Inspiration can come from the most unlikely of places.
Like most people, I want a better life for myself, regardless of how good my life may be at any particular time. Luckily, there's plenty of room for improvement at the moment, so a little progress here and a little there ought to be very do-able. But when there is a veritable cornucopia of opportunities for self betterment, where does one begin?
When faced with such choices, it helps to enlist the wisdom and experience of others. A wise man I know once said, "You should quit doing the thing which is killing you the fastest". Makes sense.
About five years ago, I quit drinking. A year later, I quit smoking. Wise choices, to be sure; my days on this planet almost certainly have been prolonged as a result of those two actions, and even if I got hit by a bus tomorrow (why is it always a bus?), the days of smoke-free sobriety have been well worth the sacrifices. However, there was an unwanted reaction which I did not anticipate.
I got fat.
How fat, you ask? Okay, so I wasn't one of those people who gets unwittingly filmed while eating a Ben and Jerry's waffle cone at the mall during the "crisis of obesity" segments on the evening news. When I sit down, I don't have three distinct asses - one for the chair and two for the open space on either side of the chair (pay a visit to any "Original Pancake House" restaurant to witness this phenomenon en masse).
In fact, with the use of bigger, untucked shirts - accompanied with daily, well-timed suck-ins of the stomach whenever a good looking girl would walk by - I've been able to moderately hide the 30 pounds that I've put on in the past few years. Were it not for the fact that my neck acts like a coozie for the rest of my head, you might not notice my tubbyness. That much.
But I knew the truth. In the unforgiving brightness of the bathroom light, one sees oneself for who he really is.
Standing naked and sideways in a pose of complete relaxation opposite the mirror, I appeared to be five months pregnant. Sitting up in bed, one could balance a variety of household ornaments on the crest of my gut. Bending over to tie my shoe produced beads of sweat on my brow, combined with some uncomfortable panting.
In my early twenties, I was winning 12 mile road races and going on two-day, 50 mile hikes. In my late thirties, I had become a cliché; the fattening, sedentary male. And my diet had become something of a catastrophe.
My typical breakfast consisted of a Belgian Waffle (sweet Jesus, those Belgians really know how to make a waffle), with a side of sausage and two scrambled eggs. Lunch might bring a roast beef sandwich, hopefully not (but despondently more often than I'd care to admit) from Arby's. Damn you Arby's and your curly fries. Dinner was spaghetti and meatballs or maybe an 800 calorie burrito as big as my head.
And after the cessation of the drinking and smoking, a new, void-filling habit crawled into my diaphragm like Golum searching for his precious ring. At about eleven o'clock at night, almost without fail, a craving for chocolate would waft over me like the smell from the back of the trash truck. More often than I can begin to fathom, I made a late night trip to the closest sugar emporium which still had its doors open. Donuts by the mouthful one night; Häagen Dazs Caramel Cone ice cream (with a bag of Reese's Pieces thrown in for good measure) the next; European-style crackers with a generous coating of milk chocolate on alternate Thursdays. Whatever it took to get me through the night.
One day, I decided to do something about it. Actually, there were several days; I must have "turned over a new leaf" at least a dozen times over the past few years, only to come crawling back to my Krispy Kremes during a moment a weakness.
Enter the aforementioned inspiration.
You know how sometimes, you'll hear about a book, and then maybe you'll see people reading it here ad there, and although you're not sure what exactly it's all about, you feel as if it probably doesn't pertain to you? And yet you find yourself thinking about the book at odd times, for no apparent reason? Well, that's the universe telling you that there's something in that book that will change your life.
Had you told me ahead of time that a book entitled, Skinny Bitch: A no-nonsense, tough-love guide for savvy girls who want to stop eating crap and start looking fabulous would act as the muse for my epicurean epiphany, well ... to say that I would have doubted you would be a severe understatement. The cover looks like one of those terrible 21st century romance novels. The authors are two former models. The content within contains information on how to quit eating meat and sugar (pretty much the staples of my diet). Not going to appeal to me, thank you very much.
Yet, something happened as I casually began skimming the pages. Somehow this book spoke to me in a way that no other book of its type had ever spoken to me before, despite the fact that I'm pretty much your typical American male and the book was written for "savvy girls."
It started with the first paragraph: "You need to get healthy if you want to get skinny ... you cannot keep eating the same shit and expect to get skinny. Or smoke. So don't even try some pathetic excuse like 'But if I quit smoking I'll gain weight.' No one wants to hear it. Cigarettes are for losers. They are so 1989 and totally uncool."
Despite the fact that the language was in that new millennium girl-speak that I normally can't stand, I could relate. It continued: "You need to exercise, you lazy shit." I know, sounds a bit like Dr. Phil's potty mouthed alter ego, but it works.
There are chapters on sugar (Sugar is the Devil, and artificial sweeteners are toxic shit storms that have been approved by the FDA through good ol' fashioned American legal bribery), on the insanity of dairy products, and, what got my attention more than anything else, was the absolute assault on the meat farming industries. There's too much to categorize here, but if you're looking for motivation to go vegetarian, read chapter four of Skinny Bitch, entitled "The Dead, Rotting, Decomposing Flesh Diet".
The authors do a great job of simplifying the argument for veganism, with their typical humor and straight talk. They refute the "humans are at the top of the food chain" argument which so many people use to justify their meat eating. And they quote testimonials from current and former meat processors, the nature of which would make Rambo vomit.
I don't know how, exactly, but I've been able - quite easily, in fact - to completely avoid meat and dairy since reading Skinny Bitch, and I've cut my sugar intake in half. Every time someone's chicken sandwich starts to look good, I recall the following passage, quoted in Skinny Bitch from a former worker at a Perdue Chicken processing factory:
After they are hung, sometimes the chickens fall off the line into the drain that runs down the middle of the line. This is where roaches, intestines, diseased parts, fecal contamination and blood are washed down. Workers vomit into the drain ... sometimes they have to relieve themselves on the floor ... the Perdue supervisors told us to take the fallen chickens out of the drain and send them down the line [to be sold to the public] ... Every day, I saw black chicken, green chicken, chicken that stank and chicken with feces on it. Chicken like this is supposed to be thrown away, but instead it would be sent down the line to be processed.
I suppose there are some who can read that and continue to eat chicken. I am not one of them.
What I've found so surprising is how easy it has been to convert to a diet that, at this point, is about 99 percent vegan (the egg whites in Boca Burgers and the occasional vegetable Phö are my only failings at the moment - those noodles can't be gluten-free). I was one of those people who loved bumper stickers like the ones that said "I love animals - they're delicious!" Now, the mere thought of eating dead cow flesh is as repulsive to me as yanking one of the "drain chickens" from what should have been their roach-infested grave, and sucking it down raw.
I've discovered an entirely new world of food that I always avoided, while also finding tasty, vegan substitutes for the waffles and sausages that I loved so dearly. It takes a little time to get accustomed to seasoned tofu sausage and gluten and egg free waffles, but now I enjoy them as much as any breakfast I've ever had. The tofu sausage tastes incredibly like real sausage. I don't know how the folks at Tofurkey do it, but keep up the good work.
And the best part about it? In order to go vegan, I didn't have to join a co-op, start listening to the Grateful Dead or change my name to Moonbeam. I still watch sports with my hand down my pants and play golf with cigar-smoking misogynists. In fact, most all the food I buy is at many of the same supermarkets where I've always shopped, though I do have to go to the super crunchy alternative market for the gluten-free bread.
Even though it's been a pretty brief period of time since I adopted this new foodstyle, I've already dropped five pounds, my skin looks healthier, and I feel better. A lot better. I have more energy, I sleep better, I'm dropping some championship poops and those insane cravings for chocolate glazed donuts have totally subsided. I'm well on my way to becoming a skinny bitch, and I couldn't be happier.
Sorry meat, but I don't think we'll be seeing much of each other any more. It's me, not you.
Oh, and I've given up coffee as well, which might have been the most difficult thing of them all, but apparently, coffee contributes to fatness. So out it went.
Maybe I should rename the column?
Nah. "Too Much Green Tea" just doesn't sound right.
Evan Redmon gets a lot of spam. If you are not spam, please feel free to drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.