My Big Hero 6 Moment
It’s November 2014 and I had let myself go. An estimated 35% of Americans are obese, with 3 of 4 men in the United States being overweight. I was now a part of this statistic, as confirmed by the tall mirror in my bedroom and my primary care physician. Something needed to change and I needed to find the motivation to change it.
I would soon begin searching for that motivation after my yearly physical exam, that November, when my doctor told me that I needed to have labs done. I should note that, up to this point in my life, I had somehow evaded bloodwork of any kind (other than the stuff that I had done to me as an infant). Begrudgingly, I agreed and had the blood draw done before the end of the week.
During the requisite follow up visit, I vividly remember my doctor sitting in his squeaky metal chair, with his glasses tipped as he scanned through my results. I sat in the cold room with heightened anxiety. After a few moments of awkward silence, he discussed his most pressing concern: my growing weight problem. I had ballooned to a hefty 218.6 pounds. Rather bluntly, my doctor told me that my BMI score was high enough that I was now considered to be obese. Obese? Me?
I found myself sitting in the theaters a few days after that meeting with my doctor to watch Disney’s Big Hero 6. I remember feeling extremely squished in the seats and thought to myself, “did these chairs shrink?” As I wiggled to find comfort, I paused for a moment, and noticed that in one hand I was holding a large, Big Gulp sized cup that was filled to the lid with Coca-Cola, while the other hand clutched a Nathan’s hot dog dripping with ketchup. The real eye-opener, though, was the extra hot dog resting on my stomach. I sat there and thought to myself: What The Fuck. I could barely pay attention to the movie because I was instead pondering how I had allowed myself to morph this way. I like to call this indelible experience my Big Hero 6 Moment. This was a major turning point were I cognitively recognized that I needed to make sensible and manageable changes to my lifestyle. Thinking What The Fuck alone was not enough. Instead, I needed to take action to fix the core problems.
Isolating Variables and Initial Steps (January 2015 – June 2015)
The compounding effect of my Big Hero 6 Moment and being labeled obese was enough motivation to correct course. The educator in me is constantly thinking of how I can break down complex ideas into manageable and digestible bits of information. Being fat was a complex problem that took years to take shape, so I set out to isolate specific variables that I believed might be contributing to my weight gain. Below are the three variables that I identified as needing adjustment:
1. Food: I ate horribly and I ate whenever I wanted. I ate when I was hungry and I ate when I wasn’t hungry. My diet included a lot of processed foods and fast food (McDonald’s three times a week or more was not unusual). I was fueling myself without thinking and doing so with crappy fuel.
2. Drink: I drank excessive amounts of sugary drinks. I would drink two cans of soda per meal, which meant roughly 6 cans per day (usually more). I also was not drinking enough water.
3. Activity: I was inactive. Most of my time was spent slouching in front of a computer blogging increasingly more and more about food than adventure.
The first two variables that I tweaked involved food consumption and soda intake. I cut soda completely out of my diet on January 1, 2015 and at the same time made a resolution to simply eat more vegetables. Eventually I stopped drinking sugary drinks all together (canned juices, orange juice, frappucinnos, lattes, etc). There was no crazy diet implementation at this time, instead, just a simple modification of two variables that I felt had a major impact on my weight gain: 1) don’t drink sugar and 2) eat more vegetables. I lost 10 pounds within the first month of stopping soda. Within three months I had shed 15 pounds. The goal for me was not to lose fat fast, but to lose fat at a steady and healthy pace. By June 2015, I was down to 202 pounds, with a total weight loss of 16.6 pounds.
Ah, Naruhodo! (July 2015-October 2015)
It wasn’t until a trip to Japan that I discovered a spark of inspiration that would help me to isolate the third variable that needed adjusting: Activity. In August 2015, I spent 2 weeks traveling from Tokyo to the Kyushu region of Japan. I was on vacation and so I jumped at every opportunity to indulge in the local cuisines. I also spent a lot of time buying snacks in Japanese convenience stores, known there as konbinis. The typical konbini doesn’t necessarily sell the healthiest of foods. Suffice it to say, I thrived on Calbee potato chips, melon breads, and the ever exclusive variety of Japanese Kit-Kat bars.
Upon returning home from my travels, I was heistent to jump on the scale, fearing that I had gained back the weight that I had lost. It took two days for me to muster up the courage to step on the scale. Surprisingly, I didn’t gain weight, but maintained my pre-trip weight of 202 pounds. I was shocked, confused, and inspired.
The lightbulb in my head turned on when I realized that while in Japan I was doing an insane amount of walking. I walked everywhere. If I wasn’t on the train, I was out walking to a hot spring, temple, or some scenic lookout. I took a look at the stats in the Health app on my iPhone and noticed that my step count had jumped from an average of 2,500 steps per day (pre-Japan trip) to 15,000 steps per day (during Japan trip). The effect of walking seemingly mitigated the issue of eating all of that bad konbini food. In Japan, you say naruhodo when you learn something new or have a spark of genius. I said naruhodo to myself when I thought, “what if I actually ate healthy and continued the amount of walking that I was doing in Japan.” That’s what I did and it worked brilliantly.
Almost immediately following my naruhodo moment I began to incorporate walking into my daily ritual. I walked every day. Rain? Grab an umbrella. Home late? Walk in the dark. Initially, my goal was to hit 10,000 steps per day, an honest challenge when I began my walking regimen. Now, I typically hit 10,000 steps before my work day is finished, and many times before noon. During the time I implemented walking into my daily ritual, I also modified my diet a bit to fit the “what if I actually ate healthy…” part of that naruhodo spark of genius (but more on that in a later post).
Apple Watch and Falling In Love with the Outdoors All Over Again (November 2015 – Present)
In November 2015 my wife bought me an Apple Watch as an early birthday present. She had noticed that I posted a piece of paper on our bedroom door with the number 185 in big, bold letters (it was my target weight goal at the time). Below 185 I wrote: Be Healthy, Be Sexy (go ahead, it’s okay to laugh), and Apple Watch. I was planning to buy an Apple Watch, only after I hit my target weight goal of 185. She took care of the Apple Watch part of the deal.
The Apple Watch has played a significant role in helping me to achieve my health goals. It allows me to keep track of active calories burned from exercise, steps taken, and distance walked. It also tells me to get off of my butt if I’ve been sitting for more than 50 minutes. More importantly, it gives me three exercise related goals to work on during the day that revolve around movement and activity. Within a month of getting the Apple Watch I became obsessed with achieving my daily exercise goals. Post Apple Watch, I find myself walking anywhere between 8-10 miles per day, and also hitting about 13,000 to 15,000 steps per day. Just having the watch on my wrist reminds me of my fitness goals. For me, the Apple Watch has served as a trigger that sparks healthy choices.
I also reintroduced the outdoors into my life. I realized that my passion for hiking slowly faded as I gained weight. I’ve worked on identifying barriers to getting outside. One major barrier for me was the following line of thinking: “what hike should I do today that I haven’t yet done so that I can blog about it later.” Instead, I have favorite hikes that I regularly do. I reserve specific days for the outdoors. I try to spontaneously spend time outdoors as much as possible. The formula isn’t complicated. Think less about where to go and just get outside. There’s this one trail that I do almost on a weekly basis and I always come out from it with a new experience. Get outside and the adventure will take care of itself. I’ve been spending so much time outside that I don’t spend as much time on my computer mindlessly scrolling through social media feeds or binging the latest Netflix series. The amount of blog posts that I write have significantly decreased, but the number of adventures that I’ve experienced has significantly increased. And that’s a good thing because I’ve fallen back in love with the outdoors.
The Results (So Far)
BMI is a finicky thing. I may have lost over 40 pounds, but my current weight and height combination means that I am still in the “Overweight” category, at least according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and the National Institute of Health. My BMI, at the time this post was published, was 25.8. I am a mere 0.9 BMI points away from being in the “Normal” category, again, as specified by national standards. Am I happy with where I am at? Sure. Do I want to eventually be in “Normal” BMI range? Of course. But, I have a much larger, lifelong goal that I am focusing on and that is to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle for the remainder of my life and to inspire those that I love the most to do the same. Becoming obese was a three year process and so I didn’t expect that transforming into a healthy adult would be instantaneous. I am done with being sedentary. I am done with fueling my body with crap (though I may still occasionally indulge). I am a work in progress and that is a good thing.
I’ve lost 45 pounds since January 2015. It’s been nearly 15 months since I last drank Coke, sipped on Pepsi, or guzzled Mountain Dew. Now, for my caffeine fix, I choose either tea (matcha) or coffee, and never with sugar or cream. I regularly rotate between the two. I avoid processed foods as much as possible. I eat a ton of vegetables. And, I am constantly looking for opportunities to move and be active. I no longer weigh 218.6 pounds. I’m down to 175. The numbers on the scale only tell a part of the story, I feel the rest of it. And, I feel great.