Galoomp, galoomp, galoomp … swoosh, swoosh, swoosh. That was the sound of me walking and my thighs rubbing together. Well, maybe not quite, but that's what it seemed like when I was at my heaviest.
Before you judge me, know that I did have my excuses. In college, I worked in restaurants for what used to be called pin money, and ultimately went to culinary school. I've worked as a caterer, had a job at a magazine covering the restaurant industry, ran a test kitchen, reviewed restaurants and was the editor of Zagat Survey. It can truly be said that I lived for and because of food.
Moving to Maine from New York City didn't help much. More than ever, cooking and eating were primary forms of entertainment. Not knowing what we'd face, we stocked up as if for Armageddon, moving north with 12 cases of wine and boxes full of pasta, Chinese condiments, extra-virgin olive oil and more. Trips back to New York were designed around expeditions to fill the trunk of the car with veal and Portuguese sausages; once we brought back two whole prosciutto and an entire wheel of Parmesan cheese.
It wasn't just the inevitable upward creep that happens past 40: This was serious. I'd tried Weight Watchers and Atkins, and we got a dog who needed twice-a-day running, but for every pound lost, two more were gained later. My jeans increased size by size, and my blood sugar was getting problematic. I couldn't look at photos of myself anymore.
My husband wasn't doing much better. Despite all that access to the outdoors, he was getting love handles and man boobs. Every time we tried to start a diet, one of us would suggest going out to eat instead. He taught himself to make fresh pasta and started a food blog. Something had to be done.
His brother Joseph, who'd struggled all his life with weight, lost 40 pounds on Nutrisystem. Despite my protestations, my husband ordered a month's supply, and that was when push came to shove.
The idea of two food writers living on boxed meals seemed ludicrous, but I was damned if he was going to get svelte and sexy while I sat around in my muu-muu. When he lost 10 pounds and re-upped for another three months, I went with him.
The food was deplorable and the recycling burden was appalling. A cardboard box arrived every four weeks with the coming month's selections. Scrambled egg powder in portion-control cups: Just add water and microwave for 60 seconds! Meatloaf and ravioli with tomato sauce, no refrigeration necessary! Gruesome, grainy cookies, shelf stable for three years! (To be fair, the selection has been much improved since those days and now includes frozen foods; a professional colleague of mine actually consulted on the new program.)
You could add your own salad and certain fresh vegetables in somewhat "free" amounts, and with these foods
I tested the limits of the word serving. An entire bag of prewashed salad greens, for instance, and the whole package of sliced mushrooms — that was my starting point.
Still, I started losing weight. The stuff kept me reasonably full, if not satisfied; with many other diets, I got the shakes. When I was hungry and cranky, I simply nuked something — no chopping and cooking in a murderous rage of famishment. Because the stuff was so dreadful, I stopped fantasizing about my next meal. The pounds didn't exactly melt off, but considering that we were still going out to eat a few times a month, 35 pounds in a year seemed like an accomplishment. I started buying new clothes.
Somewhere in there, I learned to replicate the crappy boxed stuff with not-quite-so-crappy canned and frozen food. I also started taking spinning classes — me, exercising! (Quick, get on the bicycle before the real Joan comes back!)
To keep obsession at bay, I ate the same thing for breakfast and lunch, every day: cottage cheese and a hardboiled egg for protein in the morning; chicken noodle soup with a handful of spinach and maybe some leftover brown rice for bulk during the day.
After all, dinner was my special salad-in-a-bowl-the-size-of-a-whole-party, and then if I was still hungry (usually), a Lean Cuisine and some broccoli or string beans. The point being that I didn't have to really cook anything when hunger-struck. Unbuttered popcorn was my snacking friend, but if the munchies got really bad, I'd go upstairs and read in bed, away from the temptations caused by television and kitchen.
Though my husband stopped at 35 pounds, I went on to lose 50; I now weigh less than I did when I met him. And I've kept it off for six years, which as I understand it makes me in the distinct minority of recidivism.
People complain about gaining and losing the same five pounds, over and over again, but that's essentially what I do. We go out to eat pretty much every weekend, entertain quite a bit and go on vacations that center around the pleasures of the vineyard and the table, but come Monday or the end of the vacation, I'm back to my cottage cheese and chicken soup. And I still spin, take yoga or use the treadmill four to five days a week.
I like to think of myself as the walking embodiment of "If I can do it, you can." After all, my thighs no longer rub together.