Party of 12: A Real Women's Weight-Loss Group

Twelve over-40 women start a weight-loss group to encourage each other to diet and exercise.

By Louisa Kasdon

A New Diet Design

One day last year, 10 new pounds mysteriously joined the 10 I’d previously planned to lose. I don’t know how it happened, but suddenly the waistbands of all my sit-below-the-waist pants were sitting snugly at my waist, crowned by a rubbery roll of flesh. The menopause metabolism-slowing demon had come to live at my house.

I tried the South Beach Diet, the Atkins Diet, the no-white-foods diet, and the being-careful-about-everything-I-ate diet. After six months, nothing had worked and my choices were (1) to buy a new wardrobe or (2) to join Weight Watchers. (Everyone I knew who had lost weight and kept it off had done it with Weight Watchers.)

So on a gray Monday morning, I went to my first meeting, on the second floor of a cinder-block office building in a rundown strip mall. I took off my shoes, socks, sweater, belt, and earrings and weighed in, crestfallen that the scale said I was three pounds more than I’d weighed naked at home a half hour before. I took my seat in the circle with 15 other women, nearly crushing a toddler hiding under my folding chair. When the group leader handed me an "I’m a Loser!!!" sticker, I knew I was in the wrong place.

After the meeting, I sat in my car for a long time. Was I just too big a snob to follow a proven program? Then, the lightbulb. What if I recruited a group of women — friends, peers, friends of friends — and we began our own support group, holding meetings in a nice restaurant where we could weigh in, exchange dieting tips, share our successes and failures, and then eat lunch together?

Getting Started

I called my longtime friend Mary-Catherine Deibel, co-owner of the UpStairs on the Square restaurant, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and proposed the idea of a weekly group that would meet at her restaurant. Mary-Catherine was on board instantly. We dubbed the group Down@Up — thinking it a sufficiently cryptic name (one that wouldn’t be obvious on a day planner) — and limited the membership to 12, a number that would fit comfortably around a lunch table. We found a leader with 10 years of experience running diet programs and paid her in advance, $150 per person for 10 weeks. Her job was to orchestrate the meetings: run the weigh-in, moderate the discussion, and give feedback.

Mary-Catherine and I e-mailed friends and, within days, had assembled our charter group. It resembled a casting call for our neighborhood: an architect, an artist, a pediatrician, a corporate headhunter, a marketing director, a college professor, a graphic designer, a photographer — all successful women, all frustrated by their weight.

The First Weigh-In

We’re all nervous at the first meeting. Women rarely tell even their best friends what they weigh; here we are, airing our baggy, stretched-out laundry in public. We line up for the weigh-in with our leader, who enters our weights in a log. Then we gather at the table, introducing ourselves and saying something about our goals.

Most of us are looking to lose 20 or so pounds (our pants are too tight, but we still remember when we could wear them comfortably). Some have never worried about their weight until now; others have gotten so accustomed to being fat, they’ve given up imagining themselves thin. "My doctor told me to either lose 30 pounds or look for another doctor," one member confesses. I share my fear of diabetes, the disease that took my sister three years ago. Sandra whispers, "I’d rather not take cholesterol pills for the rest of my life." Another member estimates that over the course of her adulthood, she has lost and gained enough weight to be twins.

The group is a little stiff and formal, but the seeds of intimacy and trust are here. When Blue tells us that she can’t even say "the D word," we laugh. "I’ll tell people I’m not eating red meat or white flour, but I’ll be damned if I’ll tell them I’m on a diet," she says. One member, who’s leaving on a trip in a few weeks, says her new mantra is "Would I rather eat Italian or wear Italian?" We all crack up.

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