Ancient Greeks, unread books and fat chances, part 2 | Chuck's World

By Chuck Sigars | Sep 27, 2017

I met a 10-year-old girl last week, completing a circle I was only vaguely aware existed, although that seems sort of dumb now. With apologies to Zeno, our goofy Greek from last week’s column, kids will always prove to us that we are, in fact, moving in one direction.

I’d met her once before, a few weeks after she was born, when friends of ours, her grandparents, held an open house so we could say hello. It was a nice July day, and at some point I was handed this infant and someone snapped a photo. This was forwarded to me a few days later, and it was fascinating.

She was a squirmy baby, or at least on that day. I was adjusting my arms, trying to keep this active infant from wiggling away, and it’s a funny picture. I look like a clueless middle-aged man who’s never held a baby before. I look awkward and unsure. I look a little comical.

And I look fat. Really fat.

It wasn’t a surprise. For the past 15 years, I’d been a card-carrying resident of the United States of Obesity, which actually was a surprise. After 30-plus years of life at a completely unremarkable size, only occasionally vain about weight and a little fussy about flabbiness, my body exploded. I went from being a slim 31-year-old to a roly-poly 35-year-old, and by the time I finally looked in the mirror I’d gained 100 pounds.

I don’t know why. I have an idea or two, but I’m guessing that I just developed a serious attention deficit. I stopped noticing, somehow, and at the same time motion definitely became an illusion. I was chained to my desk in those days; I just eventually needed a much bigger chain.

The photo of me holding a baby struck a nerve somehow. My face looked squished into my skull. My clothes were loose, sloppy, extra-large and not flattering. My stomach appeared to be extending into a different zip code. Even my fingers and toes looked fat.

So I did something people in my situation rarely do: I stepped on a scale.

I weighed 272 pounds at that moment, a bit above my previous high and nearly 120 pounds heavier than I’d been 17 years before, when my son was born. No wonder my neighbor had taken to calling me “big guy.” I was big.

And I was OK with it. Not pleased, but if it surprises you that overweight people can be happy and even healthy, you’ve probably never been fat. I’d been uncomfortable for many years, annoyed, ashamed, self-conscious, and usually out of breath, but at that moment I was doing pretty well. I’d just turned 49, and I was pretty sure that I wasn’t destined to appear on the cover of Vogue with my shirt off. As people do, I’d learned to accept certain things I couldn’t change.

It’s just that, at that moment in time, weight wasn’t one of them. A stray photo, a picture of a heavyset man with a small baby, was worth more than 1,000 words, obviously. A year after it was taken, I weighed 175.

I didn’t stay there. I fluctuated for a few years, dancing between lean and flabby (no actual dancing was involved), a range of 20 pounds or so. This was mildly irritating, but rarely enough to inspire me to do anything about it. I seemed to settle down eventually, now firmly in the middle of what statistically appears to be an ideal weight for a man of my height and age.

And I’m not really clear about what happened.

A friend of mine brought up the subject a few weeks ago. Lots of people lose weight, he pointed out; it was just maybe slightly unusual that I’d never gained it back, which appears to happen so often that it’s become expected. Maybe I had something to share about this experience, he thought.

There are too many things to worry about. I don’t think the fact that we’re all getting a little heavier is high on the list. I understand the health concerns, the influence of celebrity culture on our ideas about body size, the fat-shaming and snide comments and uncomfortable plane rides that overweight people battle every day. I lost a lot of those battles. I just think there are worse things, and I feel sort of foolish even bringing it up.

But we talk about weight a lot, and if I can offer some hope or experience, I probably should. So I’ve spent the past week reliving the past, trying to remember how I felt 10 years ago, and what I did.

I have no superpowers. I have no particular skills in discipline or self-control, nor do I think those things are really the problem. There’s too much food out there, too many calories waiting to be not counted.

So I counted them. I weighed every day and wrote it down, tracked when and why the weight came off and then did more of that. I walked for exercise, miles and miles. I took a cue from those other zany Greeks, the empiricists, ditching theory and just observing what worked.

My secret? I dunno. It had nothing to do with a will of iron. I knew it was unlikely that I could reverse years of obesity; I just realized that it wasn’t impossible, and for some reason that’s made all the difference.

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