What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
17 years ago I met my husband, fell in love, and got married. And, like any couple that truly loves one another, we got fat together.
We married in front of our friends and family, blissfully at our ideal weights. Then, life got comfortable and we both kept having birthdays. We added a dog that liked to snuggle on the couch and a couple of kids who would often leave chicken nuggets on their plates for us to finish. My parents and my mother’s meatloaf recipe moved in with us. I stopped trying to be the cool, suburban mom who wore yoga pants and a crop-top at school pick-up — I didn’t have the energy, or the muscle, to hold in my stomach.
Husband never quite got used to it. He has a near-pathological need for self-improvement; he’s only happy when things are broken and he can come up with ideas of how to fix them. So he’d indulge in nachos and artisan beer, then wallow in the daily self-loathing that comes with habitual scale-watching while he came up with a new plan to shed a few pounds.
Me, I didn’t step on a scale for years. Eventually, I felt like I was the cliché, supportive parent, and my ass was the 30 year-old, jobless son who lived in my basement and sucked the energy out of the room every time he walked in. Sure, I loved him — but I was disappointed in how he turned out.
About two years ago, Husband and I agreed we had to “do something about our health.” The main thing I’ve learned in those two years is this: Diets are like relationships, and I have some serious commitment issues.
I meet diets in the usual ways: either online or through setups by a well-meaning friend who just wants me to experience the same kind of love and acceptance that she has found. And I try — really try — to make grown-up choices, to choose to be with diets who are obviously there for the right reasons and want a sustainable, fulfilling relationship with me.
At the beginning, of course, it works. I’m excited because this is The One that’s finally going to get me to my goal weight. In the rush of those first days, I’m interested in playing whatever little game this diet requires: counting the points, or finding recipes with ingredients only from the short list of allowed foods, or eating at the prescribed times, or whatever.
When little problems arise, I meet them head-on and work through them, like a grown-up person in a real relationship. And I watch the pounds melt off.
That lasts for about two weeks. Then the new routine, the new little games, the early success, it all stops being fun and starts to feel like work. I get a little bored. I find myself at my new lunch place, eating a grilled chicken breast salad but dreaming of the sausage-bacon-pineapple pizza they’re serving next door.
At the supermarket I intentionally linger in the produce section, dutifully and carefully shopping for next week’s recipes, and only when I can’t avoid it any longer do I go to the “Chips/Snacks/Cookies” aisle to stand there “just looking” for a full 10 minutes. Inevitably, the allure of that scrumptious Ben and his sexy buddy Jerry become too much, and I throw away all the hard work for another lusty, shameful booty call with those two man-whores and their “Late Night Snack” (the one with chocolate covered potato chips).
And that’s it. Sure, I pick through my skim-milk-and-steel-cut-oats the next morning, but both I and the oatmeal know it’s over.
I was explaining all this to Husband last summer and, as he must, he came up with a solution. Since diets only ever work for about two weeks, he reasoned, what if we did the first 14 days — and only the first 14 days — of all the popular diets we’re interested in? And at the two week mark, when our enthusiasm for Diet A is starting to wane and we feel like cheating, we do — with Diet B. We, in effect, exchange diet-adultery for planned, short-term, serial diet-monogamy.
We floated this concept to a few of our friends. Our health-nut neighbor said it was “really unlikely to work, and probably unhealthy.” Husband’s surgeon friend said “it’ll probably work, as long as you continue to show a callous disregard for your wife’s well-being.” My psychologist friend said it was “clear evidence of a middle-age crisis," and my gynecologist said, “I just really don’t see the point.”
But it worked. We started with Weight Watchers. I was hungry for two weeks straight. I lost two pounds, Husband lost five. Next we started the Mediterranean diet. I ate so much fish I actually started just chewing and swallowing the bones. Husband and I each lost one pound. Then we went to a Paleo diet plan. I imagined everyone’s head was a huge chunk of cheddar cheese I could covet yet still not eat. I lost four pounds, husband lost three.
When that was over we went to a shake diet — Husband with a customized plan of powder he bought at the specialty vitamin store, me with a name brand that was easy to find at Target. And though I walked around light headed for two weeks and was never able to crap, I lost four pounds while the Husband lost two. I started looking good. Really good.
Then, we took our annual family trip to Disney. We called this next two weeks of our life the Disney Diet. It was nice. It included eating anything we wanted, getting our heart rate up by trying to get a seat on the Disney bus, and drinking to stay "relaxed" — not hydrated.
We came back a few weeks before Thanksgiving. What was the point of starting another diet so soon? We were just going to eat anything we wanted over Thanksgiving break anyway, and Oh My God! Look! Starbucks has Pumpkin Spice Lattes!
Thanksgiving was also our eldest son’s birthday. Who has a birthday without cake? And if you make a cake large enough to really show your son how much you love him – you’re going to have leftover cake for awhile. Don’t be a wasteful, ungrateful American – eat the whole cake.
And then it was officially the holidays. Would I allow my grandmother’s recipe for pecan balls to go completely unmade, thus suggesting that her memory meant nothing to me? Of course not. Could I avoid decorating cookies and assembling a gingerbread house with my family? What am I? Some sort of neglectful, absent mother? No I am not. And Oh My God! Starbucks has Egg Nog Lattes!
Mmmm — what would happen if I put some Amaretto or Bailey’s in that Egg Nog Latte?
Then, before you could ask yourself “What’s a good New Year’s resolution?” it was New Year’s Eve. I wear my stretchy pants and make Bolognese sauce every New Year’s Eve. I just do. Nothing — really nothing — goes better with a Twilight Zone Marathon than a plate full of spaghetti Bolognese. (Nothing goes better with writing a blog than a plate full of Bolognese either. You know, name me something that doesn’t go really well with a plate full of Bolognese.)
So, January 5th the kids went back to school and the husband and I were heavier than we were when we started the experiment. We sighed and began the very low-carb Atkins Diet — I’ve lost six pounds and Husband has lost eight. We start The China Study (basically vegan) on Monday, and my sweet dogs are going to start looking mighty tasty I bet.
And then, we’ll have seven more diets to go through, roughly four months before we can definitively say if this was a success or not. In the meantime, I’m confident that all this focus on food can be diagnosed as an eating disorder.
But I am pleased that Husband came up with the idea and that we are still following through on it. Maybe we needed the long holiday break to reassess our commitment to plain oatmeal and poached eggs and now we are ready to prove our faithfulness to our next diet (two weeks worth of faithfulness that is). Plus, what is a tour through America’s fad diets without at least one serious yo-yo dieting catastrophe?
We’ll take with us what we want to incorporate from each 14-day experiment and hopefully make that turn to "healthy lifestyle" rather than "strict diet." If not, there’s always another two weeks to try something new.