For the last three summers I’ve lead a pretty sedentary life – sitting around waiting for it to rain – or, more accurately waiting for it to rain and then stop raining – so I could go fly. For days on end we’d sit around the hangar drinking Pepsi and eating junk food. Our boss was the instigator. He liked to feed us, both at the airport and at restaurants. Often we’d go out for breakfast (he’d buy) and then we’d cook up a big barbecue feast at the hangar for lunch. Or I'd cook up something in the crew house. Oh God, did we eat! And we drank, which you can do when it’s severe-clear with a zero percent chance of rain and forecast to be that way for the next month. Needless to say, the pounds piled on.
But it didn’t just start when I began the cherry-drying thing. I’ve been a working pilot since 1982 (and I wasn’t in all that great shape back then either). It just doesn’t take much effort to sit in the seat of a helicopter and push those little hydraulically-boosted sticks around. And I was never big on exercise. So over the years my weight steadily increased.
I’m 5’9”, and I weighed under 170 when I started with Petroleum Helicopters in 1987. At the end of the 2013 cherry season I weighed just north of 202 pounds. Twenty-five years and just over 30 pounds. Doesn’t sound so bad when you say it like that, does it? Just a pound a year! But goddam, do they add up!
Up in Washington I felt like a whale. In fact, during the summer a couple of us went swimming at this place we liked to go on the Methow River (it’s pronounced met-how, by the way). It was Brandon (who weighs maybe 140 and is built like a toothpick), Mikey (who’s tall and slim) and Alex (who’s tall and husky-but-not-fat)…and me (the fat guy). Camera-phones were out as usual to document the event for posterity and Facebook. When I saw the pics I was so ashamed of the way I look that I made Brandon promise to not put them up. I mean, seriously, I looked terrible. I’m not People Of Walmart.com-obese, but I’m on the way. In any event, I have no energy or stamina anymore. Climbing up onto the helicopters was a chore, and I did not want to look bad in front of the younger pilots. I don't want them to think of me as "the old guy" who can't keep up.
On another level, I don’t mind being bald. But bald and fat? If I ever want to have sex again in my lifetime (and I do), one of those things is going to have to change. Maybe both.
In a lot of ways I look like my dad - no offense, pop. He always had a “beer-belly” for as long as I can remember (except he never went bald). Hey, we were city people not country folk. The most exercise most of us ever got was the walk from the apartment to the car and back, which usually didn’t even involve any stairs.
So this year I vowed that things would be different. Before I left I told the guys in Washington that when I got back next year they would at first think it was Brandon walking in the door. Which may be a bit unrealistic, since Brandon is 30 years younger than me and much better-looking, but still…
I’ve tried diets; we’ve all tried diets. Mostly they don’t work. Here’s why: They’re so restrictive…unreasonably restrictive, I think. You don't stay on them. One diet plan I looked at specified that between breakfast (half-cup of black coffee and half an orange) and lunch (an unsalted celery stalk), if you were feeling “snacky” you could have “ten sunflower seeds.” I was, like, “Really? Screw that!"
So I knew that a “diet” wasn’t going to work. I just had to change how I ate. And how much. Look, this isn’t rocket science: If you want to lose weight you simply have to take in fewer calories than you’re burning. PLUS, you have got to exercise regularly. It’s got to be a combination of the two.
I decided that when I got back home I’d do a couple of things. You can go online and plug your height, weight and age into these calculator programs that’ll tell you how many calories you “need” in a given day. For me it comes out to about 2100. Okay, so I figure that if I keep my calories down to 1500 or less, I should be able to lose weight. Less than 1500 calories a day is easy. It simply means eating better: No more three-big-meals per day; no sodas, and cut way back on the sugar; no McDonalds or fast-food; no junk food; no snacking. It’s do-able.
For exercise, I thought about walking around the block. It’s just under a mile and it’s got a good uphill and downhill to it. Problem is that I don’t like walking. Or jogging. I do like riding a bicycle, so I planned on getting the one in the garage (don't we all have them?) fixed up and road-worthy again.
But when I got back to Pensacola, what should I find in my bedroom but an old-school exercise bike! One of the kids who stayed in my house while I was gone inherited it from his father or something. Instead of selling it or throwing it away he just (ahem) “temporarily” put it in my room, hope you don’t mind. No, I don’t mind! Perfect!
So every day now, I ride the exercise bike and work with my kettlebells. I’m eating better too (and strangely, I don’t miss the Pepsi, which I thought I would). I’m not going to obsessively weigh myself every day – although I know I have lost some weight (down below 200 already). I’m not intending to get “buff” or even skinny. I’m not setting any artificial or target weight…no “before” and “after” pictures. I'm just making a committment to live a healthier lifestyle…to get back down to a good weight…one at which I won’t be huffing and puffing after climbing up on the helicopter…one at which I won’t be so ashamed to have my picture taken with my shirt off on the river or up at Soap Lake. I'm 58 and I don't want to look like this. I don't want to be "the fat guy" anymore.
We’ll see how it goes.