Anyone who has poked around on the Karate Geek website (www.KarateGeek.com), or who is familiar with me at all, knows that I used to be fat. Really fat. To get an idea of how fat I was, think of a fat person. Now think of a bigger fat person eating the smaller fat person. I was fatter than that. Still cute, but big.
Think of a walrus reading a comic book idea and add fifty pounds. That was me.
At my heaviest I tipped the scale at just over 460 pounds – for those of you outside of the United States, that’s about 209 kilos. For me, an all-you-can-eat buffet in Vegas wasn’t a meal, it was a challenge…a challenge I frequently accepted and never lost.
Like a lot of larger people, I began to have health problems as I got older. Borderline diabetes, problems breathing, sleep issues, joint pain, heart issues. If there was an illness that could be attributed to obesity, I had it. I am pretty sure they even invented a few new problems explicitly for me.
I was a mess.
In 2013 I decided to make a change. I decided I wanted to be around for my kids. The problem was that diets had never worked before. Any sort of drastic change to my lifestyle, or that got in the way of the horrible habits I had picked up over 40 years of life, never stuck. I’d drop weight and then gain it back again…oft times with a little extra added on as ‘fat interest.’ What I would up doing was starting with small changes — changes to diet, attitude, and exercise — and then building on those small changes. With each small change would come a small victory. With each small victory, I was inspired to make more changes and to get more fit.
After that, as I dropped down to a more ‘reasonable’ 380 pounds, I started back up in martial arts as a form of exercise. I’d done martial arts when I was younger and had black belts in both Aikido and Shotokan, and my son had begun training at a local karate school, and I’d always loved it. I decided that I would hide exercise by getting active doing something I enjoyed.
What I’m going to do over the next few weeks is lay out what worked for me and I implemented the changes I needed to get healthy. In this post, I’m going to start at the beginning.
4 Tips For Getting In Shape When You’re Fat, Old, and Broken!
1. Start small. I cannot stress this one enough. Big changes will be a shock to your system and will hinder your ability to stick with your fitness plans. I know we all want to drop 20 pounds in a month or lose 50 pounds in six months, but you can’t start off that way. The best thing you can do is make incremental changes – this goes for diet and exercise both.
The very first thing I did was cut out sugar and all soda (even diet!). I also stopped adding salt to my food – if something was salty or had salt in it already, it was fine. This may not seem like much, but think of it as your first step. I’d eventually cut out all sugar and focus on low or no salt food. At first, though, I took a baby step.
The small steps are the way to begin adding exercise into your routine. Knowing I wanted to eventually get my black belt in Red Dragon Karate, I was aware of the black belt test – I knew I’d need to be able to do 100 push-ups and 100 sit-ups in 4 minutes each. The idea terrified me. At 40, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d ever done either one of those things…sure, I’d push back from a table when I was done eating, but that was as close as I’d gotten since PE in high school.
So what I did, instead of focusing on 100 exercises in 4 minutes, was to do 5 my first week. Every day I did 5 push-ups and 5 sit-ups. That was it. In week 2, I added 3 more of each. As I got stronger and my cardio got better, I added more reps. In six months I was able to do 50 of each in about 6 minutes. In a year, I could do 100 in 5 minutes. By the time my black belt test rolled around I could do 100 sit-ups and 100 push-ups in about 3 minutes each.
Small changes add up if you stick to them and build on them.
2. Repetition. As a fat guy, I didn’t want to go anywhere near a gym. Hot, fit, young people annoy me – hell, I still want to kill them – and I didn’t like the way the judged me with their stupid hot, fit, young eyes. I always had a gym membership. I never went to the gym, but like a lot of you I continued to pay for it.
I found the best way around that was to do repetition exercises with my martial arts. Punching or kicking a bag works great. What worked REALLY well for me was doing the basic kata for RDK. The basic katas are called Tiogas in the system, but people familiar with traditional karate know them as Pinan/Heian/Taikyoku forms – taekwondo practitioners call them Kicho Hyung; in Tang Soo Do they are Pyong-an.
The forms all have very basic movements repeated over and over in varying directions. How this works is it forces you to punch, kick, and block, which causes you to flex, stress, and tense up almost every muscle you’ve got. Think of it as a low-impact, low-weight workout. If done at full power and speed (even a slow one), you’ll get a great cardio workout in addition to toning your arms, legs, back, chest, and abs. Tiogas 1-4 have 104 moves total. Start by doing them in chunks, then all together, and then multiple times a day. Build and repeat for success.
4. Relish the Victories. Positive reinforcement is going to be one of the keys here. As a fat person, I assumed I was going to fail when it came to getting fit. I’d NEVER been able to do it before. That is where the little victories helped me. After I lost three pounds in my first month I felt great. No one else noticed, but I did. And it gave me hope. It gave me a tiny little ledge to stand on…a foothold I was able to use to get up to the next hand grip as I climbed the mountain of fitness. When I lost five more pounds the next month, I was ecstatic! I celebrated each victory and used every one to push myself on to the next. Those victories allowed me to give myself permission to succeed. They let me get out of my own way…something that can be very hard for anyone to do. Most of the time YOU are your own worst enemy when it comes to succeeding in life.
That’s it. Start small. Repeat. Hydrate. Build on your small victories until they become big ones.
Next time I’ll get into specific workouts and how to begin to build off of your small successes – how to grow them into huge ones.
Stay tuned. Stay encouraged. Stay on track.
-Mathias Nastos, the Karate Geek
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