Winter gut: Summer exposes our extra pounds

Posted: Friday, May 14, 2010

I should have known my recent kayaking trip to Berner's Bay was doomed from the start.

Everything came together way too perfectly: sunny(ish) weather with mild wind; two boats easily borrowed; paddles and safety gear readily located; tie-down straps with nary a twist or tangle; a full day of childcare arranged; and a sheaf of fresh CDs for the ride out. I even remembered the sun block.

You know what should've tipped me off? We were running nearly an hour ahead of schedule. Talk about bad omens.

See, while I may have been on the water at 9:30 a.m., I was in the water by 9:35. Upside down.

When these things happen to me - I'm a notorious screw-up with outdoor activities, particularly if they involve even-weight distribution - I usually blame the equipment. But as I drove all the way back from Echo Cove wearing nothing but soggy boxers, the true culprit emerged - quite literally. Winter gut was to blame.

Of course, Juneau is saturated with perpetually fit people who run long distances for fun, or ride up and down mountain roads in those wacky Star Wars bike helmets. To them I wish a heartfelt, Keanu-Reeves-in-Point-Break-inflected "Vaya con dios."

But I suspect I'm not the only one around here who pudges out a little (or a lot) during the colder, darker, TV-filled months (Nachos Season, I like to call it). It doesn't take much. The average human gains one pound for every extra 3500 calories consumed. That's barely two orders of wings, and less than three beers a day for a week. Child's play.

No wonder my life vest fit me like a sports bra. Should it really have surprised me to flip the kayak reaching out my eighth-of-a-ton bulk to grab a neoprene glove, which had floated away a moment earlier, during my struggle to un-straightjacket myself from the spray skirt? What did I expect when I could barely fit my legs beneath the lip of the cockpit?

For those who struggle with weight - whether it's 5 pounds or 50 - life is full of these kinds of wake-up calls, and they tend to arrive with the onset of summer. For one, you lose the camouflage of bulky coats and sweaters. Plus, it's the time of year when you're most likely to break a camping chair or upend a picnic table. Or throw on a peek-a-boo T-shirt that spurs a kid in your daughter's nursery school class to ask why your belly is so much bigger than his daddy's.

And while these instances come with a certain amount of shame - it took a whole pint of Ben & Jerry's to cool the sting of that nursery school crack - they keep me in check. No pain, no gain (I guess). And vice-versa.

Personally, I've battled reverse anorexia my entire life. With me it's all binge, no purge - I never could get into that half. As such, I know all the tricks to convince myself I'm not gaining weight. I put the scale away. I stop looking in mirrors, especially sideways. I carry things in front of me (I find young children especially useful for this). Every day, I sling my pants a little lower to accommodate my incrementally expanding waistline. Correctly executed, these techniques prove remarkably effective at perpetuating the myth of non-paunchiness.

So, yes, sometimes I need a good dunking in 45-degree water as a reminder that peanut butter straight from the jar isn't the healthiest snack choice, that raking the lawn for 15 minutes doesn't really count as exercise, and that while I do legitimately have big bones, last time I checked my rib cage ends long before my gut begins.

Of course, now that I've isolated the problem, step two is to procrastinate solving it a little bit longer by throwing myself into something else I've deemed equally important, like creating iTunes playlists to suit my many complex moods.

But that's not a holistic long-term strategy. Ultimately, I know I'm going to take positive action. Step one will be throwing money at the problem - new sneakers, protein bars, a giant yoga ball. Hell, maybe I'll even get myself one of those Star Wars bike helmets.

Next, I'll dust off the treadmill, itself obtained during the money-throwing phase of last year's battle with winter gut. Then comes the obligatory pledge to start each morning with an egg-white omelet, include 45 minutes of cardio into my day, and to only dine on grilled chicken salads, eschewing fatty dressings for plain mustard and Frank's Red Hot. I will stop buying three-pound blocks of cheese. I will drink Diet Pepsi by the palette.

I suppose at some point I'll consider taking up smoking again, because that's how I used to lose weight back in college, and for some reason, no matter how long it's been since I quit, the urge still resurfaces when I'm focusing increased attention on attacking a different bad habit. Eventually, maybe in time for the second half of summer, I'll squeeze myself back in that same kayak and try again.

Actually, that sounds awfully strenuous. On second thought, maybe I'll just go eat cake frosting off a spoon.

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