One hundred pounds is far below what many people strive for (frankly, I'd be happy at 200), but the game is similar at any weight. At some point, the body simply stops shedding pounds, and the most reliable way to pass the plateau is to eat less than is required to sustain life. Don't get me wrong: This method does work. The problem is that once you're on a starvation diet, you must remain on it indefinitely, perhaps for the rest of your life. The task of maintaining a diminished body requires constant vigilance, and such vigilance is exhausting, overwhelming, and, to my mind, unrewarding. For the very wealthy, some relief is available—cooks can be hired, and personal trainers; nannies can distract the kids while Mommy works out; personal secretaries can run errands, housekeepers maintain the home, laundry services wash, dry, and fold. A friend once called to read me an article revealing the daily fitness routine of a crash-dieting TV star—X number of sit-ups followed by Y number of leg lifts, then Z minutes on the stair climber, Q miles of jogging, and so on. For enlightenment's sake, we decided to estimate the time involved in such a regimen. By our calculations, the television star spent seven hours daily simply exercising, which inspired my friend to remark, "I'd go that route, too, if I had a staff running the rest of my life."

But most of us have many fewer timesaving buffers, and poor people none at all. For me, during school, my family helped provide precious "extra" minutes in the day for studies and odd jobs and Jane Fonda. About that time, it occurred to me that I was succeeding in the world with only part of my brain engaged. While a 10th of it was devoted to school, a 10th devoted to my daughter, and perhaps another 10th to family crises, the other 70 percent was constantly focused on food—the calorie count of a grape, the filling bulk of popcorn, the clever use of water as a placebo. How much further, I thought, can I go in the world if I use that 70 percent more wisely?

And so I began it. Henceforth, I declared (privately, so as not to invite disgrace), I would banish all concerns regarding pounds or inches. Like a debtor devising a budget, I found myself sorting, evaluating, checking off—only the currency at hand was not dollars but units of thought. Whereas formerly I'd responded to hunger pangs by (a) fantasizing about food, (b) struggling not to fantasize about food, or (c) glancing wildly around for an inspiring thin woman, now I would simply chew, swallow, and pursue in full consciousness some unrelated project that would make me proud tomorrow. The diet production was over, the fat lady had sung, this operagoer was moving up the aisle, headed for the bright and substantial real world.

"This body was now a temple, not an icon; the housing, not the jewel"


Next Story