Before I was a fat kid, I was a skinny kid. Until about the age of 10, I was so lanky that my mom had to buy me special slim-sized pants. There’s a picture of me wearing shorts in 4th grade, and you can see that my knobby knees are wider than my thighs. Then, over the summer between 4th and 5th grade, I…expanded.
To this day I still don’t know how it happened. I remember eating a lot that summer, and drinking many milkshakes. Although there wasn’t much junk food in my house, I still never really grew up with healthy eating habits, and neither of my parents were physically active or even advocates of exercise.
I was nerdy, bookish, introverted, and generally averse to sports. So I suppose it was inevitable that an adolescent sweet tooth and not-especially robust metabolism would eventually catch up with me.
As puberty hit, I experienced a massive growth spurt, and by the time I was in 9th grade I stood a little over six-feet tall and weighed around 180 lbs. If I had been a different person, I would have been primed to play varsity football by the age of 15—and believe me, the high school coaches tried. But my geeky nature and body shame from being heavier than almost all my friends just made me want to withdraw from sports and exercise even more.
Although there wasn’t much junk food in my house, I still never really grew up with healthy eating habits.
By the time I was 18, I was a self-assured punk rocker—burying any insecurities I had beneath a veneer of exuberant extroversion. I was emboldened by a community of peers who felt equally alienated from the mainstream. So, at this point I not only despised exercise but actively eschewed it—judging others as “uncool” for playing sports or working out.
That attitude worked for me—for many years. I cultivated my mind and my personality. I had girlfriends. I had other personal and creative successes, so why should I care about being in shape? And as I marched into my late 20s, my eating habits didn’t get any better. Like many 20-something bachelors who are poor and don’t know how to cook, I was eating cheap takeout two to three times a day: egg sandwiches and donuts (yes, AND donuts) for breakfast, burritos for lunch, and Chinese food for dinner.
I was probably consuming 3,000-4,000 calories a day without even realizing it, and that just added up over time. I kept telling myself that my shirts were shrinking in the wash, or that men’s fashion was just trending towards slimmer sizes, but I went from buying large shirts to XL, to XXL.
I had other personal and creative successes, so why should I care about being in shape?
And then my father had a second heart attack. His first? Well, his first happened when I was just 22—and who’s thinking about death when you’re 22? But his second, when I was about to turn 30, was a sobering experience. He thankfully survived it, but his doctors made it clear that the condition was both genetic and exacerbated by poor diet and fitness habits.
It was also made clear to me that I could be at risk later on if I followed the path I was currently on. I realized it was time for me to get serious about my own health, and when I finally stepped on a scale at a gym—at the age of 28—I discovered I weighed 270 lbs. The last time I had weighed myself (around age 21), I was 215. Reality check-mate.
I knew I needed to develop some healthy habits, like cutting out fast food and creating a workout routine, but I didn’t know where to begin. I had literally spent my whole life avoiding exercise; I was clueless about what kind of workout I should do, or even how to do it, or what constituted a “healthy meal.” So I did two things: First, I started researching. I read articles, books, blogs—all critically, and fact-checking and second-opinion-ing until my head hurt.
Second, I saved my pennies and hired a personal trainer. Nothing fancy—I joined a cheap local chain and bought one of their intro packages—but it literally changed my life.
It was made clear to me that I could be at risk later on if I followed the path I was currently on.
Through that trainer, I tried boxing—and through boxing I found an exercise I actually enjoyed. It made me want to get stronger, faster, and lighter. I eventually found a trainer who specialized in boxing, and then I went from working out two-three times a week to five times a week.
A few years later I started running, and I trained for a 5k. By the time I was in my mid-30s I was running two miles to the gym, working out for an hour, then running two miles home. I was eating healthy, whole foods, without utilizing any crash or fad diets. Just exercise and sensible eating (and yes, I still enjoyed drinks here and there). Sometimes I even exercised on the weekends. I lost 60 pounds!
They say that the best exercise is the one you enjoy, and that’s absolutely true. It took me nearly 30 years to find one I enjoyed, but once I did it opened up a new world for me. Through boxing, I learned to love other workouts too: weightlifting, running, pushups. These days, I even coach some of my friends on how they can introduce exercise into their lives.
They say that the best exercise is the one you enjoy, and that’s absolutely true.
Nowadays, I don’t dread the idea of going to the gym and I no longer judge others for taking care of their bodies. I look forward to creating the time for myself to work out, too.
Maybe what you’ll love is yoga, or pilates, or biking, or swimming, or even dancing! The point is that it’s never too late to find an enjoyable way to become active, and to make that part of your lifestyle. If you can find an activity that you love, exercise doesn’t have to be about discipline—it can be all about reward.