So inner strength is not a key deficiency in this—nor necessarily in any—fat lady's makeup. Some will say the real question is about choice, and this makes some sense. If (a) I do have willpower, and (b) I am fat, then (c) I must have aimed the laser beam of my will at something other than my own adipose tissue. Consider this logically, however: Given the excruciating circumstances I have already mentioned, what fat person in her right mind would not decide to be smaller? Have you once met a fat person who has never dieted? In my experience (and I have known hundreds of sizable folk), the larger the person, the more individual weight-reduction schemes she has followed—the low-fat plan, the low-carb, the all-lettuce, the grapefruit, the cider vinegar, the amphetamine, the liquid protein, the vitamin "milk shake," the exercise-till-you-drop, and so on. It is not that we are fat because we've never intended otherwise; we've intended otherwise over and over again and have grown, over time, ever larger. The reasons for our perpetual avoirdupois vary from genetics to discouragement to socioeconomics—but I acknowledge that in the end, for some of us, it is a matter of altered choices, a dawning conviction that enough, as they say, is enough.

In my case, though, this conviction came during graduate school, when I was fulfilling coursework, teaching as many classes as some full professors, writing a thesis, and abusing the goodwill of my dear siblings, who stepped in constantly to look after my young daughter. As I recall, I rarely slept and was ill a good deal of the time with ear infections, colds, flu, and the general malaise that accompanies exhaustion. Expressing parental guilt one day to a friend, I said, "I see my little girl only 30 minutes a day." The friend said, "That's more quality time than a lot of kids get," and I responded, "I'm not talking quality time. I literally see her 30 minutes a day, driving to and from day care." Meanwhile, I was working out with Jane Fonda, skipping breakfast and sometimes dinner, and once in an aeon (on payday) splurging on an egg-salad sandwich in the student union. I weighed 250 pounds.

I had been put on my first diet at 9 years old, after I'd spent two six-week periods in a hospital bed while some grafts healed, and I expanded (not surprising, given my Slavic ancestry) from an undernourished thinness into a moderate plumpness. My younger sister had been chubby since birth, so both of us were fed an egg at breakfast, bread and bologna at lunch, and something minuscule at dinner. At play, at rest, and in church, hunger was a scratchy, raw sensation, obscuring most other perceptions. I recall my mother saying that if I could stick to a reducing plan for three months—an eternity, I thought!—I would lose "all my weight" and be back to normal. I also recall I lost almost nothing, and eventually our money ran out anyway and we were all back to bulk-purchased noodles and wild mushrooms from the woods.

Between then and adulthood I pursued dozens of diets, both informally and under medical supervision. Regardless of the regimen, the pattern and results were the same: a brief, sudden weight drop, followed by an inching down of the scale indicator, followed by a plateau. Food is constantly on any dieter's mind, but in plateau times it becomes an obsession. A cousin of mine, who'd dieted down to 102 pounds and wanted to be an even 100, literally leapt backward one day at the sight of a carrot. Waving it off with her hands, she said, "I can't eat anything. Yesterday I had just one glass of orange juice, and today I'm 103."

"The diet production was over"


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