The numbers on the bathroom scale flickered indecisively for a moment before settling on the final number: 175.0.
That couldn’t be right.
It was four in the morning. I never weigh myself this early, but I had decided to just go ahead and step on the scale because I was up — since the dogs had decided I needed to be up at four in the morning.
I stepped off the scale. Maybe I’d been standing on it weird.
Then I tried again.
Just checking in
Six months have passed since I began the 2019 edition of “One Month at a Time.”
It’s been a pretty good half year. So far, I’ve rediscovered my running legs and can run up to 7 miles.
These are not pretty, graceful miles, but they are miles.
I’ve also learned to ride a motorcycle, acquired the nearly forgotten recipe to my grandmother’s coconut and pineapple pie and driven a street sweeper.
There’s more to come, but a lot of people have been asking about my weight — almost daily. Talking about that now seemed like a good idea — and I had a spare weekend to fill.
My general theme, this year, is learning about health and fitness. It’s a very personal mission.
How we got here
In January, I weighed 209 pounds, down from 253 pounds back in September when I’d gone in for routine checkup with my doctor and the words “renal failure” had been impressed on me.
I left shaken, worried I’d finally done something irreparable. What was next for me? Heart disease? Diabetes?
Everything seemed related to my weight, which were central causes to my elevated cholesterol and blood pressure, which led to the hypertension.
Hypertension can cause kidney trouble, I learned.
Fearing death or dialysis, I put myself on a diet and began keeping a food diary on my phone.
I faithfully counted calories, which sounds like a hassle, but so did having to check my blood sugar and administer insulin shots.
The weight came off, but my blood pressure and cholesterol didn’t drop much. My kidney function didn’t improve.
I needed to do more, and “One Month at a Time” seemed like a good place to explore the effects of a serious, lifestyle change.
I’ve done this before
In Year One of the column, I tried a vegan lifestyle and gave up animal products of all kinds. I lost a little weight, but not much and not for long. Oreos, Skittles, Fritos and chocolate frosting were all vegan, I learned.
There would be no cheating around a change — and I needed to change.
For the most part, I like to think of myself as an average West Virginian (sometimes a little less than average).
As a group, West Virginians routinely top the national lists for obesity and health-related misery. While I wouldn’t say I was a poster child for poor health, I was definitely a card-carrying member of the club.
I wasn’t just a little overweight, I was obese; and while I didn’t have cancer, diabetes or leprosy, I did have hypertension, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and that scary thing with my kidneys.
Even with medicine, I didn’t feel great. I was easily winded, prone to headaches and was uncomfortable with how I looked — sometimes a bit revolted, which only gets aggravated when your picture appears every Sunday in the newspaper.
But I thought I wasn’t really that far off the mark of what I should be doing to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Sure, I could dine out less and quit drowning my bad days in peanut butter and chocolate ice cream, but most of the time I was eating healthy stuff and I exercised.
I lifted weights at the YMCA. Sometimes, I swam, so why was I so fat?
I didn’t really know, but I wanted to get in legitimately good shape.
The yearlong mission
Because I’m a guy who likes goals, I signed on to participate in the Spartan Beast race, a grueling 13-mile obstacle course race held Aug. 24 at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in Glen Jean.
Not only would I have to run 13 miles of hilly, crumbling terrain during the height of the summer heat, I’d be expected to scamper over walls, climb ropes — maybe slay a dragon.
I figured if I could do that, I’d have to be in the best shape of my life. But in January, I couldn’t run half a mile without stopping, and I’d never been able to get to the top of any rope.
I’d been a junior high gym class washout.
The race had the added attraction of being something I failed to attempt two years ago.
I needed help training and reached out to CrossFit WV.
CrossFit has the reputation of being an almost cult-like group of fitness loonies, a secret society of fit bodies who’d rather run to work than take a car. CrossFitters didn’t eat, they just drank weird protein smoothies made with powdered jellyfish or something.
But I’d also heard what they did worked.
I visited a couple area CrossFit gyms but made CrossFit WV in Charleston my home base.
From the start, I was an awkward, sloppy mess, and much weaker than I imagined I ought to be, but slowly I began to improve.
I started to feel better.
I liked the CrossFit community. They were social and everybody there seemed to be looking for something — same as me.
At the end of January, I asked if I could stick around and they said sure.
I get to class about four times a week, most weeks.
In the meantime, people began commenting on how much thinner, healthier or even younger I looked.
By the end of February, I replaced all of my jeans. I had to do it again by the end of April.
The contents of my closet dwindled. Sports coats, a suit, an old leather jacket all went to Goodwill.
Replacing clothes wasn’t cheap, but it was cheaper than the bills for the blood work and sonograms my doctors had ordered over the winter.
I’m still paying for those.
In February, my doctors took me off my assorted prescriptions, which was good timing. My blood pressure medicine was under a recall. It might contain something that causes cancer.
Then in April, tests on my kidneys came back normal.
Looking ahead and lessons learned
As I slimmed down, I thought about what would happen after I reached my goal weight and wondered how I could maintain it.
Because of the food diary, I always looked at what I ate, and I learned that maybe what I’d always thought about what I ate was wrong.
For years, I mostly believed my weight gain came from occasional binges, a little too much fast-food and not enough activity — but that was really only part of the picture.
One of my favorite treats is the Rocket, a gigantic biscuit from Tudor’s Biscuit World that contains a slab of chicken-fried steak, a poached egg, a hash brown and a slice of cheese.
I love this biscuit, but it was no surprise when the restaurant chain released the nutritional information for its menu, the Rocket clocked in at 998 calories with 49 grams of fat.
Actually, I thought they might have low-balled it, but you don’t choose a monstrous breakfast sandwich because you’re eating healthy.
What about peanut butter? I’d always believed good ol’ peanut butter was healthy. I ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch almost every day from kindergarten up until the last day of middle school, when my “Return of the Jedi” lunch box ceased to be cool, for some reason.
Two tablespoons of basic, creamy peanut butter have almost 200 calories and 16 grams of fat.
That doesn’t sound like a lot until you spread two (more like three heaping) tablespoons on a piece of bread and then add a couple of tablespoons of grape jelly — about 50 calories per tablespoon — on another piece of bread.
Your basic peanut butter and jelly sandwich clocks in between 400 and 500 calories — possibly more, if you really like your peanut butter thick, if you’re a huge grape jelly fan or if you prefer the good, chewy bread that tastes good.
I used to eat two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in a sitting, which I washed down with a glass (or two) of milk.
So, what sounded to me like a healthier option — a couple of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on multigrain bread with a tall glass (or two) of 2 percent milk — was actually heavier than the banana split of breakfast sandwiches.
I’m not knocking peanut butter. I still love peanut butter, but I made dumb choices with food on a daily basis because I hadn’t really bothered to go beyond what I thought I already knew.
In these first six months, I’ve learned you can make dieting and exercise work, but you have to make it a routine. You have to be honest about it and you have to stick to it, but there’s still room for pie.
You just have to share.
I checked the scale again. The 175 was real. I’d made it. Now I could put more energy into preparing for the race in August and work to (hopefully) keeping the weight off for good.