"You're the picture of health."
(She has to be talking to me. There's no one else in the room.)
"Thank you, doctor."
This exchange took place last month at an office in Middletown. The picture was considerably less pleasant, never mind healthy, some 18 months earlier when I first walked into the doctor's office. I was overweight, with the familiar accompanying physical complications -- high blood pressure, pre-diabetic blood-sugar readings, good and bad cholesterol numbers headed in the wrong directions, low B-12 and Vitamin D readings, a lack of energy, flexibility, and stamina, and swollen ankles.
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If anyone asked, I said I felt "fine." And I believed it.
Since that time, I have lost 50 pounds and kept it off. I no longer take the blood-pressure and diuretic medications that were originally prescribed. I'm told my numbers in all other areas are "good." I have more strength and energy and my flexibility is improving as is my stamina. My ankles look great
And I plan to stay this way.
I've been writing occasionally about my improved health and the lifestyle changes that brought it about for two primary reasons: 1. I know myself well enough to know that when I share my plans publicly I am more likely to stick to them, especially when they involve significant challenges; 2. People have told me that my updates have inspired them to make health-related changes in their own lifestyles.
Now, I admit it's a nice ego boost to be told that something I've written or done has motivated someone to try to improve his or her lot, and at at the same time I'm humbled to think I can make a difference in someone's life. But the truth is my motives are purely selfish.
I've been muddling around this planet for 72 years and I'd like to enjoy at least a couple more decades here before moving on to the next station, whatever, wherever, and whenever that may be. The key word in that sentence is "enjoy." I don't want to hang on as a creaky, chronically complaining old crank no one wants to be around. I can't stop the years from adding up, but I sure can do something about the pounds and the blood pressure.
By way of updating my current condition, I am pleased to report that shoveling snow this winter from hell has not left me panting and praying for sheer survival. I don't like it, but neither do I dread it. It's good exercise (up to a point) and evidence of improved stamina.
Getting to this point has not been a matter of jumping on a stationary bike once in a while or taking an occasional stroll around the block. That used to count as "exercise" and, technically, still does. But that doesn't take fat off or put muscle on. For me, it has meant changing the way I eat and making workouts, with and without weights, part of my routine. The workouts have been regular and irregular during this transition period, but they have been regular enough that the 50 pounds I lost have not been rediscovered.
My coach tells me I have a lot of nascent muscles. (I think some have progressed to actual muscles, but it's not worth quibbling about.) The main point is that the bench presses (with dumbbells), planks, pushups, crunches, and squats have shaped a new body (and vocabulary) and, while I don't look forward to every exercise, I do appreciate the feeling of accomplishment at mastering something new and the emergence of lats, glutes, abs, quads, biceps, and triceps.
I'm really talking about being fit here, not just not being fat. To me, that means combining regular workouts with a nourishing, appetizing, non-punishing diet. I don't believe in starving myself or limiting portions of foods I enjoy which also happen to be healthful.
No, it has not been a piece of cake. Not long ago I reveled in the embrace of cheesecake. French fries used to count as a vegetable. Coke or Pepsi? Depended on my mood. Salt and vinegar potato chips, bacon, butter, and sour cream on my "healthy" baked potato. Lots of salt, lots of sugar, lots of fat. Lots of XXL shirts and not much energy.
As I said, I was "fine." There is, to be sure, a bit of bliss in ignorance. It's all good - until it's not. Turns out what I didn't know was actually hurting me.
Without going into too much detail, I have stopped eating red meat and almost eliminated salt, processed sugar, and saturated fat from my diet. I eat a lot more vegetables and fruit -- as much as I want really -- and try to eat foods that have not been "enhanced" by additives I can't pronounce and whose chief purpose seems to be creating a long shelf life. That means less packaged goods and more of what used to be called "food." For some reason, the less we add to our food, the more it costs, but that's a topic for another time.
I don't tell anyone how to eat (although I may still make suggestions to my son), nor do I tell anyone what they should do for exercise. Unless asked. Then, if I tell someone he can eat as much as he wants of different foods and and that it tastes good, but he says he wants to continue eating the same stuff, but smaller portions, I say, "Good luck."
If I suggest regular exercise and I hear the occasional-stationary-bike-and-try-to-walk-regularly mantra, I say, "That's good. Good luck."
My feeling is that any significant change comes down to motivation, not need. I have my own personal motives to change major areas of my life and I am fortunate to have found someone to help me make those changes. I don't believe in using "old age" as an excuse for whatever ails me. If I did, I'd still be taking the drugs the doctor prescribed a year-and-a-half ago. I'm not bragging; that's just the way it is, for me. We make our own choices.
It's simple. I like what's happening to me physically, which is good for me mentally and spiritually. And I feel better than fine. I feel good.