OPED: How this man lost 50 pounds: No sweets, no tweets

Kristen Mcqueary
Chicago Tribune
Cutting carbs instead of calories keeps weight off, study says. (Dreamstime)

CHICAGO – Aug. 3 fell on a Friday. President Donald Trump was tweeting about 3D printer guns. Political numskulls were screeching on television. Twitter was erupting by the millisecond.

Like most days, hateful exchanges floated through Facebook feeds. Harmless political banter drew swift rebuke. Echo chambers displaced fair journalism.

Perhaps the crescendo of squawk and stridency ruptured something inside him. Michael Ungeran, a 45-year-old engineer and political junkie from Downers Grove, Ill., stepped on the scale. At 6 feet, 4 inches tall, his weight had crept to 275 pounds, up 35 pounds from two years earlier. Oversized shirts mostly hid it. There’s room for weight gain in a broad-shouldered body. But he was tired. He spent too many Saturday afternoons on the couch. He spent too much time scrolling through his phone. He had allowed the toxic environment of politics to conquer his attention.

So he resolved to spin free. To quiet the vibe. To cleanse. From all of it.

Newsweek magazine in July reported an uptick in therapists citing politics as a subject clients were raising. The unofficial term, Trump Anxiety Disorder, is marked by “lack of sleep, a feeling of losing control and helplessness in an unpredictable sociopolitical climate, along with endless negative headlines and excessive time spent on social media.” It goes both ways. Trump’s detractors hyperventilate that he is fueling division and instability. Trump’s supporters feel isolated and attacked for supporting him and his policies.

The result has been the Trump Bump. No, not a soaring stock market. A soaring waistline.

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Back to Ungeran. A conservative-leaning voter who listens to talk radio on the way to work, he grew increasingly exasperated at the media’s obsessive overreactions to Trump. The outrage from both sides of the political spectrum made him antsy. Ungeran’s diet had not changed dramatically. But he was swinging through Starbucks for sugary coffee drinks in the morning, sipping energy drinks in the afternoon and eating what he wanted.

The morning of Aug. 3, Ungeran looked down at the scale. He thought of his two boys, ages 7 and 8. Rather than procrastinate, he executed. He turned off social media notifications. He stopped watching cable news. He disengaged from his Twitter family — yes, it’s a thing — and he began to fast.

He drank a protein shake in the morning and spooned through one 80-calorie yogurt at night. On weekends, his wife prepared for him a small dinner, maybe half of a chicken breast or a salad. But he kept his daily calorie intake to less than 500 a day. He replaced all beverages with water. The scale rewarded him. He lost at least a pound a day.

Ungeran insists it wasn’t that difficult. He had more energy. He slept more soundly. And he wasn’t tempted to cheat. He didn’t binge.

But I was skeptical. Who among us hasn’t hijacked a jar of Nutella at 9:30 p.m.? Who hasn’t swirled the potato chip bag an hour later to pluck out the brown-edged ones? Who hasn’t pulled discarded french fries from the garbage or stood over the sink with a leftover burrito, promising to do better tomorrow? What.

As the pounds disappeared, and while consciously curbing cable news and social media, Ungeran spent less time on his phone and more time engaged with his family. He stayed centered on “the power a strong will can have over excuses. They held me focused on the amazing things I can roll up my sleeves and accomplish.” He charted his weight loss and texted friends for moral support. Six weeks later, he was down 45 pounds and lighter in every way. He then lost another five pounds.

He’s back on Twitter under his very Brady Bunch handle, AnnBDavis’BowlinBall, or @ABDsBB . You can find pictures of his weight loss journey there. He still listens to conservative radio and catches the news. But less so and with a softer ear. He is consuming more calories post-diet. But he is clear-eyed about what goes into his new body.

Ungeran realizes his crash diet would not work for everyone. We all have different DNA and levels of discipline. But his journey raises an interesting point. As we head toward New Year’s resolutions – a promise often as fleeting as a politician’s – reset buttons should not only be about calories in and out. They should be about settling your insides, depriving your mind of the ticker tape to which we’ve all become accustomed. It’s difficult to put down the bag of chips and the phone. But it’s also possible one cannot happen without the other.

— Kristen McQueary is a member of the Tribune Editorial Board.