New PT standards: my quest to cut the gut

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Matthew Bright
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin and Doug Heffernan all have something in common - they're all obese men who carry a lot of weight in their mid sections.

They have what's called visceral fat. I do too. Visceral fat is what causes your stomach to feel hard like muscle, even though you're still fat. That means the fat is under the muscle, pushing your abs out and pressing against your internal organs, spine, etc. According to the Mayo Clinic: "People who gain [visceral] belly fat are at greater risk of serious health problems than are people who accumulate fat in other areas - and men are more likely than women to gain weight around the waist. Having a large amount of belly fat increases your risk of: heart disease; stroke; some types of cancer; type 2 diabetes; insulin resistance; high triglycerides; low levels of HDL, or "good" cholesterol; metabolic syndrome; and, sleep apnea."

I'm writing this for a reason; maybe it'll help other guys like me at Spangdahlem. We've got great food, beer, wine, etc. here, and I love all of it. I love to eat! I'm good at it. This is my Fat Matt story.

I wasn't that fat as a kid. I was outside a lot - I studied Kempo and I played soccer from around my fifth birthday until I was in the 7th grade. My career as a mid-fielder was cut short when I was kicked off of the middle school team because I couldn't stay out of detention -- it was my first year of public school, and I went nuts with my new-found freedom. I guess I started to balloon then.

I continued to struggle with my weight in high school and college.

I graduated high school in 1995 weighing about 190 pounds. During my freshman year of college while all of my buddies went off to basic training, I lived off of free buffets at the dining hall, late-night pizza deliveries, $.50 pitchers (I could probably have drank Peter and Homer under the table) and $10.00 all-you-can-eat wing nights at the bar across the street from my dorm.

In the summer of 1996, I attended my brother's college graduation. Many of my extended family walked right past me because they didn't recognize me. I had swelled to around 275 pounds. I went on a strict diet of - no joke - one meal a day. It consisted of fried chicken, pizza, cheddar and bacon fries and Mountain Dew. Thanks to donning a bear suit in the sun at a theme park for work, I dropped back down to about 200 pounds in three months.

A few years later, in June of 2003, my brother got married. He asked me to be his best man, and when he, our father and I went to get our tuxedos fitted, they measured my waist at almost 44 inches. I had been to the recruiter already and he said I needed to lose weight before he could work with me. I tried a great new diet craze - Atkins. Along with a workout routine designed by my personal trainer, I kept the diet going throughout the summer, fall and winter. When I got to basic training in February 2004, I weighed 186 pounds; I graduated six weeks later at 174 pounds - my lowest body weight in more than 10 years.

About a week after I got to Keesler AFB for technical school, I injured my left knee and was no longer allowed to run. My superintendent had a "gimp flight," and Airmen he assigned to it were not even allowed to do push-ups, sit-ups or lift weights, regardless of where or how they were injured. I received a Letter of Counseling when he caught me on the bench machine one afternoon. You can guess what happened. I got fat again. I pretty much bounced up and down on the scale for the next four years.

I married my wife, Sheila, in April 2008. There was a buffet and a cake that could feed more than 150 people. It had a lot of sugar, too. My father, brother's family and all of our friends and co-workers were there. Sheila was so beautiful. I looked like Shrek.

I was 265 pounds at our wedding. I lost about 30 pounds before our daughter was born in September; I took time off, didn't work out, ate junk food, drank beer and watched TV. In November of that year I slipped a disc in my back and spent a week in the hospital. Both the German doctors and our Medical Group said I needed to go on a low-calorie diet and start working out a lot more. I was failing PT tests and was almost kicked out because of my weight.

With the help of my wife, the HAWC, physical therapy and an off-base chiropractor, I got my weight in check and my health improved. I was down to 214 pounds when I took my PT test in February 2009. I still had a 40-inch waist, but I did well in most of the other tests, so things balanced out. I passed. My Primary Care Manager released me from my profile, and I was immediately tasked for a deployment.

I spent last summer in Africa; it was the same AOR from my first deployment in 2007. I gained about 20 pounds, my back went out, I lost a little, my back got better, and so it continued to fluctuate for six months. When I went home, two days before Christmas, I weighed 230 pounds. Since then I've lost, gained, lost and gained, but I've remained between 215 and 233 pounds.

I'm now back on a low-calorie diet and I hate it. I started at about 1,800 calories a day and, since losing weight, I'm down to around 1,600 calories a day now. I live off of 100 calorie protein shakes and meal replacement bars I buy at the commissary. Unless I'm eating with my family, I rarely have any meal with more than 100-150 calories. I'm always tired. I drink a lot of coffee, zero calorie diet soda, low calorie energy drinks and water. Unless I have to be in early, I work out for 60-90 minutes every work day. I don't really watch how long I'm on the elliptical, but I watch the calories. I tend to stop after I hit about 1,100-1,200 calories burned. To date, I'm down to 212 pounds. According to the American Medical Association, at 33 years old, six feet and one inch tall, or a "large-frame", I need to weigh between 167-192 pounds. I want to be 190 pounds.

I'm telling you all of this for a reason. I'm fat. My dad isn't fat and my brother wasn't when we were kids - marriage and a lack of exercise changed that. I'd estimate he's about 240 pounds, but I think he's working on it.

I know we all have to have a certain waist and weight for the new PT test that started July 1, but for me, I just don't want to be fat anymore.

I don't want to be winded chasing my little girl around the yard. Keira's almost two years old, and I don't want her to suffer the same problems I did as I got older. I need to show her the right things about diet and exercise. The poor girl looks like me and acts like me, I sure don't want her to develop the same problems with food that I have. I know my career rests on my ability to pass the PT test, to deploy and to come home safely, but I know now that I can't do that while carrying as much belly fat as I have in the past.