It starts early
I grew up as a typical American Gen-Xer, in a boringly suburban middle-class life — not quite upper-middle, but not lower either. Pretty average. I was an only child from what was the second marriage for both of my parents, so while I had half-siblings they were all much older than me and we didn’t grow up together.
Other than a brief little time of trouble with one particular neighbor family that led to their kids bullying me, there really wasn’t a lot of drama. I can’t remember ever seeing my parents fight, and they stayed married until my mom died. We had a dog and a house, I took music lessons, avoided sports, loved science and science fiction, and read relentlessly.
Yeah, I was a nerd then and I still am now and I’m proud of it.
There was always food on the table and in the fridge, and my mother was an excellent cook. She had grown up in a poor Irish-American family in Pennsylvania, lost in the middle of seven surviving kids out of thirteen. To them, “exotic” food was baking the potato instead of mashing it, so it was probably only natural once she landed in a stable marriage that she learned how to cook “fancy,” although her repertoire covered mostly Italian and Mexican food, and nothing Asian.
That was fine with us, though. My father was a huge fan of spicy food, and so am I.
My mother made incredible lasagna, enchiladas, and a casserole that was an amazing combination of ground beef, sour cream, egg noodles, corn, and cream of mushroom soup. Sunday lunch was quite frequently roast beef and mashed potatoes. There were always seconds, leftovers, and dessert.
Consequently, I always carried around a little extra weight growing up and averaged around 185 in high school. That’s still considered normal based on BMI for my height, but just barely — it’s ten pounds less than the lower limit for being overweight. There were also times in my adult life, on-and-off, when I averaged around 225, which is nine pounds under what would be considered obese for me.
A funny thing did happen once I moved from home after college, though — my weight dropped to 165, but it didn’t stay there and I yo-yoed. I had periods of being skinny and periods of being fat, but I could never really figure out a particular cause other than diet. For example, when I started working in TV I gained weight because it involved a lot of sitting around writers’ offices where they fed us constantly — and not the healthiest food, either, but a lot of it. And free.
There’s a very simple rule for weight-loss that tends to be buried under an avalanche of fad diets and pseudoscience. If you want to lose weight and it’s not being caused by an underlying medical condition, eat less and move more. When I’ve done this, I’ve lost weight. When I haven’t, I’ve gained. I’ll cover this concept in much more detail later on, but that’s really the secret in a nutshell, and yet it’s alarming how many people don’t get it. Sorry, but there are no magic foods or pills you can put in your pie hole to melt the pounds off. Surgery does work, but see above, re: existing medical issues. I have several friends for whom this was the case, and the lap band worked miracles for them, but chances are you won’t need to go that far.
This was also why my efforts from 2013 onward to lose weight didn’t work — there was an underlying medical issue I was unaware of, although one that I was able to fix.
As part of my care after getting out of the hospital, Kaiser invited me to a free class taught by a nurse and a nutritionist, and the nutritionist had some amazing stories, but one in particular is relevant here. She had a patient who had been trying to lose weight by eating healthier, and this patient proudly informed the nutritionist one day that they had eaten fifteen oranges in an effort to be healthy.
There’s just one little problem there. Even fruits and vegetables have calories, in this case about 45 per orange, so the patient had just consumed a third of their required daily caloric intake. Oranges are also full of sugar in the form of fructose, glucose, and sucrose. Finally, in sheer weight, that patient probably ate about four pounds of oranges. Can you imagine yourself eating four pounds of anything in one sitting?
Of course, food wasn’t the only thing that was going to slowly lead to my heart problems. I picked up two other not-so-great habits in college…
Read an excerpt from Chapter Three.