I know what I said about weight, and believe me, I meant it. What I’m about to say may seem, at least superficially, contradictory, but it’s less about what the weight is, and more about what the weight means.
Let me explain.
There I am, in the bathroom, unclothed. With one toe, I drag the digital scale out from under the counter, tap the reset button, and step onto the vague footprint patterns that tell you where to put yourself. The readout bounces around slightly, as if doing math, and then settles on XX9.5lbs. This is the second highest number I have ever seen, while standing in this exact spot.
Note: I’m not giving the actual numbers here because this isn’t a comparison point between you and me, but only rather, a comparison between me and old me.
Now before we tangent ourselves into some nettlesome discussion of thin/fat/lazy/fit/self-worth vs. self-loathing, etc., not one single pound the scale reported to me has much to do with how I perform on the bike. That part is consistent with what I said about weight before. There is also no real aesthetic problem. I look in the mirror. I see me. The scale indicates I’m ten pounds heavier than the me I had come to know last year, but I don’t see the difference. The actual number is irrelevant except as signifier of something, if you’ll excuse the pun, larger going on.
So what is that, and why does it matter?
My friend Phil wrote a book. And in that book, he explained what happens to us, hormonally, as we age. You should read the book, because it’s funny AND informative, but ok, you don’t have time, so I’ll cut to the chase. As testosterone levels drop and building muscle gets more challenging, men of a certain age begin to soften around the middle. We retain weight in a fairly predictable pattern. This is probably where I am right now (at 50, very nearly 51).
Here’s where I’m going to contradict myself and tell you the obvious truth. I don’t want to age. I don’t want to soften. I don’t want to slow down. My ego/vanity contend, despite the facts and inevitability of entropic decline, that I should be special, always above average, always on the front foot, always defying expectations. The more considerate part of me believes fervently that, despite all I’ve just said, I must always accept myself as I am and value that person, who is, after all, the product of my very best efforts to date. The reality I live in is a slightly chaotic mixture of these ingredients.
The most successful way forward, I suspect, is in the creative tension between my conflicting attitudes. If I push away the ego and vanity and insecurity they produce, but also accept that I won’t be what I once was, the equilibrium point is engaging the healthy habits I know will produce the best me and accepting whoever that turns out to be.
Statistically speaking, there is no difference between XX9.5lbs and XX0lbs. They are the same, and both likely within the margin of error for my scale. And yet, we set goals. We draw lines. We imbue numbers with meanings that aren’t inherently there. That half pound represents some chimeric boundary in my hormonal shift into less-than-awesomeness.
So yesterday I went out and panic-trained for a few hours. That usually works, right? Then I went to the grocery store and bought the good food, the whole food, the real food, and I began to hatch plans to eat it, instead of what I have been eating. This is the crux of it really. I have two teenaged boys living with me. They crave calories like my dog craves naps in patches of sun. When I’m with them, the drumbeat of requests for all manner of edible garbage barely abates. As the addictive sort, I resist the best I can, but too often go along for the greasy ride. I don’t drink, smoke, or do illicit drugs anymore, can’t I eat a double cheeseburger from Dairy Queen with a cinnamon roll Blizzard afterwards without casting myself into a pit of shame?
The shame is nonsense, but the food is still a bad idea.
At the edge of a black hole, there is what’s called its Event Horizon. Just there, the pull of gravity is overwhelming, and matter that slips across that divide disappears into the hole’s singularity, never to be seen again (although, yes, some light and radiation does reemerge, so called Hawking radiation, but don’t step on my metaphor, ok?). XX0lbs might be my event horizon, the point at which one me disappears, and the thing on the other side contains no information about the me that went in.
None of this is real (actually black holes and event horizons are real). None of this nonsense in my head has objective meaning. I can look good and enjoy riding bikes and continue to deserve love and compassion at XX1lbs. Regardless of my insecurities, what happens to virtually everyone my age is sure to happen to me too, just as one day the reaper will knock at my door and carry me away to oblivion.
In the meantime, I have decided (again) to resist gravity’s pull. To return to the lifestyle I think produces the best me, one with plenty of riding, plenty of good food, and far less time naked, perched on a scale, wondering if that’s a knock at the front door I’m hearing, even if only faintly.
“I don’t want to age. I don’t want to soften. I don’t want to slow down. My ego/vanity contend, despite the facts and inevitability of entropic decline, that I should be special, always above average, always on the front foot, always defying expectations.”
I am working on a piece right now about this very topic. You really did a beautiful job narrating that internal dialogue. At some point, we have to let it go. Otherwise, it can drive all sorts of unhealthy behaviors, at least in me.
Yes, there’s aging. But there’s also not putting in the requisite work or not eating the right food or eating too much food or… The second-guessing when one is on the path away from fitness haunts and taunts.
Thanks for the lovely thought piece, Robot.
That was a really good piece, Robot. But to some degree, we have to let go of the vanity and accept that short of the grim reaper chasing us down as we try to stay off the front, we all end up at the same place on that far shore. Some show up at the finish line with more panache than others, but no one gets out of this life alive.
Had my own nightmare with the bathroom scale a few years back. In 2016 I tore up my rotator cuff and biceps tendon running on ice about to hop on my commuter bike. Don’t ask why. For some reason it didn’t bother me. I was still riding like a house on fire. Then my doc at work said something was wrong with my right side. Sure enough, a lot of muscle mass evaporating. Had the MRI and they said, congrats, you need surgery. I knew that anyway as the lack of muscle tone was giving me fits at night as my arm kept going out of joint in my sleep and waking me up with pinched nerves. So a few weeks before the anticipated date with the knife fight, I broke my foot in a second case of spazmitis.
To make a long story short, I was a couch potato from August to January and gained fifteen pounds of lard on a 155 lb frame. I looked like shit and felt like shit. Took a couple years to burn it off and look like a slight resemblance of my old self again. Still a little heavier than the olde daze, but the strength and fun factor is back. I’ll be 69 in January and feel pretty good, but we never know when that knock will come at the door. I just watched the memorial again for my brother in law, Steve. And he was 59. One of my best friends in Hawaii, about four years older than Yours Truly, is being treated for Stage IV cancer. Bum trip.
So the bottom line? Give it Hell and feel good for as long as you can. Some day it will all come to an end but as Warren Zevon said, until then, “enjoy every sandwich”. Or every bike ride, I suppose.
Damn. You’re in my head again!
I noticed some softening in the last six months. I’ve blamed it on bad food choices when, really, it’s a bad habit I’ve let develop. I’m snacking when I’m not hungry. Every other week, when the kids are with their mother, I’m bored. I eat. It shows.
Thanks for the book recommendation. I’m going to get that one. And Happy Thanksgiving. Don’t eat it all at once…