A fictional crime boss made me what I am today.

I’m talking about Tony Soprano … if you’ve seen his show on HBO, you might’ve cringed at the sight of him waddling around with his Escalade spare tire straining the fabric of his wife-beater undershirt.

It got to the point where I could look at myself sideways in the mirror and realize: holy shit, my gut looks just like his. See, if you’re the boss of a crime family, you don’t fret over fat because if anybody gives you any crap about it, you can whack ’em. Or maim if you’re feeling oddly merciful because you hate mayhem on Mondays.

I was fine with Tony being alternately charming and homicidal. You take your quality TV where you can get it — even if it celebrates remorseless killers who earn a living shaking down smalltime entrepreneurs and skimming union pension funds. The show has a lot going for it (irony, pathos, soap-opera melodrama). I just couldn’t abide having Tony’s gut.

So, thanks Tony. I’m down about 30 pounds since I started keeping count back in January. Here’s how I did it:

Sweat, yes; sweets, no: I didn’t get my diet out of a best-seller. I just stopped eating Melissa’s chocolate chip cookies every day (these are the best cookies in the known galaxy, so giving them up is no small sacrifice) and started exercising long and hard. I had Melissa put little mini carrots or celery slices in my lunch and I munched on them between lunch and dinner.

Don’t run, walk: Running just tears up your knees; walking is great exercise, but only if you do it as fast as you can, for as long as you can. Or uphill. Or, better yet, both. My usual morning walk is three miles downhill, then three miles back up. Takes me about an hour and 45 minutes. I do this three or four times a week, then do a major hike on the weekends.

Avoid ruts: You have to keep throwing something new at your body — otherwise it’ll adapt to your new exercise/diet regimen, recalibrate your calorie-burning and leave you wondering why what worked last week isn’t working this week. I walked at a normal pace for the first couple months, then added steep hills, then added extra speed, then added speed on the steep hills. Lately I’ve been walking Nordic-style with poles (like cross-country skiing, minus the skis) … it’s hard work — burns 40 percent more calories than walking alone — and I’m not losing much, but I’ve been able to sneak a bit more beer and ice cream back into my diet without weight gains.

Fix it in stone: Most people figure their work’s done when the weight’s off. Thing is, it’s only beginning. I’ve already lost many of my motivations: the Tony gut is mostly gone; I’ve hiked as much as 16 miles up hills I’d never have imagined climbing a year ago. But I’ve one thing going for me: I’ve accepted that the only way to stay in shape is to constantly look for new hills to climb. The cool thing is that the view’s always better up there.