Wednesday, July 16, 2008

On exercize...

I've always considered myself to be a fat guy.

In school, I was... well, I guess the charitable word would be "big boned", but really I was simply too lazy to really work up a sweat exercising. I wasn't a water buffalo, and I never had "man boobs" (thank God for small favors), but I was never comfortable, say, walking around shirtless at the beach. Hell, I'm still not.

This only got worse when I got married and started eating regularly, leading to me being more than 70 pounds overweight by the time I was in my mid-20s. When I was 27 or 28, I began to get sick when I ate anything more substantial than a cheese sandwich (no mayo), and I ended up losing 65 pounds over several months without even trying. Like an idiot, I was excited by the this, not scared shitless like I should have been.

I was donating plasma three times a week back then (no joke) to make a bit of extra income. Every year, I had to take a basic physical - no biggie, just a quick urine sample and a brief exam by a sleepy med student. 10 minutes after they took away my urine sample, I was called into the office in back.

"You can no longer donate," I was told by the haggard med student. "There's a problem with your blood."

"Problem?" I asked, slurping on my second Big Gulp of the day. I was always terribly thirsty, back then. If I was worried, it was about the $25 donation fee I wouldn't be getting, not about my health. I mean, I wasn't even 30 yet - what could possibly be so bad, right?

"Yeah. Your blood sugar's off the charts and you're dropping toxins into your piss," he said in a bored tone, as of he delivered news like this a hundred times a day. A test strip was produced and waved in front of me. The little pad at the bottom was black, as if dipped in tar. "Go see your doctor."

I learned the next day that I had diabetes, the disease that had already killed one of my grandfathers and had sickened the other (he later dies of complications). In the doctor's office, my sugar read well over 300, which is enough to send most grown men to the emergency room, followed by a few days in the ICU, hooked to heart monitors and insulin drips. God only knows how long it had been that high - months certainly. Needless to say, I was terribly depressed in the months that followed - in my mind, I'd just been handed down a death sentence.

A few months later, I met a man who was lean, trim and muscular. I learned that he, too, had the disease. But rather than looking as of he were living under a guillotine, he was hale and smiling, obviously "high on life".

"Diabetes was the best thing that ever happened to me," he said with a grin. "I lost a ton of weight, and the fear of losing my feet or, worse, my boners, keeps me off my ass and exercising. Now I'm in better shape than I could have dreamed of when I was 25!"

I admit that, at the time, I thought he was nuts, but as the weeks went by, I found myself thinking of him, and eventually decided to stop moping and start sweating. My first foray into regular exercise was a pawn-shop bicycle purchased for $20, which I rode all over Columbus's west side.

Now that I have the benefit of more than a decade of experience with the disease, I can tell you unequivocally that it was good piece of advice, probably the best thing anyone ever told me. It's advice that I still follow, and while I do have to take oral medication daily, my frequent trips to the gym do keep me fairly lean and mean. I still have my feet (and, ahem, everything else).

I point this out because I'm always interested in new exercise trends, most recently the Wii Fit phenomonon. I ran acros this wonderful little article, written by Todd Levin, in which he eschews the de jour phenom for a more tried-and-true method: the Atlas Plan. Hilarity ensues. My favorite quote:

In every lesson, I found something I'd heard echoed by contemporary fitness experts. Atlas' instructions to avoid acidic, spicy foods like pickles, ketchup, vinegar and mustard are remarkably similar to one of the main principles in "Dr. Joshi's Holistic Detox," a recent best-selling diet book heartily endorsed by actress Gwyneth Paltrow. Although I'm not sure if Dr. Joshi, like Atlas, also recommends dousing one's genitals with icy water each morning until you experience a "pleasant warm glow in that region."

Of course, for each good idea contained within the Atlas course, there is an almost equal measure of bat-shit crazy. Sometimes I found his methodologies questionable, such as his advice for avoiding muscular stiffness: "feed the tissues by rubbing them gently with pure olive oil." (The course also suggests reserving some extra olive oil to rub into your scalp, which must have produced a smoky rotisserie-chicken aroma at the beach.) He also suggests a few too many bracingly cold morning baths. Combined with Atlas' insistence on leaving windows open year-round to let in fresh air, I wonder if he should have added an appendix to his course, titled "Coping With Pneumonia."


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