Day 5: Weight Loss Journey

I really like the NFL. As a New England resident during the Patriot’s dynasty, this came naturally. But I also really like insightful analysis and good writing. For many years, my favorite football writer was Bill Barnwell, first with Grantland then The Ringer and now ESPN. He is the Nate Silver of football writers who invents statistics I had never heard of to analyze aspects of the game I had never considered. 

One day in January 2016, Barnwell posted an article on Medium: “The Easiest Way to Lose 125 Pounds Is to Gain 175 Pounds.” In it, he described how years of benign neglect morphed into a food addiction that led him to be morbidly obese (5’11”, 334 lbs). Over the course of one year, through some modest lifestyle changes—1800-2400 calories per day and ~30 minutes on the elliptical—he managed to shed nearly 120 pounds and land at the weight of 206 on December 31. Around this time, I had been binging on another guilty pleasure: My 600-lb Life. These stories of men and women whose weight had spiraled out of control had a peculiar effect on me: on the one hand, they reassured me, “I look nothing like that. I still play tennis three times a week.” On the other, I worried that they could be the Ghost of Christmas (Eid?) Future if I didn’t start to take charge of my weight.

I have always been on the big side. One of the only “fights” I ever got in was at Camp Becket when I was in about 6th grade and a camper called me “Marshmallow.” In high school, I was the “nucleus” of the offensive line, lending my significant girth to protect the QB and open up holes for running backs for the 1-7 St. Mark’s Lions. I didn’t really think much about my weight then, having internalized that this is just the way things were.

The Barnwell article and My 600-lb Life episodes planted the seeds, but there were a few specific incidents that caused them to germinate and take root. The first was a field trip to Launch, a trampoline park in Norwood. Physical humor in the vein of Chris Farley has always been my thing, so I asked a student to film me as I performed a mildly ridiculous “King Kong” routine. In the video (which I upload here with much trepidation), I jump on the trampoline, flexing mid-air, and then bounce a few times before landing with a resounding thud on the median strip between two trampolines. When I watched the video, with my chest and stomach straining the buttons on my XXL shirt, it hit home how much my weight had gotten out of control. Around this time, my wife made a vow not to do any online shopping in 2018–surely a more difficult challenge than any I have ever taken on.

The moment that I actually started, however, was at the hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant in Somerville. I was with David, a student I had taught years ago at Fay, who went from never having picked up a racket to being a force at 4.5 level under my tutelage. As I dug into my heaping portion of paya (cow feet), he said, “Mr. Henshaw, have you ever thought about doing something about your weight?” This simple question was one of the first times anyone had directly asked me the question that had been percolating in my mind. Usually, people tiptoe around issues like this, afraid to cause offense. He then took out his phone and opened up an app that would change my life: My FitnessPal (though I have now migrated to LoseIt as they don’t charge for the barcode scanner feature). He was logging his caloric intake, a habit he had been doing for years. “But you don’t have anything to worry about your weight,” I protested. “Exactly, ever wonder why not?”

One of my defining characteristics is my stubbornness. When I make a big decision which often happens on the spur of the moment, I stick to it: take this essay writing challenge as an example. When David showed me that app, I pledged that I’d start logging my calories, and thus my weight loss journey began on January 27, 2018. I will save the specifics of the journey for a future essay, but, to bury the lede, over the course of about 10 months, I went from 307lbs to 209 before settling in around 220, a baseline I was able to comfortably maintain for three years. The specifics of the journey are interesting and may help others who want to undertake a similar challenge, but the real key to my success began with that intention at the Indian restaurant. As the Prophet Muhammad (saw) explained in hadith that is foundational to our faith, “Actions are [rewarded] according to intentions, and everyone will get what he intended.”


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