I was born the fourth of five children, the third of three boys and the bounciest of Mama Betty’s babies, coming in at an eye opening 8 lb 10 oz (3.9 Kg) when the average US newborn weighed in at 7 lb 4 oz (3.3 Kg). Size matters and as I aged and added matter to my size size began to matter more.
I was always squishy but never huge and my pudgy-portly was counterbalanced by my height. Back in the day being tall was a source of pride for boys and I was tall enough to be noticeable without it being freakish. The three elementary schools I attended each held about 365 students or fifty-five age-mates and over my seven years of K through sixth I was consistently the tallest or second tallest in my class. Fourth grade I was the first in class to hit the milestone of five feet, (1.53 m) a feat of which I was inordinately proud.
I was an active but not athletic child and thought little about weight until Mom bought “Husky” pants for my eldest sibling, a purchase that earned Steve the malignant moniker of, “Fat, cold and slushy,” from his loving brothers and friends. (Steve wasn’t particularly large but face-to-face overt cruelty was an accepted hallmark of growing up in the nineteen-sixties as opposed to today’s kids who immortalize their cruelty via the internet.)
Fourth grade proved a very tumultuous year. My father left his teaching position at Illinois State University and moved 750 miles (1200 km) to the University of Maryland, leaving behind his bride of 15 years and their brood of children aged 4 to 14. Though Dad flew home most weekends we five plus Mom spent the better part of 1970/1971 fatherless/husbandless as Papa reconnoitered and got the lay of the land.
The stress was hard on everyone and Dad, who had been fond of declaring, “There’s no reason a man should weigh any more after forty than he did before,” delved deeply into the dietary delight of eating crow. Papa, who had spent his first 41 years in relative slender, found forty-two to be a hefty proposition and packed on the pounds with his physically, emotionally and mentally taxing transition from a family-man Midwesterner to a baching it on his own East Coaster.
In August of seventy-one we seven made the Big Move from Illinois to Maryland and soon after Papa began his Sisyphus labor of recovering his former svelte self via diet and exercise. Sizing me up at five feet and 104 pounds (1.53 m/47.3 kg) Papa decided to incentivize a four pound weight loss in his youngest son with the reward of a crisp, clean dollar bill should I fall below the century weight mark. The incentive for double digit poundage failed but the challenge did create a lifetime of too great an emphasis for me in regards to my weight.
Let’s be fair to Dad. My BMI was 20.3 or eighty-eighth percentile for boys aged 10 years 6 months, a weight that placed me squarely in the overweight section of the children’s chart. I had zero interest in group sports and part of parenting is encouraging one’s children to be healthy. Dad and Mom were both worshipers of slender and their views on health and weight influenced how they reared their flock of five just as any parent’s view on health influences their child rearing practices. Worthy goals do not always lead to healthy outcomes.
At ten years of age I started worrying about my weight. Transported to a new and confusing environment where I had no friends and where the rules of conduct were strange and foreign I began to feel inadequate in an arena that I’d given scant thought to. Ten year old me got the message that I was fat and fat was bad, a message that haunts me to this day.
Weight is an integral part of health and striving to keep ourselves healthy should be something we all work towards. “Fat Shaming,” judging others because they do not fit within the Western Ideal of height, weight or build is a huge social problem in the US. So is being overweight with its attendant health issues, but conflating the two leads to nothing but pain and anxiety.
From Labor Day of seventy-one onward I can tell you how much I weighed at any given age. I remained overweight until puberty when a growth spurt made me skeletal. High school saw my weight inch upward to slender, moved on to average, rose some more and as I hit slightly rounded I was again bombarded with statements from Mom and Dad concerning my weight.
I stayed heavier than I felt proper until June of 1980 when cycling helped me reach and maintain a weight I felt was “good enough.” That lasted until 1990 when pregnancy brought me to 190 lb, (86.4 kg) a mass that officially returned me to the land of overweight, a designation with which I have danced ever since. (Sympathy Weight Gain, weight gain by non-pregnant partners during pregnancy, is a real thing.)
My preoccupation with weight is not healthy but a preoccupation with health is. There are two major benchmarks on which I judge my physique and fitness, how much do I weigh and how fast can I run or bicycle? Lower weight’s better and faster rules.
Remember Papa’s 1970 move related weight gain? Must be genetic because summer 2015 I moved to Florida where I subsequently fell apart. Fell apart as in fell into a life threatening depression which quickly led to a 35 pound weight gain and a transformation from sleekish of frame and fastish of foot to 100 kilos of slow sloth. If not for the strength and support of my mystified wife I have grave doubts concerning the odds of me surviving my Florida hell but after two-and-a-half years we left F-L-A and moved to N-C where I’m slowly recovering and rediscovering my lost me, a me who hasn’t seen a weight below 200 pounds since October 2015. Until March fourteenth. Yep, Pi Day is the day I slipped below 200 pounds. Don’t cha just love irony?
Early autumn I began reemphasizing health and fitness and upped my workouts from minimal to challenging via HIIT classes at Orange Theory Fitness. I credit much of my weight loss to these demanding classes, classes that are on hold until at least early May due to COVID-19. I also swore off most sweets as I focused on more healthful eating, something that everyone should work towards regardless of exercise regimens. My weigh in today places me at 195 pounds or 23 pounds lighter than my starting weight of 218 (99 kg) back in October 2019. My goal weight is 185 pounds (84.1 kg) and at 195 lb I’m about two-thirds of the way to regaining a “Normal” BMI weight range.
BMI, or Body Mass Index, is a very basic tool in determining healthy weight ranges but as my bones are average sized and my physique is not mesomorphic it’s a perfect scale for me. BMI tells us that someone six feet one inches (185 cm) tall should weigh absolutely no more than 189 lb (85.6 kg). I’m shooting for my pre-Florida, pre-meltdown weight of 185 lb.
My weight loss is a result of an exercise program combined with more healthful eating. I’m able to cycle both faster and farther than I could in September. I’m happy to report that my handful of weight related health issues, things like acid reflux, sleep apnea, high blood pressure and high blood sugar have shown improvement as my weight decreases.
I still struggle with and conflate health and body image. I know that I judge myself too harshly on how tightly my pants fit, an issue I may take to my grave. I’ll keep whittling away at that final double fistful of extra pounds as I’ve got a lifetime to go and fitness, along with maintaining a healthy weight, should be an integral part of everyone’s journey.