I was fat. It made me unhappy. I knew this. This was a truth. There was no way around it.
It was the summer of 2011. My oldest daughter had just turned 1, and we were planning on trying for number two in the near future.
But my health was missing something. Or maybe I had “too much” of something else. It depends on how you looked at it.
I was fat.
It was embarrassing. I mean, not so embarrassing that I was a recluse in my house or anything. I was never obese as far as societal standards went. Out in public, nobody would ever mock me, or shame me, or crinkle their noses in disgust as I walked by them.
But I did. To myself. I crinkled my nose. Constantly.
I would get out of the shower and give the proverbial “suck in” as I gazed at what I saw in the mirror.
I saw fat. Lots, and lots, and lots of fat.
Where was the manliness? Where was the muscular definition? I had been drudging my way into the gym almost religiously for quite some time. And what did I have to show for it? Where were the fruits of all of my labor?
I yearned to have a positive body self-image. It’s something not many men will openly discuss. But it’s there. Man-boobs. Dad bellies. Bitch tits. Lower back fat. Whatever the hell you want to call it.
But we don’t call it that. At least not to each other. We justify it and rationalize it. I was no exception to this. My friends and I would openly mock our appearances, our ever-expanding waistlines, and make excuses for our behavior.
“Yep, I’ve got a body by Budweiser!” we’d proclaim, with an almost-proud yet alarmingly pathetic rancor.
But all that did was cover up the fact that I was disgusted with what I saw when I looked into the mirror. It was a mask. A facade. It was sad, really.
Sure, I said to myself, I’m a guy. I’m not supposed to be “into” my appearance. That’s a chick thing, right? If I’m unhappy with my body, I need to suck it up, accept it as a part of getting older, and have another beer.
I would convince myself of this, although I knew the truth. The cold, hard truth – the facts which stared back at me relentlessly as I glanced at 280 pounds of unimpressive man-blob.
I was fat. And unhappy about it.
And what would make me happy? What would give me the confidence, the “it” factor, and the zest to attack life the way it begged to be attacked?
Well, a 6-pack, of course. For sure.
That’ll do it.
Just once, I wanted just once to step out of the shower and see muscles. Not in my arms. Not in my chest. Not my back, my triceps, or my legs, but my abs. Because that’s the true definition of male beauty, right? The elusive, illustrious, glorious 6-pack. I wanted to take my shirt off at the lake or the pool, and turn some heads.
Men would want to be me and women would want to be with me.
It would be so awesome. So amazing. I would slather coconut scented suntan lotion across my body, and I would glisten in the sun. People would stop and stare. Take pictures with their iPhones, and tell their friends about the guy they saw on the beach with those “crazy-ass abs.”
It would make me happy. I was sure of it.
So, off I began.
My journey started slowly. It was an evolution. The first goal? Quite simply put: To not be so fat.
And I got there. I was on my way. My “abs” weren’t in yet, but I could see where they could be. I’d lost about 40 pounds of fat, and I could see the future in the horizon. The light at the end of the tunnel. The once impossible goal had become evidently attainable.
The pipe dream was nearing, but I wasn’t “there” yet. The happiness I had longed for when faced with my unattractive, physical self hadn’t manifested completely into my daily life yet.
Happiness was around the corner, right?
Up until that point, the weight loss had come from jumping on the low-carb bandwagon and incorporating 24-hour fasts into my daily life. And it worked, but only to a point. Eventually my weight loss leveled off.
But I was going to be happy, dammit. This was it! I was going to get that 6-pack! Happiness is on its way! I was determined. It was my destiny. It was going to happen.
I wanted others to compliment me. I wanted my wife to burn with desire as I took my shirt off like we were emblazoned across the pages of an oversexed romance novel. I wanted to be Matthew McConnaughey and Channing Tatum all rolled into one mass of abdominal-hunkiness.
And then I would be happy.
I mean, I had to be happy then, right?
The desire to transform my physical self was strong. It was like an itch. You know when someone tells you that you can’t do something, and ONLY because you’re told you can’t do it. You begin to do anything in your power to chase exactly whatever the un-doable thing is.
After some thought, I settled on the path to true abdominals: Leangains. That HAD to do it, right?
I mean, just look at the pictures from the clients of Martin Berkhan and Andy Morgan. They were FREAKING RIPPED, man!
I could do this thing, it could take me there, this was it, I was going places! I was going to be shredded! Chiseled! Cut from stone!
I was going to be happy. With myself. Finally. It was going to be AWESOME.
So, I began.
There were some trials and tribulations. Some tinkering and self-experimentation. And ultimately, some self-sacrifice, some self-discipline, and some serious dedication and consistency.
And it finally happened. Almost two years after I had hit my physical rock-bottom, I could finally look in the mirror. And not see fat.
I saw abs.
It was satisfying.
It was exciting.
I had never gotten this lean before. It was an accomplishment. A testament. The most physical and visual evidence possible – and the reward of my two years of hard work.
I felt happy.
And I flaunted those bad boys. Every chance I got.
I would get out of the shower and purposely linger around the house without my shirt on.
I would intentionally change my jersey after softball in front of others.
I would seek out trips to the pool.
I don’t think I cut the grass with my shirt on once that entire summer.
I mean, come on, man! I had abs! Would you?!?
And I felt happy.
But the weirdest thing started happening. I would get a compliment here and there. A friend would say, “Dude, you’re all cut up!”
I would say, “Thanks, man, I appreciate the compliment.”
But that was it.
Weird, I would think. He gave me a compliment, but doesn’t he want to know how? Doesn’t he want to know what it took? Didn’t he want to hear my story? How I got to this point? All of the dedication it took and the weeks, months, and years of sacrifice? Didn’t he want to talk about how awesome I was?
It seemed very anticlimactic.
And that’s how it always was. The occasional compliment was nice, but it was never enough. Pretty soon, I stopped hearing the compliments.
I felt like I was fishing for them at times. In a strange sense of self-inflated egoism, I thought it was everyone’s duty to compliment me. I mean, come on. Did you hear? I HAD FREAKING ABS! Do you know how hard it is to get abs?
I didn’t understand why my wife wasn’t talking about them more. I mean, she should, right? Not a single one of her friends has a husband with abs. She should be taking pictures of those bad boys and plastering them ALL OVER social media, right?
I mean, sure, she’d give me a compliment or two, and she’d make a remark about how much healthier I was now, but who gives a shit about health when you have a 6-pack?
It became very obvious to me. It was like a lightbulb went off in my psyche one day. It hit me like a ton of bricks.
No one gives a shit if you have abs.
Seriously. Isn’t that weird? I mean, it seemed like the strangest thing. Abs? Who the hell has abs? That’s about as rare as Haley’s-Goddamn-Comet, man!
“You should give a shit!” I wanted to say. “I mean, a HUUUUGE shit! You should care. It should become something you envy and marvel over! When someone has abs, goddammit, they are SPECIAL!”
I had attained “abs” for all the wrong reasons. I had gotten them for others. And I wasn’t internally changed as a result.
And after a long while with these abs hidden in my shirt it slowly became evident.
I couldn’t believe it.
It took me a long time to realize it. To come to grips with reality.
It was difficult to say. Perhaps because I had spent so much time dedicating my life to pursuing the ultimate fitness badge of honor.
Having abs didn’t make me happy.
Now, don’t get me wrong, they didn’t make me UNHAPPY, per say. But the happiness didn’t ooze out of me the way I thought it would. In my head, the day my abs finally became visible would be up there. On par with the greatest days of my life. With my wedding, the birth of my children, the day I bought my first house… shit, the day I had abs? It would be on par with the greatest days in all of humanity! Jesus’s birthday! July 4, 1776! The first day Pop Tarts hit the open market!
Then why didn’t it feel that way?
What was wrong with my mindset? Why weren’t these abs making me happy? I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand.
I didn’t discontinue the system. Not by any means. I adjusted, tailored up the calories, and began in a feverish attempt at muscle gain.
That would make me happy. For sure.
I mean, the abs didn’t make me happy. But the extra muscle will make me happy. For SURE. That’ll show ‘em. First, I had abs, then, I got JACKED.
It’ll be sweet, I thought to myself, everywhere I go, people will move away in fear that I will smash them with my massive fists.
I’ll be like a hulking lumberjack. I’ll drink whiskey out of my canteen and possess the strength of Paul Bunyan AND his damn ox.
And as that journey progressed, and continues to progress, I’ve come to a huge, crucial realization:
No physical attribute will cause your happiness.
Physical attributes are the outcomes. They are the products. They are the outputs, the afterthoughts, and the results of the hard work.
The hard work itself is where the magic is.
I dole out fitness and nutritional advice to others. And a standard piece of advice I give to nearly everyone who comes my way:
You can’t focus on the output.
You can’t control the output.
You can only control the input.
If you control the input,
the output takes care of itself.
Lose yourself in the journey,
and it will make everything easier.
It’s some damn good advice. And it was high time I started taking it.
For the first time, truly, in my life, I have just recently began to love myself for my physical appearance.
I don’t have abs anymore.
I have a body. A regular body. There are things I’d like to change. And parts I will continue to attempt to improve upon.
But my body is a work in progress. A masterpiece of unfinished business. A Picasso of imperfection. It’s a process, a canvas really – of my entire body of work. Some parts are too big, other parts are too small, a bit more fat than I would like hangs in the balance, but I love it. Because it’s mine. It’s the fruit of MY labor. And nobody else’s.
I mean, I could get “abs” again. And maybe I will. But I’m not worried about it. I’m not pressed about it. I feel healthy. I feel strong. I feel alive.
I have the physical ability to do the things I want to do. I can be active relatively easily. Whether that means a round of golf, a game of softball, or a wrestling match with my two daughters.
It’s taken me a very long time to realize that the outputs, the results, the “effect” in the cause and effect relationship, does not truly make the person.
Happiness lies in your ability to relate to others. To understand them. To help them in some way. To serve them.
Happiness rests in your experiences. Your laughter. Your acceptance of what is around you and your presence in this world.
Happiness radiates in your personality. Your love for your family. The zest with which you accomplish tasks.
Ultimately, you choose to be happy.
And your physical attributes will not cause that happiness. At all. You, and only you can cause it. But it must come from inside of you. Not the other way around.
And hopefully you don’t need to go “get abs” to find your own source of happiness.
If you do, you just might find… they’re really not all that they’re cracked up to be.
Featured image: Defeat by drewzviewz, used under a Creative Commons license.