Book Excerpt: 'Living Large'

ByABC News via logo
March 12, 2006, 1:31 PM

March 15, 2006 — -- Mike Berman is an accomplished political strategist who has struggled with weight all his life. He has endured criticism, isolation and humiliation since he was a child. The book chronicles his journey to self-acceptance and a realization that true happiness and thinness are not mutually exclusive. The book is co-written by Laurence Shames, author of "Not Fade Away," the late Peter Barton's memoir.

My name is Mike Berman. I'm 66 years old, five feet nine inches tall, and I weigh 235 pounds. Today, that is. Over the course of my adult life, I've weighed as much as 332 and as little as 217. I've spent years commuting between 230 and 280; I've crossed the 300-pound threshold four or five times. I would reckon, conservatively, that when all my ups and downs are figured in, I have gained and lost well over a thousand pounds -- more than three times my total weight, even at my heaviest.

In short, I am a fat man. But I am also a happy man. Yes, those two things can go together -- though it took me a lot of years, a lot of pain, and a lot of psychotherapy to realize that.

Along the way I realized something else as well: that my best chance for peace of mind and also for controlling my weight lay in accepting my situation. I don't mean giving up on the hope of being thinner; I have always tried to lose more weight, and I always will. I mean being honest and realistic about what I'm up against. I've accepted the hard but liberating notion that I have a disease. My fatness is not a function of "willpower" or "discipline" or "laziness" or "weakness." It's the result of physical and psychological factors that are outside of my control. Like diabetes or flat feet, my fatness is a chronic malady that can't be cured but can be managed.

Let me make it clear that having a disease is no excuse to shirk responsibility. I have a problem, but I am not helpless. I don't see myself as a victim. I refuse to be passive or self-pitying when it comes to my well-being. Every life has its difficulties, and being fat is one of mine. That's just how it is. Still, I have a choice -- a choice made far tougher and more complicated by my disease, but a choice nonetheless -- as to whether or not I eat that piece of chocolate, whether or not I keep my appointment with the treadmill.

But responsibility is one thing; guilt is something else. Responsibility is positive, a duty we owe to ourselves, a matter of self-respect. Guilt is destructive. Guilt breeds desperation -- and desperation makes it even harder to make good decisions.In recent years -- after more than six decades of living as a fat person -- I have finally learned to stop feeling guilty and desperate about my weight. Again, this doesn't mean I am thrilled to be fat or that I've stopped working at becoming thinner. But I have largely moved beyond the torment. The pressure is off. I don't have to lose weight; I'm okay the way I am.

Needless to say, this acceptance has made me a much happier and less frustrated person. But it has had another, completely unexpected bonus as well. I have found that since I don't have to lose weight, I can lose weight -- and keep it off more successfully than ever before. These days I hardly ever binge, and if I do overindulge, it's likely to be with healthy foods. I seem finally to have tamed the wild fluctuations of weight that have plagued me all my life. I am in control of my fatness, rather than being controlled by it -- and I am proud of this. To me, at least, it feels like a victory.This book is the story of the gradual, often agonizing, and unsteady progress by which I have learned to manage my weight effectively and to live a full and satisfying life in spite of having the fat disease. I am not writing as an "expert"; I am not a doctor, a scientist, or a therapist, and I have no ambition to set up shop as a diet guru. I claim no credentials other than the life that I have lived.