Fitness Quest and Crohn’s Update: April 2016

The good news is that I’ve been keeping busy since my last blog. I’ve actually completed production on two plays that I acted in (one in February and one in April), I’m feeling pretty comfortable with my “new” position at work (I’ve been in it since September so I can’t really call it new anymore I suppose), and over all my health has been good. Not great, but good.

My Crohn’s seems to be more active over the last couple months. I haven’t had much in the way of full-blown flare ups but I’ve had some significant pain on and off, digestive issues, and an overall malaise/weakness/weariness which are all signs of Crohn’s activity. Things have been mild enough that I feel the Humira is still working but something has been going on. I’m also suspicious that some of what I’m attributing to Crohn’s is actually gallbladder related as the pain is just below my right rib cage. However, the “gurgling” and assorted noises sure don’t sound like my gallbladder! On top of this I’ve been plagued with a on again/off again cough. Sometimes it’s a full blown cold, sometimes it’s nasal congestion, all the times is annoying.

In terms of my fitness efforts, well…due to the previously mentioned feeling of malaise I haven’t been working out like I should. My weightlifting has been spotty at best, I haven’t been getting in my walks regularly, and as far as running goes…I don’t. I have had an attempt or two and now that spring seems to actually be here I really need to get back on track. I’ve been averaging less than 10,000 steps per day for some time and it’s time to get that count up at the very least.

On the plus side I’m at my lowest body weight this century! I have been tracking my food and macros so I think that is really helping. I’ve noticed that I’m not getting enough protein and too many fats so I need to reverse that. Especially since the protein will help me to retain/build muscle which becomes more critical as I approach yet another birthday next month.

I have goals for the summer which includes some mountain climbing on a trip to Colorado. If weather and conditions permit I hope to finally summit Long’s Peak – one of Colorado’s 14,000 footers. I had gotten as far as the Keyhole once in the past but due to a storm was not able to push on to the peak. Fortunately, I have a cousin who is an avid climber and he’s offered to take me up when I’m out there. But, in order to make it I’ve got to be in good cardiovascular shape – especially since I’m not used to the “thin” air – and my legs have to be strong enough to tackle the 15 mile round trip (half of it uphill).

The good news is that I won’t be lugging as much fat on the mountain. Wish me luck.

Onward!

longs-peak-aug-31
Long’s Peak 
In the Boulder Field of Long's Peak
Me in the Boulder Field of Long’s Peak back in the mid-eighties
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Christmas 2015

What a difference a year makes!

Last year at this time I had just resolved a year long “crisis of faith” started by the passing of my father on Christmas day 2014. I had recommitted myself to a new fitness regimen by simply walking more and I had been re-diagnosed with Crohn’s.  And, this blog was less than a month old. So much has happened since then…

First, and most importantly, I still have my faith. This has and continues to be sorely tested given all the horrible events that we have witnessed in 2015 both world wide and at home. But, I have an understanding that God provides us with the tools to be better human beings. It is not up to him to solve all our problems we are not his pets. We are his children and the best way sometimes for children to learn is to allow them to figure things out for themselves. I firmly believe that if we truly commit to our faith – without perverting it for our own selfish desires and the principles of faith, hope and charity – the world would be a better place, regardless of your religion.

Second, my health is pretty darn good thank you. I started Humira as my only treatment for Crohn’s and this, along with watching my diet better, has proven to be a very good move. I have not had a major flare up since starting the treatment (there have been very brief “upsets”) and my energy is better than it has been for years. I’m stronger in middle age than I was in my thirties and that’s a bit of a miracle right there!

Third, I may not have achieved all my fitness goals but I’ve clearly made progress. I’m back in the weight room and rebuilding some muscle that I lost in 2014 (the tape measure and my lifts prove it) and I now not only walk but actually run. I’m even planning on doing some mountain climbing this coming June (Long’s Peak). A feat I don’t think I could have even considered a year ago. Old age isn’t for sissies as they used to say and it isn’t for being bound to a bed or a wheel chair. Stay active, stay strong, and I’ll show those tight skinned whipper snappers that a few aches and pains aren’t going to keep me down. Heck, I don’t even miss the hair on the top of my head anymore…okay, maybe a little.

Fourthly, I’ve committed to expressing my creative side in different ways. I continue with tap dancing, I’m working on my play writing again (slowly but surely), and I find time to audition for plays that I want to act in.

Fifthly, I did have some challenges and disappointments professionally this past year. But, by staying true to my work ethic and with some good fortune I’m still happily employed. The reality is that none of us is guaranteed work in this day and age regardless of how well you do your job and sometimes you are viewed as just a number on a spreadsheet. It doesn’t help to worry about it, but be smart. Keep the resume up to date and keep sharpening your skills!

And lastly, I’m talking to more people. Which has turned out to be good for me (I don’t know how the people I’ve talked to feel about it). I made a goal to not be the wall flower anymore. This has lead me to some interesting conversations with strangers and to even adding a few new friends. And thanks to social media I’ve even reconnected with people who I thought were long in my past. The only difficult part of social media is learning to ignore the negative and argumentative people…of which there seems to be an endless supply.

So, to sum up, I’m looking forward to 2016. If it’s like the past year it will be a wild ride, but I’ll be better for it. I hope you will be better for it as well.

Onward!

 

Talking to Strangers

As children we were all told by our parents or guardians “don’t talk to strangers.” This warning was practical advice for children, because there is danger out there for all of us and a particular evil that preys on the young. However, this warning – right or wrong – also goes against our natural human curiosity and trains us to become more guarded in the information we share. Again, this may all be well and good, but as adults I think that we need to be re-trained to do the opposite. To reach out and on occasion at least, talk to strangers.

I consider myself an introvert. Those who know me may find it hard to believe, and probably think I never shut up, but I find it difficult to strike up a conversation with people I know well and nearly terrifying to speak to someone I haven’t met. If they approach me I don’t have much of a problem (though I’ve been told I can come off as cold and aloof). But to start the conversation…well, let’s say that there are many a times when I pull the tactic of just hanging back and waiting for someone else to notice me in both social and professional situations. Like most wallflowers, taking the risk of making a new connection is a learned and forced behavior.

However, as I’ve gotten older I’ve found that I need to talk more to strangers. We live in an ever increasingly complex world and to navigate this world we need to be able to draw upon a wider range of knowledge and experiences both professionally and personally. Google is great, but it doesn’t replace the first hand experiences of someone who has lived through something.

So, I’ve started ignoring my mother’s advice and am trying to talk to at least one “stranger” each day. This may be as simple as a quick “hello” to someone in passing and with the holidays on us I can certainly greet more folks with best wishes for the season. Sometimes, it’s more involved, like noticing an interesting article of clothing or someone doing an activity and making a comment on it and striking up a conversation. Sometimes the conversation is brief and you never see that person again. However, sometimes you “hit it off” and find yourself with a new friend. More often than not, I’ve discovered that the results are somewhere in between.

For example, recently while traveling I noticed a young man at the airport with an athletic bag and a college sports team. I approached him and asked if he played for that team and this began a conversation as we walked through the airport and I learned about his business, which happened to be in a field I’m interested in but outside of my usual work. We exchanged names and a quick Google search later (surprisingly easy to do and not at all stalker-like…) and an invite on LinkedIn and I have a new connection. Will be lifelong friends and best buddies hanging out at the mall after work? Not likely, but I have no doubt we’ll stay in touch and who knows? The old me would have just walked on without taking the chance. But because I reached out, maybe we’ll one day share information that will benefit one or both of us in some way.

And speaking of Google and LinkedIn, what a marvelous world we live in with the advantage of social media. I know that social media has taken a beating in the news and among some circles as an outlet for bullying, pornography, etc. However, used properly it’s power for sharing and making connections cannot be denied and for those of us who are inherently shy it is a “safe” way of making and maintaining contacts we would otherwise never have.

Don’t get me wrong. There is no – I repeat, no – substitute for good old fashioned face to face human contact. We need to meet other people, be friends with other people, love other people, to thrive as humans. Even our rivals and enemies have the potential to make us better. But for those who find it difficult to talk in person and/or are shut in, social media provides at least the semblance of human interaction. Thanks to social media I now have friends, followers, connections, etc. with people I never otherwise would have any contact with. I communicate regularly with people throughout the USA, Canada and much of Europe. Our bond may be as simple as we all have the same disease (Crohn’s), are interested in the same things, or maybe met once in an airport, hotel, amusement park, or hiking in the woods (all places I’ve met people who are now friends).

My point is that, as we say in NACAS, make “connections that count.” Why don’t you go out and make a couple new ones today.

Onward!

 

 

 

Fruits and veggies

Road to Skinniness: The Road Less Traveled

It should not come as a shock to anyone who’s ever known or paid attention to me (or has read this blog) that I’ve had a long time interest in health, fitness, bodybuilding, etc. This interest goes back quite a ways to my first flirtations with the gym and working out in high school, through a more serious attempt during college, up to the current day. Yet, during all this time, even when I was at my strongest and curling more than 100 pounds and benching almost 1.5 times my body weight (when I weighed close to 240) I don’t think there was ever a time you would have called me muscular. Sure, I had big arms and a big chest but I also had (have?) a big butt and big gut to go along with them. In my quest for size and strength I only gave lip service to fat loss. So even though I could bench more than 300 pounds (which is why I’m glad I write down my workouts – it’s hard to believe that I was once capable of this) I couldn’t run around the block without the risk of heart attack. Though my arms taped at just over 17.5 inches in circumference when flexed (4.5 inches more than the “average” man’s) my biceps lacked peak – though my tris were pretty well defined – in short, I was big but not built. I wanted to look like a bodybuilder but I looked more like a Bluto (from the Popeye comic strip).

Over the years I’ve tried a variety of workouts with varying consistency. I always blamed my lack of consistency, genetics and even my Crohn’s for my lack of progress. Well, people with Crohn’s much worse than mine have made better progress (see my earlier blogs on Peter K. Vaughn and Peter Nielsen for examples) and I know men who have made dramatic changes in their physiques in the course of a few months.

Well, today in the grocery store I finally had a revelation. My problem has been in front of my for all these years. Why do I not look the way I want? Because I eat the way I want!

I’ve been told this over the decades by at least two personal trainers (maybe three), a nutritionist, friends, family and God only knows how many books on exercise, weightlifting, diet, and nutrition.

So, what am I going to do about this? Well, I’ve already started.

Now that I have my caloric intake under control I need to improve the quality of what goes into my mouth. I loaded up on fresh (or as fresh as we get now days) veggies and fruits. I avoided the sugary treats, and I have enough to last the week. I chose Greek yogurt over regular because it has fewer calories and more protein (need some dairy after all). Tomorrow I plan my meals out so that I’m not caught in a situation where I “have” to go through the drive-thru and I’m taking another look at my supplement plan. Currently, I’m not taking anything except iron and calcium that my doctor prescribed. I’m thinking of adding back in a multi-vitamin and fish oil. Possibly some glucosamine as well for joint health.

I currently feel  better than I have in years so I’m determined not to squander this feeling. I may never lift 350 pounds again (or maybe I will, who knows) but I bet I still have time to see my abs. At least two of them…

Onward!

Fitness and Crohn’s or No Crohn’s Update

Well, after another week of staying within my calorie goals, increased cardio, exceeding my daily steps, and the weight room what’s my reward? I’ve gained 4 pounds…

However, my waist is slightly smaller (half inch), I’ve lost some size on my chest, which I presume is fat loss, and my arms are a tad bigger plus my bodyfat is down 3% and though not at an all time low I’m almost there. Hurrah!

In the gym my lifts are increasing and I’m feeling stronger each week – not quite back to my old form but making progress. Feeling pretty good the day after my workouts as well and actually felt pumped after my last workout this week (how I’ve missed that feeling).

By the way, since I started to not trust my usual scale I’ve moved to what I’m calling  “Dave’s Three Scale Method” (trademarked!). This consists of weighing myself on my usual Tanita electronic scale, and older model Tanita scale and a “regular” bathroom scale ($7.99 at major discount retailers).

On both the electronic scales my bodyfat is down (good). On the older electronic scale and the “regular” scale my weight is down as well – though the “regular” scale still shows me as 10 pounds lighter than my usual scale. I used the scale at my gym this week once as well – a supposedly more accurate “balance” scale. That one is broken as according to that I’m wasting away at an alarming rate and am well below 200 pounds close to my “skinny” high school weight (no way true).

In continued Crohn’s news, after 30 years of believing I had Crohn’s my belief has been confirmed. I have Crohn’s. My doctor has recommended that I now start taking Humira because though, according to him, my symptoms don’t really suggest it the colonoscopies show that my Crohn’s is not mild as I’ve thought. It’s actual more moderate to severe based on the damage already done. So, in an effort to continue and avoid surgery he thinks we need to get me into a full remission (or as close as possible). I’ll know more on this next week after I meet with him.

The adventure continues – onward!

Should old acquaintance be forgot…A Year in Review

It is customary, it seems, at this time of year to take some time to reflect on the previous year and to make plans for the next. And though it may seem cliche I do have to say what a difference a year makes.

2014 started out without much hope or promise. Yes, my family and I tried to celebrate as best we could that New Year’s Eve but the reality was we were going through the motions since the day before we had just buried Dad. Our lives, like anyone else who has suffered major loss, will never be the same. Then the weather seemed to go crazy on us and the snow just kept falling. I work at a college and for the first time since I had started there we had multiple snow days – there was not one week in January were we worked the full week in fact. Though we all like an occasional snow day, it was getting ridiculous and creating more stress knowing that nothing was getting done (and still being held responsible for this by our customers even though they too could not get out any more than we could).

Spring brought hope and some relief. It was my niece’s final season with the University of Michigan Softball Team. Though they played well and fought their way to another Big 10 championship the NCAA crown eluded them. Still a great season by any measure, but a little heartbreaking as well as we knew that we would never get to cheer Caitlin on to a Women’s World Series Championship (which, come to think of it, most families never do get to do for their players).

I lost a close election in my theatre group and for the first time in well over a decade I found myself not on the board (I was off the board for a year by choice during this time though). I was okay with this, because that’s how elections go, and I had plenty of other things to keep me busy (the Community Theatre Association of Michigan board of directors, Masons, Church) and frankly could use the free time. Still, it felt odd.

The summer was okay, but nothing special until July when I attended a play writing workshop offered by CTAM and conducted by playwright Jim Henry . This was the creative spark that I needed to get writing again. I was enthused about my off stage work again and currently gave two plays which I’m working on with the goal of getting paid to have at least one play produced this year (a rather ambitious goal actually, but I’m going for it).

The summer was unusual in that I didn’t even get on a roller coaster – and I love roller coasters – until the fall this year. The good news however,  was that my Crohn’s was pretty much inactive (yes, there was the occasional flare-up but nothing out of the ordinary).

Then in the late fall my world began to shift. Things weren’t going so well at work (declining enrollment at the college among other issues), but things were going well with my professional association, acting, playwriting, and other aspects of my life. I left the CTAM board (term limits you know) and even more time became available to me. Then I went to see a new doctor and he said, “I’m not sure you have Crohn’s.” You can read more about this in earlier blogs but the effect of suddenly not having the thing which, for better or for worse, had defined me for nearly thirty years was surprising. I felt liberated and then happy. For the better part of November when someone asked me how I was doing I would respond with “I’m unreasonably happy.” I can only attribute my good mood to the idea that I might not have Crohn’s. I was no longer a slave to a daily pill. Of course, I knew that there was still something wrong but I think I actually had hope that something could be done and I might get better.

Of course, there have been tests and now the doctor is 95% sure I have Crohn’s but we need yet another test to get a biopsy. And he seems to be hinting, strongly, that surgery is probably in my near future – if they can actually find the fistula and Crohn’s which the CT Scan indicates is there. But, again, I’m not upset by this. I’m actually still hopeful that something can be done.

So, I’m ending this year I think on a high note. My faith in God has been restored. I like blogging and finding a new community of fellow “Chronies” as well as a new audience. . My Facebook “Get Fit and Healthy” group seems to be thriving with new members who are embracing the idea that we are all more successful together and put up with some of my random posts which do not interest them (but of course, interest me). I’m committed to getting healthier than I’ve been for several years in terms of weight and muscle tone. Things are getting better at work, because I have very supportive bosses and staff, and I’m developing other avenues to explore which may allow me at some point to be less dependent on a “regular” job in the future or at the very least provide a few extra dollars (the threat of layoff is very real this coming year). And most importantly, in many ways I’m closer to my family, including cousins, than I’ve ever been even if we are separated by miles.

Loss is always painful and some losses we never recover from. But, even in loss there is something to be gained, even if it takes a while.

And I think that this is the lesson for me from 2014.

May you all have a Happy and Prosperous New Year – onward to 2015!

Body Illusions

I’ve always had a problem, unrelated to my Crohn’s and other health related issues, in that I tend to measure my successes against other people. I suppose we all do this to some degree, but it can really be a problem/bother when working on physical changes. Not so much with weight loss, I don’t really get worried if someone else loses weight faster than I do (even when competing with them a la “Biggest Loser”). But with things less under my control. Like “why don’t my biceps look like that guy’s” or “why can’t I bench as much as him?” and other things like that.

For example: there’s this guy I know who from my earliest memories of meeting him gave me a big case of bicep envy. Of course, over time memory does embellish things, but back in college on the rare occasions I would see him flex I remember being struck by how high and peaked his biceps were – to the point that you could even see the split in the peak. His arms weren’t especially large at the time, about 16 inches or so, but to an even skinnier me they seemed huge. Over the years I worked on my biceps until eventually my arms were just as large as his were back then. But, to my surprise, my arms didn’t look like his at all. I knew that I had muscle as I had gained strength and my arms were hard to the touch, but instead of high “peaks” my biceps retained a flatter “football” shape. Back to the weight room…

Some time later we began to work out together. Doing a heavy bench routine that we both responded well to – though to be fair he responded much better to than I did. By this time however, though I was still envious of his gains (his arms swelled from about 16 inches to well over 18 inches in just a few months – mine from just under 16 to about 17) I was also truly happy for him and his gains (though he never really gave the impression of caring about gains in size the way I did/do). But I noticed something else. Once again, my arms never got the peak I so desired but the peak that he had in his youth was not nearly as evident either. When he flexed I could see that his biceps were still decidedly more peaked than mine, just not as much as before. What happened? Science tells us that you can’t change the shape of the muscle, so why weren’t his now much larger arms (and solid) more dramatic as they were before? That’s when it occurred to me. It’s an illusion.

What caused his arm growth wasn’t this time so much a change in his biceps but instead that his triceps grew to match. As a result, the biceps did not stand out as much because they were balanced by the larger muscle underneath. This is part of my issue as well since my triceps actually to a degree overshadowed my biceps (something my friend had to point out to me).

These body illusions occur in other ways, too. I know another young man who when you meet him you realize that he is fit. You know, wide shoulders and thin waist, the classic “V” shape. But he’s not very large so fully dressed you don’t think of him as being overly muscular. It wasn’t until he posted a “selfie” on Instagram one day (which apparently is a thing you are supposed to do nowadays) that I realized he was very muscular – complete with six pack – and looked huge. I know he’s not “huge” but a lack of body fat actually adds to the illusion of size when there isn’t anything else for a point of reference (like another person).

I once play Lenny in “Of Mice and Men” and if you’ve read the book you know that Lenny was a big hulking brute of a man. I’m not so much of a hulk. I was going to be aided in creating the stage illusion of size by wearing some thick books (I was already the tallest in the cast except for one guy), but I went to a personal trainer friend of mine and asked what do I do to add size quickly? He suggested just focusing on the back and shoulders as those muscles will give the greatest illusion of size.

Where am I going with all this? I’m not sure. The big lesson is don’t compare yourself to others. That way leads to disappointment especially when you don’t understand that some of what you admire or envy in another person is an illusion.  Instead compare yourself with yourself with your training and fitness goals as there are fewer illusions involved (except for the self-deception many of us have when looking in a mirror – but that’s another topic).

Also, I’ve been talking about physical illusions. There are other illusions too. For example: like many Crohn’s sufferers, I try to give the illusion that I’m not in some sort of pain or discomfort every day. I have a feeling that this is true of many other people with other conditions physical and mental. So maybe when approaching someone else we all should keep in mind that the person we see on the outside is just an illusion. We can’t know what’s going on inside – they may be in just as much pain as we are and perhaps should be treated as such.

Onward!

A Day in the Life of a Crohn’s Flare Up

Well, today was difficult…not because of anything that went wrong per se but because sometime during the night my Crohn’s decided that it hadn’t been active enough and I’ve been dealing with a “flare-up” all day.

Now, my flare-ups for the past many years have been mild and probably to many sufferers of Crohn’s non-existent. I have a feeling of bloating, sporadic pain – but today only a few spasms that were strong enough for me to double over – one incident of vomiting (more on this later), and a lot of noise and rumbling from my mid-section. Oh, and my favorite sensation, hunger “pains” with Crohn’s pains which leaves me wanting to eat but realizing that if I do I’ll pay for it dearly. But, temptation is always there and I finally gave in early this evening. I’ll tell you all about it but first let me set the scene…

For those who don’t know me personally, I consider myself an actor (director, playwright, whatever) and for the past 32 years or so community theatre has been my passion. I perform mostly with the Monroe Community Players (MCP) in Monroe, Michigan and have gone so far as to be active at the state level, including four terms as president, with the Community Theatre Association of Michigan (CTAM). Well, because of my affiliation with MCP I was invited to help out at a concert tonight with the Monroe Community Symphony Band, directed by Mark Felder who coincidentally has two children who suffer from Crohn’s but that’s incidental to my tale, and introduce a few of the numbers while portraying some famous people from the movies. I got to be Charles Kane, Otis (from Superman) and an agent of SHIELD. A quick, simple gig for the most part but fun and enough to quench the acting bug’s thirst for a while (I’m between shows). What could go wrong?

That takes us back the Crohn’s flare up. I made it through the work day, though I got very tired during an afternoon meeting – which isn’t unusual after lunch but this was “Crohn’s tired” which means I was running the risk of falling asleep in front of my usually understanding boss (who’s father and brother also have Crohn’s, apparently I’m connected to most of the 1.6 million sufferers in the USA if I look hard enough). I didn’t eat all day and by the time I got home I thought maybe I should try something before going to the concert. But what? The pains in my lower abdomen told me that anything I tried would be coming back up quickly and then it occurred to me. I have all that Jello left from my colonoscopy prep. Jello, which is considered by the medical profession to be a “clear” liquid. Surely, I could have some Jello to settle my stomach and not further aggravate my Crohn’s. Moments later two little cups of lime Jello are gone and I felt satisfied enough to stop there and head on to my performance.

On drive to the concert my cramps became more insistent. I stumbled into the dressing room, changed into my first costume which had become uncomfortably tight around my waist…tried to maintain a positive attitude through backstage pictures, excitement, etc. The pain increased until finally I had no choice – I broke out of a group photo unannounced and walked quickly to the restroom filled with band members taking care of business before the concert. No, I wasn’t going to be alone for this…empty stall secure and then as quietly as I could the vomiting began. Green liquid poured out of me mixed with a day’s worth of bile and other acidic fluids…nasty. And though I thought I was being quiet I hear from the next stall “you okay in there?” and I weakly tried to explain between upchucks (is that a word) that I had this digestive disorder and that I was fine, please don’t worry. Though I think that my symphony sympathizer worried a bit anyway judging from the sideways glance I got while washing my hands afterwards.

Anyhow, I toughed it out. Got through my first two intros without incident and even the later one. Begged off as everyone else started talking about pizza afterwards and came home. No sense in tempting fate further. Now I only hope that I can get some sleep tomorrow and that everything settles down by morning.

Oh, and why the flare-up I wonder? I know that Crohn’s is random but I have also noticed that whenever there is a big change in the weather my gut reacts. It warmed up quite a bit this weekend and I still think that the sudden “swing” in the barometer. I wonder if anyone else has noticed something similar with their Crohn’s?

Long story, no point really. Just a glimpse into what I sometimes go through for my work and my craft…I know that there are others who can tell tales even more distressing and embarrassing but I think I’m occasionally allowed to vent a bit, too.

Onward!

Body Image and Men Through the Decades – A Super Problem?

Many articles have been written about how women are faced constantly by unrealistic body images and that this causes issues for girls growing up. I think that there is a lot of validity to this argument and one only needs to look as far as the Barbie aisle of the local department store to see how early these expectations are planted in little girl’s minds.

But, I don’t think that much has been written about the same issue for boys and young men. Over the past century the expectation for men to be not only fit but very well built has increased incredibly. Check out any gym today and you’ll find plenty of guys working their abs until they drop, making sure that their biceps and triceps pop – but not so much the thighs. I was, for better or for worse,  brought up in an age before muscles were not only encouraged, but expected. I often like to joke that I went to high school before abs were discovered.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think that the pressure and expectations on boys and young men is less than on girls – and certainly not as overtly sexual – but it is there.

To illustrate my point let’s take a look at some images of everyone’s favorite Man of Steel over the past 75 years or so…by the way, all images and trademarks I’m sure are property of DC Entertainment and are used here only for educational purposes and I found them using Google anyway…(hopefully, this is enough to keep the lawyers away).

Superman Early
Superman as illustrated in the late thirties and forties.

The image at the left shows Superman as he appeared shortly after he was introduced to the world by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 1933. Even at this point he was portrayed as an athletic figure with broad shoulders and a thin waist. His pecs are evident and there is the suggestion of abs, but no six pack. He gives the impression of strength without bulk.  In fact, I’m sure many a farm boy and laborer looked like this (but who could tell under the baggy shirts and pants?). But not the average kid who was reading the books (back then comics were read almost exclusively by 10-12 year old boys).  This was a physique that most of the boys reading  could obtain with a good diet and some basic exercises and realistically aspire too.

 

 

 

 

 

Superman - Wayne Boring 1950s
Wayne Boring’s Superman in the fifties.

Now let’s jump ahead into the fifties and sixties. Superman has clearly packed on some mass. This is the image a lot of people think of when they think of Superman even today. As illustrated by Wayne Boring, Superman took the form of a powerlifter. His abs are more defined, sure, but look at that barrel chest and torso. This was the image of strength in post-war America. Pure brawn without too much concern over aesthetics (at least by today’s standards). Though his chest and torso are big, his arms and legs are relatively scrawny compared to any modern bodybuilder (and even to bodybuilders of the day). Again, the physique that I image a lot of hard working construction men or guys on the loading dock might have had. Again, the boys reading the comic could realistically aspire to this physique.

 

Superman Kryptonite No More
Superman – Kryptonite No More!

 

Now onto the seventies and things are starting to change more rapidly. To keep up with the changing expectation of what was considered muscular and super-heroic Superman finally gets honest to gosh abs. His delts are much larger and his chest to waist ratio is beginning to look more like a top level bodybuilder/athlete. Legs are still a bit thin, but now they are defined. Clearly, this Man of Steel has been hitting the gym in his Fortress of Solitude! The bar, as they say, has been raised for boys reading the comic. By the way, the age of comic book readers starts to go up during this period. Now teens are reading. Gawky, skinny, self-conscious teens who are more likely to have body image issues.

 

 

 

Superman John Byrne
Superman in the eighties by John Byrne.

 

 

In the eighties Superman got a major make over by John Byrne both artistically and story wise. Overall, I approved of most of Mr. Byrne’s changes by the way except for his insistence that Lois Lane was a red-head…ugh. Everyone knows that she’s a brunette and preferably with blue/black hair! Anyway, look at the proportion of Superman’s chest to his waist, the size of his arms and even his legs are larger. I think that at this point we have started to move well beyond the type of physique that the average man could obtain without some great genetics and a lot of gym time! The average age of readers continues to rise and now most comics are sold in specialty shops as opposed to the supermarket, drug store, or news stand.

 

 

 

And here we have Superman today (below). This man’s shoulders are positively massive. His legs have caught up to his arms and I think in most drawings he now has an eight pack as six just wasn’t enough. A physique that most men could only realistically obtain if they were born on Krypton.

Now, to be fair, the point of super-heroes is that they appear to be super-heroic (don’t get me started on Batgirl’s bat-boobs and the main wonder about Wonder Woman is how her wonder bra manages the strain). So you want to depict them as larger than life. And perhaps the fact that now comic book readers are typically males aged 20-45, along with a small but growing number of women has influenced the look of the books in general. I get that, but my point here is simply that the expectation of what is super heroic has changed over the years and that this is the type of image that may be affecting the body image of many of our youth today without most of us even realizing it.

What do you think?

Next Up: The physics of Eternia or How Does He-Man stand?

Superman Now
Superman today.

 

 

 

Peter N. Nielsen – Profile in Crohn’s Courage

To close out Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness week, I’d like to mention another person who serves as an inspiration to me as I learned (and continue to learn) how to live with my Crohn’s even though I’ve never met him: Peter N. Nielsen.

I was already somewhat aware of Peter the day that I  browsing through the Border’s in downtown Ann Arbor sometime in the mid-nineties, I had seen him on television with the local NBC affiliate with who he had a regular fitness segment on the news, when I discovered his book “Will of Iron – A Champion’s Journey.” I picked it up because I wondered why I should be interested in his story. Sure, he was clearly fit and a former champion bodybuilder but he was not Arnold or Big Lou. But after a quick look at the book’s cover I discovered that like me, he had Crohn’s – but he sure didn’t look like me. I bought the book and quickly learned of his life story.

He was formally diagnosed with Crohn’s at the age of 15 after being small and sickly most of his life. Shortly after his diagnosis he had surgery to remove a portion of his colon (he has had several more surgeries since then and possibly more) and after the surgery his doctor suggested to his parents that he needed to gain some weight so why don’t they get him a weight set. Well, his dad did and the next thing you know his life was changed.

In his book, Peter explains that he did not think he would become a bodybuilder or be a celebrated trainer – this was the late seventies after all and such lifestyles were still looked upon with suspicion, but that weight set changed a lot of things. Slowly, other influences crept into his life. First, he lived in Brooklyn, NY just a couple miles away from were Lou Ferrigno, already a neighbor “legend” and about to become more so as the “Hulk,” grew up. A cousin who played football at Boston College who was also an avid weightlifter left some “muscle mags” around the house and Peter would find them and at first laugh at why anyone would do that to themselves, let alone get on stage all oiled up. Then he took a weight training class in his last year of high school and he admits that he didn’t try to hard. Illness forced him back to the hospital though and when he got out he made a decision to build himself back to “normal.” He began working out in small basement of the apartment building his family lived in. The bug had bit and soon, he built himself back to normal and then some!

Peter went on to become a successful competitive bodybuilder and after dabbling in that lifestyle for sometime he made the decision to move to the Detroit area and through hard work and dedication found himself as a local fitness celebrity and inspiration to many people, including myself.

Peter has quite a web presence and can tell his story better than I can. If you’d like to learn more about this remarkable man his web site is: http://petersprinciples.com/home/