Don’t eat your heart out

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scaleMy cousin Ken’s daughter Beth told me she had lost a bunch of weight by following my advice.

Beth lives in North Carolina but she was home in Indiana for a grandmother’s funeral. That grandmother was on her mother’s side of the family.

What Beth was referring to was a brief column I had written for the paper about how to lose weight. Her dad had sent him a copy. My method surely was too simple and easy to remember to end up in a book or launch me on a high-paying lecture tour.

I don’t recall what prompted me to write what amounted to a personal advice column. My topics usually were about political and social issues. I’m reasonably sure that I had recently lost some unwanted weight. Here I was playing diet doctor. I don’t even have a college degree in one of the sciences.

As I said, my weight-loss strategy is simple: Just don’t clean your plate. That’s it. Don’t clean your plate at any meal. Ever. Now there must be hundreds of diet and weight-loss books. Many are written by licensed physicians and diet experts. They’ll prescribe foods, exercise and everything else except how to hold your fork.

At Barnes & Noble’s two stores in our city, entire sections are devoted to the subject. Of course, you can’t sell a book if it only contains one or two sentences like my diet plan. There’s more here. I mentioned the cottage industry of diet books. Besides these, there must be hundreds of people who offer seminars and lecture on weight loss. Your family doctor will give you a brochure.

No doubt a few people follow the advice in the diet books. They slim down. They can buy pants a couple of waist sizes smaller. Or they leave the lectures and manage to lose. Weight Watchers seems to be fairly successful. Likewise, a related industry promotes diet pills and other products, such as the popular Slim-Fast.

All these products and the experts, some with impressive credentials, constitute a huge business in this country. One of the main reasons for this is obvious. Most adult Americans are overweight. It’s like three-fourths, I just read in a medical report. Many of these folk are conspicuously obese.

Maybe most would like to lose weight. They really would, which helps account for the growth of the diet and weight-loss industry.

I should mention the small minority of overweight people who shell out thousands of dollars for bariatric surgery. How’s that for motivation! I understand this surgery reduces the size of a person’s stomach. So the patient loses weight because he or she isn’t able to eat as much food without feeling terribly uncomfortable.

Mark Twain said he found it easy to quit smoking. He had done it a thousand times. Lots of dieters would say the same. Moreover, many understand that trimming down isn’t just a matter of getting into one’s clothes comfortably. It’s a matter of protecting one’s health. Excess weight exposes a person to heart disease and cancer. It likely shortens a person’s life.

An important part of weight loss remains physical activity. I’m sure one of the main reasons I’m reasonably thin is that I walk or jog about five miles a day. I also do pushups and crunches and other moves to keep me fairly limber at age 76. Yet I can’t prescribe my regimen and diet for every adult. All I can say is that it seems to work for me. I don’t judge those persons who appear to be overweight.

As Pope Francis said in another context, “Who am I to judge?” Or, as Philo of Alexandria said centuries ago, “Be kind. Everyone is fighting a great battle.” Indeed, in this country staying at a healthy weight is a great battle.

So much conspires to make Americans overweight, from fast food restaurants to the high-calorie, high-fat products in the supermarkets. The advertisers don’t exactly fight fair. They can make people in TV commercials eating Big Macs or pancakes look not only trim and handsome but happy. I mostly avoid such ads by rarely watching commercial television.

I haven’t been in touch with my cousin Beth for some years. So I can’t report that she has kept off the weight my little column inspired her to lose. Even my own weight-loss strategy has its limits. My wife Toni is a terrific cook. Like most people, I love to eat. I particularly love sweets.

One thing I don’t eat is red meat. Researchers associate that with clogged arteries and various diseases. Beyond that, I weigh myself daily when I step out of the shower. If I see my weight creeping up, I try to remember to adjust how much I eat the following few days. Sure enough, my weight will inch downward. It’s a good feeling being in control.

I can’t prevent the terrorist attacks in Iraq, even gang-related shootings in my own city. I can’t stop the spread of a highly infectious disease such as Ebola that’s already claimed thousands of lives in east Africa. I can’t keep voters from electing stupid, self-serving people to state and national office. But I do get to choose what I eat. And what I can say “no” to. It’s a powerful tonic. Powerful.

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