The Pickled Herring Diet and Other Conversations on Getting to Normal
Nothing to do with dinosaurs, but here is the ending of the story, or at least the super short version. In December 1987, I hit 240 pounds. I go to dress as Santa Clause at my law firm
Christmas Party. I decided that I could not take that kind of weight any more so I switched from pastrami chopped liver triple decker sandwiches to pickled herring. By June 1988, I
dropped 85 pounds and 9 inches off my waist.
Now, I can start.
I grew up in a Jewish home, and my mother was a wonderful cook. The only problem was she cooked a lot, and wanted her two sons to eat a lot. When I brought my roommate home from college to
stay over for a weekend, he asked me after dinner, “Do you always eat three meals a day even if they are five minutes apart?”
At some point at every meal, I would get so full that I did not think I can eat another bite. So, my mother would turn on the guilt. “Why did I make so much if you are not going to
eat?” I would always respond. “That is such a good question. Why did you?”.
Or, my mother would say “I paid five dollars for that piece of meat!” Well, that was two dollars less than the week before so maybe I can get away with not eating the fifth piece of whatever was
Of course, then my mother’s comeback was, in no doubt, what other mother’s would say in this situation. “There are millions of starving people in this world!” Apparently, my mother
believed that she could feed all these starving people right through my stomach.
Despite all of these non-stop consumption of food, I was never fat. Maybe, a bit pudgy, but that was it. I maintained the slight pudginess through college despite the fact that I could
get up and get thirds in the college cafeteria. Somebody always was going around for a $1 contribution towards a pizza at 10PM in the dorm room, and in Albany, New York, with the drinking
age at 18 at the time, it was always easy to find $1.50 pitcher of beer nights somewhere. And the Sutter’s burger across from the SUNY Albany campus is still the best burger I have ever had.
I then went to law school in Pittsburgh, and survived the Original Hot Dog Shop with the countless toppings on their hot dogs, and their amazing French fries with cheese sauce, right across the
street from the Law School. Not much time for exercise, but not much time for eating either.
I then started practicing law at a small law firm in Pittsburgh after graduating, and here is where it started all going downhill. I got addicted to the pastrami chopped liver triple decker
sandwiches at Fast Ernie’s. There was a pizza place that that one slice and a half meat ball sub for $3. The restaurant behind the courthouse had amazing meatloaf and gravy. On
Thursdays, the senior partner of the firm took us out to the North Side to a Greek Orthodox church for lunch and we all had the half roast chicken and baklava.
With all these meals, there was always the Diet Coke because we were watching our figures.
And I also now had time to eat and go out at night. I got into the habit of frying things like sausage and onions, and I learned from my mother how to make the best potato latkas in the
world. Of course, by now, they were getting doused with sour cream.
Tuesday nights was always import nights at the Squirrel Hill Café. We always got the barbeque, and onion garlic potato chips to go with the beer. And forget about the
weekends. Pittsburgh is a big football town, and I was finally able to spend Saturdays and Sundays watching football, eating chips, pizza and drinking lots of beer.
So now, it is December 1987. I slowly climbed up from 195 pounds to the 240 pound weight and I had enough. Yes. My girlfriend dumped me and that had a little to do with
it. Yes. My brand new car got stolen right in front of my house on New Year’s Day. That really sucked.
And, yes, my roommate tried to cheer me up, and treated me to a Three Stooges Midnight Film Festival. I can only tell you to try to imagine the kind of people who go to a Three Stooges
Midnight Film Festival. I will give you one hint. They all pretty much dress and act like the Three Stooges. Both men and women!!
It was then that I decided that I had enough. I decided that, no matter how tired I was, I was going to the gym at night. I signed up at the local health club, and the trainer put me on
a Lifecycle for three minutes at level 1. I did not think I was going to make it.
I gave up pastrami chopped liver, and my sandwich of choice became a tuna fish sandwich I brought from home. I stopped eating fried foods. I gave up potato chips. By the Spring of
1988, with the temperatures rising, and my weight dropping, I found out that I was able to run. People were constantly asking me if I had AIDS. I replied that I never felt better, and
just started a healthier life style.
By June 1988, I hit 155 pounds. Instead of dressing up as Santa Clause, I would come home from Pittsburgh, and my father would call me Ghandi.
That is another story.
I went from struggling to do three minutes on a Lifecycle in 1987 to running the Marine Core Marathon in Washington, D.C. in 1989. I have run over 40 marathons since then.
Fast forward to 2000. By then, I was married and my daughter turned five years old. I noticed that I was starting to gain a few pounds. I never gave much thought about how I
lost all that weight back in 1988. It was not a goal. It just sort of happened.
So, I started thinking about what I did, and I started writing, and thinking about what I can do. I realized that back in 1988, I changed my “normals.” It was not a diet, and it
made me realize why diets never work. I had a bunch of normals that got me in this predicament of feeling pretty crappy, and if I took a break from those normal to do a diet, it would only
be a short reprieve.
We all go through our lives with many normals through many different times. I noticed that the first change, at least eating wise, was to abandon unhealthy normals, and go back to healthier but
still familiar normals. I grew up with my mother making me tuna fish sandwiches for lunch. There was always jars of pickled herring in the refrigerator. Hence, I crated the
“pickled herring diet”. If I had a craving for ice cream, I ate a piece of pickled herring. The craving was gone!
The first change was finding the old normals. Old normals are the best ones to start with because they are familiar. There were no goals except for changing my normals. Starting with my
old normals, I was able to discover new ones. I started with walking before I was able to run.
So, with my five-year old daughter, I noticed that I became a garbage can. She didn’t finish her chicken nuggets or fish sticks? No problem. I ate them. I made one peanut
butter and jelly sandwich too many. Not a problem. I can take care of that too.
Realizing what I had done 12 years earlier, it was clear what I had to do. I stopped being the garbage can, and let the garbage can be the garbage can. I picked a couple of other things
that I could do, and I dropped 15 pounds in three months.
While it began as a concept for just losing weight, the concept of just stopping and examining my normals became something I found that I can apply to every aspect of my life. They are
always life changers, and we need life changers because they will always be life chargers as well.
The saying goes “Crazy is doing the exact same thing over and over and over again, and expecting a different result.” It is so true. So, it is the beginning of Spring now. It
is time to do some Spring cleaning. It is time to start planting the seeds for the Fall harvest. Take a look at your “normals” and decide what you want to start growing this
year. What will be your life changer? What will be your life charger? And remember. You only have to walk before you run.