In a few of my recent posts, I mentioned that I had issues with my weight when I was younger. While that’s true, it’s also not the whole story. If I’m being completely honest, my health and my body image are things I’ve struggled with my entire life, and to some degree still do to this day.
I grew up as a fat kid. I always had an incredible appetite, and developed a lot of bad habits early in life. As I grew older and conscious of my weight, I made some effort to eat healthy, but my teenage years were right in the middle of the low-fat diet revolution. “Low-fat” and “fat-free” snacks were everywhere, and my mother was one of those for whom the marketing was extremely effective. My house was always full of Snackwell brand low-fat cookies and pretzels and the like, and I’d eat them by the bag. When I started high school, I weighed something like 240-250 lbs.
I made some efforts to get in better shape when I went away to boarding school, like cutting out soda and spending time at the gym. The real transformation began between my sophomore and junior years. My sophomore year, I was pretty miserable at school. I’d drifted away from many of my friends, and had even gotten in trouble and almost gotten kicked out (which is a story that I shall tell in full another time).
In the summer before my junior year, though, I had something of an epiphany. I decided that spending my time being upset about things was a waste, and that I should make the most of the time I had. I was fortunate enough to be at one of the best schools in the world, and it was ridiculous for me to squander that by moping. I resolved to take advantage of the opportunities that I had available, particularly those that would pass me by once I graduated.
That’s how I started wrestling. I’d never been much of an athlete in my life. I played soccer and little league as a kid, but I was never very good at either. I’d gone out for the first day of football tryouts as a freshman, but I hated it and never went back. But when some of my friends on the wrestling team tried to convince me to join because they needed a heavyweight, I told myself that this was one of those opportunities I’d promised myself I would take, and joined up.
While my friends had originally recruited me as a heavyweight (215+ weight class), once I actually joined the team and started practicing, my hyper competitive streak kicked in and I wanted to be the best I could be. I wrestled on the junior varsity squad that year in the 189 lb division, and ended up finishing in third place in the JV league tournament at the end of the year. After that, my coach told me that he wanted to see me come back next season ready to wrestle in the 171 weight class or bench pressing 300 lbs. I told him I would do both, and I did.
I spent the summer between my junior and senior years of high school waking up at dawn to run five miles, working in a warehouse, and then going to the gym to work out. The next year I alternated between wrestling at 171 and 189, depending on the needs of my team in any particular meet. At the end of the season, I even wrestled at 189 in a meet on Wednesday, weighing in at 188 that morning, and then wrestled at 171 in the league tournament on Saturday. I took home a medal and helped my team win the championship for the first time in years.
That was a long time ago, though. My fifteen year reunion is this summer, and it’s been that long since I have had to worry about making weight, or how I look in a singlet. I certainly haven’t been nearly as strict about what I eat, or spent nearly as much time and effort working out.
When you don’t have explicit goals, it’s easy to fall out of good habits, and into bad ones. This is also true when your environment changes to one that values different things. When I went from the wrestling team in high school to my fraternity house in college, I woke up early to work out far less and stayed up late eating wings far more.
Today I weigh in at around 205 lbs. While weight is too often used as a barometer for health and well-being by a lot of people these days, it’s certainly true that I could stand to shed some pounds, as well as shift my body composition more toward muscle. I don’t expect to drop down to my high school wrestling weight again – hell, I didn’t actually ever weigh 171 then except after running stairs in a sweatsuit for hours – but I can definitely drop to 185, or even 180.
To that end, I’m going to be embarking on a fitness mission. And I’m inviting you to come with me.
In my experience – and from the reading and research I have done on the topic – we’re most likely to succeed in matters of fitness when we set clear goals and hold ourselves accountable. “I’m going to get into better shape” is one of the most common New Year’s Resolutions, and while gyms are packed in the first week of January, they’re barren again by the end of the month.
“Eat better” and “work out” are not clear goals. They are vague concepts that make them easy to cheat on, and eventually discard entirely. Gamers want concrete goals to strive toward, even just for the sake of accomplishing them. Why else would achievements be so popular?
A few years back, I made a similar push to get back into shape, and I picked up a book called “The Four Hour Body” by Tim Ferris. If you’re serious about getting into shape, I suggest you pick it up. There’s some pretty outrageous stuff in there, but there’s also some great advice about nutrition and workout plans.
The part of the book that appealed to me the most was the nutritional aspect, which Tim calls the “slow carb diet”, which focuses on eating primarily lean meats and vegetables and avoiding simple carbohydrates, like breads and pastas. As I mentioned earlier, I love food, and I have a huge appetite. It is much easier for me to change the kinds of things that I eat rather than the amount that I eat. I love pasta, and pizza, and dinner rolls, and the like, and I can easily sit and eat a mountain of tortilla chips while barely noticing it, and without even getting full. If I’m eating ground turkey and broccoli instead? Well, I get full a lot faster, and it’s a whole lot better for me.
The diet also includes the idea of a cheat day each week. The most important thing about any nutritional plan (I sort of hate the term “diet”, because it’s evolved in our culture to mean some sort of short-term alteration in eating habits rather than a true shift in lifestyle) is that it’s something you can stick to. I know I certainly couldn’t go without eating pasta or cheese forever, and while I’m not a huge fan of sweets, I like the occasional dessert, and the more-than-occasional drink. A cheat day means that when you have a craving for something, instead of feeling deprived because you can’t have it, you can tell yourself that you’ll wait and eat it on Saturday (or whenever your cheat day may be).
Similarly, it’s important to find a routine you can stick to on the fitness front. Perhaps most importantly is just getting into the habit of doing *something*. Much like with restrictive diets, people frequently try to adopt extreme fitness regimens and burn themselves out quickly. You’re much better off easing yourself into something that you can stick to than pushing yourself to the breaking point and quitting after a week.
Perhaps even more important than a formal fitness plan to get into the habit of being active. Walk instead of driving. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. I can’t tell you how funny it is to me when I see people go to the gym and drive around looking for the closest spot rather than part in the first place they find and walk. Little things add up. Life isn’t all cutscenes and boss fights – killing boars here and there makes a difference.
Speaking of gyms, perhaps the best advice I can give about joining a gym is to find the one most convenient for you. I fell out of the habit of going to the gym where I now have a membership because it’s a few exits away on the freeway, and on the average day I don’t get into my car. At my last job that I commuted to, I made a point of signing up for the gym that was down the street on my way home, even if it was smaller and more expensive than some of my other options, simply because I had to actively choose *not* to go because it was so convenient. The more barriers there are between you and building good habits, the less likely you’ll be to stick to them.
And for both of these things – nutrition and fitness – it’s important to keep in mind that a slip-up is just that. A single setback isn’t failure, and you shouldn’t treat it as such. Overindulge on donuts at breakfast one day? Don’t write off the whole day as a loss and just gorge yourself on everything in sight. Miss a few workouts when you’re on the road? Get right back into your routine when you’re back home. You wouldn’t concede a game because you made one bad play, would you? You’d play on and make the best of it.
So here’s my plan. I’m sharing it with you in part for my own sake – because publicaly committing to it gives me an extra level of accountability – and in part because I hope that perhaps I might inspire others out there to join me.
I’m going to be sticking as strictly as I can to the slow-carb diet, eating primarily lean meats and vegetables. Thankfully, I was finally able to convince Natalie that this is something we should be doing now that summer is coming up and she’s worried about fitting into her EDC outfits and bathing suits, so our apartment is mostly free of off-limit foods. My cheat day is each Saturday, and as such that is the only day I’ll be indulging in off-limits food or alcohol. I’m resigned to the fact that I’m likely going to have to be flexible with these restrictions when I’m at tournaments, because it can be difficult to find reasonable food at events, but I’ve been at least somewhat successful in the past when I’ve tried.
On the fitness side, I’m going to make a point to work out for at least 30 minutes every day, and more when I can find the time – and I’m going to do what I can to find the time. Recently, I’ve been waking up and doing 100 kettlebell swings every morning before I do anything else, and then Natalie and I take Shiro for a long walk. I’ve been adding in weight lifting with either my kettlebell or the adjustable dumbbell set we have at home, and I’m going to actually use the membership I have at the local gym for access to better equipment – even though I have to drive to get there.
I’m going to share my own fitness progress with you all via Fitocracy, which is a great website and iOS app that you can use to track your activities. It’s totally free, and you can access it via browser or your phone. I’ve created a Fitocracy group called BMKFitness that I welcome anyone who wants to participate in my fitness challenge to join. You actually earn points and achievements for completing workouts and level up within the app – what more can a gamer want?
I want to get in better shape not only because I want to look good if I ever have cause to get back into a singlet, but because I want to be stronger, I want to be healthier, and I want to have more energy. As I’ve gotten older, the long days of tournament play have been gotten tougher, and I’m better able to handle them and keep my focus when I’m in better shape. In fact, both my Austin and Honolulu wins came during periods that I was working out and eating well, which I’m sure isn’t just a coincidence.
TLDR – get ripped and win pro tours. Who’s with me?