Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Life Changes

By Peter D. Springberg, M.D.

Your body is the baggage you must carry through life. The more excess the baggage, the shorter the trip.

~Arnold H. Glasgow
"Dad," I said, via phone to Florida, "I've given away lots of Paul's stuff, kept the few things that we need to save, but don't have any idea where his car might be. Any ideas?"
While everyone else in the family had lived past ninety, my brother had managed to defeat his heredity by gaining over 50 pounds and dying of a heart attack at age fifty-seven. A pedestrian found Paul lying on a street in Skokie, Illinois near where he lived. I'd come to clean out his apartment and I couldn't find his car.
Dad suggested, "Look in the parking lot of the nearest Kentucky Fried Chicken."
It was there! I decided on the spot it was time to change my own diet. I wanted to emulate the long-lived members of my small tribe. Though I weighed only a few pounds more than I had in high school, the distribution of those pounds had shifted some... actually a bunch.
I was fifty-three, had been exercising moderately on a regular basis and eating a fairly reasonable mix of foodstuffs. I shifted to more fruits and vegetables and ate considerably less red meat. My wife, Lynnette, was a lifetime member of Weight Watchers — one of their success stories. She had lots of suggestions!
Two years later I was sitting in the cafeteria of a very large Air Force hospital where I was a senior physician and overheard two nurses talking about the latest fad diet. One planned to lose 10 pounds before the holiday season. I remembered that the previous year she had gone on a different fad diet, lost 12 pounds and then gained 15 back. Then and there I invented my own lifetime diet.
When I got home that day I asked Lynnette to hear my ideas, partly to see if she was interested in trying the plan with me. I weighed 177, only three pounds more than usual, but that was well up from my college wrestling weight of 155 and my waistline measurement was three or four inches larger than I wanted.
"Here's my plan," I said. "Basically I'm going to eat less and do more, but I've come up with three ideas that form the centerpiece of the diet part of my regimen."
"I'm perfectly happy with my Weight Watchers plan," Lynnette said, "but tell me what your three ideas are."
"First, I'm abandoning the Clean Plate Club; I'll cut off a part of everything served to me and not eat it. Second, I need to quit snacking; I'm going to put our microwave popcorn container on the kitchen island with a bright red measuring cup on it and use that as a signal to STOP my frequent trips to the refrigerator. And third, I'll quit eating after supper even if we're at a party."
Twelve years have passed and I'm lighter than I've been since I was in eighth grade. When I see the red measuring cup, I say, "You Dummy!" and turn back at least 95 percent of the time; once in a while I eat some popcorn without butter or salt. I routinely pre-eat some fruit and cereal and then none of the goodies at parties.
As usual, I took things to extremes and started pushing my exercise, originally on a recumbent bike, later by hiking on mountain trails. Now that we're living in Fort Collins, Colorado at 5,190 feet, it's much easier to adapt to even higher altitudes. Recently, at age 68, I hiked up to 12,000 feet twice. I've got a third similar excursion planned with our friend Maggie, an accomplished mountain hiker, as my companion.

Next year I hope to hike one or more of Colorado's "14ers." We have 54 mountains that are over 14,000 feet high and 14 of those are rated as moderate hikes, ones I think I might be able to accomplish using good boots and hiking poles.
I'm working on next summer's expedition already. I've got a Base Camp with Lynnette and two friends, Maggie as our group leader and one other guy who wants to climb with us.
When I weighed 153.2 pounds one morning, under my intermediate goal of 155, I took a break from the diet and ate an appetizer, a full dinner meal, and a custard dessert at our favorite Thai restaurant. I've broken my diet plan into five-pound decrements, stick closely to my three ideas until I reach an intermediate goal, and then relax for a few days to a week.
Lynnette bought me a digital scale and I weigh myself every morning and keep a log of my progress. If I gain three pounds over a goal, I go back on the strict version of the diet; the weight melts off in a day or two.
My experience so invigorated me that I wanted to share it with others. I've started writing a short diet book, while Lynnette, who is the kind of cook who can fling together wonderful dishes from scratch, is adding the recipes.
Most people can't be as active as I am, but I've come up with suggestions for everyone. I park far away from stores, so I have a longer walk to get there. I hide the TV remote so I have to get up to change channels. And I'm deliberately absent-minded, so I make more trips upstairs to my den to get things.
As I neared the end of my first hike to 12,000 feet, I felt my brother climbing right beside me. I knew Paul would be glad to see how he'd changed my life.
Reprinted by permission of Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC (c) 2010. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.