My desire to regain my manly physique (sans belly) calls to memory my last round with being overweight. Many people have asked me about the battle during the divorce; how I dealt with the emotional pain and managed to overcome the transformation of losing so much weight. I’ve told the story so many times and my recent recollection urged me to put it all down. Perhaps someone out there will find encouragement, and if anything, find some entertainment. But be warned, this piece is 100% honest to goodness, no holes barred, flat out, how it was. I’m a man, words happen. So be warned.
In mid-February of 2005 I decided to begin influencing my future by getting control of my body. Fortunate for me the facility I worked in contained a decent sized gym with a few free weight and a hand-full of aerobic machines, like treadmills.
Nothing really happens over night. There never is a switch that says ‘today I’m going to be different’. Change happens over a period of time and some people just don’t see the clues to adapt in time. My divorce being a prime example. The warning signs were there with my ex-wife, giving my the ultimatum of moving into a smaller house or divorce. Yeah, not a hard choice there. We moved and abandoned a perfectly good home in the hopes of keeping the peace. But that wasn’t good enough. Next it was bankruptcy or divorce. Well shit, we didn’t have anything anyway.
“Now you know Mr. von der Heydt that a bankruptcy stays on your record for seven years,” the lawyer said sliding the papers for us to sign.
“Yeah I know,” I said signing my name, the whole time thinking maybe it’ll keep the wife happy for another seven years. Nothing else seemed to keep her happy.
The house, the bankruptcy, and the fact that she appeared to be in perpetual sour mood were all signs of our marriage changing. And like any good American-blooded male I ignored every single one of them, until the day she announced her leaving me.
The desire to change my appearance became a conscious choice in January when an endowed stylist only took off only one clip of hair. But the changes began much earlier and much smaller. Not liking my appearance I cut my hair shorter. When that didn’t work, I let my goatee grow out as well as the mustache — oh God the ridicule I got. A blond goatee and mustache only creates a shade on the chin and lip, much like a smudge of dirt. Enough to catch the eye, but not enough to define a look, resulting in the common comment. I actually tried to let the goatee grow out during a two week trip to Argentina on business. Larry was the first to notice when I got back.
“You got some dirt on your face. Oh wait, is that a mustache? It is… How cute.”
“If I didn’t need you so bad Larry, I’d fire you ass.” Yeah Larry worked for me. Our relationship went way back — before I even met the ex — so I didn’t let his ridicule dissuade me.
Facial hair wasn’t the only thing that changed with me. Scared to actually work out at my size I started with stretching. The physical trainer, an attractive woman named Allison, took me through a fifteen to twenty minute stretching routine every day. While subjecting me to the pain of pretzel twisting the petite Allison encouraged me to take my fitness to the next level. I finally acquiesced (also known as ‘giving in’) on a cold morning in February.
For my gym apparel I picked the baggiest shorts and a triple extra large tee-shirt with a pair of my old sneakers. Can you tell I wanted to cover my over sized body? I would have used a muumuu if they made them in a masculine print. I hated the way I looked, especially the rolls about the middle. When I stepped on the scale for my starting weight, my fears were realized. The scale teetered around 245 pounds — without my shoes. Allison was quick to notice the dismay in my face.
“Don’t worry about the weight, Kirk. This will be the last time you’ll see that number.”
“So you say.”
“Really. Stay with it and it’ll be off soon.”
Next came the tape measure from the drawer of her desk. My heart sank.
Do we really need to go there, I thought. “What’s that for,” I asked.
“We’re going to measure you waist,” she said unrolling the tape.
“We are?” Like hell we are, I wanted to say. The image of her wrapping her arms around me locked my jaw shut tight. Did I happen to mention that Allison was a petite and attractive female. Any female touching me after three months of celibacy would be a step up.
Measuring a man’s midsection is not like measuring for pants. Oh no, one can’t find the shortest path around. Nope, she managed to trace that tape around the widest parts of my waist. The result turned out to be four inches more than the 42 I used for dress slacks. Had I any ego left at the time, her reading of the measurement crashed it to hell. Luckily, only she and I were in the room at the time, so my shame didn’t filter out to co-workers. If the tape measure wasn’t bad enough, the next thing to come out of the drawer was a box with a massive set of calipers used to check body fat. I knew that, but she didn’t know that.
“And what, pray-tell, are those,”
“These are used to check body fat,” she explained.
“I don’t need those to tell me I’m fat. I know that. Hell, the scale just told us that.”
She went in a dialog explaining that scales were not always accurate and could fluctuate day to day. Weight changes based on a combination of fat and muscle, so the body fat percentage would give us a better scale of my achievements. I knew all this as well. In my twenties, I worked out with a body-builder and physical trainer. It was old news to me, but she looked so cute explaining it all that I wasn’t about to tell her she couldn’t touch me. I’m fat, not stupid.
We stepped into the small room that the gym staff used as an office. Once in ,she pulled the blinds closed and my heart skipped a beat. Maybe I would get lucky. With the door closed she turned toward me.
“Please take off your shirt,” she asked.
My heart skipped another beat. “Huh?”
“Your shirt. I need you to take off your shirt so I can make measurements.”
My hopes plummeted, “Oh.”
The body fat took about ten minutes for the seven point test. Not the best in accuracy, but my stomach flittered nonetheless when her soft fingers pinched at my fat. Moments later, my shirt once more covered my bulk and the door opened. I know the idea of more happening was a dream, but that’s what fantasies are for. Right?
My work out began with the traditional stretch. My mind obsessed on the upcoming event with the treadmill while we went through our routine.
It’s been what four years? Five years? I wondered. I knew the only way to shed the pounds was to get back to running. It worked in the past and would work again, even if I was a decade older. I knew that to burn fat fast the exercise selected needed to incorporate the largest muscles of the body — all in the legs. With the stretching done I walked over to the cardio-area. Every gym, regardless of size, has sweat machines. Even the dinky ones hotels call ‘workout rooms’ have at least one sweat machine.
The most popular of the time was a machine called the elliptical. A torture device said to simulate cross-country skiing while incorporating all major muscle groups in the body. To me the machine requires too much coordination, so I passed. The next most popular, but falling out of favor was the stair-master. In the 90s the master was the must-have for gyms. I admit, I did take to the craze in its hay-day. It’s failure though came from the fact it functioned as designed. People worked up a sweat while butts and thighs screamed in pain. Doomed from day one. The average overweight American wants to feel like they are working out, but don’t want the burn that goes along with it.
My heart, and sweat, remained with the good old treadmill — or dreadmill as I affectionately call them. My dreadmill choice for the day turned out to be a massive industrial machine called the Life-fitness 9500 Platinum with with a 4hp direct drive motor and latest heart monitor gadgetry. If I wasn’t so intimidated I would have been grunting in my best Tim Allan man-call.
“Do you know how to work that, Kirk,” Allison asked.
“Sure I do,” I lied. Fact was, the machine’s displayed contained more buttons than the cockpit of a Boeing 747. Okay, so I exaggerate a little, but it was just as intimidating.
Allison gave a knowing uh-huh before heading back over to the desk. I didn’t fool her, but she let me go. I purposely marched up on the belt and to the display and scanned the multitude of buttons looking for an on switch. I about gave into the unmanly act of asking for help when I noticed a button in the corner labelled “Quick Start”.
Yippee, I wanted to shout, for my manly status would remain intact.
I punched at the button expecting the belt to begin moving. Nothing. The damn thing’s broken, I wondered. Before getting off and moving to the next machine I glanced at the screen.
“Weight = 155” it displayed. Yeah, not since high school.
Figuring the machine meant for me to input my weight I typed in the dreaded number and pressed enter.
“Time = 15 minute.”
Sounds good to me, so I just hit enter.
Another question popped up, followed by another. I kept entering through the freaking questions wondering if what the machine wanted to know for a long start.
Suddenly, the belt jerked into motion, scaring the hell out of me in the process. Had it not been for me holding on to railings, I would have flown out the back. Just to be certain I didn’t embarrass myself too much I looked to the front entrance. Allison and a co-worker were engaged in a conversation, safe for the moment.
More co-workers came into the gym while I did my five minute warm-up. Part of me wanted to crank the puppy up, but another part told me I needed to get back to my desk and give up the fool-hearty endeavor. I compromised by studying the controls while keeping the pace around four mph. After the warm-up it was time to speed it up. My first time running in about five years.
Let me tell anyone that hasn’t been on a treadmill before, there is some coordination required when running on a moving belt a hair over two feet wide and five feet long. The damn thing could have been two inches by five inches for all my difficulty. I’m not sure if the extra weight threw me off or if I am just clumsy. I found myself all over the treadmill, but on the freaking belt. And just for a bit of education, don’t step half off and half on a moving belt. I made the mis-fortune of attempting this — quite by accident mind you. The toe of my left shoe headed to the back of the machine while the heel remind put. This happened right as my right foot came off the belt. I’m not entirely sure how my body reacted, but my stumbling like a fool was the result. By miracle alone I managed to find my balance, accompanied by a few loud bangs from my stomping feet.
I held the hand-rails while doing a check of the room to see if anyone caught the fiasco. The others in the room didn’t notice or were very good at stifling a laugh. After a couple of minutes, I managed to adjust to my extra weight and the moving belt. Being a man I couldn’t help but to start to play with the buttons. The machine could tell me everything about my workout except my core body temperature. Come to think of it, if engineers could come up with a reading that didn’t require a rectal probe I’m sure they will add it. Being distracted by the information being displayed I didn’t happen to notice the “pause” label under one button.
I clicked, the belt stopped, and my momentum carried me forward — right into the display. Lucky for me, I came equipped with extra padding around the middle to minimize the physical injury. The distinct of a snicker came from a cute blonde pumping away on an elliptical.
I know she took note of my stumbling because later I received an email with a video attached. The video showed a polar bear’s altercation with a treadmill. I laughed so hard I nearly fell out of my chair. I could sympathize with that damn bear. I think the video is still out there. Do a YouTube search for polar bear and treadmill, I’m sure you’ll find it.
The blonde’s smile disappeared when I glanced in her direction.
Nice boobs, I thought pressing the pause button once more. The belt began moving and I started running again. Yes, running. Not jogging, trotting, shuffling, or any other word you want to use. Those are all colloquial terms. The fact remains the same, by definition running means that I am moving forward so that only one foot strikes the ground at the time. The format of running was what I was attempting to replicate, even though at a snails pace. I’m only about three minutes into my run when I find the pace setting. Slow. Too slow.
In high school cross country meets were typically three miles in length and I have records of me completing the distance in just under 19 minutes, which I calculated to be about six minutes a mile. The display showed I my pace at 5.5. I bumped that baby up to six and after two minutes I wanted to drop dead. I forced myself to complete a half mile before dropping the speed down to a pace just slightly better than a crawl.
A pain burned its way across my side and I huffed like a two pack a day smoker. My legs were lead heavy with a few pellets in my lungs to counter the balance. I cursed whatever demon possessed me to attempt such foolishness.
No woman will want a fat, balding, old guy, that fucking demon told me.
Shit, I mentally responded. I gulped in a few more breaths of air and adjusted the speed to 3.5 mph to finish out a mile.
Yeah, it hit me right about then too. The difference between speed and pace. The former being distance over a set time and the former time over a set distance. Water caught in my throat when my brain completed the calculation of my high school speed. Six minute miles equates to ten miles per hour, or as I like to call now ‘rabbit speed’. Sixteen years and one hundred extra pounds slowed me down four miles an hour and two and a half miles endurance. If the cute blonde with the bodacious tatas wasn’t sneaking peeks at me I would have cried.