Fat. We know the word all too well. When we see a fat man or woman, we turn away. We think less of them because they’re well, fat. Portly. Chubby. Supersized. A big tub of lard. Sure, they can be nice, smart, talented, but they’re still fat.
I used to be that guy.
Not long ago, my wife and I embarked on a change. Not just a diet, but a complete change to our approach to life. Of course dieting was involved, not as a short-term fix, but as a permanent deviation from the path we had followed up to then. It meant closing doors on foods we loved and considered a norm, checking them off our dietary bucket lists, and choosing better, healthier alternatives. Counting calories. Limiting portions. Thinking carefully about everything we eat. Eating carbs only at breakfast. Eliminating potatoes, rice, pasta and much of the time, bread. No booze. No cheese. No more red meat. Sugar is verboten. Chocolate, ice cream, butter and other luxuries were consigned to the past.
Oh, and we exercise. A lot. Every day. On a bike, climbing 2,000 feet of vertical. Or swimming laps in the pool for an hour. Hard. Or cranking away on the treadmill. Calisthenics. Weights. Walking.
And guess what? It works. We’ve lost over 230 lbs. in one year.
It all comes down to stopping talking about it and actually doing it. Starting is the hardest part. The first few weeks of a changed diet and the pain of exercising muscles ignored for too long was almost unbearable. But we had each other for support, motivation and accountability. We set goals and instilled discipline into our lives. Not just willpower, but the discipline to stick to it. Over the ensuing months, those first painful days became a memory, replaced by a new process and addition to our routine.
Now, we can’t imagine not being the way we are. We remember all too well how we felt as fat people. We hated looking at ourselves, and felt the scorn others gave us, however unintentional. Every bit of pain, every bit of sacrifice, every little win we’ve notched is worth it. We feel better. We’re happier. And wiser in what we’ve learned along the way.
Which leads me to how I feel about fat people. Especially fat people making the same painful attempts we had to ourselves. I don’t look down on them. When I see a fat man struggling, I smile. I cheer them on. I look them in the eye and say sincerely, “Keep it up.”
Yesterday, I was on my usual bike training ride. As I climbed up a 7% grade, ahead of me I saw myself approaching an overweight man in his 60s slowly grinding his way up the hill on his bike. He was straining under his added weight. It must have been hell for him. But dammit, he was trying. As I passed him, I smiled and said, “You’re doing great. Keep it up!” And I meant it.
I was frankly proud of him for making the effort. It had to have been killing him. I knew that from personal experience. Because not long ago, I was that guy. I hoped that he would take encouragement from me and never give up, and like himself more for his commitment.
A few years ago, I read an article in a cycling enthusiast magazine that made me boil over. The author, the magazine’s editor, went to lengths in his article to sneer at the fat people he saw on the roads attempting to ride themselves into shape, referring to these miserable souls as “Freds.” He blasted the fat people on their bicycles as being inept, not worthy of sharing the roads with the svelte, elite über riders like him and his buddies. I was deeply offended at his prejudice, arrogance and for failing to sense that instead of chastising the “Freds” of this world, he should have been encouraging them, cheering them on. But he didn’t. He was too busy being right, being self-important, feeling superior and enjoying his moment to hate what he couldn't comprehend.
Are we so shallow that we can’t understand that inside each of us lives self-doubt, uncertainty and pain? Perhaps some overweight people want to be fat. Maybe they’re fine as they are, content not to change. But so many of us want to be better. It takes a lot of courage to confront ourselves, to commit to leaving our comfort zone and to go through the agony of changing.
But, as I have learned, we can do anything. That it’s never too late to reinvent yourself. We can be heroes. The key is starting, and sticking to it through the shockwave of the initial pain as our bodies and minds fight to resist change.
When I see a fat man struggling with all his might to climb a hill on a bike, an overweight woman beet red in the face as she jogs in obvious pain on a hot day, or a fat couple willing to be seen in a gym full of young hard bodies, I don’t sneer. I feel nothing but empathy. I cheer them on. Because not long ago, I was that guy.
We can all be better. Instead of showing scorn to the fat man or woman, cheer them on. Show them support. If they can do it, we all can.
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