Catherine Ford Gets Personal

One year: A challenge for change


with 3 comments

Weight Watchers came to the Calgary Herald on April 15, 1998. I weighed 201 pounds. Loose jackets were my preferred cover. In the first week I lost six pounds.

One year later I weighed 145.

Was it easy? No, but it wasn’t difficult or oppressive or depressing. Women from all departments cheered each other on. The group camaraderie was a blessing in itself. That is the secret of Weight Watchers success. The downside is the incessant focus on what to eat, how much to eat, how to cook it, how to count the points awarded to each food group and how to make the changes that mean success.

In the end, I accumulated more than three years worth of food diaries, each accounting for every mouthful I ate, including the unfortunate day when a combination lunch and dinner consisted of liberal lashings of Scotch and three chicken wings and still came in under the points total for the day. I have kept them all — all 187 pieces of paper, one per week .

I have also kept the two pieces of advice offered by our group leaders that says it all:

“Nothing tastes as good as thin feels.”

“Don’t trade what you want most for what you want at the moment.”

So how does someone gain back all that weight? Surely that’s a failure of will. At the very least, it must be a failure of want. Maybe it’s a failure of won’t.

Whatever, there’s so much more to losing weight than losing the weight. Having lost the equivalent of a good-sized girls’ soccer team in the course of my life, I should know. Ah, but knowing and doing, doing and learning can be poles apart. At least that’s my reason for the down-again, up-again chart of my weight.

Until recently, I lived smugly with the comfortable thought I could rise to the challenge of losing the weight if I wanted to. I just didn’t want to, so there. (A slight moue at this point, plus a quick flounce out of the room was sufficient to let people know I couldn’t care less. Right, and all those comments about Omar the Tentmaker didn’t hurt, either.)

Recently, of course, age caught up to me. It actually caught up to my body, the real me still being 18 years old inside. In reality, I’m facing 65 in two weeks.

I know I’m not alone in this. I’m the whisper before the roar of the Baby Boomers as they screech into their senior years.

Gail Sheehy, author of the 1976 best-seller, Passages, argues in her 1995 follow-up, New Passages: Mapping Your Life Across Time, that aging well is a choice. “Experts in gerontology make a clear distinction between passive aging and successful aging,” Sheehy writes. The latter is a career choice, a conscious choice. “Your job is to revive your life energy to make the next passage. That life force is then ready to be applied to whatever current challenges you face or the life accidents that may occur up ahead,” she writes.

“Let’s don’t even call it aging anymore. The very word carries pejorative baggage.”

I’m all right with the word — aging is a fact of life, a statement of the brilliantly obvious I might add — but I’d rather do it without the suitcases under my eyes, the tote bag under my chin and the saddlebags that are a piece of luggage peculiar to women. That’s my personal baggage.

But Sheehy isn’t about to let us get away with sliding semi-conscious into that certain age. “Let’s be honest,” she writes, “change is one of those totems to which we pay lip service. In practice, most of my efforts and probably yours, as we slouch toward the third age, go into maximizing our control, trying to know it all, reducing the necessity to change and the inclination to risk.”

Our call to arm ourselves against aging comes with the blandishments of commercial creams and potions, lotion and pills, the lure of the quick fix and the promise of change without work. We will pay almost any amount to do what Sheehy refers to as “life prevention.”

And just in case you thought that was all we had to face, here comes the statistic: those of us women who get to age 65 can expect to live for at least another 20 years. Thanks for the extended lifespan, but I’d like to do it in a size 10 dress, as opposed to sweat pants or skirts with elasticized waists.

Let me be clear: If all it took was a desire to lose weight, most fat people would be thin and the rapacious diet industry would go bankrupt. There’s a lot more going on that just numbers on a scale.

If you have stayed with me this far, you might have noticed that actual numbers have been few and far between. Time to ‘fess up. And this is tough to write: I’m 5’ 6” and a bit, shrinking from the 5’7” I was 11 years ago when Weight Watchers measured me. The heaviest I have ever been as an adult was 205 pounds; the lightest, 137: I believe I weighed the latter for about five minutes between breakfast and lunch one summer’s day in 1977. It’s not that I remember weighing so little, but I have a picture somewhere to prove it.

Actually, at some point in my childhood I must have passed 137 going the other way, but I don’t remember.

If anyone wonders why I habitually wear high heels and lots of hair on top of my head, it’s simple: Taller means thinner. And let’s face it, your shoes always fit and so does your hair. Those $200 pumps don’t have to be buttoned at the waist or zipped up the back. They won’t desert you when last night’s grand marnier soufflé settles on your hips.

And hair? Did you ever wonder why so many fat women have elaborate hairdos? Simple: even when your weight is out of control, your hair will obey. Your hair can look beautiful even if you think you don’t look so hot about right now. You are in control even if everyone around you looks at your shape and thinks fat equals sloppy; fat equals no control, fat means no self esteem.

I know a lot of women think when they lose five or ten pounds — or 30 or 50 — that they’ll buy new clothes then. This is stupid. You don’t need expensive clothes when you’re thin, that’s why clothing for skinny teenagers is so shoddily made of cheap material — they’d look spectacular in anything.

But we need to work at feeling fabulous. That costs money. Being overweight doesn’t have to mean crappy clothing. You’re worth it right now.

The big secret is the more expensive the clothing, the smaller the size on the tag and the better the fit. And the better the fit, the better you look. And when you look good, you feel good.

Why is it that we women believe that our “reward” for losing weight is to fit back into a five-year-old dress? Some reward: old clothes. Go out right now and buy a single item of clothing that will make you feel special tomorrow.

NEXT: The yellow dress I try to forget, but can’t


Written by Catherine Ford

September 21, 2009 at 8:55 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. Love this story best so far! Like the new head shot!


    October 20, 2009 at 11:33 am

  2. Man, you are preaching to this choir! My first diet was when I was 34 years old and had creeped up to 160 pounds after having 2 children in my early 20’s. I would kill to weigh 160 again! That started me on my yo-yoing journey that has me at 200 lbs (again) at age 62.

    Nancy Eaton

    November 8, 2009 at 9:37 am

  3. Wonderful Function

    Lazaro Florentine

    February 21, 2010 at 10:53 pm

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