Last May, I went for a physical and discovered I was the heaviest I had ever been. When I stepped on the scales, my short hair nearly stood up straight. I knew I was heavy, of course. I could feel it and see it. But that heavy? No. (Obviously, I wasn’t weighing myself at home.) I knew the time had come to do something about it. I could picture myself being featured on a show like Heavy, where they ship you to a “Spa” and make you exercise until you cry.
Years ago, I had lost a lot of weight using a regime called “Controlled Cheating,” which was developed by Larry “Fats” Goldberg, a friend of the New Yorker writer Calvin Trillin. Controlled Cheating had worked very well for me until I decided to start publishing a literary magazine and no longer had the time and energy to focus on diet and exercise. Because there is no way around it: For someone like me who loves to eat and whose body loves to pack on the pounds, losing weight and keeping it off requires constant vigilance. I can never not think about how much I eat.
Here is the essence of Controlled Cheating: For six days a week, you eat a very low-calorie diet. When I was younger, that was about 1,500 calories day. Now that I am older, and my metabolism has slowed down, it’s more like 1,200. On the 7th day you rest, and eat whatever you want. However, there is a catch, and that catch is exercise. You must exercise every day for an hour or so. No exercise, no controlled cheating. (I’ve written all about this on the blog, but it seemed like a recap would be good for new readers.)
Despite my obsession with food and my body’s tendency to gain weight when I just look at a piece of chocolate, I do have a few things in my favor. First, I am not an emotional eater. That is, when life gets rough, I don’t turn to chocolate. Or to anything else for that matter. In fact, it’s just the reverse. When life gets stressful, I have a hard time eating. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my stomach was so touchy that all I could eat for a while were poached eggs with toast. (However, as soon as the diagnosis was promising, to chocolate I returned.)
Second, although I love sweets and fried food, I also love food that is good for me—fruit especially, but vegetables as well. For me, to eat an orange or a banana or a salad is no hardship at all, and I truly enjoy them.
Third, I really like to ride my bike, to be on the move. In my mind, any day that I can go on a bike ride is a good day, and I ride an average of 10 or 12 miles a day. I also like to go for walks and to work in my gardens. This means that even though much of my time is spent sitting at my desk, I am also eager to be up and about, to get off my backside, to be doing something.
Fourth, my blood sugar and my cholesterol are just fine, and they were even when I was at my heaviest. Go figure.
I am happy to report that a year later, using Controlled Cheating, I have lost 50 pounds. Still, I won’t lie. Losing that weight has been hard, and I know it will be just as hard to keep it off. But that one shining day of the week where I can eat anything I want keeps me going.
Here are some other motivators. People are constantly telling me how good I look, and when I tell them I’d like to lose 20 more pounds or so, they say, “Really?” Now, how satisfying is that? But I do want to lose enough weight so that I can fit into a wool jacket I inherited from my mother. I’m almost there. I can button the coat, but it isn’t comfortable. Twenty pounds should do it.
When I visit my daughter Dee in New York, I can go up and down the subway stairs with nary a problem. Ditto for jumping in and out of the subway cars and for walking 6 miles through the city. My feet might hurt by the end of the day, but the next morning, I’m ready to do it all over again. Fifty pounds ago, this certainly wasn’t the case as I struggled with the stairs and walking.
All in all, I feel pretty peppy. Everything I do just hums along better, from gardening to housework to walking.
I want to conclude with a bit of advice for those who are trying to lose weight. Find a healthy weight reduction system that works for you and stick with it because you will more or less have to adhere to this regime for the rest of your life. This might sound hard, but it’s true. Once the weight is lost, you can’t just say, “Oh, goodie! Now I can eat whatever I want.” I’m sure I don’t need to explain what will happen if you do this.
Because I am, as my daughter Dee puts it, “a lone ranger,” Controlled Cheating works very well for me, and I can do it on my own. However, I know that Weight Watches works for many people and that it has an excellent track record. I’m sure there other good regimes as well. Again, find what’s best for you and plan on sticking with it pretty much forever.
Get off your backside. Move, move, move. I cannot emphasize this enough. We all sit too much, and it isn’t good for us. Walk whenever you can. Bike. Leave the dratted car in the driveway as often as you can.
Some tricks for when you are really hungry and could just chew off the leg of your dining room table: Gum helps. It really does. Whenever I feel the urge to munch—and this happens frequently—I get a piece of gum, and somehow I don’t feel like munching so much. Fruit also helps, and in my opinion, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as an apple, but all fruit is good and is good for you. Also, recent studies suggest that because fruit has so much fiber, its calories are not processed the same way as the calories in, say, a candy bar would be processed. Indeed, in Weight Watchers point system, fruit is now considered to have zero points, which means you can eat as much of it as you want. (Obviously, diabetics must use some caution.)
So there! Twenty more pounds to go, and I should be able to fit into that wool coast. And very good luck to readers who are struggling with their own weight. I certainly know what you are going through.