First off, and right up front, I am no so-called fitness or mental health expert. I’m just going to tell you what it is that I have discovered over the years by trials and tribulations. We all know, because studies have shown us as well as the experts telling us, that diets don’t work.
And what do they do next? They try to sell us on THEIR diet/weight loss plan! Counting this, or adding that, you shouldn’t eat this or you should eat that. What is that all about? I have a hard enough time counting as it is without having to take my shoes off as well as my wife’s! I will agree on one thing with them though: it is a change in life style that works.
Once upon a time (or as they say in the South, y’all check this out!) I couldn’t go out to a club with my friends because they were afraid that if they set their drink down without looking I might walk away with it balanced on my rear end and not even know it.
I have worked as a Correctional Officer or as a Police Officer Since 1994 (and for 7 years doing both at the same time) and have realized, as many of us in this profession has, that we need to stay in some type of physical shape in order to do our job. And no, although round is a shape, it’s not the one we’re looking for here. At some point in our lives we have an epiphany that changes who were are. Some times for the better and some times for the worse. Mine occurred in late 2003.
While working as a Correctional Supervisor at a newly opened prison (approximately 2 months by the time this happened), I responded to a fight in progress at the farthest housing unit at our facility along with 4 other staff members. Now to give you an idea of how far I had to run, from where I was located in the main building to the building we were responding to was approximately 400 yards.
I was the first one to get to the outer door to the building. As the door opened up, I held it for all the other responders, not because I was trying to be helpful, but because I couldn’t breathe. I was gasping for breath and was totally useless at that point in time. My first thought was a huge reality check: What if it was another officer that was being assaulted and I couldn’t do anything about it? That’s when I finally got off my lazy rear end and started doing something about the way that I looked.
Motivation to exercise had never really been there for me. Then again, its not really there for many of us to begin with. Of course I thought about going to the gym, or maybe running or anything else that the fitness guru’s want us to do. I thought about this all the time, while sitting on my couch eating potato chips or ice cream (there’s nothing better than Ben & Jerry’s on those depressing days!) I’d stuff myself full of food until I had to undo my pants and get a little extra room in there. Now that I had made my mind up that I needed to do something, I just had to figure out what to do and where to start.
LET THE CHANGE BEGIN!
My great-grandfather was always rail thin. When he passed away in 1986, 6 months shy of turning 100, he was walking almost 1/2 mile every day. I’d watch his plate when my great-grandmother would give it to him and it would not even be 1/2 full. I thought he was nuts for not eating. By the time that he was done eating, he still had food left over on his plate.
One day I asked him why he didn’t eat everything on his plate (geez, I had to!). He taught me the most important lesson that I had ever learned and I didn’t even know it: “Bryan, I eat until I’m not hungry anymore, just not until I’m full.” At first I thought he was crazy but after that pint of ice cream in late 2003 it all made sense. Starting the now I’d do what he did.
Now, like many of us that have ever had a membership to the gym, it is completely useless unless you go. Well, remember how I said that the motivation to exercise had never really been there for me? Well it still wasn’t there for me. I knew that getting the membership was going to be worthless since I would not be going. Not just because of the lack of motivation, but because of my work schedule.
I was working not just as a Correctional Supervisor, but also as a Police Officer on my days off. Add into that a wife and two kids and I just couldn’t find the time. I did the next best thing I could think of. I started to not wear my jacket while I was at work. Keep two things in mind: I’m living in Vermont and its winter. Yep, froze my two brain cells off.
As a supervisor, I was required to go check on every housing unit that we had at the facility. At this facility, there were a total of 4 building total that were spread apart. I’d get to work, hang my jacket up and then take the LONG way around checking every housing area. Needless to say, when its 15 degrees outside and the wind is blowing, its COLD.
Since I was not raised in this kind of weather, I found myself walking faster getting from point A to point B. Or more precisely, from point A to point D, then B, then C then back to A. I saw that the faster I walked, the faster I’d be warm again when entering the next building. My legs would start to burn from the exercise I never really had and before I knew it, I had lost 45 lbs and gone down from a 42″ to a 34″ waist. I could breathe again after running.
Now what was I eating to help me get there? Anything I wanted. I have been on diets before and they never worked for me. For me, I always noticed that when I couldn’t have something I wanted it even more. And when I did have it, I’d overindulge.
They say that 85-97% of all diets fail. It’s no wonder, you have to cut out the things you enjoy! No more pasta, mashed potatoes, cake, chocolate, ice cream, etc. Let me tell you something, you tell me I can’t have my ice cream, chocolate or cake and I will slap you faster than an OB-GYN with a newborn at childbirth. Those are fighting words my friend.
What I did do was moderate myself. I learned the following things: Hershey kisses are individually wrapped; cake comes in smaller sizes than a half pan; and that God invented the ice cream scoop for a reason.
Exercise is important at every stage in this change. Minor every day changes make all the difference. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Walk the extra 15 parking spots when you go shopping (ever notice the person that’s waiting for that car to pull out of the #2 spot is still there when you walk into the store and you parked farther away?) The key to exercise that I have found is doing something that you enjoy doing. More importantly, something that you WILL do again! You have to walk, don’t you? You can’t go wrong.
(Stay tuned for Part 2…)
Bryan Avila started working as a Police Officer in 1994 while attending Norwich University in Northfield, VT. In 1999 he began working for the Vermont Dept of Corrections while still working as a Part-Time Police Officer. In 2007 he left public service until 2009 when he began working for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. He is currently a Correctional Training Instructor- Sergeant of Correctional Officers, at the TDCJ Region III Training Academy located in Rosharon, TX.