Thursday, August 25, 2011

Health & Narcissism

Fair warning, this entire entry is about fitness and health, nothing else.

About a year and a half ago I’d been in Edmonton for about a year, working at BioWare.  I had just uploaded this picture to Facebook:

My biggest: 176

Kristina pointed out I’d put on some weight.  She’s good for giving you her honest opinion and I truly appreciated it, because until that moment I somehow hadn’t realized it.  I must have been in major denial, somehow I hadn’t realized when I bought pants they were size 34 now, not 32 like they used to be.  When I compared newer pictures with older ones like the one below, it became clear I’d put on weight…  And become less emo.

An old self-portrait

I weighed myself at 176.  I don’t know how much I weighed in Winnipeg, but I think I remember it being like 140 (I was thin but scrawny, no muscle).  So in the year and a bit since I’d moved to Edmonton and started working at BioWare I’d put on almost 40 pounds!  I’d heard others talk of the “BioWare 40”…  And it was all fat, definitely not muscle.  If anything I may have lost some muscle.  I thought about it: In Winnipeg I worked fulltime at Rogers Video, a job that required you to be on your feet all day, for 8 hours, running around helping customers etc.  My feet and legs were always tired at the end of a shift.  On top of that I went on long walks all the time in Winnipeg, sometimes 2 hours long around the city with my headphones on.

In Edmonton I worked at BioWare, a desk job.  I went for lunch with my friends every day, and it was rarely healthy.  Then I drove home, never going on any walks, or really any kind of activity.  In fact I’d gotten into the habit of picking up fast food every day on the way home…  It was clear I’d need to make a major lifestyle change if I wanted to break this trend.  And it wasn’t as simple as returning to how I lived in Winnipeg, since working at a desk made it kind of hard to get in the 8 hours of standing and walking I did at Rogers Video.  This would need to be a conscious effort with some real sacrifice.

At first I didn’t really know what I was doing.  I started the P90x cardio program, but my diet was still pretty bad.  I was also impatient.  I thought I must be doing it wrong when I didn’t lost more than a pound after my first week.  When Chad moved to Edmonton he decided he wanted to get in better shape too, so we both got free memberships at the gym in the hotel BioWare shared the building with. 

Cardio with Chad!Chad was all about strength training.  That had been how he lost all the weight the first time, so why not do it again?  I trusted his judgement and went along, but I was really self conscious about how weak I was, and I also knew it was going to be a while before I saw results.  In the end I decided I wanted to focus on cardio and diet to lose weight faster, and figured maybe some day down the road I’d get into weight training.

Once I focussed on cardio and went all out with it I began seeing results fast.  I was losing 2-4 pounds a week.  I was doing an hour of cardio 6 days a week, up to 1100 calories at a time.  My diet had changed and was much healthier.  I was definitely still doing some things wrong though.  I was starving myself a bit more than was healthy, especially combined with cardio.  But the results were motivating.

Down to 160!

By the time things at BioWare were coming to an end and I was prepping for the move to Halifax I was down to 160.  I’d lost 14 pounds in 2 months.  Not bad!

Once I got to Halifax I was stressed out, and my lifestyle started to slip.  No more gym, my diet got worse, etc.  But when I finally found a scale to weigh myself I found I was 155.  I’d continued to lose weight, despite it all.  That meant even with a bit of a slip, my lifestyle was still better than in Edmonton, so my weight was still slowly adjusting to a better lifestyle.

I eventually got a membership at a gym down the road from Longtail, but with the long hours I was working, the fact that I was bussing home instead of driving, and the dark winter nights, I didn’t end up going very often.  But I was making more money than I ever had, so I decided to just go buy my own elliptical.  Once I got that I started doing cardio at least 4 times a week, and improved my diet once again.  But after almost 2 months I’d only lost 3 pounds, down to 152.  After losing 24 pounds through cardio and diet, it was beginning to feel like I’d plateaued.


And that brings us to present day.  I’m in the best shape I’ve been in since Winnipeg, I can fit back into all the clothes from those days, but still not quite to the form I had.  I still have a gut when I sit, though substantially smaller than at my worst.  When I stand it’s easy enough to suck it in.  But I want better.  I want even better than I looked in Winnipeg!  The success of losing 24 pounds has made me realize the body is a machine, and with some willpower, if you put in the work, you’ll get the results.  Period.

That being said, I’ve lost all the weight I’m going to on my current lifestyle.  My moderately healthier diet and cardio isn’t giving me results anymore.  At this rate I’d lose maybe 4-5 pounds a year, probably less.  So unless I want to increase my cardio to take up every free moment it’s time to take a new approach.  Like I said in Edmonton, when the time came I’d do strength training.

WeightsSo earlier this week I bought a small weight kit and some other equipment for 70$,  I’ve improved my diet even further, and I also changed how I do my cardio, combining cardio with a decent leg workout.

My new plan:

  • Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays are my work out days.  I alternate muscles to allow them time to heal.  In between days are for resting and healing.
  • Tuesdays are shoulders and biceps.  Thursdays are triceps, back and chest.  Sundays are core (abdominal area) workouts.
  • After about 30-40 minutes of the weight training I then do my new, more extreme cardio on the elliptical. 
  • New cardio:  Instead of just running on lowest settings for an hour, I go the complete other way.  I increase the incline to full and alter between 3/4 and full resistance for 45 minutes.  I burn calories much faster this way, and I’m giving my leg muscles a more legit workout then just low-intensity jogging.  I’m dripping in sweat and my legs are burning by the time I’m done.
  • After the cardio I immediately do one last set of weight training exercises to muscle failure and then shower!
  • Much better diet (details later in this post).

I’ve really taken it to a new level.  This is much more extreme than the old plan.  Before I just ran until my body had to burn fat.  I’m still doing that, but also adding muscle all over my body.  Muscle burns more calories, meaning I’ll raise my natural metabolism and burn fat while I’m sitting at my desk at work.

I’ve also begun to make another big diet change, the biggest since my first one back in Edmonton.  No more starving myself all day only to gorge on snacks in the evening.  I’m eating 3-4 smaller meals a day, and healthy meals.  For example, lunch today was a medium sized chicken pita on whole wheat with very light mayo, spinach, bean sprouts, tomatoes and cucumbers!  Next time I go grocery shopping I’m buying 80% fresh.  WAY too much of what I eat has predominantly come out of a box or bag.  No more!  So from now on it’ll be largely lean chicken breast, sliced deli turkey, salmon, brown rice, etc..  I’ll thaw and cook it myself.  My cheat day of the week will be Saturdays, if I’m really craving some junk food with my videogames, or a pizza, etc.

Back to size 32!Losing 24 pounds in under a year took a lot of hard work, but it felt great.  Recently I tried on my old Edmonton pants, and that really made me realize what I’d accomplished.  Success breeds confidence, and I’m confident this is exactly what I needed to break through this plateau and begin another year long success story.  And so far I’m enjoying this next level of healthier living.  It will be weird to watch the scale go up now though, since I’ll be putting on muscle, which weighs more than fat.  Hopefully by this time next year though I’ll look the best I ever have!  Wish my luck!

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