Never Goin' Back: Winning the Weight-Loss Battle For Good
  • Never Goin' Back: Winning the Weight-Loss Battle For Good
  • Never Goin' Back: Winning the Weight-Loss Battle For Good

Never Goin' Back: Winning the Weight-Loss Battle For Good

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by Al Roker, Laura Morton
     
 

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What’s holding you back? What excuses are you making up that are stopping you from living your best life? I used them all, and look where that got me! Are you ready to stop living insane and get real with yourself?

Al Roker’s aha! moment came a decade ago. Closing in on 350 pounds, he promised his dying father that he wasn’t going toSee more details below

Overview

What’s holding you back? What excuses are you making up that are stopping you from living your best life? I used them all, and look where that got me! Are you ready to stop living insane and get real with yourself?

Al Roker’s aha! moment came a decade ago. Closing in on 350 pounds, he promised his dying father that he wasn’t going to keep living as he was. That led to his decision for a stomach bypass—and his life-changing drop to 190. But fifty of those pounds crept back until he finally devised a plan and stuck to it.

Never Goin’ Back is Roker’s inspiring, candid, and often hilarious story of self-discovery, revealing a (slimmer) side of his life that no one knows. With illuminating and sometimes painfully honest stories about his childhood, his struggle against the odds to make something of himself, and his family life today, Roker reveals the effects that a lifelong battle with weight issues can have on a person—and how, regardless of the frustration and setbacks, you must never lose faith in yourself (just inches).

Most important, he knows that losing weight is as much—if not more—a state of mind as of body. That’s why he’s here: to recharge your willpower and see you through it like a friend—with warmth, humor, and a healthy new outlook on life.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“[An] intimate memoir. . .Readers will appreciate this personable weatherman's candor and humor as he chronicles his struggle and ultimate success.” - Publishers Weekly

“Searingly honest and genuinely relatable. . .As unpretentious as Roker's television persona, this motivational diet memoir provides inspiration, and recipes, for others struggling with weight-related challenges.” - Booklist

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101598276
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
12/31/2012
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
371,255
File size:
1 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

July 2001

My father had been at Memorial Sloan-Kettering hospital in New York City for about a week, battling his final stages of lung cancer. Although he had been a smoker early in his life, he had given up cigarettes cold turkey some thirty-five years prior to his cancer diagnosis. So when he was told that he had stage four lung cancer, I wasn’t emotionally prepared. Our entire family was shaken up and took his diagnosis very hard.

Al Roker Sr. was the rock of our family. Even though he was a talented artist, in the mid-1950s, it was difficult for a young African-American male to get a job in the commercial art industry. After a short stint at a low-paying apprentice job with no chance for advancement, with a young wife and a new baby to feed, Dad got a job driving a New
York city bus.

He would do that for almost twenty years, always looking for the next step up.
Eventually he made dispatcher, then chief dispatcher, and then he was promoted up and into management with the Metropolitan Transit Authority, reaching the rank of Inspector.

We were all so proud of him. His drive and determination rubbed off on his children. We would strive to make him and our mother as proud of us as we were of them.

When he retired, he was excited and determined to enjoy life. My dad found pleasure in being with his wife and his grandchildren, and in his lifelong hobby of deep-sea fishing.
He cultivated a newfound love of jazz, started a mentoring program for middle schoolers at a local public school and walked with a group of fellow retirees at the local mall.

But all of that was now behind him. His entire future had now collapsed into being measured by weeks, if not days.

Every day I made it a point to stop in, first thing in the morning, before heading to the studio to do the Today show. We’d visit, and then about six twenty a.m., I’d head on to Studio 1-A in Rockefeller Plaza, where the show goes live at seven a.m. On my way home in the afternoon, I’d head straight back to the hospital to spend more time with him—time, something I had all but taken for granted until my father got sick.

Time.

Why hadn’t I gone fishing with him more than a handful of times, and why didn’t I come by the house more often? I always thought I would have plenty of time.

My father was always healthy as a horse. Mom was the one who had beaten lung cancer and breast cancer and survived two heart valve replacements! Dad almost never got sick. Now he was dying and I had just about run out of time with the man I cherished most in life.

There was nowhere near enough time.

“Son,” my dad said one day, “I’d do anything for more time. I wanted to make fifty years of marriage with your mom so, yeah, I’m pissed about that.”

It was kind of funny, actually. My father always liked things well-ordered and tidy. He was sixty-nine years old and had been married forty-nine years. To him, seventy and fifty felt neater—more complete.

I knew my dad was going to die. There was no hope that he could possibly recover. I did my best to hold myself together until one morning I simply couldn’t hide my grief about losing him. I started crying, and being the incredible father he was, he comforted me.

He said he was proud of the life he had lived—that he’d had a good run. He told me he was proud of his children and he loved his grandchildren more than life itself. Hearing my father speak that way was simply more than I could bear; it was all so final. My tears kept coming. I could tell that my father had something important he wanted to say.

“Look, we both know that I’m not going to be here to help you raise my grandkids, so that means it is up to you to make sure you will be there for your kids.”

I could feel my heart begin beating faster with every word he uttered because I knew what he was driving at. My father and I had been around the horn too many times to count on the subject of my weight and overall health. For whatever reason, no matter how many times I said I’d lose the weight, I couldn’t—or wouldn’t, or did only to gain it back again.

“Promise me that you are going to lose the weight.”

I tried to play it off like it was no big deal. “Who, me? I’m fine! Don’t worry about me, Dad.”

I could tell he was really struggling to get the words out now. “No, not good enough. I
want you to swear to God that you’re going to lose the weight.”

I realized there was really only one respectable thing to do—promise him I would lose the weight.

Ugh.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever had to make a deathbed promise to someone you love,
but if you have, you know the kind of guilt and massive responsibility I felt in that moment. And if you haven’t, let me assure you, it was heavy—heavier than me, and I was damn big. I couldn’t say a word. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, because I did, but I was hesitant. Nothing I could say would mean all that; I had said it all before, without ever doing the work to permanently change my mind-set and lose the weight for good.

So, I promised him I would lose the weight. Still, that wasn’t good enough for him. He wanted me to swear to God that I was going to lose the weight—and so I did.

“Dad, I swear to God I am going to lose this weight.”

“I am going to hold you to that son. You don’t want to make me angry.”

Trust me, I didn’t want to get him angry.

I remember when I was twelve years old and my folks had gotten me a brand-new Sting-Ray bicycle for my birthday. It had a banana seat and a metallic blue paint job. I loved that bike!

Well, one Saturday afternoon, some young thugs from outside our neighborhood came cruising through. They surrounded me, punched me a few times, knocked me off the bike and took it. My pride was hurt more than anything else, but when I got home and told my dad what happened, I saw a look come over him that I had never seen. “Get in the car. Let’s go look for your bike,” he said through clenched teeth. He got behind the wheel and I got in on the passenger’s side and we went looking for these guys and my bike.

After around fifteen minutes of driving around, I noticed a dishtowel wrapped around something sitting on the seat between the two of us. I unwrapped an edge of the towel and saw a steak knife! Dad was going to find that bike and was prepared to fight anyone who got in his way. That’s who my dad was. We never actually found the bike but I
discovered I loved my father that day even more than I knew because of his willingness to protect who and what he loved.

He was also the same man who cried when he deposited his firstborn son at the dorm on my first day of college. Everything he was made me who I am.

And now that was all about to go away.

So on the morning I made that promise to my dad, I left the hospital thinking about what he had said—a lot. I don’t usually get distracted when I am on the air, but his words echoed in my mind the entire show. I was so upset about my promise to lose weight, in fact, that I had two grilled cheese and bacon sandwiches for lunch. My mantra at the time was “When in doubt, eat.”

When I returned to the hospital that afternoon, Dad was out of his bed, sitting up in a chair.

“Hey, old man, how you doing?” I said, but there was no response. He was just looking off into space. One of the nurses came in and told me he’d suddenly stopped talking earlier that day.

“Why?” I asked. The nurse said she would get one of his doctors to explain what was going on. You know it’s always bad news when someone says they want to get someone else to explain things to you. In other words: “Here comes bad news and they don’t pay me enough to put up with the grief you will probably give me!”

When the doctor arrived, he said that my dad’s cancer had spread to his brain. It was affecting his ability to speak and would likely impair his motor functions very soon.

As I helped the doctor and the nurse transfer my father back into bed, he lost control of his bowels. He couldn’t say anything, but the look on his face was heartbreaking. My father, the strongest man I knew, both physically and emotionally, was leaving. And there was nothing I could do about it.

A couple of weeks earlier, planning for this moment, my family had made the decision to move dad, when the time came, to Calvary Hospital in the Bronx. It is the world leader in palliative care, run by the Archdiocese of New York.

Two days later we transferred him to Calvary, where angels do heaven’s work on earth and where he would spend his final days. My brother and sisters all came to say good-bye to their father. Our spouses sat by his bed. His grandchildren were there. And we all hugged and held my mother as she watched her husband slip away.

That week was a blur, but I can tell you just about the entire menu at the Calvary cafeteria. I was aware that I was using food to ease the pain, but I didn’t care. As we all kept vigil by my dad’s side, I kept thinking about the promise I had made to him and wondering, “How the hell am I going to do this?”

Chapter One

A Portly Kid from Queens

I was born in Queens, New York, in 1954. I am the oldest of six kids, three boys and three girls. Three of us are the biological children of my parents and three were adopted through foster care. I am one of the biological kids, along with a sister who’s six years younger and a “baby” brother, who is seventeen years younger than me. Although I was a premature baby, weighing in at four pounds, ten ounces, at a certain point very early in my life, I just started eating and never stopped. I suppose my family heritage added to my genetic lot in life. Both of my parents came from families who loved to eat. My mom,
Isabel, also known as “Izzy,” was Jamaican, and my dad was from the Bahamas. Dad looked like a young Sidney Poitier, who happened to be from Exuma, the same island in the Bahamas where my father’s family was from. When my dad was younger, people often did a double take when they saw him driving his white Plymouth Valiant station wagon—the same car Sidney
Poitier drove in Lilies of the Field.

My parents met at John Adams High School in Queens. My mother was one of the first
African-American cheerleaders at the school—at the time, a very big deal. She must have loved being a cheerleader because I grew up hearing a constant chant of “Rickity, rackity,
shanty town. Who can knock John Adams down? Nobody. Nobody. Absolutely nobody! Yeah,
team!” Honestly, I can’t believe I still remember her saying that, but I do!

My dad was an affable guy and a really sharp dresser. He was a very good storyteller who enjoyed sharing tales from his younger days. Turns out, my dad was a stone-cold thug!
He had friends with names like Deadeye and Jelly Roll. He had a walking stick that had a knife in it.

Yeah, growing up, he was a tough guy. But by the time his children came along, he was a short, stocky teddy bear. (I like to say I come from stocky people, low to the ground,
with one leg shorter than the other, the better to lean into the wind and survive hurricanes.) Of my parents, Dad was definitely the gentler one. If you fell and skinned a knee, you went right to Dad. He’d comfort you and give you a big bear hug, whereas Mom was more likely to tell us to stop crying. Her approach was the early version of “man up.”

You might say Izzy was the original Tiger Mom. She was tough as nails and,
unlike a lot of women of her generation, she enjoyed confrontation. To her, it was sport.
I knew I was loved by her, but she knew exactly how to needle me, and what drove me crazy.

Whenever she’d come to my house for dinner, just as I was serving the meal, she’d ask,
“Is this any good?”

“No, I just spent an hour making you something that tastes like crap!” I’d respond.

Mom loved to banter and was a real jokester. She was also honest to a fault and didn’t believe in coddling. She taught my younger daughter, Leila, to play checkers as a kid.
Most grandparents let the kids win—but not my mom. No way. To her, losing is how you learn. And now I call Leila “little Izzy” because she is so much like my mom. I once overheard her playing Monopoly with some of her friends. She wiped the board. Then one of her friends asked, “Where’d you learn how to play Monopoly?”

“My nana,” Leila said with great pride. I couldn’t help but smile.

I was what you might call a late bloomer. As hard as this might be to believe today, I
didn’t talk until I was three and a half years old. Of course, as a family friend pointed out later, I could never get a word in edgewise anyway! My mom did all the talking for me.
She was like my PR agent.

Although I was born premature, I think my lack of development was a combination of being extremely shy—something I never really outgrew and what today might be labeled as a learning disorder. And I might have had one. The only thing I had no problems learning was eating. Well, maybe I had one issue I didn’t learn, and that was when to stop.

Although my siblings and I have the same father, he was really two different guys over the years. My dad drove a bus and was a blue-collar worker. He hustled every day to provide for his family. When I was a young boy, he and a couple of buddies from NYC
Transit, as it was then known, opened up a luncheonette in the depot. They made and sold sandwiches in addition to working their regular shifts. My dad was the kind of man who did whatever it took to make sure his family had everything we needed. In a Caribbean family,
if you only had two jobs, you were obviously slacking off.

But the drivers all had their rackets going to supplement their incomes. For example, there was always someone selling hot merchandise—you know, things they claimed fell off the back of a truck somewhere. In fact, I bought my first movie camera, which sparked my initial interest in animation and television, from one of the guys at the depot.

Unlike a lot of men from that era, my father was very demonstrative; he was a big hugger and kisser. When I saw my uncles and cousins, my impulse was to greet them with a bear hug and a kiss, while they usually held out their hands waiting for a handshake.
There was a lot of PDA in my parents’ household. And I remember coming home from college to find my mother in the kitchen doing dishes.

“How would you feel about another brother or sister?” she asked.

“Are you going to adopt again?”

“No.”

“Oh, then we’re taking in another foster kid?”

“No . . .” she replied, and then paused.

Not adopting. No foster kid. . . . Oh for the love of . . . I didn’t want to think about that! They’re my parents, for Pete’s sake!

Mom always wanted a big family. She was the second youngest of nine kids, so a big family is all she knew. After she had me and my sister, she had trouble getting pregnant,
so she and my dad decided to adopt and open their home to numerous foster children over the years. While sometimes people refer to foster or adopted children as half brothers and half sisters, to me they are my siblings. Needless to say, it came as something of a surprise when she got pregnant seventeen years after having me.

By the time my baby brother was born, Dad had transitioned from blue-collar worker to white-collar executive. He had been promoted and was working in management for the New
York Transit Authority. He had an office and a secretary and wore a suit to work every day. I always maintain that I had the more fun dad because I got to do more than my kid brother. When my brother went to work with “executive” dad, he got to play with the Xerox machines. When I went to work with “bus driver” dad, I got to play with change machines,
pretend to steer the bus and hang with the guys in the depot. Those were some of my favorite days as a kid.

We’d start the day off by going to Goody’s for breakfast. Goody’s was a luncheonette near where we lived in Rockaway. He always ordered a bacon and egg sandwich on a hard roll. Wanting to be just like him, I’d do the same. We took our breakfast with us and ate it on the way to the depot.

The NYC Transit Authority Fifth Avenue Depot was a combination of train yard and bus garage. To a seven-year-old boy, it was a magical combination. At the start of his shift,
Dad would take me into the locker room where he’d change into his uniform. When other bus drivers opened their lockers, GREAT LAND OF PLENTY . . . Playboy pinups!! Don’t change into that uniform too quickly, Pop.

After boarding his bus, we’d stop at the corner deli. He’d buy me a stack of comic books and a bag of candy to keep me occupied.

I loved playing with the change machines on the buses—remember, this was at a time,
looong before MetroCards, when drivers actually made change for passengers. I’d ride on the bus with him for the entire eight-hour shift all along Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn.
I’d see the same people going to work and then coming home at the end of the day.
Somewhere around noon, we took our lunch break, and ate whatever my mom packed for us in the two brown paper bags she sent us out the door with early that morning. When we went back to the depot at the end of his shift, there was always a driver tossing a quarter my way so I could buy a candy bar from the vending machine or get an ice cream. “Hey, little
Al, here ya go! Go buy something to eat!” Sometimes I’d just get a Yoo-hoo chocolate milk and throw it back at the end of the day like a tall, cold beer.

Because there were six kids, the vibe in my parents’ home was mostly controlled chaos.
I have no idea how my mother handled six kids without any help. I have three kids and lots of help and sometimes my wife and I still have a hard time doing it all! Whenever I
asked Mom what her secret was, she always said, “You kids took care of yourselves.” I
suppose fear was our great motivator because I, for one, never wanted to be on the receiving end of dad’s spankings. It was a different era, but I knew I’d get my butt whupped good if I got out of line or didn’t do what I was told. Back then, if someone in the neighborhood saw me do something—anything I shouldn’t be doing, they’d discipline me first and then tell my parents. Oh yeah, it takes a village, and back in the Rockaway projects of Queens, New York, our fifth floor apartment was in the heart of that village.

As our family grew, my parents needed more space than our old two-bedroom apartment, so when I was eleven, they bought a three-bedroom house in a new development we found during one of our weekend family drives to Elmont, Long Island to visit Gouz Dairy Farm. (Their slogan? GOUZ RHYMES WITH COWS. Okay, it wasn’t Mad Men, but hey, I’ve remembered it all these years!) We loved going to Gouz. There’s nothing like the taste of fresh milk straight from the farm. But the best part was their petting zoo. All the parents would drop their kids off to look at the cows, rabbits and chickens while they went to get fresh milk from the dairy counter. And did I mention the limitless free samples of full-fat chocolate milk? Gouz was a magical place for a growing boy with a growing waistline.

Anyway, we’d usually take the Belt Parkway to get to Long Island, but one day the parkway was so backed up that my dad got off to take a short cut. That’s when he spotted the development of semiattached homes. We stopped to look at the model home and it was love at first sight. My folks scraped together two hundred dollars for a down payment on the spot, and six months later, we all moved in. Even though both of my parents are gone,
I still own that house. Whenever my kids go back to look at the house, they can’t believe that eight of us fit into three rooms and a single bath! I always joke with my kids and tell them that in order to use the bathroom, we had to take a number like we were at a deli counter waiting to place an order.

Although my parents had a lot of mouths to feed. I never went hungry; I just didn’t go back for second or third helpings very often. We always made sure that everyone had a fair portion of whatever Mom made to eat. Mom’s cooking was hearty—another word for “heavy”—so it was filling and fattening. She was a good cook . . . though breakfast really wasn’t her strong suit—you know, the oatmeal was always a little too thick and her pancakes were never “light and fluffy.” We ate a lot of cereal! Unfortunately, my dad wouldn’t buy the brands of cereals I really wanted as a boy, which was pretty much anything with loads of sugar—Sugar Pops, Frosted Flakes and Sugar Smacks. At least the cereal makers were up-front about their products back then—they may as well have put “Yup,
you are pouring sugar” on every box!

My dad’s philosophy was one box of corn flakes fits all.

You want Frosted Flakes?

Pour some sugar on those Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and voilà! You’ve got your own frosted cereal.

Oh yeah? Well, this cereal box doesn’t have a tiger on it. Just some freaky-looking rooster. Where’s Tony the Tiger? I loved Tony the Tiger. I thought he was so cool,
especially when I watched my morning cartoons and saw him riding in a car with Huckleberry
Hound. It didn’t get any cooler than that. Neither Sugar Bear nor Snap, Crackle and Pop had a thing on Tony the Tiger! He was. . . .GRRRRREAT!!!!!

When it came to lunch and dinner, mom never made anything fancy, but her food was always good. She made a great Velveeta and tomato grilled cheese with Campbell’s tomato soup. I don’t know anyone who didn’t grow up eating that grilled cheese and tomato soup combination, but something about my mom’s version was special—at least to me.

Lunch also brought the first convergence of food and my eventual career, via Soupy
Sales, a comedian I grew up watching on TV. He had a kids show on at noon on ABC. There was a segment called “What’s for Lunch?”

“Mom, Soupy is having a tuna patty melt . . .” I’d shout across the kitchen so my mom would make me one, too. Since this was before I started kindergarten, I had a standing lunch date every day with Soupy. I’d eat my lunch glued to his show, wondering what it would be like to be just like him someday.

I gained an early interest in cooking from both of my parents, but my mom was my true inspiration. Whenever she was cooking, I liked helping her out. I enjoyed the process of gathering the food and ingredients, putting it all together and voilà! Like magic there was a delicious meal on the table. The meals in our house were never fancy but they were always delicious.

Sundays were either a pot roast with potatoes or a roasted chicken with green beans. On occasion, Mom might make pork chops or oxtail stew with dumplings. As I’ve gotten older, I
thought about those meals many times over the years, trying to recall the tastes and flavors I enjoyed so much as a kid. I really loved my mother’s cooking. To this day I
still crave her macaroni and cheese, her Jamaican black-eyed peas and rice and her amazing corn bread.

It was an unwritten rule in our house to never bother her while she was cooking. The only exception was when she was making her Sweet Potato Poon for the holidays. This was a crustless pie—well, more like a soufflé than a traditional pie—with marshmallows all over the top, which she would finish by putting in the oven to brown. Every year, one of us kids would do something to distract her from opening the oven door so that the marshmallows would catch fire. Then she would yell at us to get out as the smoke detector blared overhead. It wasn’t Thanksgiving until that old smoke detector went off.

I am amazed to think she created our huge holiday feasts in our tiny kitchen, using a single oven and a four-burner stove. Thanksgiving brought fourteen or sixteen people into our home. We’d put every leaf in our expandable wooden dining room table, and we’d still need a card table for the extra people who just stopped by.

When it came to food, my mother and I were perfectly simpatico. She used it as a reward and I liked to eat. My rewards ranged from a bag of M&Ms to smoked salmon with cream cheese. I didn’t have a particularly sophisticated or discriminating palate back then. In fact, one of my favorite snacks was sliced bananas with sour cream, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon on top.

By the time I was seven or eight years old, I’d gone from being a solid boy to a pretty chubby kid. It seemed as though all of the sudden I was shopping in the husky boys’
section of the local department store.

Husky.

Like I was going to be strapped to a dog sled and forced to run the Iditarod.

When I first started gaining weight, I thought it was normal. Lots of other kids in our neighborhood looked just like me, so I didn’t have anything else to compare myself to. By the time I was in the seventh grade, I had a real weight problem—but no one ever talked about it. My parents never gave me a hard time or pushed me to get out of the house and do something active. I was one of those kids who liked sitting around reading comic books,
tinkering with old TVs or making my own movies. Today, I’d be a video game geek.
Thankfully, they didn’t have those kinds of devices when I was a kid, so at least I had to focus my creativity on other things.

I went to St. Catherine of Sienna, a Catholic school in St. Albans, Queens. In between seventh grade and eighth grade, I was chosen to take part in a summer program run by the
Jesuits for “underprivileged” kids, called the Higher Achievement Program or HAP. Kids who did well in that summer program were offered a full scholarship at a Jesuit high school.

Make no mistake, for a lower-middle-class family, paying for six kids in Catholic school was no joke. But my parents felt it was a better education and worth the sacrifice.
Besides offering a great opportunity for a Jesuit education, HAP had a kick-ass free lunch. I was in!

I did well, but because I wasn’t the most physically active kid (and did I mention the
really, really kick-ass free lunch?), I gained a little more weight. Sure, I played some basketball, but lacking height, speed, any dribbling skills, a hook shot or a jumper,
I was mostly used to clog the lane.

I was offered a scholarship to Xavier High School in Manhattan. This was a Big Deal.
Xavier High School was and is one of the best high schools, public or private, in New York
City. It was also, at the time, a military academy, with full military uniforms.

I became painfully aware that I was having a weight issue when I had to get my school uniform and they didn’t have any that fit me. The uniforms were very expensive, so graduating students often donated their uniforms to hand down to incoming students like me. But since none of those fit, my parents had to scrape up about three hundred bucks to buy me a new set.

I started high school in the fall of 1968 and I fell right into a routine. When I went to school in Queens, I took a city bus or could walk to school. Now I had to take a bus and a subway into Manhattan, to Sixteenth Street and Sixth Avenue. I would get up around six a.m. and have breakfast, sometimes with my dad, then head into Manhattan to get to school by seven forty-five. Sometimes I would get in early enough to grab a candy bar at the deli down the street from school. For the long trip home I usually had a candy bar or two to fortify me, then a snack during homework and then dinner. Hey, Mom, did the dry cleaner’s shrink this uniform? It’s feeling a little snug.

As I entered my sophomore year, my parents were concerned I was putting on too much weight. Always a stocky kid, I was moving into the actual heavy category. It was right around this time that my mother received a flyer in the mail from my dad’s health insurance company. Like a lot of municipal workers, he belonged to the Health Insurance
Plan of Greater New York or HIP, a precursor to the dreaded health maintenance organization or HMO. In exchange for free or low-cost health care, you went to clinics.
Well, our local HIP office was offering a weight-loss clinic just for teens. Damn you,
HIP. You and your outreach to ever-expanding teens.

This “program” was my first organized diet and consisted mainly of celery sticks,
cottage cheese and rye crackers. It was basically a rip-off of Weight Watchers. You came in once a week, weighed in and talked about your challenges with a counselor and a group of your peers.

There were two problems.

  1. It was very hard to stick with it because it was bland and boring and it left me hungry all of the time.
  2. The counselor was a woman in her thirties who was overweight herself. I’m going to take advice from her? And then talk to a bunch of kids who all looked like me? This was doomed from the start.
  • Sure, I lost five pounds initially, but it was so stressful, I began stopping at the candy store by the bus stop on my way home from the meetings and I put the weight right back on.

    Now this was just about the time that Bill Cosby introduced his character Fat Albert.
    As a kid, I was a huge fan of Bill Cosby. The second album I ever bought was his classic
    Why Is There Air? (Just in case you’re wondering, the first album I bought was
    Alvin and the Chipmunks Sing the Beatles. . . .but that’s another story!)

    Fat Albert first appeared in Cosby’s stand-up routine, then in 1969, he showcased the character in a half hour prime-time special entitled Hey, Hey, Hey, It’s Fat Albert. I
    remember watching it and being enamored with the animation, before a horrible rush fell over me.

    In a split second, I realized that I was Fat Albert.

    Oh God.

    I was black, fat and named . . . gulp. . . Albert!

    My life was over.

    This was the worst thing that could have happened to me.

    My head was spinning from the thought of having to go to school the next day. I
    panicked, knowing every one of my schoolmates was home watching this special like I was. I
    tried to come up with a good excuse to avoid going to school the next morning, but none came to mind. My mom would never believe I was suddenly “sick.”

    The next day, I went into the cafeteria at Xavier, terrified to be there. Of course,
    not so terrified that I couldn’t stop to buy something to eat. Much to my surprise, no one said a word at first. “Well, maybe nobody saw the show,” I thought. But within five seconds of that wishful thinking, I heard eight or ten guys shout out, “Hey, hey,
    hey!”

    I could feel my heart hit my toes as I lowered my head in shame.

    I spent the rest of that week enduring everyone’s imitations of Fat Albert. I did my best to hide my true feelings by laughing along with everyone else, but on the inside, I
    was dying. I am sure I had been teased before about my weight, but it had never been the subject of a national television show before. This was much worse. I knew I was chunky but
    I never felt bad about my weight because I wasn’t unusual. I had friends in school who were the same size I was, so I didn’t give it a lot of thought. It’s not like people stopped and pointed at me for being so fat. My focus wasn’t really on my weight so much as it was on the things that were of interest to me—especially as I got older.

    Xavier High School fed my love of media. I did all kinds of extracurricular activities.
    Athletics, not so much. But I joined the newspaper staff and the yearbook. I was on the
    Audio Visual Squad. (If there was a projector that lost its loop, I could rethread it at a moment’s notice!) We even had a closed-circuit TV channel that I worked on. To support my burgeoning love of film and photography, which needed a steady supply of cameras and accessories, I knew I needed to augment my allowance, so I got an after school job.

    This was not just any job. For a food-obsessed teenager, this was a dream job. It was literally right across the street from Xavier’s back door. It was a place called A to Z
    Vending. It was a small vending machine company, and it was my job to fill the boxes that the guys would take to the vending machines in offices across Manhattan.

    Can you comprehend the magnitude of this job? Every day I went up and down the many long aisles that were lined with every conceivable snack and candy bar known to man in
    1969. Vending-machine sizes of Lorna Doones and Oreos, 3 Musketeers and M&Ms. Packs of crackers with cheddar cheese and Fritos Corn Chips.

    I was making minimum wage, but maximum snackage. I never had to stop at a deli or candy store for the remainder of my high school years. Of course, I did. But I didn’t have to! I
    literally was like a kid in a candy store. What, I gained more weight through high school?
    To paraphrase Captain Renault, “I am shocked. Shocked to find that uncontrolled eating is going on here!”

    By the time I got to college at SUNY Oswego in 1972, I had very little self-esteem and absolutely no self-control. I hadn’t had any luck with girls in high school, I didn’t feel like I looked all that good and now I was six hours from home in rural upstate New York.
    But then I found an old, trusted friend.

    The cafeteria.

    When I found out that I was allowed to eat as much as I wanted at every meal, it was like hitting the lottery! There was unlimited food and I could take whatever I
    wanted . . . seconds . . . thirds . . . or more. They even had something I’d never seen before: small individual boxes of cereal in a dispenser—all of the cereals I never got to eat as a kid! Hello, my old pal, Tony the Tiger. Yo, Dig ’Em Frog, whassup? Tell Toucan
    Sam to meet us at my dorm room for a par-tay!!!

    To be clear, it wasn’t just my poor food choices making me fat. I didn’t realize the quantity of food I was consuming either. If I went to McDonald’s, it was impossible for me to order a plain cheeseburger and small fries. I had to get two Quarter Pounders with cheese, two orders of large fries and a large vanilla shake.

    I know what you’re thinking. But at the time, I had no clue. When I got to college I
    weighed somewhere around two hundred pounds—looking back at it, not a horrible
    weight for a guy my size. Unfortunately, by the end of freshman year, I had gained at least twenty-five pounds. But I always wore loose clothing, primarily flannel shirts and overalls, so despite my weight gain throughout the year, my clothes still fit. Snugger,
    perhaps, but still wearable. By my sophomore year, I had ballooned to nearly two hundred forty pounds. But something was about to change the course of my weight gain and future career, kicking off what would become a never-ending struggle of yo-yo dieting and the battle of the bulge.

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