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 I have a weight problem. I’m not overweight, mind you, which makes my weight problem all the worse. For some reason - and I have my theories - I am obsessed with the notion that I am getting fat, even though evidence would suggest otherwise. At 5-foot-11, I weigh exactly 156 pounds - I am one of those people who knows exactly how much I weigh - but it seems like measuring age in dog years; mentally, I just multiply it by seven, and that’s how I feel.

How obsessed am I? Well, I won’t eat anything that doesn’t say “Fat Free,” “Healthy Choice,” or “Baked, Not Fried.” That might not seem all that strange, but I only eat a half-portion of these feasts as my one meal a day. I’ve only eaten once a day - no snacks - for about a year now, and it still causes me hunger pangs before I go to sleep. But I can deal with those. The problem arises when friends want to go to dinner and I’ve already eaten my allotted half-sandwich that afternoon. I just sit and stare at them blankly for about 20 minutes, sipping a Diet Coke.

The sad stories abound. At Thanksgiving, while all the relatives were going through the requisite gorging, I was picking through a collection of raisins, gravy - no potatoes - and those Olestra Doritos that supposedly hurt your colon but have no saturated fat. There was also the time when, on a first date, I ordered only a glass of water at an Italian restaurant. (Needless to say, there was no second date). And we won’t even talk about the women in my life who have left the room in exasperation after I asked them for the 47th time, “Do I look like I’ve gained any weight?”

There is a certain level at which mental imbalances start having severe physical effects, and I passed that point long ago. I am gaunt, wan, sickly, pale - all those words usually used to describe gymnasts and models. A good friend of mine, who had just finished a nasty round of chemotherapy, described me as “frighteningly thin” and mentioned she was concerned for my health. There are many occasions when I actually begin to feel faint and resign myself to eating some bread, the wheat stuff that tastes suspiciously like the back of a chair.

I am willing to pay these prices because I feel they are for the greater good. I’d rather be unhealthy and deranged than fat.

I’ve been like this since my junior year of college, when, out of nowhere, I gained 35 pounds. I’d never once watched my weight before, never even gave it a second thought, and then wham! I was chubby. I learned then that when you have gained weight, you can always count on your family to constantly remind you of it, viciously. I had an uncle who asked me if I could still see my penis (I told him I never could). I ran into a portly cousin who thanked me for drawing some attention away from him. And my mother was the worst of all. She actually told my grandmother she’d found stretch marks on my side, and she kept buying me new pants that were even bigger than I had become, “just in case you keep expanding.”

This obviously didn’t sit well with me, but having never been fat before, I had no idea what one did to diet. I considered exercise, but when I went to join a health club, the guy who gave me a tour was so obnoxious - “Listen, I can’t let you walk out the door without you signing this piece of paper. This special is TODAY only!” - I was instantly turned off. I tried cooking various healthy dishes, but the only kitchen utensil I know how to use is the microwave. I even (yikes) tried buying one of those self-help tapes you put in your stereo when you fall sleep, but all that did was make my roommates lose 15 pounds.

So I tried a different technique. I switched from regular Coke to Diet Coke - I’ve become so fanatical about this switch that I watch waitresses to make sure they don’t give me regular Coke; I even insist on rum and Diet Coke at bars. I started smoking and I stopped eating. And it worked. The weight went away, and I’ve continued the “diet” ever since. I now weigh about 15 pounds less I did before I ballooned in the first place.

Recently, a new wrinkle was added to this routine. I have begun taking two Dexatrim tablets when I wake up in the morning, with my skim milk, of course. Word about this habit has gotten out amongst my friends and colleagues, but I always tell people I only take one, as if that’s any saner than taking two. Intellectually, I’m aware that taking Dexatrim probably doesn’t make a lick of difference, and I’m just rotting out my insides with something called phynylpropanolamine (the instructions on the side of the box say, “This product’s effectiveness in facilitating weight loss is directly related to the degree to which you reduce your usual food intake,” which makes it quite similar to other diet aids like reading, talking on the phone and flushing the toilet).

But I take the stuff anyway. I tried to stop a couple of months ago, and I wound up feeling like a whale all day. If they could somehow put a placebo in Dexatrim packaging without my knowing, I would be just fine. Well, maybe not fine, but I wouldn’t be internally chewed at every day.

I’ve recognized that this little neurotic hangup with my weight won’t be changing anytime soon, so I’m now just going to try to hide it. My parents are coming into town to visit this weekend, and I just got back from the grocery store, armed with frozen pizzas, fish sticks and oatmeal cookies. I’m going to place them strategically throughout my apartment, making sure they’re easily visible, and if my parents ask, I’m going to say that, doggone it, it’s the happiness inside that counts, and if I gain weight, well, so be it. They probably won’t believe me, but I bet they don’t call me on it. For now, that will have to do.

By the way, how do I look in these pants?



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