midpoint (2006-05)

Terms for a truce

by Stephanie Piper

It’s January again, the month in which you discover that every garment you own has shrunk three sizes. The other possibility—that you may soon be featured in a TV special called Americans Just Keep Getting Fatter —is simply too bleak to consider.

I’ve been fat, and I’ve been thin. Well, thin-nish. I’ve gravitated toward either adjective more times than I can count, and I have the wardrobe to prove it. Small-waisted skirts and narrow Capri pants vie for closet space with black tent dresses and roomy navy blue suits. The weight-loss gurus tell you to throw away your fat clothes once you reach your goal, but that always seems like the triumph of hope over experience to me. Come January, that black dress holds out its arms like an old, forgiving friend.

Let’s face some facts here. Those who get thin and stay thin are the few and the proud. The rest of us spend a lot of time commuting between South Beach and Super-Sized. We stir Equal into our decaf while ordering a piece of chocolate cake the size of a brick. We log miles on the treadmill one week and languish on the couch for the next three. We work off 10 pounds for the class reunion and gain back 20 before the new alumni magazine arrives. And why do we do this? Here’s my theory. We do this because a long stretch of judicious eating feels like deprivation. We do this because we get tired of being disciplined and foresighted and carrying bags of celery sticks in our pockets. We do this because we get tired of being good. 

When you think about it, it’s not hard to understand why Americans struggle with weight. Food is reward. Food is celebration. Food is the centerpiece of most social gatherings. If it’s not food, it’s alcohol, and we all know about those calories—and how a chardonnay buzz works on your diet resolve.

Then there’s the comfort factor, which only multiplies in cold weather. Winter meals seem to call for potatoes, rich stews, dark gravies. Trudging home in the chilly twilight, no one I know fantasizes about butter-less string beans and three ounces of skinless chicken. We want warm loaves of crusty bread. We want lasagna with Italian sausage and extra mozzarella. My own comfort-food favorites, tomato soup and peanut butter on toast washed down with chocolate milk, may send my serotonin levels soaring, but they will never make it into the sensible starch category on any diet plan.

Enough. After decades of yo-yoing, I’m working on a new approach. I’m thinking about a peaceful middle ground somewhere between plus and petite, a comfy little mental corner called Not That Fat. It’s a territory of half sandwiches, split desserts and the occasional elastic waistband. Tomato soup and peanut butter are on the menu, and so is lamb stew. Treadmills are out. Walks around the block are in. You eat when you’re hungry. You don’t when you’re not.    

The way I see it is this. If you don’t need a seatbelt extender on an airplane, don’t consume entire boxes of Ring Dings at one sitting, and can get out of the doctor’s office without hearing the word “diet,” you are Not That Fat. Never mind the number on the scale or the size on the tag. In the overall scheme of things, you’re fine. You may never get into the willowy Capris again, but was that really your best look?  

Call it Positive Reframing. Call it Denial with a capital D. Oh, and while you’re at it, call out for Chinese.

Extra egg rolls. Hold the fortune cookies.