Shirts getting bigger and bigger – realising I was a fat bastard part 2

Clothes hanging on a rail

Until I was 21, I was wearing size small t-shirts. I’m five foot six, and was relatively skinny. I wasn’t healthy by any means, but my weight was under control. Up until this point, I’d got away with eating heavily and never exercising.

But fairly rapidly, things began to change. I began to notice my clothes tugging a little round the edges. I moved onto buying medium t-shirts. Soon after I started to breathe in deep for photographs. It wasn’t too long until I moved onto large shirts.

And around this time, I started to avoid being photographed altogether. In the last four years, there are barely a handful of photographs of me. I’ve avoided them because I’ve been ashamed about the way I look – a shame that hasn’t been helped by rather relentless concurrent hair loss.

For a couple of years, this carried on fine. The number on the scales got a little higher, and the waist sizes on my jeans got a little bigger. My pot belly protruded incrementally further.

Eighteen months ago, I bought my first extra large shirts. My last ditch attempt to hide my weight gain and my ever expanding stomach. Being short, and with almost all my body fat developing around my middle, they hang awkwardly on my frame – sagging loosely around my neck and shoulders. Worse still, they do a fairly poor job of masking my belly anyway.

Then, ten months ago, I had one of those awful moments people dread. I’m not a smart dresser ever. The idea of wearing a tie is stomach churning to me. But sadly, for work, I occasionally need to make the veneer of an effort. One such time, I had a series of back to back meetings with journalists. I was wearing my one remaining shirt I could squeeze into. Two minutes into the first meeting, I start to feel a breeze around the base of my stomach.

I subtly check out what’s happening with my left hand. To my dismay, I realise that by an unfortunate turn of events, I’d transformed into cartoon character. I discover that not one, but two buttons on my shirt have popped off from the tension caused by my undersized shirt wrapping around my oversized belly.

For the rest of the meeting, I strategically cross my arms to cover the newly formed gap. And afterwards, I put a jumper over the top which will not move for the rest of the day.

Christ alive. How did I get here? How did I go from being almost definitely too skinny to literally tearing through the fabric of my clothes with my own body mass and my BMI telling me that I’m obese. Something had to give.

The point of this is that although I’ve only recently decided to take action to sort out my health and my weight, realising it’s been a problem has been a long time coming. It’s been a long journey realising and understanding that I am a fat bastard. And part of that journey has been the ongoing attempts to mask my weight gain through buying ever bigger clothes, while casting my old ones to the back of the wardrobe, knowing it will be a long, long time before they ever fit me again.

Blood, Sweat and Vomit – my second trip to the gym

The second time is bound to be easier than the first, right? Wrong.

After my painful and unpleasant first gym session, the following week I was filled with confidence. I’d got over the psychological barrier of actually setting foot in a gym. I’d finished one full workout. I’d persevered through the agony of the following days’ DOMS. I could do anything.

We started off the second session as we ended the first. A short stint on the rowing machine. So far so good. My trainer diplomatically tells me that my food diary “isn’t the best she’s seen”, before we move on to some surprisingly challenging jumping exercise. Who knew jumping could be so difficult? Of all the things I thought I’d struggle with – jumping wasn’t one of them. But apparently I did.

We move on to various other things with varying degrees of pain. And then we move onto something I vaguely remember from my childhood. We used to do it as part of warm ups before practice and matches when I briefly played in a football team. Walking lunges. Simple and straight forward. Sure, you might look like you’re in an outtake of Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks, but it’s nothing challenging. I’m blasé when my trainer tells me “this is one of the only exercises that often makes even me feel sick”.

One set through and I’m feeling just like Mark Corrigan does moments into a light jog. “An idiotic boob”. Thighs burning, gasping for air, we power through the following two sets.

We take a seat on some piece of gym equipment that I have no memory of. While resting, my trainer asks me where I would put myself on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is totally fine and 10 is going to be sick. I confidently give myself a 7 while holding my stomach, frantically swigging water and gulping for air. Moments later I tell her that I am in fact going to be sick, and run awkwardly toward the changing room, my legs buckling slightly as I go.

I fling myself rapidly into the cubicle. And then it comes. An ungodly wretch, as my body discards the litre or so of water I’d thrown down me in the last half our or so. Christ. My brain is working on overdrive, cascading thoughts around like a pinball. All the totally irrational and totally fucking wild thoughts you get when in a state of panic.

It settles abruptly on Andrew Marr. Two weeks prior I’d read Jason Williams of Sleaford Mods’ latest book. In it, he talks about his mind obsessing on Andrew Marr “doing that extra tug on the rowing machine”. That thought plants itself in my brain. Fuck – this is the end. Twenty-seven years old, trying to get my act together and it’s all going to come to an end on the slightly unsanitary toilet floor of a PureGym.

No sooner had that thought cemented itself than the second heave came. Specks of the morning’s strawberry granola (I’m trying already you see) splatter. This time it’s Mark Renton in Trainspotting. The image of him careering off the treadmill hits me suddenly, and the third heave arrives just on cue.

After the third, I hit that point when your body lets you know it’s finished. You feel that strange mixture of exhaustion, euphoria, embarrassment and relief. I pick myself up off my knees, and head to the sinks to clean myself off. Looking in the mirror, I can see that I’m pasty and shattered.

I head back outside, and my trainer asks me how I’m doing. I tell her casually that I threw up three times. She sighs, smiles and walks downstairs to get me some gum.

When she’s back she asks if I want to call it a day and talk about food, or whether we can do some light exercises for the rest of the session. We do food first – hoping at least this would be some respite.

Sadly, the news wasn’t good.

First things first, it’s an end to white bread, pasta and rice. I’ve long been of the view that people have got the idiom wrong. It should be that something is the “greatest thing since sliced white bread”. Alas, joyful, tasty, white bread, rice and pasta are out. Gritty, miserable brown bread, rice and pasta are in.

From the rest my disappointing food diary pastries have got to go to. As do most of my breakfasts, including – to my surprise – granola. It wasn’t worth bothering after all. We dodge the subject of the takeaway pizza or the two sides I had with my yaki soba when eating out that week.

We finish off the session with a few simpler things, none of which unsettle my stomach again. As I’m doing the warm down stretches, she promises me we won’t try the deathly walking lunges again for a while.

Later that day, I get an email with her meal suggestions. I don’t remember feeling this uninspired since Ed Miliband was leader of the Labour Party. I make myself wholemeal pasta for dinner, and decide that tomorrow’s breakfast is a banana pancake as that somehow sneaked onto her list.

Image credit: Channel 4 – YouTube Screengrab

The day after my first trip to the gym

One of the last things my personal trainer said to me before I left the gym at our first session was “you will probably feel quite sore tomorrow”. She wasn’t lying.

I woke up the following day, somewhat brimming from the undeserved pride of having done my first bit of proper exercise in year. That feeling didn’t last. As I reached over to turn off my alarm, my arms felt heavy, weak and pained. That feeling did last.

Throughout the day, even the most basic tasks were a struggle. Crouching down to get a pan out of the cupboard felt like a mammoth challenge. Rolling a cigarette was a battle. Walking up the stairs? Forget it. I was getting staggering pain in muscles I didn’t even know existed.

Painkillers and video games at the ready, I bedded down for the day. A day of rest and it’ll all go away.

Sadly, this hope was ill-placed. Tuesday through Friday were a write off. It feels pretty physically pathetic that after a short batch of moderately intense exercise your entire body decides to shut down. No amount of frantic googling of DOMS and trying to cheer yourself up with the knowledge that apparently “most elite-level athletes experience DOMS” will shift the gloom.

Naturally all of this was exacerbated by the fact that the usual comforts were also now apparently gone. What do I do when I feel down, tired and lethargic usually? Binge eat starchy, oily, sugary, fatty, salty, delicious foods of course. Not any more. Even before my new food regime had kicked in (stay tuned for that!), I realised I couldn’t put into my first week’s food diary a long list of crisps, white rice, potatoes, cheese, pizza, ice cream and biscuits.

So despite my good ambitions and high hopes, the first week after my first ever trip to the gym left me feeling miserable and dejected. By Friday I start to think this new fitness thing really isn’t for me.

Realising I was a fat bastard: Part 1

Despite only recently making the decision to get serious about my health and fitness, I’ve been feeling pretty up and down about my body and my weight for around four years. Time and time again, I’ve come up with gimmicks and quick fix solutions, thinking I could find the magic silver bullet to averting my eyes every time I see a mirror. Sugar free drinks. Elaborate rules about what I eat that didn’t change anything fundamental. Buying dumbbells that gather dust in the corner of the living room. For four years I found more and more ways of putting off the inevitable, and truly understanding the state of my health. And for four years I found more and more ways to ignore the fact that I was a fat bastard.

The first time I can remember starting to realise I was a fat bastard was on a holiday in the South West of England. For five years prior I’d been vegan, and I’d just recently begun eating dairy and eggs again. After a few months, I started to notice my body expanding in ways that were unfamiliar – which I assumed was largely down to thrusting cheese back into my diet. But after a few more months of growing and growing, I came to the sad conclusion that this wasn’t going to just go away if I ate less or no cheese.

I don’t recall if there was a particular moment or event that triggered it, but this realisation culminated in the ultimate in quick fix solutions – installing fitness apps on my phone. Perhaps intuitively, I thought that I needed to get a handle on the scale of things. If I had no record of what I was currently eating, what exercise I was getting, and so on, how could I change things at all?

So far so good. With my jazzy new free mobile apps installed, I began logging my meals and checking in on how many steps I’d taken. Naturally the exercise app remained unopened and unused. But I felt good about the seemingly high numbers on my pedometer each day (who knows if they really were high? But they made a damn impressive bar chart). And there was something therapeutic about recording all my meals and reminiscing about they were all so delicious. I didn’t bother looking at the data for a couple of weeks.

Holy fuck it was a shock when I did. Percentages were flying high all over the place – spiralling at over 4 and 5 hundred in places. Over the course of two weeks, not a single day had passed where I’d not consumed over 4,000 calories or double the recommended intake for saturated fat and sugar. On two separate days I’d taken in over 8,000 calories and 100 grams of saturated fat. Most days, my breakfast had seen me nearly hit – or in some cases exceed – the amount of calories I was supposed to have in an entire day. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t this.

I didn’t last long before deleting the apps (although I kept the pedometer, because who doesn’t want to know the exact speed they walk at throughout the day!?). With them gone, I think I convinced myself that I could just make small tweaks to my diet and it would all be okay in the end. I definitely felt that the scale of it was just overwhelming – far too much to take on.

And so with the apps went any drive or interest in changing. At the end of the day, a few extra numbers on the scales didn’t matter. I’d always been a little scrawny, so why care about filling out my t-shirts a little more? Sure 8,000 calories in a single day is excessive, but fizzy drinks and takeaways are a price worth paying, right? I’d got by just fine so far in my life like this, so why bother? The status quo was just so appealing.

First trip to the gym

Until three weeks ago, I’d never set foot in a gym. In fact, I hadn’t been regularly active for over a decade. But with my first personal training session booked, I got on the bus, adorned in my carefully selected gym attire. The cheapest pair of trainers I could find in the first sports shop I could find. A pair of tracksuit bottoms. And a brand new t-shirt I’d selected to be unnecessarily large so as to attempt in vain to hide my ever growing belly. I chose an Adidas t-shirt – with a vague memory that they had something to do with sport – so everyone would know I was super serious about my new fitness regime.

I arrive intentionally 15 minutes early, to scout things out and for a compulsory pre-workout cigarette. As I’m rolling my cigarette I look into the gym windows. Good Christ. Windows should be banned on gyms. They should be like sex shops, with blacked out windows and a seedy entrance round the back where people shadily shuffle in. That way the general public’s idea of the gym wouldn’t be just rows and rows of unbelievably huge men with strained faces lifting large weights that should be well beyond human capacity. It might make the whole first impression be just a little less intimidating.

I stub my cigarette out and walk inside. After fumbling for a while with the entrance keypad and nearly getting stuck in the strange door mechanism, I sit down in the foyer and await my fate with my new personal trainer.

She takes me into a small room and takes my height and weight. Sadly, my attempts to hide my physical anxieties were foiled at the first hurdle – my carefully selected t-shirt that would hide my body can’t deceive the scales. Worse still, apparently these aren’t your ordinary scales. These are somehow imbued with witchcraft, as my new trainer kindly tells me that actually my biggest problem isn’t my body fat – reassuring at first – but rather the substantial fat surrounding my organs. Who knows how the magic scales can tell this, and who knew I’d be coming out of my first session with a brand new thing to be paranoid about? Life’s just a roller coaster of treat after treat.

After my new terrifying medical diagnosis (presumably having layers of fat around your organs is not a good thing) she throws me onto a cross trainer to start off. Two minutes we’re doing. Easy. I can do that. No problem. Once I feel like I’ve got into the rhythm, my trainer politely tells me that I should be pedalling forwards, not backwards.

Having nailed going in the right direction, we move onto other things – starting with squats. We run through a few sets (I’m learning all the lingo), and I start to think that this isn’t so bad after all. I can do this fitness lark. There’s nothing to worry about.

Then we walk over to a different area, and I realise my legs have turned entirely to jelly, and I’m on the verge of keeling over. Luckily my trainer is walking in front of me, so she can’t see that I’m teetering on collapse. I steel myself as we move onto something else.

The rest of the session continues much in the same vein. And with each exercise, it becomes more and more painful, and I’m more and more breathless. At various points, my trainer helps me finish a set by basically doing all the work for me. But we make it through in the end, finishing first with some planks – which I’m convinced have no fitness benefit whatsoever and are solely designed as a modern form of torture (I managed 30 seconds, 21 seconds and 11 seconds – an achievement I assume is fairly pathetic). And then three long, arduous minutes on a rowing machine. Three minutes sounds like nothing of course. But after 50 minutes of more exercise than I’ve done in at least the last year combined, it’s the equivalent of dousing your thighs in paraffin and throwing a lit match on them.

We’re through. We’re done – I’m thinking. Oh boy, was I wrong. I’m then told that I have to do some stretches. I’ve always thought the whole ‘you need to stretch after exercise’ thing was basically nonsense. But now I realised that it can also be total agony.

It got even worse after that. My trainer said two words I’d been dreading: “food diary”. Images flicker in my mind. The three take-aways a week. The 150 gram bags of Kettle Chips I eat as a pre-dinner snack (or the similarly sized bags of Walkers lime and coriander chutney poppadoms – which are divine). The two cans of soup with three white bread rolls for lunch. The thought of writing all of that down and sending it to someone who’s Instagram feed is filled with early morning smoothies made my whole soul cringe.

And with that, we really are done in the gym. But as I leave to walk to the bus stop, my whole body feels like it’s imploding in on itself. So much for that good feeling you get from exercise. Maybe the second week will be better?

Image credit: Snehalkanodia — WikiMedia Commons