It’s a tale as old as time: You tell yourself your diet starts on Monday, and even if you manage to follow through with that promise, you inevitably find yourself surrounded by pizza and beer on Friday. You then wake up on Saturday and proceed to eat whatever you want because you’re hungover and hate yourself. After compounding the bad decisions you made the previous night, you spend Sunday cramming as much fatty goodness down your gullet as you can because you’re not going to be able to eat your favorite foods when your diet starts on Monday (and this time will totally be the one where you follow through on your pledge).
You climb into bed telling yourself that eating four day’s worth of calories in a 12-hour span was actually a good choice because you’ll have plenty of mass to convert into muscle that you’ll proudly show off the next time you feel you can justify being shirtless in public. You dream of the day you’ll be ripped, shredded, yolked, or whatever the Cool Fitness Kids are saying these days; constantly approached by friends and strangers alike asking how you managed to become such an Adonis. Sure, it can get annoying but it’s a burden you’re willing to bear.
Then, you wake up and find yourself stuck yet again in this ever-repeating loop.
I’ve personally spent the last three years living in a version of Groundhog Day where you sadly can’t simply subject your body to constant abuse and not have to deal with the repercussions. It might sound crazy, but it turns out that particular diet doesn’t exactly work wonders if you’re on a mission to lose weight, and after having a conversation with a fellow dumpy-bodied friend, I realized I’m not alone in this struggle.
I’m convinced there is no phrase uttered more often on Sundays than “Diet starts Monday” because living a healthy lifestyle is as appealing in theory as it is miserable in practice. As a result, I am just one of many members of a legion of semi-fat men I refer to as “doughboys” because it’s an inherently funny word that I’ve been called on a number of occasions.
What exactly defines a doughboy? Well, it’s a little tricky. A few months ago, I would’ve said it’s basically synonymous with “dad bod” until Zac Efron was praised for his courage for not being afraid to show off the one a ton of people said he had on his Netflix series—where he looked like this.
To paraphrase former Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart, you know a doughboy when you see one. They’re the guys who fall somewhere in the middle of the “Fat Dude” spectrum; packing a few more pounds than the Skinny Fat crowd but with a BMI that manages to come up just short of Officially Obese. They might be able to hide their less-than-enviable figure, but when they pop their shirt off at the pool, they reveal a flabby physique that might make other people wish they went into the water still wearing it.
Most doughboys have convinced themselves it wouldn’t take them that long to do the work required to finally have their clothes fit the way they wish they did but ultimately never do. Every once in a while, they’ll experience one in an endless line of weight fluctuations in the form of a downtick that sees them teetering on the verge of being in what most people would consider “decent shape” before inevitably seeing a couple of inches make their way back to their waistline.
As someone who knows this struggle far too well, the inability to resist temptation is the primary scapegoat. Not only does scarfing down a Baconator in 20 seconds make me feel a little bit better about life during that period of time, it comes with the added bonus of not having to go to my younger brother’s wedding and being hounded with people asking me why I’m still single at the age of 28 because my ill-fitting suit lets me answer that question without having to say anything at all.
Doughboys also tend to have a complicated relationship with food, which they rely on to survive not only in life but in the social situations they encounter over the course of it. They want to avoid eating like a pig, but at the same time, they feel obligated to down the last piece of pizza that just went up for grabs to prevent the possibility of a stalemate that sees go to waste entirely (only to use their stuffed stomach as an excuse to not partake in a game of pick-up basketball all of their other buddies proceed to play to burn off the calories they never do).
Even if doughboys can hide their terrible eating habits in the presence of other people, there’s only so much we can do to prevent our private shames from becoming public, as we wear the consequences on our gut. All it takes is a single act of overindulgence to serve as a tipping point that leads to you canceling any plans you had for the weekend because you overdid it on a Thursday night and looked into the mirror the next morning bearing a much more uncanny resemblance to the Michelin Man than you did 24 hours ago.
I think it’s safe to assume the vast majority of people are forced to grapple with dietary issues at some point in life but I’d argue doughboys have it tougher than most. I could be wrong, but I feel like they exist in a weird limbo that makes it harder to deal with certain pressures. Some people in life don’t have to constantly worry about their diet because they’ve never had a problem committing to a healthy lifestyle or are blessed with the kind of metabolism that makes them secretly despised by all of their peers. Others have simply embraced the fact that they’re never going to be one of those people. They might know they’d be better off if they made some changes but they’ve come to terms with the reality that they’re probably never going to and subsequently become immune to being judged or feeling bad about taking up multiple seats on public transportation.
If you’re still having trouble understanding what I’m trying to say, imagine yourself in an alternate universe where you’re at a McDonald’s at 11 AM on a Wednesday and see the Jonah Hill from Accepted chowing down on a Big Mac at one table while the one from 21 Jump Street is doing the same at another. Which one do you think is feeling more guilty?
I’m not trying to fat shame here, as Jonah deserves some major props for the impressive transformation he made by the time he starred in that second movie. With that said, his character was a textbook doughboy and you know he’s dealing with significantly more shame and guilt than his heftier early self. He can hear his trainer screaming at him with every bite he takes and knows he shouldn’t have taken advantage of the two-for-$5 Meal Deal that will lead him to eating the second sandwich he loudly announced he was taking home for his non-existent girlfriend when he ordered it.
Doughboys possess a certain mentality that naturally healthy people will never really get, as it’s hard for them to understand the rationale that leads to you convincing yourself there’s nothing wrong with a meal consisting of a cheeseburger, two protein bars, and a bag of Skinny Pop (if you’re curious, the thought process in question is “lettuce and tomatoes are vegetables, protein is good for you, and it says ‘Skinny’ right there on the bag). Some people have the willpower to ration those items over the course of a day but I’ll usually consume them in a single sitting after telling myself I’ll exercise some self-control for once only to fail spectacularly.
Over the years, I’ve had well-intentioned (and generally passive-aggressive) friends and family members who’ve attempted to nudge me in the right direction only to inadvertently lead me to mastering the art of eating covertly. I used to be roommates with a couple of frequently shirtless guys who played sports in college who I’d ask for advice to make it seem like I was trying even though we all knew I was just doing it for show. I thought I’d manage to avoid being shamed when I moved back home in light of the current situation only to discover my dad recently decided to become a Ripped Old Guy. It turns out having a parent who’s in better shape than you despite being twice your age doesn’t exactly work wonders for your self-esteem.
The side-eye he gives me whenever I walk into a room with a handful of cookies (and still without a girlfriend) has also pushed my dietary preferences further into the shadows. Last week, I spent $40 on a takeout meal that included three chicken sandwiches, which I would’ve consumed in front of the TV in the living room if he hadn’t already posted up on the couch. After opting instead to eat in the kitchen, I had my spot blown up by my sister, who loudly exclaimed “You got three sandwiches?!” after seeing the wrappers that surrounded me. My dad didn’t say anything, but in all honestly, that probably communicated his disappointment better than anything he could’ve voiced.
For some people, moments like that would serve as the catalyst for some major lifestyle changes but it’s safe to say I’m not one of them. Again, I’m not proud of going all-in on a healthy diet for a few days only to cancel out any of the benefits I may have reaped when I inevitably relapse. However, by this point, I’ve acknowledged this is simply the nature of my existence for the foreseeable future, and if you’re in the same boat, I have a few tips to make it a bit easier to endure.
1. Be Strategic
Anyone who shared a dorm with someone in college knows the importance of learning your roommate’s schedule to make sure you’d never be interrupted during your, um, “me time.” It’s essential to do the same to avoid being caught in the act when it comes to food-related tendencies that you guard as closely as your internet history. I can’t stress how important it is to familiarize yourself with other people’s routines and figuring out how to text someone to find out if they’re home without making them wonder why you’re asking them in the first place (it’s because you need to know if you need to pull into a parking spot at Burger King to devour your order).
However, there are certain situations where you can’t avoid eating in the presence of others, which leads me to my next piece of wisdom.
2. Be Creative
The fact that indoor dining has become fairly scarce in 2020 has been a pretty devastating blow and I’ve had to dream up some solutions to compensate. For example, if I get a sub at Jersey Mike’s, I’ll stop by the supermarket to grab a bag I can claim contains “groceries” when I get back home. This is technically true, as the bag usually also has a pint of ice cream in addition to the banana I pull out upon arrival to serve as a clever decoy and throw out immediately after I escape to the sanctuary of my bedroom.
You can thank me later.
3. Hide The Evidence
Knowing how to properly dispose of incriminating trash is possibly the most important skill to hone when it comes to making sure you don’t get exposed like I did before my dad took one more step on his path to ultimately disowning me.
If you get caught, the trash is going to be to blame nine times out of ten, which means you either have to do some rearranging and use some pre-existing garbage to cover up your new contribution to the can or simply take out the bag regardless of how full it might be. However, physical evidence isn’t the only thing you have to worry about, as there’s nothing worse than thinking you got away with it only to have that signature fast food smell be your downfall. Febreeze is your friend, folks.
Now, these tips aren’t meant to be utilized every day, but if you can relate to a lifestyle that requires you to harness them on a semi-regular basis, I sincerely hope they come in handy.
I should also note this system is far from foolproof, as there’s only so much you can do to hide your inner glutton. For example, I went to a convenience store the Sunday before one of my diets was slated to start to grab two bags of gummy worms and a Butterfinger only for the cashier to look at my purchase and say, “Candy day, huh?” while chuckling a bit. This was an absolute dagger to the heart, as it was a reminder that you can take every precaution and still find yourself in situations where you can’t avoid feeling like the fatass you know you are. Thanks to technology, I’ve also been treated to some new and exciting ways to hate myself, as Uber Eats loves to send me receipts for the McDonald’s breakfast I ordered four hours after it arrived as if the feeling of general grossness that ensued wasn’t enough of a reminder about what I did to myself.
Damn. I was really hoping writing this article would be sort of therapeutic but it turns out that was not the case. Sure, I exaggerated here and there for comedic effect (but not as much as I would’ve preferred), but man, that was a little more depressing than I intended. As much as I fantasize about ripping my shirt off next summer, I know my love for food will hold me back without making me reach a point where I can no longer delude myself into thinking it would take me too long to get my shit together if I really wanted to (which, again, I don’t really have any desire to do).
Is this the healthiest way to live? No, but guess what? Healthy people die too, and until that stops being the case, I’m probably going to keep being a doughboy