Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Yo-Yo Syndrome: Do We Conquer It as Seniors?

Weight has been a lifelong struggle for this ancient scribbler. Since New Year’s Day, I have lost 7.7 pounds; therefore, I am hoping that after all these years, I have figured it out. We'll see. Let’s hear it for senior power.

The first time I remember being really aware of my weight was when I played football for my high school. I was the heaviest guy on our team, and in fact the only player over 200 pounds. That was a good thing for that sport, of course. I played center on offense and what was called "middle guard" on defense. I guess I did a pretty good job of clogging up the middle and menaced a fair number of skinny quarterbacks.

As a college freshman, the "Freshman 15" (pounds gained from eating away from home) was more like the Freshman 50 for me. I went to what was then called The Party School of the South, and really let things get out of control. My best friend and I often had breakfasts of beer and cheeseburgers at a corner eatery called "Doc's." I don't think Doc was a real Doc -- or certainly he didn't serve up health food. (My alma mater is Washington & Lee, BTW, and it was/is an excellent academic institution, even with the famous partying -- the Fancy Dress Ball, frat parties, and all the rest.)

As a young adult, I started with a doctor (a real Doc this time) who was an absolute fanatic about losing any excess weight. He put me on some kind of diet pills that I am sure are on the banned substance list now. They made me high as a kite and not a lot of fun to deal with. So we fired him soon enough. (I liked the beer-and-cheeseburgers Doc a lot better.)

I went to a better Doc, an internist, who discovered in my 20s that I had a heart murmur, which he said was the result of a congenitally leaky aortic valve. This Doc predicted that eventually I would have to have it replaced. He was prophetic, but it was not until age 63 that I had to have that done, along with an aortic root replacement as a bonus.

So that doctor's visit in my 20s gave me extra motivation to be fitness-conscious, which I was, although not always being a good practitioner. Virginia Gov. Chuck Robb actually set up a Governor's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, and appointed me to it. Then our newspaper editorial department beat him and his Governor's Office team in a softball game (even though he played state troopers as ringers), and he probably regretted ever having placed me on any council.

During these years, I rarely thought about the heart problem, when doing things like playing industrial-league softball (which was pretty fierce; we nearly got into a brawl with the cops' team, for instance). But I did have the sense in the back of my mind that I should take fitness seriously. When the original "Rocky" movie came out, I really got pumped. That was about the time marathon running became a craze, and I got into it. I completed a couple of Richmond Newspapers Marathons and many 10Ks, along with 10-milers and half-marathons.

Amazingly, I actually got my weight a little below 200 -- below my schoolboy athletic weight! Despite that wonderful feeling of being relatively lithe, I was not of the body type suited for long-distance running. I still have this surreal memory of getting up at 3 a.m. once and doing a 20-mile training run under a moonlit sky in preparation for a marathon. I read Runner's World religiously and fancied that the skinny guy living inside me had been liberated. It was an adrenalin rush, and I am glad I had that experience. But my knees probably paid the price. I am pleased, though, that I can still walk for fitness with my bionic knee.

My general fitness level took a serious hit around the time of Y2K, when I decided I wanted to have a taste of being a Washington think-tank wonk after all the years of newspapering. Before we found a home to which to relocate, I spent six months commuting between Richmond and Washington, and my eating venue morning and night too often was a Golden Arches halfway between the two cities. It was like the Freshman 50, and Doc's diner, all over again.

In 2005 my heart surgery finally came, and then a wonderful period of cardiac rehab with the help of great nurses and fellow survivors at Potomac Hospital. Since then, I have managed to stay roughly at my post-cardiac rehab weight even though I would benefit greatly from shedding 20 pounds. I have gone on streaks of losing 10, only to backslide and pack it back on. And then this April, the time finally came for total knee replacement surgery -- my paying of dues for playing football and running marathons. The physical therapy – though tough – helped motivate me once again to stay active into my 70s (and God willing, beyond).

Why do I have some hope that the 7.7-pound loss of the first six months of 2013 might becoming an enduring trend? Not because of any fad diet, of which there are hundreds. No, the difference is that I am now thinking before each meal (or snack) about what I am about to eat. Do I really need that junk food -- those munchy/crunchy or sweet things? No I don't. So this time, I really mean business. For the past seven years, I have achieved some accountability on a weight-loss thread of a heart-buddies' forum. And that has helped a lot. And of course, I owe much to my constant walking companion, Sadie the Superdawg! 

Now I am doubly accountable because I am blogging about it. And I am diversifying my workouts: the physical-therapy exercises, the dawgwalking, exercise bike, and walking in the pool.

Who knows? Maybe eventually I'll be brave enough to post a picture of my actual weight on my bright red Weight Watchers' scales.

   © Robert G. Holland   2013

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