Sunday, October 2, 2011

In the Beginning - The first 40 years of my life


I have decided to change the focus of my running blog, to emphasize my new interest in low-carb nutrition. On August 21, 2011, I had an “Epiphany”. I came to realize that I was (like many fellow runners) eating too many carbs, and decided to embark in a low-carb nutrition for life. I will explain what happened in the next few blogs. So, from now on, in addition to race reports, there will be some talk about nutrition and other health issues. In this blog I would like summarize the first 40 years of my life with emphasis on exercise and weight.

I was born in Athens, Greece, on July 17, 1959. My house was only 10 minutes walking distance from Acropolis and my Elementary school was even closer “By the Shadow of the Parthenon”. At 4th grade I was accepted in Athens College, a prestigious private high school with ties to the USA. My parents could not afford to pay the tuition so my mother’s father (George, whose name I carry) helped with that.

As a kid I was a bit chubby, but not overweight. My body frame was a bit heavier than my classmates and especially my thighs were larger. I was also taller and stronger than the average kid in Elementary school. In sports I was first in “baseball throwing” (there was no baseball game in Greece, but in elementary school track & field, throwing a baseball ball was the only sport that involved throwing something – we were too young for shot put etc). I was also a great goalkeeper in soccer, due to my fast reflexes.

Here is a picture of my 5th Grade class. I was one of the taller kids, but, when I hit puberty, I did not grow up much, ending up being of average height (5’10”, 1.75m).

In middle and high school I switched from soccer to basketball and won 2nd place in discus throwing two years in a row. I then dropped track & field, and concentrated on playing basketball (I was the team captain for a while in high school, I was fast with good reflexes and outside shot). I was not a good student academically (until my Sophomore year) but I always liked sports. I was good in most sports, except for sprinting. I liked long distance running and I think I could have done well, but running for fitness was unknown at the time, and my high school coaches never paid any attention to me. In one timed run of 1K my time was equivalent to a 20 minute 5K. I enjoyed running “uneven road”, an equivalent to cross country. I remember doing some crazy things, like walking from Athens to Glyphada (at least 5-6 hours walking), riding my bike long distances, but it never occurred to me to run long distances.

Regarding nutrition, back in Greece in the 60s and 70s, low-fat was unknown. My yogurt boasted right on the label “10% fat”. We used plenty of olive oil in salads or to cook with, we ate chicken with skin (we also preferred dark pieces – men usually picked the dark pieces, leaving the inferior lean white pieces for the women), but also bread, potatoes and pasta. We did not eat sweets (or pop) except for special occasions. Yes, there is the famous Greek baklava, but they do not eat it regularly. Every Sunday with my family we would go out for dinner and then, at home, my father will send me to the store to buy a bar of chocolate, one bar for everyone. This was our special treat. There was no chocolate in the house during the week.

I also smoked since I was 14 years old. Here is a historic family picture: The summer after I graduated from high school, my father (right) is openly acknowledging the fact that I am smoking (he knew it, but it was supposed to be a secret) by lighting my cigarette under the supervision and clear approval of our family doctor and personal friend! I quit smoking after the 2nd year in the University. I was too interested in sports to keep smoking. My father and mother smoked, and my brother and sister are still smoking today.

After graduating from high school, I was accepted at the Athens Technical University (ΕΜΠ) to study Mining & Metallurgical Engineering. I specialized in Physical Metallurgy. I loved learning and did well, graduating with honors. Thirsty for knowledge, I wanted to continue my studies in the USA. I had my heart set to going to Columbia in New York, because one of the Metallurgy professors had my (not common) last name, Nick Themelis. But Northwestern University, in Evanston IL (near Chicago) gave me a great scholarship so in 1984, I left Greece for graduate studies in Material Science & Engineering.

Here is a family picture taken on September 4th 1984, just before we left for the airport. I am 25 years old and I look about 180 lbs. My father was overweight all his life (he does not look too bad in this picture) and so was his sister. My brother is now about 300 lbs.

In the USA I met my wife, Liz, right away. We lived in Evanston IL from 1984 to 1990. There we played intramural basketball, I walked a lot, rode my bike, and was generally thin. I look around 170 lbs in these pictures, taken around 1984-1985:

Regarding eating, I had a bit of a dietary shock. While cooking, my wife would carefully remove all the fat from the meat, and eat low-fat or no-fat dairy products. I immediately felt that something was missing from my diet, and now I know that this was fat. After dinner, I felt that I was filled but not satisfied. I gradually learned to replace fat with sugar. I tried to stick to my guns regarding milk and yogurt. I always liked chocolate milk but my wife refused to buy “whole milk” for me. Only skim milk at home. And, at best 2% yougart. “You do not need the fat” was her standard response. This seemed a bit funny to me, because after drinking skim milk, she would eat ice cream, so something did not quite add up.

We got married on May 2, 1987. Again, I look around 170 lbs in this wedding picture:

In 1990 we moved to Cleveland OH, where I got my first job. I rarely stepped up in the scale. My guess is that in 1990 I was about 180 lbs but started gaining a few pounds every year. For a long time I was round 190+ pounds. I was generally hiding my weight. Here are some pictures from 1994 to 1998. I must be around 190 lbs in these pictures.

By 2000 I was over 200 lbs, at the age of 40. Here is a family picture taken around this time (my wife had also gained weight - she eventually lost the extra weight, just like I did):

I remember in the summer of 2000 we went to Arizona.  We stopped at a restaurant and I ordered some kind of salad. It came in a huge plate. That was A LOT of food, but I managed to eat the entire plate. The waitress said that she did not remember anyone finishing this salad before. And that was one of my problems. I would not only eat everything in my plate, but I would also eat everything in my wife’s and children’s plates too! No wonder I gained so much weight.  Here is how I looked in this trip by the Grand Canyon. I estimate my weight to be around 210 lbs.

Oh my Gawd!  What have I done to myself???!!! (to be continued)


petroskar said...

George , this is wonderful! you brought back so many memories ! miss you cousin !

Heider tun said...

Amazing story. I have had a similar experience with food.