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Fit and Fat – a viable oxymoron

January 25, 2011

It was clear my body had jumped the shark into a place where denial was laughable. At something north of 300 pounds I had crossed a rubicon from gross to dangerous. Getting a start on working out was just a start, and every other start had been undercut by a life with too much back ground noise and a body mass that was just shy of egregious. Since my life had transitioned from protective parent of small children to driver/observer of their 39 weekly activities and my body was approaching the inhuman I could not go on as before. Since excuses had been vaporized by my boys being more than a yard long and my reflection in the Stop and Shop plate glass windows denial was no longer possible I engaged in a “modified limited hang out” of exercise. I had to get back some level of self- respect. So I hit the wee recumbent bike with a grim determination that even this small act was worth doing.

Once I’d gotten into my rhythm of gentle exercise, it was pretty easy over time to work it up to the level which would actually have a net positive effect on the number of calories I burned every day.  Sure, as the Bow Flex ads say, “twenty minutes a day is all you need” if this was just cardiovascular conditioning for someone at the appropriate bulk.  But because I was vastly over the mass allowance of what could be called “normal”, the goal was not simply to make my resting heart rate lower, it was also to burn calories when I was exercising and create enough large-scale muscle mass that those new muscles literally “eat” extra calories simply to sustain themselves when I was at my desk.

As with all seminal changes, beginning to exercise involved collateral consequences.  I had to allow for before/after time to my workouts beyond the actual time in the doing.  I needed time to get into the mindset of moving my body, and time after said movement to chill (for me, both involve different bathroom functions)

I could not allow any activity swap-outs.  In the past it was pretty easy for me not to exercise on the days I mowed the lawn – but that attitude extended to not working out to see “Field of Dreams” for that magic 27th time. I had to do exercise in addition to what I normally did every day.

For 25 years, that extra hour a day for dedicated exercise was something that couldn’t be found – until I thought about it.   Watching Law and Order reruns could be forgone (I’d seen all of them. . . several times. . .), or that extra half hour in bed post-shower in repose, or extra half-hour of sleep that I could forgo for the greater good.

Obviously, if you only live to work and have little or no “spare time”, something that takes one hour out of the eighteen or so hours that most people are awake is “non-productive”.  Unfortunately, after 40, there is a sinking realization that “productivity” is predicated on being alive and well.  If you’re on your back, repairing the damage you’ve done to your body by either benign neglect or over-the-top activity you’re not getting too much work done.  A teenager’s approach applied to working out would have turned me into a sedentary, injured, and ashamed ex-athlete.

So ultimately, without compromise, starting around 5:00 a.m. I worked up to pedalling an exercise bike at its highest setting for a full hour at a reasonable, non-frenzied pace.  This fundamentally changed routine proved to be the lever with which I popped the rock of self-delusion off of my previously crushed spirit.

At any given time, between one-quarter and one-third of Americans are trying to lose weight.  A tiny fraction of those actually succeed in losing a significant amount of weight, and an even smaller fraction of that fraction keep that weight off.  So it’s not surprising that I, like many people, decided that rather than try to be thin, I would change my life and be fit.  Although it sounds like a rationalization, it’s not easy to be fit even when you are not fat, so when you are as overstuffed as I was, the effort it took to become more or less in good cardiovascular shape with a little muscle tone was a life-shifting event.  Beyond my isolated efforts, this “fit and fat” approach is virtually a movement – not that it takes much to be a self-declared “movement” in the age of the internet.

A bunch of studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and a world of anecdotal evidence have shown there is a significant minority of humans who are fat but, because they are in shape, don’t have a significantly shortened lifespan compared to the average not-fat person.  It is clearly true that if these same people were as fit as they are now and were not fat, they would probably live longer than average and be healthier than when they are fit and fat.  But half a loaf is better than none (and in this case, half a loaf is better than eating the whole loaf).

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