I have always been a big guy … not just tall (6-foot-4-inches), but also “big.”
When I was in grade school, shopping for my salt-and-pepper Catholic school uniform corduroys involved buying the “husky” size. My mom speculated that it might be a thyroid issue, but my youth basketball coach was probably closer to the mark when he suggested that I might “push myself away from the table a little sooner.”
Being a big guy worked out pretty well for high school sports, but for the most part I have never been very happy about it. Nevertheless, I was a pretty steady 240-ish through my 20s, 30s, 40s and into my 50s … all without any apparent health problems or compelling need to change my morphology.
But later in my 50s, I felt the onset of that middle-age creep, the pound or two per year that seem often to accompany the aging process. It is barely noticeable day by day, especially if you stay away from scales. But gradually, the closet is filled with clothes that seem to have shrunk a bit. I knew what was really going on, but I had no particular plan for what, if anything, to do about it.
Then, as I approached the sixty-third year of my life, there occurred the confluence of three events that made a difference, and may, in hindsight, have saved my life. First came the realization that there don’t seem to be a lot of 250-pound 80-year-old men. I did the math, and realized that if I want to be alive when my first grandchild (for whom I am still waiting) graduates from high-school, I will have to survive to at least 80.
The second event was my annual visit to Doc Pellegrin, who again pronounced me to be healthy, a strong heart, with blood pressure and cholesterol well controlled with meds. But, he said, “Remember that you have diabetes in your family … and it would be a really good thing if you could drop 15 pounds.” Yeah, yeah, yeah was my first reaction. Dieting is hard, frustrating and ultimately unsuccessful. But then he added: “And you know, Tim”, he said, “you can do it!”
“You can do it!” That phrase stuck with me, over and over. I can do it, I finally concluded, if I put my mind to it. And I only need one simple thing to get started. And that was the final event in the trilogy: we had remodeled our master bathroom, including a new cabinet with a nice space beneath for storage of a bathroom scale. There had been no convenient space for a scale that could be slid out and used just before the shower in the morning, but that problem was now solved. I bought a new super-accurate digital scale, and the first time I stepped on it, at the beginning of last August, represented the first day of my new quest.
And that last element was more important than many will think, as seeing three pounds go away after the first week was a huge stimulus to my keeping at it (“You can do it!”). Then it was eight pounds, then 12 … and with a very tasty and filling vegetable and quinoa diet I had devised, it seemed that the 15 pounds would be easy. But why stop there? By mid-October, I had lost 20 pounds, and then 10 more by early December. As I write this now, in early January, my weight from that first day on the scale is down 37 pounds, to a level I have not seen in more than 40 years.
I have started buying some new clothes, so I don’t look distressingly shrunken in my old ones, and punched new holes in my belts. I feel fabulous, and, even better, I feel the freedom to either keep going to get down another 10 pounds or so, or to stop on a plateau for awhile. But this I know: I will never go back.
Since childhood I have had a recurring dream, in which I am running very fast and then jump, as in the long jump … and then, with only the effort of bicycling my legs, I am able to stay airborne, a foot or two above the ground, indefinitely. Now there may be a much deeper subconscious psychology going on here, but I like to believe that it’s been my long-standing wish to be a lighter being.
I have not become an evangelist for weight loss, though it is probably needed much more these days than when I was being fitted for those “husky” cords, for the simple reason that it is a very personal issue for each individual. Whether to lose weight, and how to do it, cannot be taught. It has to result from the initiative, willpower, and action plan that comes from within. And it starts with the belief that “You can do it!”