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Of Weight And Worth

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I've lost 50 pounds in the past year, and it's just plain hard. I'm not on any special diet, I don't have a personal trainer, and I'm terrified every minute that I'll backslide like I have in the past. I've finally gotten rid of some of my plus-size clothing (but I've kept a few things just in case), and I'm on my second wave of buying clothes that fit. The change in my life is enormous, from how people react to me to how I feel about myself. I don't know why I was able to lose weight this time, when I never lost anywhere near this amount before -- maybe I was ready or maybe I realized that at my age, it was now or never.

I thought about my own weight struggles when I saw Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough at a book event, touting Brzezinski's new book Obsessed. I suspected I would hate the book. After all, as a person who has agonized over weight issues, why would I sympathize with the troubles of a skinny, toned, well-paid, attractive woman from a famous family, no matter how many sob stories she told? However, I was surprised to find there were many commonalities between us and that parts of her book rang true to me.

So what in Brzezinski's book resonated? First, her discussions about weight and worth. I became a prisoner of my weight. I didn't attend college or office reunions because I dreaded seeing people's faces fall just a little bit when they saw me, or, even worse, not having them recognize me at all. I didn't even join a gym, because most people who frequent gyms appear to be in pretty good shape already, and I felt out of place. But it wasn't other people's reactions that bothered me the most; it was my own. I felt unattractive, undisciplined, unworthy. I shuddered when I needed a new outfit, knowing that nothing I wore would make me look better. When I'd see a picture of myself, I was dismayed, ashamed that the overweight, frumpy woman in the photo was me.

And Brzezinski is right that there are many ramifications to being overweight. When you're overweight, people look at you differently. You're not considered as disciplined, it's harder to find work, and if you do get a job, research shows you're likely to be paid less, particularly if you're a woman. Good or bad, we are judged to a large extent on our looks or at least how trim we are.

There's also the health part of the equation. Overweight people have a greater risk of diabetes, heart disease and a host of other medical problems. So, if you potentially want to spend less on medical care as you age, and be around longer for your children, grandchildren, friends, spouse or significant other, losing weight is really a no-brainer. And, for my demographic, the over-50 group looking to revamp or rekindle their lives, all I can say is that weight matters A LOT. Trying to make new friends, expand your business or even date again is so much easier when you look and feel healthy and fit.

But as I can certainly attest, dieting is not a simple process. For some, genetics can lead to an inability to lose weight easily. Moreover, even when we lose weight, our bodies fight our efforts to keep it off. I don't think we need people calling us fat, as Brzezinski did when she staged an "intervention" for an overweight friend. I knew I was fat, and I don't believe there's anyone who's obese who doesn't realize it. What we need are sensible, non-faddish diets coupled with a recognition that we may never again be able to eat everything we crave, a focus on simple, achievable goals, like taking every opportunity to walk a few extra steps (I wear a pedometer and try to walk at least 12,000 steps a day) and support from friends and online groups. For women, I also think we need to emphasize losing weight after pregnancy. I wish I could yell at my younger self and tell her that the 10 pounds I never got rid of after my middle child was born matters, as does the 20 pounds I never lost after the birth of my youngest son. Hollywood stereotypes are ridiculous (someone dropping 60 pounds in three weeks just doesn't happen in the real world), but we should try as hard as we can to lose weight as we go along, so that we don't ultimately have to lose 50 pounds or more.

Moreover, we need to have a serious conversation about food choices and exercise in our country. We need a discussion about snack foods developed to entice us to eat more, the removal of recess and gym classes from public schools and how walking is a disappearing art because so many of our suburbs are designed to be navigated by car. While I don't agree with all the ideas proposed by NYC Mayor Bloomberg, I truly appreciate having a calorie count listed at restaurants and fast food places, because knowing how many calories you're taking in is a huge help in maintaining a healthy diet. At the end of the day, that's really how I lost weight -- no gimmicks, just eating fewer calories (and believe me, there were many nights I went to sleep incredibly hungry) and trying to get some exercise every day.

While I'm optimistic about my ability to keep off the weight, I understand it's going to be a lifelong battle. But it's one I'm determined to win, although I know there will always be a corner of my closet filled with baggy clothes in case I don't succeed.

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