My birthday is in two weeks. I’ll be 45 years old. It’s not one of the milestone birthdays, but it’s a milestone marker of my life. I’ve now outlived a brother, both my parents and have almost no cousins left. I come from a family that in some ways is very long lived, and in others, not.

I have relatives who lived, hearty and hale, into their 70s and 80s. My mother lived to 77, but my father died at 65 of a massive coronary. The three packs a day of Merits and a lifetime of coffee and donuts I’m sure contributed mightily to that. My eldest brother has had a bypass, or as he puts it a “Roto-Rooter” job on his heart. Mom had a triple bypass. I’d like to avoid that.

As a young man I followed in the family footsteps of hard drinking, heavy smoking and lots of unhealthy food. I smoked two packs a day of Marlboros for 10 years, I quit about 16 years ago. I gave up alcohol almost 12 years ago, and so the last thing to be dealt with is the diet. This one has taken a long time to address. There’s a lot of emotional baggage attached to food for me. To this day, there is nothing that is as comforting as a plate of fettucine alfredo with chicken.

I love to cook and feed people, and whether it is barbecue or baked goods, paella or pies, I’m really good at making it taste delicious. I grew up in the kitchen, using butter and fats, lots of meat and cheese, to make truly sumptuous meals.

I’ve paid the price for that all my life as well. My weight has been a constant source of embarrassment and shame. I’ve never been one of those men who loved and played sports. I was always too intimidated by the other men. I guess it dates back to being a kid who was better with words and numbers than a football. The high school tormenting I went through for being gay kept me out of the weight room as well.

So all my life I’ve had to fight the battle with forcing myself to exercise and diet, a battle that I have mostly lost over the years.

But with the coming of 45 and the realization that what I eat actually does matter if I want to see 80, I’ve started to change my diet and started to exercise. It began about two months ago when I was walking along the Third Street Promenade one Friday night, and there was a PETA exhibit. It definitely affected me. I was disturbed by the video of the slaughterhouses, but what bothered me more was the living conditions prior to being slaughtered. It got me to thinking about how important the quality of one’s life is, much more so than the manner of one’s death.

Yes the slaughterhouse process is grim, but so are the autopsy and embalming processes, we just don’t have to see them regularly. What matters more is how we live. The life I was living was full of pizza, pasta, cheeseburgers and ice cream. I love that stuff, but it doesn’t love me. That food has kept me overweight, sluggish, and sedentary. It leads to heart disease, which in my family is as rampant as alcoholism.

So I’m making a change. I’m eating much healthier. I watched “Forks Over Knives,” and it was a real eye-opener, as was “Food, Inc.,” and “Food Matters.” It’s been about two months since I’ve cut out beef and pork, I’ve almost cut out chicken entirely, and reduced fish to a fraction of what I used to eat. While doing an inventory of my diet, I found that cheese was in almost everything. It was shocking to me when I actually realized how much cheese I was eating. So I’ve cut that out.

I thought it would be difficult, but the truth is there are some great options for vegetarian meals in Santa Monica, from the new Veggie Grill, which I love by the way, to Raw, The Golden Mean and RAWvolution on Main Street. Plus all the wonderful Indian restaurants have options galore.

One of the things that I’ve learned also is that restaurants will make changes for me. I ask for things to be made without cheese and it is surprisingly easy to do, and satisfying as well. I’m still waiting for the extra 30 pounds to drop off, but at least I’m cutting down on the cholesterol and fat.

At 45, maybe I’m growing up. Maybe.

David Pisarra is a family law attorney focusing on father’s rights and men’s Issues in the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He can be reached at or (310) 664-9969.

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