Saturday, August 22, 2009

Feeling Thin When You're Still Fat

(Fernando Botero, Ballerina to the Handrail)

Lake Mileage: 5.8k
MP3 Player: Vangelis, Chariots of Fire
Currently Reading: Born Round (Frank Bruni)

I have to say, even at the risk of jinxing my current progress (I'm a superstitious dieter, no question!), that I'm currently at a point where I'm feeling good about what I've accomplished since February. I'm now in the mid-to-low 230's (233 this morning), about 50 lbs. lighter than what I weighed then. That's close to 20% of my worst-case body weight. I feel lighter, I feel thinner. I move more easily and less awkwardly, especially now that solving the running shoe problem has been a major breakthrough on the exercise front. I've gone down several sizes clothes-wise: in the winter I was wearing 42" jeans and 44" khakis from Lands End, now I've dug into the closet and retrieved the 36" jeans and the 38" khakis from 2006-7. People volunteer approvingly that they notice the difference.

The problem is, of course, that in reality I'm nowhere near as thin as I feel. For a 5'8" guy, even an endomorph like me, 233 is still fat. 36" jeans and 38" khakis are still fat clothes. Someone meeting me for the first time would still consider me seriously overweight. I've read any number of books and blogs where a formerly fat guy describes how disgusting and grotesque he was at my current weight, or worse, when he weighed even less than I weigh now. Runners World columnist John "the Penguin" Bingham, whose cheerful embrace of non-elite athleticism I like a great deal, talks about being frightened into weight loss when he weighed 240 - and we're the same height. "I was well past stout. I was rotund," he writes in one of his books. In another he talks about his "ever-widening waist and sagging arms" and describes himself at that time as "a fat cat", as "old and overweight and out of shape." Charlie Hills, whose blog Back to the Fridge I follow and enjoy, talks about the horror of passing 200 lbs. for the first time and makes jokes about hardly being able to see the scale numbers with his gut in the way - but if, oops, when (be positive, people always say) I hit 200 again, I'll be ecstatic. I may faint right there on the scale, in fact.

If a dieter isn't careful, this reality check can take a lot of the gratification out of actual progress. I want to celebrate losing 50 lbs., because it's a big accomplishment. But at the same time, I know that my weight loss so far is only half - and the easier half - of my 100-lb. goal, and even then I'll still be overweight by most people's standards. According to the BMI tables, so far all I've managed to do is go from "Morbidly Obese" to "Obese"! Maybe I shouldn't start celebrating yet.

On the other hand, losing nearly 20% of my body weight is something that a lot of people don't manage to do. And I do in fact feel better, I do in fact move around less effortfully, and I am in fact seriously thinner. If I didn't lose another ounce from today onward, I'd still be healthier living at 233 lbs. than at 284 lbs. And even if other people are still correct when they classify me as fat, that's not the whole story. It's like the stock market - the current price of your shares by itself doesn't matter; what matters is whether that price is higher or lower than what you paid. Maybe my current weight isn't impressive, but compared to where I was, I'm already showing a profit.

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