NEW ALBANY — A few weeks ago, I got a phone call from Bill Hanson, my publisher. He'd already left the office for the day, and given our vastly different schedules, I was still getting ready for the bulk of my shift. After we got done discussing something or other about the paper, Bill said to me, "Matt, I've been thinking about you."
"What's on your mind, Bill?" I replied.
Bill asked me if I'd like to get back in shape. He has contacts at the Floyd County YMCA, he tells me, and if I'd be willing to share my fitness journey with the public (like now), then he'd set me up with a gym membership, a dietitian and a personal trainer. It didn't take long for me to get back with him and agree. One Facebook post about our conversation generated around 20 posts worth of peer pressure.
When I tell people I'm the sports editor of the newspaper, the usual reaction is, "Oh, really? That's cool!" Well, it's got its perks, but there are a few major downsides to it, as well. You work a weird shift. I usually show up at work between 4-5 p.m. and I don't get off until around midnight most nights. I wake up around 1 p.m. and I go to sleep around 5 a.m. Nothing's open when I get off work. Most of my friends are still asleep. It's just me. As a result, I've developed some really bad habits over the past year or so.
I don't cook for myself very often anymore. I used to love to cook, but part of what I loved about it is that it's a social thing. You cook meals for your friends, your family, your significant other. These days, I usually eat out, and when you're getting off work at midnight, there's only a few places that are still serving dinner. None of them are much good for you, from a health standpoint. I usually go for cheap and convenient.
It's funny how the healthier something is, the more it costs.
I only eat about two meals per day, and when I eat, I usually go for the big meal that's going to keep me full. I don't go out for dinner when I'm at work most nights, usually opting to work through my shift and just head out for a bite when the job is done. I'm getting the sense that this has played a role in my metabolism not quite doing its job so well anymore.
The fact is, I've put on a lot of weight since I started this job. I wasn't exactly fit when I started, but any semblance of fitness went out the window.
Anyhow, I don't have any numbers for you yet. I don't know how much I weigh at this point — fat people who don't plan on doing anything about it don't tend to like owning scales. I just know that I've gone from comfortably wearing XXL shirts at 6-foot-3 to wearing XXXL shirts and not feeling 100-percent comfortable in them. My waist size is a 46, and I'm pretty sure I was squeezing into 42s at the end of 2010, when I first took the job.
It's not fair to blame it all on the job. It's on me. That's projection. I'm making excuses, sure. But in my defense, my excuses are really good.
I haven't always been overweight. Yes, I was the fat kid growing up. Yes, I was chubby in high school. But in my early 20s, I battled down from 320 pounds to 205, and then I slaved away in the gym to get back up to 240. I wasn't doing it the healthy way all the time (ever hear of ephedra?), but at least I did it. I won't do it that way this time. I'm pretty sure it would give me a heart attack where I am right now.
So this blog is going to detail where I'm at, what I'm doing to make it better and the challenges along the way. I hope that if you're reading this, you find something in here that inspires you to improve your lifestyle. Maybe you'll turn off the computer, bring the blog up on your smart phone and read it while you take a walk around the neighborhood. It's nice out. I hear fall is about to begin or something.
— I met the crew that will be helping me last week. Julie Callaway, the Floyd County YMCA's senior wellness director, introduced me to personal trainer Allison Hilles and dietitian Stephany Gholston. We went over my goals, my concerns and what's to come.
In addition to having a weight problem and terrible eating habits, I smoke. We decide that quitting's a priority, but it can wait. I've been smoking since I was 18, and getting hooked on tobacco is a mistake I've regretted for years. I know it can't be doing me any favors, healthwise. My wallet's certain it's not helping me with money. Still, changing my eating habits, starting a workout routine and quitting all at the same time? Believe me, my co-workers do not want me to attempt all three of these at once. It would be ugly.
— Stephany and I met again today. I told her about my eating habits, and she decided that it's likely that I'm taking in too many calories during my meals, that my meals aren't frequent enough, and that I probably need to have a few snacks duing the day that don't begin with a "D" and end with an "oritos." Still, she wants me to have more snacks every day, so I'm attentive and engaged during this meeting.
Among the other things we determine:
- My current daily fruit intake of zero servings should probably increase to two or three per day.
- I need to eat smaller portions during meals. It's at this point that I start wondering what the difference is between a "meal" and a "snack."
- She tells me that I should probably keep stuff like nuts and raisins in my car. I'm OK with this, but groan with disappointment when I learn that the trail mix they sell at gas stations is probably not OK.
- She tells me that orange juice is OK, but only about 8 ounces at a time. I find this lame.
- We cover all of the foods I won't eat. I'm super picky. She finds it amusing, but I get the feeling that she's unimpressed.
During the course of the conversation, we get off-topic a few times (which is common in conversations involving me). I stump her on questions about whether carbonization of protein during open-fire grilling can have adverse health complications and whether baby carrots are really mutated and evil. She shocks me by telling me about — and then producing — something called a kiwi spoon. It looks like a spoon you'd use to feed an infant, except the handle's actually a serrated knife. I don't know whether to be amused or horrified. Then we steer the conversation back to relevance.
Perhaps the most shocking thing I learn is that my target goal for daily sodium intake is now about 2,300 mg per day. That sounds like a lot. It's not.
Together, Stephany and I construct my first shopping list. It looks something like this:
FRUITS AND VEGETABLES — Apples, oranges, onions, celery, carrots, garlic, edamame, sweet potatoes, russet potatoes.
GRAINS — Whole-grain bread, whole-grain crackers.
DAIRY — Two-percent milk shredded cheddar cheese, string cheese, one-percent milk, block cheese, yogurt.
PROTEIN — Pork chops, chicken breasts, lean ground beef (>92 percent lean), natural peanut butter.
Time to go shopping.
— I hit the grocery store after work tonight. By the way guys, I won't be giving plugs unless I get free stuff. So let's say I also shopped at the Floyd County YMCA. Yep. After midnight, shopping at the YMCA. That's how I roll.
First stop? Produce. I grabbed a couple of big sweet potatoes, a few russet potatoes, a bag of red onions, a couple of red delicious apples, a head of garlic, some celery hearts and a bag of miniature carrots. I still wonder if these things are grown in a vat, but they taste good so I go with it. I plan on baking the russet potatoes. The sweet potatoes, I'll probably slice up and roast on a baking sheet with chopped onions and garlic, with just a drizzle of olive oil (which Stephany says is OK). The celery is bland, but I'll come up with something. I have no idea where to find the edamame. I guess I'll go back before work some day.
Just down from the produce is the meat, where I locate the lean ground beef. Sticker shock sets in. I can get about three pounds of 80/20 chuck for the price I'll pay for one pound of the healthy stuff, which I think is just awful. But I suck it up. Pork chops are definitely more cost effective, while the chicken is somewhere in between. I've got a great recipe for the pork chops involving apples, sweet potatoes and onions, which I'll probably share when I get back into my cooking routine. Chicken is pretty easy, so I'm sure I'll figure something out.
For the dairy, I grab my milk, some organic string cheese, some organic cheddar cheese (made partially with skim milk, so I bet it's not that great) and five cups of Greek yogurt. Dannon's Oikos brand is on sale for a buck a cup, so I grab five strawberry-flavored packages.
Finally, I hit the grains, starting with a loaf of whole-wheat bread. I can spread peanut butter on it for a quick snack, or I can toast it up and... I dunno. Put peanut butter on it? I'm going to have to do some research on it. I also grab a box of Fiber One cereal, which I've cleared with Stephany ahead of time, although she's warned me that portion sizes on cereal are only like 3/4 a cup per serving. I might want to get some smaller bowls to make it look less pathetic when I pour it out. She says it works for her with ice cream. My dietitian has a sweet tooth.
More grains: A box of low-sodium Triscuits (they actually are low) and four different flavors of oatmeal for breakfasts (all low in calories and sodium).
One thing that strikes me is how much sodium is in almost everything I'm buying in a box. While I'm looking at pasta sauces (whole grain pasta's OK, says Stephany), I notice a jar that proclaims it's "heart healthy." I glance at the label on the back, and there's 350 mgs per serving! That's about 15 percent of my daily allowance, just in a sauce. Annoyed, I look at the back of one of the non-heart-healthy varieties, and the sodium shoots up to 450. I'm incredulous. I don't buy any pasta sauce. Instead, I buy a tub of pre-made basil-garlic pesto and move on.
Maybe I'll put it on bread. Pesto sandwich.
I'll keep thinking.
I loop back around looking for a block of cheese to put on my crackers, and instead end up buying a tub of hummus. Finally, on my way to checkout I grab a pack of low-sodium taco seasoning for the ground beef and some flour tortillas, which only have 100 calories per serving. Burritos are totally OK on this diet if I do this right.
When I got home, I decided to eat one of the Greek yogurt cups. It's way firmer than regular yogurt, which is good because it makes it more filling. The side of the package said there were strawberries in there, but it was more like they took one strawberry, smooshed it into oblivion and added some sundae topping. It doesn't taste that bad, but there's not enough strawberry to cover up the tartness of the yogurt.
Overall, it's been a pretty educational day. The first day of dieting begins in earnest, and I'll be trying to take it easy on eating out too often. Stephany made a list of meal suggestions for different fast-food joints, so I'll probably give one of them a shot. Most of them involve salads and grilled chicken sandwiches, so it'll be a change of pace.
I know this won't be easy. I'm looking at a refrigerator full of stuff that represents a radical change in my habits. I'm OK with it. I just need to dedicate myself, listen to the advice the experts provide and be honest with myself about my goals. The time for excuses — even good excuses — is over.