Saturday, October 8, 2011

Entry #4 - Progress

-- Progress lies not in enhancing what is, but in advancing toward what will be.
-- Khalil Gibran

In the next 6 weeks, I lost 340 pounds, finished my first marathon, got me the perfect wife and a job with a 6 figure salary. Ok, maybe that didn't happen, but it would've been nice.

So, on a long journey like this, how does one measure progress? How does one measure accomplishment? Does a marathon runner internally cheer every mile? Or is it every 5 miles? 10? Or is each step a step closer to their goal? (Note: using a marathon analogy, not one involving a buffet) :)

I believe it changes with experience. At the beginning of this journey there were a hundred little signs of progress I could see and feel. But as time goes on and routine sets in, they become fewer and farther between. Fairly quickly, I realized that I was moving better. My back stopped hurting. I was able to get out of my car or out of chairs with greater ease. Showers did not require a rest break (thank God!).

I do not want it to sound like it was all peaches and cream. I did have several days where I was incredibly sore after a workout. But only the first few times produced a painful soreness. Once my body accepted that it would need to be prepared for more than a long sit on the couch, it was better able to adapt to the demands I was placing upon it. From then on, the post workout soreness was merely an oddly pleasant tightness that let me know I had done some positive work. That the muscles were in the process of rebuilding and I would be all the stronger for it.

At this time in the evolution of Marty's bootcamps, we were having weight loss competitions. At the end of the competition, we would have a party to celebrate our successes. I would like to say I won this competition, but the bootcampers are tough competition. I don't think I even placed! But the party was a tremendously good time. It was the first time I was able to interact with my new friends in a more personal setting. I realized almost immediately that I would enjoy the company of these folks because they were my kind of people. They were fun and quick to laugh. Though I played the innocent flower being corrupted by these crazy ladies, I was, in fact, enjoying a sense of belonging because we shared a similar sense of humor and love of music, fun and camaraderie.

I know I continue to go on and on about the amazing qualities Marty has as a friend, mentor and trainer. I know that I risk a number of jokes that question my sexuality. :) But it is important to me that I remember the moments that showed me his commitment to me and to his mission of helping people of size become people of health. Only a few weeks into the process, Marty and I arranged to have a couple of training sessions at my home. This was a tremendous help to me because he was able to show me things I could do around the house. He showed me exercises and stretches I could do with no more equipment than an exercise ball and a stretchy band. My parents live on a lake and we walked around the lake. I remember that I had to stop at each bench to rest. That meant I had increased my walking stamina from 20 feet to almost a quarter of a mile. That is progress! Marty was impressed with the beauty of the lake and said I should walk it every day. I had to agree that I had no excuse not to do that because the lake is so close.

In a fit of optimism, I sent a text to several of my friends to let them know of Marty's instructions. I asked them to let me know if they were available and wanted to take a walk with me. I figured it would be good company and nice conversation. This could turn a work out into a social occasion. Two minutes after that text was sent, my friend, Nathan, sent back that he would love to join me and that he would be there in 5 minutes. We walked that lake, catching up on each other's lives and enjoying the beautiful day. It was a pleasure!

-- Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.
-- Albert Camus

This story about Nathan makes my eyes water as I think of all the wonderful support I have received from friends and family. These are people who have always loved and supported me even while I seemed to be eating myself into an early grave. They never made my weight an issue or hurt my feelings by making me feel bad for what I was doing. However, they also did not enable my bad behaviors. If I brought the subject up, they were always quick to point out that they desperately wanted me to do something about my weight. They loved me and they wanted me to be around for many years to come. Now that I have started a journey to health, they are quick to ask me about my progress, congratulate me on my successes and support me as I change my old habits to better facilitate the journey. For example, I have long been a person who goes out to the bars with my friends. I have always enjoyed drinking alcohol and getting silly with my friends. Once Marty showed me how counterproductive alcohol was to my journey, I switched my habits. We still went to our regular hangouts, but now nachos and rum had been replaced with veggies and water. Not only did my friends avoid calling me out on it, they made a point to say how much they admired the changes and progress I was making. It is easy to say that this is just how friends should act, but I think it is a sign of what quality people I have in my life and I will be forever grateful to them.

As wonderful as these friends are, there are few that have even known me at a time when I wasn't large. They don't know the Kevin who could be a dance machine (no, I didn't say "talented", just did a lot of dancing). They only know a Kevin who spends all his time on the couch observing the fun and laughing along with everyone. I can't wait to be an instigator again rather than an observer. I want to regain some of my old swagger. I remember my old confidence (borderline arrogance) with new people and new situations. I could walk into a group of people and know that if I was just myself, I would be fine. As a fat man, it is much more difficult. There was a lag time between the first time I met someone new and the moment they would look past the weight and enjoy the company of the person I am. When new people would find their way into my circle of friends, I could see the questions in their eyes. Why are they hanging out with him? How can I keep him at a safe distance? As if being fat were a disease they could catch.

Perhaps that isn't fair. There was definitely a hesitancy to be my friend and it was clear that I had to "win them over" because I was not someone they would normally connect with. But I could be reading too much into that reaction. Obesity has an insidious affect on personality. You project your own disgust at the state of your own body onto others. Oftentimes, you may be correct in assuming that people only see a fat person, but in truth, there is no way you can know that. You simply believe that your own negative thoughts about yourself are the same that others will have about you.

Progress is an elusive thing for me. It is interesting to note that I can see the progress in others with much more clarity than I can see it within myself. It is as if I hold myself to different standard or I am too close to the situation to see the big picture. That is one of the goals I have with this blog. I want to keep track of the many things I notice from day to day. For example, I don't remember when I first was able to complete an entire workout without back pain, but it happened. I don't remember when I first was able to do a flight of stairs without being winded, but I can. I don't remember when I first was able to get down on the ground with my niece and nephews to play without wondering if I would be able to get back up, but I do. Those moments are fleeting. I want to record them. I want to revel in them. I want to use them as my own internal motivation to continue. These are the reasons why I want to succeed. These are the reasons why it is important to succeed.

Life is the greatest progress I have achieved. Somewhere in this time frame, I made the realization that I no longer felt like I was dying. I felt alive. I could feel myself adding years to my life instead of subtracting them. I remember one night where I literally burst into tears as I realized that it had been months since I had thought about my own mortality. I couldn't believe that such a short period of time was needed to completely alter my mindset. No longer was I looking at the inevitability of an early demise. I was able to see a future of possibility. I had hope for tomorrow. This progress was the most meaningful to me because it no longer mattered how long this journey would take. I still wanted it to go quickly, but whether I was travelling at 10 miles per hour or 70, I was still going forward. I was still cutting the distance between now and my destination.

-- We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road.
-- C.S. Lewis

So, amid my tears, I simply took stock of all the people who helped make it possible, including myself. I thought to myself, "How do I repay them? How can this debt ever be repaid?" The funny thing is that those people don't expect repayment. Or rather, they do expect repayment but the currency is my effort. They want me to continue. They want me to be dedicated. They want me to succeed. I use this as motivation as well. I will not dishonor their efforts by allowing myself to fall back on my normal habits of sloth and gluttony (I'll work on the other deadly sins later. :) ). And if future Kevin is reading this entry at a time when the journey is difficult or the cravings are calling, do not succumb to those weaknesses! You are better than that. You owe Dad, Mom, Erin and Marty more than that. You deserve more than that. Stick it out! Work hard! It is one of the few moments in life when the selfish benefits you gain will also benefit the people who care about you. Help them, by helping yourself.

-- There are no constraints on the human mind, no walls around the human spirit, no barriers to our progress except those we ourselves erect.
-- Ronald Reagan


  1. Thanks for reminding me to remember all of the little changes/accomplishments. Sometimes they are forgotten if all we focus on is the big picture.
    And boy, I can certainly relate to so many of the things you've been blogging about. The friend lag time... I remember feeling like people weren't sure if they wanted to be friends with me because I was "large". I still had those feelings up to a month or so ago. I believed that people were only nice to my face, but they didn't really like me or want to hang out with. Heck, I still have feel that way sometimes but realize it may be my personality now that they just don't like. lol

  2. Angela - It may not be weight or personality, there are always some who will force you to prove yourself before accepting you. And some are just jerks. :)