Know this: I swear I’ve gone through life almost 100% clueless about my appearance. For better and worse, my default notion all these years is that I’m a good enough looking guy. I never really analyzed the matter but more operated in response to the gazillion, mostly indirect, bits of information and feedback life delivered me. The sum total of all that seemed favorable, and that was that.
Until I hit my 40s, that is. I’d always heard that one’s metabolism starts to slow down then, and sure enough, early in that decade for me I began to slowly take on more gravity, as the scales I occasionally stepped on told the tale. Did I actually see the increased pounds? Honestly,not really. Sure, the wedge o’ blubber I could pinch around the middle seemed not so petite anymore. And the waist size of my pants was ticking up over those years. 33 turned to 34, then it was 35, then (hey, what the…?) 36….
Throughout all this time, mind you, I continued to regularly workout. Glad I did, though I’m sure this fact further reinforced my thinking that the weight gain was inevitable.
I liked to say during this time that I had entered the “post-vanity” phase of my life. I had earned the right, in order words, to not let my ego go all mopey over the fact that I was displacing a bit more empty space with more of me. Settled in all directions in personal and professional life, who the hell did I have left to impress, I pointed out huffily to me. I suppose I mostly meant all that too.
Then, one morning in December of 2014, I had a moment (or, A Moment, I should say). I had just worked out, and was rushing from shower to the commute when I ran into a problem I found maddening. Hustling to get dressed, still sweating a bit from the workout, I made the sudden discovery that…none…of these fucking…pants…FIT!! Truly–I was putting one pair on after the other, hurling with rage the failed candidates in all directions in my closet, and what the fuck, McWright?? YOU’RE FUCKING FAT!
And, as the saying goes, just like that, I decided to do something about it.
I’d recently read about the “VB6” diet from the Times food writer Mark Bittman, standing for Vegetarian Before 6 o’clock. The idea of avoiding meat-based proteins in favor of healthier options during the day and then having whatever you wanted for dinner sounded interesting to me, sounded like a potential fit. Altogether serendipitously, a colleague at school suggested we hold our own “biggest loser” contest beginning in the new year to run for 3 months. So, with those two initiatives in mind, I went and saw a dietician who signed off on the VB6 approach, offered me a target daily calorie count, and gave me a wonderfully simple way to count calories. Then, game on.
Simply put, it all worked. Starting at 216.5 pounds (hey, that’s what the scale said, that’s what I wrote down), I lost about 4 or 5 pounds the first week, and then about 1-2 pounds each week after that. Seeing the numbers go down was indeed pretty damn reinforcing. Better still, I was discovering a world of food options in the vegetarian space I found both delightful to eat and fascinating to explore as a cook (any notions I originally had that I’d be forced to endure an unending procession of shitty iceberg lettuce-based salads for lunch every day were quickly dispelled). I didn’t win the biggest loser contest (came in second) but knew I was winning at something bigger (ha ha ha: smarmyness very much intended!).
My goal was to lose 20 pounds and thereby get below 200 (for fuck’s sake!). I eventually lost 30 pounds and realized I could keep this thing going. But have you ever known someone who did this kind of thing at my stage of life, the mid-life crisis-ing dude who does what it takes, loses a lot of weight, and then looks, well, just kind of weird afterward? The head seems too big now perched atop the pencil neck, the flabless face unattractively emulating the skull underneath–that look? I certainly wanted to avoid that.
So, having achieved victory, I relaxed the calorie count a bit, and settled comfortably at 25 down, around 190. Then life reared up and demanded I stop drinking (more on that later), and the weight loss continued on for 15 more pounds until I settled at 175. Which was stunning to me, being ten pounds less than what I weighed in college, even.
But it’s all good! How delightful to discover that whole “you gain weight after 40” proved no more than a tendency and not a law of physics. And none of this felt like it demanded of me real sacrifices. I shit you not: live without bacon for a while, and for all the mouth joy bacon brings, it’s dark nature becomes altogether evident to you.
Am I vain again? A fair question, and no, I’m not (he said huffily, and mostly meant). Sure, it’s great to not have to even ask yourself the question: should I lose some weight. Living alcohol free, eating probably 70-80% vegetarian, working out hard and not wrestling with a lick of ambivalence, dread, or exhaustion in doing so, it’s great knowing that you are flat out living healthy (through this I stopped taking one of the two blood pressure med’s I was on, and arguably could stop the other one at this point). But the appearance thing is still pretty immaterial to me (and it’s easy money to stand by people’s gardens and scare the birds away for an hour or two, hyuck hyuck). The truth is, when you skinny down at my age, the paradoxical effect of this improved health is to in fact look older; it just is what it is. Let’s just hope I get to “look older” and do so in good working order for a longer time for all of this!