For five years I didn’t go to the doctor. I got busy, and, if I got sick, by the time I got around to making an appointment I was better.
Some might see this as a strategic error. I tell myself they have no idea how busy I am. My wife finally stepped in. “Your appointment is Tuesday,” she told me. Having no choice, I underwent a series of tests. The news was not great. My blood pressure was high, my cholesterol levels were high, and my triglycerides—whatever they are—were literally off the charts. “Bottom line,” said my doctor, “you need to lose 20 pounds immediately.” I was relieved.
My doctor found this confusing, and so I tried to explain. “There are two sorts of people in the world,” I told him. “Those who need to lose 20 pounds, and those who have nothing to worry about in their lives whatsoever.” There’s a picture of me as a very fat baby that my mother would bring out whenever the subject of weight would come up. “This is you,” she would tell me.
“Let’s test you again in four months,” my doctor said ominously. “If things haven’t changed, we’ll get serious.” I went back to work, where I encountered a group going into a meeting. This unnerved me. There was nothing on my calendar, but maybe the meeting had been called when I was at the doctor. Always one to play it safe, I followed them in, and discovered the group was participating in something called State of Slim. There were 20 people in the group, and the session was being led by a Coach Lauren. “This is not a diet,” she told us. “This is kick-starting your metabolism and rewiring your brain.” I got up to leave. “Where are you going?” said the woman sitting next to me. I’ll call her Inez. I sat back down. Maybe this was my meeting after all.
Before we go any further, I should say that State of Slim is a real thing. I’m not making it up. Originally called The Colorado Diet, it’s a three-phase, 16-week program developed at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. The basic idea is that if you eat and exercise the way people in Colorado do, you’ll be able to lose about 10 percent of your body weight. In other words: It sounds like complete crap. After all, I live in Colorado.
“Think of your body as a bathtub,” Coach Lauren was saying. “You turn on the water, the tub fills, and that’s how you gain weight. Most diets only shut off the water. We shut off the water and open the drain—we ignite your metabolism.” I have always been the sort of person with a metabolism covered in molasses. If I eat a slice of pizza, you can see the outline of it inside me for two years.
“You open the drain by changing what you eat,” said the coach, handing out a list of foods we would be allowed to eat for the first two weeks of the diet. There was nothing good on the list; instead, there was no-fat plain yogurt, turkey, almonds, oatmeal and as much pumpkin as you can tolerate. “What’s with all the pumpkin?” asked Inez. “It gets things moving,” Coach Lauren said. “And almost no one eats too much of it.” Then she turned to the group. “What do you do if something is not on the list?” The room—except for me—replied as one: “You don’t eat it.”
I put up my hand. “When do we start?” I was imagining a lavish last supper, something involving a whole fried chicken wrapped in fettuccine. “You’ve started already,” said Coach Lauren. And so it began. I ate only the foods on the list six times a day at three-hour intervals and kept careful track of it on a food log. It was a little like doing my taxes, only more complicated and with fewer cheeseballs.
By the end of the first week, I had lost 5 pounds. By the end of week two, 8. Only part of the plan involved eating; the other part was exercising with a frequency compatible to my perpetually-Lycra-wearing Colorado neighbors. I also found myself adopting a positive Colorado mindset. “Maybe it won’t hail today,” I’d hear myself saying to other people. Soon I was believing it.
Along with sticking to the list of foods, I also had to answer a question each week. Near the end of the program—by which time I had lost 18 pounds—the question was, “What is stopping you from losing weight?” I wrote out a series of funny replies—one of them involved being able to slide underneath doors undetected—and showed them to my wife. She was not amused. “You need to answer the question.” I erased what I had written, and instead brought with me that picture of me as a baby, a rotund infant destined to be a rotund adult. “But what if that’s not you?” Inez asked. I didn’t have a reply. I stuck to the diet.
When it was over, I went back to the doctor. He took my blood pressure three times before he could believe it. My numbers were that good. “What’s this diet thing called again?” he said. “State of Slim,” I said. “It’s not a real place,” I was about to say, but then stopped. Maybe it is. And maybe I live there now. Or maybe I’m just visiting. It’s good to know where it is—and how to get there.