Man vs. foodWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | email@example.com
I looked at the number on the digital scale with several emotions.
Surprise was not one of them.
Shock, anger, fear, disbelief, yes — but not surprise.
For several years, a brewing stew of sedentary lifestyle, reckless eating habits, stress, poor sleep and genetics has steadily added weight to my frame, taking my middle-age body on a journey from big but fit to bigger and dangerously out of shape.
The journey culminated with that unblinking red number: 380 pounds.
My relationship with food has always been healthy in terms of appetite and unhealthy in terms of choices. Pasta, breads, fried foods and junk food led the parade, in inexhaustible quantities. A lifelong fervor for Coca-Cola added to the stream of deadly pleasures. One of the side effects of having an absentee father and a disabled mother was a household that often held little or no food, a bad situation for a growing teenager. When there was food available in those long-ago days, I would hoard and devour what I could, a habit that endured long after food once again became plentiful.
A long commute, long office hours and a high-stress job gave me a platform of excuses for eating poorly. I would often kickstart my day with a drive-thru breakfast from McDonald’s, ordering two full meals and then asking for two beverages, so the person taking the order would not think all that food was for me. Eating at restaurants for lunch, choosing the tastiest and worst foods. Sitting at my desk on deadline while quaffing Coke and keeping one hand in a bag of something salty, crunchy or chocolatey throughout the workday also piled on the calories. I would, four days out of five, start my commute home with a drive-through stop at Wendy’s or KFC or Sonic or Taco Bell or Burger King or the old reliable McDonald’s and eat two or more sandwiches with large fries and one of the depth-charge size soft drinks such fast food places specialize in. Knowing this was unhealthy and expensive, I would shuffle cash to hide the cost; not wanting my wife to know I had gorged on the way home, I would always sit and help myself to whatever she had made.
You know that “Thanksgiving meal full belly” feeling you get when you push away from that Thursday afternoon table? I seek that feeling, then push past it, and do not feel ready to put down the fork until I reach it. As I entered middle age, I would pay for these binges with body-shaking reflux that would strike at 2 or 3 a.m. and leave me gasping for air. The discovery of over-the-counter ranitidine allowed me to self-medicate the acid into oblivion, though it would often take several times the recommended dose of the little orange pills.
Like many young men who lived their formative years without a father in the home, I determinedly live my life in opposition to my absent role model’s example.
Or so I thought. Watching my two young boys run and play in the yard nearly one year ago, I had an epiphany. My father chose alcohol in its several seductive forms over his wife and children. I never understood that choice. Alcoholism is a disease, but that does not excuse personal choice and responsibility. How does a man choose barmates and beer over his own young sons? I of course vowed to live his life to the opposite extreme, devoting my life and time to my family and two sons with unwavering intensity. But as I watched my two boys run and race — I watched because I could not physically move at any pace to play with them — one of those uncommon and ephemeral moments of clarity bolted through my brain. Yes, my father had used alcohol as a vehicle to abandon his family, but wasn’t I doing the same with food? That my father drove away and did not look back while I was headed for a carbs-and-carbonated-inspired heart attack at an early age might make all the difference in the world in terms of intent, but it would make zero difference to my sons, who would be as fatherless as I was.
Gone is gone.
That 380 on the scale told me what I had known for more than a year. The growing number of Xs in my shirt size; the rapid destruction of shoes; the need for soft belts which would not cut into and blister the underside of my belly; an inability to slide into some restaurant booths and a need for seat belt extenders on airplanes; the necessity of carefully choosing chairs at public events lest one with rickety metal or soft plastic give way and tumble me to the ground.
The list of discomforts and inconveniences grew as steadily as my waistband.
Larger threats loomed. Diabetes. Sleep apnea. Joint pain. Heart diseases.
I tried diets, yo-yoing my weight, and tried simple exercises such as walking, but found my condition prohibited even basic essential movement. After a long talk with my wife and primary care physician, I signed into a regional hospital’s bariatric clinic, to prepare myself for bariatric surgery on Sept. 18.
I appreciate your empathy but I do not court your sympathy. To paraphrase Eva Peron, “Don’t cry for me, Col. Sanders.” I got myself into this situation and I will work my way out.
I start at 380.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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