This is the day I've been anticipating for five months.
And now that it's here, I'm trying to pretend it hasn't arrived.
Today, the "Let's Take It Off!" series ends.
Or so I thought five months ago when I began this whole thing, oh-so-reluctantly.
Back then I fantasized about what I would be pigging out on today. Would it be the finger-licking pork fat at Tom Jenkins' Bar-B-Q or carbohydrate carpet-bombing at Doughboys? Maybe I could find a place that offered a passable chicken fried steak with cream gravy AND key lime pie.
So many decisions. Hmmm. Maybe I'd wake up a little early and start with a nice breakfast buffet.
And so the fantasies went.
Now I'm thinking, "Country fried steak dinner at Chili's equals 1,335 calories, equals an hour-and-a-half of intense exercise. Where's the low-fat cottage cheese (90 calories, mostly protein)?"
Sometime during the past five months, Dec. 5 stopped being about celebration. These days I'm more scared about stopping than I had been about starting.
I'm on my own now.
Which wouldn't be so bad if I was planning to go back to my Filet-o-Fish and fries lifestyle. But I've invested too much sweat, made enough progress and received too many compliments. Like a poor man who found a winning Lotto ticket, I'm not giving it back.
Against all odds and self-expectations, I've lost 42 pounds. More than 15 inches off the hips, almost 5 inches from the waist and 2 inches off the biceps. Practically enough trimmings to make the Olsen twins.
But although numbers are fun to play with, I've maintained from the beginning they are not what this has been about for me.
This has been about confronting fear and exposing vulnerabilities.
I'm convinced most people who are dieting are scared. And like the craving for strawberry ice cream, that fear doesn't go away just because you've had some success.
In my last session with my dietitian, Roberta Seago, I told her what I now fear most is Diet Creep.
You know. Today a burger. Tomorrow fries to go with the burger. Pretty soon it's a biggie-sized super ultra value meal. With a, uh, Diet Coke.
Hello 42 pounds.
My challenge now is to quit being a fat man in my own mind.
So, I'm going to stay on this program. Try to actually make it a real lifestyle change.
At least until I lose, oh say, about 60 or so pounds.
I want to -- take a deep breath, relax, don't tighten up -- ultimately lose 100 pounds. There. I've said it.
If I can manage 100, my editor and Oklahoma Sooners fan Kavita Varma-White has promised to wear, again, a Texas Longhorns T-shirt. Talk about motivation.
A hundred. That would put me at close to normal weight. Close.
It's sobering to realize I had to lose 42 pounds before I could even grasp the extent of the problem.
Yeah, I know I said this wasn't about numbers.
But I'm talking numbers for a good and positive reason. I'm already frighteningly close to the goal I set in the first Let's Take It Off! column: getting my diabetes under control.
With my weight and blood sugar levels steadily dropping, I intentionally let my medications run out. I had been without pills for a couple of weeks when Thanksgiving rolled around.
On Turkey Day, I exercised portion control but didn't deny myself anything. I even had a slice of fudge cake and a couple forkfuls of pumpkin pie.
When we got home, I checked my blood sugar, expecting it to be at 300 or 400 without meds. Normal is between 75 and 125.
I clocked 120.
And it wasn't a fluke. I just retook my blood sugar, and it was 104. And I still don't have my meds.
Success during the past five months was the result of a simple strategy: Cut out most fats, avoid late-night carbohydrates and focus on portion control. I committed to exercising regularly, daily if possible. And at those workouts I made it a point to do just a little more than the time before. Before I knew it, pounds were melting off.
There's a lesson there that extends beyond dieting.
The other critical factor was a strong support network that started first and foremost with the Encouraging and Beautiful Maria and the kids. But it definitely didn't end there.
There was the steady presence of Roberta and my trainer, Yuri Feito. The folks at Broward General Medical Center's Wellness Center (Maria and I are signing back up with them Monday morning). Everybody here at the paper (a successful dieter here named Don Wittekind regularly gave me some of the best advice I had ever heard on dieting).
And, of course, all of you. Your eyes and expectations kept me honest.
Which is why today is so unnerving.
But there's always Sofia.
"Daddy, I'm hungry," she said the other day after soccer practice. "Can we stop to get some chicken nuggets?"
I, of course, don't have the authority to make such a critical call on a school night. So she was soon on the phone making her pitch to Maria, who counseled Sofia but left it up to her.
"So, do I stop at McDonald's," I asked.
"No, Daddy," she said sweetly.
"You changed your mind?"
Sofia, who has been almost obsessed with my weight and health these five months, said:
"I don't want you to have to eat food that's bad for you."
Let me tell you, that was the right answer.
It put a tear in my eye and a Mighty Kids Meal in her hands.
Finally, after five months, McDonald's doesn't scare me anymore.
Ralph De La Cruz can be reached at email@example.com or 954-356-4727.