Monday, January 11, 2010

My Week-Long Membership in the Weight Loss Church (So Far)

I went to my second Weight Watchers meeting today. I've tried an online food diary before with some success, but my weight is so far gone now that I need something stronger. I need the meetings. The group therapy. The humiliating weigh-ins. The constant reinforcement of the Points system.

I was really sick and kind of delirious during last week's meeting, which was more pontificating in nature than the audience participation I expected, so I tried a different one this week. When I weighed in (2 days early), the check in clerk seemed impressed. "You lost 1.2 pounds in a week. Really good," she said, as she nodded her head and raised a brow.

"Only ONE POINT TWO?" I thought. I'd been starving myself all week, so strict on points that I wouldn't even redeem the ones I'd earned by working out.

The meeting was already in full swing, with a lively discussion about "Filling Foods," one of the new features of Weight Watchers. Diane, the meeting leader, a thin, older woman with bottle-gold hair spouting phrases in Italian, was going around the room asking when people got hungry and what they ate to satisfy themselves. I threw my coat down over on the side of the U-shaped seating area and rifled through my gym bag, looking for my cell phone to silence. Woman after woman, aged 25 to 50, rattled off their late afternoon hunger pangs, and tricks to get around them: 11 almonds (only 2 points!), a banana, frozen grapes, brown rice pudding, a slice of bread grilled with fat free cheese, fat free pudding, string cheese, carrots, hot tea, oatmeal, yogurt. With every grocery item enumerated, I got more and more depressed. The corners of my mouth were sinking down, my lips sealing together in the dryness of the room and the coldness of the weather, refusing to participate.

I was staring at the top of Diane's head, trying to find the part in her hair but becoming fixated on the curl that sprung out from the exact middle of her hairline above her forehead. Her scalp was shining through ever so slightly from underneath it, and the curl bobbed a little when she nodded her head, which everybody seems to do at Weight Watchers meetings.

An occasional sniffle would break my silence, and Diane - as she was walking all around the room to call on the meeting attendees who raised their hands to commiserate - would stare at me, still addressing the entire room, but focusing in on only me. My brow furrowed as I looked up at her, waiting for her to shift her gaze and walk away.

Unlike the last meeting, no one talked about the weight they'd lost today. I really need to hear that it's possible to drop 25 pounds and keep it off, or 85, or 40, or even 10, but today, my fellow members' accomplishments included not weight loss, but behavioral modifications: not eating an entire package of peanut butter Christmas candies, going to the gym after a long day of work, and walking home instead of taking the bus. Welcome to the small triumphs of my life. I need something bigger to inspire me.

Last week, there had been a new member orientation after the main part of the meeting that explained the Points system and went over the basic tenets of the program. I was planning to sit in on that part again, just to reinforce the belief system a bit more to keep me going for another week, but the meeting broke up and everyone dispersed pretty quickly. I sat in my chair a little too long maybe, because Diane came over, leaned over with both her hands on her knees, and asked, "Now, are you ok my dear?"

I'm still a little congested, and hadn't spoken to anyone all day (despite it being one in the afternoon), so I croaked out a, "Yeah, why?" that made me sound like I was about to cry. Diane explained that she always likes to "check in on" the folks that don't have anything to say in meetings, and before I could confess that I was new and shy, she moved on to the next person behind me.

In truth, I could use somebody to talk to. My friends have all heard me rattle off the amount of points in everything from my brussels sprouts recipe to raw oysters to deviled eggs to a glass of wine, but those are the same friends that tell me I look great and hold the weight well. Those are the same friends who invite me out for drinks and dinner and frown when I can't eat something.

I'll keep trying different meetings - there are plenty of days, times, and different locations in Manhattan - but so far, it's hard to imagine that this group's membership will give me any sense of community. My standards are always too high, my judgments always too harsh and immediate, but I know for sure that I need to be supported by people who expect more out of themselves than the woman at last week's meeting who wore a red sweater dress hiked up so high, I could see the top support of her control top tights. Her accomplishment for the week: "I'm just glad I only gained 0.6 pounds!"

I'll be tracking my progress here and on Twitter - hopefully not obsessively - with the tag #ODBAFA, a lovingly self-flagellating acronym for "Operation: Don't Be A FatAss." The last time I lost 30 pounds, I was working at a new job, still drinking a lot of alcohol, and had a September deadline of my high school reunion. I was also seven years younger. I'm not sure what it's going to be like on my second try, but for now, I have the free time and the mental bandwidth to give it a good shot.

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