Saturday, February 25, 2012

So many meals, so little time

It has taken some soul-searching, but I have come to a realization: I am a dismal failure. The first warning came more than a week ago, when I hit the buffet restaurant Golden Corral, my favorite feed trough, on the first night of a recent business trip. I’d paid homage to it once before.

What, you haven’t heard of Golden Corral? It’s where you stride in for a bounteous, all-you-can-eat meal at low cost—and afterward wonder how you’ll get back out to your car. If the song “Rawhide” (with its chorus, “Rollin’ rollin’ rollin’….”) isn’t being blasted from speakers above the exit door, it should be.

But to the hush of the cooks, the wait staff and my fellow patrons, I ate my dinner and left the restaurant without the aid of a wheelbarrow. In disgrace, I trudged the mile and a quarter back to my hotel.

It happened again the other day, when Elena and I dined at a local Italian restaurant. I’d ordered my favorite dish, veal parmigiana, which came with pasta and a small salad. But near the end of the meal, as my wife asked the waiter to wrap up what she couldn’t finish, I found myself pointing to my own plate with a trembling finger I recognized as my own. A voice croaked the words, “M-mine, too.”

Understand something about me: I have not been one to take prisoners. More than 70 percent of American men are overweight, and it would hardly be me to leave food uneaten and shame such a…um…sizable portion of the population. And sorry, Michelle, but I’ve considered it my duty as a natural-born citizen of Earth’s sole superpower to super-size a few meals a year.

Best of all, I could always get away with it. As a child, I fully expected to grow up to be Mac, the skinny guy who gets sand kicked in his face in those Charles Atlas comic-book ads. (I didn’t care as much to become the Hero of the Beach as much as attract a loyal girlfriend.) Even if I couldn’t beat up bullies, those early years taught me a lasting lesson: No matter how much I ate, my speedy metabolism would keep even a forkful of fat from sticking to my scrawny frame.

Fast-forward to the 21st century, when eating has come to represent my complete reward system. It isn’t exactly impeccable timing, for cheap junk food since my teen years has permeated the shelves of stores across the nation. And alas, I’ve discovered a device, called a bathroom scale, that apparently responds to my eating habits. A friend at work, Kimberly, tells me I’m lucky to have gotten away for so long without having to worry about gaining weight. I have a different perspective: Those decades left me totally unprepared. I’m a babe in the woods, and a chubby little one at that.

You’ll be happy to know I’ve already come up with a solution. It’s so easy, in fact, that it’s a wonder anyone is overweight. All I have to do is eat as little as possible in between those unavoidable occasions, during which I allow myself an extra calorie or two.

I’m talking about those major holidays, plus Super Bowl Sunday. And Valentine’s Day. The birthday celebrations of all family members, friends and colleagues. Add in meals away from home: business trips and office lunches, dining out with the family, meals during vacations and visits to friends and family. Barbecues at home. Ballgames, including at the stadium. Samples at supermarkets, country fairs and farmers’ markets. Snacks my coworkers put out. Movie-theater treats. Italian dinners at home, too. Not to mention pizza—no matter when or where it calls me by name. And did I forget Saturday breakfast?

In between those occasions, don’t even think about offering me food.