Please understand that though much of the following tale is true, my tongue was planted firmly in my cheek as I wrote about putting my fist in my mouth.
Jan, 2009: I am about to begin week two of heart-malfeasance penitence, in which, I have been condemned to do nothing or next to nothing, as punishment for the excesses of my previous lifestyle. When I think of the excesses I engaged in, it’s hard to think that that was really even me. I remember one time in particular when I flaunted my gluttony and paraded it before my colleagues as something humourous. I dug into my lunch bag at school to retrieve my standard sandwich and apple juice, but then announced, “I’m going wild and crazy today!” Since I rarely speak at all in the staffroom, this comment prompted a colleague to inquire, “How so?” Then, in a flourish, I brought out and proclaimed, “Two yogurts!”
Ah, but that was then, when I was barely 60, and sometimes engaged in the foolish whimsey of youth. No more two yogurts for me!
While in the hospital, recovering from impending heart failure, I was surprised to learn what they regarded as, “a portion.” I, like so many others, had been misled by any number of “experts” who would say, “Be sure to eat your fruit and vegetables! Get 6-8 portions per day. A portion is a quantity of food about the size of your fist.” So, without double-checking the veracity of such information, I went about my life in a programmed over-eating mode.
It turns out that a size described as, “your fist,” is very misleading. Portion size in the hospital was about ½ cup, or 175 ml, or roughly the size of half a tennis ball. By measurement, my fist displaces roughly ½ litre! This means that while I was glomming down 6-8, fist-sized portions, I was eating almost three times the amount of food I should have been eating! And not surprisingly, I gained weight. According to medical ideals, I passed the “obese” threshold for my age and stature about 40 lbs. ago.
There is no glamour, no cache in my new weight loss efforts. Well-meaning friends have sent me recipes and cook book titles for exciting, heart-smart eating. But I do not have sufficient self-discipline to engage in any of those ideas. If I were to encounter a truly delicious food, I would probably instantly return to my old insatiable ways and eat more than would be good for me. It’s just the way I am.
I remember a telling moment from my days when I was in TV production. I was videotaping a presentation by Susan Duxter, a woman, who like Oprah, had had her battles with weight and was there to deliver her inspirational, ‘you-can-do-it’ message. She was trying to let her audience know that she understood what they go through and she told the following story:
“I was visiting a friend. My friend was one of those rail-thin women who will take a cookie from a package, break it in half, eat one half of the cookie and return the other half to the package. So, we were having tea and after a while, my friend brought out a full package of cookies and asked, ‘Would you like a cookie?’
Would I like a cookie? I looked at the nearby dog whose attention, like mine, was focussed on the cookie package. Would I like a cookie? I don’t want a cookie. I want the cookies. I want all the cookies. Me and the dog, want all the cookies!”
This is the conundrum faced by habitual overeaters like me. We always want all the cookies, all the scalloped potatoes, all the lasagna, all the ice cream, all the cheesecake, all the food, especially the rich, unhealthy food. Quantity and quality are as inseparable, as completely intertwined, in our minds, as slugs having sex. Believe me, that’s intertwined. Apparently, like Susan Duxter’s friend, there are people who don’t have that switch that starts their cannot-be-turned-off, solid-rocket-fuel, eating-engines revving for action. I’ve known a few of these food-indifferent, switchless people, but they are relatively rare. Is it any wonder then, that America and Canada are collectively so overweight? No. No wonder. Activators to eat rich foods are everywhere and we are being told to eat 6-8 “fist-sized” servings of fruit and vegetables daily too. If all I ever ate was 6-8 true “fist-sized” servings of fruit and vegetables daily, I would be overeating by a lot.
So here’s my weight-loss strategy. Make eating as unappealing as possible. Eat true, ½ cup sized portions and eat only when necessary – because I’m hungry and my body needs sustenance. Avoid any food that seems “exciting,” as it has the over-eater’s hook in it and it would surely reel me in and leave me to flop, helplessly upon the shore, (or, in my case, upon the emergency-room, hospital gurney), gasping for breath.
You may be relieved to hear that there are limits to exactly how far I will take this seemingly extreme diet. I have contemplated, but rejected, eating dry oatmeal, for instance. I will eat an orange, even though it does excite my appetite. But a large orange represents two, true portions, so I must be careful about it. I eat bananas too. Raisins in unsweetened oatmeal. A half sandwich at lunch time, a small yogurt, etc. I am not starving myself. I am eating roughly the true portions that a man of my age and activity level should be eating to sustain life and I am refusing to “love” food, because I have learned that I cannot control my “love” of food.
All this will change in time. I have no doubt of that. There’s just way too much good, exciting food out there for me to escape it forever. But I am hoping that in getting my expectations and my stomach capacity way down, that even when I do encounter very exciting food, I will lack the physical capacity to overindulge by much.
I am not aiming for rail thin. Floppy folds of skin hanging off a thin frame are no more visually appealing than are corpulent rolls of fat. But would having a 36″ waist be too down-sized for this big-boned man? I think not.
I have this crazy image of sitting in a barber’s chair about to give my instructions, but instead of a barber, a doctor stands beside the chair. I say, “Two inches off the waist, a little less plaque build up in the arteries and just a bit more stamina, please!” That ought to do it.