Working my Way to Odinson

Big old Content Warning at the top for body talk around fitness and being overweight. If that sort of thing isn’t for you, I hope you’ll scroll and find some of my other articles to enjoy.

If you do read on, it is also important to note that I am writing about me, and me only. When I talk about losing weight and getting myself fit again, I am talking very specifically about what I want for myself and not passing judgement on being overweight in any way. If I didn’t want new (and old) things in my life I would quite happily continue as I am. But I do want, and to enjoy them the way I want, I need to lose some weight and build up my fitness level. All of which is to say, please miss me with any fatphobia comments. I am fat, it’s great, but it doesn’t work with where I’m going; one of us has to go, me or the fat, and it isn’t going to be me. Okay, onward.

Being overweight is something I have struggled with for over two decades of my life. When I was coming up through school and into college and theatre school, I was quite fit. I used to play rugby, volleyball, and soccer, I curled, I was on my high school wrestling team, I studied judo. And then I was in Boy Scouts as well, which led to me doing tonnes of hiking, canoeing, dog sled running…thing you might not think of as a sport but definitely need a certain basic level of fitness to do well and enjoy. Of course I also enjoyed eating (as I’m sure my parent’s grocery bills could attest) but that was balanced out nicely by my active lifestyle. Apart from being a huge nerd, I was also the stereotypical jock who made a bag of groceries disappear every day.

Fast forward to me leaving Fort McMurray for the bright lights and big city of Edmonton! As much as the move was necessary if I was going to work in theatre, it resulted in me losing a lot of the activities and sports I had previously enjoyed. Partly due to environment and partly to lifestyle changes, I became way less active. And that trend continued over the next thirty years. About twenty years ago I would say I firmly entered a sedentary lifestyle which has held true until now.

Recently I’ve realized how much I am missing a lot of the things I used to do, mostly hiking and camping. I also want to attend more cons in other cities ( you know, when the world isn’t trying to kill us all and it’s safe to travel) and I know from experience how much of a pain it is for me to get around a big con at my current size. Literal pain, I blew out my knee playing rugby and, even though it healed long ago my current weight puts a strain on that joint that I definitely feel on Con Day 2. I’d also like to get into both LARP and cosplay a bit more, and both those pastimes require a level of activity I’m not currently able to sustain.

What got me thinking about this today was a response to a Twitter meme  I posted asking folx to cast me as a fictional character. A friend responded with Thor, specifically the Marvel cinematic Thor. And that made me remember that at one point I was thinking of cosplaying as Thor for cons. And that led me back down the path of thinking about getting in shape for hiking and camping, among other things.

So as you might have guessed from the title, that is the long term challenge I have set for myself. One year from today I want to cosplay as Thor, hopefully at a convention. I want to be able to wander the con all day in costume without my knees or back giving me grief. And next summer I want to go visit some of our beautiful provincial and national parks, particularly the mountains. So there’s a mid- and long-term goal.

Leading up to both of those, of course, there will be several smaller goals to achieve. This isn’t going to happen overnight. I need to develop new habits around my activity level and eating (fish sticks, yes. And entire box of fish sticks at one sitting? Signs point to no). I love to cook so that’s a bonus. And my jo has let us know that we will be expected to work from home until at least the end of March. So that gives me four months and a bit to start work on some things and figure out where I am going with this before I have to adapt my new habits to things outside the home.

But I am excited to get started! Not only so I can enjoy not struggling to walk around the block. But for all the new crafting and stuff I get to explore. I have to build myself a Mjolnir, for instance, which is a non-trivial problem. But I am looking forward to the challenges to come, in a way I hadn’t really thought about in a while.

So you’ll likely see some posts about the things I am trying out and building on here over the next year. I’ll always post with a Content Warning at the top, so no one has to read it if they don’t want to. As I said before, my desire to get myself fit is a personal one for my purposes. I know folx struggle with body dysmorphia, eating disorders, and the like, and I always want to be mindful of that. Know that when I am talking about anything around food or fitness I am talking squarely about what works for me and not casting a broader net to also assume it would be good or welcome for anyone else.

So that’s it. I’ve made posts similar to this in the past. Obviously I didn’t follow through on those. But this is the first time where I have some of the tools I need to make a plan and stick to it. I hope you’ll enjoy following long as I work the plan.

And remember: When the only tool you have is a hammer, you might be Thor.

Dissatisfaction and Shame

There is a lot of argument floating around the ‘net about body image and body shaming and the overweight.  As an obese person it is hard not to get drawn into the conflict as it rages across my screen.  The pro-obese crowd want me to lose my shame and fight the brain-washing of the fitness-industrial complex and its “thin=fit” propaganda; the pro-fitness (best case)/anti-obesity (worst case) want me to recognize the horrible, destructive home I’ve created in my own body, and start fixing it now before I doom us all!

As with most arguments that threaten to tear the internet apart, both sides have something right and both have many, many things wrong.  I’ll get into details and specifics about that in a later post (or three, or bazillion), but today I wanted to focus on my position.  Because my situation is the only one I can talk about with precision, without delving into hypotheticals and corner cases.  So let’s talk about something I hold true for myself, so you at least have an understanding where I fall on the issue of body image, fat shaming and fitness.

For today I’ll keep it simple, give you the core belief I hold, upon which everything else I feel about this subject rests.

Dissatisfaction is not the same as shame.

I have been ashamed of my body in the past, and it led to years of crippling doubt and self-loathing.  Until I was about 19 or so I was athletic; I wrestled, played volleyball, cross-country skied, curled, hiked, studied martial arts.  After a period of which I will not speak (personal tragedy can be boring, and is not always for public consumption in any case), I moved out of the city I had grown up in to the city I live in now.  Two things happened concurrently; I stopped being physically active and I fell into bad eating habits centred on emotional eating patterns, and as those habits spiralled my waist expanded.  As my waist expanded my self-worth shrank, and to fill that void I ate more food, which expanded my body but continued to shrink my soul, and thus began the cycle of my own personal Dark Ages.

Long story short (too late!) it is only relatively recently that I have let go of that shame to any great extent.  But, and this was a hard-fought lesson, I am still dissatisfied with my body and that is okay.  Because that isn’t the same as shame, not by a long shot.  Why not? Because shame feels hopeless.  Shame tells you not only are you bad, but you will never be good.  It is really the only true power that shame has, because once you stop listening to that message you start to leave it behind.

(And yes, I’m simplifying and condensing.  If you really want to know specifics about how I started to work passed my shame you can wait for me to write a post or ask me questions in the Comments.  I’ll answer.)

Dissatisfaction, on the other hand, requires an impulse to fix, to make better.  And at least in my case, is driven by the disparity between where I am and where I want to go.  I am dissatisfied with my body because it doesn’t help me do the things I want to do.  What things?  Everything from hike in the mountains without discomfort (and by discomfort I mean fear of heart attack) to standing for long periods without my back aching to the point of spasm.  Basically, there are things I used to do without thinking about them, and I would like to do again without thinking about them, and currently can not.  Now, if I believe my body is the tool I use to move my mind around (and I do) and I am dissatisfied with that tool, I can either destroy the tool (which I was slowly doing, but no longer have a desire to do at any speed), replace the tool (sadly, science isn’t quite there yet, but give them time) or improve the tool.  Of the available options, I choose to improve the tool.

Note that no where in there do I discuss how society views me, or the expectations of people around me.  Because a close examination of this day will discover that not a single fuck was given.  I don’t care.  My dissatisfaction is based solely on what I want and expect from my body.  Nothing else.  If I didn’t want to go hiking or cross-country skiing again, heck, if I didn’t want to spend a day walking around a convention without needing to sit down several times, then I wouldn’t be dissatisfied.  I’d leave my body alone because it was giving me exactly what I wanted.  But I want more, so it is up to me to forge the tool I need.

Okay, so that’s the starting point.  In later posts I’ll talk about other aspects of what I’m doing, the hows and whys.  But I wanted to put this out there first so you, gentle reader, understood what is at the heart of any discussion I have regarding my body.  So if you come at me because I’m “just another ashamed fat person”, I’m going to point you back here.  If you start telling me how “obesity kills, and you don’t even know…”, I’m going to point you back here.

You think you know me?  Well, if you actually read this without dismissing, yeah, you do a little.

As always, your comments are welcome below.

No More Junk Food

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions.  I agree with the common wisdom, which states that all such promises made under seasonal duress are doomed to fail before they are even uttered.  I think that promises to myself need to be made freely, for good reason and without real or perceived outside pressure.  I mention all of this because this post’s title might imply I was making just such a doomed resolution.  But junk food and its implications have been on my mind for a while, and it therefore does not fall under the resolution heading.  This is more me coming to a conclusion and taking action based on it.

So, junk food.  It’s no secret that I am over-weight.  It is something that I have worked to fix, off and on, for the better part of three years now.  While I have been successful to a point (although I am still 100lbs or so heavier than I want to be, I was once 100lbs heavier than this), I have remained plateaued for a while.  In the last few weeks I have resumed my workout routines, and I am bringing my eating habits back in to a healthier line.  Doing this has had me thinking a great deal about the foods I eat, specifically my, “I’m too lazy to cook” go-to foods.  And I’ve realized that 80%+ of that list is comprised of junk food.

Let me be clear about what I consider junk-food.  Yes, things like potato chips and tortilla chips are on that list. Chocolate bars, check.  Anything that is by name or definition considered candy, also on the list.  Sodas, you bet.  But I also consider things like Kraft Mac n’ Cheese and most canned pastas/stews junk food.  Basically, any food that goes through a high level of processing before I can eat it, that falls in my definition of junk food.

My issues with junk food are many, but I can boil it down to two main points.  The first point is personal: junk food is just no good for me!  High in the unhealthy fats, loaded with carbs, salt and preservatives, often with added sugar…nope, none of it is even remotely healthy.  Damn tasty, no question.  But I pay a high health cost for that taste, with no real dividends, as my “washing machine abs” can attest.  And now that I am back on my work-out routines I can’t afford to eat foods that don’t pay out for me.  I need food that helps me with little luxuries like repairing muscle tissue, lowering bad cholesterol and maintaining a healthy metabolism.  And junk food, for all of its delicious taste, does none of those things. It in fact does the opposite of those things in many cases.

So obviously the personal reason would be enough to make kicking junk food to the curb a good idea.  But what I’ve been considering lately is the broader social issue of junk food and its production.  And I’ve come around to the idea that overly processed foods are bad for us on a societal level, not just the personal health level.  I haven’t found hard numbers to back this up (and if you do, or find numbers to refute, please drop a link to that info in the comments section), but I am willing to make the sweeping statement that North America consumes more processed food than any other part of the world.  My issue goes a little something like this:

– between fast food restaurants and processed foods available in stores, North America has massive quantities of processed foods available at all times.

– in order to maintain those massive quantities, North America first has to acquire even more massive quantities of raw materials for processing, or what we might call “real food”. For instance, if you want a bag of tortilla chips you first need large amounts of corn to render down.

– this quantity of raw material is in addition to the large amount of “real food” North America consumes outside of processing.

– So we are basically double-dipping into the world’s food supply.  Not only do we demand enough regular real food for everyone, but we also demand enough real food for processing.

And this is why I have an issue.  There are 7 billion+ of us kicking around this planet now, and there were food shortages well before we reached that worrying milestone.  What kind of sense does it make to allow companies like Frito Lay to buy up massive amounts of corn and potatoes to turn into chips, when there are parts of the world where people would sometimes literally kill to get their hands on those “raw materials”?  Because if it makes any kind of sense at all I’m not seeing it.

Before you start to worry this is turning into a “F%@& the Man!” rallying cry, let me be clear.  I’m not here to make you do anything.  These two points, one personal and one broader,  were points I pondered to choose my path, not yours.  I am the only thing in my life over which I have complete control and responsibility; I have no interest in trying to control anyone else.  Frankly, that would likely prove boring and frustrating and it doesn’t excite me.

So based on my conclusions, for weal or woe, let me tell you what I am doing.  I am giving up junk food.  Starting immediately, no more chips, sodas, chocolate bars, KD, pizza pockets and so on.  No more fast food of any kind; sorry, Pizza 73 driver, we can’t see each other anymore.  Basically, if it has an ingredient list longer than “egg” or “tomato”, I’m not buying it.

What do I hope to achieve?  Well I hope it helps to reduce my circumference at the equator, for one.  Second, I hope it results in me spending more time in my kitchen, cooking.  A lot of the processed foods I bought up to this point (salsa, hummus, tortillas and so on) can be made quite easily at home, and with healthier ingredients.  And cooking is just fun for me, so the more I get to do the better.  Third, I’m hoping to see an effect on my finances, as money that would have been spent acquiring pizza or wings stays a little longer in my bank account.  And given that 2012 is also my Year of the Con, extra money in the bank is not a bad thing.

Obviously I can’t tell you what to do.  You’ll eat junk food or not as you will.  But I do hope that my non-resolution resolution will make you think a bit about junk food, and whether it really deserves a place in your life.  Maybe ask yourself what its done for you lately…

Comments? Questions? Rebuttal?  Fire them off below!

SAD and the Renaissance Dork

I’ll keep this brief, since I want to get back to posting fun things around here and I’m pretty sure you’d all like to read fun things, too.  But I figured my tens of readers deserved an explanation for my unplanned and unexpected hiatus.

In a nutshell, I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.  As the name suggests, it is depression that only affects me seasonally, in this case (and in most cases reported) the change into winter.  I’ve had it since I was about thirteen, and been diagnosed with it since I was eighteen.  For those keeping score, that is officially a “really long time”, and over that time I have learned habits to control and manage it.  Habits that keep me from, oh I don’t know, ditching on a blog I love for days at a time.

What happened last week then?  This year, an extremely mild autumn and the fact I’m working from home these days combined to allow the SAD to sneak up on me.  Meaning that none of my habits were in place yet, leading to the SAD equivalent of being lead-piped in the back of the head down a dark alley.

But never fear, my loyal readers.  SAD ain’t gonna fool me twice.  My usual winter protocols are in place, helped by the fact that we just had our first snow-dump of the year yesterday.  It can’t sneak up on me again, so like years past it is under control.  You can expect my usual run of geekery here at Renaissance Dork, designed to keep all of us warm through the long winter months ahead.

So without further ado, on to the nerdery!

Rock on, Princess Leia!

Carrie Fisher has been in the news recently because of her weight-loss success story, dropping 50lbs since last December.  I remember when I first saw her appearing as the spokesperson for Jenny Craig, and I thought, “Good for her! I hope that works.”  Well, apparently it did, because she is now just one size larger than her daughter, as she reports in an interview.  And in another interview she jokingly mentioned a desire to fit back into her old metal bikini, circa Return of the Jedi.

And I say, good for her!  I don’t really know much about Ms. Fisher beyond what I’ve read on her blog and in her excellent book Wishful Drinking.  But I know she’s had a fair share of personal demons to overcome, and she has done so with wit and grace.  I won’t lie; as someone in the process of overcoming my own demons, she is somewhat of a new inspiration.  And as anyone working at weight-loss and fitness will tell you, you can never have enough inspiration.

The one of Ms. Fisher’s quotes that really struck a chord was, “I thought that was getting old. It turns out it was mostly getting fat.”  There is a tendency, especially for men, to accept a certain “thickening” of the body as we get older.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t ascribe the 100lbs or so that I’m over-weight to aging.  But as I got older, I started to feel easier with the idea of being a “comfortable size”.  Or fat, as the doctors call it.

Even after deciding to do something about my fitness level I still have moments of, “Well, is it so bad if I carry a few extra pounds? Maybe I could just lose 60-80lbs, that would be okay, right?”  But reading and listening to her recent interviews has helped me cut away some more of the excuses and little white lies I tell myself.  No, I don’t need to lose 60-80lbs, because I am 100lbs over-weight. So that is what I need to lose.  And if age does mean getting a bit thicker, well…$@#% aging.  Maybe it’s time to exceed my body’s programming a little.

So thank-you, Princess Leia, for giving me some much-needed inspiration.  I still stumble a lot, but its helpful to follow other people on the path.

*     *     *

There seems to be a moderately vocal minority who take exception to the idea of Carrie Fisher wanting to fit back in her “Slave Leia” bikini.  Most of it seems to be a mix of lazy feminism and ignorant ageism. Let me say this: Carrie Fisher is the only woman on the planet with the right to wear that costume.  Anyone else who has dared to do so since has done so as a privilege, and, at least through my eyes, has been mercilessly compared to the original. Now, I am almost certain she was joking for effect when she made the comments, but if she wasn’t then so what?  If Harrison Ford decided to get in shape and wear his old Han Solo costume around the house, would anyone be having even half a fit?  She is Princess Leia mother-#@%&ing Organa of the Rebellion, and she can wear what she Force well pleases.  That is all.

Questions? Concerns? Dirty Limericks? Fire them off in the comments below!

Back on the Fitness Train!

It wasn’t so long ago that I wrote a pretty compelling (if I do say so myself) post regarding my ongoing fitness.  And I’d love to report that everything fell into place and here I am, coming up on three months later, and I am down x lbs…but I can’t. Because I’m not. I’m actually fairly certain I gained some weight in there.

Now I could write a fallen-evangelist sort of post, flagellate myself for my many sins and weep bitter tears all the while begging forgiveness.  But bitter tears are in short supply right now and I prefer my self-flagellation in private (hey-oooooh!).  And really, what good would that do?  I know well enough by now that talking myself down is not going to change anything, or motivate me to make the choices I need to make.  I’m also going to avoid boring anyone with a laundry list of reasons or excuses.  They exist, no question.  But due to some work and struggle and tears on my part (and a little bit on others) they are also mostly past tense, and those that aren’t I’ve figured out how to manage.

I’m reaffirming my commitment to getting healthy and start fresh.  I’ve worked out what I needed to work out, my brain is sitting right, and it is time to get this train out of the station.  I have plans for the future, short and long-term, and oddly enough none of them include a cardiac episode or cerebrovascular accident (the $5 term for stroke).  Of course they could still happen because, well, I’m alive.  But I’d like to minimize them in the equation, so it is time to act as smart as I am and get back on track.

Starting tomorrow morning I’ll be back on daily.  It was a really useful tool and now that my life is a bit more stable I’m going to use it again.  And once again, if you are looking to track your own fitness goals I highly recommend it.  And yes, if you join up I will still friend you.

Workouts, though they never fully stopped, will now happen regularly again.  Sporadic exercise can be almost as detrimental as no exercise, so to train my body right I need to stick to a schedule of exercises that I will actually do.  For me right now that means increasing the strength training and a stepping away from formal cardio work-outs.  Since I was avoiding them anyway, and then getting myself in a BS cycle of, “well, I didn’t do my cardio so I shouldn’t do my weights until I do the cardio that I didn’t do because I hate it…”, I might as well just drop it until I find cardio I want to do (anyone want to buy me a bike? Just kidding…but seriously, just a basic mountain bike?).  I am, however, increasing how much walking I do every day. Not only is that some good fitness right there, but it gets me out in the sun, and vitamin D has been an issue for me recently.

And Pizza 73 will have to erect a statue to another Best Customer, because they are once again on the no-fly-into-my-tummy-you-delicious-wings-and-pizza list.  I’m sure this will cause them no end of consternation, but it is for the best.  They, and all the other fast-food delivery joints I frequented, will have to soldier on without me.  Besides fitness, this decision is in no small way influenced by my need to cut costs, and the grocery store is always a better bang for the buck than the restaurant.  So until further notice I will not be hitting their order pages or dialing their delivery lines.  But I will be stocking up on plenty of stuff I can cook right here in my kitchen, plus a bunch of healthy things I don’t have to cook.

In short, I’m back in the business of getting healthy.  And business is about to start booming!

So what about you?  Had any troubles sticking to your fitness plans?  What got you going again, and what kept you inspired?  Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear about it!

Three Ways to Start Getting Gamer Fit!

It is no secret that many table-top gamers are, let us say, big boned.  Husky.  Jabba-esque.

Fat. There, I said it.

I’m not judging, I’m about 100lbs north of my ideal weight my ownself.  It isn’t hard to see how it happens.  Sitting around, shovelling in junk food, and gaming til all hours does not lend itself to a high level of fitness.  And ff you are a 40+ gamer like me you also have a metabolism that is starting to wind down, so your ability to sock away the cola-and-cheezies with impunity is dwindling.

What can you do?  There are two main areas you can change to counter the “RPG spread”: activity and eating.  I’ll look at both in more detail in later posts, because they really are huge topics.  But everyone needs to begins somewhere, gamers, so here are three easy things you can do to get started:

  1. Take your game books for a walk – Throw your gamebooks in a knapsack (or if you switched to .pdfs, use bricks) and take them for a 20 minute walk every day. Ten minutes out and ten minutes back to the house will go a long way to getting your metabolism back on track. Just skip “rewarding” yourself with a cola after; try water.  And when 20 minutes gets easy, add 10 minutes to the walk.
  2. Stand during combat – Whether you are playing or game mastering this is a good one. Not only does it add some activity to a normally sedentary hobby, but I find it helps my focus; I am less likely to derail the combat with tangents while I’m standing, if only because I want to sit down sooner.  And with the latest studies questioning the health risks of sitting, there may be other reasons why staying on your feet is a good idea.
  3. Balance your television watching – Spend a few hours a night in front of the flat screen?  Buy a Swiss ball (yoga ball, exercise ball), and sit on it while you watch your favourite show(s).  This will engage the muscles in your core (abdominals and back muscles) because they will have to work to balance you.  Start with a half-hour sit-com, and work your way up to the Dune mini-series.  Make sure to sit up straight with both feet on the ground; slouching defeats the purpose.  If you don’t want to invest in a Swiss Ball quite yet, start with a stool or sitting on the edge of a straight-back chair.

Let me know if those work for you.  Have some ideas of your own? Share them in the comments section below…