Fit or Fat?


For most of my life, I’ve been relatively fit and active.  But there was a brief time when that wasn’t the case.  Over the span of four years, I gained 125 pounds — and lost it again — and have kept it off for over 15 years without stressing over it.

Here’s what I mean…

Pretty consistent from the 80s through most of the 90s.  Then, in 1998, something changed.  I went through a rough patch (I think it was an unrecognized MS exacerbation), became distracted with my dissertation and a heavy teaching load, and my longstanding personal nutrition and exercise habits fell by the wayside.  By the Summer of 1999, I was looking “prosperous.”  By Autumn of 2000, I couldn’t see myself, at all.  One morning (around the time the “2000” picture was taken), I woke up, looked at myself in the mirror, and was struck by the realization: “I don’t recognize myself anymore.  I look like the guy who swallowed Kevin.”

My weight had gone from a fit 140 to a mind-boggling 265.  My waist had gone from a trim 27” to barely squeezing into a 46”.  My body fat went from around 8% to…well…far too high to countenance.  I was hiding my face behind a beard and my personal demeanor had entirely changed.

When I was scanning through old photos for this post, I noticed that there are precious few of me at my heaviest (I found 3), and none were taken alone.  Normally outgoing, now I was withdrawn into a thickly insulated version of myself.  I had to do something.

There is no “secret.”  I wish there were.  If there was a secret, I’d be a billionaire.  If I said there was a secret, I’d be a liar.  The goal is deceptively simple: eat better, eat less, move more.  But the challenge isn’t in your nutrition or activity: It’s in your mind and your environment.  It’s in learning to see yourself, your decisions and your possibilities in a better way.  It’s not about “dieting” or “exercise.”  It’s about changing your identity, your motivation, and how you operate in the world. Yes, that’s far easier said than done, but the science exists that will help us attain our goals.  We just have to learn and practice it.

So I did what any self-respecting behavioral researcher would do: I made myself the center of my own single-subject research design, systematically altered my environment, and modified my behaviors until I achieved the result I desired.  I monitored the right things, carefully planned and executed changes, reinforced new habits, then collected more data to check if I was, indeed, heading in the right direction.

By late 2001, I was close to my old self again.  And by Summer of 2002, there I was: recognizably me, once more.  I’ve pretty well stayed there ever since.  I’ve had to keep at it because living with Multiple Sclerosis adds another level of challenge to the enterprise.  Maintaining a high level of fitness isn’t just a lifestyle choice for me — it’s about building as much capacity as I can to keep the MS at bay.

I understand, all too well, how easy it is to get distracted or overwhelmed with life, discover yourself exactly where you didn’t intend, and have to fight for every forward step.  I not only know it as a social and behavioral scientific observer — I understand it as someone who’s lived to tell the tale.

What did I learn from all this?  Often, we think we’re making good decisions (or at least benign ones) when we are not.  Some things are simply out of our control, but on the balance, better decisions lead to better lives.  Real data, real science and real experience, supported by the right technology, give us the tools to do just that.  In the end, that’s what I do through my consulting, speaking and writing: I show you how to see the world more clearly, make better decisions, and put them into action.  If that’s something you or your business needs, then contact me.