April 2, 2012

This is an open letter to my long-time friend, Les. (But first, you residents of Castle Bisset need to understand that Les is in great shape - unlike me, as my shape is ... er ... round.)

A study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine confirmed what I'd already suspected; you, my friend, are making me fat. Researchers reported that obesity can spread from person to person, much like a virus and you have given me yours. When a person gains weight, friends also tend to gain weight ... but not you. Close friends are especially contagious and what's worse, you don't even have to live near them for their obesity to affect you. Even if your friend lives hundreds of miles away, if they get fat, your chances of popping the buttons on your trousers is tripled.

According to The New York Times, "The investigators say their findings can help explain why Americans have become fatter in recent years - each person who became obese was likely to drag some friends with them." I would never do that to you.

Now look, friend, it was one thing when I was just out of the Navy and you dragged me off to some muddy field to see an out-of-tune rock band with blown speakers singing Bo Diddley songs - very badly. Sure, we all got sick from the communal free food but at least we met those nurses from Sunbury. They were cute and nice but since we were both married it went nowhere.

Then, when we were much older, you dragged me to that cigar and single-malt scotch bar, where we proceeded to spend ridiculous amounts of money to come home smelling so much like a guerrilla army that our wives made us sleep with the dogs. Not to mention that I woke up with a hangover so bad that I threatened to kill the next door neighbor's 12-year-old kid for mowing his lawn.

Fortunately, no permanent damage was ever done (unless you count what happened to old Mr. Fesselworth's car). But this obesity thing you've dragged me into is changing everything I do and think. You invite me to your parties, and instead of having a case soda and a bag of chips that gets eaten before I get there, like when we were younger, you've got a spread with six different kinds of French cheese, appetizers, dips, nuts, smoked fish, casseroles, soups, fresh baked breads and butters and then a whole other dessert buffet with pies, cakes, candy, ice-cream, whipped cream, coffee and cream. We talk and eat, and laugh and eat, and make music and eat, and drink and eat.

Just when I think I'm finally finished eating, someone arrives with another steaming dish of au-gratin potatoes, or homemade brownies that we have to taste. Have you noticed that each friend who arrives late weighs a little more than the friend who came before them? In the parade of fat, fatter, fattest, the latecomers are taking longer and longer just to waddle out the door, and cram themselves into their increasingly bigger cars, vans, SUVs and super-sized SUVs.

And don't try to tell me that my fat is my responsibility. It's obviously your fault, because you got fat before I did and then you went and lost it all. The obesity researchers found out something else - if your friends lose weight, you tend to lose weight, as well. Didn't work for me, buddy. You've suggested that I try something more radical - pills, liposuction, stomach staples - whatever it takes to make me skinny again. Easy for you to say with your form-fitting body.

Maybe we could talk this over at lunch tomorrow. There's a place near where I live that serves the best onion rings I've ever tasted. There's got to be something we can do, other than dieting, which we know never works. I've tried diets, and no matter how good they sound, or how high they go on the best seller list, they never work for me.

The problem with dieting is that, instead of thinking about food less, you begin to think about it more. You become obsessed with food. You start counting and measuring every single calorie and morsel of delight. Meals last even longer because it takes time to prepare delicious low-fat, healthy food. You chew each bite 20 or 30 or 40 times to get every iota of taste out of it. You spend hours more ambling up and down the aisles of the grocery store, or the farmer's market, or Benny's all-you-can-eat salad bar, looking for every succulent delicacy that won't make you fat.

Even after all that, you're still hungry. In fact, you're always hungry, because you don't wait until you feel stuffed to stop eating. So you're incredibly starved before a meal, and still hungry when the food on the plate has disappeared.

Exercising never works, either. Exercising just makes you hungrier. After you exercise you can eat twice as much. Pretty soon, you're exercising more, just so you can eat more. Gradually, slowly, unbearably, you finally lose one or two, or maybe even three pounds. Then you twist your ankle, or wrench you knee, and you can't move for a week. But you can still eat twice as much, because your stomach has gotten all stretched out from the exercising, and in two days you've gained back everything you've lost, and in a week you've gained 10 pounds. That's what exercise does for you.

I know there's got to be an answer somewhere. If we can't get our fat friends to lose weight for us, maybe I just need to make new skinny friends. I wonder how many skinny friends it would take to counteract all the fat I have?

You can help me figure this out first thing tomorrow at Hop's Deli just down the street. They've got the most amazing sticky buns.