Have you ever thought about what your tipping point would be when it comes to weight gain? Is it a number on the scale? A certain dress size?
For Edward Ugel, a lifelong foodie and author of I’m With Fatty: Losing Fifty Pounds in Fifty Miserable Weeks, it took something a bit more drastic than punching yet another hole to extend his belt when he couldn’t button his slacks—it was the idea of his wife having to deal with him sleeping with a CPAP machine on his face for the rest of his life (and, you know, dropping dead at any possible moment) that set him on the course of the “Fatty Project.”
Now, a word about the title. In the case of Jackie Warner’s latest book, Jenn felt that the sensationalistic use of the word “fat” was unnecessary, and I think that’s an excellent point. However, there are times when using an inflammatory word or phrase works in the book’s favor; I believe this is one of those times. Ugel isn’t a fitness or nutrition expert, and, while his book is sure to inspire people, he’s no motivational speaker. He’s a writer providing a brutally honest, occasionally crass, generally humorous take on losing a lot of weight. A kinder, gentler title simply would not have been as perfect a fit.
The beginning of Ugel’s story is familiar to many. He grew up in a family where trips (and, consequently, many happy memories) often revolved around food. As a teenager, he was active enough that his overeating was never a real issue, but once he reached adulthood, the majority of his activity revolved around shopping for food, cooking food and finding new restaurants in which to eat food. And not healthy food—he relied on dumplings, cheeses, pastas, ice cream … you name it, and at some point, chances are, Ugel discusses it (often reverently) in his book.
It’s only after being ordered to wear the aforementioned CPAP mask (an apparatus that initially frightens his youngest daughter, then reminds her of Dumbo) that Ugel realizes he must make a change, so he embarks on a quest to lose 50 pounds in 50 weeks; that’s where his story truly becomes his own. He views the “Fatty Project” as his job, making it his main focus. Because he’s failed at so many diets in the past, he enlists the help of professionals as well as friends and family to help him reach his goal. But, to nobody’s surprise (least of all Ugel’s), sticking to the game plan still presents a real challenge. (And really, calling it only a “challenge” is probably as big an understatement as saying that eating a pint and a half of ice cream in 10 minutes “isn’t the healthiest choice.”)
The biggest discovery Ugel makes is that he’s not just a foodie who eats a little too much, as he’s always believed—he actually suffers from not one but two eating disorders. One of the biggest takeaways for him, however, was that, because he actually does love food (in addition to being addicted to it) and because he knows so much about cooking, he’s leaps and bounds beyond where many overweight and obese people are when they make the commitment to losing weight. He simply has to learn what to cook and how to prepare it. And avoid the temptation of the Chinese restaurant when his family leaves town.
There are three things about this book I really loved. One, it’s one of the few weight-loss memoirs I’ve read that will speak to men as easily as women. Two, Ugel doesn’t cover up the ugly parts of the process—shoot, the guy even goes into a fairly graphic description of his colonic, leaving me half laughing, half gagging. And three, it’s both incredibly honest and incredibly accessible. You don’t have to be 100 pounds overweight to understand where Ugel is coming from. You don’t have to be food-obsessed to sympathize with his out-of-control binges. And, even if you have a totally healthy relationship with food, he discusses his feelings about food with such humor (and emotion, which actually adds to the funny factor) that you can’t help but follow right along.
Seeing the change in Ugel—not just his eating habits or his relationship to food, but his overall outlook on, well, everything—from the beginning of the book to the end is enough to get even the crustiest curmudgeon to realize one never has to settle for being set in one’s ways, especially if those ways are a shortcut to an early grave. Whether your motivation is to look great in a bathing suit, be able to play with your kids without getting out of breath or you just hope to see your privates without a mirror again before you die, Ugel is proof that you absolutely can do it. Possibly in 50 weeks. —Kristen