What can I say? This has been the toughest week ever. I shared with you last week that I had my heaviest week of exercise yet and still gained weight. This week was another week of being on the plan and gaining 2 pounds.
I was even more deeply demoralized than last week. I stuck to the plan with a few minor slips. I had a couple instances where I would do something like eat the last chicken nugget while clearing my daughter’s dinner plate. Still, no major blow ups or emotional eating binges.
I did however work out heavily this week. I had a session with my personal trainer on both Friday and Monday. They were grueling. I know I shared the trials of my “fitness assessment” with you dear readers. Well, my first actual training session made that look like a Sunday picnic!
First Workout: Painful But Feeling Healthy
My first appointment was an “upper body” day. We began by strapping me into a huge machine that had me sitting upright and pushing a set of bars out and away from my chest in a swinging motion. The bars were on cantilevered arms that then had weights stacked on them. Sorry for you fitness buffs who can identify the equipment by targeted muscle group; I’m just not that good yet. Anyway, the weight was pretty heavy and by the time I made 20 reps with it, I was winded and my arms were burning jelly.
I assumed I would get a moment to recover. I was wrong. Apparently, some scientists determined this workout is most beneficial when you keep your heart rate up. So Gabriel, my trainer, had me going up and down a set of three stairs for a minute. Again, this doesn’t sound so bad at first, but by the time a minute was up, I felt like I had just run a marathon.
With my heart pumping and my mouth gasping for air while I assured my trainer I was ok, we headed back to the machine for another set. Then back to the stairs. Then back to the machine. Each time I did a few less reps with a little more weight.
By the time I was done with this 15-minute session, my body was registering the moment as a high-water mark for exercise. I am pretty sure the last time I asked that much of my body, I was in my early twenties and used to biking great distances. As I contemplated never coming back to train again, I was beckoned to the next machine.
This one, I was told, worked out the opposing muscle group to the one we just did. Again, I burned as I fought through the set. The only thing making me push further was an angry determination not to fail. In my mind, all the fit and beautiful people working out around me we already assuming the fat man would fail. I was determined not to contribute to anyone’s preconceived notions of ability.
More trips to the steps, more increased weight and decreased reps. Then eventually it was over. My arms felt like rubber and I was 100% sure there was nothing left to give. As I stood up, Gabriel put a hand out to steady me. I think he was worried, and rightly so, that a 400-pound man passing out would pose a logistical problem not easily solved with simple manpower.
I assured him I was OK, and then we went to the next machine. This involved straddling a bench, locking my legs into pads and armatures to keep me anchored, and then grabbing a large handlebar on a cable above my head. The goal, I was again told, was to lean back at a 45 degree angle and pull the bar (with 140 pounds of weight attached) down to me. I struggled with this at first, but not because of the weight. I was told the idea of leaning back 45 degrees is that you have to support yourself. It strengthens the core. I tried at great length to explain to my trainer that 400 pound men do not have a core. It cannot be strengthened because my core had obviously been consumed and used for sustenance by my self-aware belly.
After some minor arguing, I proceeded to achieve the 45 degree angle and commenced to exercising. It gradually built up to more and more weight with less reps. It was immediately followed by less weight with more reps, executed very quickly.
As my arms began to completely shut down, visions of Chinese buffets danced before my eyes, and I slipped into a zen-like state of total consciousness. I was at one with my body. I could hear its thoughts and feelings. It said, “Owwwwwww.”
After some cool down and stretching, I left the gym feeling really good. I begrudgingly had to acknowledge that I didn’t just feel good. I felt great. Better than I had felt in a long time. I was rubbery, sure, but I actually felt healthy.
Second Workout: Realizing Just How Much 50 Pounds Weighs
Well, that was until the next day. I am told that the process for building muscle involves lightly breaking the existing muscle. Then, it heals over with more muscle tissue and becomes stronger. Scientifically, it makes good sense. When I woke up Saturday morning, I felt like I had slept like an angel. Unfortunately, I also felt like someone had cut my wings off with a hacksaw just before I woke.
Having not pushed my body in so long, I could acutely identify each and every muscle group that was worked on. I felt a level of pain and discomfort that was foreign to me in recent decades. I entertained thoughts of plunging my arms into a cooler of ice but then decided against it. They were so weak that if I lost my balance, I might just drown in the stupid cooler for lack of strength to extricate myself.
So what did I do in the face of adversity? I went back on Monday for another dose. I had done my cardio at home over the weekend, so Monday left me with a little muscle pain in the upper body but generally feeling good.
Monday was lower body day. It was a rinse and repeat of the first workout with a few minor differences. This time there was a lot of work on the leg press (see, I’m learning the names of these things). I also used another machine that was like the leg press but had me rolled up like an early astronaut in a capsule. Also, instead of steps this time, I kept my heart rate up by just standing up, sitting down, and then standing up again.
Of course, it doesn’t sound that hard, but try doing it without using your hands and repeat 20 times. After the first round when it appeared too easy (more specifically, my macho bravado claimed it was too easy), I was handed two 25-pound weights to hold during the exercise.
This was a double-edged sword. On one hand, it exponentially increased the difficulty of completing the task. My stamina is so depleted that these sorts of things just wear me out. As I fought my way up to finish my stand-up/sit-down routine, I realized the 50 pounds in my hands equaled almost as much as I have lost on OPTIFAST so far. When I consider my loss to date, it doesn’t seem very motivating. But when I held 50 pounds, lifted it with my legs and tried to stand from a sitting position, I realized just how much weight that is and what a major impact it had on my physically.
In the end, I could barely walk. I left the gym on Monday in some sort of deranged approximation of baby steps. For the next couple of days I had trouble using the muscles in my thighs. My wife found it hilarious to see me baby-stepping down the stairs at home.
A Disappointing Weigh-in and Two Pleasant Surprises
So, after all the exercise, I expected to see a balancing of the water weight gain from last week. I have no idea how I managed to gain more weight, but it completely unhinged me. I was ready to give up at the weigh-in this week. The gang at Mercy Weight Management was there for me. There was a small dose of tough love, a healthy helping of encouragement, and side order of something I didn’t expect.
They are going to introduce five ounces of lean protein and a serving of vegetables in my diet each day. I will have my OPTIFAST supplements throughout the day, but in addition I will start eating some real food. The thought is that my body is still retaining water because of the incredible pounding I am giving to my muscles. This is part metabolism and part muscle rebuilding, and my body needs the protein to build and burn at a steady pace. It’s possible that on a week like this, it doesn’t have the raw materials it needs to rebuild, so it goes into recovery mode and just holds onto everything it takes in.
That’s the thought anyway. I am terrified of gaining again. I considered stopping the exercise. I considered going back on the heart meds. In the end I am going to have faith and give it another good week of trying. So, if you are still with me on this journey, say a prayer for me. I need some strength, wisdom and a little weight loss. A bit of encouraging news will see me over this plateau and on to a smaller me.
I have been trying to wrap up each week (especially bad-news weeks) with a little something good. So, this week, I needed to buy jeans. I still have to go to the big and tall store, but the jeans I bought are one size smaller. I am wearing them in comfort and looking forward to making them obsolete in the near future. Image credit
Eric Buwala has been guest blogging for Mercy for 16 weeks. Since he started at more than 400 pounds, he’s lost about 50 and added in counseling and a personal trainer. Want to read his whole story, visit his archives. Ready to lose weight yourself? Learn more about Canton Mercy’s weight management programs.