40 Days and 40 Nights

I’m now, in my head at least, standing at the end of the high board, getting ready to take the plunge. It’s a long way down, and the space between here and there might as well be 10 miles as 10 meters. I could jump feet first, but that would be cheating. I have to dive. And I’m scared shitless.

Okay, forgive the metaphor, but I’m talking about a 40-day detoxifying, fat-burning, no-sugar-oil-alcohol-starch-dairy eating plan — or, more accurately, not-eating plan that gets underway tomorrow. Technically, today is the first day, but it’s just prep. The fun starts when I get up in the morning.

So what am I afraid of? Failure, of course.

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Ever since I can remember, my body didn’t seem good enough. Or more specifically, thin enough, feminine enough, strong enough, healthy enough, pretty enough. You get the idea. My older sister’s body had it all: beauty, grace, delicate bones, long legs, perky breasts. She even had thick hair and long eyelashes. She was a ballerina, too, and later the captain of her high school dance team. She modeled occasionally, and was voted best dressed on campus in 1968. And then there was me. Short, chubby, fine haired, uncoordinated. I so wanted to look like my sister, but early on I had to face facts. She was the pretty one. She had a boyfriend and was on the homecoming court. I had to be content staying home babysitting my little brother and trying to hold the family together as it unravelled into alcoholism, disillusionment and, ultimately, divorce. For the most part, my sister was off living her beautiful life, so she missed most of it.

As you might have guessed, I wasn’t able to hold anything together, and I grew up and went off to college in spite of it all. I never had a boyfriend in high school, but in college I had my first taste of popularity with boys, and I liked it. Ah youth. I even forgot for awhile that I was imperfect. When I look at photos of that time, I’m astounded how, well, lovely I was: clear-eyed, fresh complexioned, blooming with sexuality. Yep, I was pretty cute I can see now. How come I didn’t appreciate it when it was happening?  All I could really see was that I didn’t look that good in hip-hugger jeans.

As the bloom began to fade, I found a way to keep my naturally robust frame thin: I became a smoker!  All those TV years I was puffing away in the newsroom, smoking instead of eating. In those days you could smoke anywhere. It’s actually hard to fathom now. Anyway, the day came when I had to put the cigarettes down for good. I was pregnant, and there was clearly no choice. For an addict like me, it was no easy feat, even if I did have the best motivation ever. But I did it, and I never picked up the habit again. That was 27 years ago. And I have battled my weight every day since.

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How many diets have I tried? Ten? Twenty? I am not kidding. And I’m actually trying again? Why on earth would this time be any different? It’s a very good question. I do have a few things going for me on this one. First, it’s more about my 60-something health than my waistline. I am tired of arthritic joints and low stamina. Second, unless I do something, it’s just going to get worse. It used to be ten pounds. Now it’s 25. Next year it could be 30. Third, I am doing it with a doctor’s supervision. I have education, science and emotional support backing me up. For the next 40 days, I will be eating a very low calorie diet, while my hormones are balanced, my fat burning engine turns on, and my body heals. It’s rigorous, and it’s extreme. I have done something like this before, and lost weight. But it didn’t stick. While that’s scary, I am definitely wiser now. And goddammit, I’m tired of this. I want this one to be the last one. Period.

In the scheme of things 25 pounds is not a lot of weight to lose. I have been in programs and watched people lose 100 pounds and more. If you’re thin, it’s probably hard to imagine, but even though I’m not at the top of the scale, I can totally relate to the despair people feel when they look in the mirror and contemplate the deprivation it would take to reach the mountaintop. Sometimes it’s so daunting, we don’t even try.

Here’s the thing. I have been messing around with diets and self-loathing for so long, it would be very easy to just give up. In fact, that’s what I’ve been doing for past seven or eight years. So I’m embarrassed to tell my loved ones that I’m trying again. I’m afraid of the look in their eyes that says, “Oh, right, I’ve heard this one before.” And they’re right. They have heard it before. That’s why I didn’t tell anybody about what I am about to do. I thought if I could see the doubt on their faces, my own doubt would overwhelm me and stop me before I begin. Therefore, I’m doing what I often do. I’m writing about it. What will it be like, watching my world go by without me for 40 days?

After all, as I like to say, who am I when I’m not eating and drinking with my friends? What to do with all this time stretching in front of me when I’m not cooking for people or drinking wine with them? Will I know what to do with myself?

So I guess I just have to take a leap of faith. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. It’s not if you fall, it’s what you do when you get back up. What can you possibly gain if you don’t try? Sure, all truisms, all wrapped up neatly to be pulled out when the going gets tough. After all, how many times did I try to quit smoking? It took the gestation of my beloved son to spur me on that time. Maybe if I loved myself like that, it would be enough. What a novel thought.

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