Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Flashback 2010: It was a year with no cake, no cookies

     This is the column that ran in 2011 about my apnea-inspired diet. It became a part of my article for Mosaic on obstructive sleep apnea, so I thought I would post it here, for people who wanted to read the full piece.

     Unlike you, I kept my New Year's resolutions.
     All through January and February, the gusts of March and the rains of April, when most earnest vows are already long forgotten, into May and June, I pursued my goals, cruising through the summer and fall until now, when success lies glittering at my feet.
     True, I only had two resolutions, but they were good ones: lose 30 pounds and snag another book deal. I nailed them both, losing 30.4 pounds on the East Bank Club scale by Tuesday, and coming to terms with a publisher.
     Check and double check.
     Achieving these resolutions was supposed to make it a better year, and it did, big-time, and since some — though not all — aspects of my success may be transferable, I thought I should pass along a few helpful tips, if only as a smokescreen to all this blatant bragging.
    First the diet. I have been dieting, off and on, for, geez, nearly 40 years, and I think those consistent failures were helpful in providing determination that it work this time. I turned 50, and if man can’t apply himself to something with purpose at 50, he never will. It’s bad enough to be growing older without growing fatter too. Get it done, I thought.
     I also brought a special attitude to this attempt. The beauty of being an alcoholic (now there’s two concepts you just don’t see paired in the same sentence very often) is that you master — eventually, if you work at it — the crucial concepts of a) avoiding bad stuff completely because you don’t want a little, you want a lot and b) doing the right thing consistently over a long period of time.
    I realized that, as with shots of whiskey, I didn’t want one cookie, didn’t want one scoop of ice cream, but lots of cookies, and lots of ice cream. Thus, last Jan. 1, I banned a whole range of foods from my diet — no cookies, no candy, no ice cream, no cake, no doughnuts. My goal was three pounds a month — very slow, very gradual, the way I put it on. There was no rush. I bought an electronic scale, watched what I ate, counted calories and waited for success to baby crawl into my open arms.
     What else helped? I had a debilitating condition — sleep apnea — and a doctor said, if I lost 30 pounds, it might go away. That’s where the 30-pound goal came from, and it was a huge motivation, for me. I suppose some people whose doctors tell them similar things ignore them. But you can’t ignore that mask, a fresh shock every night that I despised. Losing the weight did the trick. No more mask.
     What else? I drank case after case of Fresca, which tastes good and has no calories. Countless containers of Haagen-Dazs chocolate sorbet at 130 calories a half cup.
     I knew I was serious when I turned down cupcakes from Sprinkles, doughnuts from Deerfield’s Bakery, dark chocolates from See’s.
     I permitted myself pie — first because you don’t encounter opportunities for pie nearly as often as opportunities for cake or doughnuts and second, honestly, what is life without pie?
     Sure, there were rare lapses. Kent’s 13th birthday in June at Margie’s — while I initially contemplated miserably nibbling a scoop of sherbet, having lost 25 pounds by then, I thought, “the hell with it,” and sinned boldly: a scoop of vanilla with bittersweet hot fudge sauce. There was that slice of lemon bread on the Fourth of July that was really lemon cake, and an orange Sunkist Fruit Gem at Kent’s bar mitzvah I told myself I needed to give a good speech, plus some hamantaschen at Purim I classified as small pies, due to the fruit filling.
     But not one cookie, not one chocolate.
     My clothes swam — a dieter who lost 50 pounds advised me to give them away, and I did. It’s nice to be constantly told how great you look, although people get so enthusiastic at times I feel like I was Jabba the Hutt before.
     There’s a downside to losing weight — initially your body doesn’t like it. You have to adjust to being smaller, and at times I felt, not thinner, but diminished; this tiny reduced person, particularly since you don’t lose weight in your head. For a while I felt like an alien overlord. Not that I’m complaining — I picked losing 30 pounds because I knew, if I accomplished it, I’d be happy, at least for a while.
     And the book? The University of Chicago Press asked me to write a book — about Chicago, for you fans of irony — and I said “Yes.” As I mentioned, not every aspect of keeping these resolutions is transferable.
    A shiny new year — 2011, incredibly — awaits. My resolutions for next year flow from this year’s — keep the weight off, finish the book, though I’ll try to find a third.
     What would you like to do? If I can, you can.

—Originally published in the Sun-Times, Jan. 2, 2011


  1. Neil, I lost thirty pounds five years ago.. And it's all back. Hope you have had better luck the past eight years.

  2. Can't find the Mosaic article on sleep apnea: can you provide a link?

    1. I will, when it goes up, probably in late December.


Comments are vetted and posted at the discretion of the proprietor.