Three fellows fight the battle of the bulge

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Bob Levey

Three gentlemen of a certain age are yakking — not about women or the stock market for a change, but about fitness.

Gentleman One is 71, as thin and agile as he was 50 years ago. He eats whatever he likes, exercises only once in a while. He bores his doctors with how healthy he is. He smiles a lot.

Gentleman Two is 68. His spare tire inflates by an inch or so every year. To him, a major workout is heading to the freezer for more ice cream. He knows he’s doing everything wrong, but he likes dessert and he refuses to change.

Gentleman Three is 66. He exercises regularly and eats carefully. He wows his pals by ordering spinach in restaurants — no butter, please. But his weight still creeps upward by about two pounds a year. He can’t understand why, or what more he can reasonably do.

I am relieved to report that G-2 and G-3 have not yet assassinated G-1, although they often threaten to do so.

They hold him up as the oracle. They ask him all the time what his secret is. The dialogue goes something like this:

G-2: “Were your parents skinny?”

G-1: “Not especially.”

G-3: “Do you have an ulcer? Or tapeworm? Or some secret, wasting-away disease you haven’t told us about?”

G-1: “Nope.”

G-2 and G-3 (in unison): “So why are you so blankety-blank fit?”

G-1: “Beats me.”

Actually, it doesn’t beat any of the three. G-1’s secret is no secret at all. It isn’t what he does at 71 to remain skinny. It’s what he has done since he was 11.

G-1 was not a varsity athlete when he was young (G-2 and G-3 both were). But he worked at aerobically demanding chores, like chopping wood and hauling trash. He still does (G-2 and G-3 have done such work only sporadically).

G-1 never overate because his parents were poor and food was sometimes scarce. He learned to treat a baked potato as a meal. G-2 and G-3 have always eaten a baked potato — or two, or three — and then asked what was for dinner.

G-1 never viewed food as a reward. He ate because food was fuel. His mother baked him birthday cakes, but that was the only day of the year when food was viewed emotionally. G-2 and G-3 have often overeaten because they had a tough day at work or because a pretty girl didn’t smile back.

G-1 has never varied his routines. He didn’t gain 30 pounds, lose them, then regain them. He has never measured how many calories he eats in a day. G-2 and G-3 have been up and down the diet-book escalator so many times that they’ve lost count. But they haven’t lost weight permanently.

G-1 is willing to leave food on his plate. At a restaurant recently, he ordered a plain chicken breast as his entrée, ate about 40 percent of it and asked to take the remainder home. Meanwhile, G-2 killed off the three rolls in the bread basket and G-3 had two glasses of wine that he didn’t really need or want.

G-1 has the right attitude. He isn’t smug. He doesn’t lord his 32-inch waist over anybody. And he doesn’t assume that he will outlive G-2, G-3 or anybody.

“I’m part of God’s plan,” he says. “I could die of anything at any time.” But as he says this, he is refusing to put dressing on his salad. He is an investor — making small, smart bets across many, many salads.

G-2 knows that he is getting huge by getting even. “I worked like a dog for so many years that I never had time to eat, much less eat the wrong things,” he says. “So now that I’m retired, I figure I can do whatever I like. I’ve got it coming.”

But what’s coming is diabetes and heart disease. G-2 has early glimmers of both. He tries to joke about both ailments (“You’ve got to die of something.”).

But the jokes ring hollow. He knows the odds are against him. Still, that butter pecan is just so-o-o-o-o tasty…

G-3 is closer to G-1 than to G-2. At least he’d like to think so. He hasn’t tasted butter pecan, or butter-anything, in 20 years. His problem is portion control.

He always brings down the house with this line: “I eat all the right things. And then I eat them again.”

The last time he went on a serious diet, he approached it as if he were a monk. Utter, single-minded fervor. He bought a scale to weigh each slice of bread. He avoided cream in his coffee, skin on his turkey, whatever might add 25 calories to his daily total.

Meanwhile, he logged 10,000 steps a day, and he’d reach that figure by midnight even if it meant walking in circles in his pajamas at 11:58 p.m.

His weight went down by 20 pounds within three months. He bought new pants. He got a substitute driver’s license with his new weight on it.

And then he put the monk out to pasture. Turkey skin came creeping back. Ten thousand steps a day became 6,000. Within six months, all the heft was back. So were the old pants he had kept, just in case.

G-1 is cheery about the struggles of his friends. “I’m rooting for you guys,” he always says.

But getting and staying fit is about little choices made when the spectators have all gone home and the arc lights have been turned off. Monk-ing will do the trick when you are of a certain age. Mere rooting never will.

Bob Levey is a national award-winning columnist.