Before the summer is completely forgotten, I want to report in on what this guy did… and didn’t do. Mostly I went to camp, fat camp. Many of you have seen pictures of me in my book, but now (God how I hate to be the one to tell you) I don’t look an awful like that 185 pound guy of 20 years ago. The worst of it can be seen on the video blog put out on the Cagney & Lacey 25th reunion fete at the Museum of the Moving Image out in Beverly Hills. Imagine Orson Welles still alive and a whole less talented and you’ve got a pretty good picture of where I found myself late this spring. Enough. I packed up my car and headed straight north to Durham, North Carolina and Structure House.
Durham, of course, is home to Duke University… a great institution known for many things including round ball, gothic buildings, great academics, a fine medical school and a long history of treating obesity. I didn’t go there; went to Structure House instead which is walking distance (if you are into exercise) from the great campus of Duke. Why? Because, it was explained, Duke was largely focused on obesity as a medical problem and Structure House attacked the issue as a psychological one, including an emphasis on behavioral modification. Hey…get “shrunk” while trying to shrink, what a concept. It seemed like a plan, and it turned out to be a good one, but not right away.
The Structure House folk kept after me to talk to me about my “relationship” with food. Now, I have more than enough ex-wives who can testify to the idea that relationships are not my strong suit, and besides… I don’t have a “problem with food,” I just like to eat… a lot. They were treating me like I was an alcoholic or a druggy and the Structure House structure was a whole lot like what I imagine a rehab center to be like… except there were no locks on the doors and no matrons in the halls.
I always define myself as “a good camper.” I always forget that “a good camper” is what I am at the end… NOT at the beginning. I need time (sometimes days) to get my sense of place, to stake out my territory and to “get with the program.” More than one shrinker at Structure House predicted I would not make it through the first week of the four I had booked. I scoffed at the notion of attending a class on binge eating or a meeting of Over Eaters Anonymous. I was as full on “in denial” as that guy in the Minneapolis men’s room. I railed about the lack of frills at the facility, the mediocre food, the questionable science, but I noticed that on 1500-1600 calories a day, I wasn’t really hungry, and whenever I did feel like eating other than meal time, the Structure House requirement that I write down what I was doing at that time and why I might be feeling that way, sort of spoiled the moment and killed the urge to eat. I started going to classes and stopped napping while there. I also started to lose weight…. Over twenty pounds in four weeks.
I went to my first OE meeting and felt comfortable with the people there of all sizes and shapes. It pleased me to think that if I ever got into trouble with weight while at home or on the road, somewhere in whatever town I would be in would be having a meeting I could attend so that I might get my head screwed on a little straighter. I made some great pals there and, interestingly enough it was well into week three before anyone asked me what I did for a living or what kind of a career I ever had. When the word got out about “Cagney & Lacey” there was a little “buzz” on campus, but not much. I hadn’t been secretive about my career or whatever celebrity I enjoyed in the past… but it just wasn’t something we talked about much. Truth to tell, had not something come up about my having to watch TV one night because “my wife’s show (‘Burn Notice’) was premiering” I don’t think the subject of show business would ever have been broached.
I went to see the Durham Bulls play baseball and found myself at my first athletic event in over 60 years where I didn’t have a hot dog or peanuts. I wasn’t hungry and some sugarless gum got me past all the fast food outlets with hardly a whimper. At Structure House I liked the psycho dramas, the group therapy, the nutrition lectures, flirting with the nursing staff and all the studies and talks about mindless eating. It all became so do-able. Maybe an hour of exercise per day (some did a lot more, but not me), the above mentioned classes and those basic calories… all stuff I could do at home, or maybe even on the road. It was a great experience for me. It is a terrific program to which I commend all my pals and readers who are doing battle with excessive weight. No one, by the way, is there to lose five or 10 pounds. This is a heavy crowd and at a starting weight of 263, I was one of the smaller folks there. But I got a great education in the four to five hours of classes and group sessions I attended daily, got shamed into taking those walks and swims and NIA classes (non-impact aerobics) and truly came to appreciate the no frills approach as well as the recognizable and portion controlled tasty foods that were served.
I had a lot of separation anxiety about leaving and had I not already put a down payment on two weeks at the Hilton Head Health Institute in South Carolina as a way of decompressing on my way home, I would have stayed throughout the summer. All things end… one way or the other. Onward to Hilton Head… an easy five hour drive from Durham so I checked out on Sunday morning and checked in Sunday afternoon to my new digs near the shore.
Compared to Structure House, Hilton Head Health Institute is a luxury resort. It is a very pretty part of the USA and the facility is pretty close to state of the art without being over the top. It is also a lot more expensive, but still half the price of Golden Door, Cal-a-Vie or maybe even a comparable program at Canyon Ranch. I didn’t like it as much as Structure House, but a lot of that was just me and my feelings for the intensity of the experience I had at the place in Durham.
One thing I really didn’t like was the food. Not that it wasn’t delicious, but what it was, was largely unrecognizable and… therefore… something I didn’t feel I could replicate at home or at any restaurant I might frequent. They do teach you how to cook some of the stuff, but I was not ready for that conversion. I was into the “learning” and the experience of my new found understanding of my thing with food and, although what lectures they gave were good, there wasn’t enough for my tastes. A side light was that I wasn’t “on campus” for an hour before everyone knew there was a Hollywood Producer in their midst. It is, I think, a factor of money. Once you start going to slightly more expensive places, people put an extraordinary value on just what it is you do (did) and how you can afford to be there. It was not a problem, just something I found interesting. Overall it was a good, if not great, two weeks. I lost some more weight and reached my goal of a 10% body weight loss by summer’s end.
Would I go back to Hilton Head Health? Sure. It was a healthy vacation, a nice break, a sort of good thing to do while taking care of yourself and not coming home with an extra 10 pounds. But if I am ever in trouble again, I will get myself back to Durham and Structure House.
Summer is now all but over and there is another 20% of my weight to come off if I want to look like those pictures in the book. I may not make it, but it is worth the try… a pound a week for one year. The goal is reasonable and in addition to mollifying my vanity, I will find it a whole lot healthier life-style. It couldn’t hurt.
On to USC football and my first season with very few (if any) hot dogs.