It's been quite a jolt.
Last weekend I was a co-star of the halftime hula hoop show at the Roller Derby. The weekend before that, I walked 30 miles down the shore from Brighton Beach to the Monterey Wharf. And I bicycled to the hardware store this morning and didn't even think about the big hill that leads to my house.
Any of you who know me personally, are probably dropping your fork.
I turned 50 in March. Over the winter, I'd watched a couple of friends, just a few years older, suffer serious setbacks. High-risk knee operations. Diabetes diagnoses. Heart attacks! Whatever happened to flaming out young with a good-looking corpse?
I couldn't get over how some folks in their 50s are struggling to stay alive, and others are climbing Mt. Everest.
I wanted to be one of the latter— or at least their cousin. I'm not planning on sticking around forever; I want to have more adventures and intrigues, and I can't do that if I'm staggering around moaning, "Oh, my aching arse." I have "Seize the Time" embroidered on my jean jacket— and it needs to be put to use.
Nothing is terribly wrong with me; knock-knock. But when I went for a physical at my doctor's office— and I laid out all the little hassles and bothers that confine my sloth-like existence, tears rolled down my cheeks.
What sedentary cramp had overtaken me the past twenty years? Well, I wasn't alone. Writers like myself spend endless hours in bad chairs, typing. We lie down and type, to tell the truth. We like bon-bons, and whiskey. My only callus is on my pencil finger. We get lost in our story-telling and forget to engage any gears below the neck.
I don't remember what put the notion in my mind, but after the doctor's visit, I lay down, as usual, with my MacBook and looked up WeightWatchers to see where the closest meeting was. A friend of mine recommended a group leader down here, Jennifer Barley, and promised she wasn't a diet robot— but a real teacher with charisma.
Good; I needed a shot of transference.
It was weird, the first time, to seek out the shopping mall that housed the WW meetings. The last meeting I went to that dealt with weight issues was the “Fat Liberation Consciousness Raising Group” at the Ocean Park Women's Center in the 1970s. I was slender then, but damn, was I ever fed up with the diet-military complex... I still am! If this WW meeting had even a speck of antifeminist bullshit, I was going to march right out the door.
I didn't know what to expect. I've never altered my eating regime in my life, except to savor a new treat. Furthermore, I'm a lifelong powderpuff. I hid out from PE classes my entire school career and was bullied out of any interest in team sports. I was so bony as a child people offered me sandwiches to fatten me up, like Hansel and Gretel.
For me to go to a meeting about "getting fit" was like a Math Phobic signing up for Sleepover Calculus.
I knew in advance that WW was like science class mixed with a 12-step meeting. They have a little equation to keep track of what you're eating every day: Calories plus Fat plus Fiber equals a certain number of "points." It's an engrossing game. You eat whatever you want, but you journal your points. If you keep within your target range, you lose pounds; the natural consequence is inevitable.
My doctor, Flash Gordon, had already inspired me when I read his latest book, about whipping motorcyclists into better health. (He drives a Beemer). It's a great read... I don't ride, but I easily transpose his advice!
He wrote a chapter about "wide in the seat," where he recommended journaling about what you put in your mouth. (Read the whole thing here).
By simply taking pen in hand, whenever you eat something, you make rational what is usually an unconscious activity. You can't write down your daily intake, without spectacular— if awkward— awareness.
But I couldn't do this in solitude— I'd delude myself too easily. The support group part of WW is my favorite part of the whole shebang. People have so many "issues" with their food that just going out and eating sensibly is a Herculean task. There're a million ways to self-sabotage, and virtually none of them have anything to do with physical appetite.
One of the mottos that came up in the first meeting I went to was: "If being hungry isn't the problem— then eating isn't the solution." Such platitudes become soulgasms of epiphany as I listened to other people's rites of passage.
At the first meeting, the woman next to me, was asked what her motivation was to maintain her goal. She's been a member for a long time, and had lost forty pounds. She was very quiet when Jen spoke to her. Finally, she replied, "Really, it’s just the frailty of life."
That sent me over the edge.
My reactions surprised me. I always thought weight loss— on my part at least— would only be motivated by vanity or neurotic insecurity. I'd moaned in the mirror plenty of times. But neither my ego nor my hangups prompted me to do anything. Wishing I was more of a fox didn't move me an inch.
No, it's the physical pain that pushed me, the feeling of my life getting smaller because I felt semi-cruddy most of the time. I was watching my peers, people who I thought were Adonises in high school, suffer in ways that scared the piss out of me. I could see where it was all heading. I sobbed.
Once I "got with the program," I started losing ounces and pounds without that much strain. I think the first flush of my success is because I was so clueless, that the small changes I made to my refrigerator had a big effect.
Nonfat milk... what a concept! Walking to the corner instead of driving... no shit! It was like waking up a Dormouse from a long winter's nap.
I don't mean to make it sound too pat. I'm an inquisitive person, and I drank down all the new information in great gulps. I’m just as much of a slow food gourmet snob as I ever was.
(The recipe writers at WW are on a different planet from the group that does their processed foods division- the frozen dinners and cookies. The former you'd find plucking their own chicken and growing their own organic fava beens; the latter would be figuring out a low-points binge at KFC).
The "get moving" part of the WW program, however, has been more of a challenge. The very word "exercise" makes me scowl.
I've practiced fooling myself, and playing the fool. If I do things I associate with my childhood, or a destination, like riding my bike, stone-throwing in the quarry, dancing, hooping, tromping off in the wilderness, jumping in a lake... I don't realize that I'm putting my breath and muscles to work. And the more I can do, without pain, the more of a triumphant smartypants I become.
Would you like me to tell you for the fortieth time about my star turn at the hula hoop roller derby?
It has troubled me to decide whether to blog about this, or talk about it at all. What if I have some spectacular fall from my twenty pounds of grace?
My appearance also sets off so many different emotions in my friends, I'm not sure what to prepare for. It pains me to stimulate any negative reactions.
I cringe if anyone who’s one cracker short of anorexia says, "Oh, I need to lose too.” I'm as nauseated as ever with the emptiness of Thin Materialism. Strength and well-being don't have anything to do with the fashion industry or the insurance claims adjuster. I don't want my silhouette to act as a reproach, a threat, or scolding.
What I do like is when a friend of mine says, "Do you want to go— ?" and I say, "Yes."
No more shooting pains up my knees. No more tummy aches and GI hangovers. What I thought was arthritis just... went away. I warmed up a few degrees, My last periods have been... no big deal. I don't have to wear mittens on a summer day, and I can literally bicycle myself out of almost any dark mood.
I wake up, and to my amazement, I feel like... MOVING. Virtually every complaint I listed at my doctor's visit has either disappeared or receded.
I picked up a friend’s baby the other day, and when I said, "Wow, how much does he weigh now?"
The mom said, 'Oh, he's past 20 pounds," and I thought... I carried that? How did I stagger around?
I am still new at this. My pink balloon of idealism and cheer might go POP at any moment. My mortal coil is certainly not stopping the clock just because I ate a few less chips.
I have a soft spot for my dark side, and if I have to eat more chocolate to keep my edge, I won't hesitate.
But at the moment I'm spooning mouthfuls of plum applesauce, and my PF Flyers make me feel like I can jump higher and run out of words before I run out of breath.
The last dog days of summer are so sweet, and last night I walked to the movies without my sweater, because Santa Cruz and my very own chemistry were having a balmy spell. It's a moment I'd like to cultivate.
Update, 1/1/09: I am now Sporty Spice. Circuit training, kayaking running, mountain biking, road biking, swimming in open water... my parents would die all over again in disbelief if they were here to see me! I have never been strong before. Ever. I'll have to write another story just about that!
Photos: All these are original ads from vintage American magazines, which are sold, appraised and traded on Deco Dog site. I actually remember this exact "Ayds" one from my childhood.