What fitness has taught me about the human condition

Learning about myself through my weight loss journey

CJ's weight loss journey taught him about more than just macros.
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I’ve been overweight for most of my life.

I was a bookish, geeky kid who stayed indoors, raised by an indulgent, foodie mother. My weight issues weren’t mysterious to anyone, especially me. This framed my adolescence and early adulthood in the usual ways.

I won’t bore you with stories of how I was cruelly bullied and or left out of vain dating culture during my childhood and teen years. I’m not interested in soothing my wounds or discussing how a fat boy was made.

Instead, I want to focus on how a fat boy is being unmade.

I’ve been trying to lose weight in an uneven, sporadic fashion since Grade 10 with varying degrees of success. University life, which brought lots of stress, led to late-night snack runs, drinking, throwing back Red Bull, and bad sleeping patterns. As you might expect, this was reflected in the number on the scale.

I realized something needed to change when strangers started calling me “big guy”—a passive-aggressive swipe every overweight guy knows too well. In the last two years, I’ve managed to lose, and keep off 40 pounds. I had the most success with intermittent fasting and spending my summers as a gym rat.

I realized something needed to change when strangers started calling me “big guy”—a passive-aggressive swipe every overweight guy knows too well.

I’ve come to embrace that healthy self-criticism is vital to a happy life and personal growth. I’ve learned that pursuing health and wellness isn’t always sweet and painless. Just as a flu shot or a mouthful of bitter cough syrup can be medically necessary, harsh truths can be necessary to stave off toxic and self-destructive behaviours.

The first step for me has been coming to terms with my bad habits, one of which is neglecting to plan ahead. I often have no thought for tomorrow: I procrastinate, I chase deadlines, I overspend, and I overeat. These vices are ruining my life and curtailing my success and happiness. It’s hard to admit, but there it is.

One time, I was clearing out my old laptop of Word documents before I sold it on Kijiji. I started to poke through old assignments. I kept finding assignments that could have been improved if I didn’t rush deadlines through better grammar and stronger arguments. I felt disappointed and embarrassed over my lost opportunities. A few marks lost for sloppiness here and there could have made the difference between getting a “B” or an “A.” It made me realize that I’m amazingly fortunate to be attending university, and that not putting my best effort in is selfish and stupid.

Unabashedly acknowledging my problems has been the first step to addressing them for me. Now, when I fall into my vices and bad habits, like soda binging or frivolous spending, I try not to kick myself but work out what went wrong and adjust for future success.

I’ve also realized throughout the last couple of years that I know too little about myself and what I really want. I had assumptions and misapprehensions about what I liked, what I wanted, and what I thought I was capable of. I thought I hated exercising, healthy food, and fitness culture, but once I started to push myself out of my comfort zone, I started to embrace new passions and pastimes.

I thought I hated exercising, healthy food, and fitness culture, but once I started to push myself out of my comfort zone, I started to embrace new passions and pastimes.

I started to look forward to long walks, gym sessions, and meditation. I started admiring professional athletes and began to see the planning, effort, and knowledge it takes to progress physically. I watch mixed martial arts now, which is something I had no interest in in the past. I like Brussels sprouts, green tea, and cooking, which I would never have embraced if it wasn’t for an active self-improvement regimen.

Throughout my weight loss journey, I’ve discovered that I’m more than the sum of my parts.

I think far too many people take too much comfort in blaming their shortcomings on things beyond their control. People are too eager to abdicate responsibility for their failures, pointing to society, genetics, or family history, though they would never admit that’s what they’re doing.

I used to fall back on my family’s history of alcoholism, which I would quip was the ‘Irish curse,’ to justify drinking excessive amounts of pop. “At least I’m not boozing,” I would say to console myself as I downed two litres or more of soda a day. Addictive personalities run in families, I would think, so I should be happy that my ‘drug’ of choice is relatively safe and legal.

I used to fall back on my family’s history of alcoholism, which I would quip was the ‘Irish curse,’ to justify drinking excessive amounts of pop. 

I’m trying, often desperately, to not think of myself as a victim of circumstance: a mix of social forces, global and family history, and biology.

Even so, I’m prone to thinking that my personality, habits, and behaviours are pre-written like a string of computer code. This idea scares me more than I can sufficiently articulate, but I refuse to believe it: I’m more than the sum of my parts.

This is what I’m trying to learn. I too often shirk these lessons and drift from my goals and my better nature. I’m a deeply flawed human being, but I think that there’s dignity and honour in confronting your demons for the sake of your better angels—and that’s what I’m trying to do.

While I am proud of the progress I’ve made over the years, I’m far from finished. So many weight loss inspiration stories around the Internet are from people who have reached their summit. I certainly haven’t reached mine, but my view from the battle might be more honest and heartening than the view from a war won.

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