1) Elephants in the room are my specialty. I’ve written about my kids, my sex life, my date rape experience, and my transgender parent for national magazines. And yet: I’ve been more afraid to write this post than any piece in my memory.
2) Why? Because I’m a person of substance and therefore not supposed to care about such trivial matters as weight. And, well, because I have ex-boyfriends and frenemies out there on the interwebs and I would like to maintain the illusion that I look reasonably similar to what I did when I was 24. (I realize this may somewhat contradict the person of substance thing.)
4) You may have thoughts about what I just wrote. Like: Wow, that’s a lot. Or: Whatever—that’s nothing. Or: Huh. She looks skinnier in her Facebook photos. (Which is why they are my Facebook photos.)
5) I am heavier than I’ve ever been, not counting being pregnant. My BMI puts me in the “overweight” category. These are just facts, not judgments. Not to say there aren’t plenty of judgments, too.
6) I shot up from about 138 pounds last year, during my daughter’s illness. So many kind people brought us lasagna. Some brought brownies or cake. I scarfed it all in injudicious quantities. One generous friend—bless you, Jiming—made homemade Bolognese sauce, right from the Marcella Hazan cookbook. Once I ate it straight—just me and a soup spoon and the Ziploc bag it came in.
7) I probably also gained an additional 10 pounds or so from the following: Wine. Finishing my son’s half-eaten PB sandwiches. Wine. Chocolate chip scones from the bakery in town. Also wine.
8) I told myself that once my child was on the mend, I’d just diet and get back to exercising and lose it again. Just. Two years prior, I’d done a half-triathlon: swimming, biking, running. So no problem.
9) Instead, I spent about 20 minutes a day, three days a week, picturing myself swimming, biking, and running; drinking kale smoothies and eating plain chicken breasts. This almost felt like doing it, but for some reason didn’t have the desired effect.
10) Then I was laid off. Which seemed like a very good reason to eat pasta by the bucket. Still, this would be no problem because soon enough, I’d have all the time in the world to exercise and diet.
11) I did not take into account the fact that once I worked from home, I would have 24/7 access to the fridge. If you are a stay at home parent or work from your house and you do not weigh 300 pounds or more, pat yourself on the back. You are my hero.
12) I also learned (the pricey way) that the mere act of paying for a gym membership, a fitness app subscription or weightwatchers.com—or all three at once!—will not actually cause you to lose weight. Neither will simply wearing yoga pants.
13) My 17-year-old self would have found this entire turn of events downright shocking. Back then, I was 98 pounds in wet clothes. I couldn’t gain weight. I had no breasts. I had no hips. I hated my wrists. I often wore faux Bohemian clothes—men’s blazers, peasant skirts—that obscured my thinness.
14) In an attempt to become more voluptuous, I spent one month the summer before my senior year eating a pint of Haagen-Dazs every single day. (I’d melt it in the microwave and turn it into a shake of sorts.) Miracle of miracles, I did not become diabetic. Neither did I gain weight. I actually lost five pounds.
15) I was universally praised for my thinness:
“You have the smallest waist in the show—except for the girl they brought up from the middle school!”—A costumer in the Music Man, during my senior year of high school
“Oh my God, you are so tiny, you practically look anorexic!”—Saleswomen in the mall (yes, this was meant as praise)
“We don’t actually have to weigh you in. You’re good.”—Agent at the local talent agency I joined when I was 18 and an aspiring actress [they routinely weighed teen girls when we came for appointments or auditions]
16) By age 22, I was 105 pounds. Once, after having sex, my then-boyfriend told me my thighs were too fat and that he had a hard time looking at them. Also that they didn’t look like Victoria’s Secret model thighs. He said this in a sweet, mournful voice, like a doctor delivering bad news to a patient. I threw him out, and broke off our relationship. Still, the criticism, however absurd, had left its mark: I joined a gym.
17) My metabolism, age 26, died in or around September 7, 1998. It left behind a poochy area right around the belly button. R.I.P.
18) Around this time, people stopped calling me skinny. And I began to realize that weight impacted my identity to a powerful degree. Unconsciously, I’d thought of myself as a thin person. And I continued to think of myself this way, even as I became less genuinely thin.
19) In the years following, I came to work in women’s magazines. While at Conde Nast, publisher of Vogue and Glamour and Allure, curious friends would ask me if it was true that women would size up each other in the elevator. And I would reply that I didn’t really know, because those diva-types kind of looked through me. It was so obvious that I wasn’t bona fide competition.
19) Before I did my triathlon a few years ago, I had spiked up in weight a bit. So I went on the Atkins diet. But I didn’t want my daughter to know about it and grow up to develop an eating disorder. So one night after dinner, when she demanded I eat an Oreo with her, I put it in my mouth, shot her a pursed smile, and quietly exited to spit it out in the kitchen. It occurred to me, as I was bent over the sink, that in the effort to keep my kid from developing unhealthy feelings about food, I was doing a magnificent impression of an eating disorder.
20) So… hello, cookies! Look, I was doing it for the kids.
21) In the last few months, I’ve started exercising again. And I tried a new approach to eating more healthily (which yes, is a euphemism for dieting but also happens to be true): I’ve been upfront about it with both of my kids. Here’s what I’ve told them: Mommy is trying to lose weight because she wants to fit into her pants. Because Mommy is cheap and hates shopping.
22) In response, my son told me that it was fine if I was going to eat more salads and stuff, but to keep one thing in mind. Just don’t become less of a fluffy pillow, he cautioned me, because I love your fluffiness.
23) I promised my son that I wouldn’t forget.