Thursday, August 22, 2013

No More Watermelons In My Shirt!

It started when I saw the man with a watermelon hidden in his shirt.

Truth be told, it wasn't hidden very well. There was, pretty obviously, a watermelon right there under his shirt. It had to be a watermelon, right? It couldn't have just been his gut. Guts aren't normally that big. Or shaped like a watermelon.

Of course, I didn't actually see  the man. I saw a picture of him. Because, (as some of you may have guessed by now) the Man With the Watermelon In His Shirt was me.

The Man With the Watermelon In His Shirt. (Even Baby Roni isn't happy about it.)

It was the summer of 2009. My daughter, Roni, was a little over one year old, and we went as a family on a camping vacation to south/central Utah. (Travel Hint #1: One year old babies generally do not like sleeping in a tent. And they tend to do their best to make sure everyone else in the tent shares the same view before the night is over.) (Travel Hint B: Though camping out in 100 degree weather near St. George, Utah may sound like fun, there is much to be said about the comforts of an air-conditioned motel room, and all of it is good.)

While visiting Bryce Canyon National Park, I thought it would be a good idea to have a picture taken of me holding Roni, with the canyon in the background. It was not a good picture. (I had this picture up on the computer screen this morning. I asked the now five year-old Roni, "What's wrong with this picture?" Without hesitation she said, "You're fat.")

It wasn't until we were home from the vacation, downloading photos from the camera to the desktop, that I saw just how horrible the picture was. (It was one of the few moments where I wish I had gotten a smaller monitor.) There he was, The Man With the Watermelon In His Shirt, in color and taking up the entire screen.

It was then that I decided I needed to do something about my weight.

Now, I didn't immediately do something about my weight. (Except keep eating.) It wasn't until later that winter that I finally started to take action. I had let myself get up to 268 pounds, which is skinny if you are an NFL offensive lineman, but pretty heavy for everyone else.

I started to play basketball, exercise, and watch what I eat. (I wrote about it at the time. See: The Slow Joe Two-Step Never-Fail Weight Loss Program.) [A quick summary if you don't want to click on the link. The two steps of the "Slow Joe Two-Step Never-Fail Weight Loss Program?" #1: Exercise, and #2: Watch what you eat.] Using this approach, I was able to lose 30 pounds over the next eight or nine months. I got down to as low as 235 pounds.

And then, I stopped losing weight. I settled in and spent the next two and a half years hovering around 240 pounds. Oh, every once in a while I'd put on five pounds. And then I'd go on a push to lose weight again and lose a few pounds. But, I generally was stuck around 240 pounds. I figured that's where I was pretty much going to be stuck at for the rest of my life.

Then, this spring, The Wife came across a weight loss program called "Feel Great In 8." It is an eight-week program developed by a woman named Tiffany Rudd. The program consists of a weekly points system based on things like calorie count, servings of fruits and vegetables eaten, and amount of water dranken dranked drinked drunkened drank drinkened drunkified taken in by means of drinking. Points were also awarded for exercise, reading, meditating, and avoiding addictions, among other things. (Here is a link to her site: Feel Great In 8.)

The Wife started the program and enjoyed it. She was losing weight and feeling healthier. I noticed that, as a family, we were eating healthier, mostly because The Wife was cooking healthier meals. The Wife finished the eight week program and was going to sign up for another eight weeks. She asked me if I wanted to try it, too.

I was hesitant. The program didn't seem very manly. I had my "Two-step-never-fail-I-don't-need-any-help-I-can-do-this-on-my-own" approach that I had always used successfully in the past. Only, it wasn't working anymore. I couldn't get over the hump.

There was one other thing about the "Feel Great In Eight" program that I found trepidatious. I did not want to count calories. I had never counted calories before, and I wasn't about to start now! I didn't want to be one of those people who looks at the label of every food and adds everything up. I didn't want to be the guy who looks at a package of donuts and says, "Nope, too many calories. I think I'll eat this celery stick instead."

I thought about it for a while, then finally decided, "What the heck." I figured if the calorie counting got to be too much of a hassle, I could always just drop out of the program.

So, in early June, I joined up for an eight-week cycle of "Feel Great In 8." It didn't take long for me to figure out this was a good thing for me. I lost about ten pounds in the first three weeks. By the time the eight week program was finished, I had lost about 20 pounds!

So, whereas I thought I was going to be stuck at 240 pounds for the rest of my life, I have now dipped under 220 pounds for the first time in over ten years! I'm actually entertaining the idea of getting under 200. (Of course, there is a difference between "entertaining the idea" and "actual reality.") I used to joke that I wanted the first number of my weight to be something other than a "2," so that meant either gaining 60 pounds or losing 40. Now, with only 20 more to lose, it's in the realm of possibility.

Yes, I am sucking in my gut. But, part of the point is that I now actually CAN suck in my gut!

But, it wasn't just the "Feel Great In 8" program. Early in June we also bought a new elliptical exercise machine. I had had one from when I was single, but it was old and wobbly, and at one point while exercising on it, a bolt popped off and flew across the room. So, it had long ago been exiled to the garage. The Wife wouldn't get on it at all. (For some reason she didn't like the idea of having to dodge flying bolts.)

So, since we were both interested in exercising, The Wife and I decided on a new elliptical machine that we could put in our bedroom. And, I've found that it's a lot easier to exercise in the bedroom than it is to move the cars out of the way and work out in the garage. (Plus, the garage is too hot in the summer.) The only problem with the bedroom is that sometimes the kids like to wander through and be spectators.

Now, I'm still not where I should be. I just looked it up, and according to one website a person of my height (6'2") should weigh 174 pounds. 174 pounds! I haven't weighed 174 since before Frankie first say "Relax." I think I crossed the 174 pound barrier during that freshman year of college, gorging on the dorm room cafeteria food. (Unlimited desserts!!!)

The website did say that while 174 was "ideal," I could also be considered "healthy" if I was in a range between 155 and 194. And, while 194 might actually be possible, if I weighed 155 pounds I would look anything but "healthy."

One of the disadvantages of losing this much weight is that my clothes don't fit me very well anymore. A couple weeks ago at work I was tugging up my pants so often that I popped a belt loop. (Lesson learned: don't pull up your pants by the belt loops.) In fact, the other day I actually took some size 32 waist jeans into the dressing room of the Walmart to try them on. Once I got them into the dressing room the size 32 jeans laughed at me and said, "Nice try, fat boy, but not even close!" Still, it was worth a try. (Why don't they make a size 33 jeans? Not everyone changes waist sizes two inches at a time!) (See: One Size Fits Sometimes.)

So, despite my macho, two-step plan, it turns out there have been several factors in helping me lose this weight. They include:

1. The Wife. Her support and her cooking have helped out considerably. (Who knew this beef-eating Idaho farm boy would like eggplant or something called "spinach pie?") (It's easier to eat healthy food when it actually tastes good!)

2. Exercise. The elliptical machine has been a blessing. I load up some songs that get me going at a good pace, and I'm off. ("One Way Ticket To Anywhere" by the Osmonds is a particularly good exercise song. Yes, I said the Osmonds. Snicker if you want, but I'll stand by my results.) Plus, I've found I'm enjoying basketball more now that I'm not carrying all that extra weight while trying to run. (Unfortunately, the weight loss hasn't helped my shooting percentage at all.)

3. "Feel Great In 8." I found that just that little bit of accountability, having to turn in my point totals every week, would help me stay on the straight and narrow.

D. Eating more fruits and vegetables. Everyone knows it's better to eat fruits and vegetables than processed/packaged/man-made foods. We just don't always act on it the way we should. (It's tough, because some of that processed/packaged/man-made stuff tastes really good!)

5. Calorie counting. Yes, the thing I dreaded most about the "Feel Great In 8" program is probably the thing that will have the most lasting impact on how I eat for the rest of my life. It was really an eye-opener for me when I actually started looking at the calorie content of different foods. I was amazed (and appalled) when I saw that one "fruit" pie (may or may not contain actual fruit) had more calories than an entire entree of Italian chicken in cream cheese sauce over noodles! I'll still have an occasional candy bar or donut, I just won't have three or five at a time. (And I'm sorry, but I don't care how much calorie counting I do, you'll still never catch me eating a piece of celery.) (Disgusting, stringy stuff.)

6. "My Fitness Pal." This is the program (or "app," as the kids today call them) that I use to keep track of my calories for the day. I'm not perfect. I still go over my calorie count one or two days a week. But this "app" helps me keep track and keep things under control (relatively.)

Of course, I'm still not skinny. I still have a gut. But, I'm not The Man With the Watermelon In His Shirt anymore. Yes, I can stick out my gut and make it look like a basketball, only now instead of a regulation sized basketball it's more like a WNBA basketball. It's not perfect, but it is progress.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Guy With Dolls

I used to play with dolls.

At least, that's what my wife thinks. I told her a story once, and ever since she'll occasionally tease me about when I used to play with dolls. (Sometimes you have to be careful what stories from your past you tell your spouse. They can come back to haunt you.) (For example, I'm sure The Wife regrets ever telling me about that time she danced in Vegas.)

Of course, I didn't actually play with dolls.

I played with action figures.

Yes, there is a difference. Barbie is a doll. Iron Man is an action figure! Ken is a doll. The Thing (from the Fantastic Four) is an action figure! The Cabbage Patch Kids? Dolls. Big Jim and his crew? Action figures!

Iron Man, ready for action!

Yes, I was a comic book nerd as a kid, and my Iron Man doll action figure and my Thing doll action figure were two of my prized possessions. (Is it ironic or coincidental that both of those dolls action figures can be seen in the collection of the lead character in the movie The 40 Year-Old Virgin? I'll let you make that call.) (And no, I did not have a doll action figure of the Six-Million Dollar Man's boss like he did in the movie.) (But I wouldn't have been opposed to it.)

Marvel Comics dolls action figures were pretty hard to find back in the day. I was on constant lookout at all the toy stores in Pocatello for any sign of them, usually to no avail. (Of course, it didn't help that at that time Pocatello didn't really have any toy stores, just a few drug stores with toy sections.) In fact, if I remember correctly, I purchased my Thing doll action figure while on a trip out east to visit family in Virginia. (From that point on I would think of the east coast as a land where every store had a full supply of every Marvel Comics toy available.) (Of course, these days you can't walk into any store anywhere without a Marvel Comics toy falling on your head. They are everywhere!)

There was such a scarcity of Marvel Comics toys in eastern Idaho that I became so desperate I decided to order some of the toys from the ads in the comic books themselves. I believe it was before my trip out east, and I wanted to have a Thing doll action figure.

Yes, this is the "Thing" that I wanted.

So, I cut out the order form from one of my comic books, and I saved up my quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. Literally. Yes, I literally filled the envelope with the order form from my comic book and about seven or eight dollars worth of quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. I can still remember the "THUD!!!" it made when I dropped it into the mailbox at the post office.

Then, I patiently waited my "six to eight weeks" for delivery. And I waited, and I waited, and I waited. But my order never came. Of course it never came! The envelope I sent my order off in, full of change, probably weighed about seven pounds, and had one little stamp on it.

To this day, I'm not sure of my Mom's intentions regarding my comic book order. Did she innocently let me send off my "envelope o' change," not really thinking about whether the post office would deliver it or not? Or, did she plot to let me waste my hard-earned money ("THUD!!!"), knowing that if my order never came that I wouldn't ever want to order anything else from a comic book again? (If I got my Thing doll action figure, what would I try to buy next? The hypno-x-ray glasses? The Charles Atlas bodybuilding course? The switchblade comb? I needed to be stopped!)

If it was a ploy, it worked. After counting down my six weeks, and my eight weeks, and up to 16 weeks, I finally gave up. And I never ordered anything from a comic book again. That said, I tend to believe Mom was innocent. I just can't picture her being that mean.

But, Iron Man and Thing weren't the only dolls action figures that I had. I also had a collection of "Big Jim" dolls action figures. Big Jim looked an awful lot like a Ken doll. In fact, maybe a little too much like a Ken doll, plastic hair and all.

Big Jim: similar to a Ken doll, but much manlier!

There were three big differences between Big Jim and Ken, (other than Big Jim being marketed toward boys and Ken being marketed toward girls.)

A) Big Jim had bulging biceps. Literally. If you bent Big Jim's arm, his bicep would get bigger. Each Big Jim doll action figure came with a metal band that you could place around his arm. When you bent his arm, his bulging bicep would pop the metal band, like in the picture on the box above.

2) Big Jim had "karate chop action." If you pushed a panel in Big Jim's back, his right arm would swing down forcefully, as if engaged in a karate chop.

And, 3) Big Jim had permanent plastic shorts. Whereas a Ken doll's crotchatic region was a smooth, skin-colored area of confusion, Big Jim's "stuff" was safely ensconced in permanent plastic orange shorts.

At the time, Big Jim was much more easily available for purchase than the Marvel Comics heroes, so I owned a few of them over the years.  I even at one point had the Big Jim Kung Fu Studio, which was a play area where Big Jim could break wooden boards in half with his "karate chop action." (Maybe is was "kung fu action." I don't remember for sure.)

A two-page comic book ad for Big Jim and his Kung Fu Studio.

The thing I most remember doing with Big Jim, though, was having him race down the river! My brother and I (yes, I'm outing my brother as having played with dolls action figures, too) would take a couple of Big Jim dolls action figures down to the stream that ran through the cow pasture at my Grandma and Grandpa's ranch. 

We would throw the dolls action figures into the stream and have them race each other. The stream wound its way through the cow pasture for about a quarter of a mile, and in that stretch the Big Jims would have to navigate their way through rapids, waterfalls, and whirlpools. They couldn't have swam their way through all that danger if they were mere "dolls." No, only an action figure could have made it through that treacherous course!

Of course, there was always more than just Big Jim. He had his own crew of buddies. There was Big Jack, Big Jim's African-American friend. There was Big Josh, his mountain-man, bearded friend. And, there was Big Jeff, his blonde-haired Australian friend. (I know I had a Big Jeff doll action figure. He joined Big Jim on many a race down the river.)

A few years later, Big Jim got a whole new pack of friends, called the P.A.C.K. (Professional Agents/Crime Killers!) They included "Warpath," a native American with a bow and arrow; "Dr. Steel," a bald, tattooed tough guy with a steel hand; and "The Whip," a weapons specialist who was bearded and vaguely foreign.

A comic book ad for Big Jim's P.A.C.K.

I never owned any of Big Jim's P.A.C.K., because by the time they came out, I had started to become too old to play with dolls action figures anymore. I put Big Jim, Big Jeff, Iron Man and the Thing away and didn't think of them for quite some time. 

And then, a funny thing happened. As an adult, I started to get nostalgic thinking about my old dolls action figures. And, being single (for a long, long time) with some disposable income, I disposed of some of that income on some new dolls action figures. It helped that not only were the new dolls action figures available for sale (at stores and through eBay), but they were also way cooler looking than they had been when I was a kid. Here's a quick comparison:

1970's Iron Man
Today's Iron Man

And another:

1970's Thing
Today's Thing

That said, I didn't actually play with the new dolls action figures I was collecting. I was just collecting them for the sake of collecting. (Much the same way other people collect stamps, or coins, or baseball cards.) (Or some women collect shoes.) Besides, even as "cool" looking as the new dolls action figures are, I doubt they could hold up to a trip or two down Big Jim's river race.

Now that I'm married and have kids, disposable income is more a dream than a reality. I haven't bought a doll action figure for myself for years. But, as the kids get older, I do like to make sure that they have plenty of fun toys to play with. And, if some of those toys happen to be dolls action figures, then so be it. 

So yes, I did play with dolls action figures as a kid. And now, I'll gladly play with dolls action figures with my kids. (Sometimes actual dolls, too. I often get asked by Roni to help her change dresses on her Polly Pockets. It's not easy, because my fingers are big, and those Polly Pocket dresses are tiny. And tight.) (Polly should really invest in some looser fitting clothing!) 

It was the story of Big Jim's river races that prompted The Wife to tease me about playing with dolls. It doesn't really bother me because it's true. I did play with dolls. And I turned out okay. 

(Well, relatively okay.)