Before I joined the army, I had never run a mile in my life. I had done precious few push-ups, and could not climb up the rope in high school gym. I spent all my gym time on the trampoline or hiding in the stairwell that led up to the eighth of a mile track. Of course, being in the military, especially in the infantry, which is what I signed up for, is all about physical fitness.
I wasn’t huge when I joined the army, I think I was about 200 pounds on a 5 foot 9 1/2 inch frame. I always say 5′ 10″, but that’s a lie. The tallest was 5′ 9 1/2″ when I was in my 20’s. I should have been closer to 175, 180 at the most.
I learned to do the push-ups, I had no choice. I even eventually got up that dammed rope. I did pull-ups in jump school and got to a 7-minute mile. All at the age of 25 for the first time.
When I got out I was 190. Having a really low paying job and not a lot to eat I went down to 170, and stayed like that for awhile, even after getting married in the mid-1980’s. Then we had a kid. We both gained weight, and after our son was born and we stopped having sex, I ate as replacement therapy. by 1991 I weighed in at 285 pounds, and had developed adult-onset diabetes. My blood sugar was above 450 when I found out. The doctor said he had no Idea how I was still walking around and not in a coma. I stopped eating sugar and drinking soda and lost 40 pounds within a few months. My sugar went below 170, but no lower. Normal is between 80 and 120, in case you don’t know.
So, I weighed 245 pounds for another nine or so years, until I went through a divorce.
My wife in the meantime had started running, going to the gym, taking care of herself. She literally left me in the dust. I tried to catch up, but she was too swift for me.
I did manage to catch up with myself, though. I started running, going to the gym, and because of the emotional turmoil of the divorce, I stopped eating. I went from 240 pounds to 185 in six weeks. I ran into people in the street and they did not recognize me. When asked what kind of diet I went on I would say “the divorce diet.”
But the most important thing I did was exercise. I ran, on the treadmill at the gym and down the West Side highway every day when I lived in Hell’s Kitchen those couple of years after the divorce. I did crunches and lifted weights. At one point I got down to 168 pounds. So I lost a total of 117 pounds in a year. I felt great, energetic, like a new man. I met new women and started dating again. I stopped feeling sorry for myself. I forgot all about trying to catch up to her and ran my own path.
When I looked in the mirror clothed, it was great. Naked, not so much. I was 46 when I got down to the 168, and when I looked in the mirror naked the skin that had once held the 117 pounds hung from my frame like a deflated balloon. Not pretty. I remembered a line from King Rat by James Clavell where he describes a fellow camp inmate who had weighed over 300 pounds and now was more than half that lighter. He wrote “his loose skin hung over his sex like an apron”. I was close. My loose skin did not hang that far down, but it was unattractive enough.
On the positive side, I no longer have diabetes. I can have a doughnut whenever I want and even a soda. But I don’t drink soda anymore, and eat precious few doughnuts. I don’t ever want to go back to that place of despair where I was in 1991.
Exercise is the key, whether I like it or not. This winter I went up to 205, and I was starting to worry. I was only working out on the weekends, going on the elliptical machine my wife and I both use, and doing some strength training. But not enough, and definitely eating more. So I’ve cut out the chips and hummus, the peanut butter and I eat a lot less meat than I used to. I’m back to 190, and maybe I’ll put in the extra effort and go to 180. But I don’t ever want to ask a store clerk for size 44 jeans ever again.