40. Twenty Pounds and Counting

40. Twenty Pounds and Counting

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Shaping the New You

Twenty Pounds
and Counting

You can’t lose weight by talking about it. You have to keep your mouth shut.
 ~Author Unknown

Calories have always loved me. In fact, they worshipped me, using my body as their temple and congregating around my waist, hips, and thighs. The more they adored me, the more I expanded.

In those days, my mantra was: “Calories? Who knows? Who cares?” The more junk food I ate, the louder I chanted. And with each pound representing 3,500 calories, and my being 20 pounds overweight, I was doing a lot of chanting and chewing to have picked up 70,000 freeloaders, er, acolytes.

Nice as it is to be loved, even adoration has its drawbacks. I had to buy new jeans with an extra relaxed fit to accommodate me and my gang of acolytes.

Not wanting to be a card-carrying member of Generation O for obesity, and worried that my freeloaders would invite friends to join them at the altar of my hips, I put down the remote control and joined a gym. Decked out in sweatpants and oversized T-shirt, I prepared to pare down.

The gang and I pedaled for miles on the stationary bike; we climbed uphill and downhill on the treadmill; and we lifted weights until our muscles screamed in protest. Rather MY muscles screamed; the fat cells just bunched over my waistband and hung on for dear life.

The gang wasn’t thrilled about this new routine. About 17,500 of them packed their bags and left, presumably to find someone who didn’t shake them up, down, and sideways. But the other 52,500 stayed. Either they were made of sterner stuff or they assumed I would get tired of working out and head back for the couch.

I didn’t.

For the next three years, I averaged two and a third trips to the gym per week. The mirror told me I looked better, and I traded a relaxed pant for one that didn’t shout “overweight.” But I couldn’t shake my most devoted acolytes.

I ignored the fact that I rewarded myself with junk food after a workout. Sometimes I rewarded myself with junk food for merely thinking about going to the gym. After eating a family-sized bag of chips, your body doesn’t want to lift anything heavier than the empty package.

When I stepped on the scale, I told myself the “weight” was muscle. After all, a pec flex produced a lump that was at least the size of a lemon. Almost.

Then my gym offered a 10-week nutrition/weight loss course. I signed up. The come-on: “10 pounds in 10 weeks,” was enticing. I figured if I paid $200 for the course, I might actually follow the advice and evict another 35,000 unwanted acolytes.

At the first session, the instructor handed out weekly food-tracking sheets and I realized my days of ignoring food labels were over. I’d have to weigh and measure every mouthful, track the ratio of protein, carbs, and fat, and write it all down. Worse, someone else would know everything I put in my mouth.

If that weren’t bad enough, I’d be weighed every session—on a scale that could tell fat from muscle. I almost asked for my money back, but the tightness in my waistband persuaded me to go ahead with the course. That and the gym’s no-money-back policy.

The next morning, I placed food lists on my fridge door, got out my measuring cups and spoons, and girded my loins for war: Harriet against her temple acolytes.

At the grocery store, I read the nutrition labels on every item before allowing it in my shopping cart and finally learned how much fat and carbs were packed into a single bag of chips. Not wanting to live at the gym for the rest of my life, I bade goodbye to the chips, and headed for the fresh produce section.

I also chanted my new mantra: “Twenty grams protein, 30 grams carbs, and 10 grams fat” at every meal until I thought my head would explode. I cubed low-fat cheese into strict one-serving portions. I ate raw veggies until my jaws ached from the constant crunching. I ditched the deep fryer and grilled chicken, shrimp, and tofu burgers.

After 10 weeks, I’d lost eight pounds and I kept on losing. By the time I’d lost 15 pounds, I had memorized the food charts and no longer needed to record every mouthful. After 20 pounds, I had to buy new clothes.

While it’s gotten easier, it’s never gotten easy. I keep a picture of myself taken 20 years ago next to my computer. The woman in the picture is slim, not skinny, and she’s smiling. That’s the woman I want to be, not the woman who spent years hiding from cameras because she didn’t like what she saw.

Luckily, I’ve developed a taste for raw veggies, low-fat cheese, and grilled chicken. And if the odd chip or piece of chocolate crosses my lips, it’s not the end of world. I warn any would-be acolytes that they’re short-term and not to unpack their bags.

The next day I chant my mantra a little louder.

~Harriet Cooper

More stories from our partners