There were 60 candles on the cake — but none of it in Al Sharpton's stomach.
Even at his own birthday party at the Four Seasons this month, surrounded by the governor, the mayor and Aretha Franklin, the Rev didn't take a bite of the sugary treat.
It's not simply that he hasn't had any sweets in years. He hasn't had dinner in years, either.
Call it "the Al Sharpton Diet," but this once-rotund reverend has dropped from 305 pounds to exactly 129.6 pounds. The precise weight was recorded this week on Sharpton's bedroom scale at 5 a.m., when the man of the (much less) cloth begins his day.
Sharpton has shed 60% of his much-mocked weight — and he did it without surgery, diet pills or a single Weight Watchers meeting.
"I could take all the cartoons in the tabloid newspapers, but I couldn't take my daughter punching me in the belly and asking why I was so fat," Sharpton recalled. "That was my inspiration to lose the weight. And probably the last time anyone hurt my feelings."
That incident with his daughter happened nearly 15 years ago, when she was 12. But it wasn't until more recently that Sharpton devised his strategy to drop the pounds — just stop eating.
That's only a minor simplification.
Around six years ago, Sharpton cut out red meat. A year later, he did away with chicken — no small feat for a guy who ate fried fowl three times a day (with grits and eggs for breakfast and on a sandwich in the afternoon, plus a half-chicken for dinner).
Eventually he cut out so much food that he was subsisting on a single lunchtime salad (albeit with one perk: a chopped egg). That's when the weight really started coming off, at a rate of about 2 pounds a week. And as he got thinner, he found he missed food less and less.
"I was absolutely content just doing the salad," he said. "As a kid who grew up chubby, I just marveled at the fact that I could be thin."
His doctor was not so content and told Sharpton to add green juice, a banana and three slices of plain whole wheat toast to the mix.
He's a shadow of his former self — and that former self certainly cast a wide shadow. When he emerged as a civil rights activist during New York's race-relations nadir of the mid-1980s, Sharpton marched for justice looking like a velour-covered beach ball.
In Howard Beach, Bensonhurst, Crown Heights and after the shooting of Amadou Diallo, there was Sharpton, an irresistible force in a massive track suit and a shiny medal, his oversized gut threatening to deflect attention from his cause.
He has been charged and acquitted of tax evasion, stabbed in the chest during a protest, sent to prison for protesting on a Navy base, and run for President — and always remained a larger-than-life figure. He's still larger than life, but his figure no longer is.
Before dawn, Sharpton wolfs down his breakfast, one slice after the next, like a man who hasn't eaten anything in 11 hours. Which, of course, he hasn't, since he no longer eats anything after 6 p.m.
The reverend doesn't drink coffee. Instead he prefers a mug of Twinings English Breakfast Tea, sweetened to the max with three packets of stevia. His green juice comes from Juice Press.
He eats standing up, watching the early-early-morning news on MSNBC.
"I always beat the sun up in the morning," he said. "It's the secret to why I'm double trouble."
He credits his mentor, the late James Brown, with teaching him the lesson of self-control, though he learned it late in life.
"Manhood, discipline, regiment, I learned all that from James Brown," said Sharpton. "I think a lot about how he would react if he saw my weight now. He would probably say I've learned how to master myself. He used to tell me, 'You can't master situations until you master yourself.' "
After breakfast, Sharpton heads to 30 Rock, where he works out at the NBC gym, a few floors away from where he hosts "PoliticsNation" and his radio talk show. He's not going to win any Ironman competitions with his 3 mph, 20-minute treadmill workout, but the reverend exercises religiously, here and on the road.
Sharpton says the treadmill helps him deal with stress, and he takes his walk before reading the daily newspapers, so he doesn't get too upset if anyone takes a shot at him in print or he opens the paper to find that his National Action Network's longtime lawyer has been accused of raping a key official in the organization.
"It's something that is very unfortunate that he got himself into, and I hope that justice does come out," Sharpton said of his one-time ally Sanford Rubenstein. "To approach someone who was so important to our organization in the first place is just something I wish hadn't happened."
After the gym Sharpton heads to the NAN offices in Times Square for a few hours of work, and lunch.
The salad is just lettuce, tomato, cucumber and onion, with a chopped hard-boiled egg on top and some simple balsamic vinaigrette. For dessert, he has a banana. Most people would not be satisfied if that was their main meal of the day, but Sharpton seems to be.
"I'm conditioned now so that I never get hungry," he explained.
And that's it for solid food. He'll drink a green juice when he gets home in the evening.
On the weekend he might have simple grilled fish. And if he really wants a treat, Sharpton will have fresh watermelon juice from Juice Press, the sweetest thing his strict diet allows him. But that's rare. Most days involve1,000 calories, 26 grams of protein, not much culinary fun.
Many who have seen the slimmed-down Sharpton wonder if he is ill — which is ironic, given how unhealthy he was at 305 pounds — but experts say he's fine.
"Certainly compared to weighing 300 pounds, this is preferable," said Dr. David Seres of the Institute of Human Nutrition at Columbia University Medical Center when asked about Sharpton's extreme dieting.
At 130 pounds, the 5-foot-10 Sharpton is well under the target weight for a man his size, and he's 2 pounds above being medically "underweight," which can lead to health problems.
But as long as his weight remains stable, he's safe. His diet won't make him sick, though it could leave him vulnerable if he catches a bug.
"He's at the bottom rung of a normal weight (but) the amount of calories one needs after losing a significant amount of weight is less than other people," Seres said. "His weight doesn't leave much room for dealing with stress if he develops any medical issues.
"His intake would make a nutrition expert nervous," Seres added, "but the proof is in the pudding."
Not that Sharpton would eat any of it, though.
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REV. SHARPTON'S DAILY DIET
Whole wheat toast, 3 slices = 300 calories (15 g of protein)
Doctor Earth green juice from Juice Press, 2 bottles = 360 calories (4 g of protein)
Salad with egg and balsamic vinaigrette = 240 calories (6g of protein)
Banana = 100 calories (1g of protein)
Total = 1,000 calories and 26g protein. For a man of his age and weight, 2,000 calories and 56g protein are typical.
WHEN OBESITY SAVED HIS LIFE
Sharpton's risk of heart disease and diabetes are certainly reduced thanks to his weight loss, but, strangely enough, being fat may have once saved the reverend's life. Back in 1991 he was stabbed in the chest before a march in Bensonhurst, where he was protesting the death of a black teenager at the hands of a white mob. The knife almost punctured a lung, and it might have killed him if not for all the body fat.
"The irony hasn't missed me, put it that way," said Sharpton. "But I'm never going to be fat — never again. I'm going to make it easy on my pallbearers."
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