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What Happened When I Lost 40 Pounds

We are a society badly messed up about body image, which makes weight loss a fraught experience.

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So when I moved back to Dallas, I went on a diet. Not a clipped-from-the-magazines, let-me-try-this-for-a-week diet, but the kind where you step on a scale once a week and pay for the privilege. I didn’t tell anyone but my family and a few friends, which is a little off-script for a woman who has  written publicly about making out while wearing Spanx. But on this matter, I felt deeply private. I have known people who trumpet weight-loss regimens like a sparkly new ring on the finger: Have I told you about my diet? Do you want to hear about these pills/this lap band/this juice fast/this amazing injectable hormone? Not me. In high school, I went on Jenny Craig, and I was so terrified people would find out that I refused to eat lunch until I came home at 4 p.m., because the food was branded with a logo. I had nightmares my classmates would look inside our kitchen cabinet and see a beef-and-bean chili.

When it comes to our bodies, we all have no-fly zones. I have a friend who has lost weight, and she couldn’t care less if you know she’s on a diet. But she refuses to say how much weight she’s lost. Recently a co-worker grilled her, and when she politely demurred, the woman kept pushing.  No really, how much? Come on, you can tell me. “She definitely wasn’t nervous about touching the weight issue,” my friend said. She added that the woman was heavy, and the candor may have come from an assumed “we’re in this together” solidarity. Still, can’t people take a hint? This stuff cuts deep.

And because it cuts so deep, different rules apply to different people, which makes the conversation that much trickier. My friend doesn’t want to share that number with you because when she finally screwed up her courage enough to step on a scale, she was shocked by how big she had gotten, and the number plunges her back into that shame. I don’t want to admit that I’m on a diet because, on some basic level, I seem unable to forgive myself for needing it in the first place — for not being born tall and thin with the metabolism of a marathon runner. I never wanted to be a woman on a diet. (I also never wanted to be a woman who cried easily, or  showed people pictures of her cat. This did not work out as planned.) The fact that everyone notices I lost weight reminds me that everyone noticed I had gained weight in the first place but they said nothing because, seriously now, what is there to say? They said, “Your hair looks great.” They said, “I like those shoes.”

There is the added conflict of being all too aware that most diets fail, that our culture is slavishly focused on appearance, much to the detriment of our souls, and that I’m supposed to love my body at any size, not “rip off my own face” if I can’t wear short-shorts in the summertime. But what do you do? Recently, I heard a story about a woman who had lost more than 100 pounds on a strict diet. With tears in her eyes, she admitted that she told everyone she was doing it to be healthier, but that was a lie. She didn’t give a damn about being healthy. She did it because she was sick of being fat.

Can you blame her? We’re a fat-phobic culture. That obsession drives toxic behavior. Another friend of mine tells a story of being at her thinnest in college. She tried crazy stuff to keep the weight down: Diet pills, Ipecac. People kept telling her, too, “You look so healthy!” And she would think, “ Really? Because three hours ago I was crying over a toilet trying to make myself throw up.”

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