Why you should care

Because bodybuilding is not always about muscles.

There’s a popular hashtag, #ThrowBackThursday (#tbt), that covers images from “back in the day.” According to Instagram, nearly 361 million images have been posted with the hashtag — and that doesn’t count content posted to Twitter and Facebook.

While I’m a pretty regular Twitter and Instagram user, I don’t participate much in #tbt. First, there aren’t many photos of me from back in any day, and second, I’m not the same person I was a few years ago. Like, really not the same person. You see, I’ve lived most my life overweight: 330 pounds of overweight.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, over one-third of the adult population of the United States, almost 80 million people, are obese. Like most of them, I tried and failed more than a few times to lose the weight.

I was afraid that, with increasing age combined with lasting girth, I’d never get laid again.

I was frustrated with myself, but comfortable enough with my life at the time that I just acquiesced to being a “big guy” with bad habits that fostered that acquiescence and continued to keep me knee-deep in ice cream and beer. And shopping at the Big and Tall stores.

But somehow, I managed to rein in the eating and drinking. I developed an exercise regimen that I could accept, which eventually grew into a regimen that I became slightly, yet happily, addicted to. Total net loss: 120 pounds.

However, when I see pictures of me pre-120, it’s difficult to reconcile what I see in those photos with what I see in the mirror now. We’re two different people. I haven’t worn the pant or shirt size I’m wearing now at 44 since I was 14 years old. So, it’s the current iteration of myself who’s the stranger.

The author Max Sidman in 2010 (left) and again in 2014 (right).

The author in 2010 (left) and again in 2016.

Source Max Sidman

Because when I look in the mirror, I see the person I’ve always seen within myself but was never able to manifest, as well as someone I don’t recognize at all — literally two-thirds of the man I used to be. These two guys are strangers on a lot of levels. And the new guy is a bit leery of the old guy.

There’s a host of well-documented psychological reasons that people struggle to lose weight — from depression and anxiety to apathy and simply a lack of common sense or education about good eating habits. And I suffered from all of those.

But there are also other psychological issues that come up once the weight loss is complete. It’s called “the skinny paradox,” and it occurs when the happiness presumed to come with excessive weight loss fails to avail itself, and it hits in a few different ways.

They double take and search my face … knowing that they know me, somehow from somewhere. … And then, they cautiously ask “ … Max?!

There are the preexisting mental ways and the deep-seated body ones that persist regardless of weight loss, driven many times by a society that puts a lot of stock in and focuses on unrealistic standards of beauty and attractiveness, and then drives those standards home repeatedly into anyone old enough to see a television, magazine or a billboard.

I feel lucky that my own issues are minimal. I try to focus on the positive, the sense of pride and accomplishment that comes with dropping 120 pounds. But I’m still a little scared too. I wake up and work out every day because I don’t want to undo what I’ve done, and because of an unrealistic yet persistent fear that I’m going to get up one morning, wander into the bathroom and glance into the mirror to find the old me staring back.

That’s the thing, though: I suspect that, as long as that insecure fat kid I was is still part of my psyche, I’ll see myself somewhat as my old self — overweight, unsure, unhappy — and despite my success, it’s something I’ll struggle with.

But I’m proud of what I’ve managed to do, and I’m driven by something I don’t fully understand to keep working toward something I can only describe as self-satisfaction. Like when I run into people I haven’t seen in years, who look at me, or right past me. They double take and search my face, the gears turning behind their eyes, knowing that they know me, somehow from somewhere, but where? And then they cautiously ask, “ … Max?!

Boiled down, it’s that old adage that so aptly describes the motivation of many alcoholics and drug addicts to get sober: I was just sick and tired of being sick and tired.

The next question is invariably, “What changed? Why?” Aside from some gradual, increasingly drastic yet pretty straightforward eating and exercise adjustments, I don’t exactly know how to answer that question.

But a combination of things: I was tired of embarrassment and self-loathing, tired of not being able to climb the stairs of my building or run around with my kid without getting winded and worried that I wouldn’t be able to see her grow up. Even scared that, with increasing age combined with girth, I’d never get laid again.

Boiled down, it’s that old adage that so aptly describes the motivation of many alcoholics and drug addicts to get sober: I was just sick and tired of being sick and tired.

The funny thing is, while I’m always looking to harness whatever I can to continue working toward a healthier, happier me, I’m hesitant to ask why too much, and instead just keep working and enjoy whatever happiness I’ve cultivated for the success that it’s brought.

People say to me, “Oh, you must feel great!” and I do. But there’s an asterisk next to it. And I have to assume that, in time, that asterisk will fade.

Maybe that happens with enough selfies of the new me, eventually making #tbt not such a glaring reminder of the way I used to be. Maybe.

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