Weighing the options

Is finding one's inner Puritan the true path to weight loss and eternal happiness?

By Garrison Keillor
August 10, 2005 11:38PM (UTC)
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My plan to become slender and willowy and alluring is not working out and the reason seems to be that though I go for days and days eating only celery and RyKrisp and a soup made from birch twigs and lichen, I black out occasionally and when I regain consciousness I am crouched over the half-eaten carcass of a gazelle and my hands and face are red and sticky and I'm disgusted, of course, and yet very rare gazelle does taste good when you're hungry, and the exertion of chasing one and bringing it down does make a person ravenous.

When I tell people I want to lose weight, I wish they'd look at me in slack-jawed amazement and cry, "You? Lose weight? Are you mad? You are the very picture of slim-hipped elegance." But people don't, they say, "Have you heard about the North Shore diet?" or "I was reading something about losing weight while you sleep." So there seems to be a perception out there that less of me might be a Good Thing.


The North Shore diet involves herring and boiled potatoes and butter but it also involves rowing a 14-foot boat for hours a day in heavy swells and I don't have the time. The sleep method uses a metabolism-enhancing drug that raises your heartbeat rate to that of an adolescent hummingbird, but it's only available by mail order from a P.O. box in Juarez.

There are weight-loss groups one could join, such as Men Coming to Terms With Their Bodies, in which hefty fellows sit in a circle of folding chairs and drink coffee from Styrofoam cups and talk about how happy it made Mom to see her boy grow big and strong and so they ate like farmhands for 30 years and now they're not strong, just big, and before they can start becoming smaller, they need to face the risk of Mom's disappointment. There is weeping that goes on in these groups, and I am all for men weeping so long as it's other men doing it.

There is, of course, surgery. A surgeon can trim off all the wobbly parts and the scarring is minimal, nothing that can't be concealed by a turtleneck and a poncho. But strange things can happen in the O.R. I know nurses and they talk. Your bellybutton might wind up in your armpit. Your butt could come out lopsided and you'd have to wear orthopedic pants so you wouldn't list to starboard.


Probably there are legal medications that would help me lose weight easily and also make me giddy with happiness, and if I worked in a drugstore and had a long weekend when I didn't have to operate a motor vehicle, I could experiment with a few drugs and find the one that's right for me, but I don't want to be on meds, I want to rely on Strength of Character.

That is the only way to lose weight: to look in the mirror and decide that weight must be lost and declare a white alert -- no more white food -- and put a zero-dessert policy into effect and rule out any food that had eyes. Mainly, you skip all the food you like. It's the end of BBQ, the beginning of BBC (braised bok choy). There is so much that can be done with lentils! But the time to start is now. Otherwise I should plan on becoming an attraction in the carnival, lying in a tent under the sign PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE FAT MAN. NO PHOTOGRAPHS. POSTCARDS ARE ON SALE IN SOUVENIR SHOP.

"But, good sir," you say, "food is one of life's beautiful rewards -- the standing rib roast, the chocolate truffles soaked in bourbon -- anticipation of the evening repast is all that keeps us going through the endless dreary afternoon on the corporate treadmill. How shall you find the strength to persevere, knowing that your supper will be bok choy?"


How shall I find the strength? Through the power of self-righteousness, that's how. I will sit with my celery consommé and undressed salad of bitter greens and look across the table at your gazelle au jus and think, "I used to be a helpless glutton like these pitiful idiots and thank you, Lord, for lifting my feet from the miry clay and pointing me to the heights that I currently occupy." Pure airtight self-righteousness is a powerful engine. There is a bony blue-nosed bullet-eyed Puritan inside each one of us and I intend to find mine and put him to work.

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Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.


Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor is the author of the Lake Wobegon novel "Liberty" (Viking) and the creator and host of the nationally syndicated radio show "A Prairie Home Companion," broadcast on more than 500 public radio stations nationwide. For more columns by Keillor, visit his column archive.

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