False MirrorI’ve entered this weird state of limbo. I’m having a hard time defining my self-image because I don’t have my usual reference points. I’ve been through the South Beach program, I’m cycling more than ever, clothes are hanging off of me, yet my scale doesn’t yield. I seem to be hovering at the same weight even though by every indication, I appear to be losing weight. Couple that with other changes in my life and it’s become more and more difficult for me to “size myself up”.
At the prime age of 36, I had reached the pinnacle of my portliness and so I decided to do something about it. I was tired of having to move up a size every time I went shopping for new clothes. I was tired of my current clothes getting smaller and smaller. I had begun a little bit of excising at the gym during 2003, but I wasn’t really committed to it. So at the start of 2004, I got on the South Beach diet and kicked my exercise into high gear.

I lost some weight and my clothes were getting loose again. As I added more cycling to my workouts, I added back more and more carbs and sugars because my body needed them. As things currently stand, I’m out of phase 3 and have been for awhile, but my clothes still kept getting bigger, so I didn’t mind. If it wasn’t for that darn scale not budging, I probably wouldn’t be thinking twice about it, but as I look at the television and see football players who are taller than me and weigh less than me, I can’t help but think that I’m a long way from where I want to be. Am I really losing my love handles if the scale won’t budge? Am I still fat?

How we perceive ourselves is one of the most relative things in the world. There are hugely obese people that think they are super-sexy and there are anorexic people who think their fat. So it’s obvious that a person’s self image is not based on what is reflected in the mirror. My self image has changed several times over the years and I’ve never really settled into a comfortable grasp of what my true self looks like.

The Lean Years
Growing up, I was the smallest and skinniest kid in the neighborhood. (I was also very quiet, but that’s a whole other story. 🙂 ) I was always at the top of the pyramid in gym class, even if the pyramid had girls in it. As a result, I grew up with a self-image that I was small. I didn’t like it, but I at least knew where I stood. Every kid growing up wants to be bigger, but when you’re the smallest to resign yourself to your station in life. As I entered Junior High, I had taken up soccer and as a result, my legs became quite developed, but I was still fairly small. In high school I wrestled at the 98lb weight class, (insert your favorite 98lb weakling joke here) and by my sophomore year, I had only moved up to the 105lb division. Even though I was up a few pounds, I lacked the real strength to wrestle at that level, so when I started trying to lose weight to stay in a lower class, I realized it was time to leave the sport. Over the next few years, I continued to grow a little bit, but I stayed fairly lean due to all the soccer I was still playing. When I graduated from high school I think I weighed 135lb. I was taller and larger than I was in grade school, but in my head I was still the little runt.

The Tween Years
In college, my activity level diminished greatly. I was doing a lot of studying and practicing, but not a lot of exercise. Not only that, but in December of my senior year in high school, I broke both my knees in a freak accident, so I wasn’t playing soccer anymore. About the only exercise I was getting was riding my bicycle to and from class. Due to a more sedentary lifestyle, I started to fatten up a little bit.

I was eating like I had always eaten – whatever I wanted. In my youth, my Mom was always trying to fatten me up. For example, she’d always serve me the richest milk she could find – Klienpeter Guernsey Gold. Man, just thinking about that milk makes me drool. That stuff was one step removed from cream and oh so freakin’ good! Ahem. Excuse me, I digress. I also had a propensity for drinking a lot of Coca-Cola and coupled with my unfettered diet, I was losing my shape. I was getting a belly and getting some love handles, but in my mind I was still the scrawny little runt. I was now taller than some of my old school mates that used to loom over me in grade school, but I still thought of myself as a small person. I simply didn’t see the changes.

It took me a few years, but eventually I began to see myself more clearly in the mirror. It became hard to ignore my additional weight and I decided to do something about it. I started riding my bike a lot more and I began working out at the gym. I was dating Holly at the time and she’d meet me at the Wallbanger (yes that was the name of the gym. Racquetball was all the range at that time.) to do some aerobics and weight training with me. My Mom was working out with us too and thanks to a great instructor, we became hooked on the workouts. We were all doing Weight Watchers and coupled with the exercise, we were all seeing good results.

Low-Fat was all the rage at the time and I have to say that during that time I was the leanest I’ve ever been. I had zero love handles and I felt great. I should have taken more pictures, but I can only recall ever seeing one and I looked great if I do say so myself. This new lean me was a whole new discovery. I was skinny again and it felt like a homecoming. I may have been a little taller, I was now my final height of 5′ 10″, but my self-image of a runt was still in my head.

The Heavy Years.
After graduating from College, I went on a 6-month bicycle tour of Europe and put back a little weight. With a diet consisting of only the cheapest food I could find, it wasn’t hard to put a little back on. Even though I was cycling all day, every day, when you only eat canned Ravioli, or peanut butter, you’re going to gain weight. Yet, other than a little bit of a belly, the rest of me was fairly lean.

That all changed when I began working at the LHBA-SIF. I had a boss that was the worst crazy maker you’ve ever seen in your life. Working for him, I pulled more all-nighters than I ever have in my life. I almost lived behind my desk and spent many a night sleeping for an hour or two behind it. During a major transition, I lost an entire year of my life to that job. I think the only time I went home was to shower, change clothes, and head back to the office. With this insane lifestyle, my diet was mostly fast food, with an occasional fancy meal when entertaining clients. I was doing zero exercise.

After 4 or so years, I left that job to start my own consulting firm. That was a busy time as I tried to be everything to everybody and build my fledgling little business. My habits from LHBA-SIF hadn’t changed much and so my waistline continued to expand. I tried several diets, but none of them really worked because I wasn’t putting the time in with exercise and wasn’t really changing my habits.

As time passed and I continued to look at myself in the mirror, it became clear that I was no longer the skinny runt that I had in my mind’s eye. I wasn’t little or skinny anymore. What I saw instead was my old me buried under a blanket of fat. Yet, it took years for me to see that picture clearly. My mind kept reflecting back my old self and so I would resolve that things were really that bad and that I had only put on a little weight. When I finally did see through the lie that my brain was telling me, it was all too clear – I was fat.

This point was drilled home when I went to go buy a suit for a pa1m0ne Zire launch party in New York. I went to the mall determined to buy something that fit, regardless of the size. Still not sure if I was seeing my true self, I called my mother to give me her opinion. She showed up a few minutes later and confirmed that I had made a good choice and that the clothes did indeed fit. The numbers stunned me. My coat was a 48R, up from my usual 44 and the most astonishing number was my waist size – a 44. In high school I was a 32 at most.

Time For A Change
That was in October 2003, by January I had done all the research on what diets were out there and had decided on the South Beach Diet. I made a concerted effort to stick to the plan and saw that it was working. During Phase One, I would go to the scale almost every day and see the pounds coming right off. It was fantastic! I hadn’t begun working out heavily, but the weight was still coming off. As I entered Phase 2 the weight loss slowed somewhat, but I was still losing weight. This was to be expected and the book clearly stated that this would happen. I was still losing weight, but not as dramatically as the first two weeks, when I was in Phase 1, had been.

Then I kicked things up another notch when I began cycling a lot and working out harder at the gym. I had to start adding some PowerBars and other supplements to the diet, because I found my body responding poorly after a long workout. For example, I would ride the 12 miles to the gym on my bicycle, do about an hour of weights, and then ride the 12 miles back. As I made the big climb to my house, I found myself getting a little light headed. So I simply added ate a Clif Bar on the way there and on the way back. That gave my body the energy it needed without breaking the diet too bad.

Unfortunately, I slowly began to slide off of the diet. I was justifying my poor decisions off of the fact that I was working out so much. Riding almost every day gave me the excuse to eat a Snickers bar here or there, or so I told myself. Even though I was off the wagon, I was still eating healthier than I ever had in my life. That’s the good thing about South Beach, even if you think diets are all bunk, or simply a fad, you can’t help but come away from this diet with a healthier lifestyle. Eating more vegetables and better carbs isn’t a bad side effect.

Now In Limbo
So 8 months after I started getting healthier, I’m now in a state of limbo. I know that I’m healthier and thinner than I was 8 months ago, but because of that blasted scale, I’m not sure where I stand. It hasn’t budged in months. I know that you’re not supposed to factor the scale into your feelings of success, but it’s hard not to when that is the one scientific measurement that can give you conclusive proof that you’re indeed succeeding on the diet.

So I’ve focused on other things, like the hang of my clothes. For starters, all of my new clothes are too big. I’ve even begun wearing clothes that had become too small from a few years back. THAT’S a good feeling. When I was packing recently for a wedding, I put on the last suit that I purchased and a stunned at how big it was. It looked as if I was a child wearing his daddy’s coat. That was some of the best validation that I could have had. It may not have been scientific, but it was certainly definitive and visible.

Sparked by that success, I started thinking about what other clothes I might be able to fit into now. If my fat clothes were too big, could I fit into my skinny clothes? The only hurdle with that has been the fact that I don’t have any of my skinny clothes around any more. I had long given up hope of wearing them ever again and gave most of them to Goodwill. In getting ready for the BRAT ride, I came across my old rain gear. I had purchased this rainwear when I was my skinniest, back before I took the Europe bicycle trip. If I could fit into this, then I was seriously near my goal. I may not be at the imagined weight that I wanted the scale to read, but if I could fit into clothes that I wore back in college, then that was a huge step.

I put on the pants first and was jumping for joy that they fit. I took them off, looked at the label and saw that they were a Large. That was a good first step, so I tried on the jacket. It fit in the shoulders, but when I went to zip it up, I looked like a sausage, it was still too small. The fact that I could even zip it up was a good, but just not the final goal I was looking for. When I took off the jacket, I looked at the label, I was blown away – it was a medium! I was happy just to be wearing a large after years of wearing an extra-large, to think that I was inching closer to a medium was beyond my wildest dreams.

What Does The Future Hold?
I’m happy with the progress that I’ve made thus far this year. I’ve made huge strides not only in losing weight, but also in changing my diet to a more healthy one. The biggest thing I’ve learned though is that it takes time – a LOT of time to lose weight. It took me 20 years to put on all this weight, so it shouldn’t surprise me that it won’t all come off in 3-months. It’s been 8 thus far and the fact that I can now wear my bomber jacket, something I wore in college, is a great piece of encouragement.

I’m still a little bit confused when it comes to my self-image. I’m not “skinny Mike”, but clearly I’m not “fatso Mike” either. I must be somewhere in between. This is a new place for me and one that I’m slowly growing more accustomed to. However, I don’t plan on staying here. I want that scale to go down, so I’ll start up with South Beach again in a few days. The plan clearly works and getting back on track with it is the best way I know to continue dropping the weight. I may not know exactly where I am physically right now, but I know where I’m going. The fact that these baby steps are taking me there is enough to keep me marching forward.