I NEVER THOUGHT IT WOULD HAPPEN TO ME. I THOUGHT THAT, even though fully gray headed and old enough (47) to shave at the ears and pluck at the nose, I was too vain to get fat. But here I was, barely six feet tall and swollen to almost 220 pounds.
Somehow along the way, food became a favored form of recreation and relaxation. I found myself preferring to go to Lombardi’s rather than a baseball game. And, what the heck, nobody really came right out and said, “Hey, Tom. You sure are getting fat, you old porker.”
Now, in fact, I didn’t look that bad as long as I kept my clothes on and stood up. But, I wasn’t very pretty naked-and naked sitting down, well, I was ugly, carrying plenty of “sympathy pounds”- doublespeak for those small rolls of fat that roll over a man’s belt and wallow contentedly on his backside while his wife glowingly swells with natural pregnancy pounds.
As a matter of fact, my wife’s pregnancy played a major part in getting me off the dime and away from the fettuccine Alfredo. One night, a month away from giving birth, she woke up in a start. In fact, she sprang up to a sweating, sitting position from a dead solid sleep. She folded her hand on her sternum and choked for a breath. Like a witness to a terribly violent crime, she could mouth words, but no coaxing could bring them out.
Finally, she could speak: “I just had a sex dream,” she said candidly. Then, with a tone of genuine astonishment, she added, “and you were in it!”
Okay, it was rime to get serious. I made up my mind not to be a fat daddy. We knew we were having a boy, and no kid wants some slug for a father. He wants to play ball and swim and see his dad act like a kid part of the time. I looked in the paper at an advertisement that screamed two words in bold type: Diet Pills. I called the number and the nice lady told me about a seminar and a visit with the doctor and psychological counseling. ” And after the first week, the pills are $250 a week. “
No, thank you. Besides, the Dallas area features some of the nation s best known diet and exercise gurus. Plenty of help is available right here. The kind of help that makes for sensible but effective dieting designed to take and keep pounds off. I needed some help)-and what better place to start looking than the world-renowned Cooper Clinic? Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper wrote the best selling Aerohics back in 1968. Since that time, his Aerobics Center and Cooper Clinic on Preston Road have become invaluable institutions for evaluating and experimenting with varied forms of exercise, diet, and endurance.
The folks at Cooper first want to test and appraise your current health. As they scurry about, you cannot help but stare at all the good-looking people running around the compound. From the PR department right down to the woman drawing your blood, the people are beautiful. It looks like the cast from “Baywatch” hustling around in smocks.
My first test took me to the Strength Lab to meet Missy, my instructor/handler. Missy was, of course, beautiful and looked strong enough to bench press a large Oklahoma family. She did not laugh at my efforts. Worse, as I completed sit-ups, leg extensions, and shoulder exercises, she would jot down a number before uttering my most dreaded adjective-“average.”
Call me despicable, call me decrepit. Bellow at me for not trying. Curse me for not striving to reach my full potential. But please do not damn me with “average.”
But average I was; the numbers told the story. My three years as a leading East Dallas sedimentarian and fried food gourmand had left me a lot worse than just too lazy to walk around the block cradling a new baby and too tired to play basketball with the older kids and too fat to ignite sexual desire. Those grease-coated years had left me ” average”-average endurance time on the treadmill, average chest press performance, etc.
So I determined not just to dump weight but to add muscle. First I listened to Georgia Kostas, the Cooper Clinic Director of Nutrition and author of the weight loss book. The Balancing Act.: Nutrition and Weight Guide.
Kostas, a registered dietitian, estimated that my unbridled diet of dead animal combined with any kind of potato was allowing me to scoop in 3,510 calories a day, including about 150 fat grams (no wonder I gready resembled a six foot, mustachioed french fry). But Kostas is not one of those militants who forbid any and all fats or red meat. Instead, she wanted to help me make better choices.
“Nobody has to be a hermit to stay on a diet,” she told me. “If you are going to a steak restaurant try substituting 4 ounces of flank steak (250 calories, 14 grams of fat) for 4 ounces of prime rib (475 calories, 41 grams of the bad stuff I. The prime rib has twice the calories and four times the fat grams.”
Kostas has printed pamphlets of nutrition tips for on-the-go business types that include sure-fire ways to save calories at every meal at any type of restaurant and even how to eat sensibly at fast food chains. Did you know, for instance, that Jack in the Box’s Chicken Fajita Pita contains less than 300 calories and only 8 fat grams? Same for Wendy’s Grilled Chicken sandwich with honey mustard.
Kostas recommended a daily quota of 2,000 to 2,400 calories and 60 grams of fat to go along with my anticipated August exercise and weight-lifting regimen, Her plan was for me to lose about two pounds a week stretching my caloric intake over a whole day and not skipping meals. I, of course, intended to lose quite a bit more.
Armed with my diet plan, I walked (at a brisk pace) through my M Street neighborhood to the house of Larry North and Melanie Peskett. Melanie, married to Larry, owns Good2 (Square) Meals, a company that prepares no- and low-fat meals for wealthy Dallas businesspeople and professional athletes. She used to deliver meals but as her customer list grew, she became more specialized and now charges about $275 a visit to shop and prepare custom meals in the client’s home. She counts the Mavericks’ Jamal Mashburn and the Stars’ Mike Modano among her clients.
Melanie agreed to provide me with several weeks’ worth of meals, including her incomparable “fried” chicken (actually baked without the skin and battered in bread crumbs, egg whites, and skim milk ) and mashed potato dish. It’s as good as mom makes, but the whole meal, with two chicken pieces, potatoes, and green beans contains less than 500 calories and 8 grams of fat.
The night before I was to start the diet and exercise plan, Larry North brought me two of Melanie’s dinner meals (lasagna and chicken enchiladas). Like most of her dishes, they sported less than 500 calories. North insisted that I eat at least five meals every day and that I alternate working out anaerobically (with weights) one day and running on the treadmill at least 40 minutes on the other days.
I started my 60-day diet and exercise routine on a Wednesday. By the following Wednesday night, I was complaining to North about the sheer boredom of the treadmill and rowing machines. I needed more variety, more stimulation. So on Thursday, I arrived at Goodbody’s gym on Lovers Lane to meet Jeff Overturf, the owner and originator of White Collar Boxing Inc. Overturf has taken the basic workout conducted by every fighter in steamy inner-city gyms throughout America and produced what he calls, “The workout of a fighter without the Fight.”
This seemed ideal, a more interesting and more athletic way to get in shape. Besides, Overturf can put on that drill instructor hat that some of us need to promote true devotion to a task.
The class turned out to be a mixture of men and women who would snarl at being labeled “degreed professional.” We began the opening calisthenics and stretching to the same pulsating dissonance of rappers and rockers you can probably hear in Detroit’s famed Kronk’s Gym, Then we moved into a “fighting stance” and on to almost a dozen stations-the heavy bag, the rope jump, the sit-up bench. Some students sparred against the oversize mitts, called focus pads, which Overturf thrust toward their face. Each drill was timed like a boxing round-go like hell for three minutes, then rest for 60 seconds.
I could not wait for the stretching exercises to be over. Every woman in the class was able to wrap her feet around the back of her head, while I demonstrated the limberness of a piece of granite. I showed that I can hit hard, but 1 can hardly retreat. Sometimes I confuse my attack and my defense. When we practiced the “groin kick,” my version resembled one of Dennis the Menace’s shin kicks.
With 30 seconds left in each round, the lights of the timer change from green to yellow. Overturf can be heard cajoling “Come on. Big finish. You gotta have 15 more seconds left. Don’t quit. Combinations. Come on. Maybe 10 seconds left. Good. Good.”
1 couldn’t complete three full minutes of the “rope-a-dope.” But the workout sure felt good. People can talk about good and bad cholesterol and cross-training and plyometrics…all I knew was that I felt invigorated. And the work out fueled my ambition even higher, I quit drinking. I came home and announced to the family that I had just bought three expensive pairs of pants, three inches smaller in the waist than my current trousers. “Oh my God,” said my 15-year-old son, worried more about style than girth, “Who went with you?”
Four days later, at Larry North’s Total Fitness gym, I weighed myself-and panicked. “A pound and a half!” I shouted at North. “How can I lay off exercise for three years, work out every day for five days, and lose less than two pounds?”
If you know Larry only through his radio/TV and self-promoting persona, you might consider him a curious combination of Keanu Reeves and Richard Simmons. But, believe me, I met no more knowledgeable an expert during my entire 60-day ordeal. On this occasion when I was really low, he sat me down in his office and talked to me in a tone recalling Ward and the Beav:
“Tom,youarenot30yearsoldanymore,” he told me. “Your metab-olism isn’t the same and your body has to relearn some things from back when you were in shape. Besides, you are now weight training for the first time in your life, buddy, and you are adding muscle. Muscle weighs more than fat. To lose weight faster you are going to have to participate in more aerobic exercise and get more determined about eating those five meals a day.”
Eating five meals a day is a lot easier if you are Larry North, who gets complimentary meals at about half the great eating digs in Dallas. Larry is great company and a fine human being; however, spend a day eating and working out with him and you can get sick just watching.
He eats every three hours and usually starts at Lucky s with an eight egg white omelet, oatmeal, dry toast, maybe a pancake, a side of blue berries, and iced coffee. Lunch might be at the 8.0 for the North. Plate-but make that two breasts of chicken and hold the potatoes because they contain real butter and milk. In the middle of the day North goes home to raid Melanie’s refrigerator or fix a giant bowl of popcorn (he adds Nutrasweet, fake butter, fake popcorn salt, and garlic ). Late one day, with dinner looming, I got North to recite a litany, of all the places that offered him free North Plates. I made the easiest decision of the diet. We were off to the Men’s Club.
It was agreed that I needed more aerobic workouts, preferably supervised and in a class environment. Scott LaCroix, the general manager at the Verandah Club, said I would love the men-only aerobics class. Right. Those classes were the hardest workouts I’ve had since I quit playing football in college. We began to refer to instructor Becky Huff as “Nurse Ratchett” and wondered if perhaps some of her distant relatives might have worked in medieval dungeons.
Often she would start us off with a “warm-up” run of about a quarter mile. When we returned she would say something like “Okay, give me 50 crunches. Now, do 50 jumping jacks. Okay, now start another lap.” On it went for one hour. To her credit, Becky made every day extraordinarily different. Incredibly bard, but different. We usually worked outside where Becky started us on the grueling Indian Run. The half-dozen or so guys would jog very slowly while the last man in line lapped us, got back in the jogging Une, and tapped the end man to take off on his lapping run. Ugh.
The only thing worse than diet and exercise may be surrounding yourself with people who diet and exercise. I was forever finding myself talking to somebody who already looked like the first runner-up Miss Ethiopia, trying to explain to me why I should be a vegetarian.
Ask a dieter a question and you get a career. Take someone like Skip Bayless, always gracious but usually reticent in social intercourse; ask him a question about fiber or exercise and it’s like asking Wilt Chamberlain if he got lucky in Philadelphia.
Every’ other day, for two months, I lifted weights, alternating between the Verandah, North’s gym, and the Exchange Club on Harwood Street downtown. Talk about drudgery. I went to college and journalism school to avoid a job that required any heavy lifting, and there I was 25 years later sitting with my butt up in the air while Larry North watched me try to push 250 pounds up some leg press contraption.
By the third week, I had actually lost six pounds and was thinking about going back to taking an occasional snort of alcohol-until Tracey Klement, the Exchange general manager and a longtime personal trainer, warned me. “Don’t do it if you’re serious about losing all that weight. Alcohol metabolizes a lot like fat. In some ways, having a brandy after dinner is no different than ordering the cheesecake.”
Tracey was right. I abstained from abstaining on a tew weekends and watched my weight loss stalemate. To get back on schedule and make my goal of losing 20 pounds in 60 days, I needed one more activity. My tennis was too rusty. Running, even on the Exchange Club’s comfortable 1/8-mile indoor track, was still out of the question. Then I discovered Bad, Crippled, and Old Guys Basketball.
The oldest, continuous, floating pick-up basketball game in town takes place every Monday and Wednesday at W.H. Gaston Middle School east of Garland Road on Peavy Road. (And I mean every Monday and Wednesday, including several Christmas Eves.) My first time there I was guarded by a 56-year-old teacher. Tommy Thomas. a 31 -year veteran of the Gaston hoop wars. Many of the players wear a kneebrace for the games. Tommy wears two kneebraces. His cohorts there have real nicknames familiar to my generation like “Punky” and “Phenom,” “Pro” and “Coach.”
The games are bloodless and the “full court ” we run would fit about in the top of the key at Reunion Arena. A “fast” break with all the attendant hurried limping, meshed with the grating sounds of knee-braces squawking in protest, looks and sounds like a jail break from the infirmary. Still, everyone plays as hard as they can and a true love of the game permeates the gym.
With only two weeks left to go before my deadline, I had lost 15 pounds and inexplicably bought my first tank top-ever, I have no idea why. Perhaps because I so clearly remember my youth and all the flat-bellied coeds swooning over 50-year-old men showing off their entire underarm. More likely, I was looking for style.
After 60 days, I lost my 20 pounds and was pretty darn proud of myself. The last time 1 was this skinny was during the middle part of my divorce. Then, the combination of massive qualities of alcohol, fitful sleep, and the pursuit of ridiculously young women in places too loud to converse left me thin. But I looked like an older, gaunt William Holden conspicuous by mustache and scurvy.
During my 60 days of renewal, I learned a lot about my body, my will, my true inner sell. And I learned that what I missed most-more than a cold beer on a hot day or even the #5 at Kellers-was breakfast. More particularly, a late breakfast at the Vickory Feed Store or even a late breakfast at home. About three months before baby Jack arrived, I remember the wife was out power walking or whatever and I cooked breakfast for my son and nephew. The feast consisted of pan-fried deer sausage (low in fat), breakfast potatoes, eggs, and biscuits with gravy. We were sopping it up and loving life when the wife came through the front door, jabbed her index finger at my plate and said, “This looks like the poster meal for colon cancer.”
True, to lose weight you have to give up many guilty pleasures. But if I can-you can. And look at the rewards. The other day, I was taking baby Jack out the door for a brisk walk in his baby zoomer, when both of the older kids remarked upon how much better I now look. Of course, they both hated the new pants.
LIVING WITH HIM
By Sally Guillens Stephenson
MOST OF THE TIME, WHEN parents come home with a new baby, it’s the mom who has the extra pounds to take off. But in our household, it was the dad. Thanks to an unsuccessful bout with breast feeding that landed our baby jack back in the hospital, stress had quickly eliminated 20 of my 25 pounds of prenatal weight gain. But Tom didn’t have it so easy. His extra pounds had been put on slowly over about nine years, not nine months, and doing this story, I learned, was supposed to take them off-in six weeks (and a couple of two-day follow-ups). Faced with this unrealistic goal, I knew my life was going to be hell.
To help or not to help, that was the question. If I helped Tom with his dieting efforts, I risked facing the dreaded rhetorical question, “So, you think I’m fat?” (Which I want to say right here and now, I did not.) And if I didn’t help, meaning if I continued to enjoy my steak and loaded baked potato while he was having plain grilled chicken breast and salad sans dressing, then I would be accused of trying to sabotage the diet, Or worse yet, of not caring. Since I lost both my dad and brother to heart attacks, and since Tom’s dad died of one when he was 51, and since Tom is going on 47,1 did indeed care. So began the saga of living and dieting with him. Following are only the highlights. For the full story, see me some Friday afternoon at the Den at the Stoneleigh.
This is a red letter day. Tom is going to a real doctor before he begins this diet. Since I’ve known him, for everything from a sore shoulder to tick Lyme disease, Tom has consulted a veterinarian. I’m not kidding. He has these huge tranquilizers that he pounds with a hammer to break up into pieces that are supposed to be the correct dosage. I’m sure the doctors at the Cooper Clinic don’t do it that way.
Melanie Peskett, my friend from college, low-fat cooking expert, and wife of Larry North, is here to lay down the law. Melanie and I stifle guffaws and the desire to scream, “You are clueless ! ” as she runs through low fat basics. Tom is first incredulous (“You mean I can’t have cheese?”) and later elated when Melanie tells him that salsa is low fat and he can put as much as he wants on his baked potato. Maybe this knowledge Melanie and I consider “basic” is a girl thing? Nah.
Tom has that diet thing where he thinks he is starving. I have never seen him eat so much. Come to think of it, I have never seen anyone eat six apples in half an hour.
Tom comes home from working out steaming mad and hands me a bottle of red beverage that looks a little like Gatorade. “Caitlin tells me this has 795 calories,” he screams. Our 10-year-old is right. Tom took the risk of selecting his beverage without the aid of his nose glasses. He has chosen Weight Gain Drink.
Another near mishap. Tom thought he gained eight pounds today-until he realized he was still holding his gym bag while he was on the scale. I made the mistake of sharing with him that I had lost another five pounds and could fit into my pre-pregnancy clothes.
He’s getting testy, Only his face looks thinner.
something is going on. He’s no onger complaining about his protein drinks-which are disgusting. If you leave a glass around without rinsing it, the smell will knock you out and make you skip a meal. Maybe that’s why I’m still losing weight, I pretend to be doing the dishes while watching him blend up his magic concoction. He is using Diet 7 Up instead of water-strange, but probably not a diet violation. Wait, what is that black stuff whirring around in the blender? The look on Tom’s face is that of a kid who has gotten his hand caught in the cookie jar-literally. He is putting chocolate cookies into his diet drink. Somehow I don’t think Larry North would approve.
Every time we have a meal together, he asks me if it would be okay for him to have seconds. He has learned nothing. He still thinks that if it is low fat, it is low calorie and, therefore, he should be able to have twice as much.
I think he’s getting desperate. He is now playing basketball four nights a week, kick-boxing three times a week, and going to aerobics and weight training in between. Either that or he is having an affair with a circus performer. The sweaty laundry is out of hand. I no longer ask him how much he weighs, but Melanie and I have figured him out. Having been a Big S football jock, Tom still equates athleticism with health and fitness. Meanwhile, I’ve lost another three pounds by walking 50 minutes on a treadmill five mornings a week, something Tom does not consider athletic enough to be worthy of his regimen.
Tom’s diet is technically over, and I am not about to ask him if he made his goal. I’ll just wait and read his story. Should I tell him I can wear my old college blue jeans? Nah.
Sally Giddens Stephenson is a Dallas writer.
No .More Mr. Average
DR. RICHARD CONSTANT AT THE COOPER CLINIC WAS GENUINELY impressed with my second test results that came only 63 days after the Clinic first ran me through its battery of fitness exams. I made my goal of “20 pounds in 60 days” but I did weigh in after back to back sessions of kickboxing and basketball which caused much loss of water weight. Dieters should weigh once a day-in the morning. Figuring that in, my actual loss was closer to 16 pounds, almost precisely the two pounds a week Cooper dietitian Georgia Kostas predicted.
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