Thursday, September 15, 2005

Hoist With My Own Ramen Noodles

I have just eaten a brick of Nissin Top Ramen. Ramen noodles, the legendary foodstuff of impoverished college students or cloistered programmers. Beef flavor, to be specific . . . though its relation to anything bovine can only be described as tenuous. According to the package, I have actually eaten two servings of noodles. The only reason I can posit for the manufacturers to represent this as a double-serving package is to get away with appearing to say that the flavor packet only has 760 milligrams of sodium. Nobody needs to down this much salt in one sitting outside of marathon runners or deer.

I had the ramen noodles in my apartment as a practical joke. At my last poker game, some of the guys were relating their tales of woe with this foodstuff, and the chance someone might lose all their money and have to resort to this foodstuff until next payday. This gave me a wicked idea. I bought a package of noodles, with the plan of presenting this to the first person at the next game who lost all of his chips. I even affixed a festive bow to this dubious gift.

Those noodles will not make it to the next poker night. I ate them. I am not a college student, or a programmer, or poor. I am a fatass with poor impulse control. They were in the house, I got lazy after work, and instead of cooking something healthful, I boiled them, drained them, sprinkled the brown crystals of MSG and industrial bouillon over them, and ate them while surfing the Net and listening to The Simpsons in the background. As with any tempting tidbit I happen to allow into the house, I ate them, to my detriment and regret.

I weigh 240 pounds, which on my 5'8" frame is at least 40 pounds too much. I have had a sedentary life for most of my years. Though my parents steered me into intramural soccer for most of my grammar-school years, they also rewarded me with food and caved in too easily to this only child's tears when they initially denied it. I know as an adult it is entirely my choice, now, to choose the right foods and not to snack constantly, and to exercise regularly, and the refrain of "It's my parents' fault" holds little water. But I know I sabotage my efforts to keep active, and I use food to ban depression, boredom, or, again, as a reward. Old habits, like clich├ęs, die hard.

I go to a gym, and have been trying to keep up a routine for 5 years, but I easily grow discouraged and let my progress lapse. I will go for 3 weeks, four or five times a week. My cheekbones reemerge from my jowls. My eyes seem deeper in their sockets, more mysterious, no longer shrouded by fat. I can feel ribs again, hipbones, shoulder blades. Muscles swell beneath my skin. Stairs, laundry baskets, and long city blocks become trivial. I am winning. And then I will get a cold. I will work late. I will have a late night and sleep in the next morning. The pattern will be disrupted. I make a promise to myself to resume my workouts. I will break it. My precious muscles will be stripped down, unneeded, and I will limp around like an old man wracked with cramps. I will buy Ben & Jerry's, or a bag of jellybeans, and eat in dejection . . . and promise myself, that this will be it, this Monday or the end of the month or the first of the year, I will get back to the gym tomorrow, right after this metabolic nightmare of sugar and starch, no better than a junkie sweating out a jones in a holding cell.

Gamblers who compulsively play and lose, despite financial ruin, are viewed by psychologists to be punishing themselves, to in fact be getting a rush from the self-destruction of pissing away their life savings and worldly possessions until they are broke. Besides the sugar high, the lassitude that comes from downing half a loaf of crusty bread or pastry, or of blowing through the remaining Oreos after the last poker players stagger back to their cars, am I punishing myself? I have blamed my weight for being single. But I have recognized in myself over the past decade a tendency to use such things as being single as a way to get attention, sympathy even, from others. I wouldn't actually get off my fat ass and meet women . . . just take the safe route, whine to them about being single, and derive some sort of satisfaction from being a victim. Being fat provided an excuse — a target — and more often than not, I would hit it before others got the chance, whether they actually intended to make me a target or not.

I sometimes wonder if I will actually settle down with a woman. Sometimes I wonder if I have just given up. I now wonder if that's just me taking the easy route out again. I met a woman last Thanksgiving with whom I talked for hours, but whom I didn't pursue. I gave the reason of her being a smoker when folks who had noticed our extended chat asked if I had followed up. I wasn't going to be rejected because of my weight, because she was also overweight (though her curves were far more enticing as a result). So why didn't I pursue her? Was I afraid to let my life change fundamentally, to share it entirely with someone who might have been looking for someone just like me? Or was I just lazy, rejecting her because I needed gain sympathy, to set up a situation where I would clothe myself with the familiarity of regret . . . and fill the void with some sort of shitty food that's just gonna make the whole situation worse?

Laziness. Fear of risk. It paralyzed my writing for a long time, and my willingness to be social. My work fosters it. I have an easy job, and it requires no physical effort whatsoever. My ass grows by millimeters each week there. Without the regular inoculation of exercise, and portaging healthful food in from home to prevent me from taking any number of fattening detours in the surrounding sources of temptation, weight gain is inevitable, and with it discouragement.

I'm still struggling with a regular gym routine. When the weather gets as hot and humid as it did today, I find dragging my work bag even a few blocks leaves me puffing for air. This is not an encouraging development. Both of my parents are overweight, and it undoubtedly damages their overall health. It is only a matter of time before that first chronic disease appears — heart problems, diabetes, arthritis — that I will be able to trace to obesity. Then I can look forward to a life addicted to a swirl of medications and making some fucking drug company rich because I couldn't take a stand and exhibit some self-control.

I have the chance to stop this progress, to refuse to allow anyone to divert me from this goal, to fill my life with writing and positive self-exploration and development of my talent . . . to take pride in the mental and physical strength that this blog and my local gym, respectively, will grant me. I have to push past failures and deny depression its claim on my short time on this earth. I don't intend to make this a weight-loss blog, but rather a blog that celebrates my better decisions and works out ways to ensure they keep being made. If I had diverted even a tenth of the energy I spent on saying "no" to opportunities and drowning my sorrows in unneeded food into hitting the gym and writing daily, I would be a published author with high hopes of seeing my eighth decade in high health. I may still have that chance. I should be very selfish about taking it.

For now, though, the next poker night beckons, and I need to buy a new brick of ramen for the joke. Maybe this third one will stay intact.

1 comment:

Trish said...

Hi James,
I stumbled across your blog just by clicking the "next blog" button and I'm really enjoying your writing. I am also trying to get back into writing. Good luck! I am sure something good will come from it.