I keep hoping that this feeling will pass, the constant gnawing that ebbs only for an hour or so after dinner. Other than that brief respite, I feel it constantly — upon rising, after breakfast, mid-morning, after lunch, throughout the afternoon, into the evening, and upon settling down to sleep. I find myself awaking in the early morning hours, ostensibly to visit the restroom, but really because my body and subconscious mind have partnered to save me from myself. To prevent me from starving.
I am not starving, of course, not in any meaningful sense of the word. For the last week, I have intentionally reduced my intake of food, and intend to continue to do so for the next six months. My conscious mind knows and understands this. However, I haven’t been able to properly explain it to my body, which is employing every evolutionary device it knows — glandular secretions to sharpen my hunger, lowered blood sugar levels, and unusually heightened senses of smell and taste — to compel me to eat more food, makes you consider weight loss surgery.
Avoiding that, of course, is the whole point of this exercise. The intended irony in the name Weight Loss Journal is that while hundreds of millions of people on this planet live in true poverty, and millions of these are quite literally starving, I have never been without food a day in my life. And yet, as expected, when I cut back on my daily intake, my body goes into panic mode, notwithstanding the fact that I’m easily 50 pounds overweight, with plenty of reserves to spare. My body will have to start converting these reserves as my intake is reduced even more drastically in the coming months. The sooner it realizes this, the better.
A bit of biography may help to explain this project and its author. In three weeks, I will celebrate my 35th birthday. I have been married to my best friend, who will be 35 in August, for 16 years, and we currently have seven children. (When you have seven children by 35, it’s important to stress “currently,” as this statistic seems to change quite rapidly.)
In September 1986, less than a month before I first met my wife, I weighed 165 pounds on a 5’11” frame, with a wiry musculature from four years of active bicycling, a 30-inch waist, and a 30-inch inseam. When we married a year later, I was still quite trim. Four years later, my waist was still just 32 inches. And that’s when everything changed. By the end of 1992, at age 24, my weight shot past 200 pounds for the first time, while my waist increased from 32 inches to 36 inches, not even bothering to pause at 34. Over the next two to three years, my weight slowly and steadily increased until I passed 225 pounds, with a 38-inch waist. Since 1995, though my waist size has remained the same, my weight has fluctuated between 225 and nearly 250 pounds. At the start of this project, my weight was over 237 pounds — an increase of more than 70 pounds since 1986.
The irony is that I’m not used to being “the fat guy” — in fact, quite the opposite. For the first two decades of my life, I was painfully thin. It wasn’t that my appetite was low. On the contrary, I ate fairly substantial amounts of food, though most of what I ate would be best classified as junk food or fast food.
My fractured family situation clearly contributed to my diet, or lack thereof. My parents divorced when I was six years old, with my mother moving out and ceding custody of the three boys to my father. My older brother, who was nine when my parents separated, had a serious form of cystic fibrosis, a degenerative genetic disease that would claim his life just prior to his 14th birthday.
I don’t have clear memories of our diet when my mother was with living with us, but my diet through grade school was fairly static — for breakfast, a bowl of cereal (usually highly sugared) or a frozen waffle, and a glass of juice; for lunch, a sandwich (PB&J or processed luncheon meat), pretzels or chips, beef jerky, and a juice box; and for dinner, either fast food (McDonald’s and Taco Charlie’s were among the favourites) or frozen foods (such as Stouffer’s French bread pizzas). When he found the time, my father would try to liven things up a bit with specialties such as processed ham and cheese melts. We usually had some fresh fruit in the house — apples and bananas were the most common — but the only vegetables we ate, with rare exceptions, were frozen or canned. We also had plenty of treats in the house: candy bars, pudding cups, ice cream sandwiches, and so on.
Given the strains of the divorce, the demands of raising three boys (one seriously ill), and the responsibilities of holding down a steady job, it’s not surprising that the four food groups would rank somewhat low on my father’s list of priorities. We certainly never went hungry.
My older brother’s illness greatly suppressed his appetite. He tended to eat very small portions, when he would eat at all. The nutrient shakes and supplemental snacks my father provided were only minimally effective, as he would often simply not eat them, or pretend to eat them only to hide them or throw them away. Throughout his life, my older brother was painfully gaunt.
I, on the other hand, was anything but a reluctant eater, devouring most anything placed before me, often with second and third helpings, and snacking throughout the day. Even so, gnawing hunger pangs haunted me, so I simply ate and ate and ate.
I shudder now to think at the damage done to my metabolism during those years. If my caloric intake during my grade school years was excessive, my consumption of sugar was nothing short of obscene. Very few things passed my lips that were not either sugar-coated, sugar-based, or composed mainly of corn syrup derivatives. I still consider it a minor miracle that I did not develop diabetes.
And yet, in spite of the quantity and (dubious) quality of the food I consumed, I remained painfully, obviously thin.
– to be continued Monday, June 14th –
Weight Loss Notes – Week One
- A strong start — five pounds in six days — but not entirely unexpected. My past efforts (exercise regimens, cutting out sugar, etc.) have resulted in quick drops, followed by long plateaus. Hope springs eternal, though.
- While my June 4th dinner intake looks excessive in print (a barbecued chicken breast with two hot dogs and three beers?), I have to admit upon reflection (and with no small shame) that it’s considerably less food than I used to consume on such occasions.
- I usually play basketball at my parish on Tuesday nights, but had a more sedate evening of chess last week (and I actually won!). Basketball resumes this week.