I’ve never been one for fad diets. I consumed the literature, the news reports, and the testimonies of friends who had tried and failed at them – they all said that a quick fix is never a lasting fix. Still, no matter how much we think we know about what is the “right” way to do things, we all play the game of weight loss, don’t we? We all gamble on the Next Big Thing, and we all roll the dice hoping for the big payoff. Some games are based on strategy, and some are based on pure chance, but most are a combination of the two, and we are left just figuring out how to play – and always hoping that we’ll get lucky.
I don’t remember being anything but a chubby kid. Well, I take that back; when I was a kid I remember being nothing but a kid – completely oblivious to being heavier than was healthy, blissfully unaware of how my peers or adults perceived the baby fat that never went away.
LOSE A TURN
Being this chubby kid eventually led to “special appointments.” I was encouraged to tag along when my parents went to Weight Watchers back in the days when points didn’t exist and the only plan was to check off how many grains and proteins you had eaten that day. I remember exactly where that Weight Watchers Center was – in the same shopping plaza as the Old Country Buffet that my parents took us to (on the occasions when they weren’t doing Weight Watchers, of course). On other occasions, when I could have been finishing my latest Boxcar Children or Sweet Valley Twins book at home, I was trying to find a Highlights magazine whose Hidden Pictures were miraculously uncircled as I waited in doctors’ offices with my mom, waiting to see the special doctor who would draw blood, check my thyroid, and tell me how to eat better and run around more. I remember his words less than I remember the uncomfortable crinkly paper under my too-large child thighs.
In collusion with these special doctors and their own parental worries, my mom and dad promised me a video game system if I lost weight. For some reason, I chose the Sega Genesis as my goal instead of the Super Nintendo (and as much as I achieved by spinning the crazy Sonic the Hedgehog around various tubes and underwater compounds, I still regret not becoming a bad-ass at Donkey Kong). I recall thinking about this go as I was doing sit-ups with my dad holding my legs. I do not recall losing weight, though for some reason we still got the Sega.
At the end of 9th grade, I broke down and fell emotionally far enough that my dad reached down to help me (see Coming Out of the Closet). Together, we joined Weight Watchers since I was now old enough (with doctor’s permissions) to join on my own. And it clicked. I lost weight; I got excited about shopping; I slimmed down; I succeeded. The dice lined up perfectly.
PASS GO. COLLECT $200.
But then I got greedy. I started skipping meals, eating half of a serving but counting all the Points for one serving. But I was winning! I was building a “city” of cute clothes with small numbers on the tags, boys’ compliments, and confidence. I was investing in that real estate of looking “normal” and skinny as my identity.
YOU SANK MY BATTLESHIP!
Eventually, when there are too many ships on the board and too many emotions overwhelming you, you’ll sink. Even as I worked out more, ate less, and tried to keep up the illusion that I was still shrinking in a healthy manner (instead of cheating at Weight Watchers and consistently eating under the healthy target), I ended up fretting more and sinking into depression. Then, pretty much in the span of a summer, I gained it all back.
My failure to keep the weight off became, to me, a failure at life. I had ups and downs throughout college, but I was consistently overweight. I reinstated exercise into my life halfway through college, but it wasn’t enough. I had periods where I ate well, and I even tried to join Weight Watchers on my own once, but it didn’t stick.
In grad school, I reached an alarming size, mostly due to the constant stress-eating caused by my classes and my thesis, as well as the onset of binge eating as a more frequent issue. I had tried Weight Watchers once again (and also Weight Watchers Online), but I knew the program, I knew how to get around it, and I knew that I would still feel alone; I needed something different, something novel enough to challenge me and make me commit. So I talked to my parents, who allowed me the use of the “emergency” credit card in order to finance my next strategy: Jenny Craig. That’s where I met Naomi. I knew I needed accountability, someone to meet with every week who would see my weight and whether I went up or down. (Little did I know that I would also gain such a dear friend.) Jenny Craig took out all the guesswork. I didn’t have to decide what to cook for dinner or measure portions or anything in the beginning. And the taste was surprisingly decent.
Since I was writing my thesis, teaching, and taking classes with their own seminar papers, I didn’t have much of a social life when I first started, so being restricted to eating their meals worked, and I lost about 60 pounds. But then I finished grad school, and my social life came back, along with its bars and restaurants and parties.
I went up and down for a little while, but I still had more free time and committed myself to working out. Jillian Michaels’s DVDs made me want to punch her in the face, but they worked enough with my schedule, and I grew to like them. Eventually, I wanted more variety, so I joined a pretentious gym-with-a-juice-bar-and-bright-neon-colors-that-spelled-the-machines-that-worked-your-stomach-like-this: ABZ. But I fell in love with their group fitness classes, especially the choreographed step and Turbo Kick. I became a little too obsessed with exercise, including 4-hour, 4-class, 2000-calorie-burn routine on Saturday mornings with nary a bite of food in me to sustain it. That was just evidence of the same control impulse that had led me to my anorexic high school state, only manifested differently.
HUNGRY HUNGRY HIPPOS
Then I moved to New York. For the first four months or so, I was on it. I wasn’t signed up for any weight loss programs, but I was enthralled by the city and the excitement of my new life. In short, I was happy, and I was motivated to keep working out and eating well. I managed to run longer than I ever had before, and I was dedicated to serious classes at the gym. Then…things changed. The cause still mystifies me, but my binge eating increased dramatically. Disordered eating took over my life. For awhile, I maintained the gym schedule, but that eventually tapered off. I began to sink into depression and incredible fear about what this bingeing lifestyle would mean – not only for my waistline but for my mental health.
APPLES TO APPLES
In the midst of this, I signed up for MyFitnessPal, and I created a user name and a profile that I broadcast on the blog, asking people to follow me. Its tracking method was familiar, reminding me of Weight Watchers and Weight Watchers Online tracking. It’s a social network that at first encouraged me by its participants. But I still didn’t know them, and no matter how free the service was or how great the database of food, I still couldn’t make it stick.
Recently, I spoke to a friend: a new friend but an amazing friend. I took the chance and told her everything – the eating disorders, the lack of self-confidence, the failure of counseling. She shared, too, and she empathized more than I would have realized. She also did this thing I completely didn’t expect; she asked if I wanted to join Weight Watchers with her.
RETURN TO START
This past Monday, I joined Weight Watchers. It’s only been two days, but with a compassionate friend by my side who is committing to me as much as to her own weight loss and health, I’m optimistic. So instead of reading “Return to Start” as a negative lose-a-turn or go-back-two-spaces kind of game play, I choose to read it as “Return to the place that you know worked at one point, where there is community, accountability, and encouragement to move towards a healthy life change, and Start anew.”
(Let’s just hope it isn’t BALDERDASH.)