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Zak of All Trades: How I got to be so overweight...

August 16, 2013

Unless I'm cracking jokes, my weight is not a topic of discussion I like to bring up a whole lot. I'm what most folks would call a "big guy," and I've always been OK with that. But lately, I've noticed that I've even let OK slip away.

Eating, for me, feels kind of like a sick addiction. A nicotine addict has to have a dip or a cigarette — it's more than a want — but food's a bit different, because we really do need food. I could live a long, healthy life without nicotine, but without food, I'd starve.

But the topic of an overweight nation and obesity becoming an epidemic is one that concerns me, and mostly because when I'm honest with myself, I realize I'm part of the problem.

When I was a kid, I was overweight, and I was a heavy eater. I ate anything and everything I could get my hands on, and I was fueled by sugary sweets and fatty foods.

This week, I read a book called "The end of overeating: Taking control of the insatiable American appetite" by Dr. David A. Kessler, and some of its points really hit home for me.

It's one of those things where we come to realize that we're not alone in the struggle that we feel we're facing. Dr. Kessler writes about others who have some of the same conditions as I do — a constant desire to eat, an inability to stop eating certain foods, the list goes on and on.

Perhaps you're reading this, and you're thinking, "That's me!" If so, I recommend you take a look at his book. It really helped me understand the psychological, conditioned end, and he recommends some tips to establish a battle plan against overeating, too.

But you may be reading this as a person who doesn't struggle with overeating or its constant pull on your life. If so, I'm thankful that you're not like me in that sense, but I'd urge you to read on to try to understand the mind of the conditioned overeater, because I'd be willing to bet that there's more than one in your circle of family and friends, and it might help you understand some of their characteristics and some of their daily battle.

Well-meaning people can help condition the practice of overeating, and many have done it in my life. At times, I have shared, seriously, with others my concern that I was overweight — mostly with very close, compassionate friends.

And most of the time, those friends gave me the answer my overeating subconscious wanted to hear: "You're not fat, Zak!"

Truth is, when I come face-to-face with it, that I am overweight, and recognizing that is the first step in my battle against the overeating virus.

This morning, curious about what my ideal weight should be, I typed "Am I overweight?" into my search engine. The first result that came up was a body mass index calculator, and the result that it gave me doesn't even say that I'm a little overweight. It's blunt, and it tells me I'm obese. And not just by a little bit, either.

That's the first thing I must come to terms with. If you're like me, you have to come to terms with it, as well. It's the first step to getting past the overeating.

But as a thinker, I couldn't stop at the realization of my problem, I had to get to its roots to try to go back and fix some of the problems, and let me tell you, I realized just how deep some of these roots run. It's not going to be pretty uprooting all of these formed habits and psychological cues, but it's something that I have to do for my own good.

When I was a senior in high school, I hit both of my growth spurts at the same time and shot up 9 inches over the summer, all while losing 30 pounds. I went from 5'4, 210 pounds to 6'1, 180.

Being skinny was new to me. I was almost 10 pounds when I was born, so I've always been a "big boy," and being skinny felt great! Not because I looked good, though. I was still awkward and tripped over my new long legs frequently. I felt freer, though. I could run longer

distances without wearing out. Now, I can barely get up the steps without noticing a difference in my heart rate and my breathing.
Obesity is a national — and maybe even international — epidemic, and it's one that's very alive in me. So, I sat down and wrote out some of the things that have enabled me and pushed me to this point.

Like I said, I hate talking about this topic, I really do. And in person, I probably wouldn't talk about it. But I think it's something worth saying, and so I'm sharing it in hopes that it either helps you think about why you can't stop overeating, or it helps you understand the plight of so many around you.

• Not eating what's on my plate makes me feel guilty ­— From the "starving kids in Africa" line that our parents use with us when we're kids, we're probably all familiar with the guilt that comes with not eating all of what's on our plate. And it came from good intentions. People didn't used to eat like we do today, but portion sizes today are out of control, and we feel compelled to eat what's there.

The problem also extends beyond that guilt, though, as we often feel as if we're insulting those who made the food if we don't eat it all. Truth is, though, I can enjoy one bite of someone else's food just as well as I can a whole plate.

We have to uncondition ourselves to this guilt or inform those around us why we're not finishing the super-sized portions.

• Stress makes me eat — The second point I noticed is that stress is a factor in my overeating. When I'm stressed, I turn to food. Some people lose massive amounts of weight when they're stressed out; I gain it. It's a reality that I've had to come to face about my eating habits.

• Eating (and overeating) is social for me — I am a social eater and a social drinker. I'd much rather have a beer with my buddies or share a meal at the local hot spot with my after-church crew. Eating can remain a social event, but while I'm in that environment, I must take care to still make healthy choices about my eating, and overeating has to be something I consciously avoid.

• Portion control is not my specialty — This one's actually a team effort. When I dole out my own food onto my plate, I heap way too much onto it, and in fact, probably take in about three to four times what I actually need to sustain myself in during some meals. It's the buffet mentality. The beauty of the buffet is its massive appeal in variety, but we've also turned its concept into a tool for overeating.

But I'm not the only one who serves me big portions. Other folks do it too, and they do so out of the kindness of their hearts. They see I'm a big guy, and they serve it up for me to help fill me up.

It's my responsibility to get past that guilt I mentioned earlier, then, and be OK with sending some of that food back to them when I'm filled up.

• I lost sight of my goal — My goal in life, I've always said, was to love and be loved on a deeper scale than just romantic love. In other terms, I'd say it's more: "I want to live a happy life and make others happy along the way."

Part of being happy with myself is controlling overeating and not letting it control me, and I lost sight of that goal at some point — or at least allowed it to be clouded.

We all need goals, and my new goal is to overcome this programmed condition and get my weight back under control. Now, truth be told, I'll probably always be a "big guy" when you see me. But if I can get my weight back down to a number that I feel is manageable, I can regain control of my life.

I hope this long confession can help you gain some control over your fight or gain some understanding over the fight that others around you are putting up daily. It wasn't an easy topic to share about, but if it helps just one person start to think about the obesity epidemic in a different light, it was worth it.

Zak Lantz is the editor of The Punxsutawney Spirit.

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