No matter what you read in the paragraphs that follow, don’t worry about me, don’t try to tell me I look just fine, and for heaven’s sake don’t exclaim next time you see me, as did one elderly acquaintance, in her Carolina drawl, “Whah, look at you. You must have lost a thousand pounds!”
(At the time, I had not lost even one pound, but this sort of thing has been happening to me all my life with no relationship at all to whether I have lost weight or not. For reasons I cannot divine, people remember me as much fatter than I am. I bloat in retrospect.)
Here’s the situation. However ungracious I have been in the past, especially when offered sympathy or compliments, I am more prickly than ever now that I have gone two weeks without alcohol, dairy, sugar, gluten, dried corn, peanuts, food additives, prescription drugs or any other drugs for that matter. The main result of all these restrictions so far is a total inability to enjoy social situations. (Why is everybody talking so loud? What are they so excited about? Is that a glass of vinho verde in your hand or are you just happy to see me?)
Sometimes the whole idea of self-control seems so far away you can’t believe you ever had it. You spend the whole summer failing to exercise, guzzling booze, eating whatever the hell you want, lying around in the air conditioning with the dog, reading book after book after book and viciously panning them in the press. Did I say you? I meant me. Perverse as it may seem, I plan to call myself “you” for the rest of this article, in the vague hope that readers can be hoodwinked into identifying with me under the mind-numbing hypnotic power of the second-person pronoun.
So. You. You are just a mess, really. Your blood pressure is high, your arteries are hard, and the fifteen pounds you gained since menopause is draped ingloriously over a bunch of joints that are wearing out quick. Various aches and pains move in and out of your knees, hips, neck, lower back, shins, wrists, and feet like regulars in a cheap hotel. Some day in the future most of these body parts will have to be replaced but you’re putting that off as long as possible. By lying on the couch.
Every once in a while, though, the self-discipline freight train slows down in your neighborhood and you manage to hop on for a little ride. In this instance, you are spending a long weekend in Austin, Texas, gorging yourself on tequila, chile con queso and Canadian codeine pills when in comes a hairdresser friend who has lost a ton of weight and is glowing like a Christmas tree. He’s quit smoking and drinking, he has no more chronic back pain and it’s thanks to some wacko diet from the Pacific Northwest which wasn’t even hard, he says.
What the hell, you’re thinking. This guy is no less of a world-class decadent slob than you are, at least he used to be, so if he can do it maybe you can too! In minutes you’re online, ordering your own personal two-volume set of “The Abascal Way To Quiet Inflammation For Health and Weight Loss — the diet that took Vashon Island by storm!” Until it arrives, he gives you the rundown on the do’s and don’ts and you start the three-week elimination phase of the diet right then and there.
The first few days are great. Who needs gluten and alcohol and sugar and dairy anyway? You lose 2.4 pounds and wake up in the morning oddly absent the mild sense of shame, distaste and hopelessness that you have been accustomed to of late. This is undoubtedly partly due to not drinking, but there are also profound childhood issues in play. Your mother, God rest her soul, raised you from birth on the Atkins diet, took you to Weight Watchers at age nine, signed you up at 11 with a diet doctor named Ubbie Weinstein who kept you on prescription amphetamines for most of your teen years. Psychological outcome: you can only really feel okay about yourself when hewing to some insane set of weight-loss rules. And you are! Good girl!
The books arrive. They are shiny, dark purple paperbacks with a small, square cover photo of a glowing path through an emerald forest. The title is printed in Times Extra Bold with gappy letter-spacing. Examining them, your daughter wonders aloud if you have joined a cult.
Two weeks later, you have truly enjoyed the walnut burgers and zucchini patties and blueberry salsa, but your mood has become vile and your aches and pains persist. Weighing yourself every twenty minutes, you find that your weight loss vacillates between the original 2.4 and 2.8. You consult the “Troublesome Plateaus” chapter of the book and learn that you may also have to give up citrus, soy, potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant. That’s funny, because you were thinking of having a big glass of vodka.
That night you have a dream that you are in a hospital where a nurse is explaining that you have been the victim of a horrible sex crime committed by a book editor with a gray ponytail who looks something like Gary Fisketjon but is not him because God knows you are not being published by Knopf. When you protest that you have no memory of this incident, she regretfully tells you they have pulled an long list of ungodly items out of your vagina, including a size 11 1/2 men’s shoe. Before this can go any farther, you wake yourself up. Maybe you should be more careful about following the rule that says you have to stop eating three hours before bedtime.
But don’t give up yet. You made it this far and it could still work! Just persist a little longer and maybe you’ll end up like your hairdresser friend and all those people on Vashon Island, joyously eating this way for life, slim and pain-free.
Or maybe you and me could go out for a drink.