As a boy, Theodore Roosevelt was a sickly kid.
At one point, his father—Theodore Roosevelt Sr.—took little “Teedie” aside and told him what he needed to do about it:
“Theodore, you have the mind but you have not the body, and without the help of the body, the mind cannot go as far as it should. You must make your body.”
In 2016, I weighed the heaviest I had ever been: 250 pounds on Thanksgiving Day (before eating). Within 9 months, I weighed the lightest I had ever been in my adult life: 193 pounds. Months of disciplined eating and pursuit of physical accomplishment had helped me lose nearly 60 pounds.
I’ve since gained a little over half of it back.
You Can’t Go Back Home—But You Can Gain Old Weight Back
After losing the weight, having it return to you is its own special shame. It’s like moving back in with your parents after losing your job…but you wear the signs of it everywhere you go. No one tells you when you lose weight that you might live in mortal fear of gaining it all back.
My coaches told me that I need to focus on accomplishment rather than weight (which is a bad proxy for ‘health’ given all the data we have available). I was told I need to internalize my goals, make it about something I want to create or be beyond just “I want to wear tailored-fit suits.”
All of that sounds good…but I’ve struggled with it all the same.
Which is strange to say. Not least because I’m normally goal-oriented in every other area of my life.
I mean, when I was afraid of the dark, I used to challenge myself to stare into dark rooms until I wasn’t afraid anymore. When I decided to switch my major to English, I took one-and-a-half times the normal full-time workload just in English classes. My first real hiking trip was 24 miles long—my first backpacking trip would have been 300+ miles if I hadn’t needed to bow out from an injury.
Changing my behavior to suit my goals is hard-wired somewhere in my brain.
I’d like to think Theodore Sr. would approve.
It’s not as though the weight came from inactivity, either. Only 8 weeks prior to my 250-pound weigh-in, I had climbed Mt. Whitney—the tallest peak in the lower 48 states. My big backpacking trip happened before I lost weight.
So why can’t I seem to find a goal that pushes me forward? Why can’t I achieve that sort of single-minded focus when it comes to what I put in my body?
What’s the Real Obstacle Here?
I’m not trying to lose weight to impress anyone—my wife has loved me the same through my lightest and heaviest seasons. I’m not trying to lose weight to prove anything to myself—otherwise I’d be fine losing it and gaining it back. I’m not even trying to lose it for athletic reasons. Like I mentioned, I lugged my belly all the way up a 14,508-foot mountain.
On some level, I think I’m trying to lose it because I know that the real issue here: I’m addicted to food. The weight is just a side-effect.
Given my physical activity, given my long-term goals, I know that’d I’d easily be able to maintain a healthy weight if I was in full conscious control of my food choices. The real issue here is I feel enslaved by my unconscious inclinations, and I can’t abide that. I hate it.
Teddy Roosevelt’s struggle was his sickly, small frame. For years, I thought my struggle was my large, unwieldy frame. Turns out, it’s not—it never was.
It’s my mind. My mind is the thing I need to overcome.
Making My Mind & What That Means
Socrates, someone who had every reason to favor his mind over his body, once said:
“No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.”
I used to dwell on his words whenever I was in a weight-loss season. I wanted to see what I was capable of, so I worked out longer, slept well, ate healthy, kept track of my macros, etc. But I fundamentally misunderstood what I really needed. I thought that if my mind was satisfied, that if I fully valued my body and loved who I was, then I would be too satisfied to lose weight. For the longest time, misery was the fuel that pushed me forward. Of course I was doomed to fail.
I need to train myself mentally and emotionally. I need to align my internal and external values. I need to understand that my body isn’t the point. Only when that happens will I be able to “make my body,” as Theodore Sr. implored his wild little son.
First, I need to make my mind. Maybe you do too.