It all started when I begged my Mom to start Weight Watchers with me in January of 2007. I remember hearing the ads on television and occasionally during radio commercials, that there was finally a way to drop the weight for good without a diet. I was currently on a vacation in Hawaii with my entire family: parents, both brothers and their wives, niece and nephew… and also my then-boyfriend (ex-husband). I had one of those intuitive experiences and “knew” that a proposal from him was in the works and dropping soon. And because of this, day of all days, I wanted to look thin on my Wedding Day.
The week after we arrived back from Hawaii, I coerced my Mom into driving us both to the Weight Watchers location. I remember walking into the old building (a retired post office in my hometown), up a flight of stairs, and into a massive gymnasium. On my left were two medical-sized electronic scales, with the screen atop a pulpit where two Weight Watchers workers recorded the data of the person stepping on. On my right was a large, picnic-style table with stacks and stacks of applications, pamphlets, and other paperwork. In the center of the room were rows and rows of fold-out chairs where, I assumed, a weight loss class was in session. My mom and I approached the ladies sitting behind the table and asked about sitting in for a free meeting, like we had heard on the TV advertisement. To her dismay, the older woman closest to us said, “No, it’ll be $11 for your first meeting. Let’s get you both registered and then have you both get your starting weights, right over there,” motioning to the scales.
I hadn’t stepped on a scale (for my own viewing) ever, and had only been weighed at the doctor’s office a year or so prior. I knew I was heavy. I didn’t want the actual numerical proof. But, alas, after writing out my personal information and my mom paid the cashier for us both, I slipped off my shoes and coat and stepped on. Moments that felt like singular eternities passed by and the woman behind the pulpit muttered softly, “206.8 pounds today.” I felt my breath escape me. My consistent denial was suddenly shattered by the truth. I wasn’t just overweight for my height, but obese, something I only attached to aging parents and others of their age.
I stepped back off, gathered my stuff, and wandered over to the farthest back row of the meeting. My mom came over, looking distraught, as well. 260 was her lot today.
In our first meeting, our instructor taught us the fundamental parts of the Weight Watchers program: all foods were given Points values for their calorie, fat, and fiber contents (so, obviously, french fries are going to really cost you, but having 2 cups of fruit wasn’t); you could “earn” more Points towards more food or for further weight loss by exercising; you had extra Weekly Points that you could dip into for treats, going out to dinner, and so on; and lastly, how to figure our own personal Points Allowance was. Starting out, 5’9.5, female, 206 pounds, and mildly active in beauty school, I ranked in at 28 points a day. At first, knowing how much Weight Watchers wanted me to eat to lose weight was EXCITING! Something they repeatedly try to enforce in their meetings is this, “It’s a Lifestyle, not a Diet.”
Within a week, I became a certified PRO at attaching Points numbers to foods. I could easily wander through our fridge, our cupboards, and even shelves at the store and tell you exactly how many Points a slice/cup/serving of ____ would cost you. Knowing this information was enticing to me. Food was no longer about eating when I was hungry or stopping when I was satisfied or full, but it was about manipulating the system to make sure, make sure, I was eating the largest volume of food during the day, but still stay within my Points allotment to lose weight at the next Weigh In. Suddenly, foods I’d always loved and enjoyed were banned. I couldn’t dream of giving up 8 of my treasured points to treat myself to a slice of pizza with my family anymore. When my birthday came around, cake was not even an option. I no longer saw food, I only saw numbers.
I had a ritual going, (and recently found out that I’m not even close to the only one who did this), that every Monday, after I went to my Weigh In that morning, I went totally hog-wild with the food for the rest of the day. Out of sheer mental exhaustion and physical, as well. I would binge eat well into my Weekly Points, that afternoon and evening alone. Anything was go as long as I crossed the Points off as I went. It was my one day of celebration after a full week of hard work. I deserved it.
I found exhilaration in becoming so self-righteous about nutritional and Points content, that I couldn’t eat out on dates with my then-fiance. Family get-togethers were a huge source of anxiety for me because I wouldn’t get to know the exact Points in the foods being served. So, consequently, I rejected to eat with my family. I’d prepare and eat all of my meals alone. All I knew is I didn’t want to get a gain on my Weekly Tracking Card. I felt imprisoned. When offered something delicious and equally “off” plan, I refused, and said I didn’t even like ____ anymore. I was internally furious at anyone who dared to eat my old favorite foods in front of me. I poured on the guilt, both on them and myself. I was in a losing battle.
The thing with Weight Watchers and ANY diet is this: It DOES work… until it doesn’t anymore. I dropped 50 pounds rather quickly, then completely stalled. Bewildered, I went over and over through the nutritional information of the foods I was eating, calculating Points for each item, and journaled my food religiously. For every day, for the 3 years I was on the program. I didn’t miss a beat. I took a different approach and started to really ramp up my exercise. My goal was this: each week, I’d burn off, collectively, 3,500 calories extra and not eat any of my Weekly Allowance and only adhere to my Daily Points. I wasn’t going to negate the effects of running for an hour on the treadmill with a trivial second helping of dinner, even if I was really hungry.
My plan worked for a while. I finally dipped into a very low weight range for my height (nearly 70 pounds lost), and achieved that very elusive Lifetime Member status. This meant I no longer had to pay to attend meetings, just as long as I didn’t gain more than 2 pounds over my lowest-recorded weight. I could possibly say this was my most stressful, most tedious experience during Weight Watchers. I wanted to prove to my Leaders, to the rest of my Class, that I, Amy, was no longer a Fat Girl. I finally got my shit together and lost the weight.
I quit Weight Watchers when I started the P90X workout program, but shifted over the same obsessive tendencies that Weight Watchers instilled in me from the beginning: I and my body was not to be trusted. There was always a new goal to reach. I would never be finished. Even though the plan called for one DVD workout a day (an hour or less), I wasn’t satisfied even though I was physically tired. I added long runs in the morning and ramped it up with P90X at night. I skipped outings with friends when they interfered with my workout schedule. Still wouldn’t allow myself to eat out, even when P90X suggested a treat meal (of whatever my choosing) once per week, even after its nutritionally sound advice elsewhere. I simply couldn’t allow myself to do that. I was terrified of the gain.
Fast forward a few years and now a year after my excessive restricting turned into full-fledged Binge Eating Disorder last May. Every single delicious and forbidden food I’d been restricting years before was suddenly my temporary medication for the pain I felt following my divorce. Thanks to my low-dose antidepressant, the urge to binge is no longer strong. I maybe overeat once per week, generally on the weekend, when Michael and I will go out to sushi or get a dessert afterwards. Because these days, even though I still view a croissant or eclair with Points, I allow myself to dig in occasionally and enjoy the things that are delicious and worthwhile in this life. I know, going in, that I’ll be stepping on the scale the next morning and see a gain, but I take that temporary rise with the mindset that I know better now. It’ll come back down tomorrow.
And best of all? I’m not stepping on in front of anyone else but me.