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Less is More (Or... how my AV System helped me lose 75 pounds)

Posted on Dec 22, 2011

The last time I had a new driver’s license photo taken was about 7 years ago.  At the time, my son was recently born and while my wife quickly shed her pregnancy weight, I seemed to absorb it right on to me.  So it wasn’t the most flattering picture.


My weight has see-sawed ever since I can remember.  I’m not a person of any other vices, but food has always had me in its clutches.  I had tried the Atkins diet and many others with varying success and consistent, eventual failure.  I would lose the weight quickly and gain it back even quicker.  A common story, I know.  The longest I lasted was for about a year in 1999.  Then I met the woman who would one day become my wife, fell madly in love and did what many new husbands and fathers do… enjoyed life!  And a lot of white chocolate chip macadamia nut cookies too.

I used to run and workout a lot.  But after about 15 years of heavy duty exercise, my ankles, tendons, bursas and back found varying and ever more painful ways to ask me to stop .  Around the same time, one of my closest friends (who was a personal trainer I worked out with) took his own life.  The combo of physical and emotional pain made it all too easy to avoid even thinking about exercising.  When I occasionally tried the treadmill or some pushups, I found that what used to be fun and energizing was just plain sad and boring.

So in the early fall of 2008 when I couldn’t walk a flight of stairs without sucking in four acres of oxygen and I was staying up nights trying to notch new holes in my belts, I decided enough was enough.  But I had to come up with something different than everything else I had tried before.  Rapid loss accompanied by intense workout followed by periods of rapid gain and inactivity had proven to be a lousy strategy.  I had to give myself permission to lose the weight very, very slowly.  I had to be ok with a glacial pace and constantly remind myself that it was not a sprint but a marathon – one that will never end.

I had to find a way to not be bored.

I had always hated working out with the TV on or even listening to music while I ran.  I liked to hear myself breathe, my feet hit the ground or the clank of the weights in my hands.  I felt like anything but complete mental and physical focus was a distraction.

But this time around, distraction was the name of the game.  Anything to keep me from thinking about the one thing I didn’t want to think about – which was what I would be doing at that moment… working out.

Elliptical MachineSo one morning, I jumped on the elliptical and turned on the 42” diagonal distraction machine. I watched a pre-season Laker game that I had recorded on my DirecTV DVR.  I don’t remember who they played or who won.  What I do remember is that 45 minutes went by in a blink.  And I found myself looking forward to the next workout because it meant I would get to watch another game.

NBA Pre-season gave way to the regular season.  I discovered that by fast forwarding through dead-balls and commercials it took exactly 45 minutes to watch one half of a basketball game.   My routine became to DVR the Laker games, watch the first half at night then wake up the next morning and watch the second half while I did cardio before work.  There were always enough Laker games to get me 3-5 workouts a week and I couldn’t wait to get on the machine because I wasn’t thinking about working out, I was watching the Lakers.

When basketball season ended, there were episodes of SNL I hadn’t yet watched and after that was Conan and new fall TV shows that seemed worth checking out.

One stumbling block I hit was the audio.  Watching basketball games had been fine, but with the noise of the elliptical machine and my breathing (working out is not easy when you are carrying the equivalent of a six year old on you in extra weight), I had to crank up the TV to just barely hear.  So with a quick system redesign and some programming, I routed the sound of all TV sources in the Gym to the in-wall music speakers and my ears too were now properly distracted.

Just as I was a purist with working out, so I was with watching movies. I always believed movies were to be watched in one sitting.  And with my dedicated theater just steps from the home gym it seemed crazy to watch a movie on a 42” flat panel instead of the 110” screen.  But when both basketball and TV season were over and Conan got dumped from the Tonight show, I found myself in need of some new content options.

So I pulled up Netflix, found an old movie I loved and watched it over two work outs.   Once I opened up to the idea of watching a movie in multiple parts, I began to look forward to my workouts with a whole new level of anticipation.  I became ravenous for more and more content.  I added sources like Hulu, Hulu+, a Boxee Box, iTunes/Apple TV, and even Vudu.  Throw in some rented blurays from Blockbuster and DirecTV OnDemand and my appetite, for the first time in my life was sated by something other than a package of Vienna fingers washed down with a half gallon of cookies and cream ice cream and a bowl of frosted mini wheats. (Ah, I still miss college!)

The fact that I could get all of these different sources on the flat panel in my home gym via my distributed video and home automation systems and listen to great sound via the in-wall speakers made it possible not just for me to enjoy my TV time, but I believe truly enabled me to finally lose the weight and stay focused on keeping it off.  I had discovered the secret to making working out fun.  Don’t ever let yourself know you’re actually doing it!  Distract!  Distract!  Distract!

I lost 60 pounds in the first 12 months.  I held steady for about a year and half, fluctuating in a 10 pound range, then lost the next 15 pounds over 6 months or so.

Of course making significant changes to my diet and food lifestyle was the biggest part of my success. (That’s for another blog).   But Even in my low moments when I slipped off the chuck wagon, my workouts stayed consistent and helped bridge the gaps in will power.

So what about that lousy Driver’s license picture?

Around the time, when I was down about 60 pounds, my driver’s license was up for renewal.  Finally, for a trip to the DMV and an interminable wait in that line I I would be rid of that reminder of my former self.

Then my wife pointed out that the year before she had renewed her license via mail.  No trip to the DMV?  Could it be so!? But alas, there was a catch.  They would have to re-use my old picture on my new license.

Talk about a dilemma.  I had worked so hard to shed those pounds and now I had to choose between a trip to the DMV or keeping that picture for at least another five years.  It seemed so petty and vain to waste an entire morning just to get the new picture.

Well, at some point before I had to decide what I would do, I was having dinner with friends when the waitress started giving me a good-natured, hard time about only ordering a salad while everyone else was indulging in ribs, and pot pies and such.  So I said, “I can’t, I used to be fat.”  She scoffed in disbelief.  That prompted me to reach in my pocket and pull out my license to show her the picture and prove my point.  She studied it carefully for a moment and then said “Wow, yeah, you did used to be fat.  Caesar salad it is.”

Then it clicked for me.  I suddenly wanted to keep the old picture as a reminder that the secret to my weight loss and to keeping it off was not that I needed to be properly motivated, but that I needed to be properly distracted!

I finished my salad that night, had some fresh fruit for dessert and never wavered.  I knew my gym TV would be waiting for me the next morning when I’d get 45 minutes to watch something new.  And oh yeah, I almost forgot… work out!

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