no”. I need to remind myself that it’ll be a slight hiccup, and that, come January 2, the two-year anniversary of when I “started getting serious,” I’ll just hop right back on the wagon.

  4. Love your honesty in this post. I see a lot of posts written about getting in shape and they’re all super positive. Not that yours is negative, but you’re being honest in that it’s not all sunshine and roses and easy.

    I seem to do a good job of working out and eating right until about October of every year. And then I sabotage myself, meaning I’m starting over every January.

    • Yeah – it’s not all glitter & unicorn farts . . . I mean, ultimately, these are good problems to have – I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been, I feel better, I can accomplish more in my days. But, there are trade-offs.

      And, hey – better to be on track to October than September than July than the second workout after the new year. The trick, really, is to just keep fitness in your thoughts, and things will even themselves out. Eventually.

  5. Laura permalink

    I totally agree. I get cold a lot now too. I went from around 38% to 22% body fat–that will do it. And people asking how it is done! I use a personal trainer which is a more expensive option, but it works for me. If you ask someone who is overweight and out of shape if they would spend $10,000 to make their body beautiful, of course they would say yes. But when you tell them how; that it requires lots of sweat, work, time, they say, oh, I can’t afford that! or I don’t have time, etc. Hiring a personal trainer was the best decision I ever made. I don’t beat myself up over food like you do, but I’m totally committed to working out on a regular basis. For the rest of my life…

    • You know, if we all had to choose our careers tomorrow, I wouldn’t be a computer programmer, but a personal trainer. The only thing is that I really don’t know if I could go about “selling myself.” I think I’ve done enough to figure out what works for me, and I believe I could work with most anyone and get them to figure out what “works for them”.

      And yeah, I think I have a workout plan that I can just continue — it’s, really, quite non-demanding, especially when I have a dog that says “come on, it’s time to get out of bed”.

  6. Ha! Yes, the “how did you get in such great shape!” It must have been “Fill in the blank” pill from the radio/tv. Damn, you work out AND watch what you eat? The nerve of you John!

    You make good points. You really do. It’s just so damn hard to break my love affair with food and the unhealthy way of thinking–if I only xxx. I’ve done x so I can have y. But when you put it like you did up there, it sounds as bad as it should.

    Seriously. You need to be a virtual trainer and whip my ass into shape. Or just keep posting here and on Twitter and eventually I’ll be guilted into it.

    • I’m never, ever meaning to guilt anyone into anything . . . but, yeah, I do think I may have missed a calling as a personal trainer. One of the guys whom I try to emulate is Al Kavadlo — he’s a major voice in the “bodyweight strength training” movement. If you watch him work out, you see him smiling . . . he’s turned his “pained expression” into a grin . . . he’ll tell you it’s because he “likes working out,” but, knowing that I now do it, it’s a lie . . . at the moment, it’s torture – but it’s SO WORTH IT, when it’s all done.

      As far as breaking a love affair with food — I’ll never, ever be able to do that. Really, all I’ve done is ensure that, whatever food I eat, is really, REALLY good and is giving me something – unfortunately, it means that some of my favorites (pizza, chips, cookies, doughnuts) have gone by the wayside, because I can eat them forever and never get full . . . but the foods I do it, I enjoy just as much – they’re just not quite as accessible, so it means that I need to plan them, which means I need to think about them more, which means I enjoy them even more, in the end.

  7. Well the thing about changing how we eat is that there’s a trickle down that would positively affect the kids–which would be more than beneficial.

    The guilt thing, perhaps that isn’t the right word. Encourage? Sure why not. I think motivate is the biggest thing because I don’t exactly have people around me beating their doors down at lunch to make their way out the door to workout. Gonna keep that running bag packed here at the office. With a lake 1 mile away and a track .25 away, no excuses.

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