Most people who lose weight – whether it’s the first or 100th time – have “One Thing” in common: a comment, an incident, a photograph or some one thing that gets them on or back on the road to weight loss.
It was December 12, 2004. I’d offered to cook Cassie one of her favorite meals, but she insisted we go out.
“It’s snowing,” I said.
“Mom…,” she said, like a finger snap.
“Fine,” I sighed.
There was no use arguing with her. It was only flurries, and she’d just trump me with the guilt card and make me feel even worse. I pulled my hair back in a ponytail like I always did. My haircut was uneven and the color was a combination of store-bought dye, dark roots, and strands of gray. I’d stopped going to the salon because the chair was as uncomfortable as staring at my reflection in the mirror. I trimmed my bangs when the hair grew past my eyes, and I lopped off the ends when they looked frayed. I bought a bottle of color every few months when the gray made me as depressed as my weight.
I pulled a stretchy red sweater over my stretchy black pants with the small hole and a permanent stain on the leg. Not much fit anymore and I didn’t have the money to upgrade my wardrobe another size. I had garbage bags full of clothes in every size from 16 to 28, but what fit now was 30/32 and I only had a few shirts and pants that size. I threw on some socks and boots but no jewelry. My goal was always to remain as unnoticed as possible.
“You look nice,” said Larry as he put on his winter coat.
“Whatever,” I said.
We met Cassie and my other daughter Carlene at the restaurant, and despite the weather, the place was filled with pre-holiday parties. Most of the diners didn’t notice I was there, but I imagined everyone thought as I walked in, Oh my, she’s big. And probably a few did. We were seated next to a window with a view of the snow falling into the Allegheny River and I eased into a chair, red-faced from the short walk from the parking lot.
The girls were animated, as usual, talking over each other and carrying on two conversations at once. My girls loved me at any weight, so I knew it was futile to say no to a photo when Cassie handed her camera to Larry and said, “Take a picture of me and Mom!”
“Smile,” he said, and I did.
“That’s a nice photo of us, Mom,” said Cassie as she scrolled through the photos.
“Yes, honey, it is,” I lied.
At first glance I did the usual, “How could you let yourself get that big?” self-flagellating ritual. Then something caught my eye. Something bigger than my third chin. Cassie had placed her cheek next to mine and she was beaming. She was happy because she was with her mother on her birthday. Not her morbidly obese mother, her ill-dressed mother, her isolated, guarded, self-loathing mother – those were my descriptors. Cassie loved me just the way I was.
“Losing weight, really losing it,” my friend Frankie once told me, “demands that you cut the pounds away from your sense of self, not yourself away from your essence.”
I’d allowed weight to become my essence. That photo of Cassie and me – my final “One Thing” – challenged me to really see and feel the nearly 300-pound body in which I lived and to decide once and for all if I was going to allow my weight to be my personal judge and jury.
A few weeks later, I started my last descent down the scale. It had to be the last time because I knew if I didn’t figure out a way to lose weight and keep it off that I would die. Maybe not the next day or the next year, but young. It wasn’t just my daughter in that photo. It was Larry, Carlene, my stepsons, parents, siblings, and all the other people who loved me.
That photograph took me outside the world of my 300-pound body and showed me the real reason to lose weight.
Most of us have One Thing in common. What is yours?