For me, eating is about buildup and release. I’m not a drinker or a gambler or a sex addict. I’ve never had a drug problem. But I do have this very compulsive relationship to food.
It’s about wanting something like a hamburger and French fries that I would never cook for myself. I start thinking, “Will I order this, and where will I order it from?” Then, when the meal arrives, I’m not sitting around savoring it. I eat it quickly. Afterward I feel guilty for not taking the time to enjoy it. I might even throw it up and then feel guilty about that.
You turned to Weight Watchers after experimenting with various ways of breaking that pattern. Why?
The diets that have been most effective for me were probably those that involved a sort of emotional manipulation, the kind where you skipped certain meals or ate a few of the same key things every day. It wasn’t the healthiest approach. It was sort of disordered. But it sometimes worked.
What Jean understood was that there was no magic bullet, that weight loss involves a lifetime of maintenance, and that maintenance is an ongoing war with yourself. She also knew that people struggling with weight would have things to say to other people struggling. It wasn’t just a bunch of fat, lonely housewives getting together for meetings. It was people from all walks of life. What was new for me is that it created a sense of community. That was Jean’s genius.
What hit you particularly about her message?
In meetings, Jean would ask: “What hurt you? You don’t have to share it with anybody, but when you’re alone, looking at cookies, I want you to remember what hurt you.”
So, what were the things that hurt you?
My darkest moments were when people mistook me for pregnant. Few things could have made me feel worse. Still, there are so many ways I can be cruel to myself. Sometimes when I talk on the phone, I worry. I think, “Can you tell when someone is fat from their voice?”