The goal is not to lose weight. The goal is to prolong survival. I like being alive and I want to be alive for as long as possible. Living a largely sedentary lifestyle and eating garbage food is counter-productive to that goal. In this post, I will dig deep into my past to figure out where, when and how I became overweight.
Growing up, I wasn’t completely inactive. I routinely played street hockey, backyard football, baseball and soccer, driveway basketball, and rode my bike all over the neighborhood. I played two seasons on a soccer team and played intramural indoor soccer and hockey in elementary school. I’m not exactly sure when I became overweight, but I do know that it started in elementary school and I feel like it happened very fast. I remember myself and another overweight kid in the neighborhood proudly comparing stomach sizes (crazy, right?) when I was in 5th grade or so. I didn’t stop playing sports with the neighborhood kids until 8th or 9th grade. I was definitely fat and out of shape by 7th and 8th grade, yet I still “ran” on the school cross country team for two seasons, played tennis after school for a while, and tried my hand throwing shot put and discus on the track team. Looking back, being part of the cross country team was one of the most influential group activities I did growing up (along with marching band). Even though I wasn’t able to truly run most of the courses, and ended up finishing second to last every meet (the kid who always got lost came in last), I always made sure to run hard the last stretch before the finish line. I very much wish I tried harder to be more physically fit back then. It’s almost 20 years later and I’m finally able to run the way I should have back then. When I run, I constantly think about cross country and the kids who cheered me on at the finish line and the encouragement they gave me. At the finish line of the half marathon I ran earlier this year, I had intense flashbacks to every finish line I crossed in cross country. I felt like I was 14 again, except this time I wasn’t fat and I just ran 13.1 miles when before, I couldn’t run 1.
So what caused me to gain weight so early on and for most of my life? I feel like I was active enough with outdoor activities, so it must have been my diet. School lunches from middle school onward were garbage, with most days consisting of pizza or a chicken-like patty on a bun with a packet of mayonnaise on it and a side of either tater tots or pasta with red sauce. Then after lunch, I’d often frequent the vending machine for a bag of BBQ potato chips. After school, there was usually a can of Cherry Coke. I don’t remember eating breakfast on most days, but I remember sometimes having a bowl of sugary cereal with skim milk, or a glass of tang and toast with jelly, or a fried egg with toast and orange juice. Dinners I remember being usually a chicken breast with some sort of vegetables, so that was relatively healthy. Unfortunately, evening snacks were frequent while watching TV. I’d usually have my favorite snack of a bowl of pretzels that I’d dip in a side of “cheese fondue” which was melted Velveeta cheese and milk. I’d frequently take the whole container of pretzels and eat from it while mindlessly watching TV late in the evening before bed time. Weekend breakfast was nonexistent and lunch was often a grilled cheese sandwich or a fast food place at the mall or elsewhere. Dinner Sunday at my grandma’s house was a big meal usually with plenty of dessert. It clearly did not matter how active I was outside. My diet easily negated any and every physical activity I took part in.
Whose fault was it, then? I didn’t have the wisdom or understanding of nutrition to be able to blame myself. I feel like my family simply didn’t know better. It would be easy to blame them for allowing me to eat such a sugar-filled breakfast and so many evening snacks. I feel like it was more so the result of no one in my life understanding nutritional science and no effort from the media, education system or social initiatives to teach it. Everyone back then was taught to follow the food guide pyramid, to lower fat intake, and to get exercise and that was the end of it. If you were fat after you followed all of the recommendations, it was simply out of your control. The schools should have definitely put a stop to the shitty food and vending machines in order to curb any sort of impulse to eat garbage during the day. I remember a study released in the early 2000s which indicted apple juice as a cause for obesity. When I was a toddler, I’m told I drank a decent amount of apple juice, so when my parents saw the study, they said “ah-hah! That must have been it!” But it was so much more.
Retrospectively, almost everything I ate growing up was unhealthy and I ate way too much, yet no one seemed to know better. My becoming overweight so early on was a result of a complete failure in nutritional education and enforcement from all sides. I now am armed with much more knowledge and the fortitude to live better through a mostly healthy diet and a lot of exercise (which I’ll talk about in length in a future post).
My goal is this: For the rest of my life, I will try to live as healthily as possible through good nutrition and exercise, thereby prolonging my life. Additionally, I will try to help others by encouraging the same lifestyle while informing them of nutritional science behind it. Weight loss is just a side-effect.