GRAND BAHAMA ISLAND — When I began writing each week about my search for hunkdom and health, I invited readers to write to me in return. And write you have--far too many letters for me to answer individually. But each one has been important to me. I'd like to share some of them, starting with some of the somber ones.
My first letter was from a 35-year-old woman who thanked me for writing about my experience and then said she wished I had undertaken my remake sooner. Her husband, at 33, died of a heart attack the week my series started. Her husband, she said, had been a little overweight, smoked and did not exercise. I put that letter up on my wall with a red tack.
The tack now holds 10 "if-only" letters from wives, brothers and sisters of other men who have died during my remake. All of these men, I am sure, thought their time should not have been up.
Deaths From Heart Disease
I did not receive letters from the friends and loved ones of the 16,000 other people each week who died, many of them unnecessarily, of heart disease.
Now, you may think those are the really bad letters, but they aren't. The ones that make sweat beads pop from my fingers are from the wives of stroke victims. I am an impatient, restless man as it is. I do not want to think about what it would be like to have my restlessness bottled up in a body that could not move.
I have to tell you about both of these types of letters because every single letter was about men who thought they had more time to change things, more time to be good to their bodies and minds.
I have spent my whole life thinking that way and, thank God, I actually had enough time to change some things. You must remember that I started out the year by finding out about my own heart disease. I hope you also remember the only symptom of heart disease in 40% of its victims is instant death.
The second type of letter that bothered me quite a bit was the "Can this quack cure help me?" letter. I received hundreds of these. Invariably, they would say "I read about this cure for cancer (or baldness, or fat, or high blood pressure, etc.) and, since I read about it, doesn't that mean it's good?"
The pockets of con artists and well-meaning, but equally wrong, gurus are filled with the money of these people because very few of us know the mathematics of health and fitness. You wouldn't buy a math book, for instance, that teaches two plus two is five. But millions of us spend money on health and fitness products, which, in effect, say just that.
Publications can't really make those "quack or useful" judgments for us, either. We have to do that for ourselves. A good way to start would be by reading the "The Health Robbers," which is available in most libraries. In 375 pages, 31 legitimate doctors, scientists and researchers expose the scams and the quacks.
The third, and final, type of serious letter I received was from people I related to a great deal: those who were too unsure about their bodies, skills and chances for improving their looks and health to undertake radical changes in their lives. Even after making major progress physically and emotionally, I still have insecurities like that. To this group of people I say: If I can deal with it, anyone can.
Now, I don't want you to think that most of my mail was depressing, for it was not. One of my office walls is covered with pictures of women who have proposed things to me--lots of them unmentionable in a family newspaper and, therefore, cherished. I can't tell you how much fun it is to get letters like these.
Others Start Fitness Programs
I get even happier when I receive letters from people who have started their own remake programs. One of my problems in life has been finding a way to feel useful to others, and I like the fact that my struggles may be providing fuel for other people's fires.
The envelopes I look at last, however, are the ones that are simply fun. Thirty-five students in a fourth-grade class in Charleston, S.C., drew up their own recommendations for redoing my body. One girl started out by saying my old body "looked a lot like my daddy's" and then told me to give up candied apples. One boy, with more wisdom than he knew (I hope), told me to "chase a lot of girls around the playground" to get my energy level up.
By far the largest number of letters I've received have been from people saying, "I did it--you can do it, too." This friendly, enthusiastic encouragement helped keep me on the straight and narrow all these months. Thank you, keep those cards and letters coming.
Body Worry chronicles the progress of a bald, overweight man who tries to transform himself into a "hunk." Send any questions to Sutton in care of The Times.
Beginning 34th Week Waist: 43 inches 34 3/4 inches Right biceps: 12 3/4 inches 13 inches Flexed: 13 inches 13 3/4 inches Weight: 201 pounds 168 pounds Height: 6' 1" Blood Pressure: 128/68 120/68 Pulse: 64 58 Bench press: 55 160 Hunk factor: .00 .63