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Dad Bod Vs. Beach Bod

Who will win the epic battle over my belly?

A man with short white hair holds wine bottles and a book while trying to catch a hamburger with his mouth. Surrounding him are burgers with various facial expressions on them.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Dan Bova
A 19 year old woman with black hair in a ponytail wears a peach tank top and has her phone strapped to her arm and earbuds in her ears. She is smiling as she runs outside.

Inspiration at your fingertips

Summer’s arrival can bring with it a certain amount of stress, mainly because after spending the better part of a year eating like a bear preparing to hibernate, we’re suddenly expected to walk around in public mostly naked.

Me? I maintain a perfect beach body throughout the calendar year. And by “beach body,” I mean specifically the body of a whale that has beached itself and is surrounded by scientists trying to coax it back into the ocean, but all it wants to do is lie there and have people feed it krill or whatever.

There are many reasons people want to get back into shape. High on the list are vanity (“Look, Ma—no Spanx!”) and health (“It’d be awesome to not get out of breath because I bent down to tie my shoe”). These are both very good reasons, sure, but I had a more compelling reason driving my weight loss plan: money.

My son is having his Confirmation at the end of the month and I need to wear a suit to the ceremony. For all the non-Catholics in the house, it’s kind of a big deal. There’s a bishop, there’s incense—sweat pants are not an option. Now, I don’t often wear suits, and truth be told, I only have one. If you’ve invited me to your wedding or funeral in the last three years, you’ve seen it. I haven’t worn it in a while, and so a few weeks ago I took it out of the back of the closet to make sure it hadn’t made for any midnight moth snacks.

The good news was that the moths had been on a diet. The bad news? I hadn’t. Beer gut, we have a problem. Have you ever heard an article of clothing laugh at you as you tried to button it? It’s kind of like the laugh you get when you drop your tray in the school cafeteria. Or when you ask your boss for a raise.

The easy thing would have been to send the suit to Goodwill and head to the store for a roomier model. But I don’t do things the easy way. And also, I’m pretty cheap. Buy a new suit because I can't control myself around a box of Cheez-Its? No, thank you. I decided in that moment that I’d get back into those size 33 pants or die trying.

So I grabbed my sneakers and went for a jog and immediately stopped because half a block from my house, that “die trying” thing seemed like a very real possibility. And people in my neighborhood aren’t great about cleaning up dog poop on the sidewalk, so God only knows how long they’d leave my corpse lying there baking in the sun.

I love the idea of running, but the actual running part? Not really a fan. If I wanted to feel like someone was hitting my kneecaps with a tire iron, I’d challenge Tonya Harding to an ice dance. I thought about joining a gym, but sweaty people dripping their fitness all over the machine I’m about to get on isn't really my thing. I know I’m not going to live forever, but contracting plague from the communal ThighMaster is not how I want to go out.

Finally, I chose my weapon in the war against fatness. Not a run, not a gym. I chose a man. A man named Shaun T. Perhaps you’ve seen his famous workout DVD infomercials? Shaun T. has a vocabulary that inspires and abs that can fill in for a cobblestone street.

This prophet of pecs has a bunch of at-home workout plans, one of which promises “an hour’s worth of results in just 25 minutes.” Sounds pretty easy, right? Even easier than that? Buying it and never even opening it, which is what I did five years ago.

After unearthing the dust-covered DVD set, I stopped and wondered what kind of results a 44-year-old blob could realistically expect. To get “back into shape” implies that you once were in shape. Was this a doomed mission?

A hand holds a workout dvd in a black case. The case has a graphic of a body in motion in a body thermal view. The other side of the case displays details of the workout.
Hello, Shaun T., circa 2013. Photo credit: Courtesy of Dan Bova
“Have you ever heard an article of clothing laugh at you as you tried to button it?”

I turned to Sierra N. Wilde, certified athletic trainer at STARS Rehabilitation, who kicked my negativity on its flabby butt. “It is definitely possible for you to go down one pants size, if not more. Just remember that the changes start out slow, so you might not notice anything for a couple of weeks, but that doesn’t mean what you are doing is not working.”

Slow? She obviously had never met Shaun T. From the first minute, dude had me running, jack-squatting, and burpee-ing like a lunatic in my basement—six days a week! I quickly learned three things as I tried to match him move for move:

  1. I am in no danger of booking a job as a backup dancer for Beyoncé. When Shaun was jumping up, I was squatting down. When he was kicking, I was ... bent over, gasping for air.
  2. A cement basement floor is not a friend to old man knees (a cheap floor mat did wonders to improve the situation).
  3. Exercising makes you hungry!

Two weeks into the program, I was definitely starting to feel more mobile and energetic, but my gut was sticking around for the ride. Maybe my “I’m working out so I can have four bacon-egg-and-cheese biscuits for breakfast, no prob!” mindset was, in fact, a prob. 

Um, of course it was, explained Nina Eng, MS, RD, CDN, chief clinical dietitian at Plainview Hospital. “If you take in less calories than your body needs, you will lose weight. If you take in more calories, you will gain weight,” she told me. “Exercise does not come with the reward of eating whatever you want.” Geez, Nina, are you always this fun? Eng suggested having healthy snacks like cut-up vegetables and fruits for my post-Shaun T. sessions. And she encouraged me to hydrate, hydrate, and then hydrate some more. She explained that many times, we think we’re hungry, but we’re really just thirsty. And sadly, a doughnut put into a blender does not count as hydration.

So, fine, I stopped eating like a maniac, drank more water and got back to work, kicking my son Gus off the Xbox in the basement because there are some things a son just shouldn’t see his father do, like cry while stretching his hip flexors. I stayed loyal to Shaun six days a week, never, ever missing a single workout. OK, I missed two or three. But I had good excuses, like “I’m tired” and “I don’t feel like it.” 

I also tried really hard to stick to my “don’t eat like they’re saving you a seat on the electric chair” diet plan, but then the first summer holiday happened. There was beer, there were burgers, and there was no sign of self-control.

To paraphrase The Shining, “No workout and all-beef patties make Jack a fat boy.” I was terrified that I undid all my weeks of basement torture, but both Eng and Wilde assured me that cheat days are not disasters. As Wilde explained, “Missing a workout or two is not going to make you lose all your muscle. Even taking an entire week or two off each year does not have detrimental effects. It takes about four weeks of missing workouts for visual muscle loss to occur typically.” They both said the real danger was losing momentum, which happens when you figure you blew it and give up. Eng encouraged me, “If you don’t make the best choices one day, tomorrow is another day.”

I must admit that I thought about throwing in the sweaty towel a few times, especially those mornings when I looked in the mirror and didn’t see ripped abs smiling back at me. But just as I was considering liposuction, I put on my belt and noticed I had fastened it one notch tighter. Shaun T., you magnificent bastard! I needed to gain a couple more notches to get to suit size, but still, encouraging! 

Sometimes I Shaun T.-ed in the early morning, sometimes at night. Both have their advantages, the experts told me. As you sleep, your body is repairing itself and converting your food intake into glucose, your main energy source, Wilde explained. That means that you wake up fueled, rested, and ready to go. On the flip side, when you work out at night, your body is all warmed up, and there’s all that awful stuff that happened to you during the day at work to fuel your fire. Plus you don’t have one eye on the clock the whole time. “Sorry I was late, boss, lost track of time while pumping out deep-knee squats.”

Ultimately, I went with nighttime workouts, because I didn’t want my first thought of the day to be, “Damn you, Shaun T.!”

A man with short white hair in a sweaty blue shirt and black shorts is jumping so his hands can touch his knees.
That’s right. I’m fully airborne, master of my basement. Photo credit: Courtesy of Dan Bova
“I love the idea of running, but the actual running part? Not really a fan.”

Several weeks and many workouts later, Try on the Suit Day arrived. Holding up the pants, they looked pretty damn small. Maybe they got switched with a third grader’s at the cleaners? I pulled them on and...

Ever see the painting in the Sistine Chapel of God and Adam touching fingers? That’s what it was like as my pants button touched the buttonhole—only a thousand times more beautiful! Did everyone else in the world hear a choir of angels singing at that moment or was it just me? It was pretty loud from where I was standing.

A family photo of a white haired man in a suit and tie, a teenager wearing a suit and tie, an even younger teen in a button down shirt and tie, with their arms around an older woman with auburn hair in a blue dress with white trims smiling at the camera.
Looking svelte with my family | Photo credit: Courtesy of Dan Bova

My son confirmed, I considered that leg of my journey complete. I boxed up Shaun T. and put him back on the shelf. But my journey carries on. I plan to explore other forms of exercise because honestly, if I hear him say “stay focused!” one more time I am going to kick in my TV screen. And also because variety is the spice of life and makes for the most effective workouts. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and American Heart Association (AHA) recommend that healthy adults do moderate aerobic activity for a minimum of 30 minutes a day, five days a week, or vigorous aerobic activity for a minimum of 20 minutes, three days per week. Once I do the math and figure out the lazier option, I’ll do that.

Happy sweating!

* In case you’re wondering how much weight I lost, the answer is: I don’t know. I don’t have a scale because I think that weight is just a number ... a cruel, cruel number that documents every half-chewed scrap of food you ate off your kid’s plate because it’s a sin to waste pepperoni pizza.

Next Steps and Useful Resources

  • Speak with a doctor about your workout plan.
  • Want to look and feel your best? Check out our healthy recipes.

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Published August 14th, 2018
A 19 year old woman with black hair in a ponytail wears a peach tank top and has her phone strapped to her arm and earbuds in her ears. She is smiling as she runs outside.

Inspiration at your fingertips