David Zucker is done with trying to look like a model.
I have never been out of shape. That’s not to say I’ve been in shape, either, unless you count a line as a shape. I’m one of those sickening assholes who eat anything and everything they want to excess, then smile and walk away from the table in their “30” jeans.
The converse of this description might be a tad more relevant to my own life: I was a scrawny man. I was never fat, but I was never strong, cut, chiseled, hulking, toned, or even Jerseylicious. At best I was “thin” or “slim.”
After graduating college, however, I found myself in the startling but magically freeing predicament of having a small savings, no student loans, no bills, no relationship, really no need of any kind to earn money, and thus an incredible amount of free time with which to pen the book I’d been saying I’d write all through school. You may now proceed to the comments section to rail against the skinny lazy man who still seems poised to complain.
And complain I will, because I found myself studying the cast of Jersey Shore like Jane Goodall and a band of gorillas, noting that while they were sociologically atypical in many ways, their propensity for weightlifting seemed more in line with my own friends’ healthful activities than my own desire to sleep from 3 a.m. to noon and work straight through the night on a steady diet of sandwiches and fruit bars.
Was I unhealthy? Surely being skinny meant I was in perfect health and societal standards were simply unrealistic.
My doctor disagreed. Genetically, I am predisposed for high blood pressure. The kind of “predisposed” and “high” as in “you’re already dangerously high for someone your age” and “I want to start you on medication before you turn 26.” Thus died the great plan of getting old and fat just slower than my friends, always remaining the skinny one.
While I may have followed this doctor’s visit with Burger King, I did begin to change my eating habits and fitness regimen. I cut out most fat, all the sugary snacks, soda all but sparingly, increased my intake on salad, protein, whole grains only in the mornings, began grazing on nuts and berries and light cheeses between meals.
I also began working out. A half hour of abdominal work or chest work alternating five days a week after a mile or two on the treadmill. I was consuming whey shakes and eggs for breakfast, structuring my meal times and diet around workouts, popping enzyme supplements before and after, and generally losing all my free time to maintaining this pattern.
And damn it if I didn’t drop five pounds of plump, put on ten pounds of muscle, grow an inch on my biceps, and somewhere along the line develop actual pectorals, transforming my torso from a vertical cylinder into a legitimate V-shape.
And yet my blood pressure was still high. I had no free time, anymore, missed my favorite foods, and despite everything I had heard, at no point did I get over loathing the entire effort of working out. Sure, I felt competitive at points, but as soon as an activity became too hard, I would much rather stop than hurt myself. I loved the way I looked, but I hated the work it took to maintain.
I also felt terrible. My metabolism was complaining on a daily basis. Sleep was wrong, eating was wrong. By the time I finally figured out what was going on, the decision was already well made.
I wasn’t eating enough. I was burning so many calories and taking in less than 1800 a day, simply by virtue of not being able to fit any more low-calorie food into my stomach. All the protein and carbs I got were wasted trying to maintain my body through over-exercising, an activity I couldn’t stand and sheepishly dragged myself into every day. One Monday, I just didn’t start again.
It was never about me, it was about wanting to be what I thought society found attractive, not in some airbrushed magazine way, just compared to people I knew. But those people were killing themselves too. What good was it trying to get cut if no one else could either? I was not getting more girls because I had one abdominal muscle distinct from the others. In fact I was losing social time by hurting my body.
I found a medium. I eat healthy most of the time, and enjoy high-calorie food every few days. I rarely get greasy fast food, unless you could salads and the occasional chicken sandwich. I don’t usually have soda or cookies, but I allow them when they are the right taste for what I’m craving. Happily, my body knows what it wants and tells me. If I imagine steaks for two days, I’m hungry from protein. If I need a salad, it’s because I’ve been needing nutrients and leafy greens.
I can still lift heavy boxes and drop into dozens of push-ups and look good in a fitted shirt, but I haven’t worked out in close to a year, and I’m entirely all right with this. Working out is this wonderful option I always have if I ever become dissatisfied with the way my health has turned. I have no plan to need it any time soon, but it’s there. I’m a little annoyed my shirts don’t fit as well as they used to, so maybe I’ll get back into some regular morning push-ups a few days a week, but I’m done with trying to look like a model.
I’m a writer. If anything, I’m supposed to look underfed.