Girl Talk: Assorted Thoughts On Losing 40+ Pounds

Two and a half years ago, an email landed in my inbox with the subject line, “Cover story?” At the time, I was a freelance journalist and those two words made me drool like none other. But as I read the email, my face sunk—Good Housekeeping wanted me to write a feature where I’d interview five woman who’d lost 100 pounds each. Normally, I would have rolled my eyes—I fancied myself a “serious journalist” and stayed away from weight loss stories at all costs. But this was the beginning of the recession and I needed money. I felt pained as I wrote back and begrudgingly accepted the assignment.

I felt defeated for the next few days as I tracked down women to interview. Really, was this the state my career was in? Weren’t there more important stories I could be working on? I thought.

My first interview was with a woman named Janice, a stay-at-home mom who’d lost 75 pounds doing Weight Watchers and had gone on to become a counselor herself. We spent more than an hour on the phone as I asked her a zillion questions about how she’d gained the weight, how she’d changed her eating habits, and how life was different as a thin person. Near the end of our conversation, she asked me a simple question:

“How do you feel about your body?”

It landed like a slap against my jaw.

The reward for losing the weight has been a series of quiet moments. Sitting down on a barstool and not instinctively crossing my hands over my stomach so no one will notice the rolls that have inched over my pants. Going to buy a dress and having the saleswoman tell me to try on the size 8 since the 10 looked a little too big. A single digit size? I just never thought that was possible.

For a minute, I couldn’t speak, I felt so choked up. This article isn’t about me! I wanted to scream into the phone.

But Janice had been so lovely in answering all my probing, personal questions. I took a deep breath and thought about what she had just asked. I was 5’4″, 185 pounds, and a size 16. I had never considered myself fat, per se, but I knew I was overweight. Overall, I liked the way I looked … in the face. But I just didn’t love the shape of my shape. Just that weekend, I’d felt close to tears when I went shopping with two friends and fell in love with the perfect skirt on the hanger, only to discover that the biggest size in the store just wouldn’t zip up on me.

“Not great,” I admitted. It was possibly the first time I’d said that out loud.

Janice made a deal with me—she’d set me up with a month-long membership to Weight Watchers online. “Try it for two weeks,” she said. “Just two weeks. If you don’t like it, stop.”

I tried it, expecting to never look at the site again after 14 days. Instead, I loved it. I had always told myself that I was chubby because that’s the way nature had made me—I come from a long line of robust women, after all. The voice in my head had always repeated, “I exercise regularly and eat well—this is just the way you’re meant to be.” But looking at my first week of logged food on, I realized that I’d been telling myself a big lie. Sure, I exercised—once in a while. Sure, I ate healthy foods—sometimes. The real problem was that I ate a lot. More than I’d ever realized.

I began viewing this Good Housekeeping part of my job, but also as personal research. Listening to the five women I interviewed, all of whom had once walked in my plus-sized shoes, here are the changes I decided to institute in my life.

  • Only eat when you are hungry. I used to eat for a wide variety of reasons—because it was meal time, because so-and-so had baked cupcakes, because I was feeling down, because the pretzels were going to go stale, because when I get hungry, I get cranky. I wasn’t tuned in to my actual hunger. One woman in my story said something that set off a lightbulb over my head. “Your body is like a car—you only need to get gas when it’s close to empty.” Now, I pay much more attention to what my body actually wants, rather than what my brain or eyes tell it to want.
  • You have to taste food to feel satisfied. I grew up in a family where, if you didn’t act fast, seconds would be out of the question. I got used to eating food quickly, my next bite ready in my hand before I was done chewing the first. When I got to the end of a dish, I’d inevitably feel let down because I’d scarfed it and hadn’t actually taken the time to enjoy it. Now, when I take a bite of something, I really think about the sensations. How would I describe the taste? What are textures in it? What spices and flavors can I identify? This makes me slow way down, and allows me to feel satisfied much more easily. Now I can eat exciting foods that scared me before (chocolate! pizza! butter-smothered restaurant dishes!) because I don’t get carried away—one serving is perfect.
  • Eat more things that grow out of the ground. Snacking had always been my downfall. So I decided that, if I get hungry between meals, try a piece of fruit. It’s delicious when you take the time to taste it, and gives a boost without filling up so much space that I won’t be hungry when meal time rolls around.
  • Don’t equate exercise with torture. My old exercise routine went like this. I’d go to work with my heavy gym bag in tow. I’d get to the end of the day, feel too exhausted to actually go, and then beat myself up for skipping. On the rare occasion I did make it, I’d feel so proud of myself that I wouldn’t do it again for a week. I realized that I needed to figure out how to make exercise fit better into my life. So I joined a swim team and now go once a week. (Well, usually.) Other than that, a few mornings a week before work, I turn on ExerciseTV (workout videos on demand!) and do a 10 to 30 minute class. It helps wake me up and lets me cross exercising off my to-do list before distractions creep in. Cumulatively, it’s so much more than I used to do.

That’s it. That’s all I changed. Within a month of my conversation with Janice, I had lost five pounds. The weight loss continued slowly but surely. Six months later, I stepped on a scale and discovered that I was the same weight as a “skinny” period after college. Six months after that, my Weight Watchers log informed me that I had shed 10 percent of my body weight. A year after that, the number on the scale read 138—which is less than I remember weighing in middle school.

Now, I don’t mean to paint losing this weight loss as if it’s been seamless. Because while changing my lifestyle has been easy, it’s the social and psychological ramifications that have been a little … strange. The first odd thing—I guess because it’s visually obvious to friends and family members that I’ve lost weight, people want to talk to me about my body and about their own weight loss efforts. And generally, I’m just not that interested in conversing about it. This is definitely the most I’ve ever discussed it. Maybe I’m trying to answer all the obvious questions in one fell swoop?

Another bizarre thing. To my chagrin, I have to admit that I do get a lot more attention, not to mention a different brand of attention, from dudes than I did when I was heavier. Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s uncomfortable, sometimes it sparks inner voices of the “would he have liked me when I was chubby?” variety. It’s interesting—my boyfriend never saw me in my larger state. About a month into our relationship, he was at my apartment looking at a shelf of photos. “Wait, that’s you?” he asked, pointing to a photo of me 40 pounds ago. I had a moment of panic. What if he’s grossed out? What if he’s now worrying about me packing on pounds again? I thought. Instead, he calmly took out his wallet and showed me his drivers license. He too has shed a considerable amount of weight in the past few years. And I like that we have that in common.

And the final strange thing. A few years back, I would cringe when I heard relatively thin women nitpick their bodies in very specific ways—poking at the cellulite on their thighs or the lump of skin under their armpit. I never did that to myself when I was heavier but now, I do find myself focusing on tiny imperfections. I think when you’re far away from the ideal, you look more for things to appreciate. But closer to the ideal, somehow the two profiled faces in the image morph into looking like a vase. Somehow, the little things start to seem glaring. There have been multiple times I’ve had to stop myself from walking down Nitpick Lane. Because while there might be a few tiny things I’d change if all it involved were snapping one’s fingers, overall, I look in the mirror and just can’t believe what I see. A compact, hourglass body—with visible muscles!—that looks great in form-fitting clothes.

Still, I’m me. Nothing big has changed here. People don’t high five me as I walk down the street for having the guts to change my body, nor does everyone in the Gap break into song and dance when I try on skinny jeans. The reward for losing the weight, for me, has been a series of very quiet moments. Sitting down on a barstool and not instinctively crossing my hands over my stomach so no one will notice the rolls that have inched over my pants. Going to buy a dress and having the saleswoman tell me to try on the size 8 since the 10 looks a little big. (A single digit size? I just never thought that was possible.) Opening my freezer and noticing that the box of ice cream bonbons in there has lasted me two months rather than being demolished in a single weekend. Noticing my tricep muscles popping out when I lift something. Adoring mini skirts—something I never thought would happen—because now I actually love my legs.

Perhaps the best? Over the weekend, I headed to the beach with a few friends. For the first time in my life, I wore a bikini. Sure, my stomach got terribly sunburned even though I applied sunscreen to it just like I did the rest of my body (my theory: it’s much more sensitive skin since it’s never seen the light of day). But still, taking a stroll on the beach—without the safety blanket of a cover-up, mind you—and feeling hot rather than overwhelmed with self-consciousness? As the saying goes, that’s priceless.

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