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I’m Half The Man I Used To Be … And It’s The Best Thing Ever How To Approach Getting Healthier: Advice From A Guy Who Has Been There

There was a time that if you suggested I go for a run I’d look at you like you were a few fries short of a Happy Meal.

Even after I lost 130 pounds 32 years ago and started bicycling 10,000 miles a year and trying not to embarrass myself in Jazzercise classes, I abhorred the idea of running.

Today if I don’t go for a three- or five-mile run or jog to and from In Shape Health Club in any given day I’ll go completely nuts.

It’s a far cry from the days when I tipped the scales at 320 pounds and walking a flight of stairs would almost put me down for the count.

I bring this up because it’s almost January. That means it’s the obligatory time — at least we’ve been led to believe it is by marketing specialists — to start making a serious investment of time and of course money into exercise and our health.

There are a few myths you’ll need to get out of the way first.


You need to go to a doctor first before starting an exercise program.

That might indeed be solid advice, but get real. If you’re like me there is no way I’m going to let anyone see me at 320 pounds without wearing the right clothes to give me a slimmer look let alone see me in next to nothing. I didn’t see a doctor until after I lost 130 pounds and then it was because I was strapped to a backboard. It’s kind of like hiring a cleaning service to clean your home. Before the first time you interview the person in your home and show them what needs to be done you clean the place because you don’t want anyone to know how big of a slob you are.

Granted, if you have a serious health issue you know about seeing a medical professional before you start is common sense. But if you don’t have a health issue, thinking you have to see a doctor first before you stop taking elevators to go up one floor and use the stairs is a stalling tactic.

Just keep in mind just like Rome wasn’t built in a day; you do not get into a healthy state or backslide into being unhealthy overnight.


Get advice from people who look ripped or who are young and have the “body” you’d like to have.

No disrespect, but the instructors that I have benefited the most from will never make the cover of “Men’s Health” let alone “Muscle & Fitness”. They simply have to be students of movement, understand the dynamics of stretching, have a full understanding of muscles and how they work, get the ins and outs of anaerobic and aerobic exercise, and be able to tailor exercise routines to the baggage, if you will, that we all bring.

I do not have the perfect body, whatever that is supposed to be. I have my body. The goal is to make it work the best it can be for me. If somehow my body becomes more appealing, that’s fine. The goal should be to be healthier, stronger, and more flexibility and not a figment of your imagination or that of someone else.

A gym — I will not name — 10 years ago offered me a free session with a trainer. I kept declining and they kept insisting. I finally took them up on the offer.

The trainer, who wasn’t certified, was two years out of high school where he was a running back in football. He asked me what my objective was. I told him I wanted to be stronger on 100 mile bicycle rides and not fatigue.

The guy told me I needed to work out in a spin class. I looked at him — rightfully so — as if he had a hole in his head. First of all, my legs at the time made what my legs are now look like sticks. Then there was the fact I was taking five aerobic classes a week where the instructors thought I was an uncoordinated version of Looney Tunes’ Tasmanian Devil.

If he knew anything about cycling or bothered to inquire more about how I fatigued he would have understood on a long bicycle ride your upper body strength — or more specifically the lack of it — can be a real issue.


Take a good look in the mirror.

I guess that works if you did not become overweight until you were an adult. But I weighed in the sixth grade what I do now — 168 pounds.

I look in the mirror today and all I see is a fat person. By far better is to listen to your heart rate, your breathing, and your body. You don’t need a mirror to tell you the truth about yourself. You already know it if you are being honest with yourself. Besides, I know of more than one person that after looking in a mirror closely then looked at other people and decided they weren’t all that bad because others were a lot heavier. Again what matters is you and not what is reflected back in glass or even the cutting comments others can’t resist providing.


Listen to what others say.

Wrong. Ignore people especially if you’re trying to find the impetus to get started on an exercise program. You read that right. Ignore people. They have a nagging habit of stating either the obvious or exaggerating reality.

Someone telling you that you are fat isn’t going to inspire you to lose weight. Nor is someone who is viciously telling you are fat when you really aren’t isn’t exactly a self-esteem builder.

To best illustrate how toxic people are without realizing it, years ago when I weighed about 190 pounds I ran into an older gentleman on a trip back to Lincoln who knew me when I weighed 320 pounds. For whatever reason, he felt obligated to reach out and grab my sides — without asking I might add — while commenting that I still had a spare tire. I refrained from returning the favor given my stomach wasn’t extending over my belt while he had a severe case of “Dunlap” disease — almost a complete set of tires putting pressure on his belt.

As for people telling you that you are fat — especially as a kid growing up – it doesn’t spur you to lose weight. While I don’t want to sound vicious or the fact I enjoy how tables were turned, a relative while I was growing up whose body made Don Knotts look like Jackie Gleason tormented me about my weight every chance he got. The last time I saw him he was pushing 400 pounds. I’m not too sure about karma, but that said . . .


You can have the body you want.

It’s the perfect advice to set yourself up to fail and quit.

You can only have one body — your body. You can make it the best it can be but you can’t change nature.

If you look at my feet you’d probably have a heart attack like my primary physician almost did when he saw my right bunion for the first time. He thought it was infected from a casual look. He even characterized it as the worst bunion he’d ever seen until he had me take my other sock off.

I have hammertoes. I have an interesting shoulder issue. I have mild spine curvature.

I haven’t let any of that stop me.

And, for the record, if I ever get a one pack I’ll be dancing in the street. There are three basic body types. Mine is an endomorph. To give you an idea of what that means, John Goodman is an endomorph. As an endomorph I have a strong tendency to accumulate body fat with minimal muscle definition. Experts are right when they say dropping weight is hard to do for an endomorph regardless of how many exercise and diet routines you try given you can morph into the Pillsbury Doughboy if you let yourself go.

Of course, what I’ve always wanted to be is an ectomorph — a skinny build and the ability to eat like a bottomless pit and never seem to gain weight.

It wasn’t until perhaps 10 years ago I kind of made peace with myself that I am what I am.


Exercise like hell.

They really don’t utter those exact words but they imply it giving people the wrong impression. They think they have to go one-on-one with Stephen Curry in a pick-up basketball game, train like a Navy SEAL, or bench press a Greyhound Bus.

There’s a lady in town who managed to shed over 80 pounds by simply walking her dog for upwards of an hour every day. That was almost 30 years ago. And after she lost the weight she kept on walking as she discovered what most people do when they really get into an exercise program — the endorphins, peace of mind, and elimination of stress is unparalleled. She still goes for brisk walks religiously and she has gained any weight back.

The bottom line is do what works for you but be consistent and try to build it into your life more than just once or twice a week.

You do not have to do what anyone else does including me. Unless I’m going hiking I jog to and from In Shape on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Thursday I’ll take a Body Pump class and if I have time I’ll take in a Zumba. Tuesdays and Fridays it is a three- or four-mile run and working out for five or 10 minutes with free weights at home. Wednesday is kind of a great day. I jog to and from Cal Fitness where I take a RIPPED class, which is by far my favorite workout of all times. If my schedule changes things I will make sure I at least go for a three- to four-mile run. That said I will not let rain, sleet or snow stop me from jogging (given I do that every day) although — based on experience — I no longer go out jogging in the hail or a lightning storm.


Devices like Fitbit can make a difference.

I guess they do if having $100 less in your pocket and becoming obsessed with numbers makes a difference.

If you can’t tell if you’re pushing yourself too hard and you have to back off, you need to get back to basics — listen to your body and get wrapped up in numbers. I get the entire spiel about aiming toward progress and tracking your process.


How I got to the point where I could jog/run for six miles without stopping was to get to the point it was a little bit too much to breathe then I’d walk. When I recovered — you can determine this when you can feel your heart is no longer pounding as if Buddy Rich is on Red Bull playing the drums and your breathing no longer sounds like the Santa Ana winds whipping up a canyon — I repeated the run then walk process until I completed the route. It took a little over a month but I was able to go five miles without stopping. It didn’t require Tim Cook to come up with an app. And when I’m in a particular insane mood, I’ll jog/run then sprint.

I don’t do that very often because it is akin to me training to see if I can be a 62-year-old walk-on at Alabama State as a running back for the Crimson Tide. It isn’t going to happen just like I’m not going to be a competitive runner, compete in a marathon or do the Western States 100 Miles Endurance Run from Squaw Valley to Auburn that my cousin Larry Wyatt did for six years. He’s the crazy guy in the family but then again he was also a head football coach at Del Oro High in Loomis.

A Fitbit or some other gadget isn’t going to make your Walter Mitty thoughts turn into reality. The only dream it’ll help make come true is the dream of being rich that the firm selling it has.


Don’t step on the scales everyday as it is self-defeating.

Like hell you’ll ever see me follow that advice.

I still remember like it was yesterday when I stepped on the scale at the end of my seventh grade year and I saw the number 240 pop up and — then years later as a 29-year-old after dropping down to 190 pounds to start my eighth grade year — the scales when they stopped at 320 pounds.

Between 190 and 320 pounds I never looked at the scales. On my 29th birthday when I stepped on them for some reason, I vowed never to let a day pass that I did not weigh myself.

Since then I have religiously weighed myself every day and marked the weight on a calendar without fail. I completely get that weight is not an indicator or how healthy you are. It was music to my ears last Saturday before I donated platelets that the Red Cross phlebotomist noted my heart rate was 56 and blood pressure was 114 over 84. Those are the numbers I put stock into.

I’m anal about my weight because I don’t want to ever go through what I did for a third time — ballooning up to a weight that makes living more of a chore. I treat the scales as the proverbial canary in the coal mine. Besides it’s a great feeling knowing I’m half the man I used to be.


It is about being healthy.

Well, that’s partially true. But in reality it’s about lifestyle.

I’ve discovered that exercising and diet — they go together — has allowed me to do things I never would have thought possible whether it is being perched on a 13,000-foot peak; bicycling over Tioga Pass, Sonora Pass, Ebbets Pass, and Monitor Pass on a four-day bicycle trip; taking a 16-mile road trip hike to sit at the base of a glacier at 14,000 feet; or acting like a crazy man in an aerobics class.

I don’t tire easily and I certainly don’t starve as I polish off 4,000 plus calories in a typical day. I can’t remember the last time I had a headache and I rarely get sick. It’s also easier to be focused and to think.

I’m not the leader of the pack by any means but over the years people who could ride me into the ground or bench press a Greyhound Bus couldn’t understand how on the fifth day of a six day bicycle trip or hiking trip I seemed to have a second wind and they didn’t. It all has to do with working on your ability to recover quickly which — while essential for elitist athletics — is crucial for dealing with the day to day grind mere mortals that aren’t athletes need to be able to do to not let life wear them down.


The first of the year is a good time to start exercising.

That’s 1/365th correct. Any day is a good day to start exercising. I happened to start my effort to change my eating habits in regards to impacting my lifestyle on my 29th birthday. As far as exercising, I started exercising seriously for the first time on New Year’s Day in 1986. Since then I have only missed less than two dozen days that I did not get my heart rate up for a minimum of 20 minutes.

It’s because I vowed to stop lying to myself, wishing for magic to happen, to put taking care of the only body I have first, and to stop making excuses.

Believe me I know all of the excuses not to do something. But the key is — as Nike’s marketing gurus say — just do it.