The Universal Notebook: Weight, weight, don’t tell me

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As I have not until very recently had a weight problem, I’m afraid I have not been very sympathetic toward people who do. Now that I’m up to (wait, wait, let me go weigh myself) 190 pounds, I’m suddenly aware of how easy it is to gain weight and how hard it is to lose.

When I quit smoking in January, I weighed 165, so now I’m 25 pounds overweight. According to most height-weight charts, at 5 feet 11 inches my ideal weight would be 155, but I figured 165 for a sedentary 62-year-old wasn’t too bad. Then came the beer.

I don’t think I’d had a glass of beer for 15 years or so until I stopped smoking. Then I managed to replace one bad habit with another. Carolyn thinks it may be the Hagen Daz Rum Raisin and Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk, but I’m pretty sure it’s those two Pabst Pounders a night that are responsible for the bloat of the past six months.

I suppose I could just try canning the PBR, but I’m worried about what might come next. This being Maine, beer and ice cream can be the gateway drugs that lead to Jell-O shots and Allen’s Coffee Brandy.

So here I am with a cold brew in hand contemplating my navel. Yes, I can still see it, but what is my gut doing hanging over my belt? It didn’t do that last time I looked. Maybe if I untuck my shirt no one will notice.

We live in a culture that worships the thin. “You can’t be too rich or too thin,” as socialite Babe Paley (or was it socialite Wallis Simpson?) used to say. Unless, of course, you’re anorexic. There is a prejudice against people who are overweight that assumes some sort of failure of willpower or self-discipline on their part. I’m afraid I’ve been guilty of this bias myself.

The epidemic of obesity in this country is all over the news these days. Michelle Obama has made childhood obesity one of her causes. And it was reported last week that Maine is the fattest state in New England, with 26.5 percent of adults overweight. I guess I’m now part of the problem.

To be perfectly honest though, I don’t know how I feel about government and employer programs to get people to lose weight. On the one hand, I suppose it is a public-health issue that has a major impact on the cost of health care. On the other, (don’t let any libertarians hear me say this) it does smack a bit of a nanny state. Your body is your personal responsibility, right?

I’d like to take credit for staying in shape for 62 years, but I’ve been thin all my life through no effort of my own. It’s all genetics and metabolism. I can’t think of an overweight blood relative on either side of the family. I was the proverbial 90-pound weakling in high school and I only weighed 140 pounds when I got married. I had a 28-inch waist in college. Now I’m up to 35 inches and counting.

For most of my life I have been able to eat or drink anything I want in any amount without gaining weight. My body image problems have always been related to being an ectomorph, so concerns about a beer belly are new to me. Now I feel like a beached whale at the beach, but as a kid, I was self-conscious about my ribs showing and my girly arms. Then, sometime in high school, I realized that the girls to whom I was attracted were not all that interested in muscles. I found I could compensate for my less-than-manly physique with intelligence, wit, and some strategic sweet-talking.

I could try compensating for my new girth the same way, but Carolyn has been on to me from the beginning.

“You just keep talking, honey,” she likes to say when I’m digging a verbal hole for myself.

Nope. No way around it. I’ve got to start losing weight. I’m not sure I could forgive myself if I hit 200.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Yarmouth. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.