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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Me, my body image, and the reality of diet

Image from Flickr, by
Michigan Municipal League (MML)
I like to try and write something here every day, and since I replaced my keyboard on my laptop earlier today (all by myself even!), I really want to break this thing in.  As such, I thought I'd play a little confession time and then talk a bit about my own history with diet.

First, the body image thing.  It gets a lot of press these days, and for very good reason.  Women, who are often presented very unhealthy examples of "beauty", often feel pushed to adopt unhealthy practices to reach this pinnacle of so-called attractiveness.

Well folks, this happens to guys too. 

Don't believe me?

When I graduated high school, I was 5'8" and 135 lbs.  I was barely in the "healthy weight" category, but I was acceptable for the United States Navy at that weight a year later.  I was lean, and boasted six pack abs that some of the football team were envious of.  My body fat percentage was below 12 percent. I was a runner and in pretty good shape.  My freshman year of college, I walked on to the Darton College swim team, competing in one meet before enlisting in the Navy.

I had everything going for me physically, all things considered.  I wasn't a gifted athlete by any means.  My "walking on" to the swim team consisted of just two questions.  "Have you ever swam competitively before?" and, after I answered negative to that one, was met with the follow-up question of "Can you float?"  When I said yes, I was welcomed to the Darton swim team. (Side note: That same team has gone on to two year college glory in swimming!)

So, I had everything going for me physically.  I was healthy and very in shape.  An early swim practice had me questioning that, to which the coach said, "Oh, I can tell you're in shape.  You're still alive."

And it wasn't enough.

I was healthy.  I was fit.  I was everything I'm not right now, and it didn't mean a damn thing to me.

You see, I was "small".  I was never going to be mistaken for a linebacker in the NFL, or even a decently built wide receiver.  I was small and it wasn't good enough.

I lifted, eventually getting my bench press up to 205 lbs while still being about 135 lbs in body weight.  Not to shabby.  I was strong, but I wasn't big.  That was the problem.  It was a big problem for me.

Well, I'm 209 right now.  I licked that, didn't I?

Now I'm a fat ass.  I've got a big old gut that makes me taking off my shirt look disgusting.  As a result, my body image issues shifted.  I didn't mind the weight, but wanted it to be muscle.  My Body for Life challenge was about making that conversion.

There's been a little bit of chatter about men and body image issues out there.  George over at The Civilized Caveman has mentioned his own issues with body image that aren't all that different than my own.  The fact that he's a Marine and I was a Navy Corpsman has nothing to do with this, though it does mean I have to play nice with him.  We corpsmen look out for Marines.  However, back on point, these body image issues are more common among men since you can just look at we two bloggers as two male examples.  I have no doubt there are plenty more of us.

So what happened?  Well, that's where the reality of diet comes in.

I've written before about being diagnosed with ADHD as a kid.  My mother was nervous about putting me on medication, so she went the diet route.  She discovered the Feingold Diet.  The crux of the diet is that you don't eat certain artificial ingredients, removing them all for a period of time and then slowly reintroducing them to find out what the triggers are for an ADHD kid.

What does this have to do with a fitness blog?  Well, I didn't realize it, but that diet actually kept me healthy in my youth.

Back in the day, there wasn't a whole lot of processed foods that lacked key artificial ingredients.  Red dye #5 seemed to be in everything, so my mother was forced to make sure I ate food she prepared from raw ingredients.

So, at a young age, I was eating real food.  I kept eating real food through out high school, even while being on Ritalin.  By then, it was just how we rolled, so it wasn't a big deal in my mind.

Enter my time in the Navy.  On my What is an Athlete page, I wrote:
In our day, an athlete represents what the warrior did to ancient man.  They are, essentially, the most physically adept members of society.  Athletes are those who walk into a room and demand your attention.  They are fit.  They are trim.  They are healthy.

Warriors of that bygone era were as well.  Today, our warriors are still gifted with incredible courage, but technology fills the gaps where the physical once held dominion.  While they are still physically fit, and are great role models in a great many ways, they no longer represent the pinnacle of fitness.
Part of the reason I feel that warriors are no longer the pinnacle of physical prowess today - and by warrior, I mean those who fight in defense of their nation - is because my first brush with being overweight was while I was in the Navy.  I never quite made it to what we affectionately called "the fat boy program", but I was getting a gut.

After I got out, I moved back home into Mom's house.  What did that mean?  Real food once again.  The weight came back down, though not back to 135 lbs.  Still, I was much healthier.

Then I got married.

I love my wife, so let me say this right now.  However, she and I are both basically lazy people.  Take out became a primary means of sustenance, and the weight came a-coming.  All the way to 236 lbs.

So, during my years of being lean, I ate real foods that were cooked at home.  During my fat years, I ate mostly stuff that was cooked in a restaurant and contained God only knows what.  Now I'm back to eating stuff that's cooked at home primarily and I'm losing weight, although it's not coming off like I would like for it to be coming off.

Seems to me that there's a lesson or two in all of that.  Not just for you, but for me as well.

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