It’s said the first step is admitting you have a problem. For me, that’s not quite true. I needed a bit more of a jolt.
I take you back to May, when Manitobans were finally able to emerge from nearly two months of the first pandemic-related lockdown. Among the newfound freedoms was the ability to hit the links. So I headed to Kildonan Golf Course to tee it up on opening day and write about the experience in this very space.
My game, as expected, was bowling shoe ugly. But my big takeaway from that day involved how I looked while scanning through the photographs taken by my talented colleague, Mike Deal — and through no fault of his, I should add. Not to mention how rough I felt lugging around my clubs for more than four hours. Let’s just say it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park.
And so I made a bold decision, one I knew was going to take planning, focus and hard work: After years of struggling with my weight, I had to find a way to flatten my own curve. COVID-19 was changing all our lives in ways we couldn’t imagine. It was time, finally, to start taking some control back... before it was too late.
This went well beyond personal vanity, of being embarrassed by my appearance in my own newspaper, or being stung from the usual attacks from anonymous trolls on social media who will often go for the low-hanging fruit and fire off fatphobic insults when they disagree with your take on something.
It was about self-preservation. At the age of 45 and the heaviest I’d ever been, I was gambling recklessly with my future by putting myself into a high-risk category on several medical fronts. If I didn’t owe it to myself to try to get fit, I figured I should at least stop being so selfish and do it for my amazing, supportive wife of 20 years and our two wonderful kids, now 19 and 15.
In that sense, I already knew I had a problem. But seeing, and feeling, was believing.
Fast forward to this week, and I was back near the scene of my spring sporting crime. The golf course (and the several lost balls I left behind) were covered with snow, but Kildonan Park was filled with physically distant walkers taking advantage of a pleasant late-November afternoon. And, like nearly every day for the past six months, I was one of them.
Mike Deal was there, too, once again to take my picture. And this time, my reaction to what his lens captured wasn’t disgust and disappointment. Down 76 pounds since June 1 and the lightest I’ve been since my late 20s, it’s about so much more than a number on the scale. It’s about how I feel. And the difference is night and day.
Turns out, the first obstacle I had to overcome was in my head. Being forced to slow down and take stock of what really matters in life, as 2020 has done for all of us, was my long-overdue impetus for change.
Getting outside for at least a two-mile stroll each day was a difference-maker, for both my mental and physical health. What started as a bit of an ordeal — I remember having to stop and sit on a bench for a few minutes to catch my breath at the midway mark in those early weeks — became something I started looking forward to. I’d walk the same route every day, listening to the same music playlist, trying to top my previous best time.
The more I went, the quicker I got. And my two miles, which initially took close to 45 minutes, were eventually shaved down to the low 30s. So I added a third mile. And, most recently, a fourth, which I can now complete in just under an hour.
Rain or shine, sleet or snow, off I go — both while in Winnipeg and during my two stints in Edmonton covering the Winnipeg Jets’ playoff games and the Stanley Cup final. I’m closing in on 500 miles covered in that time (while on my third different pair of runners, having worn out the soles of the previous two).
Gyms reopening in the summer helped my cause as well, but I’d been going at least three times a week for the past couple decades. So that was basically status quo, although not being able to go between March and June had contributed to my sorry state of affairs. Along with far too much stress eating and late-night snacking, usually of both the sweet and salty variety.
I’m drinking a lot more water, at least two litres a day, starting with a big gulp of it first thing in the morning to kick-start my metabolism.
Last but certainly not least, I’ve been counting my points with the user-friendly Weight Watchers app, which creates a plan catered to your dietary habits. I follow it religiously, making sure to hit my daily max but not exceed it. It allows me to still eat any food I like — this is no crash or fad diet — but to be held accountable for everything that goes in my mouth. There’s a lot more fruit and vegetables on my plate, not to mention healthier portions and smarter choices.
This was a case of the devil you know, as I previously lost 80 pounds on WW over an eight-month span prior to getting married in the spring of 2000. I managed to keep most of it off for a few years, even running my one and only Manitoba half-marathon in 2004. But slowly and steadily it began creeping back as old (bad) habits began to return.
Folks, the moral of this story isn’t to humble-brag, but rather hold myself accountable in a public way. And, perhaps, inspire others who may be stuck in the same unhealthy rut I was in. I’m here to tell you today that if I can do it, you can do it. Find a plan that works for you, start with a small goal you can easily achieve, then build from there. Eventually those baby steps start to cover a lot of ground. And be gentle with yourself. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
This is definitely not a victory lap — even though I’ve actually started running some laps lately. I know this is a life-long battle, one I’ll have to continue to watch closely. I still want to drop another 30-40 pounds over the coming months, then work on remaining at that level.
After that, perhaps I can start focusing on shaving a few strokes off my putrid golf game. Hey, it’s good to have goals, right?
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.