Tuesday nights mean one thing in my family—The Biggest Loser. I watch in New York, and my mom and sister watch three hours later from their homes in Reno, Nevada. Then comes the frenzy of phone calls—not so much about who on the show vomited, sobbed or dropped serious pounds but about how desperately we dream of being Biggest Losers ourselves. Which others might find bizarre, since all three of us Robb girls have always had perfectly enviable BMIs. But that doesn’t matter. In our family, the crazy gene is all about being skinny.
For as long as I can remember, at least one of us has wanted to lose five or 10 pounds at any given moment. Therefore, for as long as I can remember, at least one of us has been on a diet. My mom, Serena, 68, has done protein shakes, bran diets and some 500-calorie-a-day thing (which was kind of great because it made her too weak to impose a curfew for my entire junior year of high school). My sister, Jonna, 39, has submitted to Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, the Cleanse and bribery (our grandmother—apparently one root of our skinny -obsession—once gave her a dollar for every pound she lost). I’m 44 and I’ve done Atkins, a self-invented banana–Diet Coke regimen and, in the 1980s, even a brief brush with anorexia (which wasn’t so great but at least was au courant).
Long story short: We all still want to lose five or 10 pounds.
Imagine my ecstasy, then, when I saw the commercial: The Biggest Loser had partnered with Fitness Ridge, a boot camp–style exercise resort, so fans could be, well, practically killed with hiking and healthful eating—just like the people on the show! I speed-dialed my mom and sister, and on Valentine’s Day we met at the Las Vegas airport and drove to Ivins, Utah, for a week of working out 11 hours a day on 1,200 calories of food and no coffee. Which may explain why, on the way, we were two-fisting licorice, Tootsie Rolls and supersize lattes.
The resort turned out to be a low-slung brick facility surrounded by miles of undeveloped desert, terrifyingly similar to the prisons where I’ve interviewed convicted felons. Things were prisonish inside as well. A woman takes you into a small room off the reception area, has you face forward and sideways while she snaps your picture, then—instead of taking your fingerprints—weighs and measures you. Earlier that morning at home, naked on the gentle white spring scale that has served me since college, I had weighed 139 pounds. On the resort’s gray, Soviet-looking digital device, fully clothed and after Hoovering sugar and caffeine through two states, I weighed 145.9. The lady continued her calculations, recording that I was five foot ten, my BMI was a perfectly acceptable 20.9 (the ideal is 18.5 to 24.9), and my measurements were 38.5-29-39. Not runway ready, I thought, but not bovine, either. Then she had me hold a little steering-wheel thing. After digitally pondering for a moment, it announced, “26.1.” That was my percentage of body fat.
“Oh, you’re a skinny fat person!” a chipper ranch employee told me, apparently referring to the fact that the American Council on Exercise says a “fitness” level of body fat for women is 21 to 24 percent.
“Moo,” I replied.
Weight, for us, has always been a competition as well as an obsession, so I couldn’t help noticing that my mother and sister fared worse than I did. My five-foot-five sister’s BMI was 23.3, which is fine, but her body fat was 29.1 percent, and my five-foot-six mother’s BMI was OK (23.7), but her body fat was 34.5 percent.
“I guess it’s good we’re here,” my mother said.
“Shut up, Pollyanna,” my sister said.
“Lipo would have been faster and cheaper,” I said.