I learned a lot about myself over the last twelve weeks, not all of it good.
After not working for a few weeks over the summer, while recovering from surgery, I came back with a just noticeable belly. I figured I would work it off. I happen to have what, in this culture, would be considered a fortunate metabolism, in that I’ve always been a big eater and stayed thin. In college I thought of myself as a buck-fifty. Where I got one-fifty as my typical weight, I’m not sure. That might not have included a growth spurt I had in college. At work, we had a Biggest Loser contest, which has been done in years past, but recalling that belly from the summer, or maybe noticing it was still there, I signed up. Weigh in day, I must have gone around and told everyone in the store that the scale was off. Coincidentally, I had a doctor’s appointment that day, where my weigh was confirmed at 192.3.
So I thought I’d drop a few pounds, but I didn’t want to add daily exercise to my regimen. I decided I’d simply eat less, portion control. When I announced this plan, I was told, unequivocally, that it wouldn’t work. “How will doing everything else the same but eating less not work?” I asked. I was told, “Your body will think it’s starving and turn what you eat into fat.” I said, “And use what for energy, air?” There was no arguing with this person. People believe what feels good to believe. Anyone who tried the kind of diet I was talking about would rather believe it can’t work than that it could have worked but they’d failed in its execution. Dieting isn’t easy but it is simple. That was my theory, at least.
Now highly motivated due to my high level of stubbornness, I got started. Every time I sat to eat, I took what I used to eat and ate only half of that. I made sandwiches with less meat, I would cut off tiny squares of mac and cheese and eat that with two chicken drumsticks instead of four or five. Mild hunger became my constant companion. Once mild hunger went away, I would wrap up the rest of that meal and have it later. I took handfuls of pretzels out of the bag and set them on a paper towel and put the sealed bag away in the cupboard. I was dropping three to four pounds per week for the first month, but I was a little obsessed. I was fantasizing about transforming myself into the character Christian Bale played in The Machinist, functioning in an emaciated body with shrunk organs until people started to talk. “Is there something wrong with Greg?” “No. He’s just really good at dieting.”
Will power is something we admire in people, but it’s not always adaptive. I was fortunate that mine dwindled after the first month. One of the mistakes I’d made was not setting a goal. I told my sister on the phone that I wanted to disappear. That was a joke, but it did reflect a compulsive tendency that isn’t healthy. Some of that weight you need. You need your organs at the very least. So I pulled back. While on vacation, I didn’t worry about it much. When I came back, I developed a moderate approach. I decided twenty pounds was a good amount to lose, but I also reminded myself that a contest at work wasn’t the point. I didn’t want to add unneeded weight to my body. Somehow I had picked up the habit of overeating at virtually every meal. When I made a lasagna, I would eat as much of it as I could fit in my stomach. Every day off, I would consume a four-egg and cheese omelet and half a pound of bacon. Why? The second half of those meals brought me no pleasure. Half of what I ate was a chore to put in my mouth.
So the contest ended and my final weigh-in was 175.0. Which means I lost 17.3 pounds, 2.7 short of an even twenty. Which is perfect because now I have the motivation to continue eating smaller meals. Because food tastes better. Because the discipline I’ve developed has carried over to my writing life. Eating less had unforeseen gains.
I also saved money. Eating healthier might cost more, but eating less doesn’t. I denied myself very few of the foods I used to enjoy. One of my favorite meals over the twelve weeks was baked potato wedges instead of fries and one hamburger instead of two. I enjoyed twice as much splurging on a ten-dollar pizza when it was four meals instead of two. The only foods I eliminated were pop and chips. I cheated a couple of times with pop and I celebrated the end of the contest last night by buying a bag of chips and, guess what, chips aren’t that great.