Friday, November 15, 2019

Like a Virgin: My Journey through Madonna's Discography

Why I'm Listening to Every Single Madonna Album For the First Time

As someone who still uses iTunes and collects MP3s, I've become somewhat obsessed with collecting cherished but forgotten songs from my childhood. I listen and scour through playlists of "the best [genre] songs of [decade]" in search for songs or artists that I enjoyed while growing up but have since forgotten about. Sometimes I'm delighted to find that multiple songs I fondly remember are by the same artist. Usually it's no more than a handful.

Madonna in 1983 during her first tour
So when I realized that Madonna was responsible for multiple songs I cherished from not one, not two, but three decades of music, I took notice. It seemed to me that while many artist's careers span several decades, very few are able to stay relevant to the pop radio stations for as long. This discovery warranted more of my attention. Not only did I want to comb through her hits to find more hidden gems from my childhood, but I felt compelled to listen through all of Madonna's music out of sheer curiosity for how an artist could make such an impact for such an extended period of time.

So began my self-imposed quest to listen through every single Madonna studio album and single in chronological order for the first time in my life. To track my thoughts, I'm going to document here what I thought of each of her albums and pick a single favorite track from each. I'll then recap the experience and my thoughts on Madonna's career as a whole, ending with a declaration of my favorite album and, if possible, favorite track.

But first, for context: I knew very little about Madonna or her music before embarking on this quest. Mostly, I was aware that she was a popular artist and that she made a song that Weird Al parodied and Tarantino was obsessed with dissecting. I had heard plenty of her hits before, but I didn't consciously know that she was the artist responsible for creating all of them.

DISCLAIMER: I am by no measure a music expert, and my thoughts will reflect as such. I just like listening to music, so my apologies if I overlook some brilliant technique or meaning that better-trained and educated ears would pick out.

Madonna (1983)

I'm a fan of 80s pop music, so I was quite excited to listen through this album and I was not disappointed. Madonna's self-titled debut is quite a fun listen, and I had extra fun in comparing it to the debut albums of my favorite female pop stars from today. The album starts off strong with the incredibly danceable "Lucky Star" and this energy is wonderfully sustained throughout the whole album. Even when "I Know It" feels like it falls just short of missing the mark and might indicate the album's second half trending downward, "Holiday" quickly erases all doubt that the second half will be anything less than stellar.

Overall, I love how 80s this album is. The synths and guitars just make me happy.

Favorite Track: "Lucky Star"
While I think "Holiday" is an objectively better and stronger song (and it's very tempting to claim it as my favorite of the album), there's just something incredibly charming about "Lucky Star" that I can't put my finger on. Maybe I'm just a sucker for how 80s it sounds.

Like a Virgin (1984)

Coming out only a year later, this album feels like a natural extension of the previous, albeit there's an added confidence to the music and vocal performance. "Material Girl" is a banger of an opening track, but "Like a Virgin" is the obvious standout here for not only the quality of the music but also the lyrical content. Where "Physical Attraction" on her debut album felt like Madonna somewhat hesitantly dipping her toe into the water of playful sexual content, "Like a Virgin" is her confidently diving all the way in. You can hear just how much fun she's having in recording the vocals, and the music wonderfully matches her energy. This song is especially fun to listen to after learning that it (and her performance of it on the 1984 VMAs) was controversial at the time, because not only is it tame by today's standards but it's evidence of her influence on future female pop stars and music as a whole.

That said, the album doesn't grip me as much as the self-titled debut did, despite the quality being undeniably superior. There's just something special about that debut album that I can't put my finger on. However, the inclusion of "Into the Groove" on the 1985 re-issue definitely helps to boost the album's overall quality.

Favorite Track: "Like a Virgin"
This was another tough choice, with "Material Girl" being a solid contender. But in the end, the enthusiastic vocal performance and thumping beat of "Like a Virgin" won me over.

Movie Singles: "Crazy For You" & "Gambler" (1985)

So the movie these are from (Vision Quest) looks pretty mediocre, but oh man the song "Crazy For You" is anything but. Such a beautiful, emotional romance song. I'd be surprised if this wasn't a popular song at weddings, though I wasn't fortunate enough for it to be played at mine. On the other hand, "Gambler" is a playful dance song that would feel right at home on Madonna's self-titled album, but as a single it just doesn't stand out as much as others in her discography.

Favorite Track: "Crazy For You"

True Blue (1986)

This album feels like a real step forward. It's like Madonna has combined the heart and soul of her debut album with the skill and confidence of her second. As has become the norm, the album starts off very strong with the dance singles "Papa Don't Preach" and "Open Your Heart" before diving into the more diverse pop music sound.

As a bonus, I had to double take for the song "Live to Tell" because it turns out its intro was the source of a slowed-down sample in the opening song of one of my favorite vaporwave albums, and while it was odd to get used to the normal-speed version at first, it was a pleasant surprise to finally hear the sample in its original context.

Overall, unlike her previous two albums, no song really feels like a lull here.

Favorite Track: "Open Your Heart"
While this album is full of great tracks, "Open Your Heart" was the obvious pick for me. Not only was it a childhood favorite so it's got nostalgia points, but it sounds like the type of track you could set a badass montage to—it gets me pumped up!

Movie Singles: Who's That Girl soundtrack (1987)

Wow this movie looks bad. James Foley has had an interesting directing career, from the excellent Glengarry Glen Ross and some solid work on critically-praised modern television shows to the nearly unwatchable Fifty Shades sequels. Anyway, that's irrelevant because I only need to listen to the Madonna songs from the soundtrack.

"Who's That Girl" is a decent enough theme song, but it doesn't really stand up on its own. "Causing a Commotion" fares a bit better as a single. "The Look of Love" is a solid song with a nicely executed ethereal quality. "Can't Stop" is a passable dance pop song.

Favorite Track: "Causing a Commotion"
None of these songs did much for me, but "Causing a Commotion" came the closest.

Like a Prayer (1989)

Coming up on the last Madonna album of the 80s, Like a Prayer starts out strong with the title track followed by "Express Yourself," followed by an assortment of some more experimental tracks. While I'm not really a fan of tracks like "Promise to Try," "Dear Jessie," "Oh Father," or "Spanish Eyes" (so many ballads!) that stand out as experimental for Madonna's style, they're certainly well made and hold artistic value that I'm sure others enjoy very much. For my part, however, "Cherish" comes off as classic Madonna in the best way, while "Keep It Together" comes close to scratching the same itch while also containing qualities that sound distinctly of the 90s pop variety.

Overall, I'm not a huge fan of this album, as it's a bit too ballad-heavy for me and both "Keep It Together" and "Act of Contrition" smell a bit too thick of the 90s pop that I'm not very fond of. Still, the three tracks I do enjoy are very strong additions to Madonna's catalog. I just worry where the 90s will take her music.

As a side note: I had just listened to Tove Lo's album Lady Wood the day before listening to Like a Prayer, and it was interesting to see the similarities in the album art of each, though by Tove Lo's own admission the homage was completely unintentional.

Favorite Track: "Like a Prayer"
Easy pick. This one has gotten stuck in my head several times since I listened to it. The mixture of choir-like verses with a catchy pop chorus is brilliant.

I'm Breathless: Music from and Inspired by the Film Dick Tracy (1990)

I almost overlooked this album completely since it's technically considered a soundtrack album, and actually only discovered it after first moving onward and listening to Madonna's first proper studio album of the 90s: Erotica. That said, I'm very, very glad I went back and found this album. The jazz and swing influences work really well here (or at least really appeal to me) and go a long way toward showing just how versatile Madonna is.

"He's a Man," and "Hanky Panky" are particularly strong tracks in the beginning of the album. "I'm Going Bananas" comes out of nowhere as a salsa song where Madonna puts on a Spanish accent, which may or may not be considered offensive today but it works. "Back in Business" does a great job alternating seamlessly from mysterious dreamlike jazz to upbeat swing. Especially noteworthy is the transition from the classic swing style of "Now I'm Following You (Pt. 1)" to the modern pop aesthetics of "Now I'm Following You (Pt. 2)," which breathes new life into the end of the album — concluding with the amazing classic single "Vogue."

Favorite Track: "Vogue"
I was really tempted to pick one of the jazz or swing songs for their uniqueness, or "Now I'm Following You (Pt. 2)" for basically inventing the electro swing genre, but alas, "Vogue" is just too good. I'd bet almost nobody can think of a fashion runway without thinking of this song.

Erotica (1992)

Wow, talk about a genre shift. This album is pretty much all in the style of trance, though the track "Where Life Begins" gives me trip-hop vibes. Not only is this reassuring that Madonna's music may not have succumbed to the trends of 90s era pop, but as someone nostalgic for 90s trance and trip-hop this album comes off as a pleasant surprise. "Erotica," "Deeper and Deeper," "Where Life Begins," "Bad Girl," "Rain," and "Did You Do It?" are personal favorites.

What's also great about this album is its apparent impact on modern pop music. While there were eight years and several albums between this and her controversial appearance on the VMAs performing "Like a Virgin," this album marks Madonna firmly re-establishing herself as pushing the boundaries about what's appropriate to talk and sing about, with specific emphasis on sexuality and femininity. Some quick research shows that this era in Madonna's career was in fact rife with controversy thanks to this album, a coffee table book with explicit photos of Madonna, and an erotic thriller film starring the singer. Being that this was only 1992, I think it's safe to say she set the stage for the likes of Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus to push boundaries and stir up controversy.

Favorite Track: "Rain"
This track just stands out from the rest. It's beautiful.

Movie Single: "I'll Remember" (1994)

This song is just fantastic, and it was one of my childhood favorites. Words cannot describe how happy I was to rediscover this song and find that it is every bit as beautiful as I remember it being. I love it.

Favorite Track: "I'll Remember"
Well this was an easy pick.

Bedtime Stories (1994)

In yet another genre shift, this album features many R&B inspired tracks. This is also the first Madonna album where the first few songs didn't completely grab me. That isn't to say that these songs are bad, of course, but they just didn't excite me for the album as much as is typical of the first three tracks of any Madonna album up to this point. In fact, this album as a whole is lacking in the energy that I've come to expect and love about Madonna's work, though I suspect that's perhaps due to the R&B influences resulting in a more relaxing sound.

In any case, I'm relieved that this album still manages to steer away from the trends of pop music in the 90s, and there are definitely tracks that stand out to me. Specifically, "Don't Stop," "Forbidden Love," and "Bedtime Story," the latter of which sounds like it could fit at home on a Massive Attack album, which I totally dig.

Favorite Track: "Bedtime Story"
This song reminds me so much of classic Massive Attack that I couldn't even consider anything else on the album being even close to my favorite.

Singles: "You'll See" and "One More Chance" (1995)

Taken from the compilation Something To Remember, "You'll See" is the standout track for me of these two, especially thanks to the growing intensity of the track and the accompanying Spanish-style guitar. "One More Chance" is solid (especially the latter half), but not nearly as strong by comparison.

Favorite Track: "You'll See"
As I said, this one's got a great buildup.

Please note that I'm skipping the Evita singles, since those songs were merely sung/covered by Madonna but were written for a stage play.

Ray of Light (1998)

I think "Drowned World/Substitute for Love" is one of the best opening tracks to any Madonna album so far. Not only was the new style totally unexpected (I should just start expecting the unexpected at this point) but it single-handedly rebuilt my hype for listening through all of Madonna's albums. Once again, Madonna is experimenting with genres here and this time I can confidently say she is totally nailing it.

To further emphasize how hard this album hit me, I should mention that up until this point I was still considering Madonna's first album to be my favorite. After all, I'm a sucker for 80s dance pop. But then, a mere two songs into this album, I began to question if that were still the case.

Continuing through the album, "Ray of Light" had me bobbing my head and tapping my feet at my work desk like nothing that had come before. "Candy Perfume Girl" had me grooving to the beat. "Sky Fits Heaven" pleasantly reminded me of some early BT music. "Frozen" stood out in a way I have no clever words for. Oh, and as a relatively new father I really connected with "Little Star."

Favorite Track: "Candy Perfume Girl"
This was a tough picks given the album has so many fun tracks, but my gut says this song is going to stick with me the longest.

Movie Single: Beautiful Stranger (1999)

Closing out the 90s is this track from the first Austin Powers movie, and while it's not particularly noteworthy, it is a solid track to end Madonna's second decade on.

Favorite Track: "Beautiful Stranger"
Another easy pick!

Music (2000)

What the hell? Just when you think she's done making mainstream hits she comes out with songs like "Music" and "Don't Tell Me," the latter of which was a favorite of mine in the early 00s. It kind of feels like this is the first album since the 1980s where Madonna is making mainstream dance pop rather than experimenting with lesser known genres. Fortunately for me, I'm a sucker for dance pop. The album also does a good job of playing within the genre to find different sounds, but that's pretty typical of Madonna. Overall I'd say this is up there with her best albums so far. "What It Feels Like for a Girl" is a track that especially stood out for me, though there's really nothing on this album that I didn't really enjoy.

Perhaps my biggest takeaway with this album is that you can't judge an album by its cover, or maybe it's that the marketing team should have chosen a cover image that better represented the album's sound? I was worried going in that this would be a country pop album (I'm not a country fan) based on the very obviously country-inspired album cover, but fortunately that wasn't the case at all. I'm convinced that there must be a reason for the country visual aesthetic, but I'm not smart enough to figure out what it might be.

Favorite Track: "Don't Tell Me"
"What It Feels Like for a Girl" is a close second here, but "Don't Tell Me" is just too catchy to deny. That being said, I could see the former track overtaking the latter as my favorite on repeated listens, but that's just speculation.

American Life (2003)

This is the first time that the first track on a Madonna album came off as uneven to me. While "American Life" sounds like a technically well-made song, it also sounded deliberately inaccessible. The album has a rebellious and somewhat somber quality to it, which is highlighted by the album cover's black, white, and red graffiti-style artwork. This change in attitude seemingly comes out of nowhere from an artist who seemed pretty high on life up until this point — until you realize that this is Madonna's first post-9/11 album, and then it all makes sense. That event and the ensuing war had a huge impact on American culture. I saw a similar shift in 2007 with Nine Inch Nails' politically-charged album Year Zero, and of course everyone knows how hugely popular Green Day's rebellious album American Idiot was in 2004.

As for the music itself, there's nothing quite as instantly lovable as the singles on previous albums, but there's still some really good stuff here. "I'm so Stupid." "Love Profusion," and "Nothing Fails" stand out in particular. "Die Another Day" is a decent track for the album but a totally weird addition to the 007 theme song catalog that I always assumed was by Britney Spears. Overall it's a solid if somewhat uneven album.

Favorite Track: "Love Profusion"
Nothing really stood out to me as an obvious pick on this album, but this song came closest.

Confessions on a Dance Floor (2005)

Ah, here we are back in familiar territory. "Hung Up" starts this album off on the right foot, "Future Lovers" stood out as a fun track that I was surprised wasn't a single, and "Jump" is in a great position on the album to help carry the energy through to the end. While it's great to hear Madonna returning to upbeat dance pop here, it's admittedly a bit disappointing that she's experimenting less than I'm used to here, though I'm sure there's plenty more of that to come as well. Overall, this is a solid dance album, though there's not a lot of catchy pop to sink my teeth into, if that makes any sense.

Favorite Track: "Hung Up"
Easy pick. Nothing else on the album really comes close.

Charity Single: Hey You (2007)

Charity songs tend to be weighed down by their obvious preachy message that doesn't allow for much creativity, lyrically, and are typically ballads, regardless of the musical style of the musician(s) involved. That said, this one's at least not totally unoriginal, lyrically, and the ballad style comes off pretty sincere instead of forced and obligatory. I'd take this any day over that appalling "Earth" charity track from Lil Dicky.

Favorite Track: "Hey You"
Is this joke of picking a favorite track from a single song getting old yet? Probably.

Hard Candy (2008)

Ah yes, here's the hip-hop influence of the 00's creeping in. Despite the fact that I don't recall ever hearing "Candy Shop" before, it sounded very familiar to me, likely because I started dating my hip-hop-loving wife around this time so this style makes me nostalgic for those early days of our budding relationship. Speaking of, "4 Minutes" is an absolute banger that really takes me back, since I definitely heard this one several times before thanks to my wife, who was not only into hip-hop but was and remains a huge fan of Justin Timberlake. After these two tracks, the album continues to deliver plenty of fun tunes. "Beat Goes On" was an especially stand-out track for me, thanks in part to the surprise appearance of a wild Kanye West. Overall, this is a very catchy album that I think holds up very well, especially as a snapshot of what style of music was popular at that time.

Favorite Track: "4 Minutes"
Sometimes I wish I  could be more surprising and pick a song other than one of the hit singles, but then I hear songs like this and remember why those were hit singles.

Singles: "Celebration" and "Revolver," (2009)

Closing out the third decade of her career is the compilation album Celebration, featuring two new songs. Unfortunately, neither of them really does much to stand out.

Favorite Track: "Revolver"
"Celebration" just sounds way too forgettable, so "Revolver" wins by default.

A Pause to Reflect on the Pop Industry

I think it's important to note here as we move into the 2010s that it was during this time that Katy Perry and Lady Gaga both exploded onto the pop music scene. I'm no expert in musical trends, but I know that Katy Perry and Lady Gaga were huge in moving the genre forward into the next decade. In fact, both put out their successful debut albums in the same year as Madonna's Hard Candy (One of the Boys and The Fame, respectively), but by the time Madonna released her follow up MDNA, Lady Gaga also released The Fame Monster EP and Born This Way, solidifying her position as a huge presence in the industry (and someone who I now realize clearly drew influence from Madonna), and likewise Katy Perry had also released Teenage Dream, which I'm convinced is one of the best pop albums of the last 20 years. These, along with many other talented artists, emerged as new and exciting voices in the industry (Taylor Swift also notably shifted to pop music in 2012). Although Madonna had impressively managed to stay relevant for three decades, it seems to me that her work going forward would be cut out for her.

MDNA (2012)

Here's where my expectations have once again fooled me. By this point in her career I was expecting the unexpected, which is to say I expected MDNA to be more experimental, but it comes off as yet another mainstream dance pop album similar to Hard Candy, Confessions on a Dance Floor, and Music. Sure, the style itself continues to evolve with the use of harder beats and occasional dubstep production and the like, but it feels like Madonna's magic and charm has been sacrificed in exchange for generic danceable beats. While there was a stretch of albums where I felt consistently surprised and impressed by Madonna's skills and willingness to try new things, this album feels like a low point in her career.

As a point of comparison, while the album Bedtime Stories didn't do much for me, personally, I could still appreciate the quality and effort put into it. MDNA, however, doesn't feel like there's much to truly appreciate in it. There's nothing new and surprising happening. "Gang Bang," "I'm a Sinner," and "Some Girls" might be the only songs I enjoyed on this album. While "Give Me All your Luvin'" has a catchy beat, it comes off as somewhat flat and the addition of Nicki Minaj's vocals doesn't do it any favors. Overall, I got the sense while listening to the album that the tracks were incomplete demos rather than the fully-polished songs I'd come to expect.

Favorite Track: "Gang Bang"
I guess?

Rebel Heart (2015)

My first thoughts when hearing the first song "Living For Love" on this album were "thank goodness she's back with something good." Likewise, "Devil Pray" eased any concerns I had that the opening track would be a one-off in terms of quality, and proved to be an exceptionally good track in its own right (the late great Avicci's influence in this track is obvious). Heck, even Nicki Minaj is utilized well in "Bitch I'm Madonna" such that I wasn't repulsed by her inclusion in the song. The "HeartBreakCity" ballad even sounds like it somehow fits perfectly in the overall sound of the album, despite my prior dislike of Madonna's ballads — and furthermore "Body Shop" (which is almost like a ballad as well) took a surprisingly good turn at about the halfway point.

Other songs I just need to mention because they surprised me with how great they were: "Ghosttown," "Illuminati," and "Holy Water."

Is this Madonna's best album since Music? I think it might be.

Favorite Track: "Body Shop"
This song just grabbed my attention and didn't let go. The first half is already beautiful musically and vocally, and the change in the second half takes it to another level.

Madame X (2019)

Here we are at the end of our journey and the end of yet another decade of Madonna music. After four albums straight (and almost two whole decades) of pretty mainstream dance pop, this album features a welcome return to Madonna's penchant for experimentation that made up the majority of her 90s albums. "Medellin" sets the stage perfectly with Spanish guest vocals by Maluma and a beat to match. "Dark Ballet" continues to surprise with heavy use of a Nutcracker sample and vocoder, and "God Control" mixes it up again with a funk-inspired beat and a groovy 6 minute run time.

Unfortunately, although there's a lot of creativity and talent on display in this album, it's devoid of the type of catchy dance pop songs that draw me in. None of the songs really stood out as must-listen to me on this album. It's hard to describe the disappointment and guilt I feel when I hear music that's obviously very well-made, but just doesn't do anything for me. That disappointment and guilt is greatly multiplied by the fact that this is the last Madonna album in my journey.

Favorite Track: "God Control"
I may not love any songs on this album, but I liked this one the most.

Reflecting on Madonna's Whole Discography

There you have it. I just listened to all of Madonna's discography in chronological order for the first time in my life. I honestly wasn't expecting to enjoy her music as much as I did in the first two decades, and although there's a certain magic missing in the later two decades of her career, I also wasn't expecting to find so many of the memorable songs in that latter half as I did.

Pop is an interesting genre for me. I've never had a favorite pop artist in the way that I have favorite artists of almost every other genre because while I can fall completely in love with a good pop song, there's something about the commercial or superficial quality of it that always fails to make me connect with it on any deeper level. I just don't connect the creators as much as I do with those of other genres. I started to think that was going to change as I listened through Madonna's first handful of albums, but then I got to the 90s albums and the sound that had defined Madonna's personality for me—the thing that I connected with—disappeared completely and was replaced with decade-appropriate genre experimentation. My connection to Madonna faded even more with the onset of the 2000s albums, because while I very much enjoy many of those dance pop songs, they're such a far departure from the sound that I fell in love with that it's hard to make peace with the fact that they're from the same artist.

Madonna in 2019 during her most recent tour
Therein lies the challenge with being a pop star. The trends in the sound of pop music are constantly changing. New, younger artists are innovating all the time. I don't know if Madonna's style changed with the times because she was trying to remain relevant, if she was genuinely moved by the changes in the genre and wished to try her hand at them, or if she just always made exactly what she wanted to despite what was popular at the time, but as a first-time listener it's jarring to hear the changes. While an artist like Nine Inch Nails is constantly experimenting and changing over the course of three decades, it's always within the confines of some larger idea of what that band is meant to sound like so that even something totally new and unique sounds unquestionably like it belongs with something released two decades earlier. I don't know that I could listen to "Lucky Star" next to "God Control" and get the same sensation.

That said, this was quite an enjoyable journey. I've never listened to any artist with so many albums through from beginning to end like that, and the fact that Madonna's style changed so much only made it that much more interesting. I am now a lifelong fan of some of the songs I discovered, and although I can't say I'm a lifelong fan of Madonna as well, I will certainly continue to watch her career and listen to each release with much interest. And so, without further ado:

Favorite Album: Uhhh.....
I really thought I was going to be able to pick a favorite album out of the bunch, but it might still be too soon to determine. Plus some of the albums are so vastly different that it's difficult to compare. How about I pick my favorite album of each decade, instead? Okay, here we go:

Favorite 80s Madonna Album: Like a Virgin
Yeah, I know I said I didn't like it as much as her debut album in this very blog, but that was only my initial reaction. I have since grown to love this album so much more. Not only was my initial reaction of this album based on the original release that didn't include "Into the Groove," and not only do the songs "Like a Virgin" and "Material Girl" hit even harder than the hits from her debut album, but songs like "Shoo-Bee-Doo" that I didn't even make note of above have grown on me immensely since my first listen.

Favorite 90s Madonna Album: Ray of Light
Madonna in 1987, just because it's a nice photo
It was pretty much between this and Erotica, which are similar in as many ways as they are different. In the end, Ray of Light edges forward with a few more songs that stand out well on their own rather than relying on the tone of the rest of the album to hold up.
Really though, the best Madonna album of the 90s is the With Honors soundtrack, because her one and only song on it "I'll Remember" is better than everything else she put out that decade combined, and it might still be my all-time favorite song of hers.

Favorite 2000s Madonna Album: Music
This pick was easy. Tracks like "Don't Tell Me," "What It Feels Like for a Girl," and "Music" are the highlights, but everything on this album is catchy, unique, and fun.

Favorite 2010s Madonna Album: Rebel Heart
While this is the only Madonna album of the 2010s that I actually like, I want to make it clear that I like it very, very much. In fact, not only is it my favorite of the decade, but I think it's in my top five favorite Madonna albums overall as well. This is the album that reassures me that, while she might not always make music that appeals to me and she might even stumble overall from time to time, Madonna's not done making great music.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have so much other music to catch up on.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

The Months Go By Like Weeks

Picture yourself sitting in a pull-along wagon perched atop a hill with a gentle slope. You hold on tight to the upright handle. A light wind inches you forward. The front two wheels reach the decline and gravity pulls the rest of the wagon onto the slope. The wagon crawls down the hill. Its wheels squeak with each rotation. At this snail's pace it's easy to take in the scenery around you, and so you admire and study it all. You're able to see and appreciate all the little things.

Your speed gradually increases as you roll further down the hill. You take the wagon's handle and twist it to one side or another, forcing the wheels to turn. You can veer left or right, but without brakes you're always going down and you're always moving a little faster with each passing moment.

The bottom of hill is nowhere to be seen. You keep going faster and faster. After some time the scenery is passing by so quickly that it becomes harder to appreciate the little things. That's okay though, because with how quickly you're moving you're now able to appreciate the bigger picture. Rather than see the individual leaves on a tree, you can see how the entire forest is shaped by the geography and climate around it.

Your speed increases. You're heading toward the unseen bottom faster than ever...

That hill is your life, where distance equals time.

I remember being young. I remember when days were long, months were packed to the brim, and summer lasted forever. Like I suppose happens to everyone, my perception of time has changed as I've gotten older. Every year comes and goes a bit faster than the one before, forcing me to adapt as I'm no longer able to spend as much focus on things that once ruled my life.

This year, however, it doesn't feel like I'm rolling down the hill a bit faster than before. It feels like the wagon has fallen off a cliff and I'm in free fall.

Days go by so quickly that I have trouble keeping track of which one it is. Weeks come and go with me struggling to remember what even happened. I flip my wall calendar to a new month before I even get a chance to look at the picture. I panic.

There are reasons for this phenomenon, of course. You can learn more about it in articles such as this one, but the gist is that we remember unique experiences more vividly than familiar ones, so the fewer new experiences you have, the faster time will appear to move. How this works with aging is that everything is new to a child, but adults see and do fewer new things every year and are mostly stuck in routines. On top of that, any quantity of time is going to seem smaller to someone who's experienced more of it in the same way that a pond will seem huge to someone who's never see an ocean.

However, these reasons alone don't explain why 2019 seems to be flying by faster than ever. In this case, I believe it has something to do with expectations. You see, as a new father to a beautiful, funny, adorable baby girl, I have less time to spend on activities that I would otherwise measure my year by, such as how many movies I've watched or how many weekend hikes or vacations I've been on. Coincidentally, even my lunch breaks at work—the only times I'm not really responsible for anything but myself—are mostly confined to either doing freelance work or running for exercise this year, where they used to be full of reading for pleasure or walking around to discover new nooks of my city. As a result, the expectations I've always set for myself ("do X amount of Y this year") are proving to be wildly unattainable in this new stage of life, so whenever I look at the date I can't help but feel like time is somehow escaping me.

"It can't be August already! I'm still in the middle of reading the fifth Harry Potter!"

But my life isn't what it used to be, so I need adapt my way of thinking to something like this:
  • I have not been able to write the second draft of my novel this year as I'd hoped. I haven't even started.
  • I still need to write this year's version of The Woods.
  • I have not made the time to write in my blog nearly as much as I used to this year.
  • I'm still not a published author.
But that doesn't mean that I haven't been busy with creative writing.
  • I have not watched as many new movies or re-watched as many favorites as I'd like to.
  • I'm constantly playing catch-up with television shows, both new and old.
  • I have so many video games I've started and not yet beaten.
  • I'm just barely keeping up with my book reading goal rather than outpacing it.
But that doesn't mean that I haven't had fun and spent time relaxing.
  • I don't have time to do all the things I loved to do.
  • I'm struggling to sustain relationships with all of my friends.
  • My life will never be like it was before.
But that doesn't mean my life as it exists now is less wonderful or worth enjoying, or that I'd trade it in for any dose of the past.

I'm an optimist. I believe that it's important to make the best of whatever I've got. While it can be very difficult to adapt to change, there's typically little or nothing to be gained from resisting it.

That's why I'm writing this blog post. I need to put into words this chronic feeling I've been experiencing all year, unpack the meaning underneath it, and learn what to do with it so I can finally move forward. I've been just feeling it for too long to ignore it any longer. I need to make the best of it.

Here is the lesson I am teaching myself:

It's alright to miss the way things were. It's alright to feel like I've lost some part of my life that may never return. It's alright to be scared. To resist that feeling would be to fight my own humanity. But it's important to not let that feeling dictate my life. It's important to keep on living in the present. It's important to enjoy the new things while they last.

As a character named Andy Bernard from The Office once said; "I wish there was a way to know you're in the good old days before you've actually left them."

My lesson to myself is that these are the good old days, because someday everything will change and I'll yearn for this time—right now. You don't know what you have until it's gone.

I hope you're all having a great year so far. Don't let it pass you by.

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Events that Led Me Here

My parents and their neighbors across the street each got pregnant around the same time, and welcomed their newborn babies into the world mere days apart from one another.

That neighbor's daughter became my first friend. We remained friends through high school, occasionally hanging out and always chatting online.

One day she invited me to a little Halloween party she was throwing with some people from her school. I went to the party and found myself very attracted to one of the girls I met there, but she seemed indifferent and nothing seemingly came of our interactions.

A few months later, a different girl I'd befriended asked me to be her boyfriend, and I accepted. We "dated" for about three weeks before she broke up with me.

I called my first friend to tell her what happened. We got to talking a bout other things, and she mentioned that the girl from the Halloween party had been feeling pretty low lately. Remembering my attraction to this girl and wanting to help cheer her up, I told my friend to tell the girl from the party that I thought she was hot.

My first friend and I had a falling out soon afterwards, but the girl from the party is now my wife of five years and seven months ago we had our first baby together.

It's funny when you look back on the events that led me here. Make the slightest change to any of it and things might have turned out very differently for me.

My life has been an interesting 28 years so far, but I think the last 5 have been the best yet.

This is really just my long-winded way of saying— HAPPY FIFTH ANNIVERSARY TO MY AMAZING WIFE! Without you, I would be half the man I am today. I'm grateful for every day we have together, and there will never, ever be enough. You continue to surprise me with all the things I love about you, and I hope I can do the same for you. Always and forever. Everything's nothing without you.


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

My Six Year Journey of Weight-Loss and Improved Health

After six long years of trial, error, hard work, slacking off, pain, and joy, I'm proud to say that I'm finally back to a healthy body weight. I made a lot of mistakes along the way and learned a lot in the process, and while it certainly wasn't easy, I can easily say that it was all worth it.

Although my transformation may not be spectacular or dramatic, I think it's important to share here because those more incredible stories do not reflect most people's experiences trying to become healthier. By sharing my full story, I hope that I can help anyone who is looking to lose weight and become healthier avoid some of my pitfalls, gain some usable knowledge, and understand that it's okay to fail sometimes and totally miss your goal date several times over. Keep at it, because it's worth working for. Getting in shape and developing a healthier lifestyle has made me feel more confident, energetic, and in control of my life.

The Journey Begins

I was quite skinny in high school. This was largely thanks to me getting a part-time job as a cart-pusher at a local grocery store when I was 16 years old, which kept me outside and moving around all year long. I was also a picky eater, so I had a habit of not eating much of whatever my parents cooked for me. Here's a photo of me in 2008 for context—I'll be including photos of every major stage of my weight-loss journey in this post to help you get a clearer picture for how much my weight changed.
Fortunately, my sense of style has dramatically improved since this photo was taken.
Four years later, on 12/12/12 (honestly) I stepped on a scale for the first time in years and realized that I'd let myself get fat in college.

I found several reasons to blame my increased weight on. These included that (1) healthy food didn't taste good, (2) exercise was hard and not worth the time or pain, and (3) I now worked at an on-campus restaurant (4) which was attached to an all-you-can-eat buffet (5) which had ice cream. I was satisfied that I'd identified the cause of my weight gain until I got on the scale half a month later only to see the number climb two pounds higher.

It was then that I came to terms with the only real reason I had gotten fat: I had been incredibly careless (translation: stupid) about my diet, health, and appearance. In fact, I had been so oblivious as to what was going on with my own body that the only reason I stepped on the scale in the first place was that I noticed my large-sized tee shirts were becoming tight after years of comfortable looseness.

December 12, 2012: 172 lbs – Never Again

The unintentional "before" photo.
At 172 lbs, I was the heaviest I'd ever been in my life. Being only 5'6" tall, it also officially made me "overweight." I'd gone up two pant sizes at the waistline since high school, and yet I was beginning to notice that my bigger jeans were starting to feel tight. My face had become pudgy, and I hated to see photos taken of me from most angles. On top of it all, my fiancée—who is taller than me and has a very lean build—and I were set to get married in a year and a half. I couldn't bear the thought of looking the way I did in our future wedding photos. I needed to make a change.

I wanted to get down to 150 lbs, but I had no real plan on how to accomplish it and I didn't understand the amount of work it would take to get there by the wedding date. In an effort to make this plan a reality, I simply decided to go for half-hour long walks outdoors during my lunch breaks at work and to reduce my meal portions (and lay off the desserts—I can't stress enough how much I love ice cream). I also started checking my weight every now and then and tracked it in a spreadsheet, which is how I'm able to recall so many dates and weights to you in this blog post.

These changes were far from specific, measured, or aggressive, but they were easy enough for me to adapt to. A few weeks before the wedding, I went to get refitted for a tuxedo and was delighted to learn that my original order was now too big for me. I managed to get down to 159 lbs on the day of my wedding.

June 14, 2014: 159 lbs – Don't Get Cocky

I'm pretty sure that a fitted tuxedo subtracts the 10 lbs that a camera adds.
I felt great about myself, and confident that I'd discovered the super-easy secret to my weight loss that would carry me even further down into a healthier weight without subjecting me to the terrors of actual exercise.

My wife and I honeymooned at a Mexican all-inclusive resort, and we took full advantage of it. Without needing to ever exchange money while on the premises, we ate and drank until we were full while getting very little physical activity outside of the occasional walk during an excursion. It was paradise, and my body paid dearly for it. After spending almost every day eating heartily and basking in the sun with a constant buzz, I returned home feeling a vague sense of alcohol withdrawal, sun poisoning, and with an extra 6 lbs of body weight. I was back up to 165 lbs.

Not at all discouraged, I dutifully returned to limiting meal portions and using my break at work to go for a walk outside. I managed to keep the habit up even as I moved on to a different job, where I was fortunate enough to work in an office located very close to a beautiful nature trail that encouraged my healthy habit. However, by the end of 2014 I was still hovering around 160 lbs.

So, going into 2015, I continued to make small adjustments to what I was eating and went on regular walks. Through these small changes I managed to get myself down to 153 lbs in the summer. This milestone, however, was short-lived, and I ended the year just about where I started, at 159 lbs. The winter weather and holiday treats had apparently gotten the best of me. I was getting annoyed.

At the start of 2016, I set another goal for myself to get down to 149 lbs by the end of the year. I made subtle, semi-conscious changes in my diet and exercise. For example, I bought ice cream to keep in the house much less frequently that year, I started trying and enjoying healthier foods, and I was taking our dog (adopted the previous year) for more walks. I also happened to lose about 5 lbs in the weeks following my job termination—because stress is a real killer and I kept myself busy around the house while I looked for work—but while getting terminated helped, I would not suggest it.

Through these small changes, I managed to get down to 149 lbs in the final days of 2016.

December 23, 2016: 149 lbs – A Brief Victory

Looking and feeling good.
Again, I felt great about myself. I was the lightest I'd been in years, I seemed to have finally broke through the cycle of loss and gain that I'd been in for years, and I'd done all of it with small, easily-managed changes.

It didn't matter, though, because although I promised myself that I would continue the trend and get down to 145 lbs, and although I was still checking my weight about once or twice a month, and although I didn't consciously ease up on my healthier lifestyle, almost all of my progress since 2012 was undone in 2017.

You see, while my weight hovered around 150 lbs for the first half of 2017, I spent the second half of the year watching it slowly increase without understanding why, especially since I'd invested in a set of dumbbells that I was using regularly. In retrospect, I now see how the smallness—the almost complete imperceptibility—of the changes that I'd made to get me down to 149 lbs is what also made it hard to realize when I'd gone back on those changes. I'd stopped going for walks as frequently so that I could work on freelance projects during my lunch breaks instead, I'd started keeping ice cream in the house more often, and I'd stopped worrying so much about my meal portions. These changes were so small that I didn't think about just how much they'd all add up.

The final day of the year arrived after a very sugar-filled holiday season, and I dreaded stepping on the scale. It was getting hard to look at photos of myself again, and I knew what that meant. I took a deep breath, stepped onto the scale, looked down at the number, and my heart immediately sank. It read 167 lbs.

December 31, 2017: 167 lbs – Time to Get Serious

The second unintentional "before" photo.
Okay, just to be clear, while 167 lbs is what the scale read, there's a lot of factors to take into account, like time of day. The reason I mention this is that I stepped on the scale the next day and was relieved to see a slightly less terrifying readout of 164 lbs. That being said, 164 lbs was still a huge letdown, and I was terrified that perhaps my "true" weight was actually closer to or even higher than 167 lbs. I kept the higher number in my head rather than using the lower one for comfort. I needed that fear to fuel what was to come. I needed to finally get serious about my weight loss.

I made two healthy decisions in the next several weeks. The first was to weigh myself more consistently. Rather than once or twice every month or two when I felt like it, I vowed to weigh myself on every Monday morning of 2018. I set a recurring alarm on my phone to remind me of this promise and hold myself accountable. I hoped that, through this habit, I would be able to more closely monitor my weight trends, through which I hoped to better understand what in my life was affecting my weight.

The second healthy decision I made was to wholeheartedly embrace a birthday gift from my family—a Fitbit Charge 2. I'd had some fitness trackers before, but aside from basic features like a pedometer, sleep tracker, and timer, they didn't do much to inspire me to be more conscious about my health. In fact, my first fitness tracker was purchased solely to prevent our insurance rates from going up (on the condition that I got 50,000 steps a day, which was easy to get without even trying, considering I went on a half hour walk almost every day). However, unlike my previous fitness trackers, this one included features such as a heart rate tracker and GPS (via my phone). For the first time, I felt like I had a tool that could give me the information about myself that I needed to succeed.

Realizing that my dumbbells weren't getting me anywhere on their own (and, in retrospect, may have actually contributed to my weight gain by tricking me into thinking that a quick dumbbell workout was using more energy than it possibly could), I started doing some floor exercises in addition to continuing to go for walks, snacking less, and limiting my meal portions.

While I made steady progress for a while that resulted in my weight dropping to 158 lbs in the beginning of April, it slowly bounced back up to 164 lbs by the end of that same month. It is then that I made the two biggest and healthiest changes of my life: I started tracking calories eaten and burned every single day, and I took up running.

Calorie Counting

Calorie counting was a no-brainer decision for me, as I'd occasionally experimented with tracking calories eaten in the past. In these instances, I would log calories consumed for a week or a month at a time, during which I'd have small realizations (like that eating half a frozen pizza is a really big caloric investment), and then I'd use what I learned to try and make healthier decisions going forward. However, the idea at the time was always to eat normally while tracking, and then once I felt like I had a better grasp of things I would simultaneously stop tracking calories and change my eating habits. After all, counting calories was tedious, and I didn't want to do it forever.

However, this would always produce decent short-term results, but never helped me long-term. I decided that I was going to not only count calories consumed, but compare that to my Fitbit's more accurate readout of my calories burned (thanks to the heart rate monitor), and then I would continue to monitor all of that information while making adjustments to my lifestyle.

After following my Fitbit's calorie-counting guidance on how to lose one pound per week, I stepped on the scale two weeks later and was frustrated to see no such change. I assumed I was either burning fewer or eating more calories than my Fitbit app calculated, despite my best efforts to track every little thing consumed. I needed to be more aggressive, especially since my wife just found out she was pregnant, which made me more determined than ever to shed the weight. I needed to be a healthy, active father in my child's life.

Please note that evidence shows that your weight actually increases in the first week(s) after you start exercising, due to your body adjusting to the new lifestyle. I did not know this at the time.


Running charts and graphs!
While a part of me always liked the idea of running around outside in the fresh air for exercise, my few attempts to practice it had always ended in me completely winded and hating myself for putting myself through such torture. Still, after a bit of research online, running seemed like the most convenient and effective way for me to burn more calories and shed my weight. I was starting to consider giving it another go, especially because my older brother had gotten into running in the previous year, through which he'd lost a significant amount of weight and was now looking better than ever. I was inspired by his success, but also, frankly, I was jealous.

One evening, he and I took our mom out to dinner at a place known for its excessive use of bacon. While I felt like a greasy fat mess after eating just half of my plate, he ate his entire plate easily and remarked that, because of how active he'd become, he could easily eat more if he wanted to. Upon hearing that, I was not only jealous of his weight loss success, but also of his ability to put fatty food away. I told him that I was thinking about getting into running, but that my prior attempts had gone terribly because I always wore myself out to the point of exhaustion and then hated myself for it. I asked him if he had any advice.

"There's this app, called C25K—it means 'couch to 5k'—that can help you pace yourself. The app guides you from being a couch potato to running a 5k in three months, a half hour at a time. You should try it out."

My interest piqued, I downloaded the app that night. Then, after work one afternoon, I put on the running shorts that I hadn't worn in years, stepped outside, and followed the audio instructions of the C25K app. It started with a five-minute warm-up walk, followed by alternating 60 seconds of running and 90 seconds of walking for a total of 20 minutes, finishing with a 5-minute cool-down walk.

I won't say it was painless (I was really out of shape), but the app made running seem more doable than I had expected. Feeling confident, I continued to run every other day, following the app's instructions, which increased the difficulty/duration spent running every week (at least until it started increasing every single run). I did this all in secret at first, but after a few successes I felt bold enough to tell my wife and brother of my new hobby.

May 2, 2018: 161 lbs – Running the Fat Away

Funny how much better you feel when you're not living like a fat slug.
Shortly after completing my first week of C25K, I made the decision to check and log my weight daily instead of weekly. This was largely because I wanted to have a better idea of my actual weekly weight (averaging the whole week) rather than just taking whatever I happened to weigh a morning after a (often food-filled) weekend as representative of that week's number. Additionally, weighing myself daily would help me to better understand the more immediate effects that my food intake and activities had in my weight. In other words, I wasn't seeing the progress I wanted to see, so I needed to keep a closer eye on myself.

At first this led to frustration, as I naively believed I would see the results of a day of particularly light calorie intake and heavy calorie burn represented on the scale the very next day, when in fact I would not. Through this frustration, I learned much more about how the human body actually works, such as the concept of water weight, the different major sources of calories (fat, carbs, and protein) and how the body doesn't treat them all equally. This in turn helped me to adjust my diet so that I wasn't just eating fewer calories, but that I was eating healthier calories.

As the summer days got hotter, I switched from running after work to running in the early morning. I woke up at around 4:30 am for a jog every other day of the work week. No excuses.

I received a boost of motivation to continue my journey in late June, when I managed to run for a whole 17 minutes straight for the first time in my life. Additionally, by eating healthier, continuing to run every other day, and steadily increasing the length I was able to run, I had the pleasure of watching my average weight slowly decrease every single week.
Out for a run, and apparently approving of it.
Then, on August 22nd, a little over three months after I started using the C25K app, I ran a full 5 kilometers in 31 minutes, and that week I averaged 156 lbs—a number I hadn't seen  on my scale since approximately a year before. From that point forward I knew with absolute certainty that I could do this. I had achieved my running goal and was well on my way to achieving my weight-loss goal, which was to have a healthy BMI (a weight of 148, specifically) by the time of my wife's due date of November 10th.

Still, the journey wasn't easy. Some days I'd get on the scale and feel utterly defeated by the sight of a number I really didn't like, and other days I'd try my hardest to run 5 kilometers only to have to stop short due to rain, exhaustion, thirst, or a sudden pain in my side or ankle. In fact, I only completed a handful of actual 5K-length runs that summer for various reasons, including not waking up and getting outside with enough time to run for a whole 30 minutes in the morning, running at a slower pace, and the simple fact that the 5K route I mapped for myself in my neighborhood relied on me passing by my house near the end of the route, and the temptation to go home just shy of a full 5K often admittedly got the best of me.

Another frustration was the lack of the fabled "runner's high"—the rush of endorphins that comes from prolonged exercise often described by runners as being as addicting as a drug high. As the summer months faded away and the morning runs grew colder and darker, I couldn't help but be upset that I'd not yet experienced the runner's high, and worried that I'd close out the year without feeling one at all. After all, even after months of conditioning my body to run, running still often hurt physically and completely broke me down mentally. Even when distracting myself with podcasts or audiobooks, I'd often find that my mind was determined to be my greatest enemy. Anywhere from half to a quarter of the way toward the end of my run, my mind would begin to tell me to stop, walk home, and spend the morning relaxing instead of putting myself through such a physical and mental strain.

However, I persisted. On September 28th, after running every other day for about five months, I finally felt my first runner's high, and it was amazing. I remember it vividly. I was coming toward the end of my run, I had just turned a corner to see a fresh street stretched out ahead of me, and I suddenly felt invincible. All the pain in my muscles and lungs went away, and I felt like I could run forever. The feeling was so great that I ended up breaking out into a full-on sprint for a whole block. I felt like I was flying. Once the high faded and my aches caught back up to me, I returned to a jogging pace and finished the route.

September 28, 2018: 152 lbs – The Final Stretch

Getting healthy helped me climb new heights!
My goal date was fast approaching, and while my weight loss was on schedule, I still had to be careful not to let that get to my head, slip up, and undo my progress. I was also racing against the clock of my wife's bulging belly. With each passing day, the chances grew higher and higher that she could go into labor, and while labor would mean we'd get the greatest gift imaginable, it would also completely alter our lives and routines in the process. I was determined to work as hard as possible so that my daughter would have a father who could keep up with her, be in her life a long time, and be living proof that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

As the days passed by, my weight continued to fluctuate—emphasizing my need to ignore the daily readings on the scale and instead focus on the weekly averages—and my runs remained strenuous, especially as the mornings grew colder with the approaching winter. A month before the due date, I begrudgingly decided it was smartest to switch from running outside in the freezing temperatures to exercising on our elliptical indoors. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I burned a similar—albeit slightly lower—number of calories from the elliptical as I did from running outdoors.

Then came another important date—my annual physical, and with it, the only official record of my weight. I paid extra attention to my diet in the preceding days, wore some of the lightest clothes I owned, and removed everything from my pants pockets as I stepped onto the only scale that would matter in my doctor's eyes. To my delight, it read 149.6 lbs, and I got to tell my doctor about everything I'd done in the past year to live up to my promise from the last time I saw him. According to him, I was now just barely in the upper-region of the healthy weight range for my height. I couldn't have been happier.

Except I was about to be.

You see, my wife had an appointment with a neonatologist at the very same time, and that neonatologist would voice concerns that our baby wasn't getting the nutrients she needed from the umbilical cord, which would mean she'd have to be induced into labor soon rather than waiting the 10 days left until the due date. That night, after the neonatologist consulted with our OB-GYN, our OB-GYN called us to ask if we were available to induce labor that same night.

You can read exactly how the next 28.5 hours went in my blog post about the birth of our baby girl, but the short version is that my life got very, very exciting.

Priorities shift when you become a parent. Suddenly my entire life revolved around this tiny little baby, and I had to put everything else in my life on the back burner as I spent the next two weeks on paternity leave getting used to my new life as a father. While there wasn't time to exercise regularly anymore (and I wanted to spend time with my daughter, anyway), I made sure to keep close watch of what food I was eating and continued to weigh myself every day.

Then, nine days after she was born came her original due date—the date by which I promised myself I would weigh 148 lbs at most. I stepped on the scale that morning convinced that it would read something like 148.6 or even 149.2 again, since it was hard to guess what I'd weigh at any given morning considering the slight fluctuations that a body goes through every day. Yet, to my surprise, on that morning, I saw the lowest number of my entire weight loss journey. It read 147.8 lbs. I had reached my goal weight by my goal date with 0.2 lbs to spare (again to be totally fair, I averaged 148.6 lbs that week, though that was still my lowest weekly average to date).

November 8, 2018: 147.8 lbs – Mission Accomplished!

The very intentional "after" photo.
In the months following when I reached my goal weight, a combination of the winter weather and caring for a newborn meant that my regular running/elliptical use completely fell by the wayside. Still, I managed to maintain my healthy weight, typically averaging around 147 lbs. I tried to get exercise in whatever small ways I could, such as going for walks at work and taking the stairs instead of the elevator if given the option (and I had to shovel a lot of snow since my snow blower was busted). Through this, I'd still been able to indulge in some less-than-healthy foods I love from time to time, which I credit to my newfound discipline for portion and frequency control.

Oh yeah, and I bought a bunch of new clothes that fit me way better now. Can you believe I fit comfortably in small shirts now?

The Journey Continues

When my birthday arrived, I noticed something different. For the first time in years, I didn't feel the least bit upset about being a year older. In fact, I felt healthier and more alive than ever! I made a decision that day that my rest period was over, and that it was time to recommit myself to my weight loss. After all, although I was finally maintaining healthy body weight, I was technically still only a few pounds away from being overweight, and I wanted to have my feet planted firmly in the healthy weight range. I went into my Fitbit app and updated my weight goal, setting it for 138 lbs, and I signed up to use my new job's fitness room, where I committed to running on the treadmill at least twice a week until the eventual warmer weather would allow me to run outside again. As an additional goal, I promised myself to run a 5K event in the 2019 calendar year, and as luck would have it, my new job holds a charity 5K every year. I started training immediately, and found it relatively easy to get back into the swing of things.

Though the journey may have taken me much longer than I would have liked (six years was not exactly what I had in mind), I think it's only evidence that I'm human. I try things, I fail, and if I really desire the end result I will try again using the lessons I've learned from my failures. Eventually, if I fail enough times, I will succeed.
Graph of every time I weighed myself since 12/12/12. Click to enlarge.
I am not special. My weight loss story isn't particularly interesting or unique, but I wanted to share it not only because I think it's important to celebrate one's own accomplishments, but also because I now join the countless others who are living proof  to anyone who doubts themselves that anybody can change their life for the better, and it is absolutely worth trying.

If even one person reading this is thinking about starting their own weight loss/health journey, this is my only advice to you:

Go out there and kick some ass.