Michael Eck, from 450 pounds to 185


Twenty years ago, I weighed 450 pounds. I was secretly going to a Thruway rest area outside of Schenectady, keeping an eye on myself as I slipped coins into a machine because I couldn’t find an original ladder that climbed that high.

I felt like I was weighing a truck, even though it wasn’t the weighbridge.

One Sunday in the third week of August, with my understanding 34-year-old companion, the lovely Lillie Ruby, by my side to take a picture of the small LCD screen on our home scale, I clocked at 185.6.

Since the rest stop machine hadn’t even dreamed of decimal points, I’m going to round it off to 185, a number I hadn’t hit for a long time before Lillie Ruby knew me. So the.

A friend, better at math than I, recently said, calculator in hand, that I was 41 percent of who I was. I said, spoon in hand, “Let’s go get some ice cream.” Seriously. Later, the old fat guy still celebrates with ice cream.

I posted a photo of the scale on Facebook – of course I did. Honestly, I was a little shocked at the outpouring of support. In addition to the nearly 200 comments, there were almost 700 reactions. Wow, at least on my social media.

If I told you the path from 450 pounds to 185 was easy, I’d be a big fat liar, and I know what that phrase means. As a fat kid in school for as long as I can remember, I also know what that is like.

It was tough, and it still is, and we’re not just talking about being colder – really cold – at night.

For a long time I cut off a corpulent public figure and frankly enjoyed that, maybe even reveled in being the fat one. As a freelance writer, I wrote for this newspaper, as well as many national media, for 27 years, primarily as a music and theater critic.

I was a known postman in the local art scene – maybe as a loud guy who hated everything, maybe as a big man who sometimes asked for the sturdiest chair, but known.

I followed this with almost seven years at Proctors Collaborative, primarily as a publicist. As the spokesperson for the organization, I was on TV a lot: hat, beard, stomach.

I hope my role as a stage musician for almost 40 years – these days with Lost Radio Rounders, Good Things and Berkshire Ramblers – has something to do with my visibility as well.

I left ship in mid-November 2019 for instrument maker Two Old Hippies in Bend, Oregon. As a telecommuter long before the pandemic became mainstream, I created the role of brand editor, writing on Breedlove and Bedell guitars and Weber mandolins, working from a desk in my home in Albany for nearly two years.

It was while I was still at Proctors that I learned how bad things had gotten. Like many alcoholics, it took a long time for me to bottom out. I ate more or less as I wanted, often in a disproportionate way.

Never having warned my doctors for years, I was having a difficult day – dizziness, blurred vision. My body was talking to me, but I was not listening.

My friend Michael McCord, a longtime type 1 diabetic who works in development at Proctors, said, “Let me allay your fears. “

He checked my blood sugar. Normal is below 140. Mine was above 400. McCord’s face turned ash. I’m pretty sure mine did the same.

I had a Lost Radio Rounders concert that evening in May 2019. Homemade cookies, juice and other goodies were served. I didn’t have one. I knew something had to change.

Maybe just out of vanity – remember, being on TV with Benita Zahn, Lydia Kulbida, Karen Tararache, Tamani Wooley and others was part of my job – I was already at 310. Almost exactly between 450 and 185.

The rest, under the expert guidance of guides like Dr. Benoit Tonneau and nurse practitioner Eileen Hogan, were about choices.

I am often asked how I accomplished this. I am not here to tell you what will work for you. I’m telling you what worked for me.

For starters, go big. Being huge and insanely – dangerously – out of shape at the age of 36, when I started my journey down in pounds, is a way forward. I would not recommend it.

It seemed to me, from an early age, that there was only one real answer: eat less, move more.

Of course, I also ignored this wisdom. For a long time. I often walked. It was not enough. I also needed to eat a lot less.

Now I’m 185, my blood sugar is largely under control (no insulin, thank goodness!) And my blood pressure is in better shape than it has been in years.

For me, it’s about choice. No surgeries, no products, no named diets.

These choices: Much less carbohydrates; more non-starchy vegetables; smaller and less frequent portions; step counter.

Did I mention this is what worked for me? You’re going to have to find your own way, and when you know it’s time, please, please do it.

Pizza? Once I was able to make a living from it. One, please – like a whole pizza for me. With sausage, onions, peppers and extra cheese. I remember ordering this regularly at lunchtimes in the early 80’s with my mom. She died in 1995, at the age of 57 – the age I am now – from diabetes and weight problems.

Today, even when I’m alone in New York City, I’ll have a slice of pizza, maybe two, with a fork. The fork is used to desecrate the pie, remove the cheese and vegetables from the top before throwing the rest in the trash.

But wait, are you throwing the bread away? Bread is the weakness of any obese person.

Yeah. It’s mine too – maybe even more than ice cream, which has at least some fat and protein in it to even out the carbohydrate load. Trust me on this. To move on. Mix the bread. Ask that he not be seated at the table. This is one of the easiest and best things you can do.

Ditto with potatoes and rice.

Get the mushrooms, ham and Swiss omelet at Dan’s Place II in Albany without bread (rye, of course) or potatoes (house fries, crisp). You can actually do it. You will survive. I did, and I was at least twice the size of you for 25 years.

Avoid the crispy, delicious – and I mean delicious! – rice-based bibimbap at Seoul Korean restaurant in Latham. Instead, order the osam bulgogi without rice. If they come out fish cakes with banchan, be quick with the chopsticks and bogart each of them.

It was at Proctors that I really learned to eat in New York, sometimes on trips to see shows that came to Schenectady. As with food in Seoul, I had to adapt to New York. In a Greek taverna I get octapodi and loukaniko – grilled marinated octopus and spicy pork sausage. That’s it. Nothing else. And a lot of water followed by a lot of walking.

And I can’t believe I’m going to give up my happiness: Russ & Daughters’ Cafe.

American caviar hackleback, yes; blinis, no. Get The Classic Smoked Salmon Plank, however you like, but eat only a quarter of the biali knowing it’s the best in the world. Better: Replace with a green salad. Drink Perry’s Tot gin. Do it, drink the gin. Enjoy the smoked whitefish chowder; gracefully spit the potatoes on your spoon to adorn the side of your saucer. Forget the beet shrub and the glorious noodle kugel; that’s a lot of unnecessary carbs.

Drink more gin from the glass you ordered.

You might not be as lucky as I am, but you can still make choices that will positively impact the rest of your life.

My family – the aforementioned Lillie and our adult twin children, Lakota and Lillierose – have been incredibly supportive of me throughout the years, even before I hit rock bottom and especially now.

My health has been a bit difficult lately, with a suspected COVID having me in the hospital for one day and on my back for two weeks in early 2020; and a stroke that kept me in a hospital bed for over a month earlier this year, during which time my older brother, Billy, died a few floors below me, of his own problems related to diabetes and weight.

You can be sure that I made choices throughout my stay in the hospital – sending back the orange juice and pancake for breakfast; eat only the meat from the sandwich at the offered lunch; and flip the bun and the whipped potatoes.

My employers (although I’m back to freelance now) and my fellow musicians have also been beyond kindness. Please thank them if you see them.

Am I missing bread, pasta and rice? Not as much as you might think. And I know they were a big reason for the extra 265 pounds I no longer carry – for now.

I don’t miss those at all.

Writer, musician and visual artist, Michael Eck lives in Albany. See his work on michaeleck.com.

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