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.
There are many, many advantages to no longer being too fat to be allowed. It’s cheaper, since I don’t have to spend 10 bucks at Taco Bell to get a full belly, it’s satisfying for my mental and physical well-being and I don’t break out in a sweat when I walk up a flight of stairs anymore.
But for every sunny day, there is always a flock of bloodthirsty mosquitoes to ruin it. Since that analogy makes no sense, let me try again: as with everything in life, no matter how swell, there are disadvantages.
(This is a nice way of saying that yes, I’ve found a way to complain about one of the best things to ever happen to me. I do have a reputation to maintain.)
Buying clothing should be easier, since I no longer have to ask embarrassing questions such as, “Excuse me, do you have this in a size that would fit Louie Anderson?” I’m now down to a normal size, which means more options and a better chance that I’ll not be dressed like a circus performer (“Hurry, hurry! Step right up and see the world’s most egg-shaped man!”)
But I’m used to having my own section of a clothing store, one with a big ‘Fatties Here!’ sign over it. Now, I shop with the rest of society. And the rest of you bastards are picking out the things I want. Stop it.
Furthermore, having my own fatty section meant my choices were pretty pared down; I could get what was available or I could get my slovenly stroll on to the next store. The paradox of choice – also the title of an excellent book by Barry Schwartz – doesn’t allow me to make a 30-second observation as to whether or not this store is for me anymore. I actually have to waste time browsing the aisles – aisles! Plural! – to see if there’s anything eye-catching available.
Food isn’t much easier than clothing. Time was, eating involved mindlessly shoveling food into my mouth until I could not take another bite lest my stomach explode. It was rarely pretty and not often healthy, but the ease with which it could be done was leisure-enhancing; I could eat a cheeseburger, sometimes two, WHILE DRIVING. Hard to do that with a salad.
Not only do I have to sit down, at a table and stuff, to eat, I also have to watch what I’m eating. Without getting too graphic, I’ll just say that eating healthy for a few months and then eating pizza four times in a week leads to the sort of results you would expect from a digestive system expecting greens and getting grease. The pizza is always delicious; the hours afterward, decidedly not so. Probably my own fault for continuing to eat between five and 19 pieces at a sitting, knowing that is terrible for me and I will pay for it later. Still, pizza – nom, nom, nom.
I know that becoming healthier is a lifestyle change, and it’s not something to be taken lightly. I know that being proud of myself for losing weight should be the driving factor in continuing to lose the last 15 pounds or so that I am away from my goal weight – which, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been at for months and may not get over without starving myself for 10 days. But the laziness and overall easier lifestyle that accompanies being fat – I mean, I can see what drew me to it in the first place. Looking in the mirror, I can also see what repulsed me to the point of change, but I do not spend my life in front of a mirror. And so my ‘struggle’ (if you can call ‘resisting the urge to binge-eat to the point of exhaustion’ a struggle) continues.
Gather ‘round children, it’s time for another episode of ‘Why the World is a Scary, Scary Place’. Today’s episode: Cruise ships!
For the past week, it’s become painfully cliché for people to pooh-pooh the notion of going on a cruise, because apparently after two powerless days at sea, the boat turns into the plot of Lord of the Flies and people begin behaving like savages even when they aren’t drunk out of their minds. Apparently, nobody that takes a cruise has ever experienced an ice storm.
While it’s certainly embarrassing that people devolve into Neanderthals when faced with the prospect of no air conditioning, I can’t blame those on that ill-fated cruise for what happened – chances are excellent I would experience a return to cavemandom if part of my daily routine suddenly became consumed with finding a bag to poop in, and following that up with making sure I disposed of that poop in a safe and courteous manner.
(New rule for cruises that will add entertainment and provide a new class of jobs: Hiring Gilligan’s. I think there’s a place in this world for a weirdo that’s moderately handy but can keep everyone loose and sane during a prolonged crisis. And I think that place is working on cruise ships if something horrible happens.)
See, here’s a new theory I just devised: almost all our leisure activities come with some small detriment. If I’m reading or watching TV, I’m being slovenly and my body is going into repose. If I’m working out, I’m working harder than I’d rather be. All the food I love will kill me, and all the food I hate allows me to live an extra 10 minutes. Booze, tobacco and driving too fast are all bad for you and for my money those are the three best activities one can partake in while fully clothed, if you so choose.
So it’s only logical that events and excursions designed solely for leisure would have their own hiccups. Like to travel overseas (or here, for that matter)? Hey, isn’t airport security is a gas these days? Enjoy theme parks – and the accompanying hour-long waits to ride anything? Love casinos? That whole ‘losing all your money’ thing is a real kick in the balls isn’t it? The beach is too hot, the mountains too snowy and if you have a drive that’s longer than four hours to any of these things, you may as well kill yourself because it’ll save time and money.
None of these things are necessarily as bad as poo-covered cruise ships, but if you are unfortunate they could be. Planes crash, or get delayed. Hurricanes hit beaches; snow-covered mountains have avalanches and cars crash. Shit happens on vacation too.
The point to this meandering narrative: why let a bad thing ruin a good thing? Isn’t the point of vacation to relax? Dead engines and human feces suck; no doubt about that. But if there was ever a place to make the best of it, I’d say it would be a cruise ship. It’s not like living in a third-world nation; you’ll be gone in a few days.
For the honeymoon celebrating the day Future Mrs. Me became Mrs. Me, she and I set sail on a cruise from Mobile to Cozumel, because the first word that comes to mind when you think of sunny Mobile, Ala. is ‘romance’. However, the interminable drive – only two fights in eight hours! Yay newlyweds! – left us in Mobile only long enough to assume our car would definitely be slept in and possibly stolen by the vagrant watching the parking lot. These were the concerns before we ever set foot on the boat, too. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t apprehensive, especially since I was going to be on a boat in the middle of the ocean for a week.
What happened? I spent a week eating three-course meals every night, began drinking at 11 every morning and played blackjack to my heart’s content. I even swam with dolphins. And had I been trapped on the boat for an extra four days while the boat drifted aimlessly ashore, well…eh. An awesome vacation is still an awesome vacation.
Then again, maybe I’m a sucker for an awful story.
We are a society that loves to spend money we don’t have on shit we don’t need (I love quoting Fight Club). It may not be my favorite activity, but it’s definitely top-100. And in that vein, our houses become filled with crap and our refrigerators overflow with rotted food. Our excesses define us to an alarming degree.
So now we’re going to try to change that.
As my wife announced to the entire Facebook world on Friday, we will be embarking on a month-long odyssey to not spend money. The rules: only the necessities. Food, bills, gas and emergency medical issues will be attended to. Everything else, no dice. No booze purchasing on a whim. No going out to eat. Nothing frivolous in any way, shape or form. The new regime begins the day after Valentine’s Day, so if nothing else you may congratulate her on pragmatism.
Now, the concerns:
1. This is really going to suck.
As far back as I can remember, all I ever wanted was to have money. As my logic went, money could solve most problems adolescent me had, and since I lacked an athletic or musical background that stretched much past ‘awkward’, college was the key that would unlock a world of vast riches to me.
While Younger Me got a lot of things wrong, he hit this one spot-on. Having disposable income on hand has eased a lot of burdens from my life, like figuring out dinner (if there’s nothing in the fridge, order a pizza) or how to make up for being a jerk to my wife – FTD and 1800Flowers.com have same-day delivery policies! And now that I’ve gotten used to these conveniences, I don’t really want to live another way.
2. Social life will be severely curtailed
Going to be tough to explain that “We can go out but we can’t spend any money” logic. It’s for a month, and that month is post-Super Bowl and post-Valentine’s Day, so it’s possible there won’t be much going out to be had. Still, if you ask us to join you downtown for dinner and drinks and we refuse, know it’s not because we don’t like you, but we’re just not spending money this month*.
*- It might still mean we don’t like you.
3. This is going to be really boring
Spending money is a great way to alleviate boredom, whether it’s going to a movie, a sporting event, an Amazon order or whatever else floats your boat. Not spending money is boring. Wanting is better than having, and the anticipation between want and have is the best. There will be none of that this month.
There are a few pros to offset the above cons though. Such as…
1. The Poverty Diet
My name for how we will eat for 30 days. No going out means no being tempted by steaks, pizza, fried foodstuffs and things covered in cheese. We’ll eat what’s in the house, and what’s usually in our house consists of fruits, veggies and lean meats. While this isn’t a perfect system by any stretch, it will keep us aimed squarely at eating healthy, since there will be no other way we can eat.
2. Soaring creativity
Look, there’s no point in splitting hairs or mincing words: this is going to be boring. Night after night, sitting at home is going to be tedious. And that’s where the creativity will come in. We will have to invent ways to stave off boredom.
(No, we aren’t cutting cable or NetFlix or throwing out the Playstation. You’d be moderately amazed how little those things are used, because I am a wretched, spoiled human.)
At the end of this experiment, I hope I have a healthier appreciation for the things in my life, and the value of a dollar and all those other excellent attributes my father wanted me to learn when I was a child. Maybe – maybe! – this will make me way more zen and appreciate the little things in life.
This probably won’t be the case. At its core, this grand idea was hatched with an eye toward saving money for (vacation, future child, $600 bottle of scotch…fill in the blank as needed). But if we learn a life lesson along the way, there’s no harm in that either.
The following happens to all of us, and we never think about it and we never think that we need to tell people to shut up.
Ever have a friend go do something ‘life-changing’? Have an experience that expands horizons, gets them out of their comfort zone, and opens new worlds? When this happens, they will often tell you how you have to do it; that ‘everyone needs to experience (insert whatever the activity was) at least once in their life.”
People are stupid. I know this because I’ve been a people for more than 25 years now. The fact is, most of the things that people do that ‘everyone’ should do, either really suck or are completely pointless.
One of the most common examples of this phenomenon is learning to play an instrument. I did this once upon a time, and I can tell you with 100 percent certainty: my life is in no way enriched because I spent four years learning to play the trumpet. I haven’t been asked to read sheet music in a decade and I suspect I never will be again.
(By the way, I recently got drunk and tried to play the trumpet again. I was ‘Charles Barkley’s golf game’-level bad. I terrified small children. It was hilarious, probably.)
So you don’t get tripped up in the malaise, here are a few more things people will tell you are life-changing that are definitely not:
- Travel overseas – I plan to do this; if I return from a trip telling people ‘they HAVE to go to (fill in the Franciscan monastery in Nowhere, Spain)’, you can set my fingernails on fire.
- Skydive – Nope. I’m good to not ever jump out of an airplane, or off a building, or do anything that involves falling through the air. Just watching Felix Baumgartner’s fall a couple of weeks ago was mildly terrifying for me.
- Try bizarro foods – I’m sure authentic Turkish food is delicious to the kind residents of Istanbul; I’d just rather have a steak. Thanks though.
- Run a marathon – Look, I’m proud of all of you. Running a marathon is an AMAZING physical achievement. I’m just not interested in picking my toenails out of my shoes when it’s over, and I don’t think that’s something you’ll ever be able to sway me on.
- Home remodel projects – This example goes out to my friend Landon, who has done what amounts to a frame-off restoration of his new house. It looks not fun, especially for the lazy.
- Sing karaoke – My life is not going to be richer because I rocked out to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ in front of a group of drunks at a karaoke bar. I’ll sound less like Brian Johnson and more like Bon Scott, who’s been dead for 30 years.
- Coach a sports team – I’m torn on this one, since I assume I will wind up coaching a child’s sports team at some point. I’m hopeful I don’t start blurring the lines between my ‘coaching’ and real-life: drawing up plays in my spare time, writing down various starting line-up combinations on cocktail napkins, etc. Regardless, never feel the need to spend your free time with the children of strangers. It doesn’t make you a better person.
- Learn to parallel park – I never learned to parallel park and I turned out just fine. Frankly, I believe that any area that doesn’t offer spacious parking garages, a subway system or plenty of parking lots is a breeding ground for terrorists.
- Stay up all night to see the sunrise – Did this once. Was not worth it.
- Grow a garden – My parents did this for years. And if I thought I would eat six dozen ears of corn, or could give them away, maybe it would be something nice to do. But it seems like a lot of work, growing stuff and keeping it alive only to throw it away when it goes bad.