75: The Day I Took Control

75: The Day I Took Control

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive

The Day I Took Control

Dieting is not a piece of cake.

~Author Unknown

I tugged the jeans over my hips and yanked up the zipper, the effort leaving me practically breathless. Then I stood back and looked at my reflection in the dressing room mirror. Flesh spilled over the waistband. I checked the tag. The jeans were in my usual size. Probably just improperly cut, I reassured myself. Yet, when the zipper on the next pair of pants I selected would not so much as budge, I had to step back and admit the cold hard truth to myself — my weight was, once again, out of control.

My struggle with weight started long before, as my mother would say, when I was first introduced to cookies and milk. I mean, who could pass up something like that? A warm chocolate chip cookie straight from the oven washed down with a cold glass of milk? Or what about an oatmeal cookie filled with plump, sweet raisins? And don’t even get me started on those brownies: plain, frosted, or the kind I had recently discovered behind the glass case at that specialty market, crafted with a soft peanut butter filling.

I just couldn’t resist such goodies, though I tried. Many, many times. Through a combination of various diets and sheer willpower, I had dieted myself down to an acceptable weight a number of times through the years. Liquid, high-protein, low-carbohydrate, calorie counting, and point system diets, I had done them all. In fact, I was practically a weight loss expert.

What I wasn’t, however, was a maintenance expert. After reaching my goal, the weight would eventually return. When I found my heart palpitating as I climbed stairs, or felt an ache in my knees, or was unable to pull up a zipper, I would revisit my cycle of diet and weight loss followed by overeating and weight gain. I knew this was a dangerous cycle. Yet while I had all the skills I needed to lose the weight, I lacked those I needed to maintain the loss. Invariably, it seemed, I always backslid in my efforts, lured by my love of sweets.

There in that fitting room, my flabby reflection stared back at me, disgusted. I huffed and puffed as I pulled off the jeans and put on my own clothes. I assessed what I saw above my double chin: dull hair, pallid complexion, circles under my eyes — all telltale signs of poor health. I looked bad. But worst of all, I felt bad inside and out. I lacked drive. Frequently I passed on social invitations because I didn’t have the energy. And exercise? Forget about that. There was no cookie worth this, I thought, as I placed the cast-off clothing on the return rack.

That afternoon I went home determined to finally clear my cabinets, and myself, of all unnecessary excess. However, I’d be lying to say that this next step was easy. Tossing out each poor but tasty food choice was like letting go of an old friend. As I dropped each item into the garbage, I followed the suggestion of an article I had read in a woman’s magazine: create a helpful mantra. With each piece of junk food I threw out, I chanted: “You don’t rule me anymore. You don’t rule me anymore, chocolate. You don’t rule me anymore, cookies. You don’t rule me anymore, cake.” Though spoken half-heartedly at first, my mantra eventually took root in the deepest part of me. By the end of this exercise I discovered that tossing out the unhealthy foods helped me reclaim the upper hand in my quest for healthier living.

The next step on this journey was to further exercise my newfound authority over my body by finding a sensible lifestyle program. I started by visiting a bookstore and thumbing through some weight loss books. Soon, I found something I felt I could live with. No more being a slave to counting, measuring, or fasting — just good, healthy eating partnered with a moderate exercise program. With that selected, I went to the grocery store to gather the supplies I needed to see my new lifestyle through.

I began in the produce aisle and snaked my way through the store. With each good choice I made, I felt even more empowered. Then I rounded the corner toward the bakery aisle. There I stood, surrounded by my old friends: all manner of cookies, cakes, buns, and muffins. I glanced into my cart, filled with low-fat, low-sodium, and whole-grain provisions. I took a deep breath and struggled to repeat my mantra: “You don’t rule me . . . you don’t rule me . . . you don’t rule me . . . .” Then I picked up a white bakery box and looked longingly through its clear plastic window. Inside, a cake piled high with buttery, sugary, cinnamon-y crumbs winked at me. I swear, I think I actually heard it speak. “Take me home,” it said. “Just a little nip now and then wouldn’t hurt, would it?”

I held that box for what seemed like a long while, finally scrunching my eyes together and shaking my head to break its spell. “You do not rule me anymore,” I said aloud. “I rule me.” And I placed the box down hard, much to the surprise of the supermarket employees and other shoppers nearby.

“Really, honey,” one grandmotherly woman joked in my direction, “you shouldn’t be so hard on that. It’s only a crumb cake.” But she was wrong, I now realized. I did have to be hard on the poor choices I had allowed to control me for way too long.

That day the magnetic pull that sweets had over me for most of my life ended once and for all. Thanks to my newfound regimen of healthy food choices and moderate exercise I am able to report that I have since reached my weight loss goal and maintained that weight for over ten years. I am more active in my middle-aged years than I was as a teen and no longer find myself huffing or puffing from everyday exertions. More importantly, though, each year at my annual physical my doctor confirms that I remain in tip-top shape.

I still hear the siren song of cake, cookies, and candies. Sometimes I even indulge. Just a little. Yet when I feel the urge to take that larger piece or go for seconds, I remind myself that I hold the power where my health is concerned and repeat the mantra that set me straight about the sugary foods that once held sway over me: “You don’t rule me anymore.” And they don’t. Now I do.

~Monica A. Andermann

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