The last time I really consciously tried to lose weight, I was 24. I’d started a desk job in July, and by the time of my birthday in mid-September, between the sitting for 8 hours and the morale-boosting Friday donuts and the everyday lunches out with coworkers and the candy dish at the front disk that magically refilled itself with packets of Skittles, I’d put on about 7 pounds – which is really pretty noticeable when you’re just 5 feet tall.
I was maid of honor in my best friend’s early November wedding, and when I realized how snug my dress was, I went on an insane diet-and-exercise plan in which I ate nothing but fat-free yogurt and Lean Cuisines and went to the gym both before and after work.
The weekend before her wedding, I went to the mall to get something to wear to the bridesmaids’ brunch – and I was a size 0 for the first time since eighth grade. I still have the pants I bought that day in triumph, although I know they’ll never fit me again.
Willpower and stress kept me thin until I got pregnant with Ruby, and breastfeeding and stress helped me lose the baby weight after she was born, but by the time she’d turned 2 and weaned and we’d moved back to New Orleans, I was 5 pounds heavier than I’d been in college. Then it was 10. Then Georgia was born, and now she’s 4, and now it’s 15.
“I’d rather have a bit of softness on my stomach and thighs than eat another Lean Cuisine ever again in my life,” I emailed my best friend a couple of years ago – and I meant it.
I still mean it. And I don’t hate my body; and I don’t think I’m fat; and I’ll be damned if I give up pasta, cheese, or wine; and I have no intention of trying to be a size 0 again. But the same best friend who got married in 2004 is now getting remarried this spring, and I don’t know … call me vain, but I’d like to drop a few pounds for her wedding and look as good as one can look in a bridesmaid’s dress at age 36.
So I’ve been watching what I eat – no Lean Cuisines, just fewer carbs, more veggies, no mindless snacking – and going to the gym at least every other day.
But it’s so much harder this time around than it was 12 years ago. It’s harder physically for sure – my knees pop on the stair-stepper thing, and I get this awful pinching feeling between my shoulder blades when I don’t use perfect posture on the stationary bike. And after a full month of this, I have lost exactly 0 pounds. My metabolism just isn’t what it was in my early 20s. I know it’s normal, but it’s hard not to feel frustrated when you’re using measuring spoons every morning to make sure you don’t put too much hummus on your whole-grain toast and you still can’t make the scale budge.
Logistically, it’s harder, too. I went to the gym yesterday after work, but I can’t go today because Ruby has cheerleading practice and then I have a PTA meeting. I could go tomorrow, but I’d miss Ruby’s volleyball game. This weekend, I could use what little “me time” I have when I’m not taking the girls to one birthday party or picking them up from another or refereeing a playdate to go burn 200 calories on the treadmill … or I could use it to curl up in a heap and binge-watch “Quantum Leap.”
The hardest part, though, is trying to frame all of this in a way that emphasizes health over skinniness – even though, if I am perfectly honest, I care more about looking good in a pair of jeans than I do about reducing my risk of coronary artery disease. I don’t want my daughters to hear me bemoaning the state of my thighs or asking my husband if I look fat, though. Because the truth is, it’s not Barbie dolls that are going to shape their body image – it’s me. (And a million other things in popular culture that they’ll encounter between now and adolescence … but definitely also me.)
I want better for them than Lean Cuisines and a drawerful of pants they can’t bring themselves to throw away. Right now, their bodies are not fraught – they are just bodies. They jump and run and somersault and crash into things and eat popsicles without looking at the calories on the side of the box. When Ruby can’t fit into a pair of pants, she’s delighted – another growth milestone!
I wish I knew how to preserve that attitude in them forever. I wish I knew how to rediscover it in myself.