A look at the least important things in life

Experiments; or, how I quit destroying my body for fun

It seems like I’m always conducting experiments on my body.

When I was in college, I did doctorate-level research on the effects of alcohol and terrible fast food on the body of an otherwise healthy young man – it goes almost without saying that I was much better at this than any actual class. If you’re curious, you can gain 130 pounds in just four years, provided you get no exercise, polish off at minimum 40 beers a week and consider McDonald’s and Arby’s to be major food groups. Instead of sending rice to impoverished nations, we should contemplate sending cases of Budweiser and double cheeseburgers instead.

My first post-graduate year extended my four years of deliberate destruction, with the added bonus that I had a place where I could ‘cook’ pizza rolls, corn dogs and other things that were ostensibly better for my health. I also had an actual job for the first time, meaning I upgraded my beer choices (no more Milwaukee’s Best!) and for the first time, considered ‘sipping’ to be the proper way to consume whiskey as opposed to shots. Also, I was living in Memphis and Holy God, the food – the barbecue, Huey’s, Dyers. Not a good place for obesity-reducing.

Then, as befits someone who was in absolutely the worst physical condition of his life, I got married. Most women go on some kind of wedding diet; with no dress to fit into, I didn’t have those concerns.

I’d never much cared for or about what I looked like – hideous is hideous at 160 pounds or 360 pounds – but after five solid years of over-indulgence at every turn, I felt bad. Literally. Every day, I woke up with heart burn and indigestion problems and all sorts of fun stuff that you really shouldn’t have to deal with at 24 years old. My lifestyle coupled with my career choice led me to believe I would wind up eating or drinking myself to death sooner rather than later if I didn’t at least try something else.

Change was subtle at first. My then-new bride made the transition easier – unless she was cooking meth, there was almost no way her culinary choices would be worse than the ones I made. However, we both have the same issue with food: that it is entirely too delicious and eating until you feel like you can’t move is the best way – the only way – to eat.

So we’ve dieted. First, we just tried to not eat crap. That was a failure because really, if you can eat a Snickers bar or an apple, you’re gonna eat the Snickers bar. We needed structure. We needed incentive. We needed a plan.

Fad dieting is a funny thing. You take orders from a pamphlet or a box or a smiling skinny person who promises that their way is THE way, and everybody else is full of crap. The truth is that if you follow one of these things to the letter, it works okay. If you cheat, it all goes to hell. First, there was Weight Watchers – I failed at that because I don’t like counting and I don’t like going to meetings with other fat people to talk about our fatness. I half-assed that one – Mrs. Me did the meeting thing and I mostly just ate whatever she cooked.

The South Beach Diet was interesting. Mostly, it didn’t do anything, but I gained an appreciation for protein bars over candy bars for a snack (not to say I don’t still chow down on my beloved Snickers when I can). It sucked for a couple of weeks – lots of vegetables and fruits, no starch. At the time, I didn’t realize that’s the part that makes people lose weight.

The next two diety things have worked better. Nutrisystem has probably been the most successful in terms of weight loss, but the least-enjoyable in terms of food. I’m not positive it was food. It came in a big box and I ate it for a few months, but I couldn’t really tell you what it was made of. Aside from the chocolatey things (they were chocolatey!), the food wasn’t flavored so much as colored. I lost plenty of weight, but I also lost a ton of happiness.

The most recent diet is the Advocare challenge. I kind of like it, mostly because I can do it for a while, stop, start again, whatever. It’s the perfect diet for those of us who have trouble staying dedicated to things. It also features real food, which is a plus.

Since getting married, I’ve managed to lose about 60 pounds. Most people get bigger when they get married – I’ve shrunk. I feel healthy-ish. I even purchased an elliptical with my own money and can occasionally be spotted walking a dog around my neighborhood. As someone with an aversion to change, this is one that I’m pleased to have made.

Disclaimer: Of course I still drink and eat bad food. I’m not perfect; I’m not trying to be either. Frankly, anyone that never consumes red meat, sugar and/or alcohol isn’t to be trusted. It’s just no longer a twice- or thrice-daily habit.

In fact, just one true physical ailment remains unaccounted for: my snoring. My God, do I snore. If I stay up late, eat something bad, make a couple of questionable life choices, I can rattle the windowpanes like a passing tornado. When my bed occupied only myself, that wasn’t a problem. Mrs. Me is less understanding about having the human equivalent of a trombone wheezing beside her seven hours a night.

And that’s why two weeks ago I found myself drifting off to slumber with wires strapped to my head in the hospital. I was undergoing the first sleep study of my life and whaddya know, I’ve got sleep apnea. Pretty severe, too: the common person will stop breathing or take a half breath around five times an hour. It’s considered to be severe when you have 30 such instances in an hour.

I clocked in at an impressive 59 times an hour. Nearly once a minute! And my father never thought I’d be an overachiever.

Now I get a CPAP machine; you’ve seen them. Looks like an oxygen mask, sounds like Darth Vader breathing. My father-in-law has one, to the endless delight of my dogs, who think it’s a toy. Considering what this thing costs, I hope to heaven I don’t step out of the shower one day to find them playing tug-o-war with my fancy nighttime breathing apparatus.

The doctor said that it’s possible I’ve NEVER had a good night’s sleep. To have lived as long as I have and potentially never had a good night’s sleep is pretty amazing. He also said that improving my sleep could give me better metabolism and energy, thereby burning more fat. He also also said that option two was breaking my jaw, resetting it and basically re-positioning my jaw in a way that opens my breathing passages while I’m asleep. Since that sounds like the worst imaginable way to spend three months, I’m gonna try this CPAP thing out for a while.

And if you’d told me six years ago that I’d be voluntarily eating food I hated and hooking myself up to a machine to sleep at night, I’d have said you were crazy. I know I’m crazy. Take heart, children: if you don’t somewhat take care of yourself, this is the kind of shit that happens.


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