Saturday, November 29, 2008

How to lose Nadia Comaneci plus a couple of car batteries

Could have just titled this epic ‘How to lose 100 lbs.’, but where’s the pizzazz in such a bland banner? Despite the jocularity, this is, indeed, a true story with only names changed to protect the innocent. [As is announced also, I believe, on the primarily female-oriented Lifetime network just prior to one of their never-ending series of movies depicting the usual cruel, indifferent and generally tasteless treatment of a good woman by some over-libidinal/uncaring man, but I digress.]

I have lost [Although 'exorcised' is probably most apt verb] 100 pounds (or whatever that equates to in English ‘Stone ‘or Euro-friendly metric something). My figuring is that Ms. Comaneci [See left from Montreal games of '76] during her Olympic heyday couldn’t have been more than ninety 16 ouncers and a car battery is roughly a fiver in heft, so there you have it. My understanding is this puts me in a very small percentile of the burgeoning masses who perpetually seek to shed weight. Considering this has been done over a ten year span, my achievement is all the more, statistically speaking, less likely. My only remaining question should be one that was, also, a favorite 3 grade catch-phrase - “Congratulations, soldier, now do you want a medal or a monument?”.

Never would I think this topic worthy of scribing effort, but my Cardiologist recommended I make a log of the endeavor. I made this new friend when my heart decided to annoyingly start keeping a rhythm in same fashion as Richard Nixon attempting to sit-in as a backup drummer for James Brown. Everything is fine and the excuse to go on beta blockers certainly has done wonders for my putting, which makes the entire ordeal more than worthwhile, Sonny Boy, let me tell you.

Casting my caloric journey in terms identical to Charles Darwin sailing with the H.M.S. Beagle to find the philosophical concrete to pour as support around that nutty theory of Evolution is appealing, I must say, but I’m a blog guy. As my Cardiologist is one of the less than Leper King handful of actually intelligent & empathetic practitioners, I thought it the least I could do for this aberrational white coat to try and boil down some lessons from my efforts plus dismiss a few of the hokum associated with dropping pounds. May the others he ministers to find some rice kernel of wisdom in the below and thank him for his efforts (as, hopefully, I do after each visit).

Rule #1: It’s dumb math

Would love to give some great pearl of wisdom or report a shining path of enlightenment, but it comes down to the simple (and rather boring) calculus of calories. No, only eating Foie Gras, isn't a good idea still, but if you want to sacrifice to enjoy a modicum of such it won’t hurt necessarily. You burn a certain amount of calories daily by just being another cog in ‘The Man’s’ (as Bill Ayers would call it) wheel. I’m not a physician (or even something useful like a car mechanic) but it’s generally agreed that if you eat more calories than you normally burn, then bigger boy pant sizes are in your near future. You lose girth by attacking that math from either of two directions: eat less calories or burn more of them. The latter, of course, is most efficiently done through exercise. The former is done by eating less and hinges upon recognition of the indivisible truth that …

Rule #2: All stomachs - no kidding - really only are about as big as five ping pong balls glued together

My blushing bride of now 16 years could not, intellectually, ever hold a candle to my IQ 26 German Shepherd [He was quite advanced for his breed, ahem]. Though the ‘Ball & Chain’ is bright, for years she – and billions of others (including moi) – hasn’t harnessed successfully their considerable frontal lobe capacity to marry the above reality to their food consumption. If she and legions elsewhere did, most of strip mall life in America would cease to exist in its present form. There is almost no portion size out there in restaurants of any stripe which hews to above. In fact, our current eating program is anathema to maintaining – much less losing – weight. Therefore it’s best to …

Rule #3: Graze, baby, graze

Do have one daily consumption session with family or your significant other (and without the blasted TV on in the background), but three squares is the enemy. I found no solace in diets or eating plans (though Atkins was wickedly enjoyable especially when travelling on business and having an excuse to hit the best steak houses on some vendor’s dime). No sequencing of meals or foods proved superior either. My reality today is I “eat” at least six – sometimes seven – times daily. If you enjoy tucking into any kind of feast, then you’re doomed. When I say “eat”, I mean an apple or half a can of Progesso soup or 1/2 a medium-size sandwich sans double meat or a cup of cereal with 2% [Death to Skim!] milk. Basically – to go back to Rule #1 – something that is between 200 to 300 calories is optimal. My only exception is the evening meal with my bride, but – even there – we will have a salad first and – half an hour or more later – then consume our 4 oz. of sensible protein (no skin, low fat, grilled & almost no fun) with a sliver of starches + le vegetable de la maison. Party hats are optional, but ironically fitting for this - compared to times of yore - disappointing nightly ritual.

Rule #4: Rationalize exercise

You can lose by not exercising, but that’s about as likely as a collective farm turning a tidy profit, Comrade. In this, I’m lucky. Don’t have an issue making sides of a treadmill as slick as Patrick Ewing, in olden days, standing on the foul line while towel boys furiously mop a sea of sweat deposited by the Georgetown grad. Whatever rational- ization gets you to the gym, fire up those Freudian crutches hotter than a pizza oven putting out calzones for Feast of San Gennaro patrons. I’ve found exercise, too, changes your mindset vis-a-vis eating. You’ll learn exactly what each machine burns and make rough calculations vs. your salivated dream menu, i.e. 15 elliptical minutes = a McDonalds Bacon/Egg McGriddle with Hash Browns instead of just an Egg McMuffin. This cruel algebra none too subtly kicks-in, thereafter, a different set of guilt reactions when, heretofore, you had stood in blissful ignorance before the local fast food emporium's cashier. That Hash Brown doesn’t taste so hot when you have to mentally wince at the thought of how many minutes it wastes from your daily sweat.

Rule #5: Variety isn’t the spice of life, but it’s cardio training’s cornerstone

Frankly, I’m more than content with my present existence of golf, cigars & general self-esteem lowering of others to enhance profitability. I don’t seek out any new paradigms to alter my, by now, well-worn bliss path. That Holy Father crossed-to, it doesn’t hold true however for cardio-training. I started-off running and still do on a treadmill once every three days, but my workouts – statistically measured – are much higher in calories burned now that I switch-off with elliptical machine sessions plus stair-stepping the other two days in rotation. I know many like to walk and, admittedly, it’s better than not doing anything, but you will train those muscles solely used and start to get diminishing returns fairly quick. Weight-training I’ve found useful, but I don’t track calories expended on such. For me, its ‘gravy’ to my daily burn count. Can’t speak to taking classes and would avail myself of them sporadically, but none are available at the early hours when I daily trudge to my gym despite fact that …

Rule #6: It never gets easy

There are some people who claim that exercise so invigorates them that they look forward to the panting and temporary blinding from salty streams daubing their eyes. Many of these folk are individuals with metabolisms set as high as a four cylinder engine trying to climb Mount Hood (with a trailer hitched) and capable of polishing-off the left side of Denny’s menu without gaining any appreciable lbs. I recommend they be treated as we did Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor or at least general POW's, like the unfortunate lad right. [I have been called, however, a tad liberal in the past.] Beyond this Gandhi-like admission, I can say unequivocally that I have never popped-out of bed in the morning and felt the urge to sprint to my local treadmill. Nor have I mounted a machine and experienced a surge of core strength bonhomie which rendered my session effortless. It’s a friggin’ war every friggin’ day; period.

That masochistic screed sequestered into evidence, it is true that exercise does get to be a daily ritual which I don't want to imagine not doing. On the few days I don’t get to sweat profusedly, I get a feeling of lethargy that usually I don’t come anywhere near during work hours. There is a definite sense of focus deficit. After the workout, I have yet to experience a jolt of adrenaline which wafts me out of the gym like Julie Andrews about to cavort through the Alps. However it is the case that the nightly aches diminish and, eventually, disappear, if you hit it, literally, each day. All this leading up to our final finding that …

Rule #7: The ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ is not always a bad thing

For those of you too young to remember Peter Frampton with dangling tresses or Stevie Nicks as a vixen of infinite possibilities, there was a young lady once who made quite a splash by the name of Patty Hearst. She was an heiress to the Hearst publishing dynasty [Think Citizen Kane] and got herself kidnapped back in the ‘70’s. During her captivity, however, a strange thing happened. Ms. Hearst began to identify with her abductors to such an extent that, eventually, she joined them in holding-up a bank in behalf of their terror group. The talking heads of the day labeled her reaction as the ‘Stockholm Syndrome’; the psychological stress becomes so intense that one is forced to sublimate your own moral standards and identify with the oppressor to avoid a complete breakdown.

Whether that dog actually hunts, I’ll leave up to the more Dr. Phil amongst you. However it is true that once you get hooked on this program of less calories, more exercise and no more fun from eating, you do become quite the self-health terrorist of sorts. Compulsively you start looking at labels for calorie counts where, in the past, you were more likely to think about which frozen pizza would pair nicely with the leftover microbrews you had in the fridge. Some of this, I’ve found, comes from the self-imposed shrinking of your actual stomach. By constricting your calorie intake routinely to the proverbial five ping pong balls or less, you will get an actual discomfort if you go back to your old pounding portion sizes. Whereas a sense of low-level euphoria used to accompany a hearty sit down to tasty fare, now you will be in some mild pain and wish you had just split that Nature Valley granola bar instead. Sad, definitely; but true nonetheless.

Conclusion: Something besides your closet will change

… and it won’t necessarily be for the better, mi amigo.

The popular culture we dismally (and unavoidably) slog through is too littered with half-baked theories about why we weigh more than we should, so I’m not going to throw fresh manure on the stockpile. Here I’m referencing not just folks who have the proverbial 10-20 extra in the spare winter tire around their equator, but people like myself – morbidly obese (which I still am plus have another 70# to go before reaching the actuarial Green Zone of maintenance). I was that fat for a number of reasons and it’s not anyone’s business (except my wife’s) why that is/was, but, to my original point, it didn’t have to do with simply not being able to refuse Prime Rib daily with a Pot Pie chaser.

When I tackled finally my weight & fitness – for me, the two have been always a conjoined toxic twin-some – in a serious manner, I had to – by default – address also a myriad of other non-physical issues. It didn’t matter that I had a tremendous amount of discipline in other spheres of life and had been monetarily rewarded for such during most of my adult life. This was a different kind of grind. I can’t say that I’m a better person than I was before, but I am not the same. The only thing I’ve heard that sounds similar is what Alcoholics say about needing to find a new kind of life for recovery to work. I know that sounds extreme, but it’s got more ring of truth than anything else I could use to describe the trek's residual effect. My daily rituals – exercise, portion-control, etc. – are my new self-subscribed shackles. I won’t shake them off short of preventing a nuclear holocaust.

Admittedly that has the tone of taking my own self in gilded bondage to this new lifestyle. Maybe that’s what it is. At least now, though, I can buy pants from all the “normal” people’s catalogs and that’s a major fashion headache I don’t mind avoiding.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Bring back Bubba!

One need not topple Rasputin's tea cup, Comrade, to see this one in the still damp leaves. Let me splain, Ricky, but, first, I must digress.

When your faithful correspondent was a mere tadpole and presidential aspirants talked incessantly about the "misery index" needing to not continue curling upwards like a Wehrmacht era Bavarian pretzel run amok, there was a new invention called HBO - Home Box Office - which ran for a solid eight hours daily with second run movies and a modicum of original programming. In the latter category were nightclub tapings of some now lost Borscht Belt and other smoke-filled room veterans doing then so-called 'blue' material [My favorite being Redd Foxx - a.k.a. 'Fred Sanford' - colorfully instructing one bleary-eyed patron on the attention-getting properties of slamming your hand in a car door]. There was, however, one original comedy show - Not Necessarily The News - and it had a recurring bit that brought my pre-pubescent self to howling joy with each new installment.

Starting off with an ominous voice behind movie thriller soundtrack strains, the bit would cut from the pictures of various world leaders menancing the U.S. and ask rhetorically whether any of a roster of then current (and implied insipid) American politicians had the chutzpah (or substitute your own ethnic phrase) to stand-up to this collection of global malcontents. Then - switching to a Sousa inspired march for its conclusion - the voiceover always would annouce in triumph that, "There is only one solution for times like this". At this point the bold-faced phrase BRING BACK DICK! would run along the bottom of a screen filled by the now ubiquitous shot of the ole Trickster giving his double V sendoff from Marine 1, the Presidential helicopter. Regrettably to the Pat Buchanan brigade of the party's former Franco-like PR division, that is the image now indeliably seared into the public imagination rather than natty sartorial snaps such as one to right (where candidate R.N. obviously is cementing the Eisenhower electorate's dog track/paramutual-betting wing by donning that year's entry from the always stylish Lucky Luciano collection).

The bit was funny because it had the ring of truth - a precondition for much of successful comedy. Just as Freud wrote that many (hostile) things start as a joke, our most holy secular humanist apostle - Spock of Star Trek - was most insightful when, explaining an action taken, he retorted, "Only Nixon could go to China". Nixon could do so due to 30 years in the trenches as a staunch anti-Communist, a personal history intertwined with exposing Whittaker Chambers and, therefore, not have to be being afraid of suffering the slings of being called "soft" on Reds. He was Goldwater-proof and could, with impugnity, play diplomatic top spin versus Chou En Lai across a ping pong table of 1970's 'shuttle' diplomacy without sending potential shudders of sell-out through the Republican ranks.

All this, colleagues, is preamble to why the multitudes should gleefully support nomination of the junior U.S. Senator from New York, Hillary R. Clinton, to be the successor (and consecutive distaff for first time in history) Secretary of State to the then very young lady pictured right with her Mom. Forget, for now, the bigger pants suit picture of how someone who thought John McCain was qualified to be President based on foreign policy but her then primary nemesis, 'Barry' Obama, was - most definitely - not. Also put aside, temporarily albeit, notions of Hillary prank-calling the private residence preciously @ 3:01 AM the first full day in office to reassure Barack that she was awake/ready should anything significant happen while he slumbered. No, no, fellow marauders of sarcasm, think through the scenario just a few more steps and see the landfill of amusement that awaits us all should the real 'Rod' deign to serve under Obama.

By the laws of the great Empire State, her current Governor, David Patterson, is allowed to name Clinton's successor as United States Senator. If memory serves, Hillary has four years left on her seat, so the replacement will have a mirror term to the new Obama Administration. Although Bill could not pass the vetting needed to join Barack's cabinet (and Hilary might barely squeak through due to association with him), the clear choice would then be our former President as the new Senator from New York. Hear ye, hear ye and let the pigeons loose!

Why, dear boy, is this so important? Because, Falstaff, there is a new menance about to enter the national political scene via the world's most deliberative body and only the winning charm, personal erudition and almost Oprah level of empathy that our former grand leader possesses - even to the admission of his staunchest critics - can provide the antidote required. Although WJC made many a misstep during the last election cycle on behalf of his better half, his political instincts will come back quicker than riding a bicycle once Arkansas' former pride returns to daily Washington back-slapping, horse-trading & general legislative hijinx.

As we lick chops over the delicious image of Bill - no doubt posted to Foreign Affairs amongst several assignments - putting his own bride on the testimonial hot seat during committee hearings, up way north the true trans-Siberian titan of politics (plus recent federal convict), U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, clings to a solid four digit lead in his reelection recount for the Alaskan seat recently contested. Based on a low ratio of actual voters to, say, sled dogs, that lead will stand and one of the few in the Senate who makes West Virginia's Robert Byrd look almost vibrant by comparison, will be returned to DC. Vowing not to allow him in the Republican caucus, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has given Ted S. few options other than cutting a deal with outgoing Pres. G.W. Bush for a last minute pardon to avoid reserving the Martha Stewart Danbury suite in exchange, one presumes, for surrendering his seat.

So? Whom does one think Alaskans would like/love to see replace the wizened Stevens? Which individual could encompass, as well, the unique message of a not too distantly supported state separatist party? [Calling 'Mr. First Dude', paging the 'Todd of Brioni suit catwalks' ... ] Who, in fact, has the actual authority to appoint that new individal? Hmmn? Bud, you got it ... 'Sarah The Barracuda'!

Imagine you're a muckety muck in the national Democratic party. Who do want mano-y-mano across the aisle and against the self-proclaimed "pit bull with lipstick"? Even if Al Franken pulls-out his Minnesota race, only SNL alum Tina Fey daily sitting by his side as a Legislative Aide would sufficiently bolster his testosterone to go really rhetorically hard into the boards with this Limbaugh All Star hockey mom. This time the peril is real and even a full throttle Hillary would come out bloodied badly from a steel cage Wal*Mart throwdown with the NRA's new permanent centerfold.