How I won by losing

  • Published
  • By By Master Sgt. Andrew G. Cosner
  • 621st Contingency Response Wing

Hey there. Can we be honest with each other for a moment? I have a secret to share: I'm you. Specifically, I'm a person whose weight has been slowly creeping up for the past 10 years, until for me it started hovering around the 260 pound mark. I'm the one frantically going around telling people that I'm "big-boned", or "I'm just built that way". I'm the guy who consistently makes 75-78 on my fitness assessment, because it's what I need to pass. Yeah, I'm THAT guy. And I'm willing to bet that in some ways, you are too.


Now, don't worry. I'm not judging. That would be a bit hypocritical, wouldn't it? I'm just saying that it's time we stopped dancing around the subject. We use these statements to build defenses around ourselves. Each one is a brick designed to keep us content, and safe from the truth. Well my walls became a castle, with towers of denial and a moat of self-justification. It got so bad that I would be genuinely proud of my 76.8 point PT test victory, then would congratulate myself by going out and eating an entire bucket of fried chicken. (Yes, an entire bucket. Don't you judge). But there was a problem. My castle wasn't made of bricks at all. It was made of cards and it was about to collapse.


I bet I know what you're thinking. You think I failed a PT test, right? Well I did, just not recently. I failed it way back in 2010. But this didn't even make a dent in my castle walls. You see, that's how these things work. When we build our ramparts of denial, we cut ourselves off from external influence and mine were thick and strong.


No, any change would have to come from within.


It came, as change often does, when I least expected it. I came back from a deployment weighing 273 pounds. I simply could not believe it. I stood frozen, embarrassed and ashamed, and trying desperately to find an excuse that would absolve me from the facts. The scale was broken! No. The food had been mislabeled! No. I hadn't been given appropriate time! No. Nothing would stick to these walls, walls which had suddenly become my cage. I was finally out of people to blame.


I was to blame. I saw a vision of the future that included getting kicked out of the military amid ever-worsening medical problems and made up my mind then and there that enough was enough. I had gotten myself here through years of neglect and I was the only person who could dig myself out. I didn't know where to go or what to do. I simply knew it was my responsibility to act.


But how does one begin? There are dozens if not hundreds of fitness programs available to choose from, and they all seemed to contradict each other. I knew I needed to eat less food, but how much was the right amount? I didn't even know how much I was currently eating. I had just found step one.    


It wasn't hard to get in the habit of logging my food, since my phone is with me all the time anyway, and I found plenty of free apps. I found something interesting in the process, though. The very act of pulling out my phone and preparing to log my intake gave me 10 extra seconds to ask myself, "is what I'm about to eat really worth it?" More often than not, the answer was "no."    

The key was how much. You do NOT have to give up the things you love to make meaningful changes in your life! I simply started treating food like a credit card. Each week I was given a certain amount of credit in the form of calories. I could spend my credit any way I chose, but I still had to pay the bill. And sometimes, for a man of my "refined" tastes, the bill could be expensive. So how could I up my credit limit?


If you said exercise, then you can have a free cookie. Logging my calories was a great start, but I knew I would eventually have to start exercising more to see the results I desperately craved. I knew my test consisted of running, pushups, and sit ups. So I went out and bought a new pair of running shoes.


Let me be clear: I don't like exercise. I spend most of my time behind a screen both at work and at home. But I started running on days when we weren't meeting to do group PT. It was slow at first, and hard, but I kept running.  The beautiful thing is that for our purposes, speed is irrelevant. Your attendance is. As the months went by, sometimes I would try to push for distance, and sometimes I would try for time, but always with the same thought in my head: I MUST keep going.


Now for the best part, I discovered weight loss is not some great mystery of the universe. When you eat less food and do more exercise, you actually lose weight as a consequence. By staying close to my calorie limits, I started losing one to three pounds per week, just like I was supposed to. The more I ran, the more weight I lost, and the easier the running became. I wasn't just trying to pass a test once every 6 months anymore; I was trying to get healthy. But my test components were improving as well. I was digging myself out of 10 years-worth of excuses, and I won't lie: It was, and continues to be, very hard work. 


It's been roughly four and a half months since I first stepped on that scale and had my denial come tumbling down around me. In that time I've lost close to 50 pounds, and just scored a 93.7 on my latest PT test. I still have a long way to go, but after 10 years, I've finally found my path.


So what does all of this have to do with you? I've made every excuse you could ever make. I've eaten everything I could get my hands on. I've sat out of every game, pretended to be sick, and squirmed my way out of every physical situation under the sun. But those days are over, and as I look back at the old me, I realize I don't miss him. You won't either, I promise.


You can break down your own walls. You can do it today. You may be slow, but you'll always be faster than the guy who hasn't started moving yet. You can get as fast, skinny, or healthy as you desire. It takes work. It takes time. And it does take some dedication. But you can do it.


I know you can, because I did.