Showing Off vs. Self Motivation/Accountability

My most recent fitness selfie after a 4-mile run.

I, like many others in my place before me as an obese person who is now a healthier weight and fit, have been called out from time to time for “Showing off” when we post pictures of us working out, running, exercising, or otherwise showing ourselves getting fit. What, I think a lot of people don’t understand, is that, at least in my case, I’m not posting those photos for you; I’m posting them for me. Please indulge me and allow me to explain by taking you back to the beginning of my journey.

When I took this photo, I remember thinking, “I don’t look that overweight.” Oof.

You see, I had given up on myself once a long time ago. I decided to forego caring for my health and eschewing all fitness, and as a result, I ended up morbidly obese and with fatty liver disease, Type-2 Diabetes, gum disease, declining vision, circulation and nerve issues with my lower extremities (all a result of the Diabetes), and with an alarming lack of physical fitness. I couldn’t climb the stairs in my home without being winded enough to take a break at the top of the staircase. On a vacation in Hungary, I scared my friends and my wife after climbing up some large hills where I had to sit down for a few minutes to recover from the lack of breath. I had all but accepted that there was no way I could ever be a healthy weight again, and physical fitness was beyond the realm of imagination for me. But then came a perfect storm of events and people that changed my life.

You would think that all of those health issues would be enough to make me think that I needed to make serious changes in my lifestyle to reverse the trend leading me to an early grave, but you would be wrong. Like I said; I had all but accepted my fate. That was until one morning, I found that I could no longer tie my shoes without holding my breath because the girth of my stomach was so large, it physically impeded my ability to bend over. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and the impetus for change I needed, but I still didn’t know how to get there. By chance, my cousin Sarah, a Physician Assistant, was staying at our house and visiting, and one day she sat down to talk to me about my health. “You know, you can’t sustain this weight forever. You are literally going to end up in an early grave unless you do something right now to reverse the trend.” I looked at her sadly. “I know this, but there’s nothing I can do. I can’t exercise. My knees hurt to much to do anything.” That’s when she dropped the bomb on me that changed my life. “What if I told you that you could lose weight just by changing your diet? Without exercise, and without any weird programs or pills?” I said I was incredulous, but asked her to explain, and that’s when she told me about Whole30 and Paleo.

Now, to be fair, I’d heard of both, and I had even read up a bit on both, but it never occurred to me that I could do both to lose weight without exercise. The Marine Corps had hammered into me the false pretense that to lose weight, you need to exercise. This is false. To get fit, you need to exercise. Does exercise help with weight loss? Of course; creating calorie deficits is the core of weight loss, but it’s nearly impossible to out-exercise a bad diet. That’s why literally every weight loss program, whether it’s shakes, pills, powders, patches, or food plans tell you, “This program coupled with a sensible diet and exercise…” What they don’t tell you is all you need is a sensible diet and exercise to get healthy and fit; you don’t need their products. I’m living proof. But I digress.

She told me about how she lost weight on Whole30 herself, and how she had transitioned into Paleo and how she continued to lose weight and get healthier. While I was still a bit incredulous, I decided to give it a go, but there was one big hurdle; my wife. I needed to enlist her help and support in this, because I knew that my chances for success going it alone were slim. When I first broached the subject, I was immediately met with a hearty, “No way am I doing that.” I expected the response, so I had one of my own armed and ready to go. It was the nuclear option, but I felt like this was literally my last chance at getting healthy. “Ok, then we seriously need to go to a lawyer and get my will done and make arrangements for what happens when I die, because I won’t live long at this weight.” She blinked a few times and stared at me and my audacity, but she didn’t respond with anger. I told her, “Look. I know this is a big change, but with the reading I’ve done, I read that Whole30 is restrictive, but it can be done in a way that doesn’t make you hate food. Paleo is even better. If we do this, I promise I won’t let our food get boring. I don’t want that either.” After looking at me silently for a little bit, she finally said, “I’ll think about it.”

Think about it she did. She did a lot of research, reading, and thinking before getting back to me about it. Finally, she said one day, “Ok. I’m in. Looking at the recipes made me realize a lot of these foods actually look really good. I’ll give it a try.” This was in August 2015 and we set our start date soon thereafter. There was no reason to wait for January; we needed the change to happen ASAP. We set our start date for two weeks from that day, and we set about getting rid of all the non-Whole30 compliant food we could (and gave away the rest) as well as purchasing all the new staples we would need to take on our new lifestyle. We finally started our Whole30 in September 2015 and by the end of that 30 days, I had lost 20 lbs and Sherry lost 10 lbs. We were both convinced and while we transitioned to Paleo, we both continued to steadily lose weight. By the end of the first year, I had lost 130 lbs and Sherry lost 65 lbs. While looking at some photos of us before and after the weight loss, I noticed that she looked a lot better than I did in regards to not just her weight, but her fitness. She was running regularly while she lost weight while I was adamantly and defiantly against all exercise. I looked soft, pudgy, even at 130 lbs less. I realized that I needed to do something different. It was only then that I decided to add fitness to my daily routine.

I had lost a lot of weight, but I was still pudgy.

I started slowly and with very little exercise; push-ups. I did as many as I could one day until my arms began to hurt and then I stopped. I did 3. But I didn’t let that tiny number discourage me. The next day, I did 3 again, but the following day, I did 5. I worked at my push-ups daily until I was doing 50. Then, I started walking. I would try to make the walk as brisk as possible to get my heartrate up, and I walked for 30 minutes. Then, one day, while walking around the lake in front of our home, I found that I was walking as briskly as I could but I wasn’t feeling like it was enough to raise my heartrate. I needed to do more; I needed to jog. So, I picked up the pace and jogged the rest of the time. I kept up this jogging routine until one day I realized I was no longer jogging at a leisurely rate; I was running. My run times went from 11 minute miles to 10 minute miles to 9 minute miles and then to 8 minute miles. None of these increases were due to any hard work; it was a natural progression. I did discover that running every other day really helped with not only the recovery of my muscles, but it also helped with me making real gains in speed and distance. As I ran faster, I was running farther in that same 30 minute window.

Starting with the push-ups. It wasn’t easy, but I got better and stronger.

After running for 6 months, being in the best shape I’ve been in since being on active duty in the Marines, I had a crazy thought while running; what if they let me back in the Reserve to finish my 20 years of federal service in the military? Later that day, I called the Marine Reserve who said they’d accept me, but I would have to drill in Minnesota due to my MOS. My next call was to the Army National Guard who said I could drill 8 miles from my home but I’d need a new MOS. I decided to join the ARNG, and I am still a National Guard Soldier today.

A selfie at annual training in 2019.

About a year after joining the National Guard, I decided to add weightlifting to my routine because while I was getting pretty fast at running and I was doing well with my sit-ups and push-ups for the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT), I didn’t feel very strong. I decided on the StrongLifts 5×5 program because it’s focus was on functional strength and balance versus bodybuilding. I didn’t care about getting bulging muscles; I just wanted to be stronger to handle the increased responsibilities I had as a Fire Direction NCO.

It’s been over two years since I started weightlifting, and I have made some incredible gains in strength. I have found that my joints hurt less, I struggle or strain less to lift and carry things, and even my ability to do fun stuff like mountain biking or kayaking have been directly impacted in positive ways due to my weightlifting. Even my wife Sherry began weightlifting a few months ago after seeing the changes in me and my fitness.

Doing squats in my home gym wearing my favorite pink Chuck Taylor’s. They are great weightlifting shoes.

So, now we’re all caught up. That’s the journey I’ve been on over the past five years that brings us up to speed. Now, back to the topic at hand: fitness photos. In the case of this blog, I post photos for many reasons including hoping to motivate others, showing the changes in me since my morbidly obese times, and evidence to back up my words. But some reasons others might not consider is that I also post photos here and on social media for myself. I post them as a sort of accountabilty to put myself out there. A source of motivation for me is staying true to my word; if I said I was going to do something, I work hard to keep my word. By posting fitness selfies, I’m putting it out there: “I am working hard to stay fit and I’m not going to give up or quit.”

Sherry and me at my birthday dinner in 2019

I know that when some people see a fitness selfie, they get upset because they infer that I’m bragging or pushing my success into their faces. Some folks even project their own dissatisfaction with their health and/or fitness with criticisms of my diet or my fitness. And you know what? That’s okay! I used to do the same thing. I recognize what’s going on, because I’ve been on the other side. It wasn’t until the stars aligned and the perfect storm happened before I changed my lifestyle and it took even a year longer before I accepted fitness into my daily routine. So I’m not mad. It does, however, make me sad. I remember how I felt back in my morbidly obese days. How hopeless it felt to surrender. I don’t wish that on anyone, and I do anything I can to help.

That should bring you up to speed, and give you all the background into why I post the occasional fitness selfie. It’s not all for you; it’s mostly for me. And I hope that’s okay.

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