Nearing 50…

Tonight I did a workout, and am on day eight of a new diet.  I have spent my life fluctuating from a very in shape and healthy 185 pounds to a pudgy and out of shape 215.  I don’t worry too much when I gain weight because I know I will lose it again.   Depending on where I am in my weight cycle, different jeans are in the closest or in storage.    When my second son Dana was born in late 2005, I was near my “prime” weight.  I thought nothing of the fact that suddenly two kids meant I had less time to exercise and was more likely to overeat.   So slowly over the last four plus years, I drifted from about 190 to a hefty 219 last Thursday.   Efforts to eat less and exercise more failed for various reasons.  Only one pair of pants really fit comfortably.

For a brief moment I thought about giving in.   I am healthy, a few extra pounds isn’t that bad.  I can live wearing size 38 rather than 36.   Should I try to stay at 215 or so…?   Then I looked at the calendar.   Not the month, date or day, but the year.  2010.   I was born in 1960.  On March 1 I turn fifty.   I then thought about skiing last weekend, how my body ached and my back went into spasms as I forced my ski boots locked, how picking up the polls on the ground seemed a chore, and going up the T-bar with my six year old son made my back and legs feel like they were under extreme pressure.  In short, my body is feeling my age, and every pound adds to inflexibility.

Then I did some math.   When my youngest turns 21, I’ll be 66 years old.   By the time he hits 40, I’ll be 85.  I’ll be in my 70s at least when I become a Grandfather.   The choices I make now determine what kind of life I’ll have down the line.  So with a renewed sense of commitment I am now one week and a day into a diet that keeps me under 2000 calories a day and exercising.

Alas, at 50 I can’t diet like I did in my thirties.  I hit 210 for the first time when I was 35.   A year later I was 185 and lean.  I exercised and cut calories by eating only what I liked.  That was generally pasta, pizza, bread, and sweets, only in smaller quantities than before.   My veggie intake was limited to tomato sauce on my pizza/pasta, and a salad now and then.   I was doing weights so I’d also dine on steaks rather frequently — low fat cuts, but nice juicy medium rare slabs of red meat.   Not as good as the steak I was used to in South Dakota, but when you’re down to 2000 calories  a day (or less), any steak is delicious.

Nope.  My body can’t handle that now.  I need nutrition, for some reason.  I was feeling lethargic by day four, even light headed.  I still will probably have mostly carbs and empty calories, but I’ll have to integrate veggies in there somehow.   This morning I was 215.  That means “officially” I lost four pounds this week.  At that pace, I’ll do great!  Of course, I have learned over the years that week one is almost always a huge loss because my body gets rid of a lot of excess water.   Two pounds a week is more realistic.  A nice start does keep me motivated.

I’ve never really been too bothered about getting older.  For one thing, I have young children so I feel a bit younger than I would if I had kids at the ‘normal’ time and they were bringing me grandchildren now.   Heck, my Grandma was 38 when I was born!   I also really like having lived through the era I was lucky to be born into, remembering Vietnam (vaguely), Watergate, the Cold War, and my dad working at a Computer firm (Data, Inc) in the sixties when computers with much less power than this laptop on which I type occupied whole rooms.  I have watched the technology and information revolution from a time when we got four TV stations through an antenna to Dishnet with DVR.

Still, there is something about turning fifty that causes me to change my self-image.   There is a point in life where the future seems to be unlimited opportunity, with a sense of magic.  That sense of magic is still there, but the opportunities are now bounded.   And that’s OK.   At a teaching school I accept that I will never become a prolific scholar or well known expert on German and European policy.   But I am free to choose to explore different questions of interest to me, and take chances with an unconventional conventional approach.   It could still turn out to be really successful, but if not it’s OK.

With a family and all the responsibilities that come with that, my dreams of travel and living abroad are truncated.  But this year I’m part of my 7th travel course in just over a decade, bringing students to Europe, and I look forward to showing as much of the world as possible to my kids as they grow.   Being more life experienced, I find myself much calmer and able to take things with a sense of perspective than I could twenty years ago.   Very little bothers me.  Yet I see my sons just coming into the age where their passions will cause them to take chances, lose their temper, or be overcome with emotions, I hope to help them deal with those challenges.

Now that we’re financially sound I realize that I’ll never be rich, but probably won’t end up poor.  I also am amused that whether it’s making two decent incomes as we do now, or meager teaching assistant pay in grad school, it’s always the same: barely enough money to get by, yet satisfied with what I have.    Yet even as I feel life is going well, I worry about the future of my kids — what about oil crises, climate change, the decline in the US economy, etc,?   In short, I no longer worry about my own future or fantasize some great success story; I’m happy and content with the life I have.  Yet now my childrens’ future is my main concern, and I daresay I worry more about them than I ever worried about myself!

So it’s about time I not only lose weight again, but this time embrace ways to stay healthy so I can minimize the aches and pains that inevitably go with getting older, stay as active as possible with my very active and energetic sons, and find ways to make the second fifty years as good as the first.   Optimistic?   Perhaps.   But I really want to see at least one of my grandchildren graduate from college.   Since my oldest child is six, I think I have to shoot for 100 to see that happen.   And looked at that way — I’ve got as far to travel as I already have traveled — turning fifty has a romantic and exciting flair to it.   Which is good, since I’m not going to get that from food any time soon.

  1. #1 by Josh on February 20, 2010 - 01:01

    All this talk of dieting and weight gain is making me feel guilty for the huge piece of cake I just ate! 🙂

    “There is a point in life where the future seems to be unlimited opportunity, with a sense of magic. That sense of magic is still there, but the opportunities are now bounded. And that’s OK. At a teaching school I accept that I will never become a prolific scholar or well known expert on German and European policy.”

    I love your attitude. From what you say about your family and job, it seems to me you’ve been very successful!

    “I also am amused that whether it’s making two decent incomes as we do now, or meager teaching assistant pay in grad school, it’s always the same: barely enough money to get by, yet satisfied with what I have.”

    It’s funny, my brother is a first-year doctoral student living on an assistantship and he says he’s never felt wealthier! This is relative to what he has made in the past, however.

    I’m not sure if I would ever want to be really “rich”. I believe people should be able to make hundreds of thousands of dollars if they want (or millions, billions, etc.), but it seems money can cause a lot of problems.

    • #2 by Scott Erb on February 20, 2010 - 04:44

      Thanks Josh! I definitely agree that being “rich” is probably not something I would want. It seems that people who win the lottery often end up having more problems than before — friendships shatter, marriages break up. I suspect there is a kind of boredom that seeps in, sort of like if you’re playing Monopoly and you’ve got hotels cruising to win…suddenly the game doesn’t seem so interesting. Or more simply, material possessions are good for survival and basic comfort, but they don’t give life its meaning!

  2. #3 by renaissanceguy on February 20, 2010 - 14:21

    I’m with you, Scott. I’m just a few years younger.

    I pretty much could have written this same post by just changing the biographical details.

    Like you, I am a bit heavier than I wish. I realize that some of my earlier dreams are unlikely to come true, but I am very content with my life and my economic conditions. (I am technically lower-middle class, but my family’s needs are taken care of, and we are relatively happy.)

    Like you, I worry about the future for my children, although I don’t worry about some of the same things. I think alternative fuels will be developed, so I don’t worry about oil. (Even with no energy shortages, people will adapt somehow. People are good at adapting.) I am skeptical about climate change, so I spend little time worrying about it. What I do worry about is how little freedom will be left in America when they are grown. I worry about how little economic opportunity there will be for them. Perhaps they will have to take one of the government jobs “created” by President Obama. I just wonder where the money will come from to pay for the salaries of those jobs. Rich people will eventually be bled dry, the dollar will eventually lose any value as more currency is printed, and many people will move their assets and their businesses elsewhere.

    • #4 by Scott Erb on February 21, 2010 - 00:22

      I agree people are adaptable, and so are democracies. I do think we face structural economic problems with no easy solution, and probably necessitating major cultural changes. We’ll see if we can pull it off!

      To be sure, Obama came into an economy in free fall. The stimulus has spurred short term growth and stemmed the loss of jobs — without it we may have slipped into a real depression. That said, the high debt and deficit levels he inherited and then added significantly to (which means he does share blame there) need to be addressed. Ultimately, I think the problem is cultural and structural, and cannot be laid at the feet of either party or any particular President. The country will face hard choices in coming years, I hope that it will bring us together rather than divide us.

      The economists around Obama are not in favor of simply creating government jobs, they want to stimulate the creation of private sector jobs. If they (or Obama) believed that government jobs was all that this would make, I’m sure they’d drop the idea. I doubt very much that rich people will be bled dry. The world doesn’t seem to work that way, the rich are the last to lose out, and tend to find ways to keep their advantage. The rich have the capacity to take care of themselves. The ones to worry about are the poor and marginalized, as well as working lower class. They’re hurt first, and bounce back last.

  3. #5 by Mike Lovell on February 20, 2010 - 18:36


    Very well written article that gives a little insight into the more personal side of your life. the whole weight gain, weight loss thing is odd, in hwo the dynamics of it change throughout your life.

    When I was growing up, I was essentially a stick figure covered with flesh. No matter how much I ate or how much I did workouts designed to put on mass, it just wasn’t happening. I peeked at 150 lbs in high school after some serious chowing down of every edible thing that crossed my eyes and 2 to 3 hr weight intensive workouts 6 days a week. That was in the late part of my freshman year of high school. By the time I entered Basic training a couple months after turning 17, I was just over 140, but part of that was mere water weight, which they worked out of me and I was suddenly 135 lbs.

    Then when I was almost 24, I saw the first signs of midsection spread as I discovered a foreign backfat growin on me, which eventually enveloped around me. Last March I was sitting at almost 195, and all of it soft. At 5’8″ this was a bit discouraging. By the end of June, after doing some working out, mostly just playing ballgames in teh yard and at the BB court, I got down to 175, where I remain. It is still soft, I still don’t see any size difference, but I am lighter and I think thta definitely helps out my back.

    I’m one of those guys who needs a partner to workout with on a consistent basis to stick with a program. I know how to do it, but I lack the willpower to do it on my own. So, if you ever feel like having a REAL steak, come on out for a few weeks. We can get into good shape and have good food!

    • #6 by Scott Erb on February 21, 2010 - 00:31

      My genes gave me a propensity to gain weight early in life. By today’s standards I was only modestly overweight in junior high, but in those days being pudgy gave me a couple rough years of being teased. When I was 15 I decided I needed to take control of that, went from 168 to 135, which was far too light for me (even then I was approaching my final height of 6 feet). That was my first weight loss. 135 made me feel liberated — I was fast and skinny for the first time. But I soon started working on weights and got to a comfortable place. I was good through age 26, then started my gaining followed by losing, etc. I think those two difficult junior high years being overweight made me sensitive to it more than a lot of guys.

      Hey, the best steak I ever had was in Iowa — a little town called Gilbert, I think, it was a grill your own place (pick out the cut of steak you want, grill it). They also had cheap drinks, if I recall. My wife won’t like me taking off for a chunk of time, but compared to the earlier plan of traveling the country to follow rock bands….

  4. #7 by languagelover on February 20, 2010 - 20:43

    When you described your pants, I thought you were reading my diary! I’ve been on an exercise kick for the last week mostly because none of my pants are comfortable. I’m not that worried about my weight, because it’s still at an acceptable level, but I didn’t really want to invest in a bigger pants size.

    But as you ran down the aches and pains of playing with your kids, I realized how right you are about all of that. Like RG, I’m a bit behind you in age, but it all still applies. It’s certainly easier to maintain a better weight and health level than to try and play catchup later. Although, it sure was easier to exercise before I had all these kids around!

  5. #8 by Jim Sullivan on February 21, 2010 - 01:21

    “I thought nothing of the fact that suddenly two kids meant I had less time to exercise and was more likely to overeat. ”

    I’ve had the exact opposite happen. Before our twins were born last April I was the heaviest I’d ever been (up to 150 lbs- I’d been 135 snce the age of 18) and I was going to the Y, running on the indoor track, watching what I was eating. I think in three months, I managed to drop 5 pounds.

    Then the kids were born and the situation changed. Eating? What’s eating? I’m always on the move, I hardly get a chance to sit down and eat an entire meal.

    I was never a fan of eating holidays before (I was always a fireworks guy) but now, I love Thanksgiving and Christmas because there is so much family around to hold the kids while I get to sit and enjoy a meal.

    I was soon back down to 135 lbs. My wife has been singing the praises of the Twins Diet to all of her friends, too.

  6. #9 by Steve on February 22, 2010 - 22:00

    Take a look at the broken down old codgers in those pictures. (Not the video, I didn’t watch it.)

    You’ve got to cut out the pizza, pasta, and sweets if you want to be healthy. These processed, unnatural carbs promote weight gain by chemically signaling your body to store fat. Even worse, they spike your insulin levels, which creates damage at a cellular level, increasing your chances for diabetes, cancer, and CV disease–the so-called “diseases of civilization.” The chemical warfare on your cells includes damage to you arterial lining. Your body, in response, tries to patch the “cracks” with the closest available “putty”. Guess what that is? Keeping your insulin levels in a healthy range naturally (not by medicine) is probably the best way to avoid that bypass surgery, regardless of how much natural fat you consume.

    Don’t fall for the idea that you need to consume a low-fat diet to avoid gaining fat weight. When you eat broccoli, does your body store that as cellulose? No. Why then do we assume that the fat we consume will be metabolized directly into body fat? So long as you eat calories in proportion to the energy you use moving around and getting exercise, healthy fats–which are the most productive source of energy, calorie for calorie–will be broken down, used, and not stored in a harmful way. Some great fats, like fish oil, with a high Omega-3/Omega-6 ratio, have been shown through scientific studies to provide a variety of healthful benefits.

    Challenge the conventional wisdom and ignore the misleading labels of “diet” and “low-fat”. Instead, investigate what really happens in your system and why, from a scientific point of view. Look to evolution, to your genes, and ask yourself how our paleolithic ancestors lived long enough to see their children into adulthood, something which was necessarily common to attain the population growth of humans during this time period. They had no “healthy whole grain” diets, no cholesterol-lowering medication. One of my favorite shows, the Colbert Report, had a guest explaining the “Cave Man” diet recently (video).

    Try an experiment: eat only whole foods for a month. Eat nothing from a box or can or drive-through window. Avoid sugars, grains (bread, pasta, corn), and processed vegetable oils (go for olive oil, coconut oil, unsalted butter, lard, or whatever tastes the best to you). You’ll drop 10 pounds, easily. If you’re a big consumer of diet soda or the like, cut those out and you’ll drop another 5 pounds.

    My starting point for learning all of this was Free the Animal run by Richard Nikoley. He has some great recipes to keep things interesting. Also, he recommends fasting twice a week and doing high-intensity strength training for 30 minutes after about 24 hours of fasting (think evolution, when did they hunt? in a fed state? or after fasting?), then wait awhile to eat. Avoid long, repetitive aerobic workouts as a means to lose weight, as they tend to increase hunger and make things more difficult. But don’t give up recreation like skiing!

    I know from personal experience about the diet roller coaster. I successfully dieted the commonly recommended way once, but struggled constantly with cravings. I also successfully dieted the Paleo way and after a period of adjustment found that I didn’t have to fight cravings or constant hunger. Intermittent fasting helps you to embrace hunger and conquer it–but you have to break through the barrier of the first 3 or 4 times fasting, when your body is rebelling like crazy, kind of like learning to ski, IMO. My only complaint about fasting was the difficulty concentrating at work, when sitting down for long periods of time. I had to get up and walk frequently to stay focused. Also, cutting out carbs for the last meal or two before a fast caused me to go into ketosis, which was like jump-starting the metabolism to cope much easier with the fast.

    Try it for awhile, at least the food. See for yourself.

  7. #10 by notesalongthepath on February 23, 2010 - 07:21

    I can relate! I had my kids late in life, too, 33, 36 and 40. And sometimes I do notice I’m quite a bit older than my kids’ friends’ parents, but balancing that is knowing what we know and not being so easily upset. You are blessed in your life, Scott, in so many ways. It’s wonderful to get to peek in every once in a while. Thanks for the sharing.

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