The transformative event for me came about halfway through my first meeting. Surrounded by puffy women applauding one another for losing eight ounces, addressed by a relatively slim, excited older woman in extremely tight pants, I was about to lose my shit and leave. Like I’d left French class sophomore year, after six years of study: just up and left and never went back. This was not for me.
In 2001 I had taken stock and realized that I was at least 60 pounds overweight, pale, flabby, and tired easily. My digestive system was a nightmare; I ate nothing healthy, no matter how often I resolved to do so. My feet hurt. My knees hurt. I had had to go to physical therapy for weak ankles. My lower back was giving out alarming twinges. And I was only 32.
A confluence of events led me to Weight Watchers in January 2002. I woke up especially hung over and bloated one morning after a late night. My wife and I had started talking about having a baby. Murderers had attacked my city, and it occurred to me that life was too short to stay fat. A colleague was attending a nearby meeting and encouraged me to come with her. Another coworker, a man, had lost a lot of weight through the program the previous year. I went.
It was horrifying. Clapping, I thought, is not what I need. Little star stickers were not going to help me. And they talked incessantly about dessert – my problem was cheese and ribs and beer and General Tso’s chicken, not chocolate. Cake and cookies were for the weak. Even the way chocolate was talked about, with this faux reverence — an ironclad excuse masquerading as an object of worship in whose presence my bovine companions were powerless. When they mentioned it, I could hear the glutinous melted gunk blurring the consonants in the word itself…schawglit.
My cousin once tricked me — bait: job opportunity/switch: Amway meeting. They sat the new recruits in the front row and proceeded to attempt to break us down by asking if we wanted to get rich. That had been like this. Later, when I emerged with my psyche intact, he’d said “don’t think about it, just do it.” That was anathema to me.
I was fat, but I was no joiner. I was a dinosaur explainer, and I wore black clothing and lived in New York City. I’d traveled the country by car for six months. I’d read Atlas Shrugged AND A Fool’s Progress. I had a hip, hot wife in the record industry and we went to extremely cool shows. I was a cynical and proud atheist who hated sports and swore never to go to Disneyland. And above all I was young! What the hell was I doing in the room with the fat women salivating about doughnuts?
And then the transformative event: I let go. For one second. I shut off my brain and clapped, with a big smile on my face.
Why? Because nothing else had worked. I’d been gaining weight for ten years. I was miserable. If I thought I was too young to be in that room, I was certainly too young to keel over and die on a subway platform. And everyone said that Weight Watchers worked. So somewhere I found a switch and shut off the part of my brain that was saying “no.”
It was just enough for them to get their hooks into me.
That year, I transformed. I journaled, I counted my points, I drank water, I measured portions, I tried recipes received at meetings, I read the Getting Started book religiously and I attended my weekly meeting. I realized that I’d been reverentially saying General Tso’s schickun. I sat up front. I raised my hand a lot. And it worked. I immediately began losing weight.
Suddenly, running seemed possible. A natural complement to Weight Watchers. I started slowly during Week Five. After fifteen minutes on the treadmill, I knew one thing for certain: I was going to die. But I didn’t die that particular day, and I went back two days later. I started counting activity points.
By October I lost 68 pounds. Five years later, I go every week to keep it off.
The women — and some men — in that room are some of the bravest and dearest people I know, struggling against unimaginably deep-seated personal and cultural roadblocks, trying to find out if they’re real beneath the weight. They are, they are, they are. My leader from that first day has been one of the most – and you can imagine how using this word hurts a deeply independent and cynical thinker – inspiring people I’ve ever met. I mean, she helps people get well. How cool is that?
So I’m a convert, an acolyte, a Weight Watchers zombie who for a long time could only talk about POINTS and the POINTS system. Letting go that day was one of the hardest — and best — things I’ve ever done.
But I still don’t buy their products.