I’ve always had trouble with my weight — always. From the minute I was born to now, my weight has never fluctuated up and down. It has only gone up.
I was about 2 feet tall and weighed 10 pounds, 12 ounces when I was born. My poor mother was less than 5 feet tall and never weighed more than 120 pounds in her life. She might’ve been taller had it not been for childhood polio that left her with curvature of the spine. It still amazes me such a small woman could have such a large baby.
When I first decided to write a series of columns on weight control, it seemed like a fun opportunity to make light of my weight problem. But, the weightiness of the topic is well — heavy.
I wasn’t a fat kid, I was husky, but as I grew older, I transitioned from a “husky” kid to an “overweight” adult and joining the Navy didn’t help. Though I was in good physical condition, I had trouble conforming to Navy body fat standards. The maximum body fat was 22 percent. Mine ranged between 22 and 25 percent. It wasn’t much of a problem at sea, but it became a huge problem when I transferred to Service School Command, San Diego. I was in good shape, I regularly ran 12 miles, loved mountain biking, hiking and was limber enough to touch my knees with my nose, but the difference between my waist size and neck was 22-plus inches.
I was assigned to Overeaters Anonymous and my advancement to senior chief (E-8) was delayed until I conformed to Navy standards. I finally conformed, got my promotion and thankfully, I was transferred back to sea.
I retired from the Navy at age 40 and began putting all my energy into building a career in print journalism, which is a little bit like coaching high school football. Both jobs are very stressful and there are sometimes many moves writers and coaches make before they find the right fit.
A journalism career is a two-edged sword for me: One edge — there is nothing else I want to do. The other edge — journalism is very, very stressful. I tend to eat under stress. Also, a lot of what I do involves lunch and dinner banquets. So, over the next 20 years I focused on my career, gained an average of five pounds a year and hoped I would live long enough to retire. Upon retirement, my focus would shift to my well-being.
My knees hurt, but that was from too many years on ships and running on asphalt. Other than that, I was doing all right, except over the years, buying clothes became problematic when it got to the point that I couldn’t walk into a store and buy a shirt off the rack. That, I reasoned, was an example of bad marketing, because Tennessee is one of the most obese states in the nation. So, I waddled over to the big and tall section. It wasn’t a huge deal. I was in my middle 50s and retirement was getting closer. Then I would worry about buying smaller shirts.
Over the years, doctors began talking to me about sleep apnea, but I continued gaining weight. Having sleep apnea is OK ... it’s not too bad sleeping with a C-PAP machine. As years passed, doctors started talking to me about high blood pressure, but that too is OK because it is easily controlled by one pill each morning. I continued eating and gaining and over time, the word “diabetes” crept into the conversation.
I did not and do not want diabetes. Most of my father’s family is diabetic and I wanted nothing to do with it. A cousin about my age went into a diabetic coma and nearly died at the age of 7. She has given herself insulin shots as long as I can remember. She has no feeling in her feet and has put them in a burning fireplace and walked on glass without knowing it.
I went to the doctor on April 1. He told me I was diabetic and immediately referred me to an ophthalmologist to ensure the disease had not affected my eyesight. Fortunately, my eyes are fine, but — at age 59, it became painfully clear my plan to live until retirement lacked foresight. I didn’t know what to do.
I was at the mercy of the only career I’ve ever wanted. My life seemed out of control. Life, it seemed, had become an either/or choice between work and health. But it really wasn’t a choice, because you have to work. It’s kind of like Davy Crockett looking over the wall of the Alamo and seeing the Mexican Army.
It is one of those life situations where you’re betwixt and between and there’s not a whole lot to be done about it. However, I found out the following Monday there was something I could do.