Twenty Before Fifty

I promised myself I’d lose 20 pounds before turning 50 and I did it.  As of today, I’ve dropped 23 pounds and my birthday is still a week away. Forget about health and wellness. The biggest perk is fitting into clothes that haven’t seen the light of day in more years than I’m willing to admit. Just thinking about slipping into my favorite hip Banana Republic short-shorts over spring break makes me wistful.

Humor is the best medicine for what ails you.

The problem with gaining weight is that there’s a measurable lag between packing on the pounds and actually awakening to the reality that you’ve morphed into someone befitting of adjectives like “plump” or “chunky” or as my friend’s mother would say “big-boned.” Even though it should have been obvious, as I propelled my way up the size charts, I’d managed to abide contentedly in a state of self-denial for several years.

Sizes run smaller nowadays…or…I must’ve thrown these jeans in the dryer again…or This mirror makes me look a bit portly…must be propped up at a funny angle was how I rationalized my changing physique. It was not until I saw myself, I mean really saw myself, the way others did, that I acknowledged the gravity of my predicament.

One day I set out to organize a batch of photos I’d recently taken and found one of a woman who looked vaguely familiar. I don’t remember taking this photo I thought as I tried in vain, but couldn’t place her. Who do I know with arms that fat? Somebody needs to let her know she doesn’t need to be going sleeveless with those sausage limbs… 

As I analyzed the photo more closely, I slowly began to process what I was seeing. I have that same shirt…and those sandals…and that wristwatch…and that very same mole on my left cheek just under my eye…

I stared incredulously at that photo, eyeing every detail, and HEAVEN HELP ME that’s when I made the startling and painful discovery: the fat woman with the gargantuan thigh-arms was ME (proper rudiments dictate the sentence should read that fat woman…was I, but my rioting sense of panic seems to make this is an appropriate time to break a grammar rule). For the first time in a very long time I was seeing myself the way others saw me. I was a bloated mockery of my trim, fit self and it wasn’t pretty.

My first impulsive thoughts were HOW DID I LET THIS HAPPEN and I’M NEVER LEAVING THE HOUSE AGAIN. Luckily however I recovered quickly because 1) the prospect of never leaving the house was ridiculous, and 2) “this happened” because I’d turned into a chowhound. I decided a more active solution was in order and immediately began to take mental inventory of the diets I’d followed over the years.

Let’s see. There was the Flat Belly Diet, South Beach Diet, the cabbage soup diet (too gassy), Atkins, Sugar-Busters, and even that one where you eat a can of beets at every meal (which was scary because it turns your poop red), but the one I kept coming back to was Weight Watchers. Because it works*.

I know what you’re thinking. The words “weight” and “watchers” are benign on their own, but stick them together and you have a whole new meaning. I’m the first to admit it. Weight Watchers conjures up images of crowds gathering for cultish meetings, and hokie gold stars for every ounce lost. It’s pathetic and desperate, but guess what? I WAS PATHETIC AND DESPERATE. If the kick-start I needed was somehow wrapped up in a couple of hip-hip-hoorays and a gold star, well then that was that.

I googled “Weight Watchers Atlanta Georgia,” and while the organization is certainly no Waffle House, I was pleasantly surprised to find there were several locations in and around the midtown area. As luck would have it, there was a meeting scheduled for noon at the one most convenient to me. A quick glance at my watch and I knew if I hustled, I’d get there in time to reactivate my membership and quietly slip into the meeting.

When I decide to do something, I do it with gusto and rejoining Weight Watchers was no exception. In a flash I was dashing across SunTrust Plaza and barging headlong through the doors of the World Trade Center Offices. I blitzed past a display of flags, made a sharp turn to the right (where I’m fairly certain I knocked down one portly woman and left several others clucking disdainfully in my wake) as I kicked into the home stretch.

My destination lay a stone’s throw ahead, but just as I eased off pace, a slow moving crowd began to form.

“Excuse me. Pardon me. Excuse me.” I dodged and weaved my way through a maze of jiggling thighs, flabby muffin tops, and cellulite-covered “assets.” A large woman, clad in ill-fitting yoga pants topped with a rather unbecoming sport bra and carrying her shoes, appeared to be the final obstacle in my path.

“Hey,“ she whined as I shoved past her. “You can’t do that! I was here firrrrrrst.”

“Sorry,” I said hyperventilating as I lunged to the front of the line, “this is an emergency.”

Smiling sheepishly, I approached the check-in desk (which I would soon be reminded is referred to by insiders as the “weigh-in” desk) and chirped in a cheerful turbo-charged voice, “Hi! It’s been a long time since I’ve been here, like a decade, but I’d like to come back!”

“Fill this out,” the woman sitting behind the desk said disapprovinglyl. “And next time you’ll need to wait your turn.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said and took the pen and form she handed me. Sliding over to make room for the next person in line, I took a few seconds to catch my breath then quickly completed the form. I scrawled a number in the box labeled GOAL WEIGHT, fully expecting I was no more than eight, maybe ten at max, pounds over.

I handed my form and credit card to the woman behind the desk. “Here you go. I’d like to pay for one month, please.”

“Mmm-hmm,” she mumbled. She glanced at my paperwork, then peered at me over the rims of her reading glasses, and finally looked back at my paperwork again.

“I’m pretty sure I can get down to my goal weight in a month,” I chattered nervously, punctuating my commnet with a giddy laugh.

“I’m sure you can,” her voice dripped with innuendo, “but maybe you should consider three months,” she gave me a once over. “Buy three months and we wave registration fees for returning members.”

“Oh,” I said feeling a little foolish (and in case you don’t know, feeling foolish in public is bad enough, but couple it with feeling fat and it’s about the worst most degrading feeling there is). “Okie-dokie, then. I guess I’ll go with three months.”

She processed my paperwork, all the while yammering on about e-tools and how the Points Program had recently become the Points-Plus Program and, blah, blah, blah. At some point I simply quit listening, my attention having been captured by one of those life sized cardboard cut-out, stand-up poster-things of Jennifer Hudson. Gosh she looks great…I wonder how she did it?

I snapped back to reality when it hit me that the woman behind the check-in desk had stopped talking and was staring at me inquisitively, as if expecting a response of some kind.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “Could you repeat that last little bit?”

“You need to step on the scale so we can get your starting weight, “ she repeated.

A surge of blood shot to my ears. My vision became blurry and a cacophony of words began to swirl around inside my head – HOW COULD I HAVE FORGOTTEN ABOUT THE PART WHERE YOU GET WEIGHED IN FRONT OF COMPLETE STRANGERS?

I hadn’t set foot on a scale in a very long time (it’s part of the whole self-denial thing associated with lag-time in acknowledging the slow upward creeping of one’s weight), but when I did make weighing myself a dutiful part of my daily routine, I followed a strict set of rules.

First, I only ever weigh myself completely naked. Second, I do it alone (that’s right, not even the dog is allowed in the bathroom when I hop on the scale). And third, I either weigh myself early in the morning prior to eating and drinking and preferably after indulging in my “daily constitutional” or, if it’s later in the day, after a two hour jaunt on my treadmill or a sweaty three-setter on the tennis court.

“Ms. Datoc?”

“Yes?” I was still dazed.

“Can you step on the scale for me, dear?”  For the first time, the woman behind the desk seemed to have sincere and honest empathy for my ordeal, but no amount of kindness was going to quell my angst.

“Now?” I asked meekly. “In front of everyone?”

Suddenly it all made perfect sense. The large woman I passed earlier…her unbecoming, ill-fitting ensemble, and the fact she was carrying her shoes. Why hadn’t I had the presence of mind to change into lighter clothes before dashing out the door?

“Yes, dear. Remember? Even though the part of the scale you step on is out there,” she rose up off her chair and pointed to my side of the “weigh-in” desk, “the display panel is back here so no one sees it but me.” She smiled genuinely and I noticed a smudge of lipstick on her front teeth. Normally that kind of thing strikes me funny and I struggle to stifle myself. Not today.

I slipped off my Reeboks, removed my jewelry and holding my breath stepped onto the scale. The woman behind the “weigh-in” desk recorded my weight on a small slip of paper, folded it in half, and discreetly slid it across the counter to me.

I was horrified. It was worse than I expected…by a long shot. Even with the handicap I’d calculated for time of day and clothing, I was heavier than I’d been in my entire life. In that precise moment I vowed to lose 20 pounds before turning 50. 20 before 50. It became my mantra.

No matter how you slice it, shedding pounds requires burning more calories than you consume. Period. Simple in theory, but in practice…not so much. That’s why whenever you lose a bunch of weight, people want to know how you did it. I get it. I’ve interrogated my share of newly svelte friends hoping to uncover the next quick fix or wonder diet secrets.

I promised myself I’d lose 20 pound before turning 50 and I did it. 20 before 50. My secret? Weight Watchers. Because it works.*

7 thoughts on “Twenty Before Fifty

  1. tears are streaming my cheeks…had to stop reading 3 times to wipe my eyes…haven’t laughed this hard in a long time….maybe you should be the local JH inspiration!!!

  2. Humbling. Weight Watchers; I did not see that comimg. Congratulations! You’ll certainly see me coming in April. Starting my vacation tomorrow to paint and floor a room and was going to begin walking, cancel my long ignored Weight Watchers online subscription and try to restart Atkins. Maybe I’ll reconsider…

  3. Way to go! I love WW! Member since 2000 and started working there part time 1 1/2 years ago. I wouldn’t have been smug to you! 🙂 LOVE your writing. Thank you!

  4. Love the column but simply can’t deal with people who break in line for any reason. Never do that again! Makes you seem that you value yourself above the rest…….long past the caste system.

    • Not to make excuses, but technically I didn’t cut in line. I raced past the poor barefooted girl as she waddled down the home stretch, beating her to the desk in what did not even approach the drama of a photo-finish, but I agree with you… I suppose I should have conceded my spot to her.

      I hate it when people don’t wait their turn. In fact I wrote a column about it… I’ll look for it and repost it for you today…

      Thanks for the comment and keep reading!

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