We’ve all heard the jokes about weight gain during the shelter-in-place phase of life — COVID-19 lbs. and such.
It’s gotten me thinking about a seven year period in which I measured life in quarter pound increments. This was during high school and college, while participating in wrestling. I would have told you then that I was an expert in weight loss. Like a jockey, I weighed in several times a day – but without the saddle – and monitored before and after bathroom visits. I knew the expected weight in ounces of my waste products. Each September, I’d lose up to 20% of my mass in four to six weeks and keep it off until April.
I’d dream of the chocolate milk dispenser in Parker dining hall for seven months a year.
All of this would be executed in order to qualify for the weight class in which I would be most competitive. Actually, this was mostly a byproduct of fear: I didn’t want to face larger, stronger opponents! To maintain this weight, many of us would sojourn to the “hot box” in plastic suits. The hot box was an insulated room that could be cranked up to 120 degrees F. The objective was of course to sweat out any excess water. It wasn’t weight loss, it was desiccation. I remember taking the GRE exams in Potsdam in between wrestling matches at SUNY Potsdam and Hobart College. I donned the plastic suit and ran the aisle in the team bus enroute to lose the half-pound I was overweight – that was good for a quarter pound. The security guard escorted me to the exam room and I suppose the GRE was responsible for losing the additional quarter pound I needed.
Once, I dated a person who during a postseason April, asked how much I weighed. When I replied, she said ‘Well you look good right now, but I think you will run to fat in middle age’. Hmmm, she was right. At that time, we wrestlers would call anyone whose six-pack was undefined, a ‘bloat’. Clearly, I am a bloat.
However, I owe her a debt of gratitude. Her words have been a rallying cry for me to not let weight gain get beyond control. Unfortunately, most of the diet prescriptions I’ve tried were not lifestyle regimes, but short term efforts: Fit for Life, South Beach diet, Bullet-Proof diet, Body Fuel diet, etc. All had different premises: eat fruit, separate complex carbohydrates from other foods, avoid white foods, trick your metabolism by fasting. My Dad lost over 50 lbs using Dr. Dean Ornish’s rice diet. He had the discipline to keep his weight down – but yikes!
These days, it’s hard for me to envision weight control without exercise and eating dinner before eight o’clock. That’s it – I have to keep it simple to remember. And worse luck, my diet must include pasta, baked goods and ice cream! What about you?
In for a Penny, In for a Pound
Good time to write about this as covid19 is causing many of us to snack in place! Weight has been a struggle I have dealt with my entire life but from the opposite end of the scale. I was the scrawny kid first in line in school. Short and skinny! Really skinny! I hated going to gym in high school. Aside from the embarrassing red and white gym suits we had to wear which on me looked like a cute little red skirt ballooning out over my tooth pick sized thighs, I was the brunt of high school bully humor in the locker room. And to add insult to injury, we were given spots on the gym floor so the coach could take attendance. In Flushing High in the early 60’s, you could have 100 kids in gym class. First day of class we were lined up by size places and given our spot numbers. Across the front of the gym were the letters of the alphabet and 15 spots behind each letter! Yup, you guessed it. I was A-1 for all 3 years in high school! The only good thing about those large classes was that once attendance was taken I could slip back into the locker room until the team sports were over.
But even before that as a little kid my family tried to fatten me up. I was a finicky eater and wasn’t big on meat and veggies so my dad made a bowl of macaroni for me every night for dinner. Back then it was spaghetti or macaroni. We never had pasta. I never even heard the word. My Italian aunts would bribe me with quarters if I would eat more. Of course they would only “pick” themselves until there was nothing left in the serving bowls. So I was a skinny melink. I would have to get on the scale in front of them to get the damn quarter. So while Wal was trying to lose a quarter pounder, I was praying to gain one. Through college and for the first 2 decades of teaching I didn’t weigh as much as the average kid in my 6th grade classes. It was always an embarrassment for me.
Then the magic happened. My wife and I separated, I came out of the closet and miraculously I gained about 20 lbs. With a new sense of self pride I strutted into school finally at ease with myself and how I looked! I was proud of my girth for the first time in my life. I hadn’t anticipated the problems it would bring on like high blood pressure, and a little pot belly. But I carried that proudly too because unless you were ever skinny you don’t realize how that can be as painful as being fat. And now with snacking in place, I get panicky if my supply of cookies and jelly candies get low!
I hope Wally only dated that woman once!
Pillsbury Doughman, No More!
On my first birthday, I weighed in at 30 pounds and was obese. By grade school, I was in George’s weight class and could have been a poster child for the kid who needed weight gain supplements. Eventually, I found a relative balance between intake and calorie burn, and my weight offers little to conjure up a story. However, over the last six weeks of sheltering in place, food has taken on a significance I’d not noticed before.
My mom was the most fantastic cook. It seemed as if she was always in the kitchen preparing meals that were filling, delicious, and nutritious. We didn’t order out, and the rare visits to a restaurant were reserved for special events. For example, at the end of each school year, my mom would take us to a local Chinese restaurant to celebrate our promotion to the next grade. That being said, tasty food prepared just the way we liked it, was always available. My mother couldn’t give us much in the form of things money could buy, but she never held back on food. The time and devotion she gave to her cooking was her currency: her gift of love. The whole experience created an anticipation of what awaited us at dinner each evening. The clatter of pans and the sounds of mixing and pouring were following by the aroma of onions or sauces drifting throughout the house. It seemed like each meal that began promptly at 6:00 pm, started with an appetizer and/or soup, the main course with two or more side dishes, and finally, if we joined the “cleanup plate club” and finished everything we were served, a sweet dessert. I used to marvel at how long everything took to prepare, how everything finished cooking at just the right time, and how quickly we devoured it. And while I noticed all of this (and the cleanup afterward), I never appreciated it in the way I do now.
My sisters learned to cook from my mom, but I didn’t. And, over the last several years, after just getting by preparing the same few dishes I begrudgingly mastered, I ate reasonably well and relatively healthy but never really appreciated it. However, in the last month and a half, much of that has changed. With even more unhurried, alone time at home I made a conscious effort to look at cooking and eating with more purpose and intention. I’ve tried many new dishes each week and found the entire process of planning, preparation, cooking, and cleaning up a rewarding one. And I’ve also taken the time to taste my food, wondering what it would be like if I added more of this or substituted some of that. It is a new form of self-care that I intend to continue long after we can get back to our busier, more collaborative lives. So far, I haven’t noticed any weight gain. However, my sisters always said that if you are a fat baby, then, when you get old, you’d eventually explode into that previous pudgy version of your younger self. (Hmm, I have this awful vision of myself in six months slogging through the woods looking like the Pillsbury Doughman!)