It would be both true and clichéd -- and therefore uninteresting -- to say that I have lost and gained and lost and gained this same fourteen pounds as many as a dozen times in the past thirty years. For reasons I'm not sure I can explain, I feel certain that this will be the last time.
I know, to those of you who have walked a similar road -- or who have watched me walk mine -- this sounds ominous, like a sure sign that I intuit my impending death. But that's not so.
I have tried many strategies to lose weight. I have eaten hard-boiled eggs and grapefruit. I have serially Weight Watched. I have participated in a Twelve Step program for compulsive overeaters. I have taken up relentless exercise. All of these methods worked. I lost weight every time. That was my goal, and I always achieved it, at least in part. I never reached my elusive goal weight (always receding into the distance, ever smaller), but I always lost until I quit whatever plan I was on. And I always quit.
There's another cliché: Dieting doesn't work. I need a lifestyle change! Honestly, I've never been big on weight-loss diets. I didn't last a week on South Beach. Atkins? Too much protein for someone who goes easy on the meat. Plus there is the risk of ketosis. Don't know what that is? I do. Know why? I know enough about nutrition, exercise, and food generally that I could write a book. I'd like to say I learned it all so that I could feed my family well. But it wouldn't be true. The truth is that it's been another strategy to help me control my weight. If I know what to do, I'll do it, I figured.
I've been all about "lifestyle change." The way I eat now is a dramatic change from my sugar-soaked, hot-dog-a-day childhood. From my encyclopedic knowledge of how to create a balance of essential amino acids and anti-oxidants to continuing to take personal inventory and promptly admitting when I am wrong, I have indeed changed my life. But I've remained overweight.
Maybe you're ready to object. "You're not fat," you might say. But you would be wrong. By all objective measures I have been fat since I was a teen. I have gotten fatter as I have gotten older. When I was at my top weight, I wore a size 16 (I am 5'1" tall). You can still see the jeans; I have them in my closet.
You might well ask, "Why in the world do you think losing weight this time is going to be any different?"
My answer would be this: "I'm no longer trying to lose weight. I'm trying to keep from gaining it back." Maybe that sounds silly or even evasive. In the past, all I have cared about is losing. I have honed my mathematical skills by playing numbers games in my head: If I lose a pound a week, I will have lost 40 pounds by Christmas. But wait! If I lose 1½ pounds a week... How much will that be by Christmas? By the end of the year... You get the idea. I was fixated, obsessed even, with losing weight, fitting into a smaller size -- usually last year's clothes.
I have always found my weight to be a special source of shame and humiliation. No matter my gifts or the service I offer the world. No matter that I can be witty or useful or kind. Most of my life, in secret, I have felt that the truest thing about me is my size. If I were a size 12 or, God forbid, 14, I wouldn't want to see people or have my picture taken or participate in my life. I would want mostly to hide. If I were a size 8, I would want to see and be seen.
I was never willing to talk about any of it. I would make excuses to remain outside of my own life. In the darkest times, I would check-out in order to be alone and eat. What a vicious cycle of self-destruction.
Sometime in the past few months I crossed a threshold I can't see. It's the demarcation point between self-hate and self-love. I started to pray, not to lose weight or stay on a diet, but to finish whatever the work is that keeps me coming back and regaining the fourteen -- or forty -- pounds I already lost. I'm praying to stay at this size or weight until I finally learn whatever it is I have to keep coming back to because I didn't learn it the last time.
I don't know what I'll weigh at Christmas. I'm still praying to complete my size 12 lessons. In another five pounds, I'll be praying to learn my size 10 lessons. I am willing, at last, to stay here as long as it takes. Because I don't plan on passing this way again.