From Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul

Just Listen to Mom

In the long run men hit only what they aim at.

Henry David Thoreau

Mrs. Shatzel outdid herself with this spelling assignment. She asked her students to each pick a classmate, write them a letter using all twenty words in the unit and mail it to their home.

Back in the 1960s, we sixth-graders used the phone and recesses in school to stay in touch. We didn’t write letters, so this assignment was a really unique experience. I couldn’twait to receivemy letter in themail, running home each day to see what the carrier had delivered. And finally, one sunny April afternoon, it arrived. I tore open the envelope, unfolded the paper and gazed at the salutation.

It read, “Dear Lard Bucket.”

I never forgot how I felt reading those words. Armed with plenty of motivation but little information, I embarked on a cycle of fast, binge and surrender, repeating the same mistakes throughout my adolescence into adulthood. The spirit was willing, but the brain wasn’t quite engaged.

Last year I turned forty-five and had long since entered “surrender” mode when my friend Joe proposed a friendly wager: the first to lose 10 percent of his total weight would take the other and his wife out for dinner. What did I have to lose?

So Lard Bucket accepted the wager, halfheartedly. In return, Joe gave me a copy of a fitness profile he had received from a trainer, emphasizing that the recommendations were personalized to his condition. In reading the profile and recalling dozens of past failed attempts, I was overwhelmed by the possibilities. For this round of fast and binge, should I go low-cal, high-protein, low-carb, low-fat, gym rat, diet pills, food supplements, Hollywood Bimbo Grapefruit Diet, or try one of the million variations and combinations of all of them? Or maybe it would be better to just make the dinner reservations.

That’s when “the Pattern” started taking shape. It was as if Mom was painting the big picture between the lines of detail in Joe’s fitness profile. Everything fit. The profile said to eat many small meals in a day; Mom always said to eat only when you’re hungry. The profile said to eat “x” thousand calories per day; Mom always said never go hungry. The profile said people are hungriest in the morning; Mom always said to eat a good breakfast. The profile said Joe should lose no more than two pounds per week; Mom always said to take the weight off slowly so you won’t put it back on quickly.

Mom was right all along; it was only that her advice was too general to apply without information, and now I had that.

I went to work starting with the goal itself. Saying “I need to lose the weight of an average SUV by next summer” sets you up to fail. Saying “I will lose 1.5 to 2 pounds per week, on average, every week until I reach my desired weight” becomes a recipe for success and minimizes the likelihood of a binge on the rebound.

Since you can’t get discouraged if you know what to expect, there was now no fear in weighing myself every day. Weight loss is an up-and-down process. As long as the weekly average was on target, I was fine.

It took almost a year, but I have shrunk from 243 pounds to 183, from a 44 waist to a 34, and have more energy and ambition than I ever dreamed possible. Best of all, I have the knowledge and understanding needed to keep the weight off, as I have done for almost a year. And it wasn’t difficult at all. I just needed to listen to Mom.

James Hammill

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