Nutrition

Changing my diet only made sense when nothing else made sense. As much as I wanted to lower my weight, I had reached a point where it rose and fell like waves in a rolling sea.  It was my wife, Karen, who threw me a life preserver and my daughter, Helen, who provided the rationale behind my drowning: suddenly it all made sense; I simply needed to learn to swim.

A few weeks back, Karen got it into her head to start a new diet based on what her co-workers were doing.  (Not another diet!)  This time Karen announced she would avoid all bad carbohydrates, like white rice, bread, and processed foods, and she would focus instead on eating fruits, vegetables, and healthy “carbs,” like brown rice, quinoa (what the hell is that?), and barley.  From now on, she would eat sweet potatoes rather than baked potatoes – especially, sweet potato fries versus French fries.  

Unrefined carbohydrates, she told me, are good for you, and, just to be clear…

“No French fries at all are allowed on this plan,” she said.  

For me, though, I swear, no matter what she thought, this would not be a problem.

I gave up French fries as part of a New Year’s resolution.  In fact, now that I think about it, it all started with French fries.  A few years back, as the ball dropped, I announced I would stop eating fries, like at McDonalds.  Everyone laughed, as if the thought of never eating a French fry was incomprehensible.

Yet, to this day, in spite of what my wife thinks, I am a walking “no fry zone.”

Another year I gave up potato chips, and this past year I freed myself from butter and table salt.  (Karen refused to join me on this, and I know she sneaks both butter and table salt into her culinary concoctions, much to my chagrin.)

Wait a minute.  One year, in fact, I gave up beer.

What a disaster that was!  

Karen thought I was turning into a wino.  On top of that, she said, when I wasn’t chugging down cheap bottles of wine, I was consuming large quantities of scotch.  Karen argued finally, when she saw I had researched how to make moonshine, that if I wanted to continue to indulge, beer was infinitely better than federal agents showing up at our door with sledge hammers and hound dogs. 

Jeez, dear, what’s a little white lightning among friends…  

Though most my New Year’s resolutions were good nutritional choices, surprisingly, none of them resulted in my losing any actual weight.  It wasn’t until I started exercising that first summer my daughter came home from college that I saw my weight drop. 

My conclusion: NUTRITION was for the birds.

It was only when Karen and I finally went to the gym on a regular basis that we lost weight.  In fact, we prided ourselves on not being on a diet.  Fuck NUTRITION.  We glorified in the realization we could eat like pigs as long as we joined in the aerobics classes at night. 

When my weight-loss slowed after a year, I simply upped the ante by increasing the difficulty or length of the exercises. 

Obviously, running helped. 

This worked until the last couple of months.  My body had adapted thoroughly to my lifestyle and my caloric intake offset the variety of nightly exercises I engaged in at the gym.  

“Now, Motherfucker, what are you going to do?” I heard my body whisper.    

Okay, that’s it.  However, when I tried to reduce my overall calorie consumption to continue to lose weight, my body rebelled.  I found myself in countless late-night, binge-induced, eating sessions.  I would be watching horrified but unable to stop myself. 

It couldn’t be simply calories in versus calories out.  Something was wrong.

This left only one thing to consider: ugh, my NUTRITION. 

Eighth grade health class, I knew it would come back to this.  Coach Asshole’s health class would haunt me forever.  Why did I nearly flunk that class?  Fucking Coach Asshole was a terrible teacher and not much of a football coach either.  Besides, who gave a rat’s-ass about the digestive system and the food pyramid when the reproductive system, with its cool illustrations, was so much more interesting!

Jeez… 

Karen said her new diet was not so much a “diet” as a lifestyle choice involving improved NUTRITION.  If I wanted to lose weight, I should join her. 

As part of the plan, in addition to changing the foods she would eat, she would sleep more, exercise daily, track the volume of water she drank, and maintain a diary focusing on positive thoughts.

Hmmm…

Helen jumped on this idea, when Karen explained it to her over the phone, and right away agreed to join her mother, even though she was living in a dorm in Chicago, never slept, had no time to exercise, and almost no access to a kitchen. 

Yet, together, they said they would support each other… 

“Hell no,” I said when they asked me if I would join them.  The Chicago Marathon was coming and I needed to keep from morphing into the macadam on a muscular street in the middle of no where Chicago — didn’t Carl Sandberg call the city the hog butcher of the world?  I can’t afford to be someone’s sausage.  Or worse, what if I succumbed on the Magnificent Mile.  (How embarrassing!) I could see me, with my last breath, saying, “Take me to the Nike store.  Let me traverse my final journey in Nike’s new, dry-fit, running apparel.” 

Karen suggested, her plan, instead, would help me stay alive and give me a positive goal.

I didn’t know about staying alive, but I had plenty of positive goals:  1) don’t die in Chicago, wait until I get home to the privacy of my own bathroom, 2) don’t have a stroke or brain aneurism drinking gallons of Gatorade or sucking packets of goo during the run, 3) remember my name or old what’s her name, my wife, if ever I am lying spread eagle over a manhole cover, 4) point a sticky finger to the back of my health card chained around my pudgy-middle: “resuscitate me with beer, plenty of beer, otherwise cheap wine or good scotch.”     

Still, even though I was not participating in the challenge, in our house, the food in our pantry and refrigerator changed following Karen’s new lifestyle choice, and suddenly I was eating tons of brown rice and quinoa (what the hell is that?) and lots of broccoli and green beans.

I asked Shaun, my old friend at the gym and a former European mountain climber (until he had a heart attack sitting around at home), if he had ever heard of this “healthy carb” plan.  He just rolled his eyes and said if I was going to die running a marathon, why did it matter.  “Avoid oil,” he added.  “Peanut butter is clogging your arteries.”

Jeez, none of this made sense and yet it all made sense.  

That’s where Helen kicked in from college with a video she wanted me to watch.  It said sugar was the hidden gorilla in the closet, the poison in our diet; sugar was making us all obese and leading us down the road to diabetes, cardio-vascular disease, and all sorts of other problems.

Clearly I had figured out that French fries, potato chips, soy sauce, and table salt were horrible, and Shaun had warned me about the evils of “oil” and god’s own peanut butter, but I had never given “sugar” much of a thought.

I didn’t even know what Karen referred to when she mentioned the different types of sugar highlighted in the video.  I thought she was talking about granulated, brown, and confectionary.   Why would any of these be a problem?

I had a lot to learn. 

According to Helen’s video, I was eating a ton of sugar that manufacturers added to my foods and, especially, in my carbohydrate choices.  AND not just any old sugar either, but fructose as opposed to glucose.  Fructose from corn versus glucose from sugar cane. 

Fucking high fructose corn syrup was invented in some laboratory in the 1980s and now was being dumped into everything we eat because it was cheaper than glucose and we could eat more of whatever it was in without feeling “full.”

We are pigs, just like the big, black boars growing up on the farm. My brother and I would wind striped-down ears of corn into the electric fence surrounding their pen and watch the boars’ coarse hair stand on end when they tried to eat it. 

Somehow the electric fence is now surrounding us and a ton of corn is being dumped into our system without us even being aware of it. 

We are being fattened up for the slaughter. 

Our obesity — not just Karen and me, but as a country — was the direct result of fructose introduced into our foods, fiber removed from our diet to keep food on the shelf longer, and the push by the American Heart Association back in the 1990s for us to be on a low-fat/high “carb” diet to reduce the risk of heart attacks.  

The impact was a disaster in terms of our national health.

A perfect storm in which I lived unknowingly smack in the center of the “eye,” which happened, as it turns out, to be right dead center in the middle of my kitchen. 

Rather than Thor, I was now the new version of Captain America, Captain America for the 21st Century: obese and stuck to my couch, stuffed full of electrified corn.

The realization was shocking. 

Through Karen’s new plan, over the last couple of weeks, when we cut out the foods from our diet that included sugar or was processed with fructose, or other strange chemical names for sugar, once again, I saw my weight drop. 

Most importantly the late night binges stopped, my cravings came to an end.

In truth, I felt I finally had gotten a handle on my nutrition. 

Perhaps things were coming together after all for my marathon.  Perhaps I could survive this horrible 26-mile ordeal and live to see another day.  Perhaps Shaun was wrong, I wouldn’t be sucking sewer water in Chicago with the Angel of Death pointing the way.

Yet, in the back of my mind, once again, I could hear Coach Fucking Asshole from eighth grade.  We are standing mano-a-mano in the school hallway after I had been kicked out of his class.  “Giles,’ he says smacking my chest, “You are a total fuck-up, your brother was a fuck-up, and you’ll always be a fuck-up.  At least your bother was man enough to go to Viet Nam.  What did you do? – You squirmy, panzy-ass!  Forget your wife and daughter, forget fructose, run your stupid marathon.  You’ll be dead by mile ten because that’s what happens to fuck-ups like you.  Then, you little pig, what smart-ass comment will you make back in my class?  Then what will you say to your twerpy, little friends sitting in the back of my class?”   

Jeez, that’s encouraging.  Thanks, Coach, for lending a hand.  Eat some corn.  See you in hell.  

 ****

 



Categories: Pudgy Me

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