Monday, July 20, 2009


The Proper Bostonian was a skinny child, a bony teenager, and a slender young adult. At age 12, her favorite party trick was slipping a triangular plastic pool-ball rack over her head, shoulders, and hips to the floor.

In those days, it was not unusual for her to eat thick wedges of homemade Betty Crocker cake three times a day, or have dinner twice (after a bland meal with her family, sneaking out for filet mignon or Croatian cooking at her godparents' house, down the street). The PB ate whatever she wanted and it didn't show until her late 20s. When her hips expanded, the PB tried SlimFast but decided it tasted like liquid cardboard. So she bought cute workout clothes, joined a gym, and became an aerobics convert. It worked; soon her coworkers exclaimed as her biceps rippled when she punched buttons on her phone.

In her mid 30s, the PB fell in love and developed allergies and asthma at the same time. Her weight dropped by more than 10 pounds, even though she was routinely baking and snarfing up brownies and cookies and eating in Mexican restaurants. Apparently, falling in love can do this, even when it's reciprocated and not wracked with doubts and angst. It's the hormones; it's a shame that they eventually settle down. Plus, 45-minute coughing attacks from asthma are a form of cardiovascular exercise; they can also be core-strengthening if you hold your abs in. The PB thought she looked fashionably emaciated; her plain-spoken aunt said, "You look like hell." Safety pins kept her skirts from falling down on her hips. Size 2 jeans made their first and only appearance in her closet.

After the wedding and a long series of allergy injections, the PB felt better, stopped coughing, and gave up aerobics classes when her favorite teacher moved to NYC. Her weight climbed to its normal number, and a few pounds beyond. She decided to cultivate an eating disorder but, since she was raised to appreciate good cooking, she found it impossible (neurotic as she is in other ways) to develop obsessive behavior around food. She felt fine and she looked fine, so she relaxed, went to the gym occasionally, and enjoyed a few hundred burritos.

In her 40s, while taking the Pill, that little bit of extra weight stayed put, but she was still at least 20 pounds below the "average" weight for a woman of her height. She gave up eating gobs of high-fat peanut butter and frequent cheeseburgers, and learned to eat more sensibly. One rule: never buy food packaged in crinkly cellophane bags, like chips, popcorn, and cookies. She also switched to diet soda and skim milk. This saved her from following the path of most of the women in her family, who eventually developed  an "apple" silhouette after decades of being rail-skinny. So the PB was wary. She periodically tried variations on the South Beach Diet, tried to eat even more sensibly (only one slice of cheese on the burritos), and did a ton of walking. She consulted a nutritionist. And she still has a waistline.

But the PB recently got on the scale for the first time in a few months. She nearly fell off. She saw a number she never, ever imagined seeing. Hand her a lightweight bowling ball, and she weighs as much as her father, who is trim and handsome at age 95. Even if he's very short and very old, a daughter has no business weighing as much as her dad plus a bowling ball.

What should she have expected, given her recent slice-of-cake-per-night habit? It may be her secret of happiness but it's also the secret of her inability to zip her matchstick jeans. She can pretend to blame it on added muscle from her twice-weekly intensive weight-training classes, but she knows the truth.

So the PB is embarking on... well, not exactly a diet, but an even-more-sensible lifetime eating plan. She is determined to lose about 10 pounds by her birthday next month. This will put her weight back where it belongs. She's up-to-date on all the latest health and nutrition information so she knows how to do this safely, although her knowledge still has to compensate for her zero willpower.

She'll weigh herself daily. While weight-lifting is important for weight loss, daily cardiovascular exercise is also part of her plan now. She's about to go out to sweat for an hour or so after finishing this.

She recently read about an interesting weight-loss tip in one of her magazines: At each meal, make sure that half of your plate is filled with fruits and vegetables. You'll automatically get the recommended daily servings of produce for good nutrition. And if you skip the fatty dressings and sauces, you won't need to count calories to lose weight, either.

This sounds easy, and even appealing. The PB is already a weekly habitué of the Haymarket and the farmer's market, so this is a plan she thinks she can follow. And soon it will be tomato season, the best time of the year for fresh veggies and fruit. She'll keep you posted on how it's going.

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