I’m heading to San Francisco tomorrow for a week of work and had to weigh in a day early. The psychology of this was taxing on my brain and I was convinced the scale wouldn’t report as much weight loss today as it would tomorrow. Well, the results are in and my paranoia was of course wrong.
Not too shabby. I’d rather he had said 20 pounds or even 100 pounds, but at least five pounds less is a step in the right direction (12 pounds total in 13 days). If only that would stay on course, I could be rid of all of this troublesome fat by my sister’s wedding (which I am officiating) on August 1st. I know this rapid rate won’t continue, but at least I won’t be avoiding the camera as much.
I wish I could put my finger on the mental shift that I am experiencing this go around. The only thing I can do is share how I’m feeling thus far, what is currently working and what I have learned from the past that doesn’t:
Every program is designed by two major categories: Food and Exercise. Which means that every program I have ever been on has been an internal paradox of frustration. On one hand, I LOVE food, on the other, I HATE exercise. As with everything in life, enjoy both of them in moderation and you will live a healthy balanced life. Overdo either one of them and you either end up fat, or a steroid using body builder with shriveling genitalia.
What I’ve learned about Exercise- Find something you love and stick with it.
My relationship with exercise has always been painful and abusive. In the third grade, I talked my mother into signing me up for a gymnastics class. It was the first thing I was ever truly interested and excited in. I’d spend hours on the lawn doing cartwheels, back flips and walking on my hands with the neighborhood girls. I was on the lawn practicing before my first lesson, waiting for my mom to get her car keys. I threw my hands in the air and then to the ground flinging my feet in the air before returning back to Earth. There was an immediate pain in my hand and within minutes, the entire palm had blown up like a balloon. My hand had landed directly on a bee and two things were established that day- I was allergic to bee stings and I never took that gymnastics class.
A year later I played Little League Baseball. There were elements I loved (being part of a team, going to pizza after a game, having some continuity in my life), but for the most part, it sucked. I was terribly afraid of being hit with the ball and was always relegated to the far field where I’d get a stomach ache fearing the ball would not only find me and hit me in the head, but I would be made fun of and ridiculed for not catching it and returning it to the infield.
In Middle School, I was forced into the most traumatic situation I believe you can do to a child- Physical Education and it’s enforced shower in the locker room policy. When we moved from California to Washington state, they moved me up a grade. In California, I was in second grade and by the time we unloaded the U-Haul in Bothell, Washington, I was a third grader. In addition to being extremely shy, which showcased my already effeminate behaviors, my body would be a year underdeveloped from all of the other boys in my class well into High School. Do you think anyone considered that when they put me in a class I was already destined to hate?
In the 7th grade, my awkward social behavior was obvious, and one of my P.E. teachers recognized my natural athletic abilities and found a way to make lemonade out of my sour situation. He encouraged me to join the track team. Back then, I had long thin legs and atomic energy with nowhere to expend it. Track would have been perfect for me. I wasn’t socially functional enough for a team sport and I was too chicken for anything with impact, but put me out on the open road and I could run for days.
I will never forget coming home with so much excitement and anticipation. My mom’s husband at the time was the first to come home and I couldn’t wait to share the news with him. The first thing he did, was laugh at me. He called me lazy and said I wouldn’t do it. That night, when I handed my mother the parental authorization form, she contorted her face and chortled, “this is a waste of time. You won’t be very good and I can’t even get you to take out the trash, you’ll never do this”. And sure enough, I never did. She never signed the paper and I never tried out for that or any other sport again because when your parent speaks, their words are valued in gold. Mine had just told me, “I would never be any good”.
All through High School, I was the boy who walked the obligatory mile the whole class was supposed to run. I would be at the end of the pack with the girls, walking, gossiping and bitching about how miserable our lives were. What I wouldn’t give to go back and whisper, “run Merrick, run”.
In 1993, I was convinced I had found a role model in the actor Billy Baldwin. There is a scene in the movie Sliver where he is in a gym working out on all fours. The camera angle catches him from behind as Sharon Stone walks in to the room and begins talking to him. The camera remains still as Billy raises his back right leg into the air, tethered to a weight machine. I felt such an electric spark during that scene that I was convinced I needed to join a gym and that Billy was my inspiration. That also explained the need to dye my hair dark brown (see photo below with Trisha Yearwood) and return to the theater every night for a month and a half alternating between Sliver and Three of Hearts. Three months later, I came out of the closet and let my gym membership lapse. The only working out I wanted to do didn’t involve a machine, it involved Billy Baldwin.
In 1995, my dad made a kind and generous offer by signing me up to join him at his local Weight Watchers meetings after I had begun frequently vocalizing my issues with my weight and body image. It probably would’ve been a great idea, however he had chosen a 6:30am class on Saturday mornings and I was turning 21. I was defiant and angry at the time and dropped the class immediately.
It wasn’t until around 1999 that my focus began to shift and I started seeing things differently. I spent six months in the Arizona desert working on the film Three Kings and one of my responsibilities was to secure a gym for George and his friends to play basketball each night. I found an old school that was being remodeled and they gave me a key, which meant I had to go there each night to unlock it and stay to lock it up. It wasn’t long before they all started goading me into playing. I think they expected, as did I, that I would make for a good laugh out there. What none of us predicted was that I am naturally athletic and extremely competitive.
It helped me open my eyes that I had been closing so tightly since the little league outfield, fearing the ball and see that there is so much more out there that I had been denying myself. Basketball playing was short lived as I never felt confident enough to play with strangers and I only ran into George at parties. But with a new perspective, I didn’t hesitate when my friend Wendy talked me into training for a marathon with her.
I remember loving the ten mile runs and meeting my friends every Saturday. I wouldn’t mind incorporating a little more of that once I take some of this weight off (I have a family history of bad knees and I am not about to jeopardize it), but I will never sign up for a marathon again. I got up to 18 miles in my training and then spent six weeks in Memphis working on the movie Cast Away, where I ran maybe a mile total while drinking and eating everything the city had to offer. With one week left to train before the event, I over-confidently said I would still be able to do it. Six miles in, my legs were cramping and I was out of breath. By the time I had the half way mark in my sight, my right shoulder had blistered in the sun from the car ride down the day before and in the corner of my eye, I could see two people taking quick but small steps. There was a large blind man being lead by someone else and they were passing me. The only thing behind me was the ambulance that brings up the rear. I was the end of the marathon, and proving my mother right, I didn’t do it and that was the last time I went for a significant run.
In the subsequent years, I have belonged to other gyms and have certainly experimented with the many options out there. Last year I had a short stint with a trainer, once again trying to put the burden of my weight loss into someone else’s hands. From week to week he pushed me and had me doing things that made me miserable to my core. I allowed it because I was paying him and felt that I “deserved it”, because if I hadn’t let myself get so out of shape, none of this would be so hard. As always, exercise and diet are viewed as a punishment to myself, something I am trying to be conscious of this go around, so that I can learn to view it as a reward to myself instead.
In my time with him, I finally had an a-ha moment. There were some days and certain exercises I actually didn’t mind and felt sore, tired and accomplished when I’d get home. But those days were few and far between. Most of the time, he found fun in my ability to make jokes of my misery during certain exercises and constantly pushed the envelope to see just how hilarious I could be. My epiphany came when I realized, it wasn’t and shouldn’t be his job to make me exercise; it should be to teach me how to love to exercise. I think this is such a key ingredient that people miss. There is a reason the majority of us don’t exercise and it isn’t just laziness. It is because we have a long back story of humiliating and unfortunate experiences that have caused us to shy away from it and we need someone to gently take us by the hand and lead us to an exercise we can enjoy and not be afraid of.
I love yoga, but my mid section prevents me from bending too far. When fat is compacted it can become quite solid. Imagine shoving a 4×4 in your midsection and then trying to touch your toes. That is what it feels like. So for the time being, yoga is out. However…
When I went to Richard’s class a couple of weeks ago for the first time in ages, that is when my light bulb went on. I smile while I am sweating in that class. I feel sore, tired and accomplished when I am done. Loud fun music. Dance like a fool. Arm, chest, ab exercises. Love yourself. All of this in just over an hour for $12. This is what has been making a difference for me right now and I encourage anyone reading this, who has avoided the gym because they hate to exercise, all you need to do is find something that makes you happy. There are ways to burn calories and smile while you do it.
And that is where I am at today. Athletes are typically good at only one sport because that is the one they love. What exercise do you love? What is the one that makes you smile and feel good and wanting more when you’re done? Don’t be shy… answer in the comments below.