Sunday, October 19, 2008

Plateau vs. Plato

May 9, Nueve de Mayo, in the year of our Lord, two thousand and eight; a day that, for me, will live in infamy as long as I shall live. All right, maybe it’s not infamous. Well, not unless you use the Ned Nederlander definition.
in·fa·mous [in-fey-muh s] –adjective 1. when you’re more than famous; you’re in famous.
On May 9 of this year, once again for the I-can’t-count-how-many-eth time, I started a weight/muscle gain initiative. For as long as I can remember, I have been under weight. I have a high energy level and an incredibly fast metabolism. I get very hot when I sleep. I burn off calories without doing ANYTHING. Now, before those of you who are trying to loose weight finish cursing me under your breath, consider the frustration of not being able to walk into a clothing retailer and buy a pair of pants off the rack— of having most everything tailored or living with a poor fit. Imagine hearing, “oh, I didn’t see you there for a minute. You must have been turned to the side,” about 20 times a month. I guess it isn’t considered a social faux pas to describe a person as the skinny guy or stick person when pointing him out to friends. After all, it’s not like calling someone fat. But, for a man, it is no less unflattering… emasculating even. (Cue solo violin with haunting, lyrical melody) Imagine feeling helpless to do anything about it. Oh wait. You don’t have to imagine. I’m sure there is something in your life about which you feel the same.

Over the years, I’ve grown very frustrated with comments like, “I wish I had your problem” or “I should be so blessed.” I want to say, “no, you don’t. You don’t want my problem. You just don’t want yours. There is a big difference.” You see, it seems people with big noses want smaller ones. People with blond hair want brown hair, brunettes want red hair, and red heads wish to be blond. People with straight hair want curly hair while people with curls spend hours straightening their locks. Big people want to be smaller and small people want to be bigger. No one is happy and everyone wants someone else’s problem.

Self discipline, in most areas, comes somewhat naturally to me. Part of my retentive and moderately OCD personality, I suppose. It is both blessing and curse. Sticking to a workout routine or nutritional plan has never been that difficult. And motivation? I have motivation coming out my… (sorry, something caught in my throat). But, up until recently, the most I’ve ever gained was about 5 lbs over the course of 6 months. 5 lbs, consequently, that I would loose if I fell ill for a couple of weeks and couldn’t maintain my high caloric intake.

But May 9, 2008 was different. Once again, I employed my years of research and aggregate knowledge on the subject, detailing a foolproof plan. The same kind of plan that had never really worked before. (I guess it wasn’t non-fool proof?) But, this time— call it slowing metabolism with age, divine intervention, or a combination of the two— this time, I started seeing significant and exciting results. From May to August, I made steady gains; over 21 lbs of mostly lean muscle mass in three months (only a 3-4% gain in body fat)! Nearly 1.5 inches in my neck, over 3.5 inches in my shoulders, 4.5 in my chest, just under 2 inches in my biceps, and a little less than 3 inches in my quads. I did gain 3 inches in my waist (not uncommon when bulking) but, considering I started out at 28.5 inches, I think this is more than acceptable.

Hooray! Right? That was May through August. It is now nearing the end of October. My gains since August 9? Nada. Zip. Zilch. Nicht. Non niente. Neits. Ничто. 沒什麼東西. The dreaded plateau. The frustration that had slowly been melting away has returned with full force to flourish like never before. And why? Why can’t I just be happy for what has been accomplished? Because, like most westerners, I am constantly caught between two primary motivations: abject dissatisfaction or debilitating fear of change. (Wow, did I just sum up the political poles in the U.S. or what? I digress.) Neither are healthy motivations, nor do they lend themselves to salubrious decision making.

What’s worse, still 15 lbs below my target, I continue to hear things like, “you’ve gained 20 lbs? Where did you put it?” This post is not intended as a personal plea for social mercy. Even so, I'm reminded of a Plato quote I once read. “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” I am learning more and more how very important it is to celebrate even the smallest victories. Not to the point of distraction, but, if for no other reason, because plateaus have a way of draining more energies than the climb ever could. I am convinced that “stuck,” wherever that may be, is the worst location on earth.

I will change tactics and gain more weight. I am determined and not completely derailed. Yet, the disheartening reality, the looming and formidable threat of "stuck," abides. Though much deeper applications abound here, I will leave you to your own meditations on the issue. I close with only this simple query: I wonder if you will join me in lending a more generous portion of grace to those around you. Maybe together and with Gods help we can take on “stuck” in its many forms, and win! “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”