My Two Month Journey by Joseph Rolnicki

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Joseph Rolnicki is a second year Hall Director at Ferris State University. He received his Masters of Adult and Higher Education from Northern Illinois University in 2010, and his Bachelors of Psychology from Dominican University in 2008.  Joseph is currently training for his first marathon, maintaining a blog about minimalism and healthy living (http://the-nextstep.tumblr.com/), and constantly seeking professional development opportunities in Student Affairs. 

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The weight of one bad decision adds up. One decision turns into habit, and one habit turns to several, and several habits makes a lifestyle.

In order to survive a demanding undergraduate schedule, I adopted a lifestyle of stress eating, caffeine dependence, four hour sleep cycles, and relentless anxiety. I was still able to maintain my weight with little exercise, but when I applied the same approach to my graduate experience, the results were confounding. 5, 10, 15 pounds came and stayed.

My first professional position was much less stressful, but the lifestyle was ingrained. Even though I was more active, everything else stayed the same. Thus, the weight gain stayed its course.

30 pounds may not seem like much, but the old photos and clothes started to make the past seem like a delusion more than a memory. “Did I really used to weigh that little, could I have really been that thin?” Over time, I convinced myself that the past was the past, and chalked up my lanky silhouette to a function of youth that couldn’t be regained in my adult form. I weigh more because adults weigh more. It was natural.

But it wasn’t natural, it was just normal. It was normal for people to gain weight in grad school, and it was normal for people to accept the gain as permanent.

In March 2013, I was ready to challenge what I always thought was normal. I was ready to challenge everything I knew about food, and fitness, and what it meant to be healthy. I just needed to retrace my bad decisions, rescind my bad habits, and rebuild my lifestyle.

Over the next two months, I lost 30 pounds. Here are some themes that fueled the transformation.

Stop talking, start doing – I had an advantage when I came to weight loss, as I was a somewhat experienced runner. But when it came to running, my year was divided into two different timelines. The times I talked about running, and the times I ran. At this point, I had been talking about running for 5 months. It was time for action. I started short and I started slow, but most importantly, I started.

An Introduction to food education – I watched “Forks Over Knives”, “Vegecated”, and “Food Matters” in the span of a few days, and before I knew it, I was a Vegan. More importantly, I realized I never really questioned the food I ate or the relationship that I had with food. Now that I had the know how, I understood the questions to ask and changes that needed to happen.

Making the new normal – I had to confront my regular menu items and find alternatives. My favorite meal in the history of food was Peanut Butter and Jelly, and I likely averaged 2-4 sandwiches per day. But 26 years in, my favorite meal continuously produced unfavorable results. I vowed to never eat another PB and J again, and found a new normal: CousCous and Beans. I altered my primary drinks, from lattes to black coffees, from unlimited Coca Cola to two small rations per day, from little water to 3 full glasses. Day by day, week by week, small changes found big results.

Sharing the struggle – I had a friend with similar weight loss goals, and sharing the struggle was a real benefit to our success. Starting new habits is simpler than we predict, but breaking habits and reforming associations requires venting and support.

Weekly weigh In – We had a weigh-in every Sunday at noon using the Wii Fit. It was a little competitive sometimes, and sometimes our results seemed unhealthy, but it was a celebratory event every week that kept me focused and motivated.

Salty Sunday – Following the weekly weigh in, Sunday night became the regularly scheduled cheat meal. The idea being that we had a whole week before the next weigh-in, and we could likely work off whatever damage was done that evening. Deemed Salty Sunday, it was the one meal every week I ordained as my right to abandon all regard for nutrition. The meal only lasted 10-15 minutes, but it was a welcome relief en route to a healthier lifestyle.

Registration and Training –Working out, running, and any form of fitness felt useless and unsatisfying if I could never put my growth to the test. To stay focused, I registered for 3 different types of racing events that required commitment and kept me on track.

From taste to nutrition –My time with documentaries provided the insight that we value food more for taste than nutrition. The reality is that the food I always ate was designed to not be filling. The food I ate was designed to keep me eating more. The food I ate was designed to dull my taste buds to anything not saturated in salt, sugar, or fat. The food I ate was designed to provide little to no nutritional value for my health or my fitness. The food I ate was designed, and it was not natural, and it was not easily processed by the body.

The stress filled days of grad school insisted that food was control, and food was relief, and food was joy, and food was how you spent free time after a long day or a research paper. But changing WHY I ate food changed HOW I ate food.

I gained 30 pounds in a few short years. It may not seem like much, and it may not even seem unreasonable. But I couldn’t afford another 30 pounds in the next few years, or the few years after that, time and again. 2 months undid years of miseducation and misperception, and gave me all the reasons I needed to sustain a life of healthy living.

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