My Diet Year: Our 2005 Road Trip Prelude

Me Before and After.

July 2004 at Lake Ontario vs. July 2005 at an Oklahoma overlook.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: in recent weeks we’ve been sharing the stories of our annual road trips that we undertook before I launched MCC in April 2012. Starting from the beginning and working our way forward, so far we’ve covered 1999 to 2004. Before we make the leap to 2005, a digression is in order regarding some personal development that affected, among other things, some of my vacation photos.

On Tuesday, July 6, 2004, less than two weeks before our wedding, I went in for my first physical since childhood. I’ve never had a family doctor and consequently never got in the habit of yearly checkups. Before I entered into a new phase of life with the woman I love, I figured it might be a good idea to make sure nothing was broken before the big day.

I also hadn’t owned a set of scales in years and had no idea how much I weighed. I’d been overweight since fourth grade — a consequence of having a teacher who used candies as incentives for the straight-A students, which in turn introduced me to the wonderful world of sugar, which hadn’t been a presence in my household till then. By the time I got to 10th grade I was at 250 pounds, unappealing to the ladies but comfy to me. But I stayed a consistent weight from for the next thirteen years until I left restaurant management in September 2000. Staying on my feet and never stopping for eight to ten hours per day magically offset every Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese. The job was that stressful. When I switched career tracks to an office job and lost my daily regimen, the unused calories began to add up.

Four years into sedentary employment, I was shocked when I underwent the usual preliminary steps with the nurse and checked in at 304 pounds.

The doctor was a bald, stocky, eightysomething man who looked like the Thing and had at least one WWII certificate on his wall that was signed circa WWII. After the routine parts of the appointment, he had the nurse conduct an EKG on me in case of…well, he didn’t verbalize what he expected to find. She stuck a few pads to me, connected them by wires to a computer or device or whatever, and flipped some switches. A few minutes later, she informed me the results showed at some point I’d had a heart attack without knowing it.

That’s exactly the kind of news that inspires a man to make some changes in his life. I regretted the Krispy Kremes I’d had for breakfast, and I think I cried over that evening’s already planned lasagna dinner. The next day, the diet began.

On the advice of Dr. Thing, I went with the low-carb diet that was all the rage at the time. Whether it’s the Atkins Diet, the South Beach Diet, or the other diets with forgotten names that were more or less variations on the same theme, that’s what I did to the best of my ability. That meant cutting out all the best things in eating, every conceivable “bad” carb I could — breads, noodles, potatoes, white rice, white flour, and sugars including fructose and lactose as well as the really yummy ones. I discovered a ridiculous number of foods loaded with sugars (and high fructose corn syrup) that I’d have to curtail, such as ketchup and heavy salad dressings.

Effectively when you do something like this, you’re not just cutting out “bad” foods — you’re cutting out foods period.

Lucky for me that low-carb craze hadn’t faded yet and manufacturers still had their cash-in attempts competing on grocers’ shelves where I could find them easily and discover that 98% of them were awful. Low-carb biscuits were the worst of the worst, but the successes were precious few. Aunt Millie’s made a light whole-grain bread that got me through a lot of hard days. The greatest product of all times was Krusteaz low-carb pancake mix, which went great with whichever peanut butter had the least carbs at the time (Peter Pan before they changed their recipe, I think). Krusteaz was such a lifesaver that when they discontinued that variety, I began a driving tour of all the grocery stores around us to scavenge as much as I could. One Meijer location in particular kept me hooked up for months after everyone else had run out.

I also bought a couple of low-carb cookbooks that needed ingredients I’d never heard of — weird flours, molecular chemistry substances, stuff you could only order online, names I would never hear again till years later when we became fans of Chopped. Many were meat-based, though you couldn’t add much in the way of side dishes except select vegetables. Several dessert recipes could be made from the protein whey powder that weightlifters use for training, all of which tasted like the same flavor of drywall.

A month after the checkup, I was ordered in for a treadmill test with a different specialist at another facility. I was hooked up with extra wires to a giant computer looming over an expensive treadmill and put through a solid hour of walking, jogging, running, running for my life, then reversing gears until I was eventually permitted to slow to a stop.

The specialist took a long look at the readings. He found no heart attack evidence anywhere. At all.

His best guess: the checkup nurse apparently hadn’t applied the pads and/or the smaller wires correctly, and therefore pulled bad readings. Far as he could tell, from a heart-health perspective, I was fine. Still overweight, but fine.

By that time I’d lost the 20-25 pounds of water weight with minimal psychological damage. False alarm or not, I figured why not keep the diet going and see how far I could push it.

Later on, a coworker gave me her family’s cheaper, unused treadmill that came in handy. Frequent treadmill sessions plus a portable DVD player and headphones are how I watched all seven seasons of Buffy and the first few seasons of Angel. That’s the closest I came to having an exercise plan with my diet, but it helped.

Also helpful: following along with the first few seasons of NBC’s Biggest Loser. The extreme methods and borderline charlatanry that have been publicized in recent years were disappointing to hear, but for a good while Bob, Jillian, and their boot-camp fodder were an inspiration at exactly the time I needed some motivation.

I know some of you can spot a number of flaws in the preceding paragraphs from any number of medical and scientific perspectives. Regardless, I kept this up for twelve solid months. I plateaued a few times. I got frustrated. I cheated on rare occasions, and loathed myself for it every time. I got really lonely and moody, as I didn’t expect my family to alter their appetites for my sake, which sometimes meant separate meal plans for us. I ran into a physical side effect or two here and there, adding vitamins to our grocery list to compensate for the internal necessities that were being shorted.

In July 2005, crossing the one-year anniversary of my diet was in itself a formidable psychological wall that I hit and just couldn’t bypass. By that time, in its way, the diet had worked. I began at 304 pounds, size 48 pants, and size 3X shirts. By mid-July 2005 I called it quits at 206 pounds and, for a limited time only, waist size 38 and Large shirts for the first time since junior high.

You can see more of the results in our photos from April 2005’s Star Wars Celebration III, some of my all-time favorites for that reason alone. Online friends who’d seen us in pics from previous years were floored to see my changes in person. One of the best things about dieting, besides just knowing you’ve improved your life expectancy, is that look of “WOW” on the faces of those who can tell a difference and can’t believe what they’re seeing.

Longtime MCC followers may notice our more recent photos show me not at my 2005 fighting weight anymore. I haven’t gained all that weight back, but it’s obvious I’ve lost ground. That’s an essay and food for thought for another entry sometime. For now, suffice it to say among other causes I severely underestimated the long-term future impact of losing all those crappy low-carb products.

In the meantime…this was the state of me when we embarked on our seventh annual road trip. It’s a good thing I was bringing a lot less padding with me, because if I hadn’t ditched some of that, the summertime heat of Texas and especially Arkansas probably would’ve drowned me in my own sweat.

To be continued!

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