From Heading to an Early Grave to Being in the Best Shape of My Life

September 18, 2011

It has been just over a year since I last blogged – need to get going again – I think I need to stop writing magnum opuses and just get something out – well – this subject is a big one for me – the short writings will have to wait another day. 

No one ever really plans on it, but somewhere along the line many of us stop being young and active and start a slow downward trajectory towards poor health. I was no different. I was the typical American male that could easily get away with eating and drinking anything in my youth and still always being rather skinny and able. I somehow survived my teens and 20s – a decade plus was mainly involved with cigarettes and vast quantities of alcohol (beer by the case, booze by the bottle) relatively unscathed. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind I certainly knew enough to ease up a bit as I got into my late 20s – this is when I met Gail who would become my wife. I liked her right away and was actually afraid to smoke around her or let her know that I smoked. I had my last cigarette driving home after our first date. I even flirted with good health for a few years as I took up running – inspired by my Dad’s three consecutive Boston Marathon finishes. I started to run races and even completed a marathon of my own at age 30 in 1995 (Columbus, OH). Dad even finished another one with my sister in a monsoon inWashington,DC.

The story continued for another year or two and sadly ended. I stopped running, and kept eating and drinking. It all has a way of creeping up on you and it is really hard to pinpoint anything in particular. You run less, you gain weight, you are not as comfortable – you rationalize. “Well sure – I am 25 pounds heavier than I was a couple of years ago, but that is still not that bad.” Then milestone numbers start appearing – and not good ones. 175 creeps to 180 – 180 becomes 190 – “which is fine – because, hell – I am still under 200” and then the wheels just come flying off. Even after I had some years of great activity hiking in theWhite Mountains(fairly constant since 2004) and quitting alcohol (with no real fanfare – I just grew to hate it and lose interest in drinking) I was firmly entrenched in the 200s.

In 2008 while my Mom was battling terminal breast cancer I did something that appeared to be an unconscious decision at the time, but I know realize it was connected. I joined the local Weight Watchers in Danvers, MA (my Mom was a Weight Watchers Lifetime Member.) I decided that even though I quit smoking and drinking cold turkey – and had no interest in support groups, it was vastly different with food. I eventually learned that you can live without smoking or drinking but food is required. If you do not eat you will not be healthy and eventually you will die. Even though I knew a lot about eating a healthy diet and exercising I just never did, or cared enough for more than a meal or two. When I started this venture I weighed 225 pounds.

In 2008 and I did a great job – I lost a little over 40 pounds by the time Mom died on my birthday. Again, it all seemed unconnected at the time, but this was also the time when I just stopped going to meetings, and stopped tracking my food and though I got away with it for awhile I slowly but surely crept back up. Over the next two plus years I outdid my prior zenith and topped out at 235 pounds on December 1, 2010. At this point, looking and feeling horrible I started to at least care a little about what I was eating. Wanting to not be one of those people who make New Year’s Resolutions I did not decide to go to Weight Watchers again until near the end of January – I checked in at Weight Watchers at 227 pounds.

“So what is going to be different this time?” asked my group leader Melissa. Good question – and one that will be with me forever. A few things come to mind. I truly know that my time is running out – who did I think I was kidding? Lucky men who are in their mid 40s and that are 75 pounds overweight develop bad health conditions – the unlucky ones drop dead. I have had high cholesterol and high blood pressure – I have had no consistent exercise. I have been lucky so far – but I am kidding no one. I needed to commit to myself that this is how it has to be – tracking my intake, controlling my portions and eating fruit and vegetables daily had to become the routine, not the exception.

Weight Watchers works because it is really just what we should all be doing anyways. No matter what you want to call it, a plan that has you eat appropriate portions, fruit and vegetables, and getting all of your fluid and nutrients every day is really just sensible eating. Weight Watchers calls is PointsPlus – I call it a plan for living and staying alive. The real key component for me with all of this is the weekly meeting, the group of people in the same boat with me that talk with me every Monday night in Danvers and a larger group of us who communicate on Facebook daily. Our Weight Watcher’s leader Melissa has been instrumental in my success, and I am sure hundred others would credit her as well. Like all leaders, Melissa has been there too – and like all of us – she is still there. We all know that we need to be more active and be aware of what we put in our stomachs. It is all too easy to “blow it off” and go off the charts. The weekly meetings, the online support and Melissa’s real life way of talking with all of us help to keep me accountable and eager to continue down the healthy path. I really mean this when I say that my Weight Watcher’s group and Melissa have at the very least turned my life around, and at the most have saved my life. Thank you.

The other key component for me this time around is exercise. After taking about four months to get used to eating right I started running again. A little bit at first and then before I knew it I was able to get the distances back up to what I used to do. I have had weeks in the 40-50 mile range and have been running races at a variety of distances. I have learned that I have a love for trail running and have embarked on entering my first trail marathon – less than two months away. I love getting out in the woods – getting muddy and scraped from the branches. Beautiful scenery, wildlife, quiet time and it is all good for me. In June I added yoga to my repertoire. The benefits of this have been amazing. I am more flexible than I have ever been and soreness from long runs just melts away. I started with taking some early morning classes over the summer at the Peabody Lynnfield YMCA (thank you Connie) and have since had to alter where and when I go and I started doing Bikram Yoga in Danvers (heated yoga in a humid 105 degree studio.) My hope is that this practice allows me to stay flexible and active for whatever length of time I have left.

So assuming that I can maintain my current weight for another 36 hours tomorrow night, September 19, 2011 becomes my new birthday – I will have maintained my goal weight (actually, I am about four pounds under it.) for six weeks and Weight Watchers deems me a lifetime member. This means I can continue to attend supportive meetings for the rest of my life, not pay monthly dues and I only need to weigh in once per month. I am down 71 pounds since December and 63 since I started with Weight Watchers. I am amazed. I have a lot of people to thank – so here it goes: The memory of my mother, Terry Saporito – she really stuck with this program and was never pushy with it – just encouraging; my wife Gail – who was tongue-tied at not being able to tell me some very difficult stuff – she knew how badly I needed to do this, but also new that nagging me about it was not the right way to go with me; my two boys (and a lot of my motivation) who were always interested in “how much weight did you lose this week Daddy?”; my much missed retired boss, June – another person who knew about the program and was very encouraging and helpful with advice; my leader Melissa – her sense of humor and personal experience really hits home with me and hundreds of others who have attended her meetings – she has seen it all, and while it is her job, she truly believes in what she does and has helped countless people get control of their relationship with food; to Carmen who runs the men’s meeting on Wednesdays – I attend that meeting on occasion and have taken a great deal from that meeting too; and last but not least – my friends, er, make that family from Weight Watchers, both in person and online – Lisa and Lisa, Sue, Mary, Janet, Annette, Renee, Marikay and everyone else – it is such a supportive environment where we all give and take so much.

I’d keep writing, but I am going out for a trail run.

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2 Responses to “From Heading to an Early Grave to Being in the Best Shape of My Life”

  1. Mary Says:

    Awesome blog Mike.
    Congrats, congrats, congrats!!!
    I am truly honored to be among the people who have supported you in your journey back to good health, and I am grateful for the support you have given me as well.
    Your “before and after” picture is forever engrained in my mind, and I want to be sure you understand how often I draw strength and resolve from that. You have been a great source of inspiration for me. For that, I will be forever grateful!
    I am so glad that I stumbled across the Monday night group. We do have a great group of people led by an amazing personality in Melissa.
    Tonight is the night for you, my friend. I cannot wait to be part of your celebration!!
    ~Mary~

  2. Joseph Saporito Says:

    Awesome indeed! This is a very inspirational message. Keep on keepin’ on.

    joseph saporito

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