The Sandwich 15
When I got to Duke in the fall of 1987 (do the math… that makes me 45 years old), I quickly discovered the combined lures of beer, pizza, unlimited snacking, and industrial quantities of industrial college food. The result was the predictable “Freshman 15″, where I suddenly became more of a man, so to speak, than I had been before. About 10% more. Since I hadn’t started as a world-class athlete to begin with, this turned my 5’6” frame a little doughy. I went through bouts of being more careful, but my roommates and I were well-stocked on Papa John’s coupons and you could go to “kegs” pretty much every night of the week. It took me until about halfway through my sophomore year to keep the wheels on the car in this department.
Fast forward to 2014 (still 45 years old) and my latest bouts with stress eating.
I am in way better shape than I was in college. I need to be. A nutritionist informed me three years ago that men over 40 lose roughly 1% of their muscle mass every year if they don’t build it back up. This could be a total lie, of course. I didn’t ask her for proof and for all I know, she said it purely for shock value. And it worked. Over the next year or so, I developed a weight routine to which I stuck religiously, and which I even started to enjoy. The alarm would blare at 5:40, I would emerge from bed, and hit the espresso maker downstairs. I had it on a timer so that it would warmed up and ready for me to take a long pull before leaving to lift, run or swim. I felt great.
I still visit the gym or run semi-regularly. Unfortunately, at age 45, “semi-regularly” means not enough. And the “semi” crept in there, I recently realized, when my father moved up here.
I think when juggling a lot of responsibilities, the easiest ones to drop are the least urgent. Working out rarely feels urgent. So my five times per week/every week routine dropped back to four times per week/most weeks. Close enough, I figured. I got a little less careful eating; I am part-owner of a burgers and fries chain, after all. There were enough stressful afternoons and evenings that I might have added a beer that might not otherwise have been in the mix.
This got worse when I started spending a lot more time both at and commuting to work. Now the 4 times per week/most weeks dropped to 3 times per week/some weeks. I’ve had some weeks that are better than others, and even after these, I’ve noticed that I’m not making much progress back to the level I achieved last year. I also notice that the more stressful days at work lead to poorer sleep, which makes exercise impossible, which in turn leads to poorer sleep.
The last piece of this newly doughy puzzle is the sound of the ticking clock of my children growing older. Now they are 11. Chances are that I have limited months and years left that they still want to goof around with me in the morning. The kind of love they have for me right now is mortal. I can feel myself fighting back against time by wanting to extract every last ounce of this time in their lives when they still think I’m funny, when they still want me to know how much they love me, when they want me around even when they are sleepy and fumbling for their school books at 6:30am.
So, I don’t want to sacrifice that time to be in a windowless gym with a bunch of fellow middle-aged men who probably had the same fatalistic nutritionist who gave them the same advice.
The result has been predictable. It’s the Sandwich 15 and it happens when you have too much to juggle and want to savor the last moments of your kids’ childhood innocence.
I would like to be able to report in-depth statistics on Sandwich Generation dads putting on weight. I don’t have them. Sandwich Generation dads are less well understood than, say, freshmen in college, probably because the 18-34 demographic has decades of purchasing power ahead of them and we have… well, less than that. But it’s too bad. In any case, I have found my Sandwich 15 and now I am into my sophomore year, so to speak, of being Sandwich Generation. Now I just need to find a rhythm and routine that lets me repeat the results of my last sophomore year experience, and work it back off.