Image of tattoos showing a map; a theme in the Healthy Aging Series by Mark Neese

How to Climb Mount Grow-The-Eff-Up | Healthy Aging Series: Season 9, Episode 4

“The Elephant in the Room: One Fat Man’s Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America,” by Tommy Tomlinson

 I have tattoos. Don’t ask me why. I started getting them in my early 50s. Maybe I am a bit of a rebel. My son gave me my first two tattoos. He was learning to be a tattoo artist. He thinks one looks like a prison tat. I love them both. I have one that’s a quote from Larry McMurtry’s book, “Lonesome Dove.” It’s the Latin quote that Gus McCray put on the livery-stable sign, “Uva Uvam Vivendo Varia Fit.” People ask me what it means, and I answer, “It doesn’t mean anything.” That’s why I love.

The tattoo that I get asked most about is on my left forearm. It’s the solar system. The earth is blue. People ask, “What is it?”  I answer, “It’s a map for when you get lost. Just look for the blue planet.” They smile.

I love maps. I have close to a hundred. My office has them hanging from several walls. I have never felt more helpless than being lost without a map. I tried hiking a trail a few years ago in the Jefferson Memorial Forest. The trail was the Mitch McConnell Trail (no kidding). It had been decommissioned in lieu of a new horse-friendly trail. I had no map. I got lost.

Maps help me find order. Maps comfort me. They help me plan my hike and not only tell me where I’m going but tell me where I’ve been.

The Elephant in the Room

Tommy Tomlinson’s memoir, “The Elephant in the Room“ was a kind of map for me. The map might have been in titled, “How do you Find a New Thinner You?” Maybe not thinner, but at least healthier. Tomlinson weighed 460 pounds on December 31, 2014. He ends with his “Destination Weight” on Thanksgiving of 2017 at 375 pounds.

Food is an important topic of his book. I underlined every mention of and I’m guessing I underlined food in over 200 of the 243 pages. He writes a lot about food.

But his memoir is not a map for weight loss. It’s a map for self-discovery.

That’s what makes this such a good map. Tomlinson was lost in the obesity wilderness for 50+ years. He had a destination marked on the map: Mt. Weight Loss. He started out on that trail to the summit. He lost weight, but he ended up at a place that was unexpected. In the process of writing his story of obesity, his “fat story“ (his words), Thomason finds healing.

This is the second obesity memoir I’ve read for this season. I have three or four more to read. Thus far they are stories of healing from past trauma, and they are stories of personal growth that eventually lead to weight loss. What Tomlinson discovered was that he had  difficulty adjusting to the idea of being an adult.

“This in the end,“ he writes, “is what it’s all about for me. To control my weight, to get in shape, to become the person I am supposed to be, I have to shake the habits that I had clung to me since I was a kid.”

Tomlinson points out what Thomas Wolfe called a “loose life“ meaning, a life with shaky morals, bad habits, and ready-made excuses or a life that is lived without any concern for consequences.

For Tomlinson, the loose life, meant that all he wanted was with food, because food had given him more pleasure than anything else. “I knew how much it would cost me later,” he writes, “but I craved that moment of joy now.”

On top of that mountain with the thin air and 50 mph winds, with the unencumbered, 360° vista, he discovered, “That’s the way a child thinks.”

The name of this mountain: Mount Grow-the-Eff-up.

“I have lived to realize,“ he writes, “that Adulting is the only way I can beat my addiction to food.“

All of this is on pages 222 to 223. Brilliant insight. It took a year of wandering, or maybe 50 years of wandering. For Tomlinson, it felt like a year of hiking through those mucky sloughs and struggling through all those wicked switchbacks and backtracking to re-acquire the trail, and finally summiting the mountain that only those with courage attempt.

This past week I hiked Mount Sherman, which is 14,043 feet in elevation.

Afterwards, while changing clothes in the parking lot at the trailhead (people have no modesty at trailheads), I spoke with a couple about my age about the hike. We all agreed: 14ers, suck especially the last half mile. But afterwards, when you’ve finished, when you’re back at the trailhead, high fiving each other, you feel such a sense of pride in yourself, and may stronger. And then you start planning for another!

I’m not going to summarize Tomlinson’s memoir. He’s a professional writer. It’s good stuff. Lots of insight. Lots of pain. Lots of shame and embarrassment.

I am not obese, but I do struggle with weight management. I also struggle with personal growth. I struggle with not acting like a child sometimes. I’m 67 but act like six or seven at times. I’m at the mercy of the moment. Most of our problems, most of our addictions, most of our pain and turmoil our produced by self-manufactured misery, rooted in our childish appetites, and expectations or maybe what Wolfe calls, loose living.

Maybe it’s time to take out your map.

Mark a trail that leads to a place of growth. A mountain maybe.

Maybe a mountain called Mt. Grow-the-Eff-up!

To read more entries in the Healthy Aging series, click here.

Dysfunctional Relationship With Food Characteristics

Is your Relationship with Food Dysfunctional? | Healthy Aging Series: Season 9, Episode 3

It’s not easy to determine when a relationship with food or even with people is dysfunctional.

Why is that?

First, there are different kinds of relationships. You have friendships, and family relationships, 

and romantic partnerships, as well as business partnerships. If you use the amount of intimacy to determine whether they are dysfunctional, many of these would likely be dysfunctional.

Second, there are no assessments to determine what is dysfunctional, especially when it comes to food. We will look at some criteria that will help with this.

Third, there’s a continuum of dysfunctional when it comes to relationships. In other words, your relationship with others, and with food could be mildly dysfunctional or severely dysfunctional.

Of course, there are extreme examples of dysfunctional, which would include abuse, an out-of-balance power differential, conflict, disloyalty, and chronic resentment.

That’s not an exhaustive list, but I hope you get the point.

The Intuition Test

There is an intuitive way of determining whether you’re in a dysfunctional relationship with others or with food, and that is simply to ask, “Are you happy with that relationship?

If you’re not happy with your relationship, then it’s likely dysfunctional.

Many years ago, one of my mentors shared why their first marriage failed. They had been part of a book club, and we’re reading. “As I Day dying,“ by William Faulkner. Not an easy read. “We separated, because I just didn’t agree with his interpretation of the book.“ I’m guessing that there were many other issues and it’s likely that this was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back. 

What does a dysfunctional relationship with food look like? I think the place to start is, are you happy with that relationship.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I frustrated by constant overeating and weight gain?
  • Am I frustrated that I eat the types of food that I know aren’t good for me?
  • Do I feel guilty regularly because I impulse eat?
  • Am I dissatisfied with my body? Note: most of us would say yes, but it’s still an important question to ask. 
  • Do I feel helpless avoiding sweets regularly?
  • How do I feel about food?

The answers to these questions provide data points that are more intuitive and would provide insight into the type of relationship that you have with food.

Bio Metrics Tests

What about other more concrete data points? Are there biometrics/biomarkers that indicate that your relationship with food is dysfunctional?


First, the most obvious biometric would be your BMI. I know, BMI seems to be geared toward insurance companies and their desire to keep people thin, lowering their risk factors for early death, but still, it’s not a bad biometric.

My BMI is over 25. If you look at the weight charts, a BMI over 25 put you in the overweight category. Most people would look at me and laugh if I told them that I was overweight. Yes, I am carrying around some extra fat around my waist, but I also think as you age, you should carry a little bit more fat. In fact, having a lower BMI  can create a situation that put you at risk for some neurological disorders. I’ll share more about that later when I share some other neurological disorders. 

Having said that, if you have a BMI of over 30, you are likely overweight. Some charts would even put you at obese.  So, one biometric that would indicate a dysfunctional relationship with food would be your BMI.

Type 2 Diabetes

Second, Type 2 Diabetes, or an elevated A1C. Typically, Type 2 Diabetes is an insulin-resistance metabolic disorder, and it is most likely the result of a dysfunctional relationship with food. I know there are exceptions, but, if you have a high A1C, or have been diagnosed with either pre-Type 2 Diabetes, or Type 2 Diabetes, you need to seriously consider changing your relationship with food. We all have a love affair with sugar. But that love affair is killing you.

Blood Work

Third, blood work. I see my doctor twice a year and she orders bloodwork once a year. Sometimes twice depending on the results from the previous bloodwork. I don’t want to get into the details here because I’m not a medical professional, but your bloodwork is likely to indicate whether your relationship with food is dysfunctional. This would include things like your blood glucose levels, triglycerides, and HDL\LDL cholesterol results.

Your blood work will not lie about whether you have a dysfunctional relationship with food. Just ask it. And then listen.

I know there’s a lot of controversy around a lot of these types of measurements and biometrics, but they reflect what you eat. My close friend, Sam, is constantly reminding me of Barry Sears’ book, “The Zone,” and likes to point out that Barry Sears sees food as medicine.  I like that comparison. But I also like looking at the relationship I have with food. Dysfunctional relationships with people often display physical markers, unfortunately. And your dysfunctional relationship with food will show up in your blood work .

Vascular Screening

Fourth, vascular screening. About three years ago my doctor recommended a vascular screening because my cholesterol was indicating that I was at a high risk for a cardiac event within the next 10 years. There’s a lot of controversy about cholesterol and longevity, and the need for statins, but I want to respect her advice, so I agreed to the vascular screening. The vascular screening is rated from 0 to 400. My vascular screening was below 100, probably in the 30 range so it put me at mild risk for cardiac event. Therefore, she said that she would simply recommend a Staten but would not push it.  Vascular screenings are another biometric that indicate the relationship that you have with food. It looks at blood flow through your carotid arteries and how much calcium or plaque is built up in and around your heart. If you want to know if your relationship with food is dysfunctional, a vascular screening might help.

Your Fitness Level

Fifth, although your level of fitness is not directly tied to your relationship with food, your relationship with food can influence your total level of fitness. So, it might be a good biometric to test yourself physically to see where you are. Here is a link for an online fitness test from the Mayo Clinic:

My Fitness Biomarkers

I have a couple of fitness exams that I give myself. One is in the Smoky Mountains. I  hike Mount LeConte each summer and then ask myself, “How did I do?” The other test I put myself through is a hike in Colorado near my son’s home called The Manitou Incline. It’s a 1-mile hike which has an elevation gain of 2000 feet. I generally can do it in 75 minutes.  I might add the Grand Canyon as well. I do a general assessment of myself after hiking out of the Grand Canyon to determine my level of fitness. These “test“ indicate how well am I taking care of my body. There isn’t much difference in having a dysfunctional relationship with food.  A dysfunctional relationship with food generally would indicate that you’re not taking care of your body.

Sugar, Salt, Saturated Fat

Six, your choice of foods. Fat. Salt. Sugar. I’ve read a lot about all three of these macro and micronutrients. Sometimes, hanging out with people can be dysfunctional, even though we enjoy their company at times. I think the same thing holds true for food. Salt, sugar, and fat make us feel good. They make everything taste better. Unfortunately, they aren’t good friends. Sugar for sure. Saturated fats as well. And excessive amount of salt is unhealthy. If you regularly choose to “hang out“ with these foods, it’s likely that you have a dysfunctional relationship with food.

OK, that’s a good starting point. Is your relationship with food dysfunctional???

The next question that I want to ask, which I’ll answer in Episode 5, is: Why is it so difficult to break up with food?

To read more entries in the Healthy Aging series, click here.

Our Country’s Greatest Scourge – Reflections on “It was Me all Along: A Memoir,” by Andie Mitchell | Healthy Aging Series: Season 9, Episode 2

I am a cyclist. I don’t ride as much as I used to ride because my primary sport is backpacking and I’m usually preparing for backpacking trips to places like the Red River Gorge, the Smokies, the Grand Canyon, Colorado, or Utah.

When I was 55, I rode my bicycle across the state of Indiana in one day. They call it the RAIN Ride. It was on my birthday, and it started in Terre Haute, my birthplace. Pretty cool.

A year later, I flew to DC, took my bike, and rode the Vernon trail from Mount Vernon to DC, about 20 miles. I rode through the District Columbia and hooked up with a couple of local cyclists that guided me to the Adams-Morgan neighborhood, and finally to the Tryst Coffee Chop next to the Madam’s Organ Bar. Also, a cool trip.

It was a memorable trip, because of the conversation that I had with a musician I met near downtown Alexandria, just off the Vernon trail. I had stopped to take a bathroom break and struck up a conversation with a gentleman setting up his glass harp. He shared information about his life. He had immigrated as a young child from Eastern Europe. He told the story about how his father had a problem with alcohol. That they lost the family home and everything they owned because of his drinking problem. “Alcohol is the scourge of this country,” he declared.

My heart broke for him. It’s not the first time I’d heard a story like this. My son’s great-great grandfather lost his ranch to alcoholism.

But I beg to differ with him. 

The Real Scourge in this Country

There’s no doubt that alcoholism is a devastating social problem in our country and in the world, but I have come to believe that there is a more devastating scourge in this country, and that is childhood obesity.

According to the Center for Disease Control, for children 2 to 19 years old, from 2017 to 2020, 1 in 5 are obese or about 14.7 million. We are not talking about being overweight but being obese or having a BMI of over 30. Compare that to the obesity rate of 1 in 20, in 1974, the year I graduated from High School. Some of the reasons for this increase are easy access to high-calorie junk food, few opportunities for physical activity, a lack of parks and playgrounds, and at least one parent who is obese.

Here’s a kicker: obese children and adolescents are five times more likely to be obese adults then those who are not obese as children or adolescents. And obesity can leave emotional as well as physical scars.

I recently read, “It was Me all Along,“ by Andie Mitchell, a story about growing up obese and overcoming it in her early 20s.

One take away that I gleaned from this memoir, and it confirmed my beliefs, was that childhood obesity is a scourge in this country. There is an increased risk mortality in early adulthood for individuals who were obese as children. Obesity in adolescence is significantly associated with increased cardiovascular disease, and metabolic disorders, such as Type 2 Diabetes in adulthood. There have been recent studies that show a higher BMI during adolescence increases the risk for several malignancies, such as leukemia, Hodgkin’s Disease, colorectal, cancer, and breast cancer in adulthood. These are some of the physical scars.

Andie Mitchell’s story has a difficult trajectory, but she struggled through years of trauma and shame as a child and adolescent suffering from obesity. 

I want to separate this blog into two episodes. Part one will look at childhood obesity through the eyes of Andie Mitchell. I think it’s helpful not just to look at the data but look at the damage caused by childhood obesity.

Part two will look at Andie’s break up with food. First, what motivated her to break up. I think her break up reinforces everything I write about in this season, and second, how did she maintain her breakup.

Andie Mitchell’s Childhood
Childhood obesity left an impression on Andie Mitchell that has continued throughout her life, even though she’s no longer obese. Obesity changes you and it is difficult to escape the physical and emotional scars.

Andie, in her 20s, had surgery to remove the excess skin that resulted from years of accommodating her obesity. Those scars are with her today at 32. But the emotional scars that obesity left, I’m certain, are deeper and at times painful reminders of her shame, embarrassment, and humiliation. She suffered at a time when social inclusion and acceptance by her peers was so important.

“The boys in my class called me fat,” she writes, “while the girls looked on, smiling.” 

Here’s what she learned as a child and teenager.

“I learned that if I made fun of myself for being fat, then the other kids couldn’t do it first. I learned that being funny, especially with the boys, made it much less likely they’d call me things like “wide load” or “lard butt.”

Recalling those moments, she writes, “The sadness I felt then and even sometimes now blares within me. It’s an all-encompassing, piercing sound – a fire alarm. It shrieks so loudly, I cower. I seek refuge by covering my ears. I think briefly about ducking beneath the stairwell, hoping its shrillness will be muffled if I hide from it. But it finds me always. It finds me when I am in the shower or walking on a treadmill; it wakes me suddenly in the night. It forces me to uncover my ears. And I hear it while trying not to listen to what it means. The pain, the sound – it’s deafening.”

“Eating,” she later rights, “made me forget.”

Through these years, Andie developed a relationship with food. She depended on it, not as fuel, but for companionship, someone to be comforted by and feel connected with. “Food came to exist as the only thing in my life that was mine, and mine alone.“

Andie’s most heartbreaking story happened as a freshman at the University of Massachusetts. I’ll share the story in her words.

“We decided to take a different route back to the dorm and in doing so, passed by a row of off-campus houses, hosting rowdy parties of their own. Inside the house, just ahead of on our right, people could be seen in every window and rap music thundered out of the front door. A group of guys stood out front. Feeling friendly Nicole called out,“Heey!“ As we slowed our stride, the guys turned around, and the tallest one stepped forward, immediately returning Nicole‘s enthusiasm. What are you girls up to? We stopped here on the sidewalk while Nicole explained in her friendly way that we just left  SigEp and that we were on our way back to our dorms. It was a gift of hers to create conversation with anyone, and it seemed her charm had found us a new party to Rock. That is, until one of the guys on the lawn shouted to us. “Hey you!” His eyes were on me. I smiled and started to toss a hello back his way. “No Fatties allowed!!“ It was a swift kick to my stomach.“

There are many, many things that affect us as children. Crooked or discolored teeth, facial scars, or birthmarks, a cleft palate, not to mention skin color, a gender assignment that mismatches with one’s identification, a first or last name, and I could go on and on. 

People can be Thoughtless, Mean, and Cruel

Children, high school peers, and adults can be thoughtless, mean, and cruel. Their actions dehumanize us. They make us into that one thing that is different about us. 

With childhood obesity, children begin seeing themselves as a body, not as a person with feelings, hopes, needs, intellectual gifts, whit, and other amazing interests. Consequently, everything is seen through that lens. They see themselves as powerless to change and learn to hate themselves. They begin to equate beauty with thin and become obsessed with the idea that they will never be beautiful. They begin to hate food. 


The inner scars from childhood obesity can run deep. Dr. Carl Jung, the founder of Analytical Psychology describes this as a complex, an unconscious, organized set of memories, associations, fantasies, expectations, and behavioral patterns or tendencies around a core theme, which is accompanied by strong emotion. 

Childhood obesity develops a complex within a child’s unconscious that possesses and controls them throughout their life, which can lead to neuroses, depression, and self-loathing, if not treated . 

Getting Help with Obesity

Andie Mitchell got help from a therapist and a nutritionist. They didn’t heal her because individuation, the process of becoming your true self, is a lifelong process. She lost weight, changed her relationship with food, changed the way she looked at food and is now helping people through her website, “Can You Stay for Dinner.“

Part two will come later in the season and look at how Andie broke up with food and maintained that breakup for years.

To read more entries in the Healthy Aging series, click here.

Breaking Up (with Food) is Hard to Do – The Mark Neese Version | Healthy Aging Series: Season 9, Episode 1

[Verse 1]
Don’t take my food away from me!
Don’t you leave my stomach in misery?
If it goes then I’ll be blue!
‘Cuz breaking up (with food) is hard to do.

[Verse 2]
Remembering how it taste so good.
I even dream of full plates of food.
Think of all that we’ve been through.
And breaking up with food is hard to do!

They say that breaking up with food is hard to do,
Now, I know, I know that it’s true!
I lost some weight, but now it’s back!
Instead of breaking up, I think I’ll have another stack (of cookies)!

[Verse 3]
I beg of you, don’t say goodbye!
Why can’t I have another piece of pie?
Come on, donuts, let’s start a new!
‘Cuz breaking up (with food) is hard to do!


They say that breaking up with food is hard to do
Now, I know, I know that it’s true!
Why can’t I keep off all those pounds!
Instead of breaking up, I think I’ll have another Mounds (Bar)

[Verse 4]
I beg of you, don’t say goodbye!
Can’t I have another order of fries?
Come on, sugar, let’s start anew!
‘Cuz breaking up with food is hard to do

The original “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” is a song recorded by Neil Sedaka, co-written by Sedaka and Howard Greenfield. Sedaka recorded this song twice, in 1962 and 1975, in two significantly different arrangements, and it is considered to be his signature song. -Wikipedia

Why is it so hard to lose weight AND keep it off? 

You know the drill. Over the course of 3 or 4 years, you put on an extra 20 lbs. You get tired of seeing yourself in the mirror. You muster up the motivation to start a weight reduction diet, something healthy like the Whole 30 Diet. There are several healthy diets, but the Whole 30 has worked for me.

You set a goal to lose 20 lbs. and give yourself 8 to 12 weeks to lose those pounds.

You struggle. You experience diet fatigue. You add an exercise regimen to the weight loss plan. And slowly, you lose the weight. As each week goes by, you’re amazed that your clothes are fitting better and you’re able to wear clothes that you never thought you’d wear again. You feel great. You’ve been able to show discipline over your appetites and control over food.

Now comes the depressing part. 

A year later you gained all the weight back. All of it. In fact, you settle in at the same weight that you were when you started the diet.

And this isn’t the first time you’ve done this. You’ve lost weight before. Six months or a year later you’re back at the same weight. It feels like a yo-yo.

There are some that refer to this weight that you always come back to as your Set Weight Point (SWP).

There was a recent Ted Talk that attempted to explain the SWP. The speaker explained that the SWP is mostly genetic and is “hard-wired” into our bodies. 

“The set point theory says that the body will settle at a specific weight where it likes to be,” says MD Anderson Senior Exercise Physiologist Carol Harrison. “And it will defend itself so that it stays at this specific weight.”

“The set point is established over a long period of time,” says Harrison. “It’s a very complex thing, but it appears that it is your body’s attempt to regulate itself, and that attempt results in a certain weight.”

I want to propose a different way of looking at SWP. Your SWP reflects the kind relationship that you have with food.

Your SWP reflects the patterns and routines that you develop with food over the course of your life. These patterns include what you eat, how much you eat, where you eat, how often you eat, who you eat with.

Food comforts us. It brings us pleasure. Much of our social life revolves around food. We think about it even when we’re not hungry. We eat when we are angry, or sad, or happy. We have an emotional attachment to food.

At times, we have a toxic or dysfunctional relationship with food! And it’s a difficult relationship to change. 

If you want to change the how, what, when, where, and why about food, then you must change your relationship with food.

Maybe we need to have a “break up” with food and by break up I mean changing how we live our lives with food.

Think about being in a toxic friendship. You can’t simply keep seeing the person, talking to them, and spending time with them and then expect that it’s going improve without addressing the things about that friendship that make it toxic.

Maybe your relationship with food isn’t toxic but, at a minimum, it’s dysfunctional.

This season was originally intended to be one episode in Season 9 but as I read and wrote, the episodes grew and there will be at least 12 episodes. 

I’ve included several episodes from “obesity memoirs,” from people who struggled with obesity, had a breakup with food and maintained that breakup.

There are two books that I devoured (sorry for the pun) during my reading this season. One helps you change the way you think about food and yourself, “The Beck Diet.” And the other is “Dopamine Nation,” which will help you understand that you can be addicted to food.

In Episode 3, I explain what it means to have a dysfunctional relationship with food.

In Episode 5, I explain why is so difficult to break up with food.

Starting with Episode 7, I give several cognitive-behavioral strategies that will help you in the breakup process.

In Episode 2, my next episode I share an “obesity memoir” entitled, “It was Me all Along,” by Andie Mitchell. A wonderful story about a woman’s breakup with food.

To read more entries in the Healthy Aging series, click here.