Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon. ~Doug Larson
About two years ago, I experienced a series of humiliating encounters that forced me to come to grips with my expanding waistline and my highly evolved denial of middle age. I chronicled my battle of the bulge in an early 2007 column figuring that if I publically declared myself on a diet, it would be harder to enter a Dunkin Donuts without someone ratting me out to my spouse. The first dose of reality came in the form of attempting to squeeze into one of my “thin guy “ suits that I kept in my closet in hopes that a case of giardia or lock jaw might shrink me back to the days of a 34 inch waist. The futile effort to be thin backfired when later that day the waist button shot off my pants and almost put out someone’s eye. Instead of accepting my need to diet, I chose to blame my tailor for shoddy alteration work. A week later on a business trip, I split the seat of my pants to create a hole bigger than the Lincoln Tunnel. The loss of dignity trying to buy a new pair of pants in Buckhead, Atlanta at 8am while my BVDs were smiling at everyone was priceless. The final rock shattering my glass house of denial involved breaking several pieces of furniture including a chaissez lounge and a toilet seat. I promptly tried to blame the broken seat on the kids, then on the cat and finally the manufacturer. If Church had actually followed through on their promise of offering “The Best Seat in the House”, I’d probably still be feasting on cookie dough, ignoring my spouse’s and doctor’s strong suggestions for exercise and diet.
I was leading a double life. As a healthcare executive, I was busy chiding America for its lack of personal responsibility around health. The fact is that America is fat and I had become one of those middle aged round mounds of rebound. I was the average Joe with a waist size that had grown in just two decades from an average of 34 inches in 1988 to a squishy 38 inches in 2008. My theory was you never knew when the next great famine was going to hit and I had to be ready. 60 million other Americans agreed with me and were an average of 30 lbs overweight. The sad truth was that each pound increased the likelihood that I might fall prey to any number of infinitely preventable chronic illnesses. Obesity drives a host of little nasties such as diabetes, various forms of cancer and cardiovascular disease – -sometimes one hits the trifecta and develops all three. By day, I expounded the virtues of exercise, diet and moderation. By night, I was marching through our pantry like Sherman through Georgia, eliciting alarming cries from the local citizenry such as “Mom, who ate the Oreos?” or “ I did not even get a Pop Tart!”. My spouse had long since suspected my nocturnal activities. I was not sure if there was a hidden camera but I do recall one night coming home late from a business trip and to my delight, I spied some brownies covered in foil on the counter. As I descended on them, I noticed a note attached to the foil that read, “Don’t even think about it.”
I then had my moment of clarity. It started like any other morning with no breakfast and several cups of coffee. It proved to be a stressful day of contiguous meetings, no lunch and a race through Friday night traffic to get to my son’s travel basketball game in Danbury by 7PM. I was stuck on a conference call while driving through an unfamiliar industrial park looking for a gymnasium the size of a card board box. Suddenly, my heart started doing the conga and I pulled over to the side of road. I sat there waiting for the drum solo to pass and suddenly felt like Red Foxx in Sanford & Son. “It’s the big one Elizabeth! I’m coming!” The fact I had not eaten anything in twelve hours and was more jacked up on Columbian Marching Water than Will Ferrell in “Kicking and Screaming”, was lost on me. For the next few days, my heart would occasionally launch into a break dance. I would quietly administer myself last rites and confide in my spouse who assumed it was yet another of my numerous psychosomatic episodes. I turned myself into my GP, the wise Dr P, who gave me the same look as my wife did. My lab results revealed HDL, LDL, and Triglycerides of a person who works in a bakery sampling cheese danish. My Oreo party was over.
It was at this precise moment that I was also introduced to Dr. Mehmet Oz, a noted author, cardiovascular surgeon and talk show personality. Dr. Oz and I were sharing the speaking duties at a conference on issues plaguing the US healthcare system. As I listened to Dr Oz discuss his latest book, You: Staying Young: The Owner’s Manual for Extending Your Warranty, I carefully recorded what I must do to achieve a prolonged higher quality of life. Oz helped me focus on those highest impact areas that might determine whether my golden years were a high water mark of vitality or a tidal wave overwhelming me with frailty and chronic illness.
Oz makes it clear, that your body, like an automobile, can travel several hundred thousand miles with some committed maintenance. His advice includes:
1) Waist Not, Want Not – the waist line is the number one area to manage – Forget the preoccupation with the buns and legs. The omentum is one of the main storage depots for fat in the body. It sits within the belly and stores fat within the waist and inner stomach. Excessive omentary fat is what we see in beer bellies and tummy “pooches”. It is more damaging than any other fat source on one’s body. It interferes with insulin production and wreaks havoc on our internal organs. Keeping your waist measurements at least one half of your height will give you a fighting chance to hit your eighties and still be able to tango.
2) An Ounce of Prevention – for men and women, we avoid these annual tests rationalizing that no symptoms, mean all is well. Early detection is essential to catching and beating many diseases. Delaying that pap smear, mammography, PSA test, colorectal or endoscopy only increases your risk.
3) Out with Meat, In with Fish – Fish is rich in Omega 3 fatty acids and low in saturated fats. Saturated fats cause inflammation and cholesterol problems. Omega 3’s are credited with joint lubrication, reduced blood clotting, ameliorated menopausal symptoms, and improved memory. The down side of popping those fish oil pills is smelling as if you are having an affair with a rock cod.
4) Go For Color – Eat red, blue and yellow fruits and veggies. Consider the healing effects of blueberries, tomatoes, peppers and yellow squash. These foods are rich in antioxidants and fight free radicals that damage cells and encourage you to vote for a single payer health care system.
5) Fight The White – Start reducing sugar and white flour products. This one is hard to police but it is essential to reducing the diseases which plague countries that consume large amounts of processed foods. Whole grains and fiber will make you help you age gracefully and ensure you know the location of every public restroom in Fairfield County.
6) Look at the Dog – A wise person once said, “If your dog is fat, you’re not getting enough exercise.” You need to maintain muscles, bone density and proper body chemistry that can only come with moving the old body.
Remember, it’s all for you so you can live a life as rich on the back end as it has been on the front. You can even join me in 2050 as we take a group out for a little tango. However, if I show up claiming to be Fred Astaire and dancing with a mannequin, just humor me…..