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Peterson: 'Obesity' tag rubs salt into overeating wounds

The problem, 11 days into the new year, is that I gained a significant amount of weight during the past year, and I am not one to make resolutions at the beginning of a new year, as obvious as those resolutions might be.

There are reasons for weight gain that are kind of out of my control, but for the most part, it is because I have been eating too much. And I should have picked up on that late last spring when the doctor who regularly inspects my colon said I was “obese.”

There are a lot of ways you can tell some that he or she is overweight and offer practical suggestions without having to engage in name-calling. My gut – rather large – reaction was to call him “shorty,” but manners got the better of me and I said nothing.

Of course, I was obese – no pejorative intended – based on the tortuous Body Mass Index, which, through a series of mathematical extrapolations, determines how much you should weigh: “just right,” “overweight,” “obese,” “morbidly obese” and “whale.” If I were to weigh “just right,” I would be a wisp of myself, a 165-pound weakling waiting for sand to be kicked in my face.

And that would be the Charles Atlas story, which gripped me when I was 11 years old and reading Boy’s Life. I don’t know how much I weighed, but I was the “weakling” he wrote about in his get-strength-fast program of isometrics. He once was a 98-pound weakling, and sand was kicked in his face, but he found the secret to strength. I would be like Charles Atlas, bulk up and no longer be in the hunt by bullies.

Isometrics didn’t work.

Moving to Iowa and baling hay five years later did work.

Baling hay is hot, heavy work, and one great workout, which really didn’t dawn on me until I was able to do my first pull-up in gym class to the sound of cheers. And I was further encouraged the next summer when older brother Dave came to visit. We had been wrestling regularly for 10 years. And I was always losing. Until that summer evening when he picked a fight and I turned him into a pretzel.

We then stopped wrestling.

Maybe we had grown up. Me more than he.

As events have transpired over the past year, I have added more pounds than I care to admit. I have outgrown clothing. My face and torso have rounded out. Even my feet are bigger. I had slipped past the line of “overweight” into “obese.” In addition to just about everything else increasing, so did my blood pressure.

The doctor who gives me physicals put me on a medication to reduce my blood pressure, and he suggested that if I lost 30 pounds, my blood pressure likely would decrease. And watch the salt, he said. No cracks about obesity, thank you.

I returned a month later to have my blood pressure checked – and I knew my weight had not decreased – to find out it still was on the high side. The nurse who checked my blood pressure asked whether I was watching my salt intake, and I said sure. I mean, I generally do not use the salt shaker to liven up my food. “Does that include pretzels?” I asked innocently. Of course, it includes pretzels, which are soaked in salt. And it includes crackers and chips and diet pop and pickles and ketchup and pizza and cheese and prepared foods and canned vegetables.

Once you start looking for salt, you find it everywhere, and almost every food I like contains enormous amounts of it, and I needed to limit my sodium intake to 2 grams a days. Which is not much at all.

I have been on medications that have severely limited what I could eat, up to and including chocolate, which is where I draw the line as being unreasonable. I don’t eat a lot of chocolate, but I eat enough to keep a smile on my face. But I learned to live without chocolate.

And now I have to learn to live without salt.

I’m in Week 2 of limiting salt consumption. I am not eating pretzels or crackers – two staples of my diet – or snacking on the bags of individual servings of chips.

Week 2 hasn’t been of much help in limiting my salt or food. I am taking a class in Chicago that requires me to stay overnight for the week at a retreat center in Lincoln Park. And we are fed breakfast, lunch and dinner. I know my sodium intake is high. My food intake is high. So, so much for shedding pounds early into the new year.

I could stand to lose a hundred pounds to make my Body Mass Index “just right.” But I don’t see that happening. But, be it resolved, therefore, I intend to make my blood pressure just right.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate, a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at dickpeterson76@gmail.com.

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