NOTE: I describe this blog as a food appreciation blog by someone who has appreciated food a little too much. One of the goals of Al Dente is to balance my love of cooking with the fact that I’ve dealt with weight issues for most of my life. Some of it is self-control. Some of it is cultural. Some of it is inherited. This is a multi-chapter story that I have not finished writing. We’ll see where it goes. It starts about 15 months ago…
Actually, this story really starts with my childhood. The Paventis are not what you’d call “small” people. There are more than a few 300+ pound men on this side of the family. We have a couple that tip 400 (at least). It’s not pretty. As a people, we seem to be magnets for empty calories and unhealthy eating.
I’m no different. It was tough to avoid being the fat kid when eating everything on your plate was rewarded with a reload of seconds, thirds, fourths… Some houses restricted snacking. Mine seemed to reward it. But that wasn’t the half of it. Like any other Italian family, we ate a lot of pasta, usually to the tune of twice a week. McDonalds and Burger King? At least once a week for dinner and most certainly on Sunday mornings for breakfast pre- or post-church. Self-control wasn’t really something that was practiced, mostly because it was seemingly impossible to find.
The result was the endless barrage of childhood teasing. There is something to the anti-bullying rules that have become so prevalent in schools of the 21st century. Part of the reason I think it’s horseshit, though, is because I could have used those rules in, say, 1984. I had the distinction of being one of the fat kids at Donlin Drive Elementary and Chestnut Hill Middle School. Luckily, by the time I hit high school, I could fade into the forest of 2,800 other students in the building. Still, there was no coincidence that I was sick each year for every gym class that coincided with the bullshit fitness test of the one-mile run. Those were the worst and most demoralizing 17 minutes of my year.
My actual health problems began after I started my graduate assistantship at Syracuse University. A lifetime of lousy eating, combined with the stresses and unpredictability of my 80-hour work weeks led to a lot of dinners from a box or bag. It was after a Christmas dinner at Aunt Barb’s house, where I overloaded myself with, well, everything. I felt this pain in my chest that felt like a clicking. When I breathed in, it felt like my stomach was catching on my rib cage, resulting in a snapping when I exhaled. I visited the gastroenterologist a week later. He ordered an upper GI, which showed a hiatal hernia. The doctor said that I needed to lose weight and take pressure off my midsection. I got him to refer me to a nutritionist and he agreed.
I spent 10 months in treatment with the nutritionist. I went from 260 to 220, following a pretty basic plan of lean proteins, low carbs and lots of vegetables. It was a total lifestyle shift for me and it worked.
I graduated from SU in May 2001 and walked right into my first job at the Syracuse Asshat Corporation (not the real name of the company, but it’s pretty close to what they produced). After eight months of being told one thing and shown another, Syracuse Asshat Corp. laid me off, deciding that the company could not sustain my position. Things went well for the first few months. I had a routine for my day, applying for jobs and watching reruns of “The Golden Girls.” But, as the situation turned bleak, so did my dietary pattern. Snacking became comfort eating, which became compulsive eating, which reversed the good that came from my time with the nutritionist.
Fast forward to 2004 and the beginning of my ear infections. Sharp, piercing pains which felt like someone jamming an exactoknife down my ear canal, also turned my outer ear into an extension of that pain. I checked in with the NP I see at my doctor’s office, who started running tests as the ear infection was the only sign of illness. One of the tests was a blood sugar screening…222. (I remember this clearly because of the repeating twos.) The diagnosis was two-fold — a fungal ear infection and type 2 diabetes.
The NP referred me to the nutritionist in the practice, who was useless. She spent more time adding calories on a calculator than talking to me. But, she was cute and smelled nice, so I kept going.
I tried going back to the plan that the first nutritionist set out with me. It wasn’t working. I think that so much had changed in my life, especially in terms of metabolism, that what worked four years prior was long out of reach. I tried Weight Watchers (in all, about five different times). I’d start, have good success (3-4 pounds per week), get bored and stop. This cycle repeated itself over and over again with no real end or incentive to continue.
Think about that. My own health wasn’t the incentive to continue. I know what type two diabetes brings…blindness, infections, heart problems, increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. But, the threat of debilitating health risk didn’t do it.
Fast forward again to 2008. I was on a pretty self-destructive course. I went from the rationalization of “Let’s order two pizzas because it’s a deal,” to “Let’s order two pizzas so we have leftovers for lunch,” to “We should get three pizzas since I’m going to eat one on my own.” It was, in a word, bad. I went from a 38-inch waist to a 42 in the “comfort waist” selection. You know, the pants with the hidden elastic extensions? Yeah, so I was probably at a 46. Anyhow, there wasn’t a lot of judgment used when I would order dinner. One weekend, before The Wife was pregnant, we went to King of Prussia with the in-laws. We took them to IKEA in Conshohocken, wandered King of Prussia Mall and hit the mecca of gluttony — The Cheesecake Factory (Oh, how I love The Cheesecake Factory. My first trip to Cheesecake was on Long Island…Westbury. I had the double-double hamburger. It was majestic. Here’s my problem with The Cheesecake Factory. I have no control…financial or dietary. I basically sit my mouth at the edge of the table and start pushing food in. Salad? Sure. Appetizer? Why not. Dessert? You’re damn right. I should be dead, you know?). We were on the list to get a pager at the Cheesecake while we were at one of my other favorite KOP attractions — Restoration Hardware. They had this really neat scale. When I stood on it, the number said something I had never seen before.
I got off the scale and got back on. There it was again.
And then there was a voice. “Did that say what I thought it said?” It was my father-in-law standing next to me. Before I could answer, The Wife suggested heading back down to the restaurant.
I gave Weight Watchers one last shot during 2009. It didn’t work. I lasted 10 weeks, lost eight pounds and gained back 12 within three weeks after. It just wasn’t working. By this point, The Baby was on the way and I was facing the prospect of needing a something that was a commodity to this point — energy. You see, I had none. I wasn’t sleeping well at night. I was in blinding back pain, probably experiencing some apnea and spent most days trying not to fall asleep at my desk. It was affecting my work, what with the increased ear infections causing me to take sick days and the constant exhaustion. Something had to give.
During the fall of 2009, I started looking at my options for weight loss. I decided something more needed to be done, but simple diets just weren’t working. Weight Watchers? Meh. I needed a hook…a reason above and beyond health to keep on a plan. Let’s face it, if it were all about health, this would be moot.
I thought about what had happened when I saw the nutritionist back in 2001. My incentive was financial, because insurance only covered a little of the cost. So that was it. The counterweight (no pun intended) was money. I was not ready to take the leap on a surgical procedure. Nutritionists were okay, but at this point I was experiencing a significant health issue. I needed a doctor, or at least an NP to oversee the program. And one that was going to charge me enough money where I had to feel like I was going to lose something tangible if I didn’t stay on it.
And that’s when I found the person who I credit with saving my life…