The Final Poem is Not a Poem

Will she do it folks? Will she lose those 40 pounds on deadline? Don’t hold your breath. Especially if you have a heart condition. In desperation to make her goal, your friendly dieter-narrator will fast (but only between meals). She will exercise (but not nearly enough). She will drink laxative tea (ugh). She will rationalize (while eating peanut M and M’s) why it is impossible to shed the final two pounds. She will buy a new scale.

Perhaps you will be gratified to know that in my weight loss saga, nothing turns out perfectly.  Of course, I never intended my diet to be interpreted as a crisis. This narrator has a pretty good life. A great life, really. She just wanted to lose some weight. Not that losing weight is easy. It's not. But I am not under any illusions, at least not anymore, that losing forty pounds will make my life better than it already is. I will still have my same loving husband, same great kids, same joys, sorrows, stresses and inheritable diseases. I’ll just be slightly smaller. I will have the same cravings and desires, maybe slightly mitigated. Those bad eating habits I've practiced over a lifetime aren’t going to suddenly, magically disappear along with the pounds. And of course there’s no guarantee that I will keep it off -- although I will try. Oh! I will try!

At four weeks to 40, I've been ten pounds from my goal for months. I just can't seem to shed it. Okay, the truth is, I've been fucking around – with food that is -- playing all those stupid games we play when we want to lose weight but we don't want to work that hard. Suddenly, I've got four weeks until my 40th birthday. I can hear my mother’s voice in my head. I’m back in 8th grade, “Your paper is due tomorrow and you are just reading the book now?”  Short of removing a limb, I'm going to have to buckle down and lose this damn weight the old-fashioned way: fasting.

This idea came from my good friend Sarah. I was telling her about my problems and she said, “Just fast from now until your birthday.” I know a woman who fasts annually for 10 days as a cleansing ritual. I've always admired and hated her for that. What incredible self-discipline. When I was younger and more Jewish and still celebrating Yom Kippur, I used to fast. Not that anyone “celebrates” Yom Kippur, but you know what I mean. I recall that the reason for fasting wasn’t to punish yourself, although it always felt somehow like a punishment, but to put your whole self, mind and body into total focus on prayer, and God. For me, however, the result of fasting was not to spend the day thinking about God, but to spend the day thinking about food. I’d be standing there in temple next to my mother yanking up my tights while someone was belting out Kol Nidre and I would be thinking, “Man, I sure do love kugel.” Prayer and communication with God would certainly have come more easily if I hadn't been starving. And as a corollary, I'm a more pious dieter when I have some food. If I can’t have some food, if I'm starving, I can’t focus on not eating. And besides, let's just point out, is it really fasting if you know you get to eat at the end of the day? Isn’t that just putting off eating? I think not eating should only qualify as fasting if you do it at least overnight. Like the “fasting” at Ramadan? Come on, if you get to eat every night, do you really get to say you’ve fasted for a month? In the dieting world, calories still count when the sun goes down.

So Sarah suggested that I try this fasting plan called “Master Cleanse.” Master Cleanse involves drinking lots of salt water to purge your system. It also requires that you drink large quantities of a lemon juice-maple syrup-cayenne pepper concoction, and also laxative tea.

Three weeks to 40: What's more fun than trying out a brand new diet? I have become a super Master Cleanser!  I didn’t have any lemons in the house but I did have a few old limes and some margarita mix. I didn’t have any maple syrup, but lots of brown sugar, which is sort of the same thing. And I happened to have plenty of cayenne. So I mixed up a big jar of the Master Cleanse recipe using my substitute ingredients, threw in some tequila for good measure, and hey! Look at me! I’m fasting! I also drank the laxative tea. Next morning I woke at 5 AM with cramps.

I knew I was doing well because on the Master Cleanse web site it says that if you produce a hot, burning bowl movement, your fast is on track. The burning indicates that you are eliminating toxins from your system. Well my shit was clearly very toxic. Maybe it was just all the cayenne coming through, but I felt less toxic by the hour. I kept up with the Master Cleanse regime. It was good. By noon I was almost out of margarita mix and tequila and was contemplating a trip to the store when Sarah called. How I was doing on Day 2 of Master Cleanse? I must have slurred my speech a little because she started yelling at me to take myself more seriously. “Have you been drinking? You are pathetic!” She was right, of course. I am pathetic. I realized right then that fasting was not going to get the weight off because it was too damn hard. I don’t have the resolve to fast. I rate low on the self discipline scale. So I've decided that instead of fasting entirely, I’m going to fast between meals. I think I can handle that. You might think I’m kidding, but I’m not. If I can stop eating between meals (especially between dinner and breakfast) I will certainly lose weight.

Two weeks to 40: I’m still 6 pounds. from my goal. My son has a really nasty stomach flu with lots of vomiting and diarrhea. I've done everything I can to catch it, but no luck. So here’s my diet schedule for the next two weeks:

Breakfast: food
Between breakfast and lunch: no food
Lunch: some food
Between lunch and dinner: no food
Dinner: a little food
Between dinner and breakfast: no food

It might seem redundant to actually spell out that there is no food between meals, but I am a very literal person and I need things spelled out for me that way. Ambiguity kills the diet. My inner voice says, “Maybe just one a little bite of ice-cream. . . or one little piece of candy?” But no. I can’t go there. I am an all-or-nothing kind of eater. You know that kids’ book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie? The one where one little desire met leads to another? Well, it’s like that.

My yoga teacher is always talking about how when we fall down, and we do all fall down, we need to pick ourselves up and try again. Eventually, we will find balance. Or not. But we have to keep trying. That’s how I diet, I am constantly falling down. A friend has a yoga teacher who takes a different approach. She is highly demanding. She is adamant that her students do not fall down. She makes corrections constantly. She walks around with a crop, slapping calves into position. That's the kind of diet I need. I once had a hair dresser who, if I came in for a cut and had an idea about how it should be done, would scoff at me. What did I know about hair? Who was the expert? If I couldn't trust her to make the design decisions, I could take myself over to Super Cuts. That's the kind of diet I need. A diet that says, no, you may not make your own design decisions. You may not fall down.

One week to 40: In a mild panic, I've been doing this weird all vegan - fasting between meals - extreme exercising- desperate - final throw - last chance regimen. This morning I went the DMV to renew my driver's license. I couldn't do it by mail because I have to have a new picture taken. Everybody is grumpy at the DMV. The person in line in front of me to get a number from the number dispensing machine is asking very politely of the lady monitoring the number dispensing machine if he could please talk to someone who speaks Russian. The lady is rolling her eyes at him and saying, “You can't request a language – you just get who you get!” He takes his number. I take my number, too, and sit down next to him wishing I spoke Russian. There's a woman on my other side who is holding a crying baby, and there's a woman behind me also holding a crying baby. There's a couple across the way who look like they're each about a hundred years old and I can't imagine either of them driving a car. I am number 46. Numbers are going by quickly because the people behind the counter who are calling them out are calling them so fast we can't respond, can't stand up fast enough, and turns are being passed by. One of the women holding a baby misses her number, then one of the centenarians miss their number. A man calls number 45. That's my Russian friend who is presently talking on his cell phone. I nudge him and point to the person who just said “45.” Meanwhile, I'm studying my old license and noticing that it says that I weigh 190 pounds, which is simply no longer true. It also says that I'm 5' 7”, which oddly, is also not true. I'm wondering, will there be an opportunity to change these numbers? Then a man calls “46.” I jump up and race to the counter. The first thing he asks is whether I've had any changes in height or weight. It all happens so fast. I have this gut reaction: “Hey, guy, I'm not going to tell you my weight!” (Even though my old weight is right there written down on my license.) I could have said, modestly “Well, actually, I have recently lost nearly 40 pounds.” I guess I'll have to save that line for the police officer who who stops me for speeding. He'll look at my picture, and then at me, and say, “This license says you're fat. You're not fat. I'm going to give you a ticket for speeding and misrepresentation.” I tell the man behind the counter, “No. No changes.” Then I head off to get in line at the picture-taking counter. The lady taking the pictures is telling a girl, “No, you can't see your picture! This isn't a photo boutique. You'll see it when it arrives in the mail.” When it's my turn, however, this same lady is all sweetness and light. She looks at my old license. She takes a moment to study my face in the picture. Then she looks up at me. She exclaims, “Wow! Your hair has really grown since this picture was taken!” She tells me to smile and takes the shot. She looks critically at the computer's digital image, which I can't see, and says, “ Let me take that again. You have a strand of hair across your forehead.” I feel as if she'd like to come out from behind her counter and move it herself, but she waits for me to do it. She takes another shot, then says to me, “Your skin is so rosy . . . and beautiful!” I can feel myself blushing. The people in line behind me are starting to stare. I leave the DMV feeling great. When I tell my husband about my photo shoot at the DMV, he's very matter of fact. “Well, honey, it pays to be a hottie, right?” I have to admit: it does.

When I started this 40 pounds project, I imagined myself a year from my start date dancing on the table at my Weight Watchers meeting. I would be naked and unashamed. Or maybe in a bikini. Either way, I imagined my body would have whittled down to a why-doesn’t-somebody-feed-that-poor-girl-more-ice-cream kind of body. As of this writing, at 38 pounds lighter than when I set out to meet my goal, I still don’t look hungry. I look healthier, yes. I look “normal.” I can buy clothes off the rack at regular stores. Yet, I find this moderately depressing. I thought that 40 pounds (or 38 – but let’s not quibble over adipose) would put me in the skinny camp. It hasn’t. I’m not irrational. Really. I’m a size 10. All those months of exercise and not eating brownies and I’m a size 10.

I turned 40. I didn't lose 40 pounds. But I almost did. I feel pretty good. I'm not done yet, though. I'm going to stick with the plan. The plan where I have to make my own choices. I will fall down, and I will get up again.