Sunday, February 1, 2015

What Got Me Off the Couch: Mike Graziano's Story

This is the first in what I hope to turn into a series. Regular Guy Mike Graziano has written about his experiences making a commitment to being fit and living his life. If you'd like to share your story, too, let me know! --Andrew

I was listening to the radio one day when I came across a psychologist talking about how incredibly resistant most folks are to change, even when it would obviously benefit them. Pardon the analogy -- it's hers, not mine -- but she asked her listeners to picture a wooden shack on short stilts. A group of people lives inside, but there are no toilets. So the people relieve themselves through open slats between the floorboards. The overwhelming majority of people, according to the therapist, will continue on this way until the crap piles high enough to overflow into the room. And even then some people still won’t change their behavior, but instead just adjust to living with crap in their lives.

For several years, from my late 30s into my early 40s, I was super fit. I mean I was probably in the top 2 or 3 percent for my age group. I’d run 5.5 miles during my lunch hour and finish in under 40 minutes. Sometimes I’d play basketball that night and run with guys 15 years my junior until they were winded. I could bench press my weight, usually 8 to 12 reps, once as high as 18 times.

Then something happened. Or a lot of things happened. Life got busier. My father got sick, then my mother, and both needed lots of care. Then Dad died, then Mom. In between I got married to a wonderful woman who is great in the kitchen. My knees started to bother me and I stopped running, without taking up bicycling or swimming. Inertia set in and, along with it, a very sedentary lifestyle. And the less I moved, the hungrier I became.

Of course I'd take occasional hikes with my dogs, and even have spurts where I'd hit the gym with some consistency for a few weeks or so. Still, the numbers trended in the wrong direction. My weight would hit a new high and it would become my new normal.

In just over five years, I managed to put on a whopping 60 pounds! I found myself with 220 pounds on my 5'8" frame. And it was decidedly not "mostly muscle."

All along, there were indignities sprinkled in. I visited a hip surf shop in St. Maarten and was told by the cute shopkeeper, in her French-accented English, that I wouldn't find anything there. Back home, I began to buy "big pants" on the cheap, because I'd convinced myself that I'd wear them only until I lost some weight, then I'd donate them to charity. Except the big pants got tighter and I had to buy even bigger ones. A close friend whom I confided this to took great delight in calling me "Big Pants Mike" in front of co-workers and acquaintances. (He’s no longer my friend.) I overheard another coworker -- a woman -- describe me as "round." Once while loading up my plate at a holiday buffet, I overheard a stranger say, "I guess his wife won’t have to feed him for a while."

Still, the crap wasn’t high enough for me. I continued to search for the perfect premium burger. I became basically addicted to french fries, and once I'd had my fill of those, I'd get an intense craving for something sweet. Cookies or ice cream would usually do the trick -- and often it was both. I became an elite-level binge eater.

The bottom came for me with three events that took place over two weeks. First, I saw a picture of myself at a party and was shocked at how big --  no, how FAT -- I had become. Then my wife had a heart-to-heart with me about my health. I clearly had sleep apnea and was tired all the time. Finally, I was cleaning up some old pictures on my computer and I saw some from when I was fit. I looked great. I looked happy. And suddenly it dawned on me -- why the $%&# was I allowing me to do this to me?!?

The light bulb went off: no more excuses, no more seeing only the numerous obstacles to getting back in shape. It was time. So I began slowly to get back into it. No more junk food, which to my surprise, I no longer missed after only a few days. I started walking again for 20 to 30 minutes at a clip. Re-acquainted myself with the gym in my apartment building -- talk about no excuses! -- and worked the elliptical for 25 minutes, on Level 3. Soon I will work the weights back in, doing circuit training to keep my heart rate up and burn fat. I'm feeling better and getting stronger, but the progress is slow. The pounds aren't exactly melting off, and the inches are even more stubborn. No doubt about it, it's a tough slog when you’re north of 40. But I’m also going to do more hiking, which is a pleasure for me. And I will search until I find something else physical that I enjoy. (Sadly the basketball days are behind me -- my knees told me so.)


Despite the lost years and the tough road ahead of me, I'm as optimistic as I've ever been. The key for me was finally realizing I didn't have to live with overflowing crap in my life. When did the light bulb go off for you?

1 comment:

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