I climbed on the treadmill feeling physically worn out but mentally proud of myself for getting to the gym. Then I ran, lasting for about five minutes before a cramp in my right abdomen started strong and got worse.
Now, I’ve fought off “side stitches” many times in the past. The key: exhale on the foot strike opposite of the pain. But this time, that fail-safe advice didn’t work for me. I kept pushing. But half way into my planned half-hour run, the pain was doubling me over. The guy on the treadmill next to me started looking at me like I was “that guy”—you know, the one shouting too loud while he bench presses or sweating so much a pool is forming under his feet?
I looked at myself in the wall-size mirror just six feet away: I saw my big, bald head, shining with sweat, my mouth twisted in a grimace of pain as I hobbled along like a hunchback on a treadmill going just six miles an hour. I heard myself grunting and gasping and figured, with earbuds in, that guy—me—was really causing a scene. So I reached up and hit the big red “stop” button in abject defeat.
Truth: I’m middle-aged. And I’m getting older. Conditions need to be optimal for me to enjoy a successful work out at all. I drank maybe 16 ounces of water that day, total, and I had scarfed down a protein bar on the way since I was putting off dinner. Hence, I was in no condition to run and cramped up on the treadmill.
A second, rawer truth: I’m fat. And as a new dad, I am at tremendous risk of getting fatter. In fact, research out of Britain shows that the average man puts on a staggering 22 pounds after becoming a father.
The good news is, I read about this before Lisa and I had our fraternal twins. The stats scared me so much I started watching what I ate, immediately. The result is that I am actually four pounds lighter today than I was the day after the babies were born. The bad news is, and I might have mentioned this previously, I was already fat.
If I bought into that Body Mass Index thing, at 5’10” tall and a graceless 216 pounds I am technically “obese.” That is such a depressing thought, however, that I reject the BMI entirely. (Note: My wife claims I’m 5’9″. But why listen to her?)
Still, if I don’t need to lose 51 pounds, I do need to lose 30, as a starting point. But my weight has always been a struggle for me. In my mid 20s, I scarfed down so much bratwurst and Guinness after a bad break-up—don’t ask—I ballooned to a gelatinous 252 pounds. In my early 30s, I got serious about weight loss and peeled off 62 pounds but spent the ensuing decade gaining half of that weight back. What’s my problem?
I eat my stress. I’ll get on a roll (a hoagie roll!), counting calories, hitting my goals and lose several pounds. Then a deadline arises at work, and the kind of anxiety arises that only a bacon cheeseburger can cure (with fries). Do that, or the equivalent, once or twice a day for three to five days, and pretty soon we’re talking about gelatinous masses again.
So where does this leave me, aside from fat? Well, first off, it scares me. I love my wife and kids and not only would I like to stick around, I’d like to be fit enough to run around with these boys as they grow up. I want beating me in a race, when it happens, to fill them with the same sense of accomplishment I felt when I finally beat my dad. But if I don’t lose some weight, the boys will be running while I hobble behind them sweating, cramping, and wishing I could just stop and rest, comfortably, on a mattress formed out of my own fat.
So, to recap: My heart can barely stand the strain. Every breath is torture. And I could die any second.
Just writing that so fills me with stress that I want a bacon cheeseburger. (And fries.)
Now, the kind among you are probably saying, “Hey, Volk, it’s not so bad. Most men gain weight after fatherhood and you’ve lost four pounds!”
Thanks. That is very kind. But the, uh, less kind among you are probably saying, “Volk, this is not rocket science. You know what you need to do: Avoid the stress-eating and get some exercise. Want to stop being fat? Stop being weak.”
Now, truth be told, I’m with the less kind among you on this. I do know what I need to do. I need to work out, and I need not only to count calories but even start weighing my food or measuring it out in cups. I need to practice mindfulness all the time, even on deadline, and be aware that the week I’m writing a long feature story is also the week I need to be most vigilant about eating.
Is there any hope for me?
Well, a few weeks back I came in and told my editor here, Emily, that I was down to 211 pounds, which was true. I did it by working out just four times in two weeks and closely monitoring my calories. Just losing five pounds filled me with optimism. Then a deadline heated up, my boys started teething and I put those five pounds right back on.
So, just being realistic: I’m working against a lot of personal history and my own engrained tendencies in an effort to be a statistical outlier—to be that evidently rare guy who pulls down the average weight gain of dads by losing tens of pounds—and not gaining them.
Do you have much hope for me?
Well, I’ve decided to use the column as extra motivation. With each new addition, even when I am focused on some other subject, I’ll print my weight at the bottom. That way you can all make fun of me or marvel at my success. And of course, I’d be happy to hear your advice or insults directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Steve Volk is Philadelphia magazine’s senior writer. A new dad to twin boys, he blogs about the ups and downs of modern-day fatherhood here on Be Well Philly.