I shaved my head and grew a beard. I wore black T-shirts and bigger hoodies.
Then I took my first progress photo (I didn't want to). I looked at it for ages, all the while battling with the excuses and denial running through my head. "I'm busy with work" "I'll start next week," "nobody really notices," "it's not THAT bad..."
But it was bad.
I was taking your run-of-the-mill, everyday dad issues and eating them. Along with a lot of other calories. I'd eat until I was sufficiently stretched to be satisfied, then be too tired (and full) to exercise.
So I'd eat some more. Then I'd decide that I would start tomorrow.
In order to start tomorrow I would have to eat everything that I would miss, just in case I would "feel like it" tomorrow. “Get it out of the system" I'd tell myself. But I couldn't. Because the system is always hungry. Always telling me "one more, and you'll quit junk forever."
One day I put the kids in the car and they screamed the whole way home for an icecream. Or pizza, or bikkies. Because I didn't spend as much time with them as mum did, I had been buying them off with food. Then using them as the excuse for me to eat the pizza, the bikkies or the icecream.
They had become like me. Eating to satisfy an emotional need. I wasn't depressed; just stressed. No time, no energy. Always angry. Always on edge. Food took the edge off… But only temporarily.
Then I took the photo. Looking at it, I realised that I needed to be a better father. I was acting and dressing tough to cover my insecurities. Me, the big patriarch was at the complete mercy of food.
I would take a bullet for any of my kids, no question. But I couldn’t put down a chocolate bar for them.
I had become food's bitch. But I denied it vehemently. "I am a man,” I’d argue with myself. “I can't be an emotional eater! Men don't do that! If anything I eat more junk when I'm happy."
But happy is an emotion too. I was stressed, but like every guy, I gloss it with a sheen of playfulness. And my 'fun' side was to eat. A LOT!
Then I said to myself, "It's just not fair to burden my children with my food issues. I created mine through laziness. I can't create theirs through MY laziness. At least give them a chance..."
So I started fresh. I did things differently. I prepared meals. I ate proactively, not reactively. I ate simple food with my kids and spoke about what good it does. I cut down on the bullshit and "flavour," I found simple was easy and easy food beats complex food and variety every time.
I cut out all my "trigger food" and learned everything I could about the mathematics and science of fat loss. I didn't trust 'concepts' or fads. Paleo, vegan, juicing were all concepts I’d tried and failed at. The concepts were too broad; they didn’t account for my appetite.
I needed to know that what I was doing would produce an exact result. I learned to calculate my fat loss in advance so that I would not be living in hope, I'd be living practically, mathematically and logically. I calculated calories and macros and ate the same food every day. I didn’t trust waiting for another Monday. If I messed up, I was back on the wagon the very next day.
I then set about repairing my relationship with my kids. The only times they had seen me happy was when I was in a food coma. I had selfishly linked joy to food for them. I had to show them another way. All children learn more from what their father does than what he says. So I began doing things that made me happy.
It started off simple. Taking them for walks and teaching them things. Growing up, I used to love teaching younger kids. I would spend hours teaching my cousins to tie their laces or to throw a ball. I started doing this with my kids and they flourished. Most dads do this. I knew to do this and I wanted to do this, but in the pursuit of financial security I had forgotten about it.
I started working out in front of my kids. Simple things, like pushups, burpees, squats, sit-ups and lunges. Anything that gave me the endorphin rush. I didn’t have much time, so I just went as fast as I could. I was unfit and fat, so most days I’d only work out for 2-10 minutes before I was on the floor, completely exhausted with a smile from ear to ear as my kids giggled and jumped all over me.
Pretty soon, they wanted to join in, so I started throwing them in the air and swinging them. They climbed on my back while I did pushups and I carried them while I did lunges. I got stronger. I got fitter. And with my pre calculated nutrition, my body changed fast.
I hadn’t heard the kids scream or cry for junk food since I started exercising with them. They did, however begin screaming and crying if I stopped exercising before they were finished having their fun. I didn’t mind.
Through their persistence, they pushed me further physically than I had ever done myself. I only stopped working out when I was completely, absolutely exhausted.
Kids are the most amazing personal trainers. They refuse to believe your excuses, they throw tantrums and even try to lift you off the ground by your hair if they think you’re not done.
My kids have saved my life, they’ve showed me what’s important and it is my hope that every dad gets to link joy with exercise for their kids. Be that for their kids.
So that one day, they grow up and credit you as the reason they find it so easy to be healthy in this messed up world of greed and gluttony.