Weighty Issues: Learning to lose it and like the process
October 17, 2011 § 5 Comments
I feel a sense of excitement and trepidation as I write this entry. I thought that something as personal as weight was a subject for me alone to think about and that this blog, which is so personal and yet takes a measured distance from my personal life, would not be the forum to discuss it. But then my wonderfully smart and brave friend Laura wrote about her relationship to food and eating on her blog. And even my favorite fashion blogging star, Garance Dore, wrote about her experience with gaining (and loosing) weight when she moved to NYC in two parts: Part 1 and Part 2. If they can do it, I thought, so can I.
I never thought I would be someone who would want, or need, to lose weight. I was always thin, and curvy, yes, but thin. Until I wasn’t. Around the time I hit 25 and started spending more time working at a desk things started to change. I gradually noticed I couldn’t fit into pants I had worn in college. My beloved vintage dresses didn’t button any more. Quietly, I gave these things away, figuring they didn’t match my style anymore anyways. Besides, I told myself, I was active. I biked to work several days a week and swam laps regularly, took dance classes, did yoga and pilates and, being a New Yorker, walked far and often. While I was raised not to weigh myself and still don’t own a scale I noticed that even when I was swimming four days a week the scale at the gym was stubbornly stuck at 155. It says I weigh 130 on my drivers license.
“Oh, well,” I thought, “This is how things are, you get older and that’s it.” I noticed that I had to buy larger sized clothes and kept that fact to myself. I felt powerless. No one around me, not my friends, partner or family, ever said anything about my changing size and shape. I credit them with being supportive of me no matter how I look. However, I felt long from the person I wanted to be, or knew that I could be. I didn’t fully recognize myself in pictures and felt uncomfortable about shoving myself into my jeans that were progressively harder to button.
Last winter I started to reflect on the fact I would be turning 30 in May. I wanted to change many of the things that I was unhappy with in my life and set its course for the direction I wanted it to go as I began my next decade. I decided writing and being happy with my employment were two of my main goals. In the back of my head I also decided I wanted to loose weight. Two of my friends from my old job had gone on Weight Watchers to amazing results. They loved the program and sang its praises. I looked at the website, almost signed up, and decided, no, I could lose weight on my own.
As soon as I decided I wanted to lose weight I started to invent excuses why I couldn’t. Some were fairly logical, such as: I work full time and am in graduate school, do I really need to put the extra pressure of weight loss on top of everything else I need to accomplish? Other excuses were a little more ridiculous: I’m too European to worry about weight (excuse me, Eleanor, for all your airs you were born and raised in the USA), to “I’m too much of a feminist to go on a diet.”
Remember, I grew up with Riot Grrrl and “Riots, Not Diets!” was a popular slogan. And to this day I do believe that the way women are made to feel about their bodies by mainstream society is ridiculous and unhealthy. Everyone should decide what health means to them, and how they want to feel comfortable in their own skin.
One of my favorite songs as a teenager was by a beloved-by-me Scottish Indie pop band Bis. The song was called Monstarr and the lines that stick out to me are “I cannot be normal because I’m not a size 10? Should I be embarrassed, is it such a crime? Funny how your life depends upon your waistline!” The singer, Manda Rin, also wrote about being a feminist and loosing weight in her zine, and how she could feel positive about her body and health decisions while supporting other girls in theirs.
It was going on a lovely holiday to the Caribbean with SMH and seeing pictures of myself in a bathing suit that pushed me beyond the excuses. I looked at those photos, horrified. “That cannot be me,” I told myself. It wasn’t that I looked so overweight, it’s that I didn’t look like myself. Something had to change.
I borrowed French Women Don’t Get Fat from a supportive co-worker (the title of which I know will make many of my French friends laugh) and found it surprisingly well written and full of sensible advice about eating less and enjoying life. I also found it difficult to muster the willpower to follow the advise. In despair I found myself eating a butter croissant almost every morning, and a huge lunch, followed by a snack before class and then a snack and dinner after. I was panicking about being hungry, especially on days I had school until late. I could not leave the house without taking piles of food with me. This was not a recipe for success.
Finally, while Corita was mixing our record, I shared my feelings with Marisha, one of my beloved bandmates and a lifetime Weight Watchers member. I tried the “I’m too feminist,” excuse on her and she set me straight right away. “I’m a feminist, I’m a lifetime member, sign up,” she told me. I did, right there in the recording studio. Marisha also told me about Bitch Cakes, a super stylish, feminist, femmey lady who rides a pink bike in high heels and is also a member of WW. Sweet.
I was really nervous about my first Weight Watchers meeting. Who would be there? Would they be nice? Would it be awkward? Would I have to share? I went to a meeting near my work on my lunch break. I weighed in, signed up with the sweet receptionists, and picked up the weekly circular, which is full of good advice and recipes. I looked around. The group was mostly women, for sure, but women of all ages and some men too. Super diverse, a range of ages. Immediately I felt comfortable. This could be fun. This could be possible.
I began to look forward to the weekly meetings. They are so focused on being proactive and taking control of your life and your health, managing your expectations and being kind to yourself, as well as daring you to try new things that they really felt like cheap therapy. I could see that it wasn’t just marketing hype: Weight Watchers teaches healthy habits and takes a holistic approach.
The first time I stepped on the scale and found out I lost weight I was amazed. I never thought I could do it. When I lost my first five pounds Mel, my meeting leader, told me to go to the grocery store and pick up a 5 pound bag of carrots – that’s how much weight I had gotten rid of. Next time I was at the co-op I gave it a try. 5 pounds is a lot to carry around!
I’ll admit it, the first month or two was really tough. I felt resentful that things I loved, such as croissants, bagels, cheese and pasta, had to take a back seat in my life. I had to watch how much I drank on the weekends and switched my morning low-fat yogurt to non-fat yogurt. I looked at other women who seemed so much skinnier than me and yet chowed down on sandwiches for lunch and felt resentful. I had momentary freak outs looking at restaurant menus. But I stuck with it. I remembered a piece of advice I read somewhere in the WW materials, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”
While I had to adjust my eating habits (and as you know, I love food) I feel lucky I didn’t have to learn how to cook and eat healthily. I was raised eating salads, lean protein and whole grains. I share a kitchen with an amazing and sensitive cook. I was already active and I made a point of sticking to my activities. But WW also pushed me to try things I never would have otherwise. I learned how to run (and like it) from my amazing friend Emily Kramer as part of her Spirit Boxing workshop (I never thought I would ever run for exercise, much less sprint up the hill in Prospect Park with a bunch of other awesome feminists and queers!). I pushed myself to workout when I was traveling for work. And I learned to be satisfied with less food. “Why do I want to eat this?” I would ask myself, “Am I tired, bored, or really hungry? Could I eat a piece of fruit instead?”
It worked. I set my first goal as to loose 10 pounds – from 156 to 146 (which was also the top of my healthy weight range for my height). When I dropped below 150 I couldn’t believe it – the first time in how many years? I reflected on what I looked like and how I felt and thought, let’s try for an even 20 pounds. Then I’d be well within my healthy weight range and also I thought keep enough meat on my bones to look healthy on my broad shouldered/broad hipped frame.
Here’s where I admit to something else: I took my time with the plan. I started at the end of March and now, in the middle of October, I’ve met my goal. But, as they say, slow and steady (and gaining a few weeks and then eating well and exercising with renewed motivation the following weeks) wins the race. My muffin top disappeared. I recently had to buy new pants because my old ones were too baggy. My dresses fit me better than they ever have. I feel lighter, freer, more comfortable with myself. Most importantly, I did this my way with the help of a structure that encourages health and balance and self-knowledge. You read this blog, you know me. I love regional food specialties and a good cocktail or pastry, but I also know to keep it more in proportion. I also know: no more excuses. If I can meet this goal while I work full time and go to university, what else can I accomplish? How about that lifetime goal of being a writer?