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Merle Minda

Joey McLeister, Special to the Star Tribune

'If not now, when?'

  • Article by: MERLE MINDA
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • October 2, 2012 - 2:52 PM

I was a skinny kid. My parents and grandparents were always trying to fatten me up. My grandmother, a talented cook from the Russian-Jewish tradition, spent most of her time in the kitchen. I learned to love her heavily carbed, often fat-laden concoctions. She fondly referred to me in Yiddish as her "l'ange lokch" or "long noodle". I was clearly going to be skinny forever.

But somewhere in adulthood, after three children, a divorce, starting a career, a new marriage and then another new career, I began gaining weight. And I couldn't get rid of it.

The person most concerned about this long-held weight gain was my doctor. Every year at my annual exam he lectured me to do something about it -- certainly for my health. I felt healthy, but struggled for years not fitting into clothes, buying ever larger sizes and being unhappy about how I seemed to have ended up, weight-wise.

Of course, I did lose weight during these years -- over and over again. I tried every diet: the all-protein diet, the grapefruit diet, the Atkins diet, the South Beach diet, various diet clinics and groups, liquid fasts, all fruit, no fruit, low carb and high carb.

I lost weight on all of them. And promptly gained it back.

When I turned 70, my physical health was suddenly threatened. It started in 2009 with osteoarthritis -- a hip replacement, followed by large rotator cuff tears, bone-on-bone kneecaps, and arthritic toes. My joints were making an emphatic statement. To top it off, I had a small bout, luckily successful, with endometrial cancer, the main risk factor of which is obesity.

Six weeks of recovery from the hip operation provided me time to think -- about my health, my body, my future. Many of our friends were not aging well. My mother was in a nursing home in a wheelchair with Alzheimer's; being overweight is often touted as a contributing cause, along with lack of exercise. I wanted to see my grandchildren grow up, and I didn't want to be in a wheelchair either. That "click" in my brain finally went off and I got serious about rehabilitating my body. If not now, when?

Over the past three years I started losing weight on a sensible diet plan, going to a nutritional therapist for support and, before long, adding a daily walk routine into my life. Initially I lost 50 pounds, then a few pounds more after the hysterectomy for cancer. In mid-cycle, some weight crept back, just a little. To add to these physical issues, I began to have stomach problems; after years of abuse, my elimination system stopped working correctly.

So earlier this year I went gluten and lactose-free, abolishing most hunger pangs, dropping my cholesterol counts by 40 points and easily losing another 30 pounds. My knees improved without replacement surgery. They were doing a tough job lugging all that weight around. Once relieved of that burden, they mostly stopped hurting. Now 81 pounds lighter than I've been for 30 years, I am walking every day, racking up about five walking hours weekly. I eat and sleep better.

And while I'm walking, I visualize Mary Richards in the opening credits of the Mary Tyler Moore TV show. Remember? She's striding along our own Lake of the Isles, long legs pumping, arms swinging, looking fabulous. Of course, she was probably 25 pounds thinner even than I am right now, but I don't care. If I had her knitted beret, I would toss it high in the air. I'm finally fit, at 73.

Merle Minda is a Twin Cities writer and marketing consultant.

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