Health & Fitness

The Battle of the Bulge

So, I’ve been overweight for a while.

I was a solid 6-feet 185 pounds in college. Gained some weight in law school. And then steadily gained weight throughout my twenties. By the end of my 20’s before seminary, I was probably somewhere in the high 220’s. I never liked to admit it, and to be honest, I never really kept careful track.

Before seminary in 1999, I began to exercise for the first time in my life, and lost a bunch of weight, probably as much as 15 pounds and was feeling good about it. But then seminary started, my first experiment with exercising ended, and refectory food took its toll. Over time, I gained the weight back, and then some. It wasn’t until 2004 that I began to exercise again regularly. By the time I began again in November 2004, I weighed 241 pounds. I think I was still telling the DMV that I was in my 220’s though. There were just some things I couldn’t really face.

My goal was to lose 31 pounds and get down to 210. I exercised more or less regularly for the next few months and by April 2005 I had lost 12 pounds and gotten down to 229 pounds. But then the semester ended, and my exercise schedule, which had been built around my work schedule, fell apart. With the exception of a few weeks in July, I stopped exercising all together and the weight came back.

By August 2005, I was back to my weight of 241 pounds.The following January, as a new year’s resolution, I decided to take some steps in getting back to exercising. I overcame one of the biggest psychological hurdles I had: exercising at school. I was embarrassed by being out of shape and had resisted the idea of exercising in front of people 20 years younger and in much better physical condition. But in 2006, that roadblock had to end. And so with a co-worker as an exercise partner, I began to exercise regularly. But by this time, I weighed 249 pounds.

I got down to 227 pounds, but then plateaued over the summer and my enthusiasm waned. When the fall semester came around, I exercised a good deal less. I started teaching a class early twice a week. I would often find a reason not to work out, noting how tired I was. Of course, this became a vicious cycle. The less I exercised, the less energy I had, the less I wanted to work out. By November I had all but stopped exercising. I regained 10 pounds from the summer to January 2007. I began to exercise again in January 2007, but only managed to lose 3 pounds by March, and so my enthusiasm waned again.

That June, I started biking to work, but a July softball injury where I injured my knee stopped that cold. By September, I had gained back all the weight from 2006 and was around 249 pounds. The picture at the top of this page was taken on Labor Day weekend 2007. I wouldn’t set foot in a gym until the following January.I suppose you could say that my weight yo-yo’ed. But yo-yos don’t go higher than they first started, which is what my weight did. In January 2008, I weighed the most I have ever weighed: 255 pounds. The picture at left is of me at my highest. I wouldn’t ordinarily show this picture to anyone, but, hey, I am trying to own it.

What Did it This Time
I am not sure what my primary motivation was for wanting to get back into shape. Perhaps it was the knowledge that in 10 months I would be 40 and if I was to get into shape, it was going to have to be now. It certainly wasn’t going to get any easier. And so I came up with a plan: I was going to lose the weight. I was going to get down to 210 pounds. I was going to be “hot by 40.”

It started with a walk around the track at work with Christine. It quickly became a five-days a week exercise habit. Running on the track or running on the treadmill. I exercised even on the days when I taught early. There would be no more excuses because of my schedule. I was going to exercise. And exercise I did.

The initial shock of exercise had accomplished a precipitous weight loss: I lost 10 pounds in a month. But then my body began to adjust: over the next month, I lost only 5 pounds. And then over the following month another 5 pounds. And then: stagnation. Plateau. No weight came off. From April 7 to July 14 I didn’t lose a pound and hovered between 234 and 235 pounds. For 99 days. Three months. This would have killed my exercise in years past.

I continued exercising, but was seeing no results. In previous exercise attempts, the failure to lose weight would sap my enthusiasm and before I knew it, I’d gain weight again. But I refused to yield. This was going to be the year. I had already lost 20 pounds and that weight loss would not be in vain. And I had already survived one of the major obstacles to my exercising: the end of the semester. In spite of the fact that my routine had completely changed with the end of the spring semester, I was determined not to let that interrupt my exercising. So, I was determined not to let the plateauing deter me either. (The picture at left is taken in May/June–right in the middle of the plateau).

But coming up was a third major hurdle, one that had often derailed my exercise in the past: teaching Greek at Wesley Seminary. See, the class at Wesley is a six-week, five day-a-week, three hours a day course, from 9-12 in the morning. It’s a grind for the students and it’s six weeks of early mornings for me (I am not a morning person and my schedule during the school year is skewed toward the evenings).

In summers past when I would think about biking to work, the realization that I would need to get up at 7 a.m. to leave by 7:30 a.m. to get to campus by 8 a.m. to cool off and shower by 8:30 a.m. to get prepped and over to Wesley by 9 a.m. was a deal-breaker. But that’s exactly what I did. For six weeks. Biking almost every single day of the week.

And it was like a challenge–to see if I could do it. And then the tremendous satisfaction of seeing that in fact I could. Add to that the satisfaction of feeling good after having exercised. The 3-1/2 miles uphill in the morning was a good resistance workout. And the long rides home that I would take–sometimes through Georgetown, sometimes through the park–were enjoyable rides in the fresh air. But there was an additional satisfaction…

The weight began to come off again. In the middle of July, after biking every day, after reducing (but not eliminating) carb intake, and by beginning some light weight resistance training, the pounds began to come off. I dropped 10 pounds in 18 days.

And then came my summer vacation. A week with my family in Maine. By this point I was 7 months into the longest uninterrupted stretch of exercising I had ever had. Exercising was not something I was doing, it was a part of who I was. Moderation in eating was likewise a part of what I was doing. And so, over the course of a week-long beach vacation in Maine, I jogged on the beach, I did my sit-ups, I did my lifting and didn’t gain a pound over vacation. When I got back to D.C. I kept up the biking and lost another 5 pounds over 20 days.

But now a new challenge was coming: the start of the school year. Because the school year–especially Welcome Week–meant running errands, meant shopping for supplies, it meant that I would need my car for work. How would I be able to continue my bike riding that I had come to enjoy so much?

Mark Schaefer t-shirt and jeans

The old Mark would have used this need as a reason not to exercise that day. The New Mark viewed it as a challenge to work around. And that’s exactly what I did. I found a solution: I drove to work on Monday and left my car on campus the whole week–biking to and from work and using my car on campus when necessary. I was pleased to come up with this solution. And it is a solution that I have continued to use. Looking for opportunities to bike to work rather than reasons not to work out.

As of the writing of this entry, I have lost a total of 42 pounds and am a mere 3 pounds away from my initial goal of 210. I am determined to go on. I have 200 in my sights–I think a good place to stop–I don’t think my college weight of 185 would be healthy for me.

But it has felt so good to lose the weight. Good to begin to see ab muscles for the first time in my life. Good to see definition in my arms and chest. But it has been best to see that I was able to follow through with my aim to get in shape. I’ve got over a month to go before my birthday, but my “Hot By 40” program is right on track.