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I've always been tall and was a size 0 when I was 13 because of my first growth spurt.
Then, once I went away to college, I started slowly gaining weight on my 6-foot-2 frame, going from the size 4 or 6 I was throughout high school and creeping up into an 8 then a 10 then a 12 and by the time I was out of college, I was a steady size 14.
The moment that I decided to lose weight, I was working at Northwestern medical school writing for their alumni magazine. It was 2004, and I was at one of the graduations for the new class of doctors. I looked at some of the women on stage, and I thought to myself: There is no tougher job than being a doctor, and yet all these women manage to stay very trim.
Something clicked inside me, almost as if a challenge to see if I could do it -- and that it was time for me to stop making the excuse that I needed the junk foods I was eating or the calorie-laden meals in order to get my work done. All I had to do was write. I wasn't saving anyone's life.
Then three other factors occurred which precipitated my weight loss.
1) I received a book while working that medical school job, written by a Northwestern medical school graduate called "No White at Night," which I decided to try.
2) My marriage was falling apart, I was rediscovering who I was, and part of that was reinventing my physical appearance. I had some notion that I wasn't going to do anything that was "playing the game" when it came to physical appearances during my marriage, and I never dyed my hair, did my eyebrows, wore makeup. I thought it didn't matter. I was in love, and with true feminist love, you didn't play any of those games. When I started to discover some of the women that my ex-husband had hit on while we were married, it suddenly dawned on me: This kind of shit matters -- a lot. Eye shadow. Outfits. Hair. The whole goddamn 9 yards. Not to be done for a man, necessarily, but hey, it turns out they are paying attention.
3) I started doing "morning pages" which put me more in touch with myself. Part of feeling myself and my body was being honest about things like, "Here I am sitting outside, drinking this chai. It tastes very sugary. Am I enjoying it? It's making me feel kind of sickly." It was like doing a body-scan meditation and feeling what each part of myself was feeling. Did the sugary chai make me feel good? Or not so good? What gave me the most energy?
Cut to: I went from a size 14 to a size 6 again. One of the biggest factors was following the "No White at Night" diet, which I can boil down to a few principles:
- Your biggest meal is breakfast; lunch is less big and the lightest meal is dinner.
- Protein at every meal.
- For the last meal of the day no "white," or carbs.
- Try not to eat after your last meal of the day, and make the last meal at 6 or 7 p.m. if you can.
I did this religiously, and off the pounds dropped. When I came to New York to work at The Post in 2005, I maintained it at first, and I remember one day getting on the scale at 139 and squealing with pride at how disciplined I was being. I had never been able to get this skinny before. Truth be told, I had gotten to the point where my BMI was approaching near anorexic, and in fact, an endocrinologist told me exactly that when I saw him about not having my period in months.
I remember walking out of that doctor's office, eyes glazed, calling my ex-husband and telling him about this appointment, and then saying I was going to go get some pizza and bread sticks.
"That sounds like a good idea," he said with kindness.
And so began the extreme opposite end of the eating cycle. Instead of restrictive eating, I would binge.
There was a weird combination of pleasure upon pleasure upon pleasure upon it's-not-even-pleasurable-anymore-and-now-I-must-punish-myself euphoria that binge eating provided -- a dulling but also a worsening of the pain in my hurting psyche like a thud. I remember one late boozy night leaving a work dinner with friends, drunk, and walking with someone from The Post, and then saying I was going to go into this restaurant to get something to eat.
"But we just ate," he said, visibly concerned, and I went inside, and ordered another meal, and ate it until I felt sick, then ordered dessert. Then I went back to the apartment I was living in with a lesbian couple in Park Slope, and I would guiltily raid their refrigerator.
Ice cream, cereal, crackers, more cereal, leftovers, candy. By this point I felt like throwing up, but I never did. I tried to one time after a terrible night of blackout sex, and then my eyes looked like I had been punched, purple, and all of the my-life-is-so-fucking-glamorous whimsy I had been feeling from the hazy night before crashed down into a deep dead terrifying depression.
I called an old friend, a doctor in Boston who has always been there for me, and I told him about this, ashamed of my crying.
"You need to get the fuck out of Dodge," he said compassionately. When he saw me soon after that on a business trip to New York, we ate cookies in Little Italy together, and I felt like a heroin addict shooting up in front of him. I remember him kindly, semi-exaggeratedly saying, "Well I feel full. I'm good," as a cue to me that we can listen to our bodies when we feel done. I just teared up and nodded.
What finally, surprisingly got me out of the cycle of binge eating at night, punishing myself by eating nothing the next day and then getting drunk very quickly on an empty stomach at night was finally going on Zoloft in 2007. Something about admitting defeat -- that I was really having a hard time and battling demons of anxiety and depression -- allowed me to break out of some of the defeating patterns that were ultimately just punishing myself, again and again.
Since stopping the non-purging bulimia (as one cognitive therapist termed it), I've stayed at around 165 pounds, sometimes getting down into the 150s (God I miss the days when I would get on the scale and every time it would say between 145 and 155). Overall, I think I look just fine.
But I'm doing this photo shoot -- the Shameless one that Emily did to get her pinup photos -- that a friend bought me as a gift on Thursday, and I feel kind of bloated and junk-foody and not at my peak at all.
I suppose I know the answer to the question posed in the headline. It is to eat sensibly and work out, and even to follow the principles of the "No White" diet as long as I don't veer into the more dangerous restrictive pre-anorexic category (which honestly, I don't even recognize that person anymore -- I'm so much more relaxed and kind to myself in every regard, and I do think that some of the brutal control I tried to take with my food at the time was an attempt to control freedom out of an unhappy relationship).
But I'm wondering if there is a good detox I could do Monday through Wednesday to feel like I gave the old college cleansing try before getting photographed in images that will last forever -- and I'm definitely so excited to get.
I've done the cayenne pepper mixture you can buy from Whole Foods, and I've also gone with the 48-Hour "celebrity" juice cleanse you can buy from Walgreens. Then there's bikram yoga which I feel like is always an intense, healthy way to force yourself to get in touch with your body, every sweaty fold of skin included in each stretch. And, I suppose, Spirulina makes me feel full when I remember to take it.
But there is part of me that feels like doing nothing. Today I had pizza and a burger and I ordered from a bodega for delivery in the morning (my first time doing that). An amused woman answered at the bodega, and I got: orange juice, toilet paper and a breakfast sandwich.
"Do you actually carry breakfast sandwiches?" I asked.
"Oh yes," the woman answered and guessed: "Egg sandwich then?"
"No," I said, "can I get cheese egg bacon on a croissant?"
"Oh, yes," she said, chuckling. "Going all the way, huh?" She said it approvingly, like she was very tickled by all the hungover women of Manhattan calling to order their mandatory greasy-sop-it-up next day cures.
Honestly, I fully enjoyed all of these meals. I didn't feel bad. But now, as Thursday is fast approaching, I feel like it might be worth it to make one final effort to lose a few pounds before my photo shoot.
What are your thoughts? Do you have any secret weight-loss tricks that are healthy? I do know one I keep meaning to employ which is eating little bits of spicy peppers, which trigger an increase in your metabolism. But I suppose that would require going into an actual grocery store.
Is there some shake I should check out? I've done Slim-Fast before, but I don't think that really works that well for me. It just feels kind of sugar-rush-inducing and gives me flashbacks to when I was recruited as a model in high school but couldn't get down to the 135 pounds they wanted me to so I finally told my mom, I'd rather concentrate in school, and perhaps more eloquently: FUCK THAT SHIT.
What do you think I should do starting today? Should I once again say fuck that shit to doing a pre-photo-shoot cleanse? I think it couldn't hurt as long as I'm healthy about the whole process.
Give me your recs, XO. I'm all ears.
Find Mandy long-form at http://tinyurl.com/stadtmiller.