Id wake up the day after the boston Marathon and decide that I was going to fix myself and somehow run a marathon one year later, despite the fact that I lacked the stamina to run around the block. I would take a meaningful life event — like the time a drunk driver totaled my car in Vegas — and try to use it as an anchor for change and a narrative into a new life. They served as neither. Better, all that eventually became my normal. Instead of feeling like the real me was the one who had gotten in shape before college and given way to a temporary weight gain, it felt like the years when Id had control of my body image were an exception that I would never. I abandoned all hope that things would get better.
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Morbid obesity costs you some semblance of your agency as a person, and while its probably not the worst thing in the world for a white dude in his twenties to see some of his privilege disappear, i cant pretend it didnt hurt. Friends who were happy to see me when I was thinner began get to drift away. Bereft of confidence, it became increasingly difficult to meet new people, which made me less likely to go out, which reinforced how depressing it was to look terrible. I stopped caring about how I looked. After letting body my facial hair grow for weeks out of sheer laziness before finally shaving, the very nice elderly doorman in my building in Vegas saw me and remarked, wow, bill, you look so much younger without your beard! I glowed for a moment before he followed that up by saying, It makes you look like youre still in your twenties! Outside of a few short sparks of self-assessment which never lasted more than a couple of weeks, i spent those twenties in a fog. Id fall asleep and wander into a dream where i was some younger, thinner version of myself, recognize how much better I felt, and then wake up to reality, like some sort of phantom appendage in reverse. The writer side of me consciously wished for some moment of clarity that sliced through everything and made it obvious that I needed to change, but that really wasnt the case. Not that it stopped me from trying to manufacture one.
Id go to the grocery store, buy salon the ingredients to make something reasonably healthy, and then go home and immediately order wings. Memento with fried food. I would set some arbitrary point in the future and tell myself that I could eat whatever I wanted up to that date, only for it to never stick. Id write off the final two months of a football season and swear to start eating better in February, only to then tell myself that I should relax during my offseason and swear to eat better once football season got me in a routine. Id get healthy once i came back from vacation. Once i moved out of Boston. Then once i moved back to boston. Id save my life once i turned. And so, unchecked by reason, i grew.
Much of it, though, was that I was so far gone physically that i knew just how hard I would have to work to fix things, and how easy it was to just give up and pretend to try again tomorrow. Along the way: Nashville in March, around 290 pounds. Real-life friends blurred for their own sake. Not hiding whiskey in my pocket, either. Worst, i recognized my behavior was idiotic and damaging, and there was some part of me which actually writing wanted to change, but I did nothing. That sentence makes no sense with any sense of perspective or reality, but its a measure of how years of bad decisions had warped my brain. Id eat something unhealthy for lunch and then write the rest of the day off and eat something worse for dinner because i had already wasted the day. I would lie in bed, tell myself I was going to do better the next day, and then inexplicably do the same thing over and over again.
Of course, the same weird bargains I made with myself in my head didnt extend to working out. Squeezing any possibility of progress out of my schedule was the most exercise i would typically get. Id take out a gym membership and go months without even thinking about attending. And then, when Id finally pay lip service to working out, i would find the easiest possible excuse to be lazy. It would be too cold to make the trek in the middle of a boston winter and too nice outside to justify going in the spring. When I didnt have a car, it was too much of a hassle to take the subway, and when I did get one, it would be too much of a nuisance to park. Id sleep in and put off going in the afternoon, only to tell myself that it would be too crowded to go when the after-work crowd hit and too late to go in the evening. In part, it was laziness.
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I ordered from them so frequently that the delivery drivers knew me by name, and even worse, i knew them so well that I recognized how one of them wore the same queens protein of the Stone Age hoodie every time he stopped. (It was a pretty cool hoodie.). I contorted my life and the stories I told myself to fit a horrific eating schedule. As a football writer, i sat in front of the television all day and night on Sunday. That meant a couple of food deliveries, justified in my head because i was too busy to cook or otherwise eat healthy.
I would stay up overnight and file my monday morning column for. Grantland at. M., then get up at. To prep and record our podcast. Exhausted from the lack of sleep, my treat for working so hard the day before would be something unhealthy for lunch and then another delivery during the monday night game. Throw in more awful food to eat during the Thursday night game (thanks for the extra day of games, nfl) and then going out with friends on the weekends or justifying a relaxing night in after a long week, and there was never a respite. I was constantly able to convince myself that it was ok to put off taking control of my life for another day.
During those fleeting moments when I would recognize the need to change, i would look over this list of questions at overeaters Anonymous and identify with far too many of the criteria, only to put off the genuine self-evaluation and improvement for some indeterminate date. Worse, my compulsive eating had little to do with hunger and was almost never enjoyable. Instead, it was like trying to chase a vague, indefinable comfort, some satisfaction that never arrived — or even could arrive. It was the fear of missing out, but for food and constantly. I would struggle to pick between two fast food places and just stop at each of their drive-thrus, hiding the soda cup and the wrappers from the first one so the second cashier wouldnt see, because being caught in my embarrassing act was somehow more.
The idea of just waiting for another day just wasnt realistic to me; i absolutely, compulsively had to get that sandwich from Wendys. The act of ordering the food, of making the conscious choice to indulge, was far more important than eating the stupid thing. Most of the time, though, it would be deliveries, always heaping amounts of unmemorable food. Most people in the mood for pizza would go grab a slice. I would go to the dominos website and order a medium pizza. When I got fatter, that medium became a large, and then a large with wings. I still name my fantasy football team to this day after the local wing delivery place in Allston.
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Even today, her level of compassion and capacity for challenging and improving my self-awareness informs my own personal empathy and reduces me to awe. In the process of dealing with the depression, though, i developed a coping mechanism which would present an equally intractable problem in the years to come. Somewhere along the way, i became addicted to eating. It took years for me to actually believe that I had a real problem. I associated addiction with alcohol and hard thesis drugs, vices which thankfully (slash luckily) held little interest for. The idea of being addicted to food is, at least in most cases, played for a joke; everybody has that friend year with a ridiculously unfair metabolism who eats whatever they want and laughs about how theyre addicted to food. This, obviously, is not remotely the same thing.
I tanked my before photo. At the end of 2004, i was set upon by depression, the sort of overwhelming, crippling despair that is difficult to even fathom unless youve actually experienced. I would try to get out of bed in the morning shop and be so overcome with anxiety that my heart would palpitate. When I did go out, i would be inexplicably anxious to walk through the main paths of my campus and quickly get exhausted without any obvious cause. I took an internship and regularly fell asleep in the middle of meetings without warning. I would look forward to the weekend for respite from letting people down during the week and count down the minutes until the weekend to be over because i needed the routine of the weekdays. Eventually, the mental and emotional symptoms I had been struggling with faded and became functionally manageable. I was blessed to be set up with an incredible psychologist at my school.
12 months. At the very least, i can write the piece i would have wanted to read at this time last year. Bad, that starts with how I got to being 334.7 pounds in the first place. I was a fat kid growing up, eventually hitting 240 pounds by my junior year of high school. At 5-foot-11, i didnt wear that very well. Wanting something better for myself before i hit college, i lost 35 pounds over each of the next two summers, eventually making it to school in the fall of 2001 at 170 pounds, identifying as a quantitatively healthy adult. I spent the next three years fluctuating between 160 and 180 pounds. I was never truly satisfied with how I looked or felt, but it was easy to remember just how much worse it had been a few years earlier. Starting in January 2015, around 330 pounds. Yes, this is a deliberate attempt to take the worst picture ever to have an easy baseline to beat.
Then he walked away, having flipped my prepared pity on its head, and I wished I could have given him every dollar night in my wallet to have not said anything at all. That was back in 2008, when I weighed a mere 260 pounds. On January 1 of 2015, i lumbered onto a hotel scale which I was really hoping would be out of batteries in Austin and found that I weighed 334.7 pounds. I swore i would do something about it, and while that has been a quickly abandoned threat many times in the past, for some reason, this time it stuck. 364 days later, on New years eve, i woke up and stepped onto a scale which delivered a much happier number: 206.0 pounds. I lost just over 128 pounds this year, which is one of those things youre proud to do but not proud of having needed. In addition to trying to put some closure on a particularly dispiriting part of my past, Im writing this in the hopes of helping people who find themselves in a similar boat, who have approached the new year with the sort of drastic self-improvement plans. Im certainly not qualified to give professional advice on the topic, and I dont want to suggest that anybody of any shape or size should feel the need to change if theyre happy with how they look.
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Left: 2011 (320 pounds. Information I wasnt trying desperately hard to find out about at the time.) Right: End of 2015, at 208 pounds. I let myself go for a few years and then, on a breezy spring afternoon in San Francisco, i found myself riding my bike down Market Street towards the Embarcadero. I stopped at a red light in the tenderloin and a worn, reedy man panhandling for change headed in my direction. He glanced me up and down as I tried to avoid revelation making eye contact. I was about to say that I couldnt give him any money, which was true, both because my first professional writing job wasnt paying me enough to actually cover the rent on my apartment, and because i was so uncoordinated that I was genuinely afraid. Before i could say any of that, though, he chuckled to himself and smiled. Good for you, big man, he said. Keep riding that bike.