After I wrote my week 2 Fat-Wah piece, a male FOF (friend on Facebook) posted helpfully that I should consider making small dietary changes I could follow throughout the year to avoid putting on weight. Later that day, a female FOF replied to his post with the warning: "You're treading on shaky ground."
Shaky? I'd say about 8.5 on the Richter! During the four or five hours between the comments of FOF 1 and FOF 1, I'd been doing whatever the keyboard equivalent is of biting my tongue--breaking my fingers?--to avoid making a tart, or hurt, reply. FOF 1 is a cherished friend and mentor and he meant well. But "small dietary changes?" Did he think he was dealing with some amateur here?
In the course of my epic struggle to avoid planethood, I've given up cream in coffee in favor of skim milk and I've given up skim milk in most circumstances except in coffee. I gave up sour cream on baked potatoes and then I gave up potatoes. I gave up butter on toast and then I gave up toast. To a veteran dieter like me, a bread-and-water regime would be livin' large. You know how long it's been since I had bread?
(All right. There was a regrettable lapse the other night when the waitress was trying to leave our table and I was trying to let her, when the cry was torn unbidden from my lips, "But the menu says it comes with cornbread!" I had had a bad day!)
The fact is, as I've discovered as I've aged, for people of my somatotype (Modified Pear), the older we get, the more trouble it is to lose even the tiniest amount of weight. Thus my life has been a long progression of giving up one thing after another, not necessarily to get thinner but to maintain my present position in the solar system.
When I was in my late 20s, I got a job I disliked from day 1. It made me feel sorry for myself and I drowned my sorrow in food and beer. But to my amazement, when I had enough paychecks under my belt to shop for new clothes, I'd dropped a dress size.
Why? The job was in downtown Atlanta where it was impossible to park but only 10 or 15 minutes from my house by bicycle. So I biked to and from work, and that little half-hour of additional exercise daily was enough that I lost weight by accident. Which encouraged me and I started dieting. Within a few months, I strutted down the aisle in a size 8 wedding dress.
(All right. So the front seam breached during the reception and I came billowing out like Pontchartrain. So maybe I should have gone for a size 10. So the 8 was on sale. But we'll never get through this column if we mire ourselves in irrelevant details.)
Anyway. Fast forward two or three decades, who's counting, and here I am sweating it out on the treadmill before and after dinner, living mostly on aromas, and I spent the whole fall losing the same couple of pounds over and over. Like office workers, they would go away Friday and come back refreshed on Monday.
Now it's January, the Holy Month of Robindon when I don't allow for weekends, and I'm still losing a couple of pounds over and over. All I have for encouragement is they're not the same pounds as in the fall, they're marginally less far to the right, like
the difference between Hitler and Franco.
There's this funny phenomenon that nobody grasps until they get there themselves, that after age 40 or so time accelerates. Years go by so fast that it's 2017 before you get used to 2016. At first I had the naievete to think this would work in my favor diet-wise. It used to seem hard to stick to the strict part of the South Beach diet: Two weeks without a starch? Now two weeks are nothing to me. I look in the closet for something I'm not too fat for and suddenly it's next Friday.
But the flip side of this is that meanwhile the body decelerates. Starve it and sweat it as you will, it just says, "Eh?" and goes geriatrically on doing whatever it was doing in the first place, some codger activity like reading the obits or bitching about the gummint. It'll give up those couple of pounds when it gets around to it, sonny. And when it does, BTW, such are the ravages of the years that the weights you get "down" to are numbers that would have made you wake up screaming at 25.
So. My point no. 1 here is: Don't advise me to make "small dietary changes." I already have! And some bigger ones, too. To make dietary changes I haven't at least tried would require learning to digest grass or being bitten by Dracula.
My second point is: Don't advise me! Do you know how much is written, broadcast and advertised about how to lose weight? And how much of it is contradictory, false or slobberingly insane? And how many people start shouting orders at you the minute you say you're trying to lose weight?
It's not just a matter of people tapping you on the shoulder and saying something like, "Madam, you would not be so fat if you did not eat so much." No. Some diets want you to eat nothing but meat and others nothing but vegetables. Some ban all dairy products, but if you are on one of those you are sure to run into somebody who screams, "You can't lose weight without drinking milk!"
If you are on a vegan diet somebody will tell you that lean protein is the way to go, and if you are on low-carb somebody will say, "Do you know what you're doing to your colon?" (If somebody asks you this, it is perfectly reasonable to turn around, lean over, and ask them to check.)
Even "sensible" approaches like Weight Watchers keep changing their minds. First their diet was based on counting calories, then "exchanges," then "points," then "points-plus," and last time I tried it they just gave you a list of acceptable foods and you didn't count anything at all.
A while back WW took a stand for "real food" but that same year I remember eating a strawberry pie from a WW recipe that looked like it'd been created in a Thing Maker--artifically-sweetened berries suspended in what looked like red translucent plastic. And all their guidelines seemed to be geared on how to calculate points from the nutritional info on the back of processed-food boxes.
Meanwhile, print publications are also just full of bright ideas. A ladies' mag I check out in the grocery store line is always telling me some miraculous way to reclaim my girlish figure, garcinia cambogia one month, the next to get the small order of french fries. And just this week in the newspaper I read another genius method: wrap fruit and vegetables in Saran wrap so they're visible and pizza in aluminum foil so it's not.
Pizza? In my refrigerator? In my world? Are they on drugs? French fries? Maybe at Christmas. And are all these people who advise these ridiculous methods using them themselves, and staying thin? Or just babbling on to taunt me?
It's all so frustrating that sometimes it surprises me that people who go berserk and shoot up shopping malls always turn out to be angry young men. Why not a woman of a certain age who's been dieting since September and can't seem to hit the 10-pound mark? There have been moments in January when I could see myself waving an Uzi in the food court while screaming, "French fries! French fries!"
Anyway! Shall we conclude with some pointers on diet-friendly etiquette? I'll reiterate: No advice. If you have just finished losing 60 pounds yourself, and a dieter asks you how you did it, you can answer. If you are a doctor or a nutritionist and you are asked for guidelines, you can give them.
But otherwise, let the poor dieter cling pathetically to whatever line of crap she has bought into this time. Even if it's not sound nutritionally, my experience has been that most approaches work if they are stuck to maniacally enough. Anyway, trying to give old Fatso pointers will just hurt her feelings or make her mad. Please remember that hippos can stampede in a certain emotional state.
But encouragement is another kettle of fish. People have told me, "I didn't want to say anything about her weight loss because I didn't want to imply she was fat before." Don't worry about that! Just the same way you should call somebody "Dr." after they have gone to the trouble of finishing medical school, even if you're best friends or their mother, it is never wrong to notice someone has slimmed down, and for the same reason. It's a lot of work! They deserve the recognition.
And usually I'm all about honesty but in a case like that it is not necessary to stick to the unvarnished truth. "OH MY GOD YOU LOOK LIKE A SUPER-MODEL" is seldom true but never the wrong thing to say.
But beware! The antithesis does not hold true. If someone has put on a lot of weight, chances are she knows all about it already and there is no point beating the thing to death. It is perfectly all right not to mention the elephant in the room when I am the elephant in the room.
So. Are we all straight now? Good. Go forth and sin no more! Feel the dieter's pain, and do not add to it. Not to make any threats, but elephants can also be dangerous in a stampede situation.