Tuesday, January 17, 2012



I'm an expert at losing weight. After all, as they say, I've done it so often. I've lost hundreds of pounds over the years but now, believe it or not, I easily stay below my highs.
What prompts these confessions of a former fat man? Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his wingman brother are trying to woo their way back into some semblance of popularity by dieting. Which is the thing you do every January, whether you're the mayor or a well-aged pundit.
Someone objected to me saying Rob had a piggish look but he does and will until the fat melts. He's hardly handsome but he will look OK when (and if) he loses 50 pounds.
After all, at 330 pounds, he should be seven feet tall, but he's not. When you're only five foot ten, you should stop talking about football - he doesn't really appear to have played much university ball - and start talking about eating less and enjoying it more.
Believe me, I know.
My wife confessed after several decades of marriage that she and her girlfriends had discussed whether she had hooked a fat guy.
I ate a lot after marriage. But then at the old Tely when I was City Editor and surrounded by free food and booze, I really got heavy. Maybe 280. So I read that a famous U of T prof named Harding LeRiche was testing appetite suppressants for the Ontario Heart Foundation.  I signed up.
I shrank to 230, which had been my weight playing high school football. ( I was one of the heaviest in the league. Obviously an eternity ago because now even the cheerleaders are heavier.)
The pills sure revved me up. That hit home when I passed the bulletin board in the City Room and found that someone had posted a petition pleading with me to stop the diet pills. It seemed everyone, including the copy boys, had signed. Seemed the City Editor was considered a tyrant.  I didn't even know that the copy boys could spell the word.
My weight went through the yo-yo boom-and- bust cycles familiar to big people. You get used to buying your clothes in big men shops and having a second slice of apple pie with cheese. And then comes January and you lose 15 pounds, for a few months before ice cream season.
One day I went to a new doctor for some ailment that had literally crippled me. It turned out I had gout,  and my former doctor was so dumb he couldn't figure out a rather common condition.
While I waited, I stepped on the scales and discovered I was 319.
It shook me. Migawd, I thought, Billy Shipp, one of the legendary linemen of the CFL/NFL, was put on a diet when he hit 300. The Chicago Bears had a famous 300-pounder nicknamed the Refrigerator who even plunged for a touchdown. Now I was 19 pounds heavier than athletes with notorious weights.
Bernie Gosevitz, one of the world's best doctors, came in and peered over my shoulder at the awful figure.
I quickly took the pledge. "You don't have to say a word," I said to Dr. G. who was too heavy himself. (I don't really deep down trust diet advice from experts who have never been fat. I remember Shakespeare's famous lines where Caesar says: " Let me have men about me that are fat. Sleek-headed men and such as sleep a-nights. Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look. He thinks too much."
Caesar was certainly right about Cassius, just as I'm right when I say the Cassius of Ontario is Dalton McGuinty, the premier who could use a few pound as much as a higher IQ.
Each month after that first visit to Bernie I was lighter. And Bernie kept his mouth shut. I would hit plateaus, and float, say between 270 and 280, but then I would graduate to a lower plateau.
  1. You have to make it obvious that you know you're too heavy. Don't kid yourself. Confession is good for the waist line. We were making TV commercials for the Toronto Sun and something wasn't quite right about my script. I was supposed to talk as the Editor about how we were a lean paper compared to our obese competitors like the Saturday Star. I scribbled some changes and showed them to the ad agency and our promotion people. They were surprised I would say it but thought it was just right. Which is why the TV audience heard Downing say that he was fat but his paper wasn't. The family didn't grumble at my bravado but friends did.Then I evolved into just being heavy.  Although I still had a big stomach, which Santa used to call a pot belly and our grandparents said was a bay window. (I had a disadvantage in dieting because my height and weight were inherited, which is common, since my father was also six foot two and big and my mother was six foot.)
  2. Things settled down a few years ago. My weight floated between 240 and 260 and I could now wear a 48 rather than a 54, and my shirts no longer had to be a 19.
How did I do it? By eating less. I still eat everything but there's only one piece of pie. And I try to walk and swim. Exercise can be a problem since I love to swim long distances. After  1 1/12 kilometres in Memorial Pool or around the cottage at Burnt Point, you inhale just one slice of pie.
Lately,  I can't swim because of bed sore ulcers that have lingered for nine months after my three months in hospital. The only good thing about being incarcerated in hospital hell was that my weight now varies between 215 and 220 which is great for blood pressure and just about everything else.
My suggestion to Mayor Rob and his brother and all the other dieters this January? Keep on eating what ever you want but just eat less. If you like chocolate chip cookies, have one, not three. If there are still Christmas chocolates around, let someone else empty the box.
I used to start the day with oatmeal, tomato juice and green tea. In my campaign to keep that weight near what I was in high school, I skip grains 99% of the time and mourn my loss of cheese bagels from Tim Hortons.
My breakfast is a Downing smoothie from the blender: tomato juice, cinnamon, banana, apple, pear and flax seed. Good for all parts from prostate to heart. And it allows me to cheat just a  tad later.
Oh yes, you don't have to starve like a fasting monk. Just feel virtuous every time you eat less, whether it's a forbidden goody or Greek yogurt. And if you don't feel like a brisk wall,  just stroll. Studies show that's 70% as good as the joggers pounding by you, who will need knee and hip surgery while you're still ambling along smelling the flowers.
Oh yes, find a doctor who was heavy (fat) once. Never listen to sanctimonious dieticians who have never known the joys of a cheeseburger or a grilled cheese sandwich. I still munch such delights, after discarding half the bun or bread.
After a few months,  not only will you be slimmer but hopefully so will  Mayor Ford.  Now if only that happened to the city budget.


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