This is a pretty long post, but stick with it, thanks!
Yesterday was Budge’s first day on her medically supervised six-week weight loss plan. This isn’t the first time she’s attempted to lose weight, but it is the first time she’s gone to this careful extent. My job is to fix the shakes and provide moral support and encouragement. I plan to eat a bigger lunch and forgo supper to avoid cooking and eating in front of her and hopefully that will make this easier on her. I don’t trust diets like this, but she is under an excellent doctor’s care AND — more importantly — she’s promised me this is for HER not ME or anyone else. She’s my Budge no matter what she weighs and that’s all that matters, but her mama fought the battle of the bulge her entire life before dying at 46 of complications from pancreatitis and a final stroke. With 46 looming large in life’s windshield, Budge told me she didn’t want to go out that way so I told her do what she had to do and I’d have her back.
Needless to say, I’m insanely, stupefyingly proud of her.
With Budge starting this diet, many people are pressuring on me to join her and want to know why I’m so resistant to adopting “the healthy lifestyle.” As I’ve mentioned before, I am not a small man. I am slightly south of six feet tall and slightly north of 350 pounds. I believe the medical term is “morbidly obese.” I prefer the much cuter sounding euphemism of “as big around as I am tall.”
Lately, my glib put-off has been “I’m going for the heart attack before the diabetes has a chance to get me.” That statement is anchored in a grain of truth. The men on Daddy’s side of the family die of massive coronaries. Granny Matt had ten children who lived and that included six sons. Of the six, five died at 78 or slightly before of the aforementioned coronary. Uncle Jack was the lone dissenter, but that’s another story for another time. Daddy had HIS first heart attack about nine or ten years ago. Many of Daddy’s male blood related first cousins have already had one or more heart attacks or have perished from the sudden squeezing of the chest.
On the other side of my family tree lurk diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. More of Mama’s kin than I can count have fallen victim to “The Sugar” and the lucky ones died quickly. The unlucky ones left the world a piece at a time. Many dodged diabetes only to succumb to Alzheimer’s and left the world not knowing themselves or their closest loved ones. I have no intention of going out like that if at all possible. Given the choice between slow piecemeal death and quick heart exploding death, my decision is clear.
As I said, that is my somewhat humorous glib smart-ass answer. The pure and simple truth is, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, not so pure and definitely not simple. Fact is, obesity and I are old and bitter foes and after many bloody engagements fraught with pain, sadness, and disappointment, I have bowed to the stronger will and chosen not to fight my weight anymore.
I was BORN fat. I weighed 10 lbs and 5 ozs the day I came into the world and I was born hungry. The story is I slurped down an 8 oz bottle in two minutes and started crying for more. After 8 more ounces, I was still hungry so the nurse asked Mama what she wanted done and Mama, probably glimpsing the future, told her to go ahead and get me full. I was over 14 lbs by the time I came home from the hospital with rolls of fat on my thighs that my beloved great-Aunt Pearl delighted in lovingly pinching and patting.
I never looked back.
I think I topped 100 pounds by fifth grade. I may be off a year, but I do know that all my clothes came with the “HUSKY” label. I suppose that was the clothier’s way of trying to salvage the self-esteem of a fat pre-teen. From almost the start, the family was worried about my weight. I was placed on a few diets by Dr. Monroe, our long-time family physician, but they all required keeping track of calories and such. I wasn’t clear on the concept of “serving size” or “portion control” so I figured a bowl of cereal was “one serving” of “180 calories” when a true serving size was 3/4 of a cup of cereal meaning my punch bowl of Cocoa Crisps with whole milk actually contained about SIX servings.
One of the greatest ironies of my saga with obesity lies in how Granny Wham tried to help me lose weight. She was THE most concerned of all my family, Mama included, when it came to my being — in her words — “a little too heavy.” She would constantly admonish me about eating too much at supper or cutting myself too big a slice of pound cake (Granny Wham made the greatest pound cake this side of paradise), but at the same time, SHE was the one asking me if I’d had enough to eat and did I want more chicken or rice with gravy or roast beef or whatever delicious dish she or Papa had prepared that night. It was like living in rehab with a drug pusher!
God bless her precious heart, it was confusing as all get out when I was a child, but looking back, I understand a little better. Granny couldn’t stand to see me fat but she couldn’t stand to see me sad either and not getting enough of that wonderful food would always make me sad so the doting grandmother in her usually won out over the concerned for my health responsible adult and I’d get another piece of pound cake . . . with ice cream on top . . . and Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup . . . and Cool Whip. You get the idea.
All through elementary school and junior high, I just got bigger. Of course I got picked on and bullied because of being
fat. I was called “fatty,” “lard-butt,” “two-ton,” and — my all time favorite — “The Great White Marshmallow.” I tried to shrug off the barbs as much as I could. I was dealing with other stuff. Unfortunately, one of my earliest and most cherished coping mechanisms was “escapism eating.” I’d get to Granny and Papa’s after a day at school enduring the shark tank of junior high, grab a book and a bag of Oreo cookies and go hide in the yard until supper. That kind of emotional eating did wonders for my waistline.
That’s the way things rocked on pretty much until my first year of high school. I was a nonathletic 225 pound blob when I went out for wrestling to try to get a date with Kim Robertson. The date never materialized, but I fell in love with wrestling, even if I was getting creamed twice a week at heavyweight. Funny thing is, the more I wrestled, the smaller I got. Who knew?
Then, right after wrestling season, I got braces to fix my crazy teeth. Now, I didn’t get the cute little “invisible brackets” glued to my teeth. I got the full monty of railroad track bands all over my mouth. My head, jaws, and mouth hurt so much that I couldn’t eat. I did good if I could sip some Cream of Chicken soup through a straw. I endured that pain for two months and when summer came and my teeth had finally moved enough for the agony to ease up some a funny thing happened. I looked in the mirror and a skinny kid was staring out at me.
For 24 blessed months — a brief, shining moment — I was svelte. I dropped from 225 to 160. I could shop in the regular men’s section for the first time in my life. My inseam was actually longer than my waistline was round. My acne cleared about the same time and another odd thing happened. Without all the lard in the way, girls began to notice my crystal blue eyes and thick strong blond hair. Oh, and the straight white teeth — shout out to what made it all possible! It seemed like overnight I was being favorably compared to guys like Rick Mathews, our class’s resident Adonis, who played football and wrestled the weight class right above me. I was actually kind of a big deal.
Of course it went straight to my head and turned me into the exact kind of insufferable douche I’d always hated. Not to worry though. As Pony Boy is fond of reciting, “Nothing gold can stay.” Senior year came. My foibles and mistakes caught up with me. My head started filling up with thoughts and voices I couldn’t fight back. I was entering the worst depression I’d ever encountered and starting what was to become a desperate lifelong battle with my mind and emotions — but I didn’t know it. I had no idea what the hell was going on.
The final straw came when wrestling season started and the weight classes had changed. The 167 class was gone. I was now in Adonis’ weight class and Adonis was a better wrestler than I had a prayer of being. When our 154 pounder went down early in the season with a blown out knee, everyone looked at me to cut the 15 pounds, take that spot, and make us an even greater team. I took a shot at it. God knows I tried, but the more water I drank and the harder I exercised, the bigger I got. It seemed I gained instead of losing. So I became a senior riding the bench when I should have been a captain. I gave up the fight.
I went into a headlong spiral and started drinking whenever I could, but mostly, I started eating whatever I wanted to again. It’s not like I had to keep my weight down anymore anyway. I was a three-year letter-man in wrestling. The only year I didn’t letter was my senior year.
But I’m not still bitter or anything. I’m just saying.
In college, I skipped the freshman fifteen and traded it for the freshman 50. I went from a 34 waist as a high school sophomore to a 40 waist as a college sophomore. I’d look in the mirror in disgust and I’d go on the fat wagon for a week. I’d work out every day down in Fike Hall gym. I took up tae-kwan-do. It helped a little, but in the end, the weight always won.
I was to be skinny and handsome one final time in my life. It would come after college and brought about a similar “senior year type” downward spiral with nearly identically disastrous personal results. A sordid, sad tale — for another time.
I’d started gaining back my weight from that episode when I met Budge. She married me fluffy and has stayed with me fat. I can’t thank her enough for that. These days, from time to time, I’ll contemplate hitting the fat wagon again and trying to get healthier. I don’t keep chips and dip or things of that nature in the house — fleeing temptation and all — but I watch too much Paula Deen and cook like her too much as well.
I gave up pill popping, driving fast cars, hanging out with my Five Favorite Uncles, and chasing crazy women. I started taking meds to try to quiet the cacophony in my head. All of that draws heavily from my well of willpower. For Budge and Mama’s sake, I have to concentrate my energy on what’s going to make me the most endurable. Losing weight, no matter how important I know it is, would take reserves I don’t have.
Don’t get me wrong — it’s not like I revel in being fat. I haven’t bought clothes in over two years because I can’t stand the disappointment of the fitting room. I’m reminded of what, to quote from Full Metal Jacket, “a disgusting, flabtastic piece of fatbody filth” I am every time I try to sit in a restaurant booth and have to ask for a table because of my size. It isn’t like this is a high-ho bunch of fun because it ain’t. I just have to pick my battles and this is one I know the outcome of all too well.
Dr. Lopez — my primary care physician — stays on me about losing. He WANTS me to lose down to 200 lbs. I haven’t seen 200 lbs since my junior year of high school. That’s a little over 150 lbs. THAT IS A PERSON! THE MAN WANTS ME TO LOSE A PERSON. He can’t understand how a former wrestler and wrestling coach who knows so much about nutrition and exercise can be so blase’ about dropping the 10% body fat that produces measurable health benefits. Unfortunately, he also doesn’t understand something else — nothing good has ever come of me being skinny.
Sorry for the book length post. Keep those feet clean, okay?