Huffing and puffing, I rocked back and forth until I could coax my aching knees to help lift me off the couch. I ambled toward the bathroom of my Fresno apartment, dropping off another empty beer bottle in the kitchen along the way.
Taking a look in the mirror, it struck me that I didn’t recognize the swollen, sad-looking person staring back at me through dark, sunken eyes. My life had become unmanageable. It was a chore to get up off the couch, let alone a flight of stairs. My weight was topping 220 pounds. How much more would I gain?
At 39 years old in the fall of 2009, I decided to make the change.
The skinny kid
I was born the youngest of the three Lutz boys. If we had been a litter, I would have been considered the runt. To say I was scrawny would have been the understatement of the ’70s.
As I grew up, my height-to-weight ratio went off kilter.
At the age of 12, I grew one foot over the course of summer to six feet-plus. Yet my structure remained that of a high fashion model — I was the skinny kid.
I rode my bike everywhere, logging over 50 miles on some days.
My metabolism was a supernova. I could — and did — eat anything I wanted without gaining weight.
In 1988, I moved to Seattle to attend the Art Institute. I was working part time at PriceSavers, a Costco competitor, while trying to get through school. My daily menu consisted of Oreo cookies and Top Ramen noodles bought in bulk at a 20 percent discount from said wholesale warehouse. You know, the typical college diet.
Despite my less-than-ideal eating habits, I retained my slim stature. I was 140 pounds.
I was also an undiagnosed manic depressive.
Life happens to everyone, including the skinny kid. My career path evolved into a series of jobs that required sitting at a desk. And the more creative my job became — writing, editing, cartooning — the more time I spent hunched over a keyboard or my trusty old drawing table.
But the more I focused on my work, the less I focused on the things that matter, including my health.
During my first wife’s first pregnancy, some 18 years ago, I indulged in a steady diet of double quarter-pounders with cheese. It never occurred to me that eating the way I always had would harm me.
Around the age of 26, I discovered the magic of alcohol; specifically beer.
Having tried beer when I was a teenager (shocking, I know), I had decided I really didn’t like it. Coke was much better. There was no appeal in the swill for me.
But then I found out that it wasn’t all Budweiser, Coors, Miller. It came in porters! Ales! Stouts! It was meant to be savored, enjoyed, loved.
And love it, I did. Too much.
My enjoyment of beer led to an enjoyment of many other alcohols, and increasingly richer foods. Indulging in such things kept my mind from the nagging, lingering depression that I couldn’t identify.
A broken temple
In my late 20s, I developed a condition called gastro-oesophageal reflux disease or GERD. Basically, it’s the body’s way of producing too much acid, which then climbs up into the throat, leaving the victim with constant heartburn.
I was eating TUMS and Rolaids by the handful. My doctor put me on Prevacid. It worked a miracle on my digestive system. It worked so well, in fact, that I was able to eat and drink more.
It was also in my late 20s that I was pulling away from my relationship with others and drinking more. A self-destructive path left me alone, putting up barriers to keep others out.
I had done such a good job of pushing others away that even my car left me. It decided to stop running, forcing me to walk to work. I reasoned it was exercise, so I was being healthy.
Around that time, I met Melinda, the woman who made me change my mind about swearing off marriage forever. She accepted me for who I was, barriers and all.
Over the next eight years, we enjoyed discovering new food and drink together. We called ourselves “foodies,” and indulged in whatever we could.
Being the News-Sentinel’s Lodi Living editor at the time meant I could have my choice of restaurants to profile, trying almost every new place that opened locally, as well as older establishments.
Even though I seemed to have everything I wanted in life, I still had that feeling of emptiness and worthlessness. Having talked to my doctor, he diagnosed my depression. The feeling finally had a name! Yet, that didn’t make me feel any better. Neither did the anti-depressants I was prescribed. Eventually, I felt nothing.
To fill the void created by medication, I continued to fill myself with food and drink. It got to the point where I couldn’t handle what the pills were doing to me, so I weaned myself off.
The missus and I settled into our routine, and our jobs took us south to Fresno. This opened us up to even more restaurants, and we ate out more often than we ate at home.
My job as a journalist for The Business Journal required a lot of time at my desk as well as driving throughout Fresno and the surrounding counties.
That’s when the panic attacks began. My head would swim, my vision would blur, my heart would race. I feared any more medication, putting myself on a regimen of supplements and vitamins I swore would help. Of course, I didn’t swear off any of the drinking or eating.
The regimen didn’t work, and I found myself getting larger, wearing increasingly baggier clothing to hide my ever-expanding girth. My pant size had gotten up to 38, and those were getting tight. I wore my XXL shirts untucked so as to hide my gut.
If my body was a temple, it was crumbling all around me.
My confidence (what little I had) was gone. I didn’t feel worthy of anybody’s attention and, worst of all, my wife’s love.
Eventually, I was staring at an unfamiliar face in the bathroom mirror.
“I can’t do this anymore,” I said to my reflection. “I have to do something.”
But like most humans, I wanted results instantly. I’d made the choice to live healthier, shouldn’t I be feel and look better right away?
I quit drinking.
I cut back on my meal portions.
I started walking more.
By the time we returned to Lodi, I had lost nearly 40 pounds. But settling into my new job at the News-Sentinel, I quickly side-stepped my walking routine. Plus, around here, we love potlucks. I don’t just mean we enjoy them from time to time, I mean we have a passionate, fiery affair with potlucks. Give us a reason (“Hey, it’s Thursday!”) and we’ll have a potluck.
And I’m no slouch when it comes to sampling other people’s dishes. It’s free food, after all.
I would still have beer from time to time, and I slowly put 10 pounds back on, settling in at 190.
My gut seemed like it didn’t want to achieve its major league status. I had become fearful of body fat, especially after learning it can lead to type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, hypertension, stroke and a myriad of other diseases.
Little habits from the past were starting to wedge their way back into my daily routine, and it was driving Melinda and I apart. Finally, we both made the decision to leave a platter of bad habits behind us. We both quit drinking completely. Fortunately, I lost my taste for it, finding no solace or enjoyment in drinking at all.
For the next step in getting healthy, we decided to go to Weight Watchers, as it had worked for her in the past.
‘I’ll see less of you!’
I love double cheeseburgers and fully-loaded super burritos.
I detest running and any activity that requires me to lift heavy objects (excluding fully-loaded super burritos).
When I started attending Weight Watchers, I quickly learned that, if I wanted the program to work, I would have to limit my intake of those cheeseburgers and burritos, and put my walking shoes back on.
Melinda and I began the program in July of last year, and, through using the program’s Points system, I lost 26 pounds, achieving lifetime membership status in October, right after my birthday.
I attribute this major goal to the support of my wife, the accountability of the program, and my own change in my emotional, physical and spiritual attitude.
Like religion, sports or politics, weight loss programs are a very personal thing. Everybody has to find something that works for them.
Stepping into the Weight Watchers program, I expected a retail atmosphere hellbent on selling me every cookbook and gizmo possible. What I found was a group of people dedicated to getting healthier and supporting other members. When one of us loses weight, we all win. We share healthy recipes, plans for creating success and our solutions to the problems every person trying to reach their goals will face.
We cheer when one of us reaches a goal, and we comfort each other when it’s an off-week.
The staff is no less supportive than the members, because they have all gone through the system as well.
I have learned how to eat properly. I have learned portion control. I have learned how to care for myself with healthy mix of food and exercise. I have learned about setting little goals to reach the larger ones.
Weight can fluctuate throughout the day and week due to any number of factors. Sometimes I would lose, and sometimes I would gain. The weeks where I would gain (usually no more than two-tenths of a pound, but sometimes one to two pounds), I would get frustrated.
Thankfully, there are people like Weight Watchers leader Dorothy Chrisman, who have fought the same battle and won. She and other staff will guide members and help explore the reasons we may be up, down or hitting a plateau, where it seems our weight refuses to budge.
When goals are met through the program, little charms are handed out. I live for these charms, because they remind me that I can and will reach the goals I set for myself. I have charms for losing 10 percent of my original starting weight, losing 10 pounds, finishing 16 weeks in the program, achieving lifetime status, completing a 5K walk and finally losing 25 pounds.
“I’ll see less of you next week,” Chrisman says at the end of each of her meetings, spurring us along with a final boost of encouragement.
The road ahead
When people see the changed me, they ask how I lost the total of 60 pounds.
“Oh, so you can’t eat cheeseburgers, huh?”
“You have such great will- power!”
“Are you going to stop losing weight?”
I gladly share my journey.
Yes, I can have cheeseburgers and whatever else I want, as long as I stay accountable to myself. However, these days, I prefer a heavily vegetarian diet (probably about 85 percent of what I eat).
No, my will-power sucks. But I do have a program that has taught me portion control and lets me eat until I’m satisfied.
I stopped losing weight sometime back, and now I maintain, focusing on eating healthy and staying fit.
I have learned that the more work I put into taking care of myself — watching what I eat, walking around three to four miles a day — the better I feel.
My confidence hasn’t just returned to me, it’s greater than ever before. My tight, size 38 pants became a comfortable size 32. I’ve donated all my XXL shirts to make room for my mediums.
Weight Watchers has recruited me to become a leader myself, to help inspire and help others along their journeys.
My relationship with Melinda gets better and stronger every day (and she, by the way, has lost 45.2 pounds).
I’ve opened myself up to other people again, looking forward to forging strong relationships with others.
My knees don’t hurt, and if I feel the old depression trying to sneak in, I go for a walk.
I’m the skinny kid again.
Most importantly? I’m happy.