The incredible shrink

I have been feeling the loss of my soul mate as a physical tightness in my chest at times. It is a yearning feeling, I guess, of being on edge, of needing. It's somewhat akin to one who is addicted and being in withdrawal.

The incredible shrink

I have been feeling the loss of my soul mate as a physical tightness in my chest at times.

It is a yearning feeling, I guess, of being on edge, of needing. It's somewhat akin to one who is addicted and being in withdrawal; a smoker without their smokes, a gambler without their gambling. It's like my body is reacting to the pain of loss, along with my brain. For sure Judy's always on my mind, and naturally that really hurts emotionally, but I have been astounded by the physical feeling.

It's probably anxiety. I'm sure that's what a doctor would tell me.

My son Seb probably had a similar thing a week or so back, but his was more like an asthma shortness of breath. Genetic? Circumstantial?

By accident (or maybe it was my brain guiding me to cope) I have found a way to help myself through it.

I've always been one to focus on only a small number of things at any one time. Maybe it's a bloke thing. Women are constantly juggling ten things together, yet I've found that the average humble bloke is a far simpler, and a lesser creature of brain multitask-ability. One thing at a time suits me just fine.

Although in my case lately, it would appear to be one step at a time.

Walking is helping me cope, and therefore I have been doing a lot of it. Some (well, most) people would consider that I may have gotten a little bit obsessed with it.

It started as a way for me to clear my head at times, or fill it with memories at other times: to work through grief. Regardless of the subject of any given wander, it gave me respite from that feeling of tightness in my chest.

Around the same time I got stepping, I was also kind of forgetting about breakfast and lunch most days, so unsurprisingly a random step on the scales showed that a bit less eating, and a bit more activity had shed some of the pudding that had slowly crept all over my body this last decade. I had become a bit porky, I'll admit. Porky despite pushing Judy's wheelchair up hills and for miles on holidays, and lifting and sometimes carrying her around, and power walking the familiar halls of Cabrini hospital to hunt up coffee, then rushing back so I didn't miss anything.

That one step on the scales quickly became the first step in a mission to lose my man boobs.

None of us really like our nude image in the mirror, and I am no exception, despite being constantly labelled a "hunk of spunk" by Judy. To see a pair of bloke tits on my tubby chest, though, has been a bridge too far for my brain after losing her to metastatic breast cancer.

So, shortly after breast cancer killed my soul mate, a black humorous mantra kept repeating in my head: "Those tits might kill me."

So they had to go.

It has become the one thing lately that I can definitely control in life, and one thing that I know I can do without failure. I guess that's the root of it becoming an obsession. I will not fail to lose those boobs. It's important.

Despite chuckling flippantly at times with mates that "the tits must go", breast cancer for blokes is, in fact, a very real thing. Sure the incidence is a rounding error relative to my deliciously curvy female opposites, being around a hundred times less common among blokes than chicks. But still, one Australian male dies from breast cancer every two weeks.

Not having any tits is no guarantee though, as size really has got nothing to do with it. After all, look at Jude having the world's smallest tits (self-described) and still having them kill her. When breast cancer happens it is just because you've lost some shit awful genetic lottery, so getting rid of mine is purely a symbolic act.

It's an act that is proving good for my head.

At the time that the bathroom scales had given me their initial encouragement, the distance that I had been walking to clear or fill my head was around six or seven kilometres a day, at a moderate pace, and often combined with a walking companion to talk shit about life, the universe, and how fucked up it can be at times. It wasn't about exercise. It was about release.

Then once the focus shifted to obsessing about losing the boobs, a lot more pace and distance were involved.

At first my brain decided to write some cheques that my legs couldn't cash. In my excitement I had upped the intensity too quickly by doubling the distance walked, and going quicker, so my legs and arse hurt so much in the first few days that my son Seb described me as walking around the house looking like a penguin for a week.

Despite the pain, being a somewhat obsessive personality, the number of kilometres continued to creep up, and up, and up from there, not back to something sensible. I just pushed past waddles, pushed past aching Achilles tendons, pushed past sharp pains in my calf muscles, pushed past sore feet, and an almighty sore arse.

Most days now I walk around twenty kilometres. At power-walking speed. And pull up only puffing a bit.

I've walked to the city of Melbourne from here (a good twelve kilometres). I've walked to pick up my son Al's car from the repairers (a soft seven kilometres). I've walked to Chadstone shopping centre and back for some retail therapy (a ten kilometre round trip) plus wandering around that huge joint from shop-to-shop, and lugging back the proceeds. Every walk is at speed.

But importantly, being a creature of obsessive habit, I do have a regularly favoured and well pounded fifteen kilometre trail, which gets done an awful lot, almost every day now. That's usually in addition to occasional social and shopping walks.

The familiarity and way-points of that regular route are comforting.

For a decade living where we live, we didn't even know about the wonderful paths and parks that were just a stone's throw from our door, which now form the cornerstone of my regular trail. Judy and I discovered these in a fleeting fit of trying to lose some weight at some stage ages ago, with the process involving jumping into bed hard with Light-n-Easy. It went well for a time, but then all of a sudden Judy hit the wall, with being starved and over-walked for too long, and overnight it was like she had developed Tourettes Syndrome at the mere thought of it.

Fair enough, my brain agreed at the time, as I was about to also hit my limit. I believe her words out loud that signalled Light-n-Easy were sacked were spat something like: "Fuck it, what the fuck, stupid fucking rabbit food, fuck it... For Christ's sake I want some fucking shoestring fries and a God damned party pie..."

These days, my usual route of the paths nearby starts with a stretch called "The Last Mile". It is so called because I am usually proper fucked by the time I return home along this same initial path. It's 200 metres, but it feels like a mile at times. Then the rest of the the route also carries names memorable to me, for dozens of milestones and dozens of reasons. When walking this route, my brain always has me already at the next remembered way-point, making the distance seem already gone. The familiarity is a benefit, because like coming home from somewhere you've never been before, it always seems a lot faster than getting there in the first place.

There are many more way-points named, but here is a sample.

  • "The Stinky Tunnel": A railway underpass. Mmm. Drunk guy wee smell.
  • "Failed Carport Drive": A home owner has been re-inventing his front yard for about ten years, including a carport that has never seen completion.
  • "The Lying Sign": It says 8.7 km from there to the city, but Judy and I called bullshit way back. My legs have gone in to the city often lately, and my phone reports around 12 km walked.
  • "Cat Stalking Ducks": Once I saw a cat trying to acquaint itself with the taste of a two duck dinner there. It didn't go well for the cat.
  • "The Ducks": A beautiful spot, where you can stop and smell some roses. I fed the ducks some old bread with my friend Erin there just the other day (well, we were really getting mobbed by a thousand of them, climbing in our laps to grab crusty baked treats from our hands).
  • "The Shelter Shed Bridge": I once enjoyed seeing a couple of very young girls sitting on a rock in the middle of the creek under this bridge, smoking cigarettes and lost in chit chat, hiding their indiscretions and gossiping from parent-types.
  • "Where Train Is": For some reason, there is almost always a train waiting patiently for me when I reach Alamein station. Because of train scheduling, and my lack of walk scheduling, this should not be the case... it only stops at the end of the line for about two minutes. But still, there is almost always a train at the station at the same time I am at the station.

You get the idea. I know the route like the back of my hand, and have known it since Jude's Lite-n-Easy blaspheming way back.

For weeks I have been walking too much, and I have been eating too little, and the daily calorie deficit is naturally having a profound boob shrinking effect. My sons will ambush me with an egg on toast every now and then, because they know I won't have had much to eat.

"Have you eaten today?"
- An interchangeable Seb or Al
- A stubborn dad
(despairingly) "Daaaad. You've got to eat."
- An interchangeable Seb or Al

I am definitely not a sporty type. Being an engineer, I am a nerd, not a jock. I do keyboards, not surfboards. Amusingly, my recent obsession reminded me of one of Judy's zinger lines: "You're a nerd, trapped in a jock's body."

These days, with all the walking, this nerd is actually starting to like the way he looks nude in the mirror, which is pleasing, and weird at the same time. The tits are mostly gone already, in just eight weeks.

It was fascinating to me to know where the tubby bits had gone.

Being a nerd, I watched a TED video named "The mathematics of weight loss", by Ruben Meerman[1]. He explained that body fat has a chemical formula, which makes perfect sense to me because I'm a nerd, and the majority of the stuff is C55H104O6 ... just a pile of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, neatly arranged in a tubby body building way. Our bodies make this chubby stuff as a clever way of storing fuel should we need it for a rainy day.

Given the formula, if we add 78 oxygen (O2) molecules to that fat (by breathing) in a complex biochemical reaction that I don't understand, we end up with energy for our bodies, and as a by-product 55 carbon dioxide (CO2) molecules along with 52 water (H2O) molecules. Inject some not so tricky maths, by atomic weight you end up with 84% exhaled as carbon dioxide, which is quite heavy even though it's an invisible gas, and 16% turned into water.

Good to know. I've mostly breathed my titties off my chest, and pissed or sweated the rest. And the more huffing and puffing I do with exercise, the more titty will be blown away.

It is also good to know that I appear to have completely arsed my way into a pretty successful weight loss strategy. I'm built for strength, not speed, so walking versus running for me was a no-brainer. I can't run far. My nerdy brain won't let me. It turns out that the percentage of fat conversion for the same level of effort expended walking at speed versus running is actually higher. You just have to walk for more hours. In a twist of coincidence, I'm well able to devote all the time I need to that right now. Not working does that.

I still drink like a fish, though, despite those calories being considered "empty".

On totally alcohol free days it has been very hard to get to sleep. It's like my brain just will not shut down. So not drinking anything seems to not be an option right now (and engineers seem to be genetically wired to drink like fish, anyway: just observe any engineering university student on a week night.)

Still, despite them being "empty" calories, I still count them with my dietary intake to make sure that I'm in calorie deficit every day I can (less calories eaten than more calories expended equals more consumed C55H104O6 fatty bits). Plus I've switched from beer over to my low-calorie titty-loss drink of choice, Jack Daniels, lemon juice and soda water. Delicious. While out with some friends recently I named that combo The Jude, because it reminds me of my "whisky girl" soul mate.

Also because nerd, I graph things. In the chart above, every time I have kept the gap of calories ingested to calories expended as wide as I can, my titties shrink and my weight plummets. Conversely, where the black and orange lines converge things move outwards again. No shit, Sherlock. This weight loss thing is easy. (!!! Yeah, nah...)

I'm still a work in progress, but every day the thought that I am still in progress is the thing that is good. Aside from being satisfied at losing the boobs. More than that, it has been the process of getting to a boob-free me that I have found has been really good for my head.

What will I do now? Will getting to the end of flattening my chest mean a worsening of that feeling in my chest?

I'll find another goal, I guess.

Losing weight has made little difference to the way my head feels. That still aches at the loss of the love of my life. The focus on pounding pavement is just something I thought I needed to do to lose those tits to honour her. The process has helped me immensely, and continues to help, regardless the end result.

When I walk too much, and eat too little, the physical feeling of withdrawal I feel in my chest is quieted for a time.

I'm not sure that any shrink or therapist could have done a better job for my well being than this self-imposed body shrink has done.

And you think you know someone? I've even joined a gym for the first time in my life. Laughably, I haven't crossed their threshold yet, despite being a member for three weeks now. Still, just having the card tells my nerdy head that maybe I'm really a gym junkie jock, and that feels oddly good.

My sons, who are bona fide gym junkies have a simple plan for me in near future at the gym: build my chest and arms with muscle. And lots of it, God love 'em. My legs are already done from all the bloody walking, so in that regard they are just curious to see what weight my pins can push. I'll monster any leg challenge they throw up.

I'm looking to them to show me how it's done right from my first visit. That way I won't end up on YouTube, being secretly filmed for the entertainment of others looking stupid, because this nerd in a jock's body has no fucking clue what to do with any of the equipment.

I will learn. I will not fail. I see another obsession brewing.

  1. The mathematics of weight loss | Ruben Meerman | TEDxQUT (edited version)