My Exercise History
Now, having lost 100 plus pounds, I am frequently asked about how I exercise. I’ve decided to write a few posts about the way I moved then and the way I move now. The road and the reflection, naturally.
To lose, I ran.
To maintain, I walk. Not particularly fast, not particularly powerfully, and no, not really in a way that most humans would consider graceful.
That last one is unfortunate.
But let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
Years ago, when I set about losing fifty thousand pounds (give or take a pound), I joined the YMCA. I know I’ve told the story before, but if you’ll just…indulge me, I like to repeat myself. Think of me like your Nana.
What was I talking about?
Ah yes, the Y.
So it was 2005, a Saturday morning in June, and I had just arrived home from my sophomore year of college. My best friend and I bought cheap memberships to the local YMCA because, as I was fond of doing every summer, I was planning to transform myself by August’s close and go back to school looking great. I walked into the locker room, knowing that I was the biggest I had ever been, and that’s saying a lot because I had never in my 20 years been anything but big. Not a single day of slender to look back on.
I stepped on the scale, because you know, we all need a starting place, and saw a number I was really not ready for.
That’s two hundred plus sixty plus eight. I’m 5’9,” and though that height is forgiving, it’s not that forgiving.
I can honestly say that I didn’t know if I’d ever actually be able to do it. Lose the weight. I spent my whole life thinking, ‘someday I’m going to do it! Just you wait, and then life will be–perfect.”
But all of a sudden, nearing 300lbs, that canned, prerecorded message wasn’t auto-playing in my head. I saw myself in five years, ten years, only growing bigger, only making the distance between healthy and dying farther.
I suppose I woke up. I blinked, breathed in, and in that one moment at the Y I knew that if I did not start then, if I did not make even one change, that my life might never be what it should. What I wanted it to be.
For the rest of that summer, I took group cardio classes, I used the elliptical, the treadmill, the stair master. I won’t say it was fun, but I will say that like anything new, and like any challenge you embark on, it was exciting at first. I had my best friend with me. Britney Spears was still making music that moved me.
And then, at the end of that 2005 summer, I was 30lbs lighter. I went back to school feeling good about myself. And though I continued to try and eat well, aimed for smaller portions, and maaaaybe walked to classes, I stopped working out. Largely because I never truly liked it.
By December, three months later, I had probably lost another 20lbs, just being moderate about my life. I still enjoyed cocktails and beer and umpteen late night pizzas, because that was a very integral part of college, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. But, overall, maybe I was more mindful. Something told me that two drive through runs within 30 minutes were excessive. Side note: I’m still angry at whatever told me that.
The next month, January, I moved to Rome for the semester to study Italian film. I walked everywhere. No, excuse me, I just need to find my megaphone. Is this thing on? I WALKED Ev-Er-Y-Where.
And when I was done walking to every monument, every antique church, through every piazza, I walked some more.
I suppose I was trying to move as much as possible. I took the stairs when there were escalators available; I walked to class when there were buses; I climbed Mt. Vesuvius on a rainy Tuesday morning when my unbalanced self would have been better suited sitting at its base. And I joined a gym in Rome. You cannot begin to imagine the oddity I was in a little old gym in Trastevere. Me, three middle aged men, four dumb bells, a few weight benches, and a rickety old treadmill, was all that occupied the second floor space. My memories of it are filtered in that grainy, old-timey photo haze, the same dated effect as the photos in my mother’s childhood album. Everything is tinted yellow, blown out from sunlight, dusty almost.
There, in a city, and a country, that doesn’t necessarily believe in formal exercise, I jogged. I worked my way up from walking and jogging for 10 minutes (and half-keeling over) to being able to run for 30 minutes straight. If I close my eyes tight, I can still almost feel the up and down swinging of a body with essentially three filled backpacks of excess strapped to it. That terrible chafing of my thighs. The way pants snuggle up in such an uncomfortable, intimate manner.
Every run felt triumphant, like I was getting there.
I jogged on cobblestones that led to the Colosseum. I cruised by the Vatican and silently nodded to the Pope, who I imagined sitting in that fourth story window, his red velvet slippers propped up on a chez lounge. I took my first bikram yoga class next to St. Peter’s Basilica.
You try doing 26 poses in Italian.
I’d say I probably jogged for 40 minutes every day I was there. And really, really really really, I did taste all the food. Every last gnocchi, every notable gelateria, every slice of pizza from Florence to Rome to Napoli to Capri. It’s a different way of eating there, though. The portions are smaller, the plates too. The elegance of a meal isn’t in the food alone, but in the way one lingers at the table, the way you sit for nearly half a day outside at a wrought iron table to people watch and sip espresso. There’s a purposeful nature to eating. It’s mindful, it’s celebrated, it’s an activity done three times per day. No more. No less.
And between moving around all day and exploring the city, exercising at my dusty little Roma gym, and eating fresh, whole foods- the heart of true Italian cuisine- I left Rome at the end of May 60 lbs smaller.
I stepped off the plane a new person. I felt new. Alive and afire.
It was June again, and I rejoined that old YMCA where I’d spent the previous summer with my best friend. In no time, we were at it again: taking aerobics classes with the rowdiest of fifty-year-olds, Jazzercising, being debaucherous with exercise balls and an open weight room. Laughing. Laughing. Laughing.
I’d almost call it fun.
I said almost.
I lost another twenty pounds over those next few months.
And on the final day of summer, just as I was saying goodbye to my best friend, Sweet sayonara to the Y, and heading back to school for my final collegiate year, I saw a number I didn’t think I’d ever see.
One hundred plus thirty plus five.