First appeared on Food Riot, from Brenna Clarke Gray
For a brief period of my life, I was on Weight Watchers.
And I mean, I was on Weight Watchers. From 2006-2009, I could identify with perfect accuracy the points value of any food you could name. I could stand in the grocery store and immediately categorize food into safe (2-3 points per serving), main meal only (4-6 points per serving), and danger zone (6+ points per serving). I carried my points calculator with me everywhere like a talisman of safety.
I ate the Weight Watchers food. I subscribed to the Weight Watchers magazine. I paid for the online extra support malarky. I hung out with other people on Weight Watchers. I talked incessantly about Weight Watchers. I went to my meetings religiously and when I wasn't at meetings I was reading supporting materials and living every second of the Weight Watchers lifestyle.
And it worked. I mean, if by "worked" you mean completely fucked up my relationship to food.
Because here's the thing about reducing food to points and fixing the number of them you get to eat each day: it puts you one step further away from actual food. If something had aspartame, it was healthier, in my food constellation, than something with sugar. I ate frankenfood like crazy because it was worth fewer points. I lived on Weight Watchers "peanut butter and chocolate" bars (I'm pretty sure they contained neither peanut butter nor chocolate). I became petrified of bananas and avocados.
Bananas and avocados. Let's pause and reflect on that. I thought it was a better idea to eat a frozen Weight Watchers lasagna than an avocado.
I ate a lot of Weight Watchers bread that was 1 point per slice (I spread reduced-fat, artificially sweetened peanut butter on that and you can imagine the taste sensation that was). I didn't even realize how weird and non-bread-like it was until my husband, in a sleepy stupor, extracted two slices from the bag thinking he was grabbing his usual bread and actually recoiled. I can now acknowledge it had the thickness of vellum and the texture of styrofoam, but at the time my first response, when he pointed out the non-foodness of this foodstuff, was anger. He didn't understand. It was good. It was fine. I needed it. He couldn't ever understand. It was delicious!
My unhealthy relationship to food and to my body accelerated through my time on Weight Watchers. I would avoid eating for the period before my usual Saturday morning weigh-ins, desperate to earn the stickers and rewards we received for successfully losing weight. I actually owned sets of weigh-in clothes -- linen dresses and cotton so thin it was basically transparent -- that I would wear regardless of the season (and this was Atlantic Canada where it gets legit cold). And on at least one occasion when I was frustrated beyond sanity with my lack of progress, I dabbled in laxative use to get the scale to say what I wanted it to.
I'm not proud of any of this. But I wasn't on Weight Watchers to get healthy. I was on Weight Watchers to lose weight. And I did. I lost a substantial amount of weight.
The insanity of what I was doing finally clicked with me at one of my beloved and sacred Saturday morning meetings. The leader was sharing tips for how to succeed with our weight loss goals, and she suggested we try an exercise. Rather than eating at the table with our families, she said, we should try eating by ourselves in front of a mirror.
We should pay really close attention, she said, to the way we look while we eat. What we would notice through this process is how disgusting we look when we chew and swallow. How repulsive it is for our families to watch us eat.
And that next time we think about having a second portion, we should remember how repulsive we look while we're eating, and ask if we want to put our families through that.
In that moment, my sanity returned. Food, I sat there thinking, is about community. But not this community. This community is about fake sweeteners and zero-point soup and grossing yourself out with your own body. This community is about someone else's idea of perfection.
There were things, I realized, that I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to eat roast dinners with my family. I wanted to eat my way across Europe with my husband. I wanted to eat fresh, whole foods and I wanted to not be afraid of them. I wanted to have hot dogs at Ikea and lobster rolls at the beach and perfectly crafted mochas on cold afternoons. I wanted food to be a happy part of my life, not something I fought with every moment of the day.
I walked out of that meetings and dropped my points calculator in the trash on the way to my car.
And that's how I became a Weight Watchers drop out.
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