I’ll never forget going to White Water on my tenth birthday. What was supposed to be an exciting day of fun in the sun turned into something of a horror. As I walked around shirtless, I realized for the first time that I was fat. It was impossible to ignore. As I looked around at all the other trim people, it was mortifying to look down at the rolls of fat and pudge that I had accumulated.
When had I morphed from the average ten-year old with a metabolism like a NASA rocket running around on the baseball field with his friends to the little piggy with three distinct dough-like layers of white fat and sunken nipples? If I had to guess, it’d be sometime between hours of sedentary video gaming and about a thousand hot dogs wrapped in Kraft slices with or without a bun and enough ketchup to drown an infant.
As I walked around White Water that day, I made a promise to myself. I did what any determined, responsible person would do when faced with a less-than-desirable self-image. I vowed to never take my shirt off in public. Problem solved. Nintendo and gluttony resumed.
So went the next seven years. I spent the entirety of my middle and high school years terrified of the locker room. I wore an undershirt, changed in a bathroom stall, or waited until everyone else was out of the locker room before unleashing my humiliating blubber. Early in my senior year of high school I reached my highest weight of 220 pounds without an ounce of muscle of which to speak. I had maintained a steady diet of “doubles” at lunch (two chocolate milks, two orders of fries, and two of whatever entrée they were serving—chicken fingers or pizza if I was lucky, or that weird tex-mex orange pizza on bad days) and hours of Sega Genesis. Pool parties were the bane of my existence. I either wore a shirt into the pool or sulked in a poolside chair sipping cans of soda. Weight lifting? Yeah, I took that class. I tried to bench 135 without a spotter and almost choked myself.
During my senior year of high school, I began making the first changes in my behavior and the way I looked. I adopted a vegetarian diet (vegan soon thereafter) and cut out fried foods from my diet. So began the next seven some odd years of inconsistent dieting and weight fluctuation.
Make no mistake: Eating vegan does not mean eating healthy. There is certainly a large amount of overlap between the two, but they are not identical. As much pasta with nutritional yeast sauce as you can force down, entire pints of soy ice cream, imitation sesame beef from Chinese Buddha at 3am, and not a single serving of clean vegetables are all great choices if you want to be vegan and 210 pounds of mushy skin and extra chins. (You can opt for “dessert for dinner” and eat an entire bag of Uncle Eddie’s vegan cookies at 200 calories a piece if you want to really do the trick.)
Then one day after seeing a video of myself performing a live concert with my old band, I realized something had to change. It wasn’t enough to hide my gut behind a shirt and suck it in all the time. Who was I fooling? My face was fat too and the rest of me was just a pale accessory to my pear-shaped torso. This undeniable realization made me sick to my stomach. So, once again, I did what any determined, responsible person would do when faced with a less-than-desirable self-image. I stopped eating–well, not entirely. I suppose a bowl of plain oatmeal in the morning and a block of tofu for lunch and nothing else all day technically constitutes eating.
My starvation diet worked at getting me down to about 170 pounds. Never mind that I had no energy at work or any muscle. I looked mostly thin and that was the important part, right? Wrong. Despite looking relatively average in clothes, I was setting myself up for long-term damage to my body—a body that was still like pudding to the touch and completely lacking definition. But I didn’t care. I could get girls to talk to me so I was happy.
Somewhere along the way, I went to a UFC party at a friend’s house. It was the one where Rich Franklin punched Nate Quarry’s head clean off his shoulders. I was hooked and started watching UFC events regularly. The part I enjoyed the most was the grappling and submissions—the jiu-jitsu. It wasn’t long until one of my longtime friends began training under Roberto Traven in jiu-jitsu, loved it, and encouraged me to start too.
Looking back, it was a somewhat blind decision, but in April of 2007 I walked into Unit 2 with my friend and signed up before even trying a class. I was going to develop my ground game and try to shed the remaining ten or so pounds I had to lose. I was skinny, naïve, and no idea I was about to discover what would become perhaps my greatest passion.
I learned relatively quickly that I had to eat more. A lot more. I was attending class every other day or so (I needed a day to recover from the day before) and my hunger was growing to the point of incapacitation. It then dawned on me that food was never the enemy. Instead, it had always been my sloppy pairing of food and lifestyle that had kept me unhappy for so many years. I began consciously eating the foods I needed to fuel my training properly and did so without guilt. I trained regularly and attentively.
Soon, my body image faded into the background. I no longer had to fear how I looked and avoid the beach. As I focused on learning jiu-jitsu, my weight took care of itself. The fat melted off and muscles appeared in its place. My nipples forgot their sunken shape and pointed outward again.
Such is the story of my last four years at Unit 2 and Roberto Traven Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. This will be my third year of competing at the Pan American and World Jiu-Jitsu championships near Los Angeles. As a person with no experience in anything competitive (other than the first Halo video game), I have truly stepped out of my shell and become a different person.
The confidence I have gained from my training affects every area of my life. I have more energy at work and am more productive; I’ve been promoted twice since 2007. (As it happens, this is true both at work and in belt ranking.) I feel better, sleep better, and am healthier than I’ve ever been. Jiu-jitsu has given me more than I ever imagined it could or ever realized I needed.
Where are the pictures from my fat days you ask? Well, the attentive reader can likely infer that I avoided the camera at all costs. For example, I never took a yearbook picture after the ninth grade. Despite methodically destroying pictures of me as if I were the Catholic church and they were heretical writings, a few vestiges remain that I’ve collected for inclusion with my story.
If you’re on the fence about whether or not you’re ready for something like Unit 2, that’s cool. I’m sure the weight you want to lose will vanish on its own for no reason other than because you hate it so much. You probably don’t need any new friends either. Don’t worry: That guy or girl you’ve had your eye on is almost certainly immune to the genetically programmed impulse to be attracted to individuals who are in shape. And there’s absolutely no chance that interviewers will subconsciously make assumptions about your work ethic based on your level of physical fitness. So don’t come try any classes. I don’t want you parking in my spot.