Two Saturdays ago, TTD and I went to the GNC section at Homeplus, looking for ways to put fat on my body. My friend Brad told me that if I was going to try and bulk up, I should get a good weight gain shake. “Got it,” I said, “I’ll drink six shakes a day.”
“Dude,” he told me, “don’t do that. All you’ll do is poop it out.”
“That’s fine,” I said. “Strengthen my colon.”
“Your body can only process 20-25 grams of protein at a time. The rest it poops out. You’ll have a monster colon.”
“People will ask me, ‘how’s your workout routine going?’” I said, “And I’ll tell them, ‘I’m still weak as hell, but my colon is nothing to mess with.’”
With that lovely conversation in mind, I purchased an enormous vat of weight gainer shake called “Pro Performance: Mass XXX.” It cost about $90 and weighed roughly the same as TTD and I put together. If anything was going to make me bigger, I guessed Mass XXX could do the trick. Really, I just liked the name. It inspired confidence in me, even though it sounded like a porno set in a church.
This would be my second time trying to bulk up. The first attempt was about a year and a half ago, six months before I came to Korea. I wanted muscles but didn’t know where to start. Walmart seemed like a good place to begin, so I went there and bought a thing called Iron Gym. I was slightly worried because Iron Gym came in a little cardboard box; it was basically a metal bar with a big curve in it that I could either do pushups with or hang in my doorway and use as a pull up bar. There was a pamphlet that came inside the box that really caught my attention, though. The little white booklet said that diet was extremely important and I would have to eat a ton of protein for my muscles to grow. I’d never thought about that. As a person who skips meals in favor of cough drops and cigarettes, I had missed out on one of life’s great secrets: when people eat, they’re actually working out.
Iron Gym had a recommended meal plan for me. It consisted of seven meals a day, each containing a specific amount of protein. Eventually my diet would take shape. It looked like this:
- 5:00 AM – Wake up. Eat two eggs and a bowl of oatmeal.
- 8:00 AM – Eat one protein energy bar.
- 12:00 PM – Have bowl of pasta with one can tuna. Drink one protein shake to go with it.
- 2:30 PM – Have snack of carrot sticks and two hard boiled eggs.
- 4:30 PM – Drink another protein shake.
- 6:30 PM – Eat first dinner. Chicken and potatoes.
- 9:00 PM – Eat second dinner.Salmon and vegetables.
I stuck to this diet for nearly three months. In the beginning, I couldn’t have been more excited. I was lifting dumbbells in my apartment and doing push ups, all the while eating six more meals than I typically would. Pull ups were still a problem. I was paranoid about doing them in the door frame. It felt like I would hit my head on the ceiling every time I got my chin over the bar. “Perhaps I should buy a crash helmet,” I thought. Soon I developed little muscles and would spend hours flexing them in the mirror. I’d usually have to stop flexing because it was time to eat again.
By the third month, though, the diet was turning into a nightmare. I’d wake up in tears. “I don’t want more eggs…please God…please…no more eggs.” The second dinner was the worst. I wasn’t hungry and the thought of eating salmon at nine at night was nauseating. It wasn’t even good salmon. The salmon I had came in a little plastic pouch and I cooked it in the microwave. Sometimes I would gag trying to eat it. My inner trainer would yell at me: “Do you want muscles?! Eat the salmon! You wanna look good for the next girl you take out to dinner? Eat the salmon you pansy! And when you take the girl out to dinner, order salmon then too! Salmon and eggs!”
Dr. Jackie was my physician, and I had to see him for a physical. Getting a physical was required before I could come to Korea. I stepped up on the scale, excited to see what my new weight was.
He asked me what I was eating and I went through my entire diet. His brow furrowed and he shook his head. “Carrot sticks? Vegetables? That’s not gonna gain you any weight. You need calories. Lots and lots of calories.”
“But what about the protein? Iron Gym says I need protein.”
“Don’t listen to Iron Jim, whoever he is,” Dr. Jackie said. “Concentrate on calories. Eat a steak.”
“Does that mean no more salmon?”
“It means mix it up.”
That advice seemed good for both my physical and mental health. Around that time, unfortunately, I spiraled into one of my depressions and everything stopped. Eating all the meals. Drinking the protein shakes. Doing pull ups with the crash helmet. I went back to cough drops and cigarettes. Over a year later, though so much time has passed, I feel as though I’m ready to re-dedicate myself. To muscles. And calories.
TTD was far ahead of me. I tried to keep up, but it was difficult since I had to lug around the massive keg of Mass XXX. Sitting on the bus, I talked more about what Brad told me to do. “He also said I need to do cardio…get my heart pumping and work up a good sweat.”
“That’s solid advice,” TTD said.
“The thing is, I would prefer to do this without sweating,” I said, thinking about my life. “Brad said that once I get going, I won’t even want to drink or smoke anymore. He said my body will reject the poison.”
TTD didn’t respond, as she had lost interest and was thinking about something else.
“But all my body knows is poison,” I continued. “It’s been fifteen straight years of poison. I mean, if you really want to
get your heart pumping, go to your apartment, smoke a couple cigarettes, and then take the stairs instead of the elevator.”
The mighty salmon, I’m told, swim upstream instead of downstream. I, like the salmon, have a difficult road ahead of me. “Why do the salmon do what the salmon do?” Richard Jeni, doing an impression of Jacques Cousteau, once asked. After fifteen years of poison, something has to change.
Upstream it is.