Sharon watches his weight

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is renowned for his steel will, but there is one thing that just might be stronger than "the Bulldozer", his appetite. The very overweight 77-year-old was released from the hospital Tuesday, two days after suffering a mild stroke, and is under doctors' orders to go on a diet, but aides said he has not yet decided whether to fight his love of all things meaty. Sharon's illness raised questions about his health as he prepared to run for a third term in office as head of his new Kadima Party. Sharon brushed off those concerns as he left Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital.

"Now I have to rush back to work," he told reporters. Asked about the stroke's affects, Sharon said, "I don't think it will affect my functioning." Sharon, 77, was rushed to the hospital Sunday night after complaining of weakness and showing signs of confused speech. Though obesity is not a direct risk factor for strokes, related problems, such as high cholesterol, are, doctors say. Sharon suffered no damage from the stroke, but his doctors insisted he lose weight.

U.S. President George W. Bush added his own advice in a phone call Tuesday, telling Sharon to "be careful about food, start exercising and cut back on work hours," according to an Israeli government statement. "Be careful, my friend," Bush added, according to the statement.

Aides said Sharon would spend the next few days resting, but hinted that getting the prime minister, a once rugged war hero, to count his calories might be a hefty challenge. "He has been told he needs to go on a diet since 1965," his adviser Asaf Shariv said. Other aides said Sharon had not mentioned slimming down during his two days in the hospital, and the Yediot Ahronot daily reported that when his sons, Omri and Gilad, implied it might be time for him to watch his weight, Sharon simply laughed. Stories of Sharon's appetite are legendary. He often jokes about his love of food and his expansive girth, and his favorite meal is "meat in every way," Shariv said. One journalist reported watching Sharon polish off an entire tube of Pringles potato chips during an interview. Others joked that when his now-deceased wife Lily tried to put him on a diet, he had his security detail sneak him a giant pita filled with greasy shwarma, grilled lamb or turkey.

A day before his stroke, Sharon enjoyed a typical meal with a close circle of family and friends: hamburgers, steak in chimichurri sauce, lamb chops, shish kebab and an array of salads, the Maariv daily reported. For dessert, Sharon had chocolate cake, and then more cake.

Sharon avoided heavy or fried foods in the two days he was hospitalized after the stroke, Shariv said, and the premier opted for lighter fare after leaving the hospital, eating a lunch of Chinese noodles. Shariv wasn't sure if there was meat in the dish, but "I didn't see meat." Sharon's aides repeatedly refused to disclose his weight, and Israeli media grew increasingly aggressive in their demands for his medical records, reports the AP. N.U.

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