SPRING 2006, NEW JERSEY.
It’s a few weeks until high school graduation. I’m lumbering through hallways lit by fluorescents, filled with all the regulars we know and love. The suck-ups and brown-nosers are walking alongside the history teacher, attached at the hip, shy brainiacs sitting against the wall, reading five chapters ahead, and of course, football players named Joe/Brad/Chad trying their best to charm their way into a cheerleader’s heart.
Then me, the obese kid with long, curly hair covering my neck and occasionally bunching up on the collar of my North Face jacket that’s two times too big.
Usually, I kept to myself. Most of my classmates stressed the graduation ceremony but looked forward to college. Not me. I was bombarded with one thought daily: “How am I going to leave this place without ever having a first date, first kiss, or even a steady girlfriend?”
If I liked a girl, I DEFINITELY didn’t try to speak to her. Are you crazy? The only girls that were even half interested in what I had to say were the ones with Ms. or Mrs. in front of their names.
There you go. Didn’t believe me?
As I said, I was obese. 260 pounds of self-loathing. Is there any wonder why girls didn’t look at me the way I wanted? Fortunately, I was able to evaluate myself by being free of the distractions of high school infatuation, which brought me to my first self-realization…
I DIDN’T LIKE ME.
Growing up, I was everything a low-effort therapist loves to bill for: overweight teen with low self-esteem, confused and feeling alone (even with good friends around).
Best of all, I was unable to communicate my feelings to myself and others.
So naturally, this led to unfair treatment of those I felt powerful over, usually other kids in school with the same issues. Imagine Ben Affleck from Dazed and Confused, but not as bad (hopefully).
The first realization was that I didn’t want to be unfair to my peers. They didn’t deserve my bullying. But, unfortunately, it was only half-baked. I internalized how I felt. I began to infect myself with thoughts of self-doubt and turned to a quick fix to this pain.
From 13 to 18, I chased the high only Burger King, McDonald’s, and Totino’s Pizza rolls could provide. I rode the dragon daily, putting on 70-90 pounds, finally hitting my final form, as shown above (or so I thought).
There was no quick fix.
I never got that first date, and I didn’t even try. No first kiss, no exciting stories of the once-in-a-lifetime whirlwind that is teenage love, no hand-holding at the movies, or Saturdays roaming the neighborhood doing nothing but talking about hopes and dreams.
I figured I might as well be alone. I moved away from anyone that called me “friend” and dropped out of college before even attending one class. I became a dishwasher at a restaurant in my neighborhood. I was 18 years old, finally an adult, and more alone than ever.
If you know me nowadays, you’re probably wondering why I’ve decided to write this piece of bad fiction, full of mopey drama.
Well, it’s all true, and if you’re hoping for the miraculous turnaround plot point, the part when the hero finds that one puzzle piece in life that solves every problem, or when the mystical mentor shuffles out of the mist ready to deliver some ancient wisdom a la “wax on, wax off,” then I’m sorry to disappoint you.
Eighteen months passed. I slugged along every day, washing dishes and mopping up the remnants of half-eaten seafood and pasta entrees. After my shift, I’d quietly slip into my parent’s home, avoiding as much conversation as possible, and sit in front of the pale glow of the World of Warcraft login screen (another vice to avoid my reality). I would play late into the night and leave the T.V. on in the background to cut through the lonely silence that only 3 A.M. can bring. It wasn’t long before I noticed an annoying infomercial that played 80% of the time:
TONY HORTON’S P90X.
Tony burned his way into my skull peripherally for months and months. Finally, I was so sick of being obese and feeling trapped by my weight and self-confidence. I took some of my dishwashing money (I wasn’t spending it on going out or living life) and bought P90X. What did I have to lose? After all, Tony said anyone could do it. Every day, I saw promos of fat dudes getting ripped in 90 days; why not me?
I didn’t get through the first workout.
In fact, I ejected the DVD after only five minutes of the warm-up because I hated how hard it was to do simple exercises like jumping jacks. I hated how hard it was to change.
But then, a few days later, I was hit with that small window of motivation that we all let get past us too quickly. I took advantage of it, though, and put that DVD back in. I was ready to conquer!
I did a whole eight minutes this time before stopping. Damn you, Tony!
But it was progress—little progress, but progress nonetheless.
Next time it was 10 minutes, then 15, and on and on until eventually, months later, I could finish my version of a P90X workout (no way was I doing pull-ups at 240 pounds).
The Moral of The Story Is Not That P90X Saved My Life…
Eventually, I confronted the problems of my reality, slowly, consistently, and on my terms.
I had to love myself first.
I had to love myself enough to work on myself little by little each day, knowing that I still wasn’t at my potential.
I had to congratulate myself on the days that life moved forward flawlessly, and I had to forgive myself on the days where I didn’t do enough.
I had to experiment constantly, and when nothing seemed to work, I had to seek mentors that had been through what I was going through. They gave me the perspective I needed about my progress. I learned that even if I wasn’t “ripped in 90 days,” I was making strides, and my process was getting better.
That’s why, in 2009, I became a personal trainer.
Ten years later, I opened Motive Training because it is my passion to help those who need to get to that next level, whether getting off the couch or honing a current routine to make a breakthrough.
I ended up getting that first kiss at 21; she would later be my girlfriend. It wasn’t because I was ripped (I wasn’t) or had stopped struggling with self-doubt (we never do). Instead, it was the fact that I was moving forward and tackling my issues head-on that drew others to me.
Progress is attractive. And that’s not the end of the story. We’ve only just begun.