Love in the Time of Coriander

Thoughts on food & more.

Friday, April 22, 2005

My First Weight Watchers Experience

There's always something about coming home from a trip that makes your waistline feel a bit more bulgy than usual. Madhu, who had just gone to New York a few weeks before me, warned, "Don't even worry about joining me until you get back from your trip." Yup, it's true. There were far too many gustatory experiences in the stars. I couldn't let it get to me while on the road.

What was I joining? Well, um, Weight Watchers. (Blush.) This whole wedding-in-the-future thing has been an excuse to jump start a self-care or self-torture regimen, depending upon how you look at it. Madhu needed company, and I need some motivation to be less-than-mushy. Besides, underneath my efforts to get fit is always the ever-curious anthropologist willing to know something knew about an American phenomenon--Weight Watchers.

Like many women, my history of having weight issues dates back to elementary school. (Wow! Saying that makes me realize how potent the cultural attitude on thinness is.) I was always the "chubby" one as a child, always a tad bit on the heavier side of normal. Only now as a full-fledged adult (approaching 30 this year), I have finally become right smack in the middle of normal. Years of training (and continued training by Cosmo, Vogue, Elle, and so much media around us) unfortunately cannot be undone with a swift "you're not fat anymore" comment, which are now launched at me each time I see an Indian uncle or auntie. Believe me, they are blunt, too. Greetings even begin with a "it looks like you've lost weight" or "it looks like you've gained weight." Lately, the "it looks like you've lost weight" has been outweighing (bad pun, I know) its opposite.

Ironically, I haven't lost much at all, except perhaps some of the obsessiveness around weight. I've mostly been in a ten pound range for the last ten years (some fluctuation due to the inevitable weight gain before realizing I had hypothyroidism), and I seem to be right in the middle of it now. I've found my body (and my mind) don't want to budge from this place. They like it here. Mostly, I feel good about myself. It doesn't seem as though my butt waddles behind me as if it's its own entity, and I don't have to work very hard to be this. I can eat all the yummy stuff I mention on this blog without becoming a behemoth.

So, why Weight Watchers? Because it's hard to escape the hope that is marketed to you. That one day with enough of one product or another, enough direction, strength or perseverance, you'll look like Jessica Alba (or Aishwarya Rai) in a bikini. Something deep inside me knows this isn't true. No matter how hard I try to be thin, I will always only be a slightly smaller version of myself. I will, no matter how fat or skinny I finally get, have ridiculously small hands and wrists in contrast to my broad shoulders and full, womanly thighs. Regardless, people pay billions of dollars yearly to convince me otherwise. And, regardless, I fall for it to some degree.

Also, there's a perverse do-it-yourselfness about American culture. We know this about ourselves. Our pull-yourself-up-by-bootstraps ethic said to characterize Americans and keep them forward-looking to accomplish the American dream. If I just work hard enough, persevere enough, I can lose 100 pounds! All my life, I've been convinced that losing 10 pounds would make me a happier person--and, it's my own fault that I haven't yet been able to do it. We get accounts of movie stars that have miraculously overcome the dominant notions of weight. Christina Ricci has finally done it, lost all that baby fat, and though it seemed as if she had a bout of anorexia for awhile, it seems to have--poof!--disappeared. I, on the other hand, must just be weak-willed. (I also don't have enough money to hire a personal trainer or a personal chef!)

In actuality, I'd prefer to think of it as resistance. Leave it to the psych student to go in this direction. I remember five years ago, after a trip to New York actually, I picked up a copy of Fat is a Feminist Issue. As obvious as this now is to me, it made me realize that there are legitimate reasons for not losing those last ten pounds. Truthfully, I don't want to be all too much thinner for fear that it comes with the burden of living up to the expectations of others. Sort of like being too rich, I suppose. Then, you'd have to manage money, friends, and status in such a different and potentially more difficult way.

Sometimes, I experience this when I dress myself in the morning. I long to wear something nice, but not too nice. I fear that pairing my cute train-conductor hat with my one-of-a-kind sweater shirt by a Portland designer, will draw too much attention. One or the other, I think, but not both. We could explore early developmental issues, but for the sake of this blog I won't.

All this is a long-winded way of saying that my time with Weight Watchers was not all that long. I only did it for about a week and a half, but the verdict is already in. The jury--surprise! surprise!--voted against it. These were the key issues.

1) I don't know how people can stay on this diet. To its credit, it advocates eating lots of fruits, veggies, and whole grains. But it is also truly starvation! For a few days in a row, I charted both the "points" which seem to be somewhat arbitrary and proprietary, and calories. I found in caloric terms that eating 20 points a day, which was the recommended guideline for my weight range, was equivalent to eating 1100 calories. I just can't live on that! I can stop eating junk food for a good long period of time, but I can't stop eating food for health and hearth.

2) The marketing component is icky. Weight Watchers, though akin and perhaps even modeled after the AA, is a for-profit company. The facilitator for the group I attended is a goggled, too-bouncy dirty blonde who wears out-of-fashion (not things that have returned in fashion) 1980s garb. To make matters worse, she aspires to be a motivational speaker and wiggles every time she expresses her excitement about weight-loss. In a span of 30 minutes, she advocates so many of the Weight Watchers proprietary products. Is she put up to this by the company?

"For only $7 dollars, you can have this nifty looks-like-a-rosary bracelet-and-point calculator to help keep track of your progress. And you know what, it also doubles as a fashion accessory! Imagine that! Someone asked me if I got it at a jewelry store in Carmel."

Madhu is convinced it's a cult, and wonders if other meetings are less superficial. I don't know if I think it's sophisticated enough to be a cult. Admittedly, I'm more judgmental and my feeling is that it's just plain stupid.

3) I guess I'm in a privileged place, where my weight is by no means seriously affecting my health. And I already generally eat by the guidelines of sage health. That said, I think that acceptance of one's plot in life is a far easier and more gratifying road to happiness. Also, exercise, did I mention that my general malaise and mushiness as explained earlier could be easily rectified by incorporating a bit of rockin' out to Outkast in hip-hop class? Though it seems so hard to overcome the mental obstacle of exercise, it is so much more gratifying to the body, mind, and soul than "points."

As Pascal once said, "I have made this letter rather long because I have not had time to make it shorter." So, finally, to get to the point: Points? Screw 'em. Afterall, if I wanted to be a rock star, I'd have chosen another route entirely.


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