For those of you who have struggled to lose weight, you know how different the war becomes when that switch in your brain turns on and you suddenly can stand in the face of temptation and Just.Say.No. I suppose it’s that way with any addiction, but as one who has never had any addiction aside from food – oh, we’re not counting Farmville and Cafe World on Facebook, now, are we? – I can’t really speak to whether it’s the same or not. What I do know is that, in all my years of dieting, the only times I’ve ever been successful are the times when that magic little switch goes “click!” and food loses its hold over me. I no longer feel deprived when standing before a plate of chocolate brownies, knowing I am not going to taste their chewy goodness. I don’t ache for just one salty, tangy, creamy bite of feta. I can pass on the fresh baked French bread slathered with butter that is set before me in the restaurant. I can Just.Say.No. But my switch must be defective, because most of the time I can’t even find it, let alone turn it on. I attempt to diet, enjoying a modicum of success for a few days, maybe a week. Then we go out to Red Robin or Azteca, and I think, “what the heck, how bad can a few tortilla chips and salsa be? What’s a little bleu cheese dressing on my salad?” Before I know it, I’m off and running, straying far from the dieting straight and narrow, piling back on the few pounds I’d managed to lose that week, and most likely one or two more for good measure. That has been the story of my middle-aged life.
When I was younger, I didn’t have any weight issues. Oh, I THOUGHT I did. I weighed all of 133 pounds when I met The Spouse. You see, I was a golfer. I played golf every single day, and I walked the course, carrying my bag, which was great exercise. Additionally, I used to hit 500 range balls every single day. Now think about that – swinging a golf club 500 times, bending over at least half as many times to put the ball on the tee – that’s darned good exercise, but it feels like fun. Walking the course translated into about 5 miles of walking carrying a bag that probably weighed 20 pounds with 14 clubs in it. And of course, there were the swings during the golf round – the practice swing, then the real swing – probably about 80 or so a round. Yep, great exercise that felt like fun. When I moved in with The Spouse I had to stop playing golf (becoming an instant mom meant I could hardly spend half the day at the golf course). But I took up lifting weights with The Spouse. Even so, I gained 10 pounds over the first few months. Prior to meeting The Spouse, I rarely ate more than two meals a day – and one of those meals was mostly just a tuna sandwich or something very light while out on the golf course. Living with The Spouse, OS and The Daughter meant cooking three meals a day. I had NEVER been a breakfast eater, but now I was making a full-on eggs, pancakes, etc. breakfast daily. Then I packed lunches for everyone, including myself, and when dinner time came, I made a nice, big, meal, like any self-respecting Italian girl would make. Now, you can lift all the weights you want, but the calories expended didn’t come close to the calories I had been expending on the golf course, and I was eating probably twice as many calories, maybe more. So, it was no surprise that I gained 10 pounds. But even at 142, I was not overweight. I thought I needed to lose weight because I had always been skinny, weighed ten pounds more than I had weighed for years, and I have big thighs (I have always hated my thighs), but when I look back at pictures – let’s just say I would kill to look like that again! At 5’10” tall, 142 is almost underweight. Almost.
It wasn’t until I had YS that I started to have to fight my weight. I gained 57 pounds when I was pregnant with him, topping out at 202. I did lose most of it within the first month. The last 10 pounds took several months to lose, but I did lose it. In 1991, I started working out religiously. I went to the gym and lifted weights 6 days a week. I stuck to a very strident diet. The Spouse and I were very dedicated. I went from 26% bodyfat to 20% bodyfat in 4 months – my weight stayed the same, but I lost 10 pounds of fat and gained 10 pounds of muscle, and I weighed 142 pounds. Over the next year I got down to 16% bodyfat, but I weighed 160 pounds. I had added 18 pounds of muscle, was in a size 7, and looked GREAT! I stayed at that weight for a long time, although my bodyfat fluctuated between 16 and 20%. I faithfully worked out six days a week, and for the most part, ate well. I still hated my thighs and still struggled to lose fat and get leaner.
Then came perimenopause. All bets were off. I started to gain weight, and nothing I did made me lose it. I was tired a lot too, and my workouts got really difficult. Work changed too – I went from running around all day meeting with clients and working on their systems, to working in an office and sitting for most of the day. Suddenly, it wasn’t just difficult to lose weight, it was difficult to keep from gaining weight. In 1999 I joined Weight Watchers with YS. He was 13 and needed to learn better eating habits – and lose a few pounds of adolescent chub. I decided having someone other than Mom talk to him about his eating was the way to go. So we joined together. The women at the meetings adored him. He had great success. Over the course of a few months, he lost 26 pounds and I lost 22. We kept each other going throughout, and it was great. I reached my goal and became a lifetime member, and went to work for Weight Watchers, working at the meetings weighing members and manning the desk. It was great, and helped me keep my weight in check. I weighed 155, and looked and felt great. I stayed between 155 and 172 for the next few years without too much trouble, though 172 became easier to maintain than 155, and was really the upper limit of how much I should weigh. I was still working out 6 days a week, which helped a lot. Then came YS’s senior year of high school in 2003. I stopped going to the gym 6 days a week. I went two or three days a week and spent the rest of the time visiting with him. I knew he’d be moving away to college and wanted to spend those mornings of his last year with him. Over the course of the year, I passed 172 tipping the scale at 180. When he went off to college, I realized I enjoyed having my mornings to myself to do whatever I wanted to do – and that didn’t include going to the gym. I gained another 10 pounds that year. By his second year of college, I was out of the workout habit, and work had gotten busy and stolen my mornings from me. Add another 10 pounds. So, 4 years, 40 pounds… I was now as heavy as I was when I delivered YS.
I was angry and disgusted with myself, but could not manage to stick to any diet for more than a few days. Suddenly, I was the woman I’d sworn I’d never be – the one buying the latest diet book, the latest diet supplement, trying the latest gimmick. It was pathetic! Then I gave up completely. I decided that, with menopause, my crazy work schedule, and life in general, I just wasn’t going to lose the weight. This was it… I was now the fat sister.
But I guess I never REALLY gave up. When my friend, JoAnn wrote on her Facebook about her success at losing weight, I had to know her secret. Weight Watchers Online. I decided I HAD to try again. So, I joined, and started tracking my points religiously, and I had success right away. Unfortunately, I took this step not too long before Thanksgiving. While I stuck to the program for the most part leading up to Thanksgiving, resulting in an 11 pound loss, the week of Thanksgiving I kind of blew it. Well, more than kind of – I pretty much didn’t write down a single thing I ate that entire week – and I ate a lot more than I should have. That week led to the next, and before I knew it, I’d gained back 4 of the 11 pounds I’d lost. Then, another 3 piled back on. Time to get back with program before I was right back where I’d started.
I had decided December 1st would be a good day to start again, but I couldn’t get “with it” until the 4th. In fact, I had bought a tin of piroulines (those cookie things that are a thin, tasty wafer wrapped around a chocolate fudge center and shaped into a long, slender treat about the size of a Tiparillo cigar) around the first. I had a couple of them with my coffee the next morning – and again later that day. The next day, I had a two or three more. Then, I decided I couldn’t take the temptation, so I ate the entire tin to “get rid of them” so I wouldn’t be tempted. Smart move, eh? That loss of control was the impetus I needed to get back on the program. The first day went well, as did the second. The third day I was hungry, but I stuck with it. Then something happened… I developed resolve. The switch turned on. Over the weekend, I didn’t eat anything I shouldn’t have eaten, even though I had a lot of “goodies” in the house, and by goodies, I mean two tins of Amond Roca, one of my favorite candies ever, as well as plenty of delicious cheese, which has always been my downfall. I didn’t eat any of it. On Wednesday, the church across the street brought over two huge boxes of treats from a local bakery as a “thank you” for letting them use our parking lot on Sundays. One box was filled with about 5 different kinds of petits fours, the other with 5 different kinds of cookies. I walked into the staff lounge where the goodies were displayed. I stood in front of them, assessed what was in the boxes, and decided that, as delicious as it all looked, none of it was worth blowing my diet over. I walked past that display about 5 times that day, pausing every time to review the treats, and making the decision each time to pass them up. I didn’t feel deprived. I felt empowered. I had control! I was no longer subject to my body’s urges, desires, and cravings. It felt SO good!
Two days later, we had our staff Christmas party – a potluck event. Once again, the staff lounge was filled with treats – scrumptious looking quiches, peach pie, berry pie, a variety of cookies and other baked goods, fruit, chocolates, etc. I even brought a platter of cheese, salami and crackers and a cheesecake. Fortunately, someone had brought a veggie tray with broccoli, celery, carrots, etc. That was what I ate. I didn’t have a single bite of anything else. I stuck with the broccoli and celery – the known quantity. I had no idea what was in the quiche, so I couldn’t take a chance. How many points were in it? How many points were in the pies? I know how many points are in vegetables. So, I stuck to them, and again, I didn’t feel deprived. I felt strong, in control. It felt great! I was rewarded with a 3 pound loss that week.
On Sunday, I was invited to a cookie exchange. About 15 women brought two dozen cookies to share. These cookies were amazing. In addition to the cookies, the hostess had provided snacks – 7-layer dip, chips, and other assorted hors d’oeuvres . Fortunately, someone eventually brought out some raw veggies – broccoli, carrots, and snow peas. Once again, that’s what I stuck with. I picked out two dozen cookies to take home to The Spouse, and though they are sitting on my kitchen counter, I haven’t had so much as a taste. I have sat in a fast food restaurant while The Spouse ate a burger and fries, and didn’t even eat a single french fry. I didn’t even WANT one. Now that the switch is on, I can look at things I previously craved and see all the nasty things in them – the fat, the sugar, the calories – and the desire goes away. Without the desire, I have control, and I don’t feel deprived. I feel, for the first time in years, that I can finally lose this weight, no matter how long it takes, no matter how many temptations I encounter as I navigate through the holiday season. It’s a great feeling. But, like an addict or an alcoholic, I know that I can’t risk even a nibble on a piece of fudge, a tasty baked good, or some cheese. Not now. Not yet. If I taste that stuff, I will fall off the wagon. The switch will turn off again. I know that as well as I know my name. I’m not ready yet. Maybe once I lose another dozen pounds, maybe not until I reach my goal, maybe not for a long, long time. But that’s okay. I really don’t feel deprived. I want to get to my goal so that I CAN have a piece of cheese – and not feel like I have to eat the entire block of cheese. I want to be able to eat ONE pirouline and not feel like the tin is calling my name. I hope I get to that point – to the point where I can eat like a “normal” person.
I have come to realize that all my life I’ve been a binge eater. When we were kids, we were poor. We had plenty to eat, but we never had “extras” – potato chips, ice cream, candy, “goodies”. Meals consisted of a main course, a vegetable, and a starch. Dessert was rare, and if we did have dessert, it was usually Jello instant pudding. We never ate school lunch. Instead, we took a sack lunch with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, two cookies (usually the generic sandwich kind from the bakery thrift store), and a piece of fruit. Breakfast was cold cereal and powdered milk, or oatmeal if I wanted to make it myself. On the weekends we might have eggs and toast for breakfast, again if one of us girls made it. On rare occasions, Mom would get a wild hair and do something like fry chicken, or make enchiladas, or make something out of the ordinary, but most of the time, cooking meals was a chore to her, and the lack of interest showed in what we ate. As for “extras”, we couldn’t afford them. When we did get them – if a guest brought a bag of chips and some dip, or for some reason we splurged and bought a half gallon of ice cream – we devoured them. I remember one time when my first husband and I were dating and we brought home the makings for ice cream sundaes. We brought home two half gallons of ice cream, chocolate fudge sauce, and some whipped cream. He sat stunned while he watched the four of us demolish both half gallons of ice cream and all the sauce and whipped cream. We were like concentration camp prisoners who hadn’t eaten in months. I guess we all figured we’d better get as much as we could, because who knew when we’d get it again. We were that way with chips and dip, too. Looking back, I realize that being deprived of things all our childhood made me the binge eater I am today. I remember when I moved into my first apartment I wanted to buy all the things I’d always had rationed when I was at home – avocados, smoked oysters, mushrooms, and ice cream. When Mom would buy avocados, they were so expensive, even in California, that she allowed each of us kids one slice, with the bulk of the avocado going to Dad. When she bought mushrooms and would saute them for a meal, Dad got a big pile of them, and we were lucky to get the equivalent of one mushroom. And when she bought smoked oysters once in a blue moon, I think I got to taste one out of the whole tin. So, I bought those things, and gorged on them. Unfortunately, I can’t look a smoked oyster in the eye as a result of that gorging, but you can never have too much avocado or too many mushrooms. When I was young, I could get away with gorging on things like that. I was always on the go, and had a fast metabolism. I never had to face my binge eating. Now I do. And I’m glad to finally feel like I have some control over my addiction to food. Thank you, Weight Watchers. Thank you, JoAnn, for motivating me to get back on the program. I have found my resolve. I WILL succeed!