From Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul

Gone to the Dogs

My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four. Unless there are three other people.


I’ve struggled with weight problems all my life.

During college, I tried every fad diet out there, from grapefruit juice with every meal to two weeks of nothing but boiled rice and fruit. Fromthe time I was nineteen until I turned forty, my weight yo-yoed by as much as sixty pounds. I’d keep it off for a year or two, and then gradually the needle on the bathroom scale would creep back up.

Then a personal miracle entered my life, in the form of two Labrador retrievers.

My wife and I had been married for about a year when we got our second dog. Harley, our chocolate Lab, had just turned eight months when her sister, Buffy, a yellow Lab, was born. On that day, our lives changed forever.

All dogs require regular exercise to stay fit, but anyone who has ever owned a Labrador knows that it’s a breed with boundless energy. Most experts agree a Lab needs at least two miles of brisk walking each day, and a typical Lab can do that and then be ready for a few hours of swimming or running afterward.

Harley and Buffy are no exception to the rule. We soon discovered that if we didn’t give them a good workout each day, all their pent-up energy would lead them into all sorts of trouble around the house. As soon as Buffy was old enough, we instituted a regular exercise program for them, designed to tire them out so they’d sleep all night.

Weekdays begin at 6:00 AM with a brisk, half-mile to mile walk, depending on the weather. Only the heaviest snows or rains keep us from our morning constitutional. Then, after work, we do a minimum of two miles, often accompanied by games of chase-the-ball or stick. In the warm weather, we will often increase it to three miles.

But it doesn’t end there. On the weekends the afternoon walk begins earlier, and usually involves a nice three- or four-mile hike in one of the local state parks.

Harley and Buffy are now eight and seven, respectively, and their exercise program, combined with nutritious food and no table scraps, has them in better shape than “any other Lab I’ve seen,” according to our veterinarian.

The dogs love their daily exercise; the same can’t be said for their masters. It’s never easy to drag yourself from a warm bed on a cold or rainy winter day, bundle up, drive to the park and then trudge through the muck and puddles while a frenetic eighty-pound Energizer Bunny romps alongside you.

Even in the summer, there are often other things we’d rather be doing: relaxing after a hard day’s work, taking care of the house, visiting friends. But when you make a commitment to a pet, it has to be honored. So we still take those walks, every day.

Of course, there’s another reason we strap on those leashes.

Since dedicating ourselves to keeping our dogs fit, my wife and I have each lost more than forty pounds and kept it off. As soon as we realized the daily exercise was working as good for us as for our canine companions, we found the motivation we’d been lacking to stick to our own healthy diets.

Gone are the days when we’d give in to temptation and eat fast food, or buy popcorn and candy at the movies. In the past four years, I’ve had approximately twelve cans of soda. Before that, I drank it with lunch and dinner every day.

When we want Chinese food, we chop vegetables and tofu and make our own stir-fry. We measure portions of pasta and rice. The only snacks after dinner are fruit and sugar-free Jell-O. We’ve eliminated cheese on hamburgers and substituted veggie burgers for the beef patties.

On the occasions when we go out for dinner with friends or family, we make sure to fill up at the salad bar, skip the appetizers and order grilled chicken or some other healthy choice.

When one of us is lured into temptation, the other is always there to provide that most effective of all dissuasions: “Honey, if we eat that we’ll have to walk an extra mile every day this week.” Those words have the power to make either of us drop the candy or frozen pizza as if it were poison.

Of course, walking by itself isn’t enough of an exercise program for a middle-aged person fighting the never-ending battle of the bulge. We’ve set up a small exercise room in our basement, with stationary bike, treadmill, elliptical machine and even a Bowflex for the arms and chest. On days when the rain, snow or temperature are too horrid for even diehard dog-walkers to venture outside, the home gym is a warm, dry alternative.

I’ve also gotten my wife to play golf with me, and we’re both bad enough at the game that we get plenty of exercise walking from cart to ball and back again.

But in the end, it all comes down to the dogs. They’re our impetus for rising early each morning and heading back out again in the afternoons when all we want to do is sit on the deck with a glass of wine.

The funny thing is that all the excuses we had for never doing something like this before have turned out to be just that—excuses. No time? We still get everything done that we always did. It’s too cold? Five minutes after coming home, it’s like we never went out. Skipping a day won’t hurt? Not only do Harley and Buffy make us crazy by bouncing off the walls, but we’ve found that we don’t feel good if we skip a day.

Most importantly, all four of us are healthy, which means we’ll be together for many years to come.

Greg Faherty

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