Update: Wrote a bit about how this has been going for me now, almost a year later: 50 Down, 20 to Go.
As a 36 year old overweight person trying to get into shape, I have some advice for all the fit and trim fresh college graduates: Do not let yourself go. Sounds obvious, but the realities of having a full time job and growing older are going to conspire against you. If you haven’t already, you will soon stop growing taller. You will no longer walk from class to class, instead you will be stuck behind a desk. You may gain a spouse, have a kid or two, and lose a majority of the time you might otherwise spend keeping fit. It will be a very exciting time, and hopefully you will be enjoying yourself. But do not let yourself go. Always be vigilant. Being young, it will surprise you how little time you have to exercise, but find the time anyway. When you start your new job, request a standing desk. If you are lucky enough to work within walking distance of some good lunch choices, take advantage. If you aren’t, pack your own lunch. Take a daily constitutional. Unless your boss is a jerk, you should be able to fit that into your work schedule. Do not let yourself go.
Because, and you already know this but probably don’t truly understand: getting back into shape when you are 36 and overweight is really freaking hard1. It truly does not matter how fit you were in high school and college. Your body forgets. Your mind forgets. Getting back to it is a fight, one that a lot of people never win. If you are fortunate enough to be in shape now, then do yourself a favor: Do not let yourself go2.
If you are young and in shape, you are probably now thinking I’m just stating the obvious. You are no doubt thinking to yourself, of course I’m not going to let myself go! I know, because I thought the same thing. In high school, I was on the swim team and by my senior year was in great shape. I wasn’t one of those bulky swimmers3, but I was slim and mostly well toned. I lost some of that muscle tone in college, but kept slim for most of my college career. Admittedly, I started adding pounds towards the end, but was still fairly skinny and healthy (as college students go). I still fit the same sized pants as in high school. Even so, I remember having an argument with one of my closest friends, who predicted I would become overweight within a few years. I thought he was being a jerk, and I was absolutely certain that he was wrong.
Shortly after graduation, I moved across the country and got my first post-college job. The next few years I gained a small amount of weight. It was subtle to me. I continued to wear the same pant size, but my girlfriend (now wife) noticed. I lived in a very walkable area, and curbed the weight gain primarily by walking almost everywhere I went. I wasn’t gaining anymore, but I never did loose any weight, either.
Now, here comes my excuse: I took a job which ended up requiring me to work 60-80 hour weeks for months at a time. To keep our butts in our chairs as much as possible, my employer catered meals for the company. Free food, endless hours of being behind a desk. When possible, I took walks with one of my work buddies. For a time I was going to the nearby gym with some other work buddies. But ultimately, I gave in. I stopped being vigilant. I forgot not to let myself go. I had to go up a pant size. It surely didn’t help that I was already on that road, and I’m not blaming the job for my weight gain; I could have kept myself fit, as evidenced by a number of my coworkers. But it was the time in my adulthood that I gained the most weight.
A few years later, I no longer worked for the 80-hour-week-employer, but hadn’t recovered from it, either. My wife and I had our first child. Losing ever more of my free time to child rearing4 gave me the excuse to reduce my already meager exercise time. I added yet another pant size.
I had let myself go.
My wife has asked me a few times if there are things in my life I regret. My answer is generally “no.” I’ve certainly made mistakes, and plenty of them, but I accept them, own them, and put them behind me. But this, the fact that I let myself go, I do regret. It may be the single largest mistake I’ve yet made.
And now that I am trying to get back into shape, I am paying for it. Four weeks ago I started jogging, following the C25K program. It’s hard. Painful. My body doesn’t like it. I know some of it is just my muscles not being used to the motions of running, but I also know that an awful lot of it is the extra work required to move all of that excess mass I’m carrying. But, with any luck I’ll keep at it and that excess mass will slowly disappear. It’s started happening a little already. After two years of making life changes and a month of jogging, I’m now half way to my weight goal. But there’s still a long way to go. A long way that I wouldn’t have to travel had I not let myself go.
So, no matter how obvious this sounds to you, remember it anyway: Do not let yourself go.