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Dan Nielsen

Excess weight has been a perennial American problem for decades. Many of us have fallen into the trap of moving too little and eating too much.

The Record-Eagle’s 8th annual TC Trimdown has begun. The event is a team-based weight loss effort. It’s too late to join this year’s iteration of the TC Trimdown.

But helping people lose weight is big business in America, and there are plenty of weight-loss programs to choose from. So get a book, look online or invest in a guided commercial weight-loss program. Or investigate Munson Healthcare’s Healthy Weight options. A good place to start is shapeupnorth.com, an online resource for creating and maintaining a health lifestyle.

Support via app, class or physician can help keep any weight-loss program on track. But some would say that losing excess weight is essentially a personal battle.

Everyone’s struggle with weight is a little different. We each face unique factors that contribute to our own personal fear of the scale.

This was driven home to me decades ago one clear morning in a city several states west of Michigan.

I’d driven 300 miles to spend a long weekend with my future wife. She unexpectedly was called in to work an extra weekend shift that began at 7 a.m. She did not appreciate the early morning telephone ring, particularly since we’d gone out on the town the night before and had stayed out late. We’re talking bar-closing late, so she hadn’t gotten much sleep before her supervisor called at 5:30 a.m.

She scrambled off to do her job. Her housemate and I went out to breakfast to celebrate the fact neither of us had to work that day.

I’ve had a weight problem since childhood. It mostly dissipated in my 20s and 30s, when I enjoyed long years of maintaining a healthy weight without thinking about it. I was in the midst of that worry-free period that morning my girlfriend got called in. Her housemate and I each ordered coffee and an omelet with whole wheat toast. We talked, mostly about our friend who was hard at work.

We ate at different paces. As was my habit, I dug in with gusto. She ate with much less enthusiasm. This was not a surprise, since my girlfriend and I had discussed this housemate’s attitude toward food — because it differed wildly from our own.

Both my future wife and I had been raised in households that valued a clean plate and frowned upon food left unused. My wife still talks about the time her younger brother refused to eat his peas and was ordered to sit at the dinner table until he cleaned his plate.

That was the day my wife’s parents learned their youngest son was even more stubborn than they were. He sat at the table, alone, for four hours — then was sent straight to his room. The peas still lay on this plate like a dead fish on the beach — cold, wet and squishy. He still shivers in revulsion if peas are served. I’m certain not a single pea has passed his lips in 50 years.

After growing up in households like that, my wife and I still find ourselves facing philosophical quandaries if our stomachs are full but something edible remains on our plates. That mindset becomes ingrained in childhood and is difficult to change in adulthood. It becomes a battle of will to toss excess food into the garbage where it belongs.

Back when I was in my 20s, I was active enough that it didn’t matter if I ate a heaping plate of food two or three times a day. Whatever calories I consumed soon were burned during hikes, bikes, climbs or other outdoor activities.

But back to the housemate. She was of totally different mindset.

She was not shy about sharing her lifelong struggle to gain weight. She always had been unusually slim. More than one doctor had told her she should put on a few pounds. My future wife told me that she loved her housemate dearly — they had met during college, together moved 2,000 miles away from Michigan, got jobs at the same hospital, and found an apartment together. They were, and are, great friends.

Their opposite attitudes toward food were frustrating for my future wife, but were tolerated in the spirit of true friendship.

My girlfriend had shared with me her amusement at the housemate’s tendency to leave large amounts of “debris” on her plate.

The term “debris” was the housemate’s. As soon as hunger was even slightly satisfied, her mind turned anything left on her plate — no matter if it was prime rib, broccoli, German chocolate cake or ice cream — into psychologically inedible debris (noun: the remains of anything broken down or destroyed, ruins, rubble).

So the morning I shared breakfast with her at a midscale chain breakfast restaurant, I cleaned my plate. She finished in the same time span, but more than half her omelet and most of her toast had been carved and mashed into a miniature wasteland of debris, a war-torn quagmire of yolk and crumbs.

If I’d had her attitude toward food, I would have been slimmer most of my life.

But I and many other Americans struggle daily to control our appetites and lose weight. That’s why the weight-loss industry is big business. Diet plans, gyms, exercise equipment and low-calorie foods all have a ready market in people striving to lose weight.

Unlike my brother-in-law, I eat my peas — all of them.

But I try to keep my distance from fattening things like bread, pie and potatoes. And if such things do somehow land in front of me, I turn the psychological screws and will myself to consider them just a pile of inedible debris.

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