Writer’s Group & Envy

Part of my inspiration for starting this blog was to put out some essays I’ve been writing, in hopes of someday, maybe putting together a weight loss memoir. My writing is rusty. Getting in a creative mindset when I’ve gone two years without writing and much longer without practicing creative writing is intimidating and challenging. Surprisingly, it has been easier than expected, but I still envy those who seem to be fully committed and dedicated to developing novels, religiously writing a little bit each day.

Tuesday night was my third writer’s group meeting. We only meet monthly, yet I still seem stuck in the habit of waiting til the week of the meeting before I actually sit down and write something. In my head I’ve made comparisons to dieting temptations and the Seven Deadly Sins. Perhaps those Saturday morning catachism classes and weekly church attendance sunk in more than I thought. This week, I titled my essay “Envy.”

This week’s essay is NOT really a memoir. It’s a compilation of random tidbits, experiences and stories pulled together for the purpose of this one piece. That said–this is one I’m definitely re-working and re-structuring thanks to the feedback in my group. In the meantime, enjoy!

The day that all Weight Watchers dream of was realized by one of the members of my Monday evening crew. Barbara, an office manager and middle-aged single mom of two teens, hit her goal weight of 119 pounds. At 5’4”, this certainly was at the low end of her weight range, but Barbara dreamed of achieving her high school weight. She said life was as she dreamed it then—she was Homecoming Queen and engaged to her high school sweetheart. Now, it was January, 35 years later, and she was divorced and dancing across the YMCA pre-school room in her Speedo one-piece and ankle socks. Excited to finally reach her goal weight, she had stripped off her fuchsia velour track suit while in line to weigh in. She wanted to be sure she made goal this week and was clearly willing to do anything to show it—including bearing her pasty white thighs to a group of 50 women, all of whom were clearly enjoying the show, but obviously a little jealous all the same.

Successes like Barbara’s were celebrated at Weight Watchers in full glory—especially since Barbara lost 75 pounds. It took her just four months to lose that weight and it left behind inches of saggy skin. I made a mental note to continue the turtle-speed weight loss, take cooler showers and hydrate with extra moisturizing lotion to maintain skin elasticity, so I wouldn’t need a lifetime supply of Spanx once I finally hit my own goal weight.

Donna started the meeting off by sharing Barbara’s success and asking everyone to join in a round of applause. I looked around the room and noticed some plastered on smiles and less than enthusiastic clapping. This was not surprising. It was rare to see a member achieve their goal weight—even in a group as large as ours. Many women spent weeks fighting off the same 5 pounds, only to quit when they feel the program was “not working.” The leader, recognizing this and hoping to motivate those that were at the end of their rope, took these rare opportunities to let the newly slenderized member talk about what they did to achieve that success.

What followed was not unlike an awkward news interview on the public access channel with Donna dressed like she was ready to model the latest Banana Republic fashion and Barbara looking like she was in the middle of competing in a triathlon.

Donna: So tell us, Barbara, what do you think was your most used tool for success?

Barbara: Finding healthier alternatives for my chocolate fix. I used to have a king sized pack of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups every afternoon at 3 and now I instead have a couple glasses of water and a Weight Watchers peanut butter 1 point bar.

Mind you: a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup has maybe six ingredients, and almost all are pronounceable and recognizable, compared to the Weight Watcher 1-point bars which have enough chemical components to require an advanced science degree to decipher.

The interview continued.

Donna: What are you going to do to celebrate?

Barbara: My girlfriends and I are going to dinner at Carraba’s and I’m ordering an appetizer, drink AND dessert!

Not the best way to start maintenance phase, I thought as I noticed Barbara’s girlfriends (one of whom actually suffered a gain that week attributed to going out of town for the funeral of a close family member). I could see her contemplating how she was going to manage to bag the celebration or suffer through it without suffering a carb-induced coma and weight gain.

Donna, paused awkwardly for a minute, as if she were contemplating whether to review the stages of hunger and fullness chart again. Clearly, Barbara was shooting for a ready-to-pop balloon, which ranked five on the one through five scale. Three—a halfway-deflated balloon, like one you’d see the morning after a child’s birthday party—was considered appropriate. Instead, Donna decided celebration was in order: Oh, how wonderful! I’m sure you’ll all have fun! Now, tell the group what kind of lifestyle you followed to get here.

What Barbara described seemed like a cross between a health spa vacation and a trip to the penitentiary. She spoke of waking daily—even on weekends!—to do an hour-long cardio workout at 5:30 am, followed by a diet of raw veggies, plain grains and poached chicken or fish and topped off with another workout—this time at Curves.

“Surely, you allow yourself a treat or a free day every now and then?” one of the members asked.

“Oh no! I had a goal” responded Barbara, astounded that someone would suggest a cheat every now and then. “I never ate an activity point, I never consumed all my weekly points and when I celebrated my 50th last month, I didn’t even have the birthday cake my sister made me.”

Instead, she celebrated with one of those oh-so-scrumptious, chemical-filled, Weight Watchers candies.

At no point did Donna ask Barbara what her maintenance plan was, nor did she talk about what a maintenance plan might entail. Barbara had spent the last season dreaming and planning for her goal weight. Now that that journey was ending, I suspected it was time for Barbara to hop on a connecting flight to maintenance land. Instead, I suspected Barbara thought she was in weight loss retirement, only taking return flights once a month to weigh in so she could maintain her Lifetime Membership.

Lifetime Membership is the ultimate prize at Weight Watchers. Once you achieve goal (as determined by the Weight Watchers healthy weight ranges) and maintain it for six weeks, you are considered a Lifetime Member and can attend meetings for free as long as you remain within two pounds of that goal and weigh in monthly to prove you’re maintaining that goal. If you happen to scarf down a year’s worth of crab rangoon at the local China Buffet and need to loosen your belt a few notches, you’ll have to pay for meetings until you’re back at your healthy range again.

Personally, I think Lifetime Membership Weigh Ins would be more intimidating than the normal weigh in. Currently, when I hop on the scale, it’s a celebration as long as the number is smaller than it was the previous week—even if it’s just two-tenths of a pound lower. If you’re a Lifetime Member, you’re one of those skinny women that the rest of us roll our eyes at and wonder “what is SHE doing here?” and then you have the added pressure of needing to remain in a very teeny, tiny, four pound weight range. You don’t get little gold foil star stickers for maintaining your weight for a full month. You don’t get a bookmark for surviving the holidays or a keychain for renewing your gym membership. You get a bunch of people wondering “Is she sticking with it?” and then you’re slapped with a fine, er, membership dues, if you had a bad month.

Fortunately, for Barbara, she received what just might have been her last Weight Watcher reward. On that day, Barbara also received a little star-shaped “75 Pounds Lost!” magnet, made out of the same flexible and not very strong material as those business card-sized magnets you get from the dentist or local pizza shop, so you can always have their phone number handy.

The celebratory magnets at Weight Watchers are only for “significant” weight losses like 50, 75 or even 100 pound losses. They also send a distinct message. Every time you’re tempted to reach into the freezer for the pint of Ben & Jerry’s, you are taunted with your past success. As far as I know, Weight Watchers isn’t in the business of taking your magnet back if you gain weight, but you never know…

I stole my Weight Watchers magnet. I quit Weight Watchers after losing 48.5 pounds, having found more success working with a nutritionist who taught me how to eat the right combination of foods, instead of stockpiling my generous allotment of Weight Watchers points for full-fat ice cream and pizza. I know it’s common sense to eat healthy foods when trying to lose weight, but when my weight loss stalled, my Weight Watchers leader recommended I give my metabolism a jolt by taking advantage of the points I earned exercising and, in exchange, eat more pizza. When that didn’t work, I was advised not to exercise so much, so I wouldn’t need to eat as much. Now, I’m no dietician or personal trainer, but I was fairly certain that advice was a little wonky, so I started seeing a nutritionist. For awhile I did both programs—I used WW for the support group and the nutritionist for sane advice. I kinda felt like I was having some kind of illicit affair. Weight Watchers, my Monday night “boyfriend,” was like a fun, engaging, not-so-serious, but always entertaining group date. My Wednesday night “boyfriend,” a dietician named Sabina, was the complete opposite: intimate, thoughtful, reflective. I soon realized I was falling in love with my Wednesday dates. I decided Weight Watchers was no longer worth the money, especially after discovering I could easily kvetch with a couple weight-minded colleagues for free. Wouldn’t you know—a week after my membership expired, I reached a 50 pound loss.

My mother, a Weight Watchers Lifer insisted I needed the magnet to celebrate my loss. So, the next time she attended her own WW meeting—a Saturday morning tradition with her best friend (I swear everyone must have thought they were a lesbian couple with their  coordinating travel mugs of Earl Grey tea, matching Mom jeans and themed, appliqué sweatshirts)—she reached into the rewards basket when no one was looking and snatched a magnet. The only problem? It was a magnet meant to celebrate a 75 pound loss, and now I still have that magnet, sitting on my freezer, taunting me about the extra 25 pounds I still have not managed to lose nearly 18 months later.

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