I have tits (and newfound empathy)

I thought that this would be a great way to kick off the blog.

So I now have man tits, but I gained some insight. I’ll explain what I mean, but first some history. For as long as I can remember, I’ve experienced life as a lean, athletic person. The term “overweight” was an alien concept to me, and never in a million years did I think that I would approach obesity. In fact, like so many young American males, I spent my teenage years worrying that I wasn’t big enough. At age 19, I’d reached my present height of around 185 centimeters (6 ft.), but tipped the scales at a mere 80 kilos soaking wet. This was despite a fairly intense regimen of weight training, regular trips to Old Country Buffet, and mass gainer shakes. In those days, I could put away an entire large Papa John’s pizza in one sitting and be hungry again two hours later. Gaining those extra kilos seemed extraordinarily difficult, and I cursed my ectomorphic body and humming-bird metabolism.

Fast forward a few years into my mid-twenties. I’m working long hours and starting to go weeks at a time without strenuous exercise. I’m still eating like a 15 year old. The pants are definitely getting tighter; I hop on the scale and we are now up to 87 kilos. I pinch my abdomen and upper chest and I’m not happy.   In the weeks that follow, I’m at the gym or on the basketball court much more regularly, and my weight rapidly stabilizes at a very lean 82-83 kilos. As I was a single guy at the time, I’m still eating garbage and drinking (excessively) on the weekends, but those few hours a week of regular exercise are more than enough to ward off any weight gain.

Throughout the rest of my twenties and into my early thirties, I was able to more or less continue to eat and drink whatever I wanted without gaining any excess body fat, provided I put some time in each week at the gym. After I discovered a certain Mark Rippetoe and his Starting Strength program around 2006/2007, and finally learned how to train with weights effectively, I consistently weighed a solid 87-89 kilos. This actually represented a legitimate gain in muscular bodyweight; in fact, my waist size was almost back to where it was at age 19. Although Rip would probably have said that I need another 30 lbs, I was completely satisfied with my physical appearance and fitness levels, and I hadn’t even cleaned up my diet yet! With a little effort, I could easily maintain this general physique for decades.

Or so I thought.

As of today, I weigh 98 kilos. A little less than a year ago, I was still at a respectable 89 kilos. Seemingly out of nowhere, I’ve gained almost 20 lbs. All of this weight gain is centered around my abdomen and upper chest. With a BMI just over 29, I’m not only overweight, I’m a couple of Stellas away from being technically obese.

What happened? Did I return to my old eating habits? Granted, due to a new job I have been working longer hours and exercising less. But this should have been offset by my much improved and responsible adult diet, one that no longer includes significant liquid calories in the form of soda or beer. Clearly, as I have passed beyond my mid-thirties, something has gone awry in the fine-tuning between my appetite and calorie needs. Gaining weight is now effortless. Hi middle age, nice to meet you.

After initially feeling a bit depressed and frustrated about this situation, I reflected on my attitudes towards, well, overweight people. First and foremost, I now had to deal with an implicit, lifelong assumption that people who are significantly overweight were manifesting some underlying character flaw. This seemed especially true when I saw overweight younger people. If you would have asked my 25 year-old self at a bar, hanging out with my other lean friends, about my opinion of the sizable number of overweight twentysomething’s surrounding us, I might have given you a polite-sounding explanation about how the combination of our modern lifestyle and unfavorable genetics make it tough for some people to maintain a healthy weight. But secretly I would have suspected that sloth and lack of self-control were mainly to blame. After all, I had experienced my own bit of weight gain, and I corrected it in short order. Couldn’t these people just make some simple lifestyle changes and lose a few pounds?

Yet this dismissive and sneering attitude would not be justified when applied to my present self. My recent transformation into a fat person coincided with one of the most disciplined periods in my professional life. That 25 year-old was a disorganized, procrastinating underachiever who only got things done in the midst of a panic-fueled sprint to the finish. Older, tubbier me is infinitely more reliable and competent, and with much more on his plate than worrying about which club to hit on Friday night. But when this older, sleep-deprived chap does have time to exercise, it is harder by an order of magnitude. And his knees hurt. Self-discipline is not really the problem.

Now, I’m not discounting the fact that the main reasons for my weight gain are due to factors that are under my control. Given this new disconnect between my feelings of satiety during meals and my actual calorie needs, I have to find ways to increase my level of activity, and my diet must improve even further. Unlike Mr. Louie, I have high hopes that my physiology will right itself, and that I will get back to a healthy, hopefully boobless weight. But it won’t be nearly as easy as it was to lose those few pounds a decade ago. I’ll give updates as I reach that goal.

I no longer reflexively view overweight people as indolent, lazy, or other such nonsense. Some of them may happen to be, but so are a lot of thin people. Issues with delayed gratification and motivation are probably a lot more evenly distributed among the fat and the thin than I previously thought. Most overweight people are likely dealing with legitimate obstacles similar to those I’m now experiencing. I’m ashamed that I was not able to recognize this before it hit affected me personally, but better late than never.

Thanks, man-boobs.

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