After my friend from church, Sara Z, recommended this book, I knew I had to read it. Sara has great taste in literature and is a fellow buddy in the weight loss journey (we're both on Weight Watchers).
I am too lazy to actually structure this as a formal review, so I'm just going to write some thoughts about it. I have about 25 pink stickies in the book on the pages I want to comment on, so this may be sorta random, but hopefully there are some good thoughts in here.
First of all, I absolutely LOVED this book. It really made me think about several things: 1) why I got fat in the first place, 2) what happened to make me want to be thin enough to actually succeed at losing and keep it off (so far!), 3) the nature of the transition from being fat to thin, mentally (physically the changes are more obvious and easier to catalog). As I ramble about the book, you'll get more details on the above 3 items.
Kuffel writes about what lay behind the first compulsive bite... and she doesn't remember. Neither do I. I know my food problem goes a long way back - I remember eating compulsively in high school. I wasn't particularly heavy then (maybe 10-20 lb overweight at most), probably because I was very busy and involved in things like marching band, which kept the weight down. A teenage metabolism probably helped as well. In any case, I know that I ate for comfort, for pleasure, and to relieve stress and/or boredom. Kuffel writes, "Food was animate, a completely mutual and unfailingly loyal friend." This was true for me for at least 20 years (age 13ish until age 34, when I joined WW). The problem is that though food SEEMED like a loyal friend, it turned around and stabbed me in the back, saddling me with a heavy weight and bringing me to a point where I felt I had no control over it (like any other addictive substance). For Kuffel, "the reasons why I ate are much less important than the eating itself, and what it did to my body and my life. The motivations are lost in the food, in my increasing bulk, in my loss of participation. Food wanted me. I wanted it more than I wanted anyone else. That is all that matters." That's the problem with sin (yes, I'm going to use that word, because that is what this really is about) - our pastor says you don't do sin, it does you. That is the truth, especially when it comes to addiction. The loss of control and the need for the grace of God to rescue you is totally apparent when you are trapped in the mire of addiction.
I knew my eating was out of control for a long time. I tried (and succeeded several times) to lose weight, but I could never keep it off. Food always seemed to have the upper hand. I think I knew that I had a problem from the time I was about 20 or 21. The repeated attempts at losing weight and keeping it off left me more and more desperate and despondent. I thought I would never ever be able to do it, and despaired that God had forgotten me in my fat misery. I prayed and begged for God to remove my food addiction, and it seemed that he was not listening. I wondered with the Psalmist (Psalm 13) HOW LONG would it be? How long would I suffer? When would I be able to overcome? I don't know why God waited so long to answer my prayers, but I do know that I really did have to come to the point of total and complete desperation and stay there for a while before the choice became clear. I had to sever my love affair with food, or it would literally kill me. I had to do something before I taught my son the same poor eating habits and coping mechanisms that I had grown up with. I had to grow to hate what food did to me so much that I would not ever want to go back. I had to want to be normal more than I wanted the food - and though it took a long time, I did finally arrive at that point.
I joined WW February 5, 2005, not sure that I would succeed, but sure that I had to change my life and do something different. I'm not going to write much about the hows of the whole process, because I think that once my mental state was such that I was really ready, the rest followed from that. I knew it was do or die. I began at 250 lb (yes, I really was that big) on my 5'8" frame. Before I got pregnant in November 2005 (actually October, but didn't know until November), I lost 77 lb and was down to 172 lb. My BMI (Body Mass Index) dropped from an alarming 38 to an almost normal 26 (20-24.9 is considered normal). I had only 18 more lb to go before I reached goal, and after the baby is born, I'm sure that I'm going to get there. (Side note: I have been diligent during pregnancy to continue journaling my food intake and exercise daily, and I've kept my weight gain to 15 lb so far, with only 3 weeks and 2 days left in pregnancy).
Back to the book! Some of the stuff that resonated with me about what Kuffel calls "life on the planet of fat" was very poignant. She writes of a trip to Coney Island, where the highlight for her was the amazing amount of great food. I remember wanting to go to the state fair or county fair for the same reason: the food. Sure, there was fun stuff to do there, but the main motivation was the tantalizing array of fat-laden goodies, from state fair tacos, to ice cream treats, to nachos brimming over with melted cheese, to kettle corn... you get the point. Anyway, Kuffel was at Coney Island with her friends, enjoying all the food, when a wind gust lifts her jumper skirt to reveal a pair of plaid shorts. One of her friends notices the shorts and inquires about them. Kuffel is so ashamed, because she is wearing the shorts to prevent her thighs from getting chafed from rubbing together. She makes up an excuse, "Ummm-modesty?". Inside she felt so horrible, "Diaper rash at the age of thirty-seven. My shame came layered in shame". I identified with her so much at this point. I remember being so heavy that I couldn't wear a jumper or dress without shorts underneath for the same reason. I was never discovered at this little "trick" like she was, but the shame of just having to do this still remains fresh in my mind. Some other shames she and I remember together - blood pressure cuffs that were too small, wondering if you'd fit in certain chairs comfortably, pantyhose tops that were painful even in the largest sizes, airplane seats that were way too small (the armrests dug into my legs for hours on one trip), and the glares when I was taking up too much room. This is realy hard to write about - wow. Sharing the shame, even now that I am normal weight, is shameful. But maybe it will help some of you, somehow.
Thoughts on the weight loss journey come next. Kuffel writes of her first meetings at what I assume is OA (Overeaters Anonymous - a 12-step program), and how impressed and encouraged she was that people in the group had actually lost weight. She cried a lot those first meetings as she really felt understood in her fat state "tell me how to stop, how to be thin". While I didn't cry at my WW meetings, I really was surprised at how much I connected with the others in the meetings, knowing they had been where I was, watching them lose, and cheering each other on. The meetings really did become a highlight of my week, and I drew strength from them to continue. I miss them now that I'm pregnant and can't go, and really can't wait to go back soon.
As Kuffel loses weight, she notices the little things. Her shoes fit better (mine do too). Her watch is loose (I have had 2 links removed, and need another one removed soon). I personally was thrilled when I could cross my legs again (and even at 9 mos pregnant, I still can!). It is easier for her to bend over, easier for me to tie my shoes (well, not pregnant, but it was easier!!!). It was such a thrill to see the changes, and it was so motivating. Being able to wear tailored pants that you can tuck shirts into - marvelous! Shopping in the regular women's department instead of the plus sizes for the first time in years. Most significantly, even when my days were just not going right, remembering that one thing was going well: I was losing weight, and it was fabulous.
What happens when the weight is gone or almost gone? Physically, you feel great. Mentally, you feel much better, but you are not used to being a normal-sized person. You still think you are fat. You are afraid to wear form-fitting clothing. When Kuffel finally fits into a beautiful suit that is a size 10, she says, “Tall, black hair gone cranky, my eyes a bright navy blue and my complexion unsallowed from the flattering color, the blazer buttoned so that it showed my waist. This time, I said it: two words I had never, ever said out loud, stripped of ‘someday I think I could be,’ to another person. ‘I’m pretty.’” It’s so hard to realize that you really do look different than you used to, to realize that people who meet you for the first time think that you are a normal person, and to think that just possibly you might look good. When Kuffel gets a manicure, she says, “I hadn’t even considered it when I was fat and it was too mysterious to wrap my already-crazed brain around in my thinitude. It was a Girl Thing I vaguely wondered if I…deserved.” I’ve never had a manicure, but mostly I think it’s because my fingernails have never grown particularly well anyway, and I’m just too cheap to spend the $. However, the ladies of our church gave me a European pedicure for a baby shower gift, and I am really looking forward to it. It somehow seems fitting – a symbol of really being a normal woman, of caring more about my appearance even down to my feet. I’m still working on this. I’m still afraid to wear sleeveless clothing, but I’m doing it anyway. Part of me is not sure it looks good, but I am learning to trust my husband and friends who reassure me that it is OK. This is a journey that is fun, even though it is sometimes still scary.
Finally, at the end of her book, Kuffel looks back on where she has been, “How many recoveries did I think I had in me? None. I’d never recovered, and I certainly didn’t get thin by yanking the wherewithal out of myself. What I’d gotten came from other people…my brother would call it God.” I was a little disappointed that she doesn’t recognize the grace of God more in her recovery, but I’m not sure she totally discounts it either. Looking back, I can certainly say that I didn’t have any recoveries in me. I was floundering and lost. Yes, I exercised willpower, but it’s been so different than the other times that I did the same. I don’t know what was different this time, and can only credit the grace and mercy of God. I will still need it for the journey ahead, because addictions like this are a lifetime struggle, but all I can do is cling to the hope that I have in what God has already done and what can still be.