The More Bearable Lightness of Being

A year ago, I made a decision to start tracking my food calories in an effort to lose the extra 30 pounds I’d gained in the past decade. This decision not only resulted in better health, but also a fundamental change in my awareness of food — and an improvement in my happiness, my personal relationships, and my overall quality of life.

Asleep at the Meal

For most of my life, I ate anything I wanted. I paid only a little attention to what I thought was healthy, but I was playing a lot of sports and no matter how much I ate, I never gained weight. For years I hovered effortlessly between 175 and 180 pounds.

Then at age 34 I suffered a serious injury: I tore my ACL and needed reconstructive surgery. My exercise regimen went from eight to ten hours per week of basketball and/or soccer to … nothing.

Even after surgery and physical therapy, I had enough swelling and pain from my knee that I didn’t exercise regularly for years. Every once in a while, I’d try to get re-involved in sports, but I kept reinjuring myself. After my first ultimate frisbee match, my knee swelled up like a cantaloupe … which made it also my last ultimate frisbee match.

I started to entertain the depressing possibility that I might never play sports again.

Meanwhile, I slowly gained both weight and girth. I have a sweet tooth and love to eat cookies and cakes and donuts. I have a huge weakness for cheesecake and crème brulée. By the time I turned 46, I was squeezing 215 pounds into size 38 jeans.

Heavy Jak
215-pound Jak with Mom (2010)

Carrying extra weight made many normal things harder. Extended sitting in office chairs caused me more back pain; it was additional effort to climb stairs or go hiking with the kids. Even standing became uncomfortable after a short period of time. I was more depressed, grumpier, and had a lot less energy. Plus I was self-conscious about my increasingly pear-shaped silhouette.

I had already tried dieting once. Atkins worked at first: I lost 20 pounds in three weeks or so, but it all returned when I shifted into the “maintenance” part of the diet. And as the pounds came back so did the depression. I gave up dieting and resigned myself to being overweight.

First Alarm: Hitting Snooze

Then in 2010, during a routine annual physical, my doctor informed me that my blood sugar levels indicated that I was “pre-diabetic”: I had not yet developed full-blown adult onset diabetes, but I was well above the normal healthy range. He told me I needed to lose some weight, exercise, and avoid foods with a high glycemic index.

Type II Diabetes is a serious condition, one that needs constant attention. I learned that complications can include heart disease, nerve damage, eye degeneration, kidney damage, osteoporosis, and more. I began to get a little … concerned.
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