Letting myself go

“Your cholesterol is a little high,” my doctor said.

I’d met the forty-ish Dr. Goldstein in the first year of my stay-at-home dad gig. At age 33, I was experiencing pain in the pit of my chest. I worried I’d contracted tuberculosis from my volunteer work at Gay Men’s Health Crisis a couple of years before. HIV-positive folks came for outpatient treatment to GMHC, and some had contracted TB. I freaked myself out with worry.

But I was fine. After x-rays and a TB test, the doctor asked whether I’d been doing any heavy lifting. “Other than toting my 30-pound son Jack up and down four flights and around the East Village in a Baby Bjorn all day every day, no.”

The doctor decided I had likely strained my sternum. He prescribed transferring Jack to a backpack. I did.

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I hadn’t had a regular physician in 15 years or so. My twenties had been a charmed decade, health-wise. I didn’t smoke or drink to excess, and it appeared I had good genes, at least physically. I did work in smoky bars, which, incidentally, qualified me as “a light smoker.” But for the most part, I was pretty strapping.

Because we now had insurance through my wife’s job, I got the full workup, blood tests, etc. The only semi-red flag was my LDL cholesterol. Even though high cholesterol runs in my family (but interestingly, not heart disease), I was surprised. I hadn’t expected to see that, if at all, for some time.

“Let’s just keep an eye on it,” Dr. Goldstein said blandly. “We may need to get you on a statin.” He also prescribed me Zoloft for my anxiety. Did he ask about my diet? No.

If we’d talked about that, he would’ve learned I was the heaviest I’ve ever been – 210 pounds. (I now hover around 195.  At 6’2”, my “fighting weight” is 190.)

I’d let myself go. But I was so in love with my full-time caregiver gig, I did not care. While looking after Jack, reading to him, conversing with him constantly, watching Teletubbies and Totoro and Toy Story, and feeding him breast milk his mother had pumped at work, I was eating like I never had before. I drank a pot of coffee a day, with half-and-half and sugar. I ordered huge Pollo Asada burritos and guacamole from Benny’s, pasta marinara with white bread and butter from Casalinga, pizza from Nino’s, Odessa’s boiled pierogis with butter and applesauce. I consumed KFC, Coca-Cola, and Russo’s smoked mozzarella, which I just sliced and ate solo. Also cappuccinos and pastries from Veniero’s and veggie burgers and fries from Yaffa Café. When Holly came home from work, I would crack open a Murphy’s stout and mix it with Harp lager.

Prior to Jack’s birth, I’d maintained a regular regimen at the storefront gym Gladiators on Sixth Street. But now, other than toting him, I was not exercising. Because Holly worked late, I couldn’t get back to Gladiators. So I stayed heavy and schlubby until we moved to Phoenicia three years later.

Arriving to the Hudson Valley, we signed up with the fabulous doctor Marguerite Collins in nearby Shandaken. She looked at my numbers, talked to me for a half-hour, and said, “Cardio, green tea, don’t eat anything out of a box, and swim if you can. By all means, don’t run. You don’t have the knees for it.”

I did all of the above, and within a year, was close to my fighting weight, and with much better cholesterol numbers, although Dr. Collins said recent research was calling into question the importance of low cholesterol.

So I was “healthy” again. But I have yet to experience the happiness of tenement apartment time with my son, eating crappy food, watching cartoons, letting myself go, and not wanting the day to end.