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Talking about Fitness

I am five feet, eight inches tall, and I weigh about 167 pounds. I have a gym membership which I have used a total of once in the past six months, and I don't eat particularly well, nor particularly consistently. I drink fairly regularly, and in December I even started smoking cigarettes (I know, I know). All things considered, I am in pretty good shape, for a 30-year-old man who does nothing to take care of his body. The funny thing is, any time I start to talk about changing my habits for the better, I almost universally get the same responses. "Ugh. Like you need to lose any weight." "Oh, you look fine. What are you worried about?" "You know, if you start working out, you're not necessarily going to weigh less, because muscle weighs more than fat."

Okay, guys. It seems there are a few things I need to explain about my mentality here.

For starters, I'll say it again, I don't think I look "bad." I don't qualify as "fat." But here is the thing that no one seems to understand:

Wanting to eat healthily and exercise regularly does not necessarily denote a direct desire to lose weight.

I'll give you a moment to think about that statement. We live in a society that is very obsessed with physical appearance and physical condition, but one of the only factors we commonly talk about is our weight. So, let's talk about weight. When I graduated high school at age 17, I weighed right around 150 pounds. At my highest point, at age 24, I weighed a little over 190. My ex-husband got us onto a fitness kick due to a combination of being put on cholesterol medicine at the age of 28, and being cast in a show where he needed to look more muscular for the part he was playing. I lost about 20 pounds over the course of that year, and have continued, each year, to get down to about 155 by mid-summer, maintain that through the fall, and be back up to about 170 by spring. Every year I say it won't happen again, and every March, I notice my pants are fitting a little tighter than they were in September. Surprise! This year wasn't any different.

Now I've talked about weight, so let's talk about everything else, because I don't really care how much I weigh. My weight is merely an indicator to me of other factors to do with my health. Anybody who gets onto a healthy eating kick, and actually eats healthily, will tell you that healthy eating doesn't have to be bland, or all salad. As a matter of fact, if you go to an all-salad diet, that may be just as bad for you as eating a BigMac every day. Generally speaking, a healthy diet should be about taking in a proper balance of proteins, complex carbohydrates, and fats. If your intake of these things is out of balance, your body stores the excess. If you are taking in the right amounts, and the right balance, your body processes those nutrients and uses them the way it was designed to do, and funnily enough, when you do that just long enough, you find yourself starting to be hungry for the things that your body actually needs, and you don't like the junk foods as much as you did. When I'm consistently eating healthily, my whole body feels better than when I've been eating crap. The fact that I weigh less at the time is merely a sign of what I've been eating.

I've been inconsistent about this, at best, and one of my biggest downfalls is how much and how often I eat out instead of cooking at home. Last year, I spent more money eating out than I did on rent. I also spent a lot of money on groceries that I wound up throwing away because they went bad before I did anything with them. Even as I'm writing this post, I'm eating pizza I ordered last night because I'd been sick with a sore throat all day yesterday and I didn't feel like cooking. The irony of this does not escape me. Neither does the knowledge that I'm not going to feel as good post-pizza as I would have post-homemade pasta, which I'll need to cook up before work tonight so I have meals for the weekend.

So that's my generic rant about food. The regular exercise portion of the problem comes in for different reasons. Appearance is a definite factor here, and I'd be lying if I said it wasn't. The funny thing is, we talk a lot about the pressure placed on women to look like a Barbie doll, and I am in no way denying that, nor saying it is fair. What we gloss over, and I say this recognizing that it's becoming more visible, is the pressure that is placed on men to look a certain way, and on gay men in particular. Being somewhere between a 4 and a 5 on the Kinsey Scale myself, I am well aware of what the common expectation seems to be among gay men. It looks something like this:

I don't look like that. I have never looked like that. I don't even know if I am capable of doing so. Still, there is some desire to try, because some deep-down part of my brain says it would be great to look that good without a shirt on. Nevertheless, my reasons go beyond just wanting to turn heads at the pool, especially since my boyfriend's head is the only one I really care about turning these days.

I have had back problems since I was about 21, and I moved all my things from my parents' house to my first apartment. Short story long, I put all my biggest, heaviest books into the largest box I had, and then proceeded to lift with my back, and carry it forty feet across the basement, up a flight of stairs, and another hundred feet or so down the driveway. The next day, I could hardly walk. I've thrown my back out of alignment several times since then, until I started regularly working my back muscles at the gym. Since I've fallen out of that habit, I've started having more problems again. I lift a heavy bag of groceries wrong, and everything pinches up. Working out regularly to build upper and lower body strength (in addition to core strength) would help immensely with my back problems, and will help to prevent me from having further such problems down the road. Would visible abs be a benefit? Sure. Am I more concerned about being able to stand upright when I'm 70? Take a guess.

Finally, tying back in to that whole "feeling better" thing that comes with healthy eating, I'll quote Legally Blonde. "Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make people happy. Happy people just don't shoot their husbands..." I pretty regularly suffer from at least mild depression. Very rarely does it get beyond an overall feeling of apathy and into the really soul-crushing levels, but it has been constant for some time now. I can't currently afford a prescription medication for it, and I don't know that I actually need one. I've started taking St. John's Wort on a regular basis, and have noticed a marked improvement. When I've been eating right and exercising regularly, I've noticed similar improvements until I got off track. If I combine all three, plus get back into a daily meditation practice, I'm encouraged by the possibilities.

The overall point of this rant is just this: not everyone who talks about wanting to change their eating habits or start going to the gym is doing so solely because of how much they weigh, or the way they look. There are more factors involved in diet and exercise than your appearance. I think if more people talked about fitness from the standpoint of their actual health, and simply viewed their weight or how they look as a bonus of being healthy, it wouldn't be such a struggle, and talking about needing to get back to the gym wouldn't result in people sneering at me and saying, "like you have anything to worry about." I have more to worry about than you think I do.

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