Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Weight Loss Chronicles Part 2 - Bad Habits Last A Lifetime

Okay, Okay, I know – the first thing all of you want to know is “where the hell have you been since August of 2008 when you wrote your first chapter of your soon-to-be-so-successful-you-can-retire book?”

I turned on the television, that’s what happened. The writer’s strike was over, shows were coming back on television and I got distracted.

And ain’t that how it always is? I promise that I will write more frequently since now I have a laptop and write these missives while on the train.

When I was growing up, food and television were the most important things in my life.

My parents did not make food that was bad for you. There was no food that was bad for you. When I was a kid the only thing that was bad for you was smoking, which my parents told me – day in and day out – was bad as they sucked on their own cigarettes.

But food wasn’t bad for you and displaying a hearty appetite was the sign of a healthy child.

And being a member of the “clean plate brigade” was a badge of honor. No one cared if a kid was the plunger king. Cleaning the plate was the most important thing. Parents could be heard to say “He’s such a good eater” and if you finished your dinner you would be rewarded with a heartily caloric dinner. Can anyone say Mrs. Smith’s Boston Cream Pie?? It was important that all of the children on the block finish all of their food.

And why?


I don’t know if this is a phenomenon peculiar to only Jewish children of the sixties or if every ethnic group guilted their kids into early gluttony by preying on the notion that, somehow, if you did not eat your food, some kid half the world away would die. Did my friend Anthony’s mom tell him that kids were starving in Italy? Did Kelly’s mom tell her that kids were starving in Ireland? You get the picture.

I do know that my friends Andy and Lloyd were told the same story. Why? Because they were Jewish.

So we ate because little Jewish kids in Russia were starving. None of us were smart enough to ask our parents to send our leftovers over to Russia so those damned kids could eat. Had I asked this question, however, I am sure my parents would have hit me with a “Don’t be silly” that showed utmost love – the type bestowed on an idiot – and that also brooked no further discussion.

So we had to eat.

And eat we did.

And we are not talking a garden of earthly delights. We are talking about the standard fare. Roast beef, burgers, spaghetti, chicken, the occasional tuna casserole (dad, if you can hear me make me a tuna casserole for old times’ sake) and the like. In a nod to some god of restraint, my mother never placed the meal on the table on a center plate from which everyone could take a heaping helping. Nope, mom was inexplicably way ahead of her time. She doled out a portion for everyone. If it only stopped there. But nope – once we were done we were treated to more if we wanted. I always laughed at the shows and movies where kids asked to be excused from the table. Shit, man, we weren’t leaving the table until every single crumb was gone. Leftovers meant nothing to us as kids. There was one exception to this rule.

And that was, of course……VEGETABLES.

I hated vegetables as a kid. Don’t know why – just did. I especially hatred peas. And there were times where I ate everything but the peas and my parents would not me leave the table until I finished my vegetables (suffice it to say that we were never sent to bed without our dinner – this was unheard of) and this gave rise to an interesting dynamic. We’d finish dinner about seven o’clock and my parents would make me sit at the table until I finished the vegetables. Whether I finished the vegetables or sat at the table until 830pm in quiet solitude depended upon whether something was on television. Of course. As a child, I never saw the beneficial effects of vegetables. I do not think that any kid did. Even today, there are commercials extolling the hidden vegetable technique. “Hey,” says a dad, looking at the label of a product while his kid is eating it, “did you know this is chock full of v…owww,” he then exclaims after being kicked under the table by the mother.

Perhaps had there been more tasty vegetables around when we were kids we would have been more apt to eat right and this would have set the stage for a whole slew of healthier kids. If my mom would have sautéed the spinach instead of boiling spinach out of a box which came out of the freezer I might have liked vegetables before I turned 48 years old. On the other hand, life really didn’t get better than watching the frozen rectangle of spinach just slide out of my mother’s hands because it was like handling a slab of ice. Aaaaah, childhood memories.

And besides the lack of vegetables, every meat meal came with tater tots. Of course.

For those of you old enough to remember, tater tots were a staple of early sixties America. I cannot even remember having French fries in the house with dinner (although I am sure I did) but only tater tots. They were fried pieces of mashed potatoes that were cooked until they were golden brown and if they were burnt just right they were delectably crunchy. They were the kids’ version of home fries. They were so good that you had to eat them at the proper pace so that you could finish them when you finished your meat. Unless you were one of those kids who had to eat one thing at a time. First, the meat, then the potatoes. I could never understand that. Not me. I liked to mix. Anyway, I digress. What made tater tots so good was that they were high in fat and calories. Probably one thousand fat calories per serving of tater tots. But fried food was good for you because it tasted good.

That’s one of the things that we don’t like to talk about: FAT TASTES GOOD.

It has to.

I mean are there fatty foods they we really don’t like?. No way. Are there foods that are good for you that we do not like to eat? Plenty of them. Therein lies the conundrum. And it took me nearly 48 years to figure this out.

So we have roast beef and burgers and hot dogs and the occasional tuna casserole and tater tots and cheese sandwiches and creamy Campbell’s soups and tater tots (yes, I know I said tater tots twice) and bland vegetables. What could put a capper on a nicely high caloric meal?

Let’s not forget the Pop-Tarts.


Just listen to how that sounds. There have been many imitators but only one Pop-Tarts. My mom once bought something called A&P Brand Toaster Pastries and I would not eat them. Nope, had to be the one and only.

Pop Tarts.

Just listen to how that word makes you salivate – even thinking about them now makes me desirous of running out and buying a pack.

Each Pop Tart was about 500 calories. They were a delectable hard dough outside with a creamy chocolate (or some other) filling and topped with some alien icing that, in combination, just went down so well. And they were called Pop Tarts because you could put them in the toaster and warm them up and you could eat one and die right there without question.

But you couldn’t eat just one. Nope. You had to stay alive long enough to eat two. The things were not individually wrapped. Some schmuck in Battle Creek, Michigan – for this was a Kellogg’s product – said we can save money on packaging (wink, wink) by putting two Pop Tarts in one foil wrapper.

What they meant was that no kid in his right mind could resist eating the second Pop Tart once the foil wrapper was open. It was a virtual impossibility. Oh, I suspect that there were kids who would split the foil wrapper open, extract one Pop Tart, and re-seal the packaging with some Scotch tape but the TUR (time until reopening) was measured in minutes, not in hours. The pull to the Pop tarts was stronger than the earth’s gravitational pull.

But the foil wrapper was both a burden and a boon. They created the possibility of stealing a double dose of delectable treats without leaving a Hansel and Gretel like trail of crumbs. One just needed to wrap up the foil and put it in the bookbag and dispose of it on the way to school the next day. Mom and dad would never realize that they had to keep buying Pop Tarts at an ever increasing rate. So you had a large group of kids just packing away several thousand calories a day between Pop tarts and full breakfasts and lunch (let’s not forget the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on white bread that my mom made me – so much peanut butter and so much jelly that the sandwich weighed close to half a pound).

I give you all of this historical background as a prelude.

If you were paying attention to what I was laying out as the meal choices you can see that at dinnertime, kids of the sixties could easily pack away three thousand calories and a lot more over the course of the entire day.

Oddly enough, very few of us were fat.


Because in the sixties and very, very early seventies, children had excellent metabolisms. Most of the kids growing up never had their own television (I did, but that’s a different story – my parents got me a 12 inch black and white TV so they didn’t have to talk to me) and there were no video games to speak of.

No, after school, kids in my neighborhood were playing games like War or Combat and running around the entire neighborhood, on the streets and through the backyards.

I t was common in the sixties to hear kids saying – during either bad weather or vacation times when your friends were not around – “Ma, I got nothing to do.”

When I said it, my parents would invoke some Yiddish and which translated to “Bang your head against the wall and cry ‘Bravo’”.

I still am too scared to ask them what it means.

But when the boys were around the metabolisms would be pumping and then it was like living in an “All you can eat restaurant.” We did not come home and plop ourselves in front of the television at 3 in the afternoon. Nope, there was at least 90 minutes of athletics in the afternoon; however, since it was playing with our friends it did not have the same dreaded meaning as gym periods in which we were supposed to be active but every guy dreaded because they were afraid that there was going to be some guy making fun of their tiny dicks, never mind the fact that they were in third grade and there wasn’t a big dick to be found. Nope, not the same thing. Like I said, we played War or Combat or, yes, cowboys and Indians (today it would be called Eastern adventurers gone West and Native Americans) and, like I said, we played until 430 every day. At this time, you see, tow of the three local stations had am afternoon movie and we would all sit around watching Godzilla or Ghidrah the three headed monster or Mothra or my personal favorite, the Great Escape which they showed in a two night spot for a total of three hours with plenty of commercials. In the movie I saw, many more prisoners escaped or we thought they did at least because we never saw them killed.

But we were active and that was the important thing.

This activity really stayed with me through college and law school and then a funny thing happened. I got married, had a kid, settled down and got a job, all in that order.

I can clearly remember buying suits with size 34 pants and I can clearly remember my ass growing, slowly to be sure but growing nonetheless. It happened when I was about twenty-seven. I had a two year old and I worked long hours in the city and got into a routine with pals of mine at work. It was the Mets glory year, 1986, and we’d all meet in the cafeteria for breakfast and eat a bagel (or what I’d call a belly bomber) with cream cheese and then we’d meet for lunch and either go to the cafeteria or someplace outside but in any event my food choices were the same as they had always been but they were not taking into account my ever slowing metabolism.

My wife, Pamela, whom I met in college would often remark in school that she never saw someone pack as much food away as I did and remain skinny. “Had only I known” she mused, “Had only I known”.

Well, I could pack the food away. My wife still reminisces about those days in the Dutch Quad cafeteria when they had Reuben sandwiches for dinner. Food in the SUNY system was All You Can Eat and I would often pack away six or seven Reuben sandwiches. At midnight, I would often go to UAS, University Auxiliary Services where you could buy a footlong sub packed with meat, cheese and condiments for a dollar fifty. This wasn’t every night but it was most of the time. And that does not even count breakfast, my favorite meal of the day. Lunch was the one normal meal of the day because I ate lunch in the campus center rather than going back to the dorms and on the meal plan you could not refill – just a sandwich and a soda. Why else do you think I needed to eat 6 or 7 Reuben sandwiches for dinner? I can barely eat one now.

But ate I did. Gustatory challenges were nothing for me. I once ate an entire pizza pie. Nowadays I would puke my guts up. But back then?

Metabolism, kids.

Metabolism felt like it burned up the food as it was hitting my gullet.

1977 to 1986 were the glory years. Eat drink and be merry.

Then, in 1986, like I said the pants to my suits started to inexplicably shrink.

I knew I had a problem when the old claims guru, Jim Schiebel, looked at me one day after a three Martini lunch and said “Holy shit, what the fuck happened to you?”

It was a wakeup call but, unfortunately, not the wakeup call I needed. I, like the rest of you, endeavored to diet and I do not know how long it lasted but as you all know “something intervened” to prevent me from dieting that day and, would you know it, once the day was ruined might as well go whole hog.

In my case, literally.

Size 34 pants gave way to size 36 pants which gave way to size 38 pants and then size 40 pants and so on and so on and so on. I am not proud to say that at my heaviest I was wearing a size 54 suit with a size 52 pair of pants. I had to wear a poly/wool blend because 100% wool was no match for my thunder thighs. I even found a shit brand at Syms and wrote to Syms and had them deliver about ten of the suits to my local store and I bought six of them. And, of course, not long after I did this I changed jobs to a company that was business casual and the suits began to gather dust. At least getting size 52 slacks was a lot easier.

Anyway, I had some dieting successes but they were short lived. One time I lost 40 pounds and another time I lost 50 pounds on the Atkins Diet (more on this later) but in each case because I used gimmicks rather than changing my lifestyle once I was off each of the diets all of the weight was gained back.

I needed to tackle my weight issues and I needed to attack my metabolism and exercise (or lack thereof) issues and I just did not know how to do it.

It was time for extreme measures.

I had previously met a guy that I thought could help me so I called him in December 2006.

His name was Ted.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Weight Loss Chronicles - Introduction

December 2006

We all wake up in the morning and say "I have to lose weight".

I woke up one day and said "I have to lose weight or I am going to die".

There I was, a normal guy who just let himself go. I was 5' 8" tall (although my kids tell me I am 5'5" tall) and I did not even weigh myself but I was FAT - I mean Orca fat. I was a whale, a wheezing piece of crap one roast beef sandwich away from a heart attack. I woke up every morning and when I tried to get out of bed my feet would ache. I would get up early enough that it was dark out and I would walk into the kitchen to turn out the lights so that when I got out of the shower I wouldn’t trip over the dog. But I didn’t walk into the kitchen.

I limped.

The knees hurt and the feet hurt. I felt better after the shower but not by much.

When I got married in 1983 I weighed about 160 pounds. Here I was, 23 years and 184 pounds later and just wanted to die.

How the hell did this happen?

I ate and ate and ate. Unfortunately for me, except for the weight gain and the maladies associated purely with weight gain like lack of energy and achy joints I had suffered no adverse effects. That’s right. Blood Pressure was 120 over 80. Cholesterol was 160.

I was invincible. Right? Wrong.

In the middle of 2006, I was waking up in the middle night with a pillow full of drool. My wife told me that I was snoring uncontrollably. I, of course, being asleep could not verify her claims so I immediately dismissed them. I also dismissed my son’s claims that my snoring was keeping him awake at night.

Couldn’t be true.

But this pillow drool thing was goddamned annoying. I’m dreaming that I am on an ocean voyage and wake up with a cheek full of drool, constantly flipping the pillow over and around to find a dry spot. My wife finally convinced me to go see a doctor.

I figured why not?

Well, besides the normal dislike of doctors that I have, there was no reason for me not to go to a doctor.

So I went to the “Doc Find” section of my insurance carrier’s website to look for Otalarnolygists, Otoranologist, uh, an Ear, Nose and Throat guy.

I found a guy. I went.

And he uttered the two words I had hoped I would not hear.

Sleep Apnea.


Not that I had it but that it was very possible that I had it. He couldn’t tell without a sleep study (this is one of the things I hate about doctors – there’s always a referral to someplace else).

It was one of those things that I feared. I knew of people who had Sleep Apnea and had to sleep with a freaking C-Pap machine to help them breathe. But that wasn’t me. I did not wake up tired. I got a good seven and a half hours of sleep every night and woke up fairly refreshed. I didn’t think I was tired or a candidate for Sleep Apnea.

Yahoo Health! has a great article that lists the symptoms of the illness

What are the symptoms?
The main symptoms of sleep apnea that you may notice are:
· Being so sleepy during the day that you fall asleep while working or driving.
· Feeling tired in the morning.
· Waking up with a headache.

Your bed partner may notice that while you sleep:
· You stop breathing.
· You often snore loudly.
· You gasp or choke.
· You toss and turn.

Okay – one out of seven does not a Sleep Apnea patient make but I just knew that if I wasn’t there it was just a matter of time before I was.

Then the doctor hit me with the line I had heard from doctors all along. “It would help if you lost weight.” I had a physical every year and the doctor always told me “except for your weight, you are a perfect physical specimen.”

And that is what happened – all of the good numbers I had over the years lulled me into a false sense of security. In retrospect words like “perfect physical specimen” perhaps should not have been used.

But like that old movie “Scared Straight”, it did the trick.

I visited a weight doctor the next day and he gave me some relaxation techniques and told me that, at my weight, the only way to diet was to watch calories.

So I did just that. Limiting myself to about 1600 calories a day, I lost ten pounds in the first week.

Ten freaking pounds.

The last time I lost ten pounds I was on the Atkins Diet (more on that in later installments) when I lost 50 pounds and my cholesterol went up to 6,000,000.

Ten Pounds lost.

Talk about incentive.

I went back to that weight doctor, got some more relaxation techniques including a “mantra” that I was supposed to repeat to myself over and over. It was:

At my weight, overeating is poison.
I need my body to live.
I owe my body respect and protection.
I said this ten times a day. I’d close my eyes, take a deep breath, let it out and say the words. To myself. Quietly. I could do it at my desk. It was the constant reminder to myself that I needed to lose weight.

And it worked.

As I write this it is now 20 months after I began my diet and I have lost 165 pounds, 150 of which were lost in the first twelve months.

And this morning I ran 5 miles and I did yesterday too! And the day before. 15 miles this week and it’s only Wednesday.

Why write about this?

Well, you can forget about Oprah. I have no desire to go on her show.

What bothers me is the emphasis on weight placed on society by Hollywood. Remember a few months ago when a size 2 Jennifer Love Hewitt was considered “fat”?????

Holy Smokes!!!!!

And the constant commercials on television and in the newspaper with the latest fad diets – Jesus Christ, they make me sick.

It is all about the calories.

Nothing else (well, exercise, too – but that comes later).

I’ve gone on fad diets and as soon as I’ve gone off of the fad diets the weight comes back like old unwelcome Aunt Flo.

But I am not going to proselytize. In further installments, I hope to inspire, so with inspiration as the goal I am going to leave you with three pictures. Sort of a before and after. I’ll let you guess which is which.

Till Next Time, friends.