When I was about 27, I went to the doctor for the first time since high school. Among the mottos I live by is “don’t ask questions you don’t want the answers to,” and I didn’t want to know that I weighed 225 pounds. I am an optimistic 5’10. A few years later, I dropped to 207 after spending a summer walking in the desert in Jordan, but I bounced back to the 220s a few years later. Sadly, I still hadn’t grown any taller, nor developed 19″ biceps. I also didn’t discover any localized gravitational phenomenon that would justify that weight.
As I write this, I weigh just over 172. I’m still not convinced that I don’t have some sort of wasting disease and that I’m not mere months away from dropping dead – or, worse, getting better and finding those decorative creases on my abdomen again.
When people start noticing you have bones in your cheeks and jaw again, they ask you how you did it. I didn’t buy into any proper noun diet, I didn’t give up one dastardly ingredient, and I never read about the one “weird tip” that’s always featured in pop-up ads. The answer is pretty straightforward – I stopped lying to myself. It wasn’t just one lie, it was lots of lies. The only way I could fend off my insecurities and anxieties about my belly was to tell myself all sorts of stupid things so that I didn’t have to do the thing that would actually make me feel better, which was lose my big stupid belly. Among my favorites:
This makes me look thin. I believed that if I wore vertical stripes it would make me look thin. Or, I could cleverly leave my shirttails out to smooth out the bulges. I could buy”relaxed fit” pants. Also, I could hold my head just right in pictures andhide chins two through five. Magazines are full of tips like this, but what they don’t tell you is that to truly look thin, you should not weigh 225 pounds. It would pretty cool if Men’s Health had a cover story with the title, “You Should Not Weigh 225 lbs!”
Chicks dig the big guy. This is a lie partly based on watching TV, where big slobs always have thin, hot wives. Being a “big guy” is completely acceptable, even encouraged. When I dropped from XL t-shirts to M, I actually thought “who wants to be a medium man?!” Yes, Girls used to tell me that I was like a big teddy bear. But is that a compliment? Is it because I had a round fuzzy belly? Or because I walked around in a red shirt and no pants like Winnie the Pooh? No one ever talks about Winnie the Pooh’s later life when 50 years of smackerels caught up with him and all he could do was sit in his recliner with his hunny pot cupped in the gap between his disgusting bear boobs.
Eating this will help me lose weight. You’re a food company, trying to fight against all of the bad press of the obesity epidemic. What do you do? Rely on three things you know about Americans: we like to eat, we like to try and buy our way to solutions, and we’re kind of stupid. Whole Foods’ entire business model is based on those three principals. So is the entire vitamin and supplements industry. Make a claim about the relative health of this or that product, and we will buy it. I wanted to eat snacks. Rold Gold was lower in fat than Doritos. So I ate them, and surprisingly, I didn’t lose any weight. It turns out that to to lose weight, you shouldn’t eat different things – you should just eat a lot fewer things.
That’s supposed to hurt. I used to think that my ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders were starting to go. I was, after all, getting old in my mid-30s. In one of my first jobs, I worked with this miserable woman who always complained about her aches and pains. She was 26 at the time, and she was one of those deleterious voices in your life that conspires to convince you that you aren’t going to be active as you get older. Those are the evil voices of enablers, emanating from the same people who always make sure there are pastries in the break room. I couldn’t run around the block in my 20s, and I can run a couple miles at a stretch now. My knees got a whole lot better when I stopped asking so much of them. I motivate myself when I run by imagining that woman in my office, and running away from her as fast as I can. She’s probably rolling her ass around in one of those Rascal things now.
I am a total gym rat. I started going to the gym regularly a decade or so ago. And for years, it didn’t do anything. I blame the fact that I work out at the fitness center of an elite university, where I’ve witnessed people lift empty bars, drop medicine balls on their faces, and fall off the back of treadmills. It’s hard not to feel like Usain Bolt among such people. They’ve got their elliptical machine set at two so they keep their eyes on Das Kapital. So I set my machine at four, to be twice as tough – and I still don’t have to worry about actually sweating and dirtying my shirt. Tough and clean, that’s me. Keep that up for a few years, and it will do absolutely nothing.
I can eat that. I once read something by the NYU professor Marion Nestle in which she mentioned that even trained nutrition professors couldn’t guess how many calories were in restaurant meals. When you’re trying to keep to roughly 2000 calories a day, the 100 calories per tablespoon of butter and mayonnaise really add up, and they’re in everything made at restaurants, because they help stick the cheese to the bun. In fact, I can’t eat that, and I really started dropping weight when I was making 18 or so of the 21 meals I ate each week. Luckily, without much use for God or professional sports, I have plenty of time each weekend for shopping and cooking.
I can lose weight whenever I want. That’s a crock. My doctor said I could probably lose two pounds a week and be healthy. I can almost never do that. I’ve been much closer to losing 20 or pounds a year. I didn’t do any particular diet, but I also never put weight back on. The real downside of all this is that my old clothes look ridiculous on me. I spent a lot of money getting my suits taken in when I hit 190 and was on the job market. With another twenty pounds gone, they look ridiculous again and I’ve been giving them away.
I still want to drop another 8-10 pounds. But I might be done lying to myself about my diet. I feel much better knowing that I’m a truth-telling 172 pounds of great driving, excellent dancing, original hairline-having human being. And you can’t even tell I’m almost 40.