For much of my life, I was the fat girl in the room, and during those years I tried every diet known to womankind. I even invented my own diets. My favorite was the Snickers Diet: I would eat two bars a day with as much coffee and diet soda as I could guzzle down. I lost 10 pounds in two weeks and had a face full of pimples.
I’ve done it all: attended the group meetings, eaten the prepackaged food, gone on weeklong diet retreats, taken up juicing, hired exercise trainers and weight-loss coaches, swallowed antihunger pills, written copious food diaries and journaled about my feelings.
Just listing all this is exhausting.
But what finally did the diet trick was when my accountant called on December 31, 2010, and asked if I was making any New Year’s resolutions. I expected her to launch into a speech about getting my tax documents better organized, but instead I got a different pep talk. She’d just lost 40 pounds on what she called a cockamamie diet, and since she assumed I’d be making my annual resolution to lose weight, she wanted to steer me toward her successful path. “You trust me with your money—trust me on this,” she said.
A week later, I received the Accu Weight-Loss starter kit I’d ordered. Tiny ball bearings were enclosed with instructions that showed where they should be taped behind my ears. Rubbing these little beads on acupressure points would diminish my hunger, the diet promised. I was worried about the low-calorie aspect of the regimen, but within three days, I was shockingly hunger free. And within five months, I went from 172 pounds to 122.
People ask me all the time, what made this diet different? Why, when I failed on every other program, was I able to stick with this one? At first, I credited the diet itself. After all, once you take hunger and cravings out of the equation, the only weight-loss demon you’re really fighting is temptation.
But what I realized is that I had changed what was in my head. My accountant told me an apocryphal story that I’d heard before, but not in the context of dieting. Michelangelo supposedly once said his famous sculpture of David was always there in the marble; he’d just had to chip away the excess. In other words, I was already a thin and healthy person, just waiting to be revealed.
For some reason, that clicked, and from then on I lived as if I were a thin person, even though I was still 50 pounds overweight. I told all the people I knew, and they joined in. For example, at the office, and with permission, an intern put up pictures around my desk of Jersey Shore’s JWoww wearing a bikini—and my face; she also posted signs that said no retreat, no surrender, in homage to my personal hero, Bruce Springsteen.
And that’s how I plowed through the diet. In my head, I was walking around as Stella Stunning, as my 78-year-old mom referred to me. Call it a conscious hallucination, but it worked. That shift in my brain completely freed me from the fat anguish that had consumed my entire life. And Stella Stunning refused to give in to temptation. I didn’t stop myself from socializing either; I just said “No thanks” when offered food that wasn’t part of my diet. For the first time in my life, losing weight was effortless.
Maintenance, however, was not.
After I reached my goal weight, I had the chance to meet Valerie Bertinelli at a press event for her TV show Hot in Cleveland. Since she had dropped about the same number of pounds I’d lost, I shared my fat-shedding success with her. But instead of enjoying a skinny-girl bonding moment, the actress suddenly got deadly serious.
“Listen to me,” she said, stepping up almost nose to nose. “The toughest part is keeping it off. Do what you have to do to stay at your goal weight but know that it’s hard.”
She was right. The first time I found myself a few pounds up, I freaked out and became hyperaware of the thoughts in my head telling me I was a big fat failure. My Stella Stunning self-image was turning back into that fat girl, and I had to put a stop to it.
So, being a journalist, I went on a fact-finding expedition and interviewed my civilian friends—those without a weight issue. It shocked me to learn that they, too, sometimes go up a few pounds.
Turns out, it’s normal! I’m normal! This was another first. I was able to let go of the ongoing tape in my head that was so quick to label me a failure.
Next question to my respondents was, how do you maintain?
Over and over I got a variation on this answer: “When my pants feel tight, I cut back until they fit properly again.”
No drama, no fuss. It’s that easy.
So now, almost three years after I started the diet, I’ve found a happy gray area. No longer is my life about dieting or cheating on a diet. It’s about eating. I have vegetarian days, and animal protein days, and sometimes, like yesterday, I have ribs-biscuits-butter-and-ice-cream days. And that just might be breakfast.
All I know is that it works. My body is thin, which is fabulous, but equally fabulous is that I really see myself that way. Because of my new image of myself, I have peace and quiet in my brain, which is the most fabulous of all. To quote my accountant, trust me on this.
SUSAN AVERY is a freelance writer based in New York City.
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