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180 or bust.
I’m doing it! I’m gonna go on a liquid diet: the Kaiser Permanente Medical Weight Management Program.
For years there were three things I could count on — death, taxes, and that I weighed 212 pounds. Then, last fall, my weight started ticking up: 215 … 217. Well, okay, I thought, it happens. Sometimes, in the past, I’d get a little heavier — so I’d cut down on, say, pretzels, and I’d get back down to 212. But then the calendar flipped over to 2023 — and I started worrying that 2,023 was the weight I was going to end up at. I got into the 220s … then the 230s. When I hit 235, I decided I needed to do something. (I’m 5’10”, by the way.)
It’s not that I stopped being strikingly handsome! I’m still all that and a bag of chips (well, maybe two bags). But this weight doesn’t feel healthy for me. And I keep thinking of my late father, whose weight struggles his whole adult life probably led to his speed addiction — which, in turn, along with his untreated high blood pressure, may have contributed to the stroke that ultimately did him in.
My doctor at Kaiser suggested that I consider their Medical Weight Management Program (though it’s affiliated with Kaiser, you have to pay extra for it). It involves 15 weeks of only drinking a protein shake five times a day, for a daily total of only 900 calories. (I’ve probably absorbed more calories than that just by inhaling as I type this post.) Then you transition back to real food, but under the supervision of medical people and with guidance from nutritionists and such. I attended an informational Zoom meeting and decided to apply.
Applicants need to be considered at least 40 pounds overweight. This, I was quickly assured, was no impediment in my case. Then you take a bunch of blood tests, so they can make sure you’re healthy enough to withstand the diet. Also, you get an EKG — or maybe it was an EEG. In any case, at Oakland Kaiser both the blood- and heart-testing technicians told me that they’d seen a lot of patients do very well on this diet. The last step was a physical exam; I had the option to do this by video conference (though isn’t it kind of weird that you can do a physical remotely?). I liked the doctor who did this: she was honest about not being crazy about metrics like Body Mass Index (BMI), which can vary greatly by ethnicity and other factors. (Nonetheless, my BMI was apparently high enough to qualify me.)
I have to admit that, during this whole process, I was kind of hoping they’d reject me. (“Josh, you may be a smidge overweight, but we all just feel that you’re a dynamite physical specimen. It would be like whittling down on Michelangelo’s ‘David.’”) But no, I passed all their fat tests with flying colors.
As it happened, the night before my program was supposed to start (there are weekly meetings over Zoom), they sent me an email saying that not enough people had gotten in to my cohort, so they couldn’t go forward. I’d have to wait another month, at least.
I took this as a sign from God (though, you know, I do have my questions about that holy entity) that I should try going back on a diet that I’d stayed on successfully for several years. It’s called “The Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet.” (There’s a book!) Basically, it’s a low-carb diet for breakfast and lunch — and then, at dinner, you pretty much have a regular meal, preferably starting with a nice salad so you begin to fill up. In my late 40s and early 50s, that diet kept me around 200. Then I got into long-distance cycling — with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training (TNT) — and Kim, our very cool team nutritionist, told me that I should under no circumstances be on a diet while biking hundreds of miles a week. Okay, Kim!!
O, what a joy it was, for those five years I was with Team In Training, to eat … anything! Pretzels! Cheeseburgers! Milkshakes! Original Coke! It all instantly became fuel. And I remained at around 200.
Post-TNT, I stayed pretty active — and the scale settled in at 212-ish.
Until last fall.
What changed? It’s as if an internal weight barometer suddenly went gonzo. Could it be my age? But I’m still a youthful — nay, immature — 64! So no. Obviously.
Now, one thing that has changed, since January, is that I’m writing these Substack posts. And I do tend to want to snack fairly constantly when I’m at my computer. So … is it YOUR FAULT??? Yes, you, my dear reader???
Well, of course not!!! What I eat is totally my responsibility. Not to mention that writing this twice-weekly newsletter has, to my surprise and delight, become one of my great pleasures. And having this growing community of readers (Substack just sent me an email saying this thing is officially a “Substack Bestseller”) has been a particular blessing at a super-hard time for live-theater folks like me. (Though please do come see me perform my new show Citizen Brain at The Marsh in Berkeley if you’re in the area!) (Wow, this paragraph sure has a lot of self-promotion!!)
Anyhow, I went on that Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet for over a month — and lost three pounds. Which is … something. But when I look in the full-length mirror (we keep it behind lots of other stuff and only refer to it in case of emergencies), I have to admit that, even if I were wearing a fancy suit, I wouldn’t yet be the spitting image of Cary Grant in North by Northwest: more weight would need to be lost (not to mention extensive plastic surgery, including chin-dimpling).
So I’ll be doing this Kaiser diet-program thing. It won’t start until late June — so look for a slight change in the tone of these newsletter posts around then: a patina of hunger, perhaps, with a hint of tummy-rumbling. Or maybe there will be a new lightness to my writing: a delightful, gossipy frothiness. We’ll see.
During that video physical, I asked the doctor what she’d suggest as a target weight for me. She said she didn’t really believe in target weights, as there are so many variables.
“Well, I’m dreaming of 180,” I told her.
“Actually, that sounds good,” she said.
180! I haven’t weighed that little since high school. (At Bronx Science we played lots of Ultimate Frisbee, a surprisingly aerobic activity. Also, we were carrying around a heavy slide rule all day.) What might my life be like if I can get back down to that weight? Will family members not see me if I’m standing at a right angle to them? Will strangers stop saying, “Hey there, Big Guy”? Will I be able to bend over to tie my shoes without having to wheeze while catching my breath for the next minute or two?
I’ll keep you in the loop! (That’s a tightening-the-belt reference.)
Just to be clear, no one — including Kaiser Permanente — is paying me to write about this program. In fact, if I end up not succeeding in the program, they may be tempted to pay me not to write about it.