Looking back, our experiences were a mixture of pleasure and pain, of diets that began with the joy of first-week weight loss but ended in the sorrow of last-week weight gain. Between the hopes and disappointments, we experienced some small victories, but those victories, in every case, were short lived. Long term failure was the overriding theme and the inevitable outcome of all our efforts.
Much has been written about those of us who are overweight and obese. More often than not, we are cast as the villains in life’s play. We are the gluttons and idle sinners for whom the selfish quest for pleasure trumps all other concerns. Because we have chosen indulgence, we are judged worthy of scorn and justly sentenced to a life burdened by illness.
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Of course, most overweight people are neither gluttons nor selfish nor sinners. We do, however, share one virtuous trait; the unshakeable faith that the next diet, the next food fad or the next medical miracle will answer our prayers.
The reason losing weight is so difficult is that most people have very little idea of how to do it. We follow the guidelines set forth by our doctors, the diet gurus, and Aunt Esther, who lost ten pounds in two weeks on the tuna fish and avocado diet, but somehow we never get the results we expect.
Clearly there is a disconnect between what is believed about weight loss and what really is true. Until we discover what these truths are, we will forever be dieting in the dark. And so it was with this blind, dogged faith that Emily and I began our own tour of duty in the war against weight.
PRODUCT’S AND SERVICES OF WEIGHT WATCHERS
I joined Weight Watchers at one point and faithfully attended the weekly meetings. At home, I weighed my food and choked down meals that never quite satisfied my hunger, leaving me in a perpetual state of longing. Still, I had high hopes for this diet. Members met weekly to exchange ideas and encourage each other. The cell I belonged to met regularly in an unassuming strip mall.
As an added benefit, I rode my bike the two miles or so to the small storefront office which served as our gathering place. The membership was overwhelmingly female, with only myself and one other gentleman in regular attendance. I don’t recall much of what happened in the meetings, beyond the fact that they felt very much like what I imagined a support group should be, only more upbeat.
We had public weigh-ins which were only slightly less traumatizing than public executions. There were lively discussions on food, tear soaked announcements of weight loss or weight gain, and spirited transactions in low-fat recipes rivaling anything you might see on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
While all this was going on, the other man and I sat glumly in the back of the room and inspected our wristwatches. We attempted to talk sports and engage in other y-chromosome conversation. In the end, I grew tired of the recipe exchanges and encouragement intended to make the low-fat diets we were all sentenced to taste better. If these communal gatherings were necessary for success, I saw failure in my future, as I could not see myself at fifty years old, sitting forlornly in a folding chair between two women swapping sugarless, chocolate-free low-fat brownie recipes.
I finally made the decision to “go over the wall” when my “cellmate” failed to show up one night. Perhaps if there had been a Men’s Weight Watchers I might have lasted longer, but given the typical male’s distaste for discussions that touch on personal shortcomings, like a beer gut the size of a VW, I cannot imagine what it is we would have done to fill the time. I don’t recall whether I lost any weight while on Weight Watchers, but I did get plenty of exercise riding my bike.
MORE DIET SHAKES
I saw the Slimfast commercials on TV and the ads in the magazines. Here was a weight-loss strategy that did not require attending meetings or participating in public weigh-ins. Slimfast was a powdered meal replacement drink that came in three enticing flavors—vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate. I developed an affinity for strawberry and usually had one for breakfast. At first, Emily joined me in my new ritual of slurping down breakfast shakes, but in no time, she abandoned the faith and left me on my own.
At first, I did lose a few pounds, and although the taste was a far cry from a real strawberry shake, it was not altogether unpleasant. But I soon found that the satiating effect of the shakes was short lived. It was not uncommon to drink one and still be hungry. After a time, it became more and more difficult for me to get by on just a shake as a replacement for a meal. Finally, I just stopped drinking them one day. The partially consumed containers remained in my cupboard for months afterward, a constant reminder of my most recent failure.
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THE POPULAR VEGETABLE SOUP DIET
After some initial experimentation, even I knew better than to pursue this one, but the diet had come recommended to Emily by one of her sisters, and so she decided to give it a try. I remember thinking that the diet was remarkably similar to that of starving Europeans during World War II. Emily did not share my passion for history, so she persevered.
To be effective, the diet relied on the prodigious consumption of cabbage as the active weight-loss agent. Adherents were allowed one pitifully small hamburger patty for dinner, but all other meals must consist of cabbage, usually in the form of soup. Emily managed to stick with it for almost two weeks, but eventually succumbed to her body’s call for something more substantial. She was quickly reunited with the few pounds she shed. Those pounds brought along some friends from wherever excess pounds go when you lose them temporarily.
THAR SHE BLOWS
The cabbage diet was followed by the tea diet, which was based on an exotic blend of tea containing as its active ingredient a powerful bowel stimulant. The predictable result was akin to launching a nuclear strike against one’s colon. This diet had come recommended by yet another of Emily’s sisters. Having observed the deleterious effect of the cabbage diet on Emily, I wisely abstained from further participation in unsanctioned human experiments.
Emily, ever the explorer, was not dissuaded, and chose to boldly go where no right-thinking person had gone before. Mostly though, she went to the bathroom. The tea left her horribly dehydrated and afraid to eat. The prospect of another Vesuvius like eruption from her lower regions brought a quick and merciful end to the tea diet.
Emily was one of twelve children and had an inexhaustible supply of sisters. If each one of them had a favorite diet to recommend, I feared for Emily’s safety, as there was no telling how much longer she could survive their advice.
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DIETS THAT GYM JUNKIES FOLLOW
While I now knew enough to avoid any diet recommended by Emily’s family, I was not deterred from the suggestions of “experts.” I decided to follow the guidance of the diet industry gurus who offered the opinion that I was fat because I was lazy and didn’t get enough exercise. This flaw in my character was easily remedied, I reasoned, by joining a gym. I signed up with a local gym less than a half mile from my home, and haunted the place both day and night.
Early mornings were not so bad as the place was usually empty and I could exercise on the better machines without interference. Evenings were another story. The happy hour crowd was an eclectic mix of lurkers, stalkers, lycra models and self described ladies men who labored under the mistaken belief that a sweaty fat guy in a jogging suit was somehow irresistibly attractive to well-toned, cellulite-free spandex queens.
Taking a cue from Shakespeare, I regarded the whole scene as a grand play—which I took in from my.perch atop the stair machine. Often though, I had to wait in line to get a machine and invariably it was my fate to follow the sweatiest man in America, a rolling designation assigned to whoever happened to be onthe treadmill or stepper ahead of me. I was exercising two to three hours a day, putting in punishing hours on the stair climber and the weight machines. The weight fell off so fast that at one point, my gym counselor remarked that I was disappearing before her eyes.
This should have been cause for celebration. I was looking like my old self again, but in fact, I was dying inside. The endless hours of exercise were wearing me down. I was bored and tired of living at the gym. I felt as though I had been sentenced to a life of hard labor. If this is what it took to lose weight, I wanted no part of it. Each time I dragged myself onto one of the many medieval instruments of torture, it was a little bit harder than the last time. I was running on the fumes of the willpower I had started with. Eventually, I gave up and promptly regained all the weight I lost, plus—you may have guessed this already—a little bit more.
WHY NOT TRY SCIENCE FOR WEIGHT LOSS
Despite my repeated failures at losing weight, I was not quite ready to give up. I had an abundance of faith in science, and reasoned that if I could not accomplish this task myself, science certainly could. A visit with my doctor was arranged. With the best of intentions, he prescribed a drug, the name of which I no longer remember, but I do recall that the method of operation was reasonably straightforward.
Put simply, the drug reduced the ability of my body to metabolize fat. If I consumed more fat than my body could handle—and here the doctor leaned in close as I think he enjoyed imparting this bit of news—the result would be flatulently dramatic and carry unfavourable social consequences. I considered these words for a moment, then concluded that the risk was no less socially acceptable than waddling about at more than one hundred pounds overweight.
I was thus undeterred at the prospect of becoming a social pariah and eagerly took the free samples the doctor provided. I had great expectations for this drug that had as its active ingredient what I came to refer to as “Factor F.” To the dismay of a few unlucky and former associates, the drug worked initially.
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