Popping hoodia-caffeine pills and letting them convince me that I don’t need to eat today was the easy part. Some days they worked. Some days they didn’t. Some days they worked very well and I would be staring at a fully stocked pantry without a single connection made between what my eyes saw and what my stomach had been lacking all day.
For 55 dollars, I had bought 60 pills before the husband moved out. I didn’t take them with intent until two weeks after when I was able to tell him I was finally happy again and I didn’t want him back. Without deliberately altering my diet, I easily swallowed two pills each morning then forced the swallowing of water and only water until noon (occasionally cheating with Crystal Light). No more coffee. Eek. Pity be to he who sought to reason with me the first three hours of my day. Logical consequences created a positive feedback loop to facilitate the drinking of water and the taking of pills. Must remain hydrated to avoid the jitters associated with most diet pills. Must take pills so as to not drag my ass all morning. Try to revert to coffee and I find myself awake at 2 am mopping my kitchen floor.
Thus I had intent without ambition. All I did was take the pills and drink water. I broke myself of coffee because the little green pills told me to. I was two weeks in when I first thought perhaps I didn’t need to clear the entire pan of Hamburger Helper. Half would be enough. I put the other half away before I fixed my plate.
A week later I discovered steam-in-the-bag vegetables. I mixed them into the Hamburger Helper and put half the pot in the fridge before I fixed my plate.
Couple weeks went by and I was trying different varieties of frozen-microwaved vegetables when I decided I could instead eat the whole serving of veggies in a bowl with Helper as my side dish. I had to use my toddler’s baby plate because all my plates were too big for a side dish. I needed more plates. Little ones.
I had lost 16 pounds when I finished the first 60 pills. I had taken maybe ten before the husband left in August and wasn’t the most consistent as I adjusted to what was likely the first routine I had ever had in my life. So it took me about a month and a half to lose that much with 50 pills.
Approaching the holidays, I still maintained my intent without ambition. Although I did enjoy that people at work were noticing. I enjoyed that my bras did not strain and creak when I turned to work at my desk. I enjoyed that I needed to take in my pants because what was once growing too tight was now becoming too loose. I had bought them off the sale rack and was only glad they would zip with ease. I didn’t realize I was mentally blocking out the number on the tag (had I ever looked?). I took a pair to my sewing machine, thrilled to bring in the sides by two inches when a few months previous I moved the button to allow more breathing room. My brain froze when I saw the size of these pants: 24. And they had been growing tight. What had I allowed myself to become?
I maintained my pre-packaged fare with increasing vegetable intake through Christmas. I switched from Helper to PastaSides (cheaper, less prep, equally unhealthy); I bought frozen, un-breaded chicken tenders instead of ground meat—they were quick to thaw and cook. I had yet to eat a salad, but now had a loaf of whole grain bread on my counter. The scale didn’t move much in either direction.
Somewhere along the way, I took my gym bag to work and it occupied precious space in my cubicle for months. With all my intent, I couldn’t bring myself to go to the gym. But I also couldn’t bring myself to take it home with clean clothes inside.
A stomach bug the week of Christmas helped me lose the 20th pound. I was back to my “normal” married weight. I maintained that same weight from the wedding until pregnancy and returned to normal three weeks after my daughter was born. Still, I was 45 pounds above where I was when would-be husband came into my life.
I didn’t want to make a New Year’s Resolution (because I wanted to actually succeed), but I now had ambition. I devised a pledge I would make on my 29th birthday, January 15th, that by my 30th birthday I would be a size 13 again--"13 by 30". I stated my pledge on Facebook. The next week I went to the gym. I was eating salad for my lunch by the end of the month. By Mardi Gras, I was down another 10 pounds.
Shortly following the inclusion of salad into my diet, I ate "only" salad and oatmeal for about six weeks. I would have my pills in the morning, drink water until lunch, get sweaty on the elliptical, and eat my salad at my desk (topped with tuna, salsa and balsamic vinaigrette). At night, a large bowl of oatmeal was my dinner. The instant flavored kind, one packet mixed with an equal portion of straight oats from a cylinder. I would add butter and sugar and it was my sweet. Then I would go to bed with a full stomach, which lasted me until the following lunch.
During what I now consider my “detox” phase, my taste for food changed drastically. The comfort foods that I had found so amazing suddenly tasted disgusting. I once had a craving for Velveeta Shells and Cheese and when made, the salt content was so striking that I couldn’t eat more than a couple bites before I threw it away. I kept buying Helper when it was on sale, but couldn’t bring myself to cook it. I finally threw them away unopened. Dr. Pepper, a staple in my fridge since I was a child, no longer hits the spot at the back of my throat in that pleasurable way only certain things can. It no longer lights fireworks in my brain and those 23 flavors all come across as incredibly bland. On the other hand, fresh fruits and vegetables explode with distinction.
I also discovered why they tell you not to drink flavored waters or teas when dieting, as I was still “cheating” with Crystal Light. I found in the evenings, when I was less likely to keep a glass of water beside me at all times, that I was craving fruit. Even after I had my fruity oatmeal, I wanted something else with a berry zing. After a couple nights of chasing my oatmeal with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, believing I must be overdoing it at the gym for my body to be so hungry, it hit me that I wasn’t still hungry but thirsty. My brain was just associating the flavor of fruit with hydration and sending me the signal to seek out the fruity thing that hydrates me. It’s faulty programming.
I figured it couldn’t hurt to have an otherworldly commitment to motivate healthy eating and further my goals. So for Lent, having never observed the non-fast, I swore off “office sweets” and forsook the occasional (daily) chocolate from the ever-present candy dishes. Ash Wednesday brought two orders of donuts to tempt me. Candy Man, knowing I was a frequent indulger, brought his dish to my cube to ask if I wanted any before he left early that day. When you ask to play God’s game, God don’t mess around.
By the end of the week, the pain of telling myself “No” had been replaced by a sense of accomplishment, purpose, and control. I was going to my mother’s for Easter and I wanted to tell her I had lost 50 pounds. I wanted her to be proud of me.
Nothing like a mother’s melodrama to stop your ambitions cold. How dare I have ambition. I fixed my Easter dinner plate of mostly salad with some white meat turkey and a small helping of potatoes and stuffing. The stuffing was salty. To make it palatable, I mixed it with my plain potatoes, and alternated with the turkey and salad.
“You know, there’s gravy for that,” my mother's snark had a steely edge to it. And I knew there was no being proud of me. Like burnt toast, I coated her words in butter and jelly and swallowed without thinking twice. A therapist months later explained to me that I deserve better than burnt toast from my mother.
I carried her lack of encouragement with me like a laden rucksack. My elliptical runs were increasingly difficult even though my size 16 pants were now becoming loose. My intent remained, but my ambition was gone as I continued my two pill a day habit, sometimes taking another two at lunch to make up for my lack of summer exercise. If it happened it happened, if it didn’t, I really didn’t care. Of course, I had a whole six months in the interim, so even with the wind out of my sails, I might make the finish line by drifting across it in my sleep.
Our little office gym was getting crowded with the swimsuit season and I was tired of staring at the numbers on the screen. I could no longer maintain my fantasy of running in a race while I pedaled furiously without moving. I needed some fresh air and went outside. For a walk. We have a nice park system along the bayous in Houston with hike and bike trails, so I went exploring.
I met my goal out on that bayou trail. I’ve maintained my weight and my salads and I’m experimenting with different healthy food options. Four weeks from my 30th birthday and I’m the size I was when I was 20, with 85 pounds less of me. I have a much better appreciation for the size 12s hanging in my closet. So much that it’s difficult to decide if I want to lose another 15 just to say I lost 100. Then I’d be the size I was when I was 16. But I don’t think I want to be 16 again.
(…just as I was typing that I realized the deep emotional associations I have with my weight. At 20, I was free to discover myself independent of my unsupportive mother. But at 16, she didn’t so much as acknowledge my birthday that year. She made life difficult for me in order to force me down as her child while I was fighting to push my way up toward adulthood. The number on the scale will not take me back to that place; logically, I know that…logically.)