The Quest for Geek Fitness

Douglas Adams died at the gym. If geeks ever needed an excuse to avoid the gym, the death of the grandmaster of science fiction humor would do wonderfully. But geeks have never needed any excuses to avoid the gym, having come up with dozens on their own.

After all, we’re not athletes. It’s not that we don’t love games. We’ll play anything — card games, board games, role-playing games, war games even live-action role-playing games — as long as it doesn’t require some sort of physical activity on an actual turf playing field. The reasons for this are legion, though for me personally it’s a combination of bad habits picked up in high school (where a nerd in the gym was a ripe target for ridicule), laziness (after all, I used to go biking every morning when I was a teenager) and a sincere desire to do something more intellectually compelling (in this, I am not alone).

And like the nearly extinct basselope that loves butter on his Pop Tarts, we like our junk food. No, that’s not right — we love our junk food. Your average gaming session is packed with six kinds of chip, as many kinds of soda, and the occasional case of beer. If food is order, it’s pizza or Chinese.

All of this would be fine, save that exercise is an anathema to most of us. Yes, some geeks do exercise, but a trip to your local gaming convention will quickly show that whatever we’re doing, it’s not enough.

Pizza the Hutt

All this good geek living — the late nights of writing code, the later nights of gaming, the daily ingestion of six-packs of Mountain Dew, the bad posture, the two-hour commutes and the complete and utter lack of exercise — has finally caught up with me.

My weight has been steadily creeping upwards, and now stands at 224, which doesn’t seem awful, since I’m 6″2′, but my target weight is 190 lbs., making me 34 lbs overweight. And when you put it that way, it does seem pretty awful. Not as bad as it could be, for sure, but bad enough for a 38″ waist.

I’ve had enough. As Jean Luc Picard once said, “This far … and no farther!”

The Gym … the Final Frontier

As the folks at the Round Table would say, the call to adventure has been heard and accepted, and now it’s time to begin the quest. I don’t intend to embark on some crash diet, fad or otherwise, because I don’t think they’re productive.

Instead, after a short conversation with my doctor, I’m making some systematic changes:

Good-bye Mountain Dew: The first, and most crushing change for me, is reducing the amount of soda I drink. If I don’t pay attention to what I’m doing, I can easily drink 4-5 cans of soda a day, with two of those being at dinner. I’ve cut that back to one a day, usually after I get home from work.

The sugar and caffeine play a crucial role in getting me over that early-evening energy slump when I’m playing or managing the kids, and gets past their 8 a.m. bed times when I can then spend an hour or two working on my own projects. I love soda, particularly Mountain Dew, but each can has 160 calories. While I’m not obsessing over calories, ditching an extra 160 to 640 calories a day in favor of water just makes sense. The single hardest part for me with regards to soda is Game Nights — drinking soda is part of our routine, and the temptation to down a six pack of Dew is greatest then.

Smaller Portions: Related to soda is food. I’m not a big overeater, but I do like my seconds, particularly when we’re talking pork chops, steak or any of my other favorite foods. While not counting exact calories, I’ve been making a conscious effort to cut back on those second helpings. Again, Game Nights — with their piles of junk food — are a problem. It’s easy to throw back soda after soda, and chip after chip, when you’re lost in the game. My goal here is to try and get some healthier foods to the gaming table, particularly vegetables.

Exercise, Exercise, Exercise: For the first time in my life, I’m actually going to the gym. And not just occasionally — for the last four weeks I’ve managed to make it to the gym or the pool five out of every seven days. My workouts — either swimming laps, walking on the treadmill, cycling or climbing on the elliptical machine — are now lasting 30 minutes. This is perhaps my greatest daily challenge. Finding time isn’t overly difficult, as I can go right after work, and my wife is ok with that; the problem is more one of energy and commitment. The walk to the gym can seem awfully long at the end of the day, and when it’s packed with other people working out, it’s all too easy to mutter something about exercising longer the next day.

I’ll also admit that there’s an intimidation factor there — like a lot of geeks, trips to the gym bring back plenty of unpleasant memories from high school. Even now, at 34, my paranoid geek self rants about how people will make fun of me for working out. But that doesn’t happen, and while the fear of looking like an idiot is still there, the determination to get rid of my gut is greater.

The Public Record: And finally, there’s this. This post marks the beginning of many posts about my progress. I won’t be boring everyone to tears with notes on my progress — most of my updates will be buried on the blog page rather than appearing on the home page — but I do intend to talk more about geek fitness, my thoughts on exercising, and yes notes about major milestones.

A Glance at the Mirror

So that’s the deal. I’ve been at this for a few weeks now, and progress is slow. I haven’t lost huge amounts of weight, but I didn’t expect to. I do feel better though and my wife tells me I’m starting to look better. My endurance at the gym has been increasing, as I went from 20 minute work outs to 30, and my quest to reduce the amount of soda I drink has been going well (though the next big test will be Friday, when I DM my Dungeons & Dragons campaign.

Overall, I’m satisfied with how I’m doing. My goal is long-term improvement, not short-term loss, and if it takes me until June to reach my goal, I’m ok with that.

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