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The Answer

September 24, 2011

Control is important to us middling men, and I had a great deal of control over a wide variety of elements of my life, but in truth I had lost control over my body.  When you try to syphon off as much bloat from under your skin suit as I wanted to, I knew that I had to be able to maintain a single-minded doggedness to push through the months and months of politically incorrect and socially impolitic eating.  I knew the results had to speak for themselves, forcing many people to back off from expressing their “concerns” over what I was doing with my own body.  I had to give myself the necessary “eye of the tiger” to come out at the other end.

Like most of my peers, I am impatient.  It’s a miracle that we can keep our focus through filling out our NCAA Brackets, let alone pay attention for the entire grinding 2 ½ weeks of March Madness. Subliminally I know that my corporeal self has a limited shelf life, therefore I want to do what I want to do when I want to do it.  I really want to get stuff done before I croak and I am mightily pissed off if the time it takes goes on longer than I think it should.  Males in the middle of life have already done much (and perhaps learned too little), and to us life is a series of checked off accomplishments.  When conquering that list gets delayed the raison d’etre of much of what we value is blunted, so while I could accept any number of indignities and discomforts, I knew any regime I inflicted on myself had to have an ironclad guaranteed timetable.

So when I cross-referenced my impatient intensity for radical change with an over-committed life, a memory welled up from my subconscious Magic Eight Ball.

In 1970, perhaps thirty pounds overweight and with perhaps thirty pounds too little muscle to play football, I happened upon a book, the “Doctor’s Quick Weight Loss Diet”.  In it, Dr. Irwin Stillman laid out an extraordinarily simple diet plan, explicated to over 100 pages, plus 40 or 50 other bizarre diets involving extremely limited food type intake.  His theory was that although extremely limited diets may be grotesquely unhealthy over the long haul, during the short term of the diet, if the size of your body is reduced enough, the net cardiovascular/health benefits far outweighed the temporary lack of nutrition, regularity, or common sense.

I used this “Stillman Diet” on a regular basis over the next fifteen years to yo-yo down for special events.  Essentially, it is a high protein, low fat, no carbohydrate diet.  First it was football and wrestling, where fat came off and muscle went on fairly aggressively.  Then it was getting rid of the “Freshman Twenty” (or was it thirty?), then the “Sophomore Twenty” (or was it thirty-five?)   And finally, it was getting down to human proportions for my wedding.

Numerous diets beyond Stillman’s (Atkins, protein shakes, the Air Force Diet, the Drinking Man’s Diet) all used some sort of carbohydrate limitation to try to get people thin.  But the vast majority of literature on these diets has one consistent reality – while weight does come off at a rapid rate in large quantities, it goes back on very quickly once its mechanism for losing weight, ketosis (see page [the Doctor chapter]), ceases and carbs come back into our bellies, making the net-net of employing this technique probably less healthy than if you just stayed the weight you were and worked out like a mad man (as I did for 5 years before I de-massed).

In the end, I snipped this yo-yo’s string by having a 3 month transition that kept refined carb’s (breads, pasta’s, sugars), fats (nuts, butter, fried foods) and drinks with any calories in them out of my mouth, but getting vegetables, brown rice and fruits (unrefined carbohydrates) back on the menu. This seemed to avoid the rebound effect. Oh yeah, I still worked out like a mother.

Truth be told, because of its intensity, the Stillman diet is, for me, totally unsustainable beyond six months, therefore I knew in the back of my mind that I would need to figure out some sort of transition to a normalcy that had eluded me for the last twenty-five years – namely having the calories I ingest equal those I expend on a daily basis.

This is an agnostically kosher diet, one where whole foods groups simply don’t exist, crushing my temptation to taste off-limits foods.  Despite being one of the “Chosen Frozen” (Episcopalian) who eat pretty much anything if accompanied by alcohol, I was able to shut down the desire for my beloved breads, pasta, and wine simply by knowing that if I ate them all my intensity would be defused.  I would be Samson without his hair, Austin Powers without his mojo, or Mr. T. without his jewelry.

Fundamental to making this regime work is recognizing one basic fact that is easily overlooked by us career obsessed, child centered Boomer Boys:  the food you consume only goes one of two places – fuel or fat.  The problem is that this binary reality is masked by food’s sensual pleasures of taste and texture, and by its capacity to comfort by ritualistic consumption and subsequent sedation.  De-programming myself to accept the fact that calories have consequences was a rite of passage for me.  Fat and sugar feel good. Brown rice and broccoli rabe are good.  But, sadly, the fat that hung off my carriage when I ate too much of one and not enough of the other was ultimately the worst.

But at the DVD induced crossroads, I could no longer rationalize my inflated sack with the gauzy remembrance of a past body.  With my fat back up against the wall, my brain flashed on Dr. Stillman.  His diet entailed these very defined and extreme principles:

1.       No carbohydrates.  This means no fruits, vegetables, breads, and pasta.

2.       No fats.  This means no bacon, no butter, no oil, no skin on chicken or any fat on meat.

3.       No fluids with any calories.  No milk (skim or otherwise), non-diet sodas or juices of any kind.  And, oh yes, wine, beer, booze are all “high calorie liquids” – bummer. . .

4.       No sugar.  This rules out all sweets and any sweeteners with calories (honey, sugar, you name it.)

5.       A mandatory drinking of “12 8-oz. glasses of water” a day.  In 21st Century parlance, that would be roughly three 1-liter bottles of water a day.

I applied a few draconian rules that went beyond Dr. Stillman’s previously described prohibitions:

1.       No condiments (ketchup, gravy, mustard, etc.) – they have carbs, sugars, and some fat.

2.       No eating fried foods if you take off the skin (although acceptable to Dr. Stillman).  If it was fried, I just wouldn’t eat it.  I did allow myself to get roasted chicken or turkey and remove the skin before eating it, but I initially viewed this as being somehow morally suspect.  (I got over it.)

3.       No processed meats (sausage, hot dogs, baloney or compressed poultry patties.)  God knows what they contain within their slimy casings (beyond the yummy fat and salt).

What did this actually leave for me to eat?  Well, meat.   As long no fats were used in its preparation, you could eat chicken (as said, without skins), fish (which I detest), beef (with the fat removed), pork (not bacon), lamb, etc.  You can also eat eggs, cottage cheese, and something called farmer’s cheese (also known as pot cheese).  Being somewhat terrified of “bad” cholesterol, despite never actually finding out what my cholesterol level is, I only ate a couple of poached eggs perhaps twice a month.  I did allow a sip of wine and tasteless wafer twice a month during an archaic ritual some inbred folk do in big buildings that often have pipe organs – but that was the only ingestion of carbs allowed. . .

The good news was you could eat as much as you want in any combination you want.  There was no need to count calories.  The other good news was that as long as you kept to this regime, the weight seemed to fly off your body– very rapidly in the beginning (probably mostly water weight), and then a steady stream of weight loss until you either decided you’d had enough or you’d reached your goal.

The big downside of the Stillman regime is that it is essentially a biochemically precise equation via a transition to a process called ketosis that helps metabolize ingested proteins and your own body fat.  While you don’t have to think about calories, if you introduce into your body any portion of any of the “forbidden foods” laid out above, the mechanism by which your body turns your stored fat into digestible carbohydrates explodes and it sends your body into a water and calorie storing mode that quickly undoes a week’s worth of work.  I realized that any reason that would compel me to put bread (or broccoli) into my mouth for six months was ridiculously unimportant compared to the ultimate change I was imposing on my life.

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