Escape Velocity

Help me raise $500 for the homeless through the charity Back on My Feet.
escapeThe term “escape velocity” is most known as it relates to science and planetary orbit. It has a lesser known, more wonky use in the world of economics, specifically in regards to liquidity traps and the efforts to rejuvenate a depressed economy. I propose adding a third context to which the phrase can be applied: fitness and weight loss.

I vividly remember the feeling of helplessness about my health. A trip to the gym was the exception, not the rule, and it never seemed to make a dent. Even if I went to the gym three times in one week, there was very little evidence of any benefit. On a micro level, it is very hard to notice any changes derived from one week of increased activity.

I developed a deep dislike for the people who advocated a healthy lifestyle. I thought they were lucky, that some combination of genetics and an accommodating job allowed them to pontificate about things that just were not practical for someone in the grind of a challenging career. It was not a healthy attitude, but it prevailed above all else, as I embraced a bitterness towards people who put their fitness as a priority.

My dad had warned me about that exact attitude people exude. He had lost significant weight between his high school years and the year he met my mom. He said that people would ask him if he was not taking care of himself, as if his greater focus on fitness (and subsequent loss of weight) was somehow a detriment. What they really were implying, as he explained, was a projection of their frustration with their own health. At the time, I thought that perspective was ridiculous, that people had legitimate gripes with the hand they were dealt.

I now realize that I projected my frustrations about my health onto others. Now, I never publicized such thoughts, as they were never solicited. I had them though, and they were unforgiving. Ironically enough, I still felt pressured by others, whether it be at a lavish client dinner or eating lunch at the desk in a team room, in such a way that I felt that I was the victim of such projections. I remember trying to pass up a dinner or forgoing a drink and getting the burden of a thorough guilt trip.

This pervasive discontent, in which I was mutually angry at my own fitness and dismissive of others’ priority on fitness, was in no way a healthy lifestyle. I remember my parents on a number of occasions recommending I go for a bike ride (my favorite activity) and my own stubbornness to not partake specifically because of the fact they suggested it. I recall a friend offering to help me incorporate a tailored workout plan into my summer, given his work with Temple’s men’s basketball team. I did one workout and never took him up on repeated offers since. These instances were not when I was a rebellious teen. They were within the last few years.

Escape velocity is the “the lowest velocity that a body must have in order to escape the gravitational attraction of a particular planet or other object.” In the context of astronomy, it’s literally how fast you must go to get out of the orbit of a planet, moon, or other object. In the context of recovering economy, it’s the point at which the economy’s “training wheels” can come off, in that monetary and fiscal stimulus have sparked the engine of a growing boom that leads to more jobs and higher incomes, thereby increasing prospects for even more growth.

I consider escape velocity in fitness the point where you no longer notice the effort in getting to the gym or logging your calories, where such habits are more noticeable when they are not completed, rather than when they are undertaken. It’s the habit-forming, subconscious expectations that are very hard to establish but are tightly binding that build the confidence needed to continue a workout.

It’s when hiccups do not derail you, when impromptu changes don’t demoralize you, when nonlinear weight loss doesn’t discourage you. It’s when you begin to trust what for so long seemed so foreign and silly: the idea that fitness does work, that sticking to a plan will beget results, that these people who study fitness know a thing or two applicable to your own body.

Last Friday I did a heck of a workout. Then my watch’s data was corrupted, and all the results of that effort were lost. If that happened last month, early in my training, I would have had a panic attack. I was still frustrated, but I knew the range at which I had burned calories, and I made a point to log it outside the website.

Two Saturdays ago, I went to Fox and Hound after an awesome hike, and decided to eat a bit more than usual. I had no idea that a Fox and Hound Burger was almost 1,600 calories. Such a meal, plus fries and unhealthy appetizers, could have left me dejected back in January. Instead, I went home, ran for two hours on the treadmill, and then went out with friends to the bar.

Three weeks ago, I noticed my weight would stagnate during the early part of a week after a productive weekend. I had no idea the cause, but it was very frustrating, given my caloric deficits were not stagnating. I kept at it, trusting the “system” only to see later the successful loss of weight. I later learned water weight had a part to play, and I kept moving forward.

Things don’t always work out perfectly, and so far I have been able to maintain my steady caloric deficits without a “lost day”. At some point, I’ll experience one of them, and I’ll have to accept it and move on. But I feel much more empowered to do so today, than I ever did a month or two ago. I would have closed up shop and given up.

Giving up certainly isn’t the right way to go about it. But it’s hard-wired into my mind when the activity is new and difficult. Once you get going, and you stay with it, the activity, no matter how difficult, starts to feel familiar. I’m not talking so much the actual running or lifting. I’m talking the walk out the door, and the trek to the gym.

My habit now is to get back from work, put on something for dinner, and while it’s cooking, run to the bedroom and change into workout clothes. I fill up my water bottle, I grab my earphones, I charge my iPhone, and I get my lock for the locker. I eat dinner while watching a show, and I give myself 30 minutes from when I finish the meal to get out the door.

Such a routine is something I avoided so well for so long. I remember sitting on my couch debating when I would leave the apartment, only to never get off the couch and consider the day a lost cause. What’s weird is that such a feeling was not in the distant past, so I can vividly remember how I rationalized the lack of action. However, now I see such inaction as foreign, in that my body and mind are expecting the effort.

I tell myself I’m not out of the woods just yet, that any deviation from the schedule could land me right back on the couch of no escape. Although I am starting to realize that as much as my watch and calorie journal help, my habits, my appetite, my routines are all becoming self-sustaining. As much as I used to crave a large lunch or a greasy breakfast sandwich, I now look forward to a light lunch or a breakfast full of fruit.

I’m becoming that person whom I loathed for an uppity attitude but envied for a healthy lifestyle. In short, it’s working and I’m becoming a happier, healthier person.


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