From the time I was a teenager until I turned 40, I made the same New Year’s resolution every year. Not to get healthy or exercise regularly (I still make those), but to lose weight, plain and simple.
My mother had a thing about weight, but by the time you turn 40, it’s a little late to be blaming your mother for everything. So at 40, I just did it. After having two children in three years, never losing the weight from the first before gaining even more with the second, I was, for want of a better term, fat. It wasn’t a case of not being able to see my body clearly. I saw it clearly. I couldn’t fit into any of the regular sizes.
The irony, in retrospect, was that after failing for so many years, it actually wasn’t nearly as hard as I imagined. Find a regime that works for you. Mine was pretty much the standard of lean protein, vegetables and some fruit; find some form of physical exercise that you can make yourself do four times a week — I rode an exercise bike and read catalogs (Friday was the day I ordered); and just keep doing it. I’d lost 10 and even 20 pounds before, but I’d always stopped. When I was 40, I kept going and have, not as religiously for sure, pretty much kept going since.
In the years since, I’ve gone up to a size 8 and down to a size 4, but I’ve never seen a size 14 again.
Some things did change. I like shopping more than I used to. I don’t stand in the shower and say, “I hate myself.” I don’t weigh myself every day. I made some money writing a book about the “head game” involved in dieting (the key to dieting is how you think) which, judging by my mail, actually helped a lot of other women. That was very satisfying. I stopped buying clothes that were too small for me and tugging at them all the time. I dress better, which is easy to do if you only have one wardrobe (as opposed to having your fat, fatter and fattest clothes).
But the most important change was that losing weight and dieting and not dieting didn’t dominate my life the way it had for so many years. I lost an excuse, a reason to be insecure, an obstacle to being and seeing everything else, for better and worse.
When I quit smoking many years ago, I was amazed at the amount of time smoking took up. Buying cigarettes, finding your cigarettes, and waiting until you had a cigarette to go out or come home or go to bed or (very bad) get out of bed left all this time in the day.
Losing weight, no longer spending your day thinking about how much you hate yourself or how awful you look or how much better your life would be if you were just thin, leaves all this space in your head for other things.
It forces you to see both how important, and unimportant, your weight is, how much of a crutch and an excuse it is and how much energy gets wasted just thinking about it.
If your doctor tells you to lose weight, you should. I’m here to tell you that thinking about how hard it’s going to be and how deprived you’ll be and all the places you can’t go and the things you can’t do is actually a lot worse than just doing it.
Almost all of us should exercise more. We all know the reasons why.
But as for losing that last 10 pounds, this is what I have learned. Either do it or don’t. If it matters to you, if you spend time thinking about it, if the only question you ask in the dressing room is, “Does it make me look fat?” then just do it.
And if you’re not going to do it, forget about it. One or the other.
Happy New Year.
— Susan Estrich is a best-selling author, the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.