Thursday, January 18, 2018

Flashback, 2003: "On the next Treadmill out of Fatville"

From "Janine" by Clarity Haynes (National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.)

     You never know which column is going to resonate in someone's life. Last week I got an email from a reader, Brian Sirois:
I’m writing my bio for a new website and I’d like to include a link to the article you wrote on Jan 5, 2003 entitled “This year I’m on the Next Treadmill out of Fatville”…That article, which still hangs on my fridge, served as inspiration to turn my own health around. So much so, that 10 years later I switched careers and became a fitness instructor. I stopped chasing big paychecks and started chasing my new-found passion for fitness and helping others...Is it possible to include a link?
     As it turned out, it wasn't. The paper's archive isn't online, for reasons mysterious. Not only is it not online, but whatever librarians we had at the time never migrated it to Nexis. So it is utterly gone. I might have it in a paper file somewhere in the basement...
      Before I went down to look, I asked Brian if he'd scan the column on his fridge and send it to me. He did, and I typed it in—I try to be a full-service columnist.
     I was struck by the candor of the thing. Not a lot of pulling punches. The diet didn't work in 2003. Or 2004. In 2005 I would stop drinking, which helps a lot when it comes to dieting. But even then I needed to be diagnosed with sleep apnea before I shed 30 pounds in 2009 and kept it off in the eight years since. Nothing like being unable to breath at night to serve as an inspiration.
     Anyway, here is the column that Brian wanted to link to on his site. I hope it continues to be inspiring to people. It contains some blunt assessments on fat that might be considered fat-shaming, today, but wasn't then. Nor do I consider it so now—a person is entitled to his own perspective on the desirability of being obese—and if you believe differently, well, that's what the comments section is fo

     No sooner had I taken off my coat, pulled up the Venetian blinds, settled in front of my desk and began wondering what to do first to start off this brave new year of 2003 then the phone rang.
     It was a magazine reporter and he had a question: Aren't New Year's resolutions a joke? This whole idea of arbitrary beginnings and fresh starts: Isn't it somehow ridiculous. There was a smile in his voice.
     This is what's called in the profession "trolling the bait." It was an invitation to me to lean back in my chair, turn one palm toward the ceiling and craft a witty agreement, mocking all those painfully sincere vows, all those dopes who believe—tee hee!—who really believe that, with a click of the calendar and a gust of will, they can suddenly become the sort of person they aren't now and probably never have been, but would like to be. To his surprise, and mine, I didn't bite.
     "Actually," I said, "I take this entire New Year, new leaf thing pretty seriously. I diet. I go on the wagon and try to pull myself together. Sorry."
     We shifted to another subject—he wasn't interested in my disagreement; you don't tend to include counter-arguments in that sort of story.
     After I hung up, I was struck by my seriousness this year. I have to be. Never slim to begin with, 2002 was, as Queen Elizabeth would say, my annus horribilis,which is not Latin for my gigantic ass, but the only thing to call a year when you—OK, me—suddenly gain 20 pounds.
     Well, not suddenly. It only seemed that way. One moment I was cruising along near 200, as I had been for years, and suddenly I was 224.
     At least I'm not alone. As I bought a scale last week and learned the awful truth, a men's athletic magazine listed the fattest cities in America. There was Chicago, No. 2, right after Houston, of all places.
     The general media impulse was to milk the Chicago, City of Broad Backsides news for yucks. Red Streak, the training wheels version of this paper, wrote a mocking—albeit creative—front-page article taking a scrappy "wait-till-next-year" view, with weight-gaining tips and taunts for Houston. The headline was, "Hey, Chicago, feed your face."
     Not me. I took the arrival of the New Year as an unexpected rescue rope, tossed to me by the same indifferent society that sells Krispy Kremes and Sam Adams beer. I'm getting off this bus even if I have to eat less and exercise to do it (there is a third vital element, often forgotten, that I'm keeping in mind: Eat less and exercise over a protracted period).
     "Hey, Chicago, feed your face." That was written by a thin person. A fat person knows that fatness is a personal tragedy. It is ugly, unhealthful and a personal shame that you only need pass a reflective surface to have pop up, unexpectedly, to wave and chirp, "Hey, remember me?"
     This may sound harsh, particularly in a nation (and city) growing fatter by the minute. I am aware that there are some people, many people, who have been so fat for so long and tried so hard to do something about it that, like longtime residents of Milwaukee, they finally sighed and gave up and told themselves that, heck, this isn't so bad. Maybe the problem isn't them. Maybe they're beautiful. Maybe the problem is a crass and craven society that adores thinness above all.
     That might make you feel better, just as a pack of Sno-Balls might make you feel better, but that doesn't make it so. It wasn't a crass and craven society that left me gasping for breath after racing my boys around the house a few times. That's fat, and I wouldn't even have the gumption to admit it in the newspaper if it wasn't coming off, this year, and staying off forever. I may sound foolishly certain, but foolish certainty is where I'm putting my chips down and keep them.
     That's the beauty of resolutions and a new year. It forces you to pause and look at yourself—rather like buying slacks, really. It hands you an opportunity to shuck off your old life and try to be different.
     It worked for me last year. I was discipline itself, for the month of January, lost 13 pounds, and was so pleased with myself that, mistaking progress for success, I dropped my guard and shot back up and more.
     That's what fatness is. It's dropping your guard, a guard that, sadly, because of 100,000 years of genetics trained to jump through the hoops of austerity, has to be kept up by a big portion of the population.
     Yes, at one level, the magazine reporter is absolutely right—the idea of a new start is somewhat delusional. I am the same weak vessel today that I was Tuesday night, guzzling Moet & Chandon and gobbling little hot dogs wrapped in dough. I did not, as I told myself, setting down the champagne at the stroke of midnight, morph into an iron-willed creature of self-discipline and clean living.
     But I wanted to. I don't know about you, but I get so tired of myself. (Maybe you get tired of me , too—I get letters—but at least you can turn the page. Me, I'm stuck). I'm tired of being lardboy. Of wondering as I pause to drive my hand up to the wrist in one of the bowls of candy that my colleagues try to keep filled on their desks, despite my presence, whether they notice me stopping by to load up. Of course they do. Bear that in mind, if the New Year isn't inspiration enough, to those of us who need to lose 40 or 60 pounds, remember this: They notice. Everybody notices. The muu-muu is not slimming. Your wife does indeed mind. You're fat. Deal with it. If I can do it, anyone can.


  1. You've posted a lot of interesting, sometimes disturbing stuff atop the blog, but that human blob is the winner when it comes to disgusting me, I gotta say. Hey, speaking of fat-shaming, Diana and her ladies around the pond in the painting from a month ago were a tad zaftig according to today's supposed ideals... I suppose that wouldn't illustrate the point you're going for very well, though. ; )

    "If I can do it, anyone can." Sorry to disagree, and now that you've taken away the commenting disclaimer about being mean, perhaps I'll say "Pretty to think so." ; ) I know you mean it as encouragement, but it's patently untrue. With regard to weight loss and a number of other things that you've accomplished. Gutsy, though -- taking a victory lap 6 years before you won the race was a pretty bold move! : )

    "(there is a third vital element, often forgotten, that I'm keeping in mind: Eat less and exercise over a protracted period)" That protracted period -- uh, the rest of one's life -- is quite the kicker. Unlike you, I still haven't mastered that part, having managed the first two elements many times. To put it simply, this being the greatest moment in the history of the universe to be a beer aficionado has not done my waist-line any favors, that I can tell you!

  2. I envy your willpower. I gained nearly 20 pounds last year that I can't seem to shake.

  3. The photo above says it all; the camera and mirror do not lie.

    It is indeed tough to keep weight off as one gets older, but always worth the effort. It seems genetics and other factors have a much stronger influence on our weight than we may have thought. Still, for health reasons more than physical appearance, a manageable weight with daily exercise should be our goal.

    I have to add, especially in today's culture, that men can get away with being a little heavy, more so than women. But that's a whole other discussion :)


  4. I saw this quip recently that left me laughing. "I've finally got the body I want after an intense 6 months of lowering my expectations."

  5. Okay, this is pretty embarrassing. When I referred to today's portrait earlier, I hadn't even looked at it enough to realize that it was a woman. Actually, I assumed it was a man -- an assumption predicated on the fact that when I first saw it, I also assumed this post was gonna be about Trump's physical.

    Sandy's 3rd paragraph caused me to question my original assumption, which is when I noticed the caption "Janine." Which prompted some rather frustrating googling, as *that's* a typo. Finding the two images posted by our host as the only "hits" left me baffled. So, it was on to the National Portrait Gallery website. Ah, "Janie." Having read a brief interview with the artist there, I apologize for my original reaction, which was certainly obnoxious. I'd delete the comment, but I hate when people do that. Thus, this lame explanation...

  6. Speaking as someone who kept gradually getting rounder and rounder for decades: I finally lost 120 pounds in my 50s. And I've largely kept it off for two years after the two years it took to lose it. It is not easy. It is possible.

    I empathize with your diagnosis as motivation: in my case it was being told that I'd have to start taking insulin for type 2 diabetes unless I did something else drastic. I was on 3 diabetes meds, a blood pressure med, a diuretic, and a statin at the time. Now I'm on no meds at all. Obviously that won't work for everyone, but you can surely improve your health.


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