That’s right, I’m ba-ack. The ten pounds I gained, lost and regained in my childbearing years turned into twenty as I trundled through menopause. Last year, I ladled on another five, like hot fudge on a sundae. That simile sounds cavalier, but I actually made a choice, out of self-care, not to go crazy worrying about eating when I had many other pressures to juggle. If your relationship with food is disordered, as mine has been off and on since girlhood, there are a million traps to fall into: food is solace, it’s reward, it’s excitement, catharsis, fun and shame—everything other than what it actually is: flavored fuel.
It’s not the number on the scale that concerns me, or how I look. As a fitness teacher, I spend at least four hours a week time watching myself in the mirror, and I love how I move. I feel profoundly beautiful, every inch, when I’m dancing. My motivation is that the rest of the time, I’m not physically comfortable in my skin. Clothes pull, sweat gathers in a recently acquired roll at my waist, my feet hurt. I wish I was one of those people who could avoid gaining weight by trusting innate body wisdom. But if I leave things up to my intuition, I’ll eat too much sugar and drink too much wine, because those substances are addictive for me. It’s hard to increase my exercise level; I’m already so active. And any program that’s too restrictive is out of the question – if I have to deprive myself of all of the pleasures of eating, forgeddaboutit. I’ll cave in, usually spectacularly, as if the best reward for two weeks without bread is two loaves tonight. Weightwatchers is the only approach I’ve ever been able to sustain.
It takes guts to walk into a meeting. My armor is to feel that I’m somehow better than this person or that since I’ve fewer pounds to lose. Snotty, right? Whether you are ten pounds overweight, or a hundred, you show up with your best intentions in one hand and your shame in the other. The room is full of lively women and a handful of men who daily face down the judgment and insensitivity of people who have no idea of their struggles: backhanded compliments (“You’ve lost forty-five pounds? You must’ve been big as a house!”), implied criticism from co-workers (“You’re eating that?”), superior sideways glances of airplane seat mates. These folks wear their hearts on their sleeves, sharing stories about sneak eating subs parked behind the dumpster in a mall parking lot, or hiding “evidence” of a binge—candy wrappers, ice cream or Chinese food cartons, pistachio shells—in their kitchen garbage or the trash bin of the company across the hall. Every day is a battle for my Weightwatchers colleagues, against their own impulses, and the humiliating ways our culture treats them. Every meeting I go to, I learn something from them about vulnerability, courage, comraderie.