Winter always brings a bit of weight gain for me. Around mid-October my activity level plunges (less yard work and it gets too nasty outside to run), but my calorie intake stays the same. Of course, there are the Thanksgiving and X-mas binges too. So for the second time in my life I’ve topped 170 lbs. This isn’t overweight for somebody with my build, but it’s about 15 lbs heavier than what I consider my ideal weight. And the last time I was at that weight was about 5 years ago. I like being fit–I look and feel better. But that $65,000 piece of plastic in my wallet is also riding on staying healthy.
Weight gain with aging is a common phenomenon–there’s even a term for it, creeping obesity. Through your mid-twenties, you’re active, pretty fit, and have a pretty high basal metabolic rate. You’re also probably unmarried without kids, underemployed, uninjured, and untethered to a house. As you saddle more responsibility, one of the first things to suffer is the time you set aside for exercise. What doesn’t change is your eating habits–with the affluence of steady employment, your diet is just as likely to get worse than when every grocery shopping trip drained your checking account.
This is basically what’s happened to me. A few years ago I was single and renting a place in Seattle. Technically I was in a long-distance relationship. But I had the free time to train for half-marathons and triathlons. Didn’t matter what I ate, since I was exercising enough that it was difficult to keep weight on. Then I moved, bought a house, gained a spouse-equivalent, and took on some added work responsibilities. Instead of running at lunch, swimming in the evening, and biking or hiking on the weekends, I was doing yard and house work, and spending longer days at my desk studying and working. The gym was an inconvenient 30-minute drive, and my mentality shifted from fueling an athletic goal. I also traveled more, ending up at gluttonous restaurants or eating in airport terminals. We just recently had a kid, and have had a stream of friends and family bringing tasty, fatty meals by. I also injured myself pretty good over-training for a half-marathon, making the long runs and hikes that I’d do all the time impossible.
These are exactly the life changes that contribute to creeping obesity. When I was 155 lbs and first tipped 160 lbs, I wasn’t worried. My pants actually fit better. A couple years later, I was holding a steady 162 lbs. Not too much different than 160 lbs. No worries. Last year I was a stable 165 lbs, with occasional incursions to 168 lbs. This is how it happens. A few pounds a year doesn’t alarm us, but over a 5- to 10-year period, you can be adding a tremendous amount of weight. Each pound is a challenge to take off, and that’s compounded because you’re further cemented into that weight-building lifestyle and less fit. Creeping obesity.
For me 170 lbs is my line in the sand. First off, I’m still flying an R22. I’m hoping to start flying with BoatPix in the spring, and 180 lbs is their limit. In a small helicopter, 10 lbs can make a difference in performance, endurance, and range, and most every employer I’ve talked to over the phone has asked me what my weight is within the first few minutes of our conversation. Every pound I’m carrying is a pound less of paying student that I can fly with. HEMS operators have weight limits for patients, and now they’re starting to put limits on their pilots too. Weight is a big deal for pilots, and your fat ass takes up revenue-earning cargo space.
In addition, weight gain is a symptom of other emerging problems. High-calorie diets and a sedentary lifestyle are gateways to diabetes, cardiovascular/cerebrovascular disease, and the other problems that come with obesity (like obstructive sleep apnea). These can all lead to a medical disqualification. From looking at posts on the forums, and my personal experience with friends and family, the first alarm goes off long after there’s a problem–when the doctor comes back with a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome/high blood sugar, or writes that prescription for blood-pressure or cholesterol meds. The typical course is that people–patients now–continue living the same lifestyle, and adding prescriptions or undergoing surgeries to control the consequent conditions.
That path is unacceptable if you have to sit for a second class medical every 12 months. Weight gain is the first sign that you need to make some lifestyle changes. Maybe in a later post I’ll talk about the lifestyle changes that I’m implementing. Just like a 100-ft altitude or 10-knot airspeed deviation is unacceptable in the cockpit, 170 lbs is an unacceptable weight for me.