When diets don’t work

The eventual upshot of some columns you’ll be reading here over the next few months will be a new picture accompanying the column.  Up till now, I have resisted having a new picture taken not because I have aged but because I’d become extremely overweight.

So I’ve spent the past ten years or so ducking from cameras. If family or business obligations forced me to be in a picture, I made sure I was standing behind someone, anyone, who could hide my ever spreading girth.

A little over a year ago I decided that I could no longer hide behind anything but had to admit that I had quite a problem.  I imagine I was going through the same process an alcoholic or drug addict goes through the first time they finally acknowledge out loud that they have a problem.  It’s scary, it’s exhilarating and ultimately very, very freeing.

Having finally admitted the problem, the next step was to come up with a workable solution.  I reviewed the diet history of my life only to find it strewn with every diet fad, exercise fad and miracle pill ever marketed anywhere on this earth. 

I first tried Weight Watchers when I was still in my teens. I’d been through hypnotherapy for weight loss in my early twenties. In my thirties a friend and I took to fasting a month at a time, ingesting nothing but watered down juice.  I’d tried aerobics, walking, racquetball, biking and praying. 

I had about ten pounds of extra weight per fad to show for my efforts.  Clearly my methods were failing.

When you’re young and overweight, you can get away with a lot.  Your body can bounce back from just about anything and you think you’re invincible.  Then, as you age, problems creep up slowly.  So slowly that you don’t realize just how unhealthy you are till one day you stop and take stock of how many pills it takes to keep you alive each day. When I realized it took me over five minutes of steady swallowing to get all my daily pills down every morning, it occurred to me that change was needed if I was to achieve my goal of living long enough to spend my niece’s inheritance.

Deciding to have gastric bypass surgery is not something that came easily.  Let’s face it, gastric bypass surgery alters the most fundamental of drives in the human organism – the drive to McDonald’s, and Burger King, and Pizza Hut and Taco Bell and…well, you get the picture.  Once you’ve had this surgery, you are committing to changing you life in a way that is hard to imagine.

So I sat on the thought for a long time while trying every other diet I could find that I hadn’t already gained weight using.  My favorite was the Atkins diet.  I’d faithfully stay on that for weeks at a time. I would not lose a lot but would console myself with the idea that at least I wasn’t gaining. And then it would strike.  The urge to have carbohydrates would become so overwhelming that it was as though my mind had been captured by alien beings intent on snarfing up any and all things related to bread, pasta, potatoes and rice.

For two weeks I would inhale carbohydrates like a junkie on a binge. When the binge ended, I would sit amidst the debris of my yet again broken resolve and wonder if there was truly any hope for as hopeless a case as I was.

It turns out there was hope.  I had to be dragged rather reluctantly to it but once there I realized it was the only chance I had of living out my allotted life span and thus annoying all those who wished otherwise for me.  A gastric bypass operation would change my entire life and in doing so give me a future that was looking pretty dim right then.

So I took long rides on my bike as I debated the pros and cons of the surgery.  I periodically panicked at the decision I was about to make.  On those days, I would cook lots of pasta.  But eventually I came to an acceptance of the inevitable, even if my insurance company didn’t initially see it the same way.

Next month we’ll talk about insurance companies – or as I like to refer to them, corporate cultures of denial – and just how hard it is to prove you’re sane enough for this surgery.