Tue, Aug-18-09, 04:14
From Refuse to Regain
August 17, 2009
True Confessions of a Once Thin Person
By Barbara Berkeley
Like someone who has committed a crime and never reported it, I feel compelled to confess. I simply must wade back into the debate about who the thin really are.
Many of you have written with generous spirit about your realization that thin people are not genetically blessed, but simply work at it. Recently, Cari posted this on our site:
"And the thin people? Now that I AM one, I realize that, when I was obese, I also bought a pack of lies about how the "thin half" lives. I was angry because I believed they didn't have to work at it and were just genetically blessed. I also thought that "thin" equalled "fit" -- nothing could be further from the truth!"
Unfortunately, my confession is going to burst that bubble.
Until I was 40 years old, I was indeed endowed with an incredible IBM (intake balance mechanism). At 5’6” tall, I had weighed between 110 and 118 pounds my entire adult life. In my family, I was known for my enormous appetite and my capacity to eat endless amounts of just about everything. My favorite foods were Mallomar cookies which come in double-box packs. Once, a guy who wanted to date me bought me two cases to get my attention. I generally would eat both boxes of Mallomars at one sitting and would have multiple back-up packs in the pantry. At another point, I lived in Brooklyn about a half-mile from Junior’s restaurant which makes a world-famous cheesecake. I used to buy pineapple cheesecakes whole and eat them in a day.
I tend to eat the same favorite foods repeatedly – I mean daily for months. At various points in my 20s and 30s I had the following food “addictions” and ate huge quantities of: Egg Mc Muffins, Chicken McNuggets, Wendy’s taco salad, Nathan’s hot dogs (2 at a time) and French fries, Pinwheels cookies, Devil Dogs, Yodels, garlic and parmesan crackle bread, BREAD (a loaf at a time), spaghetti, Hostess cupcakes, York Peppermint Patties, Nestle Chocolate Bars, Cadbury Chocolate Bars, Chipwich ice cream sandwiches, chocolate dipped cones from Dairy Queen, and a whole bunch of other stuff I can’t remember. In addition, I ate large meals. Looking back on this list, I realize that I’m lucky to be alive or not to have developed heart disease.
What’s particularly amazing is that I grew up very frightened of heart problems. When I was 15, my very skinny 50-year-old father had a heart attack while eating a hamburger at lunch. The whole family was around the table when he developed sweating and chest pain. I’ll never forget it. In fact, my father’s heart attack was probably what motivated me to become a doctor and later to learn more about diet and exercise. Although my Dad was sedentary, smoked, and ate a diet that was pretty much confined to red meat and French fries, the fact that he had a heart attack at 50 indicated a family risk. Despite growing up under that cloud, I did absolutely nothing to change the way I lived. (My father survived, by the way, and just celebrated his 96th birthday, thanks to stents, bypass and a complete overhaul of his eating and exercise habits.)
But I haven’t confessed everything yet. I now must tell you that I was also completely – and I do mean completely – sedentary. As a teenager and young adult I played no sport, belonged to no gym (they weren’t around yet) and avoided anything that involved activity. I did like to dance a lot and didn’t mind sweating up a storm at clubs in New York or later as a folk dancer in the Israeli and Balkan folk dance scene in the city. But that was it. No running, no biking, no raquets, no nothing.
When I turned 40, I found that I was in for a rude shock. Sometime after that fateful day—the day I walked around with a pin that said “40 isn’t old—for a tree,” I discovered that time had robbed me of my gold-plated IBM. One day, my thighs started to look like lumpy sacks filled with bagels. What was this? Dear readers, I was too naďve to know. I stopped eating cookies and the bagel bags slimmed down a bit, but once thinner I started chowing down again. Eating without a thought was all I knew, after all. Soon I started to look like a puffy pyramid. I bought big baggy jeans and wore skinny tops because I was still thin from the waist up. I began a 15-year battle with an enemy I didn’t understand, losing weight once a year and gaining it all back within a month or two. I gained 30 pounds over the weight I’d been most of my life. By this time, I was already treating obese patients. I still didn’t get myself.
My own weight battle ended about six years ago when I suddenly had an insight that put together everything I’d learned about nutrition over the years. The Primarian Diet popped into my mind like the proverbial lightbulb going off. I tried it. It worked. It continues to keep me thin.
So now for the analysis of my story. There’s quite a bit to say.
First: My confession does confirm that there are some thin people you can legitimately hate. Super IBMs are real. They do exist. HOWEVER, they rarely persist into middle age. I think it’s safe to say that thin people in their late 40s and beyond are unlikely to be metabolic supermen. They are probably working at it and working hard, just as I am. Data compiled by Harvard’s famed Framingham study recently predicted that mostly everyone in the town of Framingham, Massachusetts, would be overweight by the end of their life. I believe that is because even the hardiest IBM will be beaten and broken by the SAD (standard American diet). When I think of what I threw away by eating all that crap! It’s truly heartbreaking.
Second: Doesn’t my confessional sound familiar? You’d think you were reading the first chapter in a book written by someone who’d been 400 pounds and had found redemption in weight loss. In other words, I was just like any other American food addict. But I never was blamed for my eating, called lazy, slovenly, or told that I had no willpower. It wasn’t until I started to look like a sack of bagels that my food consumption became a moral failing. Therefore, I conclude that no one’s food habits are moral failings. They are simply the addictions that result from exposure to a horrible food environment. It takes all of our energy to break free. If you’ve done it, you’re a hero.
Three: The lightbulb that pointed me to the Primarian Diet represented a singular moment. I saw. Your lightbulb may have led you to another kind of diet or some other formula that works for you. Whatever the specifics, it resulted in your finding the metabolic solution that fits your physiology. The veil was lifted from your eyes. You were enlightened!
So, the next time you see a thin person who appears to eat at will, you might consider pitying him. You are the wise one, not he. And once his IBM betrays him, he will have a long and difficult path to finding his truth. If he is like most Americans, he will fail. Rejoice that you have traveled so far down the road, that you see your way clearly and that you are happily anticipating what lies ahead.