Oct 26, 2012

My Journey To Plant Strong, Part 1: A Less-Than-Optimally-Brief Personal History

April 17th, 1973.  A critical date in American, nay, Global History.  It was on that day that Federal Express officially commenced their industry-defining overnight shipping services.  It was also on that day, in Cleveland, Ohio, that my parents decided to celebrate this free-market liberation from U.S. Postal Service domination by bringing me into the world via Caesarean section.  Little did they know that, almost prophetically, I would grow to become both an impatient grump who wants things delivered when I demand them and an epicure who loves absurdly rich and fatty salad dressings, all the more so if they are anchovy-based.  These two less-than-savory (get it?  SAVORY?!) character traits, if they can both be considered such, have conspired over the years to strap me, like so much excess-weight luggage, to the brakeless mini-van roof of life, careening headlong down the Lombard Street of weight fluctuation.  Was that the worst embedded-metaphor sentence in history...or was it the best?

Throughout what I would consider a fairly run-of-the-mill upbringing, I can remember that I was always magnetized to food, and always somewhat uncomfortable in my own skin.  Like many of the more stylish, aristocratic babies of the early ‘70s, I was born fat.  Being fat did not bother me as a pre-toddler. Conversely, if my weight throughout life is any indication, I was hell-bent to stay that way through preadolescence and well on into post-pre-adulthood.

Though for the life of me I can’t imagine why, this disturbed by parents.  Perhaps they thought later on in life I’d develop debilitating health problems?  Is that why they (and by ‘they’ I mean my mother, at which point the author received a bitter phone call from his mother about how he is an ingrate, after all she suffered to raise him in an increasingly insane world, and how dare he write anything about her even implicitly critical) brought me to a nutritionist when I was, oh, maybe ten years old?  A nutritionist who attempted to teach me about healthy eating by having me play with rubber facsimiles of fried chicken (“bad" rubber food) and broccoli ("good" rubber food, I presume)?

And later to a therapist who would either brainwash me (in a good way, of course) or teach me how to brainwash myself into eating less, exercising more, and growing leaner as I grew taller (or was it taller as I grew leaner?) by way of endless repetition of affirmations (e.g., “I am a naturally thin person!)?  All I remember about this therapist, besides the homework assignments, is how hot she was.  If I close my eyes and explore the vault, I recall her looking like one of those women from the “Addicted To Love” video.  Except happy.  I didn't do a single thing she asked me to do to help myself, and therefore did not come to believe that I was a naturally thin person and could hence afford myself psychic permission to eat like one. But I had no problem visiting her at her office.  Let’s ice down some of those memories, shall we?

Unwittingly, these were the same parents who, dedicated to providing me with every single opportunity and resource in life, sent me to a premiere high school, and then to a premiere college, where all of the food was served buffet style.  This was not advertised in the promotional brochures.  So imagine my pleasant surprise upon arrival at the dining hall to learn that only the starting time of one's next class placed a practical limit on the number of times one could return to the beginning of the buffet line.  One of the most vivid memories I have of college is a plate filled with double-burgers drenched in nacho cheese sauce (this was several years before I started keeping kosher).  That plate always got refilled.  In a warped way lemmings are lucky.  Because they can’t go back to the top of the cliff.

Is it shocking that my weight has yo-yo’ed for as long as I can remember, my top weight steadily increasing with every failure?  Unlike many whose blogs I've read and whose stories I’ve heard, I have not tried every single diet solution known to man.  I have also never taken a diet drug.  I once (literally, one time) took a body-building supplement at a time when I was lifting weights a lot, but what I suspect was a combination of caffeine and a palette of other stimulants freaked me out so intensely that I had the bottle of pills arrested for assault and battery.

I bought weight-loss pills at my local drug store once, when I was 15, but can thankfully acknowledge that, having gone another year without losing all the weight I wanted to lose before shipping off to summer camp, where I would have to run the emotional gauntlet yet again for four weeks straight in a bathing suit, I narrowly avoided becoming a speed addict when I flushed them down a camp toilet.  How any pharmacy could look itself in the mirror after selling Crank Lite over the counter to a 15-year-old boy is beyond me.  But sell the amphetamine-laced diet pills they did, and again let us take a moment to thank God that He planted in my body-conscious and girl-crazed teen-aged brain the seed of fear that I’d become a toothless, bloody-eyed drooler, albeit a thin one, if I went ahead with my plan to lose weight via psychostimulants.  Thank you, God.  Oh, thank you.  And once again for good measure, thank you Lord.

So pills were never part of my obsession, but several of the more popular weight loss programs were.  Not far down the road from that vaunted Chicago-area institution of higher learning known as Where Weissology Went To College, there was a Jenny Craig...outlet.  Store?  Training center?  What does one call the real estate where Jenny hawks her wares and services?  Jenny Craig...what can one say about Jenny Craig?  God bless my parents for, among other things, paying for all those boxes of food.  Looking back on it now, it doesn’t strike me as so healthy to train people to eat only out of a cardboard box, but maybe they don’t do it that way any more.

Anyway, I walked into Jenny Craig in Skokie, Illinois in 1994 because I was 80 pounds overweight.  I kept walking in because my Jenny Craig coach was a delicately beautiful faux blond whose black roots were somehow sexy underneath all that bleach-yellow.  Believe me when I tell you, I’m not trying to work hot chicks into my personal history.  It’s just the way things unfolded, organically.  I promise.  I am not the Woody Allen of Richard Simmons stories.  After all, both my childhood therapist and Jenny Craig handler were older than me. Rimshot!

And now, back to our regularly scheduled blog post.  I lost a lot of weight on the Jenny Craig program.  I dutifully (obsessively?) box-cut and microwaved my way to something like a 60 pound reduction.  After which time I assumed I was cured, and dutifully stopped visiting my lovely coach at the JC compound down the road from school.

I’m not exactly sure when I gained all my weight back and then some, but it didn’t take long.  Then I moved to Los Angeles, California which, anyone can imagine, is the single best place in the world to be fat and self-conscious.  When you cross the border into California for the first time, you get your passport stamped and you get a lifetime membership to the 12-step program of your choice.  Mine was Compulsive Eaters Anonymous (CEA).  As they say in the 12-step rooms, “it works if you work it.”  It worked when I worked it.  It stopped working when I stopped working it.  I vacillated between working it and not working it several times over the span of my five-or-so years in L.A., and then moved to Israel to study in seminary in Jerusalem.  In Israel it didn’t even take me a full year to stop working the CEA program completely.

You know what the best thing about living in Israel is? The spiritual high one gets from being immersed in one’s cultural heritage round-the-clock. You know what the second best thing is? The Yemenite restaurant right next door to the artisan bakery, both right smack in the middle of my bike ride to seminary each day. What more could my arteries want than a sandwich consisting of deep-fried falafel balls wrapped in pan-fried bread, slathered with sesame paste and olive-oil-drenched chick-pea hummus? How about the same thing again on the way home? Could the arteries also want that? I could never say for sure what my arteries really wanted, but I was willing to test all hypotheses, as long as it involved some form of frying.

Quick quiz:  What’s the most responsible and forward-thinking action a guy could take approaching the birth of his first child in order to ensure many decades of healthfulness in order to guide the child for as long as possible along the path of life?  If your answer is to mentally map every vending machine within a ten minute walk of the maternity ward, then you’ll have stumbled upon my approach to my wife’s labor with our older daughter, our very first child, born in Jerusalem in the summer of 2004. Do you know how they say Kit-Kat in Hebrew? Keet-Ket. Say it with me, “While you have more false contractions and fail to dilate further, I’m going to spend 5 shekel on another Keet-Ket.”

If it weren’t for the fact that the bike ride home from seminary was uphill, we’d have had to rent a separate apartment for my gut.

Three years in Israel. Return to America, summer of 2005, to start business school. Back to the 12-step programs. It worked as long as I worked it. Then I stopped working it. Again.

Second child, first boy, born in 2006. Second year of business school. Graduation. Consulting job. Third kid, second boy, in 2010. Stress. Responsibility. Sleepless nights. Global travel for work. Eating like crap, feeling like crap. Garbage in, garbage out.

Acid-reflux. Sleep apnea (undiagnosed). Glorious snoring, which Mrs. Weissology loves so much! Aches. Pains. Festering disease. And no more bike rides to push back on the abuse my body was taking.

What would be the thing to shepherd's-hook me off the Bizarro version of Disneyland’s “It’s a Small World” ride that I was on? In Part 2 of this post, I’ll let you in on how I got plant strong. And then got plant weak. And then got plant strong. Then plant weak again one more time. Sound familiar? You'll also learn how I met the famous guys in white lab coats and the Healthy Girl, and how I introduced my boot to the heiney of processed foods and animal proteins.

So stay tuned, and share your thoughts. Can you relate to the self-perpetuating cycle of failure? I'm looking forward to hearing from you.


  1. I'm enjoying reading your story, and looking forward to the happy ending. I think every human being on the face of the earth can relate to your "self-perpetuating cycle of failure" in one way or another. I'd hate to admit how long ago I first happened upon this way of eating, and how many excuses there have been since then. So thanks for the encouragement....!

  2. I tried plant strong for a few years and kept overeating on plant based foods. Ugghhh! I really don't like to tell everyone I eat healthy but I'm fat. So I combined CEA HOW with plant strong and bingo! It seems to be working so far. What a relief and a blessing! If it doesn't work just going plant strong, you could consider this option. It's a great one!

  3. Hi, Dan!! I always LOVE the background story. Thanks for sharing so openly. Yes, I can relate to the self-perpetuating cycle of failure : ( Also, the remark about being "somewhat uncomfortable in my own skin". Up until the birth of my second child, I was always an average to slender weight. But not in my head.

    In my head I was a fat blob. As a young teenager, I would fall asleep praying that God would make my thighs slenderer by morning. What misplaced focus...and what havoc it wreaked with my relationship with God, too ; )

    After the birth of my second child, I returned to my average to upper limit weight of 140. But within the past 14 years, I have gone up and down between there and 198 (I never allowed that 200 number to show on the scale). Your post gave me the kick in the rear I needed to revisit the Dr. Fuhrman website where I perused some old posts. In Feb. 2011 I weighed 158...was back on my way to healthy and then...well...that's just it...I don't really know what or why. I just know that this time I was back to 198 again before I got a grip. Sigh....

    But that was last week and this is now. Thanks to the miracle of seeing your link on Healthy Girl's Kitchen, what you wrote resonated at a deep level and I'm back on plan. Eating plant strong, walking, using my Pilates reformer and feeling like I'm coming back to the land of the living. But I will say this...I haven't bounced back as quickly as before. I'm not feeling great, yet. But better....

    Thanks again from the bottom of my heart. Looking forward to Part 2.

    If you would like me to post a link on Dr. F's member center, I'm sure there are many people who would love to follow your journey. Just say the word.

    Love, love, love, Marie

  4. Yeah!!!! This was a laugh riot. The best medicine for overeating. We are all one and the same.

  5. I'm so enjoying your commentary and thank you for sharing and I look forward to your next post! Thanks for being so honest in such an endearing way!