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Climbing Back Up the Hill November 11, 2016

Posted by Chris Sullivan in CCR, Emergencies, Fitness and Nutrition.
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Until recently I did not dive enough. I started to forget how much I enjoyed it. In 2015 I only dived a couple of times, and I started to wonder whether I was going to give it up altogether. I also let my weight creep up to almost 190 pounds, putting me just in the “Overweight” category of the Body Mass Index (BMI). I wasn’t exercising. My clothes were too tight.

Fortunately I signed up for a Florida Keys wreck diving trip last April and had a great time. The experience renewed my resolve to get in shape and I then and there decided to bring my weight down below 180. I didn’t have to do a whole lot to make that happen. My diet rules were pretty simple.

  • Avoid bread – not completely but most of the time. I love bread, but now it is more of a treat than a compulsion.
  • Lunches were mostly vegetable smoothies or soup (without bread!). Later, I found a bean salad recipe that I really like, and if I’m at work and haven’t brought anything in I’ll get some take out Sushi or Sashimi.
  • Avoid overeating at any single meal. I can easily wolf down large quantities of pizza. Now I limit to 2 slices.
  • Avoid free food. In our society there are countless opportunities to consume excess calories, like someone bring doughnuts into the office or all-you-can-eat buffets. No longer.

These simple rules worked so well that my weight just kept dropping. By July I was in the mid 170’s, and I was slightly affronted when I attended my physical and my doctor said that my BMI was a bit on the high side at just under 24. Then came the opportunity to conduct a Wreck Diving course in August. That went quite well but I thought I was working too hard even though I’d been getting in better shape working in the garden all Summer. I had to do more exercise.

Meanwhile the weight kept going down. After a long weekend of diving doubles I decided I was going get a CCR (closed circuit rebreather) and felt that there would be a benefit in getting into better shape so I started a simple exercise program. It consists of walking an incline on a treadmill for 30 minutes or so every day, 20 minutes of stretching, and doing some crunches and push-ups every other day. I  walk outside instead of using transit or driving when there’s time. To increase cardiopulmonary capacity the incline will go up by 1% (about 1/2 a MET) each month, so by midsummer 2017 it will be at the treadmill’s maximum. I’m also managing my diet by consuming more protein through food or the addition of protein powder to make up the calories burned by the exercise.

Now I’m down to 160 pounds – way less than I’d planned. BMI is 22, close to the middle of the normal range. There’s still some fat around the midriff but further weight loss is not in the plans. For the next phase I’m going to stay at 160 and try to change body composition with exercise. Despite a normal BMI people call me thin. Is that because we’re used to seeing more overweight people these days, including me 6 months ago?

By staying on the diet the current weight is easy to maintain. If below 160, I add a glass of orange juice to breakfast. That’s worked so far but more might be needed. I’m not stressed about it and avoid fanaticism, but embrace discipline.

Like quitting smoking, the hardest part is deciding. Deciding is not the same as wishing or wanting. The rewards are many, with the greatest being the capacity to keep diving for years to come, greater overall health and better fitting clothes. The flip side is that diving provides much of the motivation to keep exercising – a virtuous circle about which I remind my wife often.

Lastly, I’d like to address a common comment that divers often get from their non-diving friends. It goes something along the lines of why would you do something that can kill you? Often we respond with something like “you can die just crossing the street, if we all thought like that we’d never leave our homes”. While I agree, there’s a more fortuitous response, which is more like “By diving, training to dive and staying in shape to dive, I’m actually increasing my chances for survival. I also hang out with people who are trained in lifesaving and like myself can maintain self-control in emergency situations.”

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