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Fighting My Way to Health With Fight Club

"People are always asking, did I know about Tyler Durden" (11).

Anyone who knows me knows how I am about Fight Club, and anyone who's found about about my weight loss in recent years has asked how I did it.  Since I first encountered the movie and then the book, Fight Club has become a part of my common parlance, applicable to too many situations in my life and the greater world.  But it wasn't until I started teaching it that I started to trace its subtle influences on me over the years, and it wasn't until today that I realized how much of my weight loss regimen and health philosophy can be tied to it.  And I think that the next time someone asks me how I lost 110 pounds in just over a year without pills or surgery or starving, I'll point them here so they can learn something essential about the method I've devised for myself.

I know that probably sounds strange to anyone familiar with the material.  So much of Fight Club is about the virtues of self-destruction as the beginning of rebirth and enlightenment, after all, and is a reaction against the dogma of mindless (or worse yet, media-driven) self-improvement.  I know this.  But when I topped out the scale at 250 pounds on my 5'2" frame, I felt like I'd spiraled so far out of control that there was no way to rein myself back in.  I got to where I was unable to recognize my own face in the mirror and had started to suspect that there was ultimately no one else to hold responsible for all the damage and restrictions my weight had begun to impose on me.  But I didn't want to face up to any of that, so for a time I avoided scales and mirrors and just gave up on ever losing a single pound or feeling better physically.

"I hated my life.  I was tired and bored with my job and my furniture, and I couldn't see any way to change things" (172).

Sound familiar?  The narrator didn't know what else to do to start changing his life, so he created Tyler Durden to do it for him.  I didn't know what to do and couldn't be anyone but myself, so I waited, as the narrator had, for something to happen.

"Three weeks without sleep, and everything becomes an out-of-body experience" (19).

I finally broke down and decided to give exercise a real try while I was wrestling with a bad patch of insomnia, something I've suffered from off and on pretty much my whole life.  It's not like moving around was the first thing I tried, though; after waking up feeling half-dead for days on end, exerting myself was the last thing I wanted to do.  So I went through all the old protocols I had ready for just such an occasion: I adjusted my caffeine intake (both dosage and timing), feng-shuied my sleeping space, and tried meditating myself into the mini coma I needed to make up for all the sleep I'd lost, all to no avail.  I eventually determined that it wasn't a physical problem, but any psychological issues were going to be pending for a while.

Maybe it was because I was between jobs.  Maybe it was all the other issues I was handling or avoiding during my waking hours.  Either way, none of that was going to be fixed overnight, and the days began to fly by without relief and without the energy needed to do much of anything.  So one night as I stared at my clock in the wee hours of the morning, when it was still dark as night, I made a promise to myself.  I didn't care how low I felt when I climbed out of bed that morning.  If I met the break of dawn wide awake, I was going to throw on some duds and hike my ass up the hill behind my house as far as I dared.  I wasn't going to hurt myself.  I would take breaks if I had to.  But I would be damned before I wasted another day moving only between the bed, the computer chair, and the couch.

When my bedroom walls took on the delicate eggshell blue of sunbreak, I did just what I told myself I would.  I picked the best shoes I had for it.  I didn't care how I dressed.  I grabbed a bottle of water, but damn it, I went.  And no, it didn't feel great at first, but it didn't feel as bad as I feared it would.  The little aches and pains were within normal parameters and none of them stood out as dangerous or show-stopping.  I felt like, "What I'm feeling is premature enlightenment" (70).  And I knew that "Without pain, without sacrifice we would have nothing."

I stopped a few times to catch my breath and I took my time rather than rushing up the hill as though I did it every day, and eventually I came to a point where I knew I couldn't go any further.  But I marked that place in my mind because my next goal was to get there again and go a little further, even if it was only a few steps.  I rattled my way down the hillside with care and listened to my body the rest of the day, eating as best I could and tending my muscles.  I had a promise to keep, after all, and not just in the event that I couldn't sleep again; since I'd ultimately enjoyed my walk I extended my promise to cover the next day, whether I had insomnia or not.  Every day I would do something truly physical, and sweat and looks be damned - because I wanted and I needed to.  I wanted to hold myself to it, for myself and my health and strength and nobody else.

Nobody else could do it for me, and nothing would happen if I didn't really try.  All my excuses and evasions had left me with nothing, and no amount of self-love had changed how bad my extra weight physically made me feel, nor did it put a dent in all the activities I had trouble doing because of my bulk.  I couldn't sugar-coat my situation any further or count on anyone or anything else to save me.

"This was freedom.  Losing all hope was freedom" (22).

Indeed it was.  Instead of flimsy, ephemeral hopes, I embraced some new rules and routes of action - which were actually old rules I'd seen in Fight Club.

"The third rule of Project Mayhem is no excuses" (122).
"The fourth rule is no lies."

Without having looked at the rules of Project Mayhem in a while, I started fully embracing them and applying them in new ways.  Honesty became my first rule.  I'd lied to myself long enough.  No excuses followed quickly after; while I might have had to compromise about the type or amount of exercise in a day, or I might have had to do it the next day at the latest, I would not relent and give up.  No excuse could ever be good enough because I had something Tyler Durden didn't - I had myself.

And I wanted myself.

And you should want yourself, too.