This morning I got on a scale and saw something that I hadn't seen in a few years. My weight was under 280 lbs. This is a real significant weight for me, but not the way that it would be for most people.
All through college, my weight was within two or three pounds of this number. Sometimes it was over, then it would get back under. It was pretty stable. I knew I was fat, and felt bad about it, I guess, as I knew I should. But I didn't care that much. I couldn't run races or do a chin-up, but I didn't really want to do those things either. Especially at that age, I wanted people to find me attractive. Still, I figured if anyone didn't find me attractive, it was because they were shallow. I thought most people were shallow. I thought of myself as being all intellectual and spiritual and creative and stuff. I didn't care about my health. Health concerns were shallow.
In graduate school, I got really, really fat. When I turned 30, the number repeated itself in my life in a way that I found fascinating. I will not tire you with all the synchronicity, but one was that I weighed 330 lbs. While I still didn't want to be shallow, I recognized this as somewhat ridiculous. Besides, my spirituality was reaching a point where I was seeing a certain value in asceticism and abstention from all kinds of pleasures as a means of putting the flesh under subjection. Increasing my activity level, especially walking and swimming, and decreasing my calorie intake, including regular fasting, resulted in weight loss. I dropped the 50 lbs real, real quick and was back to 280. At that point I hit kind of a plateau. I continued to lose weight for a while, but slowly. Eventually, I got down to around 260, which is the least I ever weighed in my adult life.
Then I got a tenure track job, which I thought was going to be awesome, but wasn't. I had a chair that didn't respect me: who didn't see me as the brilliant man I knew I was. I engaged in stress-related eating and also decreased my activity level. There was also a wonderful, wonderful brewery in town which sold some pretty high calorie beer and a wonderful fried dough called grebel. I put on weight.
After this, I switched jobs. I got another tenure-track position at a place I loved. It was a great little private liberal arts school. I would have stayed there forever. It was great. We had around 800 students. I knew them all and many of their parents. The relationships we had were fostered by, among other things, eating at the cafeteria together. While college students can probably handle the greasy faire of the cafeteria, it was not good for me. I put on weight.
Then they decided not to renew my contract. I’ve almost settled my soul on the idea that I will never really know why in this life. Still, it strongly affected me. It was like hearing that your family no longer wants you around. It was killing me. It took me well over a year to find another academic job and I could barely stand it. What money I did have, I used on food and I put on weight.
Finally, I did get the job where I am currently employed. It is a great place up in the mountains of southern New Mexico. The natural activities around here actually caused me to lose some weight for a while. I checked after New Years of that year and found my weight where it is now, about 280. I was comfortable with my job. I was honestly comfortable with my weight. I didn’t mind that I was a bit fat. I was happy.
Then my wife and I decided to get serious about having kids. I assumed that was all it would take to have kids, but it’s been hard. So, we decided to adopt. We were denied that opportunity. So, we got angry and depressed. And I put on weight.
This picture is not us. We're not Asian.
Sometime after Christmas, I got back up to a point I hoped I’d never reach again. I was well over 300 lbs. Still, I am nowhere near my fattest, but 300 is just too fat, so I increased my activity level and decreased my calorie intake. Since New Years, I’ve lost almost 25 lbs. The truth is that the increased activity level has helped with the depression, which I’d have to say is completely gone now.
Now I am down below 280. I am actually at a weight where I am comfortable, but I shouldn’t be. At my height, 280 still has a BMI of 39. For medical professionals who use BMI as a measurement of “morbidly obese” or "severely obese"(which not all of them do) 39 is the line. Between 30 and 39 is still “obese” and I’d still need to lose 65 lbs to get down to “overweight.”
So, somehow, I have to make myself continue to be uncomfortable with where I am. I always tell my students that they should be “proud of [their] progress, but not [their] position.” I mean a lot of things by that. I mean they shouldn’t see what they’ve achieved as a reason to look down on others. I mean that they shouldn’t be upset that they haven’t “arrived” yet. I also mean that they shouldn’t be satisfied with where they are, they shouldn’t see their position as adequate.
That’s how I need to be right now. I need to be proud of my progress, but not of my position. It is just going to take some mental work to get there.