By Senior Master Sgt. Ernest Goethe, 931st AMXS
/ Published October 12, 2006
MCCONNELL AFB, Kan. -- Everyone experiences defining, often life-changing moments that leave indelible marks upon their lives. These instances can often be so dramatic that years later, the person can still describe what they were doing when the moment occurred.
I have had many as I am sure most have, and one of mine happened in December 2005 when I traveled to Houston, Tex. to pay my last respects to my older brother.
During the family gathering afterwards, someone photographed my surviving brothers and me with our parents using my camera. That was the altering moment that would help redefine my life today - although I did not know it at the time.
One week later as I sat at home looking at the newly-developed pictures, one of them figuratively screamed out and smacked me into reality by saying, "Hey pal, you're fat!" What I saw shocked me so much that I swore right then to do something about it for staring back at me from that picture was something I never want to be again.
My burgundy shirt was neatly tucked in even though it was hidden by my "Dunlop" and if a button had popped loose it could have injured someone. My waist was bulging so bad it threatened to rip the buckle from my belt, my tie was nearly horizontal, and my head and face looked like a dirty blond beach ball with two eyes drawn on it. At 5' 11" and 230 pounds, I was B-I-G!
That scared me. I had just buried my brother (age 45) and I didn't want to follow suit anytime soon. My thoughts were of my children and I knew I wanted to see them grow into adulthood; however, the way I was going, there was the real possibility that an obesity-related disease might stop me.
Previously, in October, a physical confirmed that my blood pressure had finally reached the high category, I couldn't run for a short distance without gasping, and I was experiencing all kinds of other health problems from sore feet to chest pains. I had to do something. Well, the Air Force had been trying to help me all along, but until then, I had only viewed that help as just one more test to pass in order to retire - big whoopee.
I had never really bought into the "...Fit for Life" slogan until that picture. Sure, I gave it the lip service that unfortunately too many members still do today, but I had never really signed on to the commitment it demanded.
That was nine months and 51 pounds ago. Today, at 179 pounds (by my scales), I run the mile and a half in under eleven minutes and I feel pretty good. In the first Group-wide run under the new "Fit for Life" program I managed to roll myself across the finish line in an appalling eighteen minutes, and even though I had just finished rehab from an ACL replacement surgery, that was bad.
By just showing up for the next run I was almost guaranteed to do better although that was not the way to do it. My goal for this October is 10:36 or better in the 1.5 mile run. My blood pressure is back down too. The family physician, during a follow-up visit, confirmed that my blood pressure was back down to the "normal-low" category, and he commented that the blood pressure medicine he had prescribed previously seemed to be working.
I proudly told him I had stopped taking those damned pills two weeks after he had prescribed them and that my lower blood pressure was the result of hard work and determination and not some ball-and-chain pill in a bottle. He cancelled my prescription!
Today people constantly ask me how I am doing it as if I'm going to offer up some magical weight loss elixir. Oh, I shouldn't be that crass - most of the people I talk to about it are genuinely interested not only in what I've managed to do, but also in some of the bone fide ways that they too can begin to achieve some of the same results.
One of the first things I tell people is that you have to start by wanting to lose weight, and then you must commit yourself to follow through with the program. The two biggest things for me were to change my eating habits and begin some type of exercise program. Notice I didn't say "diet." Eating better or altering some of my eating habits doesn't really mean dieting to me - it just means eating better.
However, I do joke to friends that I'm on the "2-Step Diet" which means I take two steps back from the buffet line or the refrigerator. In my job at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. I sit for 8 hours a day at a computer terminal and up until this past January, I was drinking two to three big gulp soft drinks (basically liquid sugar) per day.
I cut those out completely and now stock my mini-fridge with bottled water and diet drinks although I rarely stock even diet soft drinks anymore. I try to eat more vegetables and better meats, lots of salads, and fewer carbohydrates. Yes, I said it - those nasty carbohydrates - but I'm not talking about all carbs, just those that seem to be the worst like donuts, pizza, and ice cream. And even now I still enjoy some of those things in moderation. I simply try to make sure my output (exercise) equals or exceeds the inputs (fat pills).
The other area of emphasis for me is on trying to maintain a fairly regimented exercise routine and a more active lifestyle. I run 12-15 miles per week at the local high school track and I have gotten to the point now that if I miss a day, it really makes me feel guilty.
I also spend 8-10 hours per week coaching youth soccer and basketball and I now can keep up with them during practice; I push myself to do that because it's a good workout too. I challenge anyone reading this to keep up with a team of nine and ten year olds on the soccer field for more than ten minutes - good luck. Kids have incredible stamina!
At this point for me, losing weight and positively increasing my physical conditioning has become a lifestyle event. I want to get down to about 170 - 175 pounds and maintain it. Now it seems that every picture I have of myself from before just doesn't look right; I don't like it and it gives me the drive to maintain what I'm doing. Like so many of us today, I was a soaking wet 145 pounder who enlisted 20 years ago and somewhere along the way (I've been married twice) I let it go to fat.
I'm not a fanatic, but I am driven to a healthier lifestyle for a lot of reasons. First, I'm doing it for my family because I want to be around to see them grow up. The nightly news is replete with gloom and doom stories of America's new-found obesity and its host of associated health problems.
Heart attacks, strokes, and high blood pressure run rampant on the maternal side of my family and that's scary. Another reason was that I simply looked fat and I was tired of it and now I like the way I'm looking and fitting into old clothes I thought I never wear again; they're probably outdated but that's besides the point.
In fact nothing I have purchased in the last 3-5 years fits anymore. I have gone from a 38" waist down to a 32" to 33" inch waist depending on the manufacturer.
The last reason to speak of (there are really many others actually) evolves from the professional standpoint. As a senior NCO in a professional military organization, I felt it was high time to get with the program and do something about my weight. Looking back at nine months ago,
I now believe my appearance in the uniform was somewhat shameful. There I was a leader in my organization looking like a fat slob; it was time to face the man in the mirror. The younger enlisted troops in the unit deserved a better example from a SNCO.
One of the drawbacks to slimming down is that sometimes my friends don't recognize me; one guy in the dining facility stared at me for ten minutes without recognizing me.
He finally got it and was literally amazed. Another bad consequence, and I had a heck of a time explaining my way out of this one, is that my wedding band fell off my finger unnoticed and I have yet to find it. It could be anywhere and I don't have the faintest clue where to begin looking.
I finally talked my flight chief into springing some squadron money for me to purchase uniforms that fit (he's a tight wad) because the old ones hang off my shoulders like cheap suits.
And speaking of suits, I was fortunate to be selected as a quarterly award winner in the Group and was asked to submit a picture of myself in my blues. The next time you're in Bldg 850 take a look at the spotlight wall. You might never have guessed that I had three large potato chip bag style clips fastened to the back of my service dress coat to take up the slack in the material for that picture. The photographer was rolling with that one even though it was his idea; another picture.
Today, I feel good - much better than I did nine months ago. Oh, I still get stiff and sore almost daily and my doctor tells me that my surgically repaired knee will never stop letting me know it is still there. But that's beside the point: I'm happy with what I've accomplished and I hope to stay this way for a long time.
Not only do I feel better physically, but I feel better mentally as well and that counts for a lot in my book. I'm not the only person in the unit who's taken a serious shot at personal weight loss and conditioning - there are several others. Just ask around and I know they will be happy to share their stories as well.
Sometimes it is not easy and certainly not fun to pass on the second or third helping of your favorite dish, but in the end you can gain a sense of personal satisfaction from your accomplishments that you simply can't attach a tangible value to. Look at your picture and see what it's telling you. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but what does it weigh? Mine weighs fifty-one pounds and counting.