"I hate butter!"

My declaration was met with stunned silence around the Starnes family supper table. I was just a little boy and my taste buds had not yet adjusted to the taste of cold yellow slabs of butter pasted onto white bread.

My mother was flustered. "What do you mean you don't like butter. Of course, you like butter. We're from the South. You're supposed to love butter."

A southern boy not liking butter is akin to a kid in the Bronx not liking the Yankees. As my Uncle Jerry from Coldwater, Mississippi is prone to say, "There's something wrong with that boy."

After recovering from the initial shock of the moment, my mother did what any mom would do. "We should pray." And that's what we did. "Dear Jesus," she petitioned the Almighty, "Thank you for butter. Thank you for giving us the cows that give us butter and thank you for buttermilk biscuits on which we can place a dollop of butter. Because, Lord, we know that somewhere in the world tonight, little children are going to bed without any butter at all. Amen."

Well, good grief. I was ten years old. I didn't want to disappoint my mom and I sure didn't want to disappoint Jesus. So, I started eating butter --- and never stopped.

Americans love food. My favorite cook is Paula Deen. She runs The Lady & Sons restaurant down in Savannah, Georgia. Did you know that Miss Paula has been known to drink butter? Once, a fan made a bust of The Food Network star --- from real butter. I think I clogged an artery just writing that sentence.

I grew up going to a Southern Baptist church where the preacher always reminded us about the dangers of hitting the bottle. But he never preached on the rest of that Bible verse --- the one that warned about the sin of gluttony. And from the size of our deacons, I've got a good idea why he didn't. It was pretty clear to me that those boys never met a chicken they didn't eat.

Folks, obesity is nothing to laugh about. It's killing our nation, it's killing our kids, and it almost killed me. Granted, there are some people out there who have a genuine medical problem that accounts for their girth. But let's be honest, most of us just have a bad case of food-in-mouth disease.

After open heart surgery, my doctor told me I had a decision to make. I could live the rest of my life as a couch potato (and live a very short life) or I could change my lifestyle and live a long and productive life. I chose the latter. I decided it was time to put down the Big Mac. It was time to say goodbye to Krispy Kreme and bid a fond farewell to that plate of scattered, smothered and covered at the Waffle House.

I also made another decision. I decided to lose weight the old fashioned way --- without spending a dime. I figured --- why pay someone else when I will have to do all the work?

So I'd like to share some ideas that worked for me and hopefully will work for you. Today --- five steps to preparing for your weight loss journey.

1. Take personal responsibility for yourself. Don't blame the government because you are fat. It's not Ronald McDonald's fault either. Admit to yourself that you are overweight and you want to do something about it.

2. Build an accountability team. It might be your spouse or close friends or a minister. Losing weight should be a team sport. I had a great team --- led by my good friend Michael --- who kept me from over-indulging a time or two. You need to empower them with the ability to keep you focused on the big picture. It's the eye of the tiger, baby!

3. Set reasonable goals. I didn't start off thinking, "Sweet mercy, I've got to lose 100 pounds!" Instead, I set small, attainable goals --- usually in five pound increments. And for the first two weeks, stay away from the scales (trust me --- there was a time when I thought my bathroom scale was possessed!).

4. Start exercising immediately. This is so important. For the first six months after surgery, the only type of exercise I could do was walking. Well, walking is the best way to lose weight. Grab an iPod, put on some running shoes, and hit the sidewalk. I'd suggest working yourself up to a mile a day. It's a great way to get your blood pumping and to start burning calories. I joined the New York City Road Runners. It's a great organization that has a passion for helping people stay healthy. I'd encourage you to check your local gym for a similar club in your town.

5. Seek divine intervention. I believe in the power of prayer. When I first started my weight loss journey, I asked God to give me the strength and the will power to finish the task. As much as this has been a physical journey for me, it's also been a spiritual one. The Bible says we are supposed to run a good race. It's hard to do that when we're hauling around excess baggage. It's been my experience that when I am weak, He is strong.