Post of the Day
December 30, 1999

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Fools Fighting Fat

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Subject:  A story of four yogurts and a funeral
Author:  TMFGuitar

Hi, all.

I am glad to see this board has received so much attention. This subject is very, very near and dear to my heart. I think that the concepts that you are promoting and promulgating with your posts are intrinsically Foolish. Losing weight is a lifestyle change that involves moving towards self-determination, just like personal finances. I think that a community of Fools providing a diversity of experiences can do better than any one Expert (or "Wise Man") in this area as well. I hope so! I've really enjoyed reading your posts.

As some of you have said or implied, running a surplus of calories ingested vs. spent is really no different than running up credit card debt. If it makes any of you feel better, or just for your information, I have had direct experience in both of these areas and I have recovered (am recovering?) from both of them. In both cases, the remedies required daily persistance and an eye for the overall trend, rather than the daily progress I made towards my goal. I'd posit that it's actually *easier* to lose weight than it is to get out of credit card debt...which will encourage some of you on this board, I hope.

Here's my story, as my first post to this board.

I arrived at the Fool at a relatively athletic 6'1", 195 pounds, fresh from six months of living and working in Jamaica, where exercise was a daily part of my life and the foods I ate were primarily low-fat, high-fiber, low-sugar (and high-pepper!).

I had never had a weight problem before in my life, but I managed to create one in relatively short order through a steadfast commitment to sitting at my desk, working all night, feeding with one hand while I typed with the other. If this sounds like a caricature of a computer programmer, believe me, it is a reality that describes many of us, unfortunately for our health and our long-term prospects. My productivity was exceptionally high owing to a few factors:

* I lived literally a 30-second walk from the office
* The office contained, at that time, a shower, enabling me to order out food and remain for days at a time without leaving even to walk the 30 seconds home to wash
* The office then (as now) contained a boundless supply of high-fat, high-calorie foodstuffs, which I used as fuel to keep myself awake all night at work on writing web software (including these very message boards).

These "efficiencies", coupled with my return to the US in the middle of winter (ending my daily runs and tennis games), drove me immediately into a sedentary mode. It took a while for my metabolism to catch up, so I stayed trim for awhile. But by the middle of this summer, about 18 months later, I had grown to 245 pounds.

"I looked at my risk factors. I was sedentary, overweight, hypercholesterolemic and I had a family history of sudden heart attacks. I decided to fix the problem."

I imagine I might have continued this unhealthy trend, but sadly, a few external stimuli prompted me to consciously examine what had been an unconscious evolution in my eating habits. My mother, a lifelong athlete and conscientious eater of nutritious foods, died suddenly at the age of 48 in May of this year. Her heart ceased to function properly, absent any pre-existing pathology. It was tragic and shocking (and I comforted myself with the usual array of "comfort foods", I assure you), but it also made me wonder: am I genetically predisposed to a similar fate?

I managed to keep that question at arm's length until the end of the summer, when my uncle (on my father's side) met a similar fate. Not much older (he was 54), he, too, collapsed with a sudden heart attack, again, absent any pre-existing pathology. He, on the other hand, was a little overweight. He was, in fact, exactly as much overweight as I was.

I went to a doctor to get a physical. It was my first in three years, owing first to my busy schedule and second to my unwillingness to confront the growing problem of my growing bulk. To my delight, my heart was normal, better, in fact, than I expected, since I had lived since birth with a congential deformity that had required some observation. It was a perfectly normal heart, all right, but it wouldn't stay that way for very long if I didn't change my habits. My cholesterol had climbed into the high 200's -- an "achievement" that outpaced even my weight gain in its severity and acuity.

I looked at my risk factors. I was sedentary, overweight, hypercholesterolemic and I had a family history of sudden heart attacks. I decided to fix the problem.

Luckily, I have a coworker, TMFCarl, who knew a good weight management doctor with whom I could work. I enrolled in the Obesity Management Program at George Washington University under the stewardship of Dr. Arthur Frank. I began the protein sparing, modified fast. For those of you not familiar with the regimen, it involves taking on a near-starvation level diet consisting of four 90 calorie yogurts and four 100-calorie packets of protein sludge mix each day.

It was torturous, at first. The yogurt tasted great. Aspartame is a wonderful substance, and I found immediately some flavors that closely resembled the foods I once ate on a full-fat basis. The protein mix was another story. It took some experimentation until I found a mixture of flavorings and non-caloric beverage media that would properly conceal the nasty protein aftertaste. It took a few weeks to convince myself that this diet was "nourishing" or even "good."

The real problem, though, was overcoming my habitual tendency to reach for whatever good-tasting food I happened to pass as I wandered through the office on a daily basis. I hadn't realized how many times I unconsciously fed myself with chocolate bars and honey roasted peanuts ... until I had to consciously interject the thought "Stop. Don't eat." in between my will and my actions. I suddenly had an appreciation for the caloric significance of my position in management when I started going out with vendors for "business lunches" and turning down the tasty offerings they wanted to buy me ... for free! (Believe me, it was a tremendous philosophical conflict between the Fool in me, who seeks to live below his means by eating free meals from vendors, and the dieter with a strong disincentive to eat.)

I stuck with it. I wanted to break the fast a dozen times, a hundred times. Probably one hundred times a day, but each time I wanted to, I forced myself to think two thoughts. First, I told myself, "I don't want to be this overweight anymore." Second, I told myself, "I don't want to die."

It worked. It got to the point that when I brewed my nightly packet of chicken-flavored bouillon powder (10 calories and the necessary sodium for a day's water retention), I salivated with anticipation. I realize that this sounds perverse, but q.v. "A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" for the intrinsic adaptability of the human animal.

Exercise was a different challenge. I had "outgrown" all of my athletic clothing. Well outgrown it. The Kevin that started at the Fool in 1998 wore a 35-inch waist. The Kevin that stared into his closet at the dusty boxes of gym clothes had a 42-inch waist. I knew some things had ... uh ... changed, because I could no longer buy pants at Banana Republic (they only go up to 40) or J. Crew (they stop sadistically at 38 for some brands.) But I hadn't really thought about how MUCH things had changed until I went to Sports Authority to buy some basketball shorts. I tried on size "L" (optimistically). Nope. I tried on "XL" (thinking, "These HAVE to fit.") Nope. I went ahead and bought myself three pairs of XXL. Or maybe they were XXXL. I'm not sure how big they were, but I remember thinking, "This has to change."

I couldn't bring myself to join a gym. I could think of nothing more disspiriting than standing in a heavily-mirrored, well-lit room full of hardbody yuppie types with skin-tight workout clothes, watching them carry on vigorous debates while running five-minute miles on the treadmills while I struggled through one flight on the stair stepper. No friggin' way.

So I started walking. At night. In the dark. Walking purposefully. I decided to just start walking everywhere I went. Coffee became my friend. Absent the tantalizing flavors of fat-rich foods, I found that I lived for the acrid bite of a quadruple espresso in water (often called an Americano). I could have made it at home, as I am proto-yuppie technogadget scum myself, but I forced myself to walk downtown from my house (at a distance of 1.5 miles each way) at night for my reward.

It should come as no suprise that I started to lose weight. It was rather dramatic, actually. I realized quickly that I had some factors that gave me an advantage. I had been eating SO MUCH before that the delta between my old caloric intake (probably around 4,000 - 4,500/day) and my new intake was practically a pound per day! And I was tall, young and male, which I understand to be metabolic advantages.

Perhaps most of all, I was motivated. I didn't want to die young, and I didn't want to have to worry about it.

"Suddenly I was solely accountable for keeping track of what I ate and for making sure that I exercised on a daily basis."

My coworkers and friends were generous, often embarassingly so, with their support. "You look great," they would tell me. As I closed in on the 200-pound mark, I started hearing, "Oh, my God! How much weight have you lost? You're going to waste away!" Once I crossed into the 190s, some folks stopped being so generous. I even detected some scornful traces and envious overtones in some of the feedback I got. "You're losing weight too fast. You're not going to keep it off, you know." One person even said, "You're killing yourself. If you don't stop, you're going to die."

I tried to address both types of feedback with equanimity. I wasn't doing this, after all, for other people, but for myself. I didn't want to let myself get too pumped up about the praise I got from people, just in case I didn't meet my goal (or worse still, I fell backwards beyond the starting line.) How would I feel when the praise was taken away? And I didn't want to let myself feel like I had something to prove to the people were betting on my failing, because I knew it could happen. I just told myself, over and over again, "That's nice. Ignore them. You're getting better and you're making progress. Keep it up. And PLEASE, GOD -- Don't PICK UP THAT BROWNIE!!!!"

I had set myself a target weight: 185.

I reached my goal. I actually exceeded it, landing at a comfortable 180 pounds before I ended the fast. I remember the feeling of accomplishment I felt when I put back on the pair of grey-flannel suit pants I had worn to my job interview in 1996 for the job I held BEFORE the Fool ... and they were loose! It was similar to waking up one morning and realizing my net worth was suddenly a positive number ... that I owed nobody anything. Best of all, my HDL cholesterol had climbed considerably, and my LDL had plummeted like Noah's Bagels after the IPO, giving me a great ratio and an overall count in the low 100's.

So, after ten weeks of fasting under a doctor's supervision, I began the task of transitioning back into eating food. In a way, it was scarier than giving it up in the first place. Suddenly I was solely accountable for keeping track of what I ate and for making sure that I exercised on a daily basis. I remembered cutting up my credit cards once they were paid off and telling myself "Never again am I going to get another of these [expletive] things." Some of the same thinking factored into my new challenge of redefining my diet. Would I look for low-calorie cookie recipes? Or wasn't it better to simply stay away, to decide that I would never again be an eater of cookies. (I haven't worked this out, even now, by the way.)

But that takes us up to the present time, folks. I'm learning to eat again. I have bought a prodigous supply of tupperware. I spend hours in the kitchen experimenting with new, low-calorie recipes. I run or walk about 25 miles a week. I joined a well-lit, excessively mirrored gym so that I can work out in cold weather.

It has only been about 10 days since I returned to the world of "people who don't eat sludge" and I'm intensely protective of my new (old?) physique. My motivaton is different now. I have decided that I want to stay fit as a living monument to my mother. She committed a significant portion of her life to fitness and caring for herself and fate cheated her of the rewards. I have decided to try to capture those rewards for myself. Think of it sort of an inherited gift.

How will I fare? I don't know. I do know that I have uncovered a slew of foods I never would have considered eating before that are pretty darn good! I'll keep y'all posted about how things go, and I encourage any of you to ask me anything you want about my experience. I can't profess expertise ... after all, folks, I'm not an expert. I'm only a Fool, just like the rest of us.

Happy New Year and Fool On!

Kevin Book
Director, Web Development
(TMF Guitar)

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