Coming out on the wrong end of the numbers game

Eventually I want to tell you all about what I’m doing now to whip myself into shape. But, you might ask, what made me start?

Frankly, 50 pounds is what gave me a swift kick in the pants. Three years ago that’s what my bathroom scale told me I had gained since college.

Seeing that number – for me the shock of that number, how it snuck up so fast on me, was enough to convince me that I had to do something to turn things around. Beyond that, though, I didn’t really have a clue.

Stumbling out of the gates

Health books with big promises are present-day versions of the classic Charles Atlas ads.

To begin I started wandering into bookstores, making a beeline for the health/wellness sections. I started buying health books, always long on promises, that laid out a road map towards full-body transformations, which sounded to me a lot like a 21st century update of the Charles Atlas ad I used to see in comic books.

Okay, I thought. Nobody was going to kick sand in my face!

Unfortunately, I’d been inspired, and my idea for a total body makeover, which started innocently enough as a poor seed of a plan, blossomed into a full-grown bad idea.

Shooting for the moon

I thought I’d go all in, promising myself that I’d diet and exercise. For motivation I took one of those “before” pictures — you’ve seen them before, probably on late-night infomercials. You know the ones — an unflattering picture of a model who miraculously transforms in six or 12 or 24 weeks into, presto, an “after” picture, with the model now beautiful, muscled, bronzed, and bald.

Smile for the camera

Looking like Lou Ferrigno from TV's The Incredible Hulk is not the most realistic fitness goal for your second week of working out.

So I tried it. Standing in poor light, I puffed out my stomach, slouched my shoulders, flashed an I-can’t-believe-I’m-doing-this grin at the camera, and presto — I had a “before” shot as miserable as you can imagine. Pale, pasty, pouty. I’d hit the trifecta of humiliation.

What I thought would be a motivator became something else entirely. A source of tremendous shame that depressed me, leading me to believe that there was no way to turn things around.

I made it to the gym, lifted a few weights, jogged half-heartedly, curbed my eating a little, then got discouraged when I didn’t turn into Lou Ferrigno within two weeks. (Even repeated viewings of Pumping Iron didn’t do the trick.) Determined to try harder, I went on a radical vegetable diet. (To me the diet sounded great because it promised no calorie counting and I could eat as much as I wanted — provided it was spinach.)

When that diet didn’t work out, I got depressed and gained five more pounds. I gave up on both working out and eating better.

I couldn’t see the point, not when I didn’t look or feel better immediately.

The solution is slow and steady (just like mom said)

Eventually I did lose weight. Trying little changes that didn’t feel like sacrifices made the difference.

First I tried something simple — cutting out bored eating before bed. Restricting myself to fried meals once a day. And you know what? It started making a difference, it really did. Over the course of a few months, I made the dreaded trip to the scale once a week and suddenly it seemed like the scale had come around to my way of thinking, showing me numbers that I liked.

The pounds came off as sneakily as they were packed on. Over the years, I’ve done more nutritional research, found an eating style (not a diet) that’s right for me, and grown addicted to going to the gym after finding some workouts I like.

Fast forward to now

Even though I never have taken an “after” photo, I do feel pretty good about where I’m at, even if I haven’t lost all 50 of those pounds. (And please don’t ask to see the “before” photo either! It’s right in the trash where it belongs.)

So tell me. What about you? Ever made a health resolution that just didn’t stick?