Losing weight in the South

Published 7:58 pm Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Two peanut butter sandwiches and a milkshake filled with raw eggs. That was my afternoon snack growing up.

Try as I might, I just couldn’t gain the weight I wanted for sports. At three inches over six feet, I weighed 160 pounds in the seventh grade. I was stuck on that spot on the scale for the next several years.

I should have already been gaining with the steady Southern diet of fried foods at our table. I can still remember having the fried pork chops with enough fat around the edge you could take your first bite without tasting any meat.

Email newsletter signup

The biscuits were slathered with butter and syrup and you weren’t limited to just one. Fried chicken was a weekly staple and the fish were put in hot grease as often as we could catch them.

Along the way my metabolism changed. I can’t pinpoint the exact day but it was sometime in my 20s. Slowly but surely my weight and waist size grew, more than matching the American norm of 10 pounds per decade.

An occasional garage sale prevented me from having to add closets on to our house as I replaced suits, pants and shirts with the next largest size. The nail that held my belts had to be moved up just a bit to keep them from touching the floor.

My children came along and were blessed with the metabolism that I used to have, or at least that was the excuse I kept giving myself. Of course, the fact that they eat like birds and I eat like a horse might have something to do with it. In any case, my wife and daughters are all slim, trim and healthy.

Alas, that is the final straw in my steady struggle with weight. As you age you not only gain the pounds but also the other health risks like cholesterol, high blood pressure and now triglycerides.

My wife has always said I can do anything I put my mind to. Looking at the chart full of bad numbers and a picture of my grandchildren, I decided that it is indeed time for me to get serious about being healthy.

The first few days of dieting were a breeze. I was eating smaller portions so my body doesn’t feel starved. I actually like healthy foods like salads and broccoli so that isn’t a problem.

My shoulder is nearly healed, which is finally allowing me to exercise more. My dog is enjoying our long walks, although he is getting older like me and has slowed down a bit.

It was Sunday evening when I ran into the brick wall that faces all Southerners that undertake a serious diet: The fish fry. Luke and Debbie Spooner invited us to share a fine mess of fish they had caught just a couple of days earlier.

“Let’s go”, I told my wife, saying that I would just watch what I ate.

I watched it all right. The smell of that hot grease under his patio should have been a warning to me. Instead, I began to taste the many things that can be fried in one meal.

The fish were first but I saved them until the actual meal. The bacon came next. The four or five pounds of pork were shaken and covered in corn meal before frying. It is actually better when you put it in flour, someone said, but we already have the cornmeal in the bag.

Unbelievable is the only word I can use to describe how good that bacon tasted. Each slice was going to be my last. I would be ashamed to tell you how many slices I probably ate that night.

The squash and zucchini came next; briefly teasing me into thinking I would eat some healthy food now. Into the meal sack they went before dropping into the hot peanut oil. They were laid out on the paper towels to soak up the grease, but most were gone long before that could happen.

I had given up by the time the French fries and hush puppies were being cooked. Besides, there was still some more bacon.

After filing up one of the bone plates I thought I was finally done. Then a large slice of still warm pound cake with some sort of delicious topping appeared in front of me. Not wanting to offend anyone, I took a bite. It didn’t take long to finish it off.

Of course, all of this was washed down by sweet ice tea, the biggest obstacle to any true Southerner’s diet.

It was an absolutely delightful evening. Nothing says southern more than enjoying friends and food. It is part of our heritage and part of our culture.

I started my diet all over again the next morning. Moderation, portion control, and low-fat foods are the buzz words for me right now. I write down what I eat and am amazed to feel full while eating less.

But if you should happen to catch a good mess of fish, do not think I won’t join you in a heartbeat. That is just part of the price you pay when you are losing weight in the South.