Nearly 11 years ago, I made yet another declaration of war on the fat me - the umpteenth chapter in my life-long struggle with weight.
Aug. 1, 1999, started like most other days in my life. I got up, ate a hearty breakfast and lunch. That afternoon, I went to a birthday party for our neighbors' 1-year-old daughter, Natasha.
Among the attendees was the center-of-attention's grandmother, Helen Waldeau, who looked terrific because she had just lost 25 to 30 pounds. I casually asked her how she had done it. The ensuing five-minute conversation changed my life. She introduced me to the Atkins' diet and offered to give me the paperback copy of ``Dr. Atkins' Revolutionary Diet."
Two hours later, following the birthday party, I passed on supper, but began consuming the book.
Quite frankly, it sounded like a scam. Dr. Robert Atkins said I could eat as much meat, eggs, cheese and fish as I wanted so long as I watched my carbohydrate intake. If I did and followed some other common-sense advice, including pursuing an exercise routine, the weight would virtually melt off.
Seven months earlier, at age 59, I had retired as publisher and editor of The Palladium-Times in Oswego, N.Y. One of my goals in retirement was to shed my excess weight, which had ballooned to 257 pounds. Although I walked a few miles almost every day, I consumed far too many calories, so whatever progress I made through exercise was negated by my food-consuming bad habits.
Despite a healthy dose of skepticism, I decided to give the Atkins' diet a try. My goal was to lose 41 pounds to 216, one pound less than I had ever weighed as an adult.
In 1966 when I quit smoking, I vowed to go on a diet at the same time - to see whether I really did have will power. I dropped 45 pounds (262 to 217), but I quickly put it back on. At least six other times in my life, I had lost 30 or more pounds, only to fall off the wagon each time - and then some. Like many other Americans, I subscribed - not intentionally - to the Yo-Yo method of weight control:
- Take off a lot of weight
- Go back to the same bad habits
- Put all of the weight (or more) back on.
In the past, usually some intemperate remark had been my motivation for weight loss. Once, an acquaintance from my home town of Summit Hill, whom I had not seen in many years, greeted me, not with a hearty "hello, how are you" but with a "boy, did you get fat!"
Then there was the little boy in the supermarket who was staring and pointing at me, much to his mother's annoyance. My ample belly was hanging over the waist of a way-too-tight pair of shorts. "Mommy," the boy asked in childlike innocence, "why is that man so fat?" If there was an answer, happily I didn't hear it.
By Nov. 15, 1999, just 15 weeks into the four-phase Atkins' diet program, I had reached my goal of 216 pounds. After going on maintenance the fourth and final stage of the Atkins' plan eating sensibly, cutting out most snacks and continuing the daily walks, I had lost another 44 pounds by July 31, 2000, dropping to a startling 172, a weight I had not seen since I was a freshman in high school, nor one I ever expected to attain again in my lifetime.
At first, my wife, Marie, was able to take in my pants and sports and suit jackets, but as I lost more weight, my wardrobe resembled coverings for the Incredible Shrinking Man, so I had to buy new clothes, much to the delight of the local JC Penney's manager.
My jacket size has gone from 50 to 42, my pants size has gone from 46 to 36, and my shirt size has shrunk from 18 to 15 1/2.
As a gag, I captured for posterity the obligatory photo of me smiling broadly while showing the gaping space between my now 36-inch waist and the size 46 pants I had formerly worn - just like the guys in those long-ago tabloid diet ads.
In the beginning, people were wary when they commented on my weight loss, if they recognized me at all. "I hope it was planned, and you are all right," was the all-too-frequent delicate lead-in to the conversation.
During the first few months, a number of people solemnly beckoned Marie aside to ask in hushed tones, "Does Bruce have cancer?" They don't ask that any more, thank goodness. I no longer look like death warmed over. It took a little time to "fit" into the new, if diminished, body.
Keeping the weight off is a seven-day-a-week chore. It is a daily priority. Almost obsession-like, I walk nine miles first thing in the morning, a regimen that takes about two hours and 15 minutes.
If the weather is OK, I walk outside; if not, it's on to the treadmill. I have walked more than 22,000 miles, the equivalent of trekking more than three-quarters of the way around the earth at the equator.
Now I eat whatever I want, except in moderation. I don't deprive myself of anything, even desserts. I lay off between-meal eating, which really piles up the calories. I still have my daily bagel with cream cheese - a "reward" after my daily walk.
What has been especially gratifying is that my success prompted a number of people to do the same. Among them are a state Supreme Court Judge and the former U.S. ambassador to El Salvador.
When I celebrated my 65th birthday more than five years ago, I wanted to commemorate the milestone with a "Walk to Help Stamp Out Polio." Thanks to generous Rotarians, family and friends, I was able to raise $4,635 for The Rotary Foundation during a 26.2-mile (marathon) walk.
If I can do this, anyone can. It's not easy. Anyone who tries to tell you that you will lose weight by watching television while keeping some "wonder" wrapping around you is nothing more than a modern-day version of the snake-oil charlatan of the early 20th century.
Weight-loss programs, such as NutriSystem, are fine, so long as you understand that portion control and exercise are at the center of the plans. When you hear a smiling Marie Osmond talk about losing 50 pounds, be sure to note the fine print in the TV ads which says "Results not Normal."
With determination, an exercise program and sensible eating, you can accomplish your goal and enjoy a sense of self-satisfaction that is virtually indescribable.
I can't explain adequately the disdain I had for myself every morning when I looked into the mirror. Contrast that to the exhilaration I feel today at each morning's weigh-in. That's right: I weigh myself every morning, because if I need to initiate damage control I do so immediately.
In addition to the weight loss, my cholesterol and blood pressure are lower, and, thanks to my strenuous exercise regimen, my pulse rate is 45 at rest, better than the much-younger President Barack Obama.
Despite the many compliments I've gotten during the past 10 years, I keep them in perspective. I realize full well that my life-long compulsion for food could get out of control at any time - just as other addictions can and this extraordinary accomplishment could be dashed in a few days of gluttony, but I am determined that this will not happen.
Not this time!
(Bruce Frassinelli, a native of Summit Hill, lives in Schnecksville and is an adjunct instructor at Lehigh Carbon Community College.)