Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Diet

I am on a diet.

I gained 20 pounds in the five or so years before I retired, and packed on 20 more since. So I have dug a 40 pound hole I have to climb out of.
My motivation is simple: I want to be able to fit back into the tux I wore to Kris’ wedding 7 years ago by the time of Elisabeth’s in July.

I’ve been down this road before. In the mid-1980s I hit my all time high of 267 pounds. I fought my way to 175, regained 30 pounds over the ensuing years, lost that, and tacked on the 40 I am currently toting around.

My problem with dieting is I am either all in or all out. I can’t see a 5 pound gain and say “Oh gosh, I’d better get on that.” I have to wait until I’ve added the weight of an average sixth grader before I swing into action. Once I am on a diet, I am the very soul of virtue and usually see pretty fast results.

I love to eat. I have an eating disorder which I refer to as the Boa Constrictor Syndrome:
If I can get my mouth around it, I will eat it; If I can swallow it, I can digest it.

I prefer good food but in a pinch, any food will do.

I never get indigestion or gas (this is subject to dispute in my household). I can polish off a box of Cheezits before bed time and sleep like a baby.

I never leave food on my plate. I blame my mother for this whose mantra was “you better finish that there are children starving in Korea.” I feel that if I don’t clean my plate the population of the entire Asian sub-continent is endangered.

No doggy bags for me. Recently, we were dining in Cajun restaurant and I ordered a spicy rice and seafood dish. It came piled so high on my plate that snow was forming on the peak. As the waiter was clearing, he was stunned to see not a single, solitary grain of rice on my plate. He remarked that in all the years the dish had been on the menu, he had never seen anyone finish it. He called another waiter over to confirm this observation. “You should be embarrassed,” Kathie said. I wasn’t. I had a warm glow in my tummy as I pictured all of those contented Korean children.

I am also a serial eater. I eat constantly. This has been the source of my downfall since I am at home. If there is food around, I will find it. I’ll go for the good stuff first, and when I have gone through that I will get creative. I have no problem scooping peanut butter from the jar and eating it by the spoonful, or gnawing on a chunk of parmesan cheese from the rock-hard block.

Pretzels are a real weak spot. I can demolish a bag of pretzels in one sitting. One night I consumed three quarters of a one pound bag, and in a fit of self-loathing tossed the rest in the garbage. The next day, I was pleased to see Kathie hadn’t taken the trash out so I dug through the coffee grounds and potato peels, fetched the bag, and polished off the contents. I guess my self-loathing spell had passed.

I’ve stopped doing this sort of thing, at least for the duration of my diet. Basically, I’ve cut my portions and stopped noshing. In three weeks, I have lost 8 pounds.

To paraphrase Mark Twain’s remark about quitting smoking, dieting is easy, I’ve done it hundreds of times.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Bear

It must be Newfoundland retriever, I thought as I gazed at the large, black creature looking back at me from the middle of the trail about 50 yards away.

I raised my binoculars and all doubt was removed: it was a big black bear. It was looking at me, but not in an aggressive way. Its expression was more “uh oh what’s he up to” than “yum lunch.” He slowly wandered across the trail and into the woods. By the time I reached the spot, he was no longer in sight.

I was very excited. Bears are common enough in this part of New Jersey, but in all the years I have been walking the Colombia Trail I have never seen one. In fact, it is more common to see one raiding a dumpster than to come across one in the woods.

The reason is that bears are shy and have more sensitive noses than dogs; hence they will smell you coming a mile away and make themselves scarce. They also have very good reason to be frightened of humans.

I know this because I attended a lecture a few months ago called “Living with Bears.” At first I thought that this might be a talk aimed at helping women deal with the housekeeping habits of male family members. But no, it was about real bears.

Unlike grizzlies, black bears are not predators. Their diet consists mostly of vegetation, nuts and roots. They will, however, scavenge a carcass. The lecturer observed that if you are attacked by a grizzly, playing dead often works as a defense strategy. Not with black bears. They will just dig in.

Basically, they are not dangerous to humans. However, “habituated” bears can be a different story. These are not bears supporting a crack habit by preying on humans, but those that have lost their fear of us: the dumpster divers, in other words. Some people actually encourage this by leaving food out for them or not properly securing their trash. The lecturer told the story of a bald man in the area who used to coat his head with peanut butter and allow the bears in his yard to lick it off, proving that not all humans occupy the top rung of the evolutionary ladder.

The uh-oh look on “my” bear’s face, and the fact that he moved off, indicated he was not of that ilk, so I was not scared. However, if he had moved toward me aggressively it would have time for some serious pants pooping, because a human cannot outrun or out climb a bear.

Following my sighting, I called Kathie, texted the kids, and bounded down the trail with the hope I would run into someone to tell. Soon I encountered a lone woman walking along. “I’ve just seen a bear! I’ve just seen a bear,” I hollered while hopping up and down, like my 2 year old grandson does when he sees a tractor.

“Now, you’ve frightened me,” she said.

I don’t think she was talking about the bear.