25. Playing to Lose

25. Playing to Lose

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Shaping the New You

Playing to Lose

In every part and corner of our life,
to lose oneself is to be the gainer. . .
 ~Robert Louis Stevenson

After our first son married, my husband and I sat on the couch looking at the wedding photos. There were the bride and groom, barefoot and grinning as they stood in the grass. Here were the bridesmaids laughing and whispering behind bouquets of flowers. Another photo showed our son and his best friend toasting each other with a bottle of Jones Soda. And the next photo? A snapshot of myself with our guests.

That photo startled me. In my bright yellow mother-of-the-groom dress, I looked overweight. I felt embarrassed to have the photo appear in a family album. How could I have let myself get so overweight? There and then I resolved to get that weight off before the next family wedding came around with its photographic record of my image.

In college, I had been slender, but with the years, pounds began accumulating. They came slowly at first, but as I hit my fourth decade, in one six-month period I added 15 pounds to my frame. Still, the excess weight did not slow me down. Another decade passed before I took an honest look at that wedding photo and admitted the truth: I was obese.

After my son’s wedding, I went to my doctor for my annual physical checkup. The doctor prodded me here and listened to me there. He smiled graciously and pronounced that I was in good health. Then, as he was collecting his folders and clipboard and heading for the door, I took the plunge and asked him, “What about my weight?”

Hadn’t my doctor noticed that I was well above the weight limit for my height? Was my physician more willing to run the risk that I could die from a heart attack than risk that I might be offended?

“How can I get rid of these extra pounds?” I asked.

My doctor paused, set down his clipboard and, because I initiated this discussion about my weight, admitted his concerns. Offering several suggestions, he jotted down the name of a nutritionist.

Meet with a nutritionist? The idea intimidated me. I am a capable person. At work I solve problems. But now I needed someone to teach me how to fight a battle in a new arena. The nutritionist was understanding. She allowed me to cry and, yes, even grieve the loss of my favorite comfort foods. She assured me that I wouldn’t be saying goodbye to those foods forever. I could still eat a chocolate brownie, butter a homemade sweet roll, or savor a piece of apple pie, just not all of them on the same day. Together we worked out a daily meal plan that suited my lifestyle.

Soon I was counting calories, comparing fats, and charting my carbs. Keeping track of all the numbers became a kind of game. I engaged my appetite as an opponent. As with any unfamiliar game, I had to learn new rules.

“I don’t like cold foods. Raw carrots just don’t do it for me,” I complained.

My nutritionist suggested, “Lunches don’t have to be the traditional salad filled with cold greens and celery. Instead, try cooking a plate of fresh hot veggies.”

Why, I learned, I could even fix vegetables for breakfast! Vegetables for breakfast? All my time-worn rules about cereal and toast began to crumble.

My appetite, my unseen opponent, had lots of tricks to get me off track, but I was delighted when I won the game and stayed within my calorie limit for the day. Steadily the pounds disappeared.

But sometimes I didn’t win.

Many years ago when I was a child, my grandmother taught me to play cards. She said learning to play games was character-building: It taught children how to win and lose graciously. Thus, long before I learned to read, I played card games. As a toddler I learned to sort the cards into piles of red and black. Then I played simple matching games and memory games. And as I grew older, the rules became more complex and involved more strategy. I became hooked on games of solitaire like Canfield, Idiot’s Delight, and Clock. Along the way I discovered that winning and losing is just part of the cycle of life.

In the same way, with my new eating plan, I found there were days when I won and other days when I gave in to cravings and tossed my diet to the wind. When that happened, however, I didn’t give up. I might not win all the time, but I continued to play the game and develop new strategies in order to win the next day, strategies like substituting lower calorie items for my high-fat pleasures.

Three years later, I was no longer obese. By the time our daughter got married, I had shrunk six dress sizes. The photos in my daughter’s wedding album show a petite bride radiant in her white gown while, standing nearby, her newly-slim mother looked on with pride.

~Emily Parke Chase

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