From Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul

My Last Twenty Pounds

Life is a tragedy for those who feel, and a comedy for those who think.

Jean de la Bruyère

My last twenty pounds and I have a part-time relationship. Ten of those pounds are a group of homebodies. They wave off their more mobile relatives and stay firmly put. The other ten leave for the summer, but as winter approaches they must think of the family they left on my belly because they come back home for the holidays. I watch their comings and goings confident that, when all of us are ready, we’ll never see each other again.

I’ve lost another forty pounds permanently. It took two years for them to go, but we parted as friends. It wasn’t always easy giving up the protection they provided.

For most of my life I have been embarrassed by emotions. I thought that there was a difference between how I felt and how I was supposed to feel. Good people, I thought, didn’t get so angry, unhappy or whatever this new feeling cute boys inspired was. By my early teens I was twenty pounds overweight, to buffer the space between my embarrassment and the world of slow dancing and kissing.

That buffer was not enough as my feelings became complicated with artistic passion, real romantic desires, a sense of dissatisfaction and a mysterious inadequacy in the face of love. The more complex and unfathomable my feelings became, the more I sought to numb them.

As adulthood progressed, I numbed my emotions by strengthening my five physical senses. Here was a wealth of experience I could understand through eating. The visual changes in the patina of crust as dough bakes into bread. The aromatic bouquet of red wine as it breathes. There was also the musical sizzle of butter browning in the pan. And taste. Everything has one taste as it crosses the lips, another on the tongue as it is transferred to the teeth for chewing and still another as it travels down the throat. Perhaps surprisingly, since I had gained another twenty pounds, this was also a highly sexual time in my life. The satisfaction my senses brought me through food, drink and sex replaced the shame of dealing with depths of feeling and the realities of intimate connection.

The world of the senses did not protect me. My so-called romances brought disruption. I developed a fear of being alone. I was worried I would be seen as a stereotypical fat girl, unworthy of love or acceptance. There were loud arguments that I knew would turn violent if I didn’t stop them through some gesture of self-abasement. During this time, I abandoned my sensuality and sought the comforts of fullness. I did not care what I ate. I did not care how it was prepared or if it was quality food. During this great emptiness, I gained twenty more pounds.

Then I got smart. Suddenly, I started talking to people about what I was feeling. I realized I had to take care of my emotions and the information they were giving me. To learn to feel, I discovered, was to learn to communicate and to make lasting connections. I did not join a gym and find true love there. I did not discover a magic formula to erase years of poor eating habits and a tendency to overindulge. I did not become an ascetic subsisting on leaves and water.

Instead, I discovered there was some essence in me that I shared with every other human being on the planet. Sharing my own feelings with the people I met and listening to their experiences was enlightening. I began to live with my sensuality rather than for sensual experience. I no longer believed that I was fundamentally different, and I stopped being embarrassed by my own emotions. I believe that the first twenty pounds came off through the release of that heavy burden.

The second twenty pounds were a practical and methodical loss. The many options of lifestyle change were often overwhelming when I needed to focus on coming out of numbness. Simplicity worked for me. I learned that frozen vegetables are the working person’s best friends in the kitchen. They are inexpensive, quickly prepared, and come in a huge variety of flavors and colors. I learned to exercise every day, even if it is only ten minutes of stretching. It helps to ease stress and frustration. I stopped watching television after 9:00 PM. It made me feel inadequate with my physical imperfections and then tempted me with fast-food commercials.

The last twenty pounds and I are still figuring things out. They make their occasional forays out into the world, and I learn gently how to experience life without them. It’s a new emotion, but I’m finally open to feeling it.

Kate Baggott

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