Lessons From a Former Fat Guy

This is a guest post from my friend Jim Hodgson.  Jim went from being a really big guy to a really in-shape guy, completing a freaking Ironman Triathlon this past July.  When he asked me about writing a guest post about the fat guy perspective when it comes to food and fitness, I said hell yeah.  Here’s Jim!

This web site, Nerd Fitness, is great. I’ve known Steve in real life since around the time he started working on it, so I have a little real-life perspective to share.

Here is why it’s good: because Steve really wants it to be good. He works very hard on it, and it shows.

However, for all his hard work and enthusiasm, Steve has never been, nor will he probably ever be, fat. He does not know what it’s like to hear Kool and The Gang’s “Jungle Boogie” in his head every time he eats like I do. Oh yeah baby, food time is party time to me.

I used to be around 320lbs, and as of March of 2010 I was 210 lbs, so I’ve lost over 100 lbs since beginning my journey. I’m still working every day on eating right and being more fit, but this photo is pretty much a textbook case of fat nerd.

The thing is, I have a extremely slow metabolism.

It seems sometimes that if I eat a single leaf of lettuce, I will see a pound on the scale as a result. Contrast that with Steve, who could probably eat pretty much whatever he wants and never gain a pound.

Fortunately, good advice on healthy living works for both the fast-metabolism-Steves of the world who wish to put on muscle as well as for the fat Jims of the world who wish to lose weight.  After all, being healthy is being healthy no matter what.  The challenges can be different along the way though, so I’ve talked Steve into letting me write a guest post from a fat guy’s perspective.

I believe that overeating is just like drug or alcohol addiction in that you never really shake it. What’s more, you can give up cigarettes or booze entirely, but you can’t give up food for long.

Keep in mind that I am neither a nutritionist nor a doctor, so you should ask licensed, trained professionals about everything I say to make sure you don’t explode or get a bad case of the farts or something.

You can’t outrun a bad diet

This is something I once tried really hard to do. When I started exercising to lose more weight, I bought a HRM (heart rate monitor). It tracks calories in addition to timing workouts, but no one’s really saying the calorie counts it keeps are exactly accurate, so I’d advise taking them with a grain of… caution, not salt, because we need to watch our sodium intake! Zing!

Anyway, when I got my HRM I figured a pound was 3500 calories, so I’d just do 3500 calories of cardio per week and lose a pound. Easy!

Well, that actually might work IF I ate the same thing in a week of no workouts as a week WITH workouts, but doing the equivalent of 500 calories of exercise a day is nothing to sneeze at. I usually burn around 1100 calories per hour running, 900 or so for an hour of cycling, and 6-700 for an hour of swimming, so any way you slice it that is a half hour plus per day, every day, for a whole week with no rest days.

The problem comes when I eat more because I have worked out hard and I’m hungrier, or worse, when I tell myself that pizza is okay because I just burned 1000 calories in a workout. Sometimes this is true, but it can easily get out of hand – running to the fridge does not earn me a burger.

If you are like me and you have a super slow metabolism, there is probably not a functional level of exercise where you will be able to eat whatever you want and be slim. To me that’s like saying there’s no such thing as true love — because believe me brother, I LOVE food — but that’s where I’m at right now on weight loss philosophy, or “weilossophy”.

I cut out alcohol entirely for nine months leading up to my race. I gave up sodas as well, even diet sodas. I believe that diet soda keeps you fat, or at least hampers weight loss, though I have no scientific data to support that belief.  I also used a food diary to calculate my intake of calories, and hardest of all, watch my carbohydrate intake.

Whenever I thought about cheating, or letting it slide just this one time, I said to myself “No, this time I’m going to do it right.”

Pick a course, stay the course, and do it for you

Life change can be a real pain in the hind parts. Sometimes it feels like you’re just slogging away with no measurable results, and for
what? Isn’t life too short to be miserable? Well, yes and no. Its my personal belief that some suffering is good for you, but you have to suffer smart.

I observed a big bump in people exercising alongside me in January of each year due to New Years resolutions. By June they were almost all gone. I knew I had been that person before, but not this time. This time I knew I had to stick with it.

Originally I started losing weight because I wanted to have more success with girls. I’m ashamed to admit it because I should have done it just to be a better me, but that’s the truth of the matter. As time went on, other factors came into play. My mom passed away, and as a result I had a highly increased sense of my own mortality. I’ve always thought that I would someday lose the weight and become more athletic. I just finally realized that the time had come.

During the middle of this last summer I was fighting a severe case of burn out with only a few months to go until my Ironman race. It sucked. All I can tell you is that I just made myself do my workouts anyway. I had been working for it for a year, my dad was coming to see me race, as well as my sister, girlfriend, and a bunch of other friends. I couldn’t let them see me fail, but more importantly I couldn’t let ME see me fail.

I told myself, okay, if you’re hurting or tired or whatever, that’s fine, but you have to show up. Everyone has bad days or feels unmotivated, but I made myself show up every time.

I knew if I let myself skip workouts entirely I was finished, and I found that once I got myself to go I was usually okay.  Just moving my feet and starting the workout was usually the hardest part.

I think that is the biggest difference between me now and me then. I might not be at my best every day, but I’ll be on time and in the game.

Wow, if only there were a handy forum where people who are working on fitness and weight loss gathered to discuss these sorts of things. Oh wait, there’s one right here! My name is Jim on the Nerd Fitness forums, and I want to hear about your goals.

Be mentally ready for change

One of the things I noticed after I lost the first 60 or 70 pounds was that I was no longer invisible. I would say something in a group of people and someone would laugh or agree with me and I would be shocked. I hadn’t even realized until that moment how disregarded I was when I was a wobbling stack of ham.

I’m not sure if this happens to people who gain muscle or not, but I suspect that it does. I can only speak from my own fat experience.

Mind you, I am not a fatness apologist. I try not to tell people their business, and I believe that increased kindness and understanding between human beings is ultimately a good thing, but I also think that if I can lose over 100lbs, anyone can.

After all, in many ways I am a buffoon.

For better or worse, though, when you go through your body shape changes, people will treat you differently. Don’t let it shake you.

You picked a course for yourself and now you will stay on it. The people who love you for you are still going to love you when you’re more fit, and you’ll be alive longer to enjoy it!


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