Whiskey and Sky Diving with Dr. Atkins
“The human mind defines things in relation to one another—without light the notion of darkness would be unintelligible”
– Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning
While trying to pinpoint what spurred my deep interest in health, nutrition and fitness I found myself seeing images of my grandpa. Like a spotty old movie reel my mind flashed images my grandpa Ken, or The Big K, as he was dubbed from his physical size, his huge personality and his legendary ability to make big sales in the car business.
When I was 14 years old all I knew about weight management was what seemed to help me make weight for my middle school and JV high school wrestling tournaments. My regimen consisted of a strict diet of whatever I wanted except on the day before and the day of a wrestling meet, in which case I limited myself to just an orange for lunch. Not that big of deal to minimize a lunch but in my family, food was something precious; something that hard working people deserved to indulge in. My single orange for lunch caught the attention of my middle school math teacher Mr. Groudon who called my dad to tell him what a tragedy wrestling was inflicting on my life. My dad shrugged it off though and I kept making weight. I will admit, I had never had to “cut” weight before and as a wrestler, it made me proud. I was a bad ass. I had an orange or a salad for lunch while the other kids got to throw down a sixer of French toast sticks, heavy on the syrup. Of course most of this toughness was all in my head since making the 160lb weight class as an eighth grader really shouldn’t be an issue for anyone, even if you are “big boned”, as my loving grandmother describes me.
Anyways, I saw my grandpa, The Big K, pretty sporadically in those days. He was a “player” in a sense, a well-traveled free spirit who, from where I could tell, spent most of his time somewhere between Arizona and Washington, never too long in the same place. I never hated the player, as they say; I never really even hated the game. It’s funny how when you are a kid you don’t judge situations, life or people. You’re just happy to see people. You rarely waste energy deciding if something is good or bad, you just enjoy it.
All I knew was that one day The Big K was 6’2″ and just a five pound feather under 300 pounds. Then, a year later he showed up as almost a hundred pounds lighter. In my younger years I hadn’t seen The Big K as much cause he was still soul searching. You see, The Big K at one point was also a big drinker. I recently had a conversation with him where he said “I used to drink buckets of whiskey, it just made me feel so damn good!”. He gave that all up in the late 70’s though, began to travel around the country and stopped into Minnesota every 6 months or so to have some fun with his old friend “Joey Old Eyes”. That’s me; Grandpa always said I had the eyes of an old soul. The Big K wasn’t so big any more, at least physically, he lost almost 100 pounds and when he came over for lunch all he ate was meat, cheese and vegetables. Not bread, not rice, not potatoes and no sugar in his coffee or tea. I guess back then the famous Atkins diet, which had reached the peak of it’s popularity had also caught his attention. He said some buddy of his, a Polish guy, had done it and it worked well so he decided to give it a shot and it worked great for him. So great in fact that The Big K decided to go skydiving on his 70th birthday. Yup The Big K, just a shade under 3 bills, unable to tee up his own golf ball, drinking buckets of whiskey, throwing a couple packs a day of Marlboro darts down at the ashtray was able to transform into a lean, mean skydiving machine on his 70th birthday. He was a strict follower of the Atkins Diet. If you haven’t heard of Dr. Atkins, I would describe him as one of the prominent early figures to understand and advocate how to survive, successfully, on a low carb diet. At the time Dr. Atkins was criticized and questioned by “conventional wisdom” which preached a diet of 6-11 servings of grains per day coupled with a low fat suggestion. The OGs (original gangsters) of low carb were our ancestors; If you trace your family tree back a mere 10,000-40,000 years, you will find our ancestors were stronger, leaner and healthier than us, they were hunter gatherers. They passed their genes down to us. We have the genes of humans who evolved to thrive on a low carb, hunter gatherer diet.
So if I had to put a starting point on this whole deal I’d say it was the site of my Grandpa almost 100lb smaller than I had ever seen him. He told us he felt amazing, he sure looked better, seemed to have more energy, told us he didn’t need to carry his insulin pouch around anymore and most importantly that twinkle in his smile and his wise ass sense of humor was still there. It was a paradigm shift for me. All I knew, or heard was that if you eat less you lose weight. But, I noticed The Big K didn’t eat less, he just ate less of certain foods. It would be several years before this seed of thought grew large enough in my mind to revisit it.