KENNEBUNK — Like many people, I have a number of friends who are overweight. Actually, they’re fat.

I say this with no particular bias since, for much of my life, I’ve been among them. Not that long ago, I weighed 30 pounds more than I do now. My change of size, however, wasn’t a cosmetic choice – fear was the catalyst.

And there’s the rub. Without a compelling motive, there’s little reason for most people to stick to a diet.

Sure, it’s nice to look good, feel good and all the usual bromides. But in a battle between vanity and appetite, there’s usually a sweet, cream-filled winner.

Fitting into a pair of skinny jeans may be a worthy goal – just not worthy enough for most of us, most of the time.

Which brings me to the issue at hand.

Eight years ago, in his 50s, my brother had a heart attack. He was lucky in that it was both mild and treatable.

Yet it was a stark reminder of our family’s history of coronary disease. For me, it was also a wake-up call to face that genetic hurdle and, finally, lose weight. There’s nothing like a little fear to galvanize change.

I steeled myself for the diet ahead. I debated what to omit or include – cut sweets altogether, or cut down instead? – how to pace myself, how to address potential trouble spots.

What about the dinner party whose menu is largely off-bounds, or the blueberry pie that turns up because a neighbor was in the mood to bake?

Daily life is an obstacle course for would-be dieters. Factor in middle age and the stubbornness of a body used to its excesses, and I had my work cut out for me.

While devising the rules for my diet, I realized how fortunate I was: I could envision losing 25 or 30 pounds – the number didn’t seem insurmountable.

I then spent the better part of a year doing it.

Yet I was keenly aware that, had I been heavier at the outset, I may well have floundered – or worse, never attempted to diet in the first place.

No doubt, this is one piece of the freighted puzzle that is our nation’s obesity crisis. Dieting is onerous enough in the best of circumstances, but if one’s target seems unreachable, it probably is.

There’s all kinds of pressure on people to lose weight. The forces are medical, social, psychological, cultural.

That’s where the medical establishment could provide a helpful service: There are charts galore that offer guidelines for caloric intake, body mass and assorted other metrics.

Most of them list ideal ranges or goals, as if we’re all aiming for perfection.

Yet it’s well known that many conditions, among them arthritis, diabetes and heart disease, can be improved by even moderate weight loss.

Why aren’t these benefits broadcast far and wide?

Surely there are useful, incremental goals for weight loss that could be presented as alternatives – and that would prevent the perfect from being the enemy of the good.

Why wouldn’t charts of this sort, with more manageable numbers, be a valuable addition to the more aggressive, all-or-nothing measures we typically use?

Not to mention that some folks prefer a certain heft in themselves and others.

Personally, I like this idea, especially for some of my plumper friends. To put it plainly, I want my friends and family around for as long as possible. And some of them have long been at dangerously high weights.

If they could attain better personal health, with only moderate weight loss, I suspect they would take action.

In the end, they may still be unable to wear skinny jeans, which, frankly, look good on few of us anyway.

But they may find, as I did, that a death-defying goal has far more staying power than any amount of vanity.

 

– Special to The Press Herald