"Dad, you look like you've been cut in half."
As sweat ran from my brow during a recent vigorous walk around our south Lake County neighborhood, my son Connor, 16, uttered those words as he followed from behind.
He wasn't all together wrong.
No, I haven't been part of any magic act, complete with a wooden box, a saw blade and an apparent separation of my top from my bottom half.
But I've taken a saw, of sorts, to myself since December 2018 in a disappearing act, slicing away years of excessive consumption of some of the worst sustenance.
The figurative hacksaw has been sharpened courtesy of long overdue diet and exercise from a person who once believed he was too far gone to change.
It's in part thanks to taking a look in the mirror, and then at vacation photos, and wondering who I was actually looking at.
The resulting response to images of the 255-pound guy with a domed belly — someone who was at his heaviest weight ever — led to a several-months journey to resize myself.
It culminated a couple of weeks ago with my son telling me I appeared to have been cut in half. It's a story my family and coworkers have encouraged me to share in hopes of inspiring folks, who may feel they're too far gone, to adopt a healthier lifestyle and cut away some of the weight holding us back.
Boy did I need to cut.
The moment of clarity came after my wife and I returned from an anniversary trip in December.
My midsection extended over my belt line by more inches than I care to describe. Around-the-clock availability of rich foods at our vacation resort hung around my waistline like the marbling on a beef brisket.
But the real indications that I needed to lose weight — to change my entire eating lifestyle — had been mounting for months, even years, before I put eyes on a reflection that bothered me.
Huffing and puffing through basic yard work, or just playing with my 4-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter, had become all too common.
Seeing stars when I bent down to tie my shoes or crouched to hug my young children had become the rule, not the exception. I was even uncomfortable sitting in my desk chair at the office, having to constantly readjust and never quite breathing freely.
A year ago, my then 15-year-old twins and I were using shovels to back-fill clay and topsoil into trenches formed around a newly-installed swimming pool. I had to collapse into a lawn chair — for what seemed like every five minutes — to catch my breath, calm a rapidly beating heart and allow those pesky stars to subside.
My wife wondered if I was going to have a heart attack.
Something needed to change.
So when I looked in the mirror in December at my rotund expansion, and then viewed photos of my wife and I during our anniversary trip, I'd seen enough.
For 10 years or more, a cache of daily McDoubles were adding layers to my midsection thicker than a California redwood. The lifestyle was rounding my face and just about everything else.
That eating lifestyle was the first thing to change.
For the past nine months, fast-food burgers and fries, which had been nearly a daily staple in my diet for years, haven't touched my lips.
When I do eat burgers, they're grilled at home with lean meat and served on low-calorie, low-carb flatbread. And they're delicious.
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No hot dogs. Only lean turkey sausages. A bed of sauerkraut or cabbage instead of hot dog buns.
Traditional bread is no longer in my diet.
I'm eating mostly meat and vegetables, and in much smaller portions than I once would have consumed.
It was hard — very hard — at first.
I had grown accustomed to indulging at the McDonald's drive-thru for breakfast, lunch and dinner multiple times each week, and sometimes daily.
Fatty dollar-menu items were a regular food group, and french fry grease was literally in my blood.
When I began eating healthier and less, I felt falsely hungry for weeks.
But then something happened.
My taste buds adjusted, and I began preferring the healthier food. Vegetables and fruits began satiating my stomach during snack cravings.
Smack dab in the middle of this weight-loss journey was a Disney Cruise with the family, filled with all-you-can-eat, decadent food options.
But I stayed focused. The cruise ship had a lighter fare and healthier menu, and I dove in.
I already had dropped about 35 pounds at that point and did not want to go back.
When the weeklong trip was over, I came home at the same weight I had left.
And after the trip, the pounds continued to fade.
Last week, my body literally went back in time when the scale hit 185 pounds for my 6-foot-1-inch frame. I turn 44 Sunday, and I'm now at the weight of my college graduation in 1997 — when I was 21.
For the past few months, vigorous walking, time on the elliptical machine and stomach crunches have become a regular part of my morning and evening routines as I seek to build muscle and keep the unhealthy weight off.
And my abdominal area — once a virtual bowl full of jelly — is now much tighter. Four inches have faded from my waistline since December, and waves don't ripple across my midsection when an obnoxious teenage son pokes me in the gut.
Two weeks ago at a press conference I attended, I offered to shake the hand of a longtime source. He genuinely had to ask who I was — then expressed shock when he found out.
The best part is there isn't any secret to how I got here.
Lean meat. Vegetables. Less eating. Not much bread. Very few sweets. Discipline. Ignoring hunger at the beginning. Exercise, even for as little as 30 minutes each day. Patience.
If you can buckle down and observe those rules, it's possible to turn back the clock and lessen the toll too many extra pounds can take on your life and well being.
All told, I've dropped 70 pounds in nine months, taking a buzzsaw to characteristics that were impacting everything I did. I can move and breathe well at the same time.
How often do we wish we could turn back the clock on bad judgment or missteps in life? A healthy diet and weight control are areas in which nearly all of us are capable of a redo to improve present and future outcomes.