The Dreaded Before


“Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.”
– Arnold Schwarzenegger

Not a day has gone by in the past year that I haven’t been grossed out by my physical appearance. It’s one thing to be a short man in this world… it’s entirely another to be a short, fat man, and I felt like I was on a sinking ship. My sedentary lifestyle, combined with my eating habits and busy schedule had taken their toll on my body, and I decided this spring that I would make no more excuses and get into shape. This was no longer a matter of desire to look and feel better, but a need to change my lifestyle. As many of you can appreciate, feeling uncomfortable in your own skin is one of the worst feelings you can have.

In my last column, I declared my intention for this series of articles — partly to document my own progress and process of physical training. This column will concern itself with giving you my background (why I’m doing what I’m doing), and lay bare my semi-nude soul, complete with measurements, in hopes that the pictures and numbers will improve in the coming months.

It wasn’t until the past two years that I noticed how much weight I was gaining. To be more precise, it wasn’t the weight, but rather how out of shape I felt. I played various sports at the competitive level from the ages of eleven to eighteen — at age sixteen, before anybody knew that I had stopped growing, I had try-outs for two Major League Baseball teams in Canada and the US. As with baseball, I also played hockey, often in international tournaments on a competitive team. Believe it or not, I was even a captain of my high school football team. And though I couldn’t have been farther in ideology from the stereotypical jock, I was proud of my physique. Athleticism and competition came easy to me.

That was, of course, until I left for university. For the past four years, my only physical activity has been skateboarding on an occasional basis. This, combined with my new-found love for food (I’d previously thought of food as simply fuel for my body) allowed me to become out of shape and overweight to the point where it started to affect my self-esteem. I couldn’t fit into several of my favorite pairs of pants and I had trouble with physical activities that had never previously given me any trouble. In some ways I can understand how overweight people continue to gain weight — it’s easier to take the elevator than the stairs, and the more you take the elevator, the less of a choice you have — it’s more difficult for somebody thirty or more pounds overweight to climb several sets of stairs, or even do simple things like take out the trash or play with their children. To use that tired cliche, it’s a destructive cycle, to say the least.

I must admit that one of my prime motivators to get back into shape is my appearance. It’s difficult to express exactly how or why I feel that this is important to me. While clothed, I do not appear out of shape any more than the next person. But like many men, I carry my weight around my stomach, and in the past two years I’ve really noticed a growing bulge when I looked down (my stomach, silly!). Leaning against the front counter in the lobby of the body art studio where I worked reminded me of this: my stomach was the first thing to hit the counter as I leaned forward, and it always felt bloated, an external extension of my “real” body.

Well, it’s time to lay bare the nitty-gritty, no matter how embarrassing some of it may be. Welcome to “Dustin: Before!”

At this point, I’ve completed my first week of training with Will, my personal trainer at a large fitness centre in downtown Toronto. Will has trained several fitness and body-building champions throughout Ontario, and at his hourly rate, I’m fairly certain that I’m in good hands. I think it’s fairly important to remark here that I was greeted with a warm smile by everybody I met on my first visit to this club. This isn’t to advertise for this company (I’m not going to give away the name), but this made me feel much more comfortable than I had anticipated. I expected a bunch of steroid junkies and anorexic women, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. This situation is similar to visiting a new body modification studio: your first question to yourself should be do I feel comfortable? I certainly did.

[Editor’s note: In my own case, I held off going to the gym for so long because I was embarrassed to be so out of shape. I was deathly afraid to parade my shame in front of people who I knew would be in dramatically better shape… I was surprised to find out that the people I met at the gym, no matter how fit they were, never judged me or treated me with disdain — the worse shape I appeared to be in, the happier they were to see me there, knowing what a wonderful positive adventure I was beginning. If you are holding off on making this change in your life for this reason, don’t let it stop you!]

Ten minutes after meeting Will for the first time, he had me jump through some hoops (figuratively) to figure out my “before” measurements. I stood on this space age-looking machine, which told me I weighed twenty pounds more than I thought I did! I knew that I was in for a rough ride. I even had the nerve to tell Will that I thought the scale was wrong. The last time I had weighed myself was when I was in shape at 145 pounds. Because of a semi-sedentary lifestyle since then, and because I don’t actually have a second or third chin, I had imagined my weight hovering near 155 lbs. Boy was I wrong! After this, Will took a tape measure to my body and wrote it all down. I was then given a print-out from the space age machine which confirmed just how out of shape I was:

Height: 5′ 6″
Age: 23
Clothed: Yes

Current Body Weight: 175.0 lbs / 79.3 Kg1
Total Body Fat: 20.7%2 35.2 lbs / 16.0 Kg
Fat-Free Mass: 79.3% 135.2 lbs / 61.3 Kg
Total Body Water: 60.5%3 46.8 ltr
Body Mass Index: 274

Your target weight range is 151.4 to 159.5 lbs.

1 approximately 20 lbs overweight
2 average male body fat is 10% to 20%
3 this number is very low, indicative of excessive body fat
4 does not take into account muscle vs. fat weight

While I have no idea how many calories I’d normally consume in a day, a normal range for me should be approximately 2000 calories. I was told that I was going to have to up my caloric intake to 3000 calories per day in order to build muscle with the level of activity I was about to undertake with Will every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning. The most difficult part of the past two weeks has been eating as much as I’m supposed to. Even though I am overweight, I almost always eat very well and try not to over-eat. Fortunately, I was accustomed to eating several smaller meals throughout the day, but now because of my increased caloric intake, I find myself eating much more than I used to. The increased intake is so that I can gain muscle while working out, instead of using my existing muscle to fuel my workouts. Breakfast is still something that I’m getting used to, and because of the foods and protein that I’m eating so early in the morning, my stomach often puts up a good fight — but I haven’t lost yet.

My before measurements are as follows:

Chest: 37″
Waist: 36″ (wow!)
Thigh: 21.25″
Calf: 14.5″

It goes without saying that I won’t be winning any body building championships anytime soon… as you can see here:


With that out of the way, we started a 45-minute fitness assessment, which involved me sweating my brains out while trying to do the simplest of activities such as push-ups and sit-ups. The last time I did these exercises I didn’t have nearly this much trouble! I grunted and sweated and grunted some more throughout the short session. My body felt like it should have given up long ago, but I loved every minute of it. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face for the rest of the day — I may be woefully out of shape, but at least I was taking control and doing something about it! I felt on top of the world. Invincible.

That is, until I had to shower. I couldn’t take my shirt off! The sheer amount of sweat had adhered my shirt to my swollen body, and I could barely move my arms. This part wasn’t so much fun. I spent the next day trying to make up for my lack of stretching, but it didn’t do much good. I’ve since learned my lesson and always spend at least ten minutes stretching after each session.

I have had only five sessions since that fateful day, and I can say without hesitation that I am already stronger than I was last week. I have figured out a stretching routine and I look forward to going to the gym to see if I can better last session’s results. I have always been competitive, so competing with my previous self, in order to see progress, is not a difficult thing to do. Sure, I get disappointed when I can’t lift as much weight or do as many push-ups as the last time I worked out. But I don’t get discouraged because at least I’m doing something! More than anything, it’s great to actually feel alive again. Far from being a chore or a punishment, my workouts have already helped improve my confidence, my energy level and my spirits. My posture is better, and I no longer have any bouts of hypoglycemia. My skin has even cleared up!

In conclusion, I cannot stress enough how much I love the feeling of being alive again and taking part in life rather than letting it pass by. I realize that I sound like a cheerleader, and that’s fine. I have decided to make physical fitness and activity a permanent part of my life, not something to do in order to shed a few pounds while writing an article for an e-zine. The results are already showing, and I can’t wait to give you an update next month!


Dustin Sharrow

Next month’s column will give you an update about my progress, as well as discussing proper nutrition.

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