So, it happened. The thing I promised wouldn’t happen happened. The thing I swore I wouldn’t become, I became. I was another short-term success story. I’ve read that as many as 80% of people who have substantial weight loss gain it back within two years. Count me as one of the 80%. I got fat again. There are a lot of reasons it happened. Injuries, change of jobs, and grief are the top three candidates.
In case you missed it, this is how I went from Fat to Fit the first time:
In 2012 I dropped about 70 pounds. I followed a very simple formula: exercise more and eat less. I used the Lose It app on my phone to track every calorie burned and eaten. I learned a lot about portion size, and saw big changes from making little choices like fruit instead of hasbrowns at breakfast and broccoli instead of fries at dinner. I started exercising more, starting with the elliptical machine, and working my way up to jogging. I started my program in January, and in June 2012 I ran my first 5K in 36:00. In 2013 I stopped tracking the calories so comprehensively, but kept making good choices, and kept running. In June 2013 I ran another 5K in 26:28, which earned a trophy for second place in my age group, and remains my personal best. I added longer distances, including two five miles runs that I completed in under 50:00. In 2014 I slipped a little, but somewhat intentionally. I went to the gym a little less frequently so I could spend more time with my preschool daughter, but in May I completed my first half marathon. At that point it had been two and half years since I embarked on a new fitness journey. I felt good, and believed that I had made changes in my life that would be permanent.
Then it all came apart.
One catalyst was an injury I suffered at the 2014 Bix 7 in Davenport. This is a huge event, one that is a part of the culture of the Quad Cities. Everyone who runs in this area has run the Bix. It counts as the National Championship for 7 mile runs. It features two large hills. On the second one, at about the 3 mile mark, a muscle in my calf popped. I couldn’t finish. I went to the doctor and he didn’t seem to think there was any structural damage. So I laid off of it, and let it heal. A couple of weeks later, I would run again and start to feel good, then it would pop again. So I would wait a few more weeks, and try again, only to hurt it again. So then I waited a month, got in worse shape, and tried to start again. It would be going well for a few weeks and then pop! After about six months of starting and stopping, I settled on stop. Also in July 2014, I started a new job. I went from being an associate pastor to the solo pastor. This meant more responsibilities, more preahing (thus less blogging), more stress, and more demands on my time. It became harder to get to the gym – or at least easier to find other things to do, especially one I was discouraged from being out of shape.
My memory of when a 3-mile jog was a light warmup weighed heavily on me. I became discouraged by how far I had fallen. I blogged less. Again, there were a lot of reasons I strayed from this blog. One was that my creative outlet was being met by preaching every week. I was prolific on this blog when I preached about once a month. When I started preaching 48 times a year, I found less time, and less creative need to write here. Second, I focused more attention on the Pulpit Fiction Podcast. Since 2013, my partner Eric and I have released over 300 episodes. I focused my social media attention on the podcast first, my new church second, and the Fat Pastor third.
The real reason I stopped blogging was simple. I was embarrassed.
Over the course of 2015, I slowly gained more weight, and worked out sporadically. After two years of finding a way to get to the gym, I found plenty of excuses to stay away. And for me, it all flows from regular exercise. When I’m exercising regularly, I eat better. I sleep better. I study and preach and write better. When I wasn’t exercising regularly I ate crap. The route from my church to home passed a Hardees, a Wendy’s, and a Taco Bell. Taco Bell is my personal Satan. On any given day you could see the passenger seat of my car littered with brown paper bags from fast food places. It wasn’t uncommon for me to have a Wendy’s lunch and a Taco Bell dinner (Mexican pizza, two soft taco supremes, and sometimes a Meximelt too). While I was already falling down this spiral, my Mom died.
This sent me reeling in ways that I didn’t even notice at the time. She died in August 2016. I spent the next year in and out of depression-like symptoms. I had low energy, so I wouldn’t feel like working out. I was depressed, so I sought comfort in bad food. I felt terrible, so I would punish myself with self-hating thoughts. I hated getting dressed because none of my clothes fit. No, I didn’t hate getting dressed. I hated myself. I would think to myself, quite often, “I hate myself.”
This death-spiral continued until I had gotten up to 360 pounds (30 pounds more than when I refocused on my health in 2012). My whole body hurt. I was out of breath all the time. Simple tasks like picking something up off the floor were difficult. After walking up the stairs to my office, it would take me a couple minutes to catch my breath before I could say hi to the secretary. Tying my shoes was difficult, and would leave me gasping for air and muttering to myself, “you are a piece of shit.”
One day in August my friend texted me a challenge. He saw that I had posted something no Facebook about being frustrated with my fitness and health. He proposed challenge. We would both work on getting healthier, and whoever lost more weight by Thanksgiving would win. We exchanged some baseline information, getting details about where we were physically. When I told him where I was, his response was, “Jesus Christ, you’re going to die buddy.” He was right. I was going to die. That is where I was heading, and I knew it. At our official start to The Challenge, I was at 358 and it took me 16:00 to run a mile. The memory of the 8:40 pace for a 5K mocked me.
A few days after we got started, on the anniversary of my Mom’s death, I was at 360. I was on the treadmill, struggling to jog for a minute without stopping. Sweat pouring down my face, legs in pain, air hard to find, I cried. I cried as my heart raced, and for a moment I thought I was going to drop. And then it happened. I wanted to.
The pain was too much to bear, and I thought to myself, “You are going to die right here on this treadmill.” And I let out an audible response: “good.”
I didn’t die. I finished my mile a few seconds faster than the one I had run two days earlier, which was a few minutes faster than that first one. Four days later I was back, and ran it 20 seconds faster. I was sore, there was pain. I started doing more elliptical machine to alleviate the stress on my legs. As I grew faster and stronger I started feeling better about myself. I started tracking my calories again. Profits at the Taco Bell dipped in September. Then one day I looked at the floor of my car. It was littered with VitaWater bottles, the ones I would buy after every workout, instead of paper sacks.
This morning I weighed in at 318. I’m winning The Challenge (We bet dinner. He’s buying regardless. Winner gets to pick the spot). I’ll let you know who wins at Thanksgiving. Here’s the thing, I’m winning no matter what. This has never been about a number, or a weight, or about fitting in my clothes again. I feel so much better. I’m not in pain all the time. My heart doesn’t race any more – except for when I kiss my wife. I feel stronger, more patient, and more efficient. A few weeks ago my family went to a State Park. I was able to hike and climb and play with my girls. My daughter has noticed that I’m in a better mood and not as tired. It’s about making life-giving choices.
Today I was running a 5K on the treadmill, my third this week. My goal in August was to do a 5K in under 36:00 by Thanksgiving (which was the time of that first 5K back in 2012). As the mileage was ticking up toward 3.1, I realized I had a chance to beat that goal a few weeks ahead of schedule. I had to keep up my pace for one more minute without stopping. Sweat pouring down my face, legs in pain, air hard to find, I cried. I cried as my heart raced, and for a moment I thought I was going to drop. And then it happened. I pictured my girls. I decided to run toward them.
The grace of God washed over me, and I thought to myself, “Finish this for them.” I turned the pace up on the treadmill a little faster, and I finished it in 35:40.
My friend John quite possibly saved my life. He got me going. He helped shake me up, and gave me something on which to focus. I don’t really care if I win The Challenge, because no matter where I am at Thanksgiving, I know that I won’t be finished. I stopped believing in “Before” and “After” a long time ago. There is only “Now,” and a future with me in it.
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.” (Frost)