I want my Body back says Middle-aged Phil W

Name: Phil W   Location: Bangkok, Thailand   Interview Date: May 25, 2012

Bangkok PhilThis month’s Hot Seat Interview is with Phil W, a British man on the soft side of middle-age, and he’s a little bit peeved.

Like many a man over the age of 40, Phil noticed that his body was starting to do its own thing. These involuntary changes were a stark reminder of how the aging process was creeping up on him.

In this interview, we are going to see what, if anything, Phil did to tackle his mid-life dilemma.

Q Ayup Phil and welcome to the 50ish Hot Seat. Can you please let our readers know how old you are, what you do for a living, and your marital status?

A Hi Andy. I turned 48 at the end of April 2012. I run a recruitment website for teachers and I’m also something of an investor (at least while I’ve got enough money to play around with) I’ve also been happily married for about eight years.

Q Thanks buddy. Now, do you consider yourself reasonably fit and healthy for a man heading towards the big five-oh?

A It’s a difficult question to answer at the moment. About two months ago, I went for my annual check-up at a local hospital and they said everything was fine but I knew deep down that I was nowhere near as fit as I could be.

Then about four weeks ago, I did something that I had been putting off for years – I joined a gym and started an intensive fitness program with a personal trainer. I’m already beginning to see and feel the benefits – even after just one month. Could I class myself as now being ‘reasonably fit’? Yes, I probably could.

Q Would you say you’re overweight, underweight or just right for your age and height?

A I would say I’m just right or at least that’s what the gym staff have told me. I tend to flit between 73 and 75 kgs at the moment so I still look relatively slim for someone who is six feet tall.

From a teenager to when I was in my late thirties, I was always very skinny. In fact on my wedding day I weighed barely 60 kgs, which was far too light for someone of my height. But that’s the way I had been for donkey’s years. I could eat for England but I never put an ounce of weight on.

I know a lot of people would kill to have a problem like that but being thin or ‘underweight’ really is no fun. You’re constantly trying to hide your frail frame under baggy clothes but what happens is that loose clothes then tend to hang off you and you end up looking even worse.

QAnd when did you first really notice your body running away with itself?

A By some strange quirk of fate, I actually started to pile on the weight after I got married. I shot up from 60 kgs to about 73 kgs virtually overnight. Don’t ask me why. I’ll leave that to the scientists and the health experts.

I was definitely eating better because we moved into a new home and I finally had a kitchen I could cook in. But I refuse to believe that was the sole reason because I’ve always been good at burning off the calories.

Unfortunately I started going through the typical middle-aged man thing where the fat starts to accumulate around your midriff and in the chest area.

It’s a bit like when you watch those nature programmes and David Attenborough will whisper “we’re keeping very still and any moment now the fully grown male gorilla should come into view” Then up bounds the fully grown male gorilla, all tits and belly, and you realise it looks a bit like you – at least when you’re standing in front of the mirror.

Q So you’ve resembled Potato Man for 8 years now, right?

A No, I think I have always looked pretty good with my shirt on. I can get away with a bit of middle-aged spread because of my height. I’ve also learnt the art of being able to walk and suck in my gut at the same time. It’s a great talent is that.

Q Why have you only just decided to do something about it?

A I think there were a number of reasons. I didn’t like developing the middle-aged spread but I also knew that I was spending far too much time sitting in front of a computer. I was getting the occasional back pain from sitting in the computer chair and not sitting properly. I’m a terrible sloucher.

I was also getting stiffness in my leg joints, particularly in the morning when I got up. It was a number of reasons. And then one day last month, I gave myself a pep talk and said “you know what Phil, these things are only going to get worse as the years go by”

Something definitely had to be done!.

Q And what part of your body disgusts you the most, if that’s the right word?

A There isn’t one to be honest. There are plenty of parts that could be improved with a bit of toning and muscle development, etc but there isn’t a single part of my body that I would point to and say ‘that desperately needs attention’

Q Middle-aged spread is natural with most men of your age and older. Do you really think you can flatten that pot belly and maintain it thereafter?

A Well, one or two of my perhaps more cynical friends have said that man’s middle-age belly can’t be conquered. It’s a force of nature. And there are scientific findings or health expert opinions to back it up.

I’ve discussed this issue with my personal trainer at the gym and he’s dismissed those comments as utter rubbish. “I’ve never seen a middle-aged belly that I can’t turn into a six-pack or at least flatten” he said. “provided that you are willing to put the effort and the hours in of course”

That said, I have no idea how ‘many hours’ or how ‘much effort’ I’m going to have to put in in order to have that washboard stomach that all men dream about. But I’ll certainly give it a go.

Q What about man-boobs, aka moobs? A lot of men in midlife transition grow bigger breasts than their wives. Is the ‘man bra’ something that you fear or have you escaped this all too common curse?

A I’m a little bit flabby in the chest area but I haven’t developed a prominent pair of ‘moobs’ just yet. And touch wood – perhaps I’ve started my fitness program just in time to stave off that particular affliction.

Man boobs really are horrible aren’t they? I saw a picture on a website the other day of Harrison Ford the actor, walking down a street in America in a clingy, sweat-sodden t-shirt. He’s still a fairly good-looking bloke but urgh! His chest and midriff were a disaster area. Perhaps he’s resting between movies but he had far bigger tits on him than his missis.

Q Okay, so what’s the plan of action? Power-walking in the park, playing fetch the stick with leggy hounds perhaps, or a long term commitment to the gym?

AUnfortunately Andy, I live in a pretty grimy suburb of Bangkok. I’m surrounded by major roads with six lanes of traffic and broken footpaths covered in dog shit. And that’s just the nice part of town. You should see the rough end.

Joking apart, I don’t have a park or a place to jog or power-walk for miles around. So everything has to take place at the gym I’m afraid. It’s no great loss I suppose. Bangkok’s far too hot and humid to do anything other than sit on a wall with an ice cream and watch pretty girls go by. You’re far better off exercising indoors with the air-conditioning on.

Q It’s a known fact that around 80% of all new middle-aged gym members quit within the first six months of joining. What do you think your chances are of sticking with the remaining 20%?

A Very, very good indeed. I’m absolutely loving it! In just one month it’s become a way of life. I’ve actually got to the stage where if I miss a day at the gym, I feel as if I’ve cheated myself.

One thing I will say is that I possibly have one major advantage over the 80% of middle-aged men who quit going to the gym in such a short time. I have an awful lot of free time on my hands because of the nature of my work.

Yes, I can imagine a salesman in a high pressure Monday to Friday 9-5 job and how easy it would be for that kind of person to just brush off the hour or so at the gym after work. I just don’t have that problem. If I can’t make the gym at 9.00 in the morning, I’ll go later in the day. I can fit life in around my gym hours, not the other way round. So I’m lucky in that respect.

Q There’s more to being fit and healthy than just losing weight and toning muscles. I mean, do you happen to know what your numbers are, for example?

A My Body Mass Index (BMI), glucose and blood pressure levels are all A1. My blood pressure level in particular has always been nigh on perfect for as long as I can remember.

My cholesterol level gave me a bit of a cause for concern when I had my annual check-up about three years ago. The doctor simply said it was a little on the high side but nothing too worrying.

He advised me to exercise more (advice which I ignored) and to cut down on the creamy pasta dishes I was so fond of (advice I also ignored).

When I went back for my annual check-up the following year, my cholesterol level had gone down. And I hadn’t changed my lifestyle one iota. I was still guzzling the carbonated drinks and getting the cheeseburgers and pan pizzas down my neck. As well as the creamy pasta dishes of course.

Q Medical professionals are always trying to get people to understand their numbers, aren’t they?

A Yes, but I’m not obsessed by it. If a pretty young Thai nurse holds my hand while she’s taking my blood pressure and then tells me ‘everything’s fine’ then I’m happy. Actually the nurse just holding my hand makes me happy.

Q So let’s talk a bit more about this local gym of yours? Was it as you thought it would be, and did you feel out of place, embarrassed even, as you walked into the joint for the first time? Many folks in mid-life transition are shy about joining any kind of fitness venues.

A It’s not one of those purpose-built gyms that you see on the high street where you walk past and there’s a row of sweaty people in the window all having mild heart attacks on the treadmill.

The gym I’ve joined is part of a beautiful, modern, new complex which also includes a traditional Thai massage and spa, a saltwater swimming pool, beauty salons, hairdressers and restaurant. There’s obviously been millions of dollars lavished on the place in order to attract a very middle-class Thai clientele.

The moment you walk in you feel like you’re in good hands. The staff are all impeccably dressed in smart uniforms. They’re also incredibly polite and helpful. There’s gentle Thai music playing in the background as well as gurgling fountains, well-tended indoor plants and expensive teak furniture. It’s all done in the best possible taste.

Then you climb the stairs to the second floor where the gym is located and of course, the gentle Thai music changes to something more in keeping with a modern gymnasium.

But I’ve got friendly with the sixteen or so Thai staff there and I’ve chatted with a few of the members as we quench our thirsts at the water cooler. There is not one person I’ve met there who I’ve taken a dislike to. And I can’t emphasize this point enough, because besides getting into shape on the gym machines, it’s also been great to actually get out and meet people and practice my Thai language.

I’m the only foreigner I’ve seen there so I’m a bit of a novelty I suppose.

Q Were you already familiar with gym equipment from the past, or did you have to go through an induction process?

A Oh my God no. I wasn’t familiar with gym equipment at all and it can be quite frightening at first glance.

I knew right from the off that I needed a personal trainer so I splashed out 20,000 baht (660 US dollars) and for that money I get 30 hours with the PT to take as and when I want. He’s designed a 30-hour program for me to work different muscle sets and to keep me motivated, etc.

Q And how often do you attend the fitness centre nowadays?

A I’m going about five times a week. I meet with my personal trainer on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 6pm-7pm and the other times I will join a class and do gym-ball or stationary mountain-bike or even a bit of body jam.

As part of your annual membership fee, you can join any of the fitness classes they run about five or six times a day, seven days a week. Sometimes it makes a nice change to exercise as part of a group and have a laugh with each other.

Q How are you finding it? Enjoyable, torture, a necessary evil, or something you actually relish?

A What’s the old saying Andy? – No pain, no gain. The first week or two were tough but my body is definitely getting used to it. I’m now lifting weights that are 50% heavier than when I started. I’m also running five kilometres on the treadmill and doing ten kilometres on the bike with a fair amount of ease.

I think this is pretty decent progress after just one month – for a guy who hasn’t exercised for over 20 years.

Q When and if you reach your target weight, shape, and fitness levels, do you think you’ll stay on at the gym and make it a part of your healthy lifestyle?

A I would love to. Definitely. But I’m realistic about my goals. I’m not looking to be one of those bodybuilder types. I don’t want to start guzzling down steroids and end up with huge biceps and a tiny cock. I just want to be the very best I can look for a 48-year old guy.

It’s for the same reason I’ve just had all my teeth fixed and then whitened. I’m not trying to look 28 – or even 38. I just want to look the best that I can for my age. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that in my book.

Q You’re not one of these oddball types that go down the pub for a meat pie, pint of ale, and half a pack of cigarettes after a good workout are you?

A LOL – Working out must affect different people differently. My wife exercises with me at the same gym but she has a different personal trainer who’s guiding her through a weight loss program rather than one to build muscle.

After our workouts, my wife – who is a good eater anyway – never feels hungry. As for me, I’m always ravenous. After an hour in the gym, I could murder a great big burger and chips. I exercise a bit of self control though and make do with a water-melon shake and a cereal bar. Not the same though is it?

Q Exercise is only a part of weight control, the other being diet of course. Have you had to make any adjustments to your eating habits?

A I guess I have. I still love my slice of pizza, my pasta carbonaras, my cups of coffee and my Indian curries – and I’m not going to give those up because a life without any of your food pleasures is no life at all. And of course I don’t have to worry about my weight anyway.

On my serious ‘gym days’ I do take the eating seriously in order to perform at my maximum level. I start the day with a bowl of cereal and two slices of wholemeal toast with peanut butter. Then at lunchtime I will have a very light meal of noodles and some meat. And then at about 4pm – two hours before my workout – I’ll blend soy milk and no-fat yoghurt with some fresh fruit (usually bananas) and a tablespoon of peanut butter.

This is all stuff that I got from fitness websites by the way. And if I get peckish in the middle of all that lot, I’ll nibble on a cereal bar.

Q What kind of crap where you eating then prior your change in diet?

A I’ve eaten fairly sensibly since I turned 40 actually. I used to do a lot of cooking at home before the gym took over my life. And that cooking was mainly pasta dishes and Chinese stuff – all cooked using olive oil and fresh ingredients. Unfortunately now I’m devoting my time to keeping fit, the cooking has taken a bit of a back seat. Shame really because I do love to cook.

Q Well, it sounds like you’ve joined the minority of middle-aged men that take real action by embracing some sensible lifestyle changes. A wise old woman once said to me; ‘The slower we move the faster we die’.

I hope you keep moving in the right direction Phil, and thanks a lot for doing this month’s Hot Seat Interview.

AThanks Andy 😉

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Start or join a conversation on Phil’s Hot Seat Interview at the 50ish.org forum
You can read more about Phil W at his interactive website on teaching English in Thailand.

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About Andy Aitch

This Hot Seat Interview was conducted by Andy Aitch, writer, musician, netentrepreneur and founder of this project.

Motto: a man is not old until his dreams become his regrets

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