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How I Gave Up Dieting and Got a Life
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around January 5, 2016. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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At twenty-nine, Kelsey Miller had done it all: crash diets, healthy diets, and nutritionist-prescribed “eating plans,” which are diets that you pay more money for. She’d been fighting her un-thin body since early childhood, and after a lifetime of failure, finally hit bottom. No diet could transform her body or her life. There was no shortcut to skinny salvation. She’d dug herself into this hole, and now it was time to climb out of it.
With the help of an Intuitive Eating coach and fitness professionals, she learned how to eat based on her body’s instincts and exercise sustainably, without obsessing over calories burned and thighs gapped. But, with each thrilling step toward a healthy future, she had to contend with the painful truths of her past.
Big Girl chronicles Kelsey’s journey into self-loathing and disordered eating-and out of it. This is a memoir for anyone who’s dealt with a distorted body image, food issues, or a dysfunctional family. It’s for the late-bloomers and the not-yet-bloomed. It’s for everyone who’s tried and failed and felt like a big, fat loser. So, basically, everyone.
A Note from the Author
One of my greatest lifelong goals has been to ensure that absolutely everyone likes me and no one is mad at me, ever. Unfortunately, my other goal has been to be a writer.
In writing this book, I have come to realize that some people will be mad and others may not like me—and that’s a fair price to pay for the great privilege I have to tell my story. I have made every attempt to recount the events included accurately and portray those involved with honesty and compassion. But I do recognize the inherent selfishness in writing a memoir: These are the stories and memories that make up my journey, and yet there were dozens of other people along for the ride. I’m sure some of them would tell their version differently, look back with more fondness or vitriol.
In respect to those people and their privacy, I have changed many names and some identifying characteristics in this book. In one scene I simply smushed two people into one because their appearance was brief and minimal. Internet comments are mostly paraphrased and usernames have been changed, because even jerks on the Internet deserve their privacy (and because many of them have since been blocked and deleted for aforementioned jerkiness). One person I carefully labored over to make entirely anonymous for reasons I’ve made clear in context. But in writing this book, I set forth to tell the truth, no matter how painful or complex. We all have a right to our stories, me included.
I’d also like to acknowledge that this memoir is by no means my entire life’s history. I had to compress or skip over many events and people, which are deeply important to me but didn’t necessarily fit into this text. I had to remind myself that this is not a book about being a celebrity’s assistant or going to musical theater boarding school, but my fucked-up relationship to food and my body. Those other topics played into it, but they’re not the central theme. On the one hand, it’s a bummer. On the other, it means I have more to write about.
Finally, I’d like to add that I’m not exactly the same person I was when I began BIG GIRL. People grow and relationships evolve (thank God). In one way, this book is a snapshot of a wild, precious year of my life. If I were to sit down and write this from the beginning, it would be with the perspective of Kelsey: Summer 2015 Edition. It might come out a little less raw, perhaps a little more smart than smart-mouth. But maybe I’m kidding myself with all this talk of grand maturity, and the words would come out just as they are now. All I can say is I did my best. Anyway, I’m not starting over now. I have more stories to tell.
May 30, 2015
I’m not special. Not that you thought I was, but let’s just be clear that being a twenty-first-century woman with a messed-up relationship to food does not make me a beautiful and unique snowflake.
My story started like that of a million other snowflakes: I’d been wrestling with my chubby body for my entire conscious life, doing anything I could to make it small. I tried every mainstream weight-loss fad and nutrition plan. I’d worked with dietitians and doctors, all of whom added more foods to my Bad list until there was little left on the Good. Every time, it worked. And, every time, it then stopped working. Inevitably, I tired of hunting for low-carb sandwich wraps or could no longer stomach the flavor of fat-free, sugar-free yogurt with absolutely no fruit on the bottom. Each attempt petered out and the same old weight bloomed anew around my hips and beneath my chin, along with an extra ten pounds. But no matter. All I needed was a fresh start.
I don’t believe in fresh starts anymore. I see them happening all around me, but I’m not buying it. You break up with your lover and move to a new apartment that doesn’t smell like him. You have a lousy day at work and decide it’s time to go back to grad school. You take the job in San Francisco, thinking, I’ll become a California person who makes homemade jam and jogs. But in the end, you’re still the same old jelly buyer.
Of course, it’s easy for me to judge, because I never cared about any of that. I just wanted to be skinny. At least, I wanted to be not fat. I wanted to start over and learn how to eat less, how to dislike brownies, how to want to wake up for a 6 a.m. workout every day, forever. You don’t need grad school for that. You just need a diet. The real-life version of a fairy godmother, every diet on earth promises one thing: You will be different. This is the trick. This is the magic that will finally transform you, thirty pounds in thirty days. We’ll take care of the fairy dust; you just have to believe.
I was twenty-nine when the spell finally broke.
I started my last diet at the age of twenty-seven. Up until then, I’d been in limbo. I’d spent most of my twenties watching as friends blossomed into adulthood while I watched reruns. I wanted a life, too. I wanted to be a writer, have a relationship, or even just have sex. But I just wasn’t ready, and I definitely wasn’t thin enough. So I signed up for Weight Watchers for the fourth time believing without a doubt that this was it—the final, freshest fresh start.
I spent a year counting Weight Watchers Points and power-walking to yoga class at 7 a.m. and hitting the gym every night. Lo and behold, it worked. My weight dropped from the 200s to the 160s; I wasn’t thin but I wasn’t quite so monstrous. The villagers wouldn’t light torches if I went outside. Anyway, I’d lose the remaining thirty pounds (maybe forty pounds?) soon enough. Armored in my new skinnyish clothes, I nudged my way out of the comfort zone, e-mailing editors with my little humor essay pitches and wading into the world of online dating (with a profile full of new, not-fat photos).
Nudge turned to push and suddenly I got a writing gig, and then another. I met a guy, and then another. I found I kind of liked this whole doing-something-with-my-life thing. Another year went by, and now I had a full-time job on an editorial staff. Plus, I was bonkers in love with a guy who loved me back, from head to toe. It was scary and new, but all of a sudden, I was out in the world, doing stuff I’d only seen in movies—like dating and leaving the house.
Things would have been almost perfect, had it not been for one large and growing issue: me.
Suddenly, I was too occupied with my job for twice-a-day workouts. I wanted to hit the office early, a new idea itching in my fingers, so I scavenged a breakfast of stale cereal and those pretzels I left in my desk last week. Once, I’d spent each Sunday making giant pots of fat-free soup, then going to yoga, then going to bed. Now, Sundays were for lazy mornings talking in bed with my boyfriend, then possibly dragging him to yoga, but probably just having sex instead. Besotted as I was with my new job and relationship, I’d never be the kind of person who vanished on her friends, and so I made a point of scheduling dinners, brunches, and other excuses to sit around and talk over a plate of something—regardless of how many Points I had left.
I had traded human relationships for the one I’d previously had with my scale, and so, slow and steady, the pounds crept back on. A few months after my twenty-ninth birthday, I went for an annual physical and stared in familiar horror as the scale topped out at 221 pounds. Dr. Payne had noted the number in a neutral, no-judgment tone, but I felt the numbing shiver of shame, panic, and helplessness settle over me like the opposite of an invisibility cloak. It was an everyone-can-see-you cloak.
I left the doctor’s office and spent the rest of the afternoon online, searching for the next book that would fix me, for real this time, and once again saw the title Intuitive Eating pop up in my suggestions. “Customers who bought Skinny Bitch Deluxe Edition also bought Intuitive Eating, 3rd Edition.” But I wasn’t going to. Why buy something that sounded so vague and complex as “intuitive eating”? I didn’t want to intuit or eat anything. I just wanted to be a deluxe-edition skinny bitch.
I clicked anyway, curious as to why the Internet kept shoving this particular diet book down my throat. Written by two nutritionists, Intuitive Eating was described as “the go-to book on rebuilding a healthy body image and making peace with food.” Aw, that’s precious but—next! That book made no promises about guaranteed weight loss. It didn’t tout the evils of carbs and the virtues of raw leafy greens. This book talked about “honoring hunger” and “achieving a safe relationship with food.” Intuitive Eating sounded like a great idea that I should try someday, but not today—like meditating. I’d buy the book just as soon as I lost, say, a hundred pounds. I could heal my relationship with food once I stopped eating so much of it, once and for all. I’d shed a hundred pounds off my body—hell, even just eighty!—and then I could work on the mind. And I would totally meditate, too.
But first things first, and so each month, I let Weight Watchers automatically deduct $17.95 from my bank account, because I was definitely going to start doing it for real again on Monday. No, after the holiday weekend. The digital scale lurked under my bedroom dresser, resentfully gathering dust. Maybe I should just buy a new one, and then restart Weight Watchers. (Or maybe I should try that four-hour body thing? Do you only have to do it for four hours?) Meanwhile, I’d just lie on the floor and suck in my gut, then try the zipper on my jeans again. See? Done! I can so breathe!
I didn’t know how to stop it without a diet, and I didn’t know how to diet and live my life.
I carefully got up off the floor, feeling the rough edge of denim dig into my hips, and opened my closet door. It was October 2013 and I had a work trip to pack for. Digging through a jam-packed rack of hangers, I pushed past dozens of too-tight blouses and ill-fitting skirts, all purchased with the hope of thinner days to come. With every diet came new clothes, and after every failure they lingered in my closet like a gathering of ghosts, sized 8 to 12.
Staring at it, I realized that wardrobe held the last twenty years of my life. And not a single thing fit.
You sure? It’s really not much longer.” The trainer held my gaze, running in place like an overstimulated third grader. He was disappointed in me.
I looked down at my feet, my beat-up sneakers smacked with wet leaves. At that moment I regretted every decision in life that had led me to this place: running through the woods of East Hampton before 8 a.m. in yoga pants and a pajama top. My lungs stung with chilly air and I wheezed into his face.
“C’mon. You got this!”
But I didn’t got this, and he knew it. He was just one of a long line of trainers, gym teachers, and other people in shiny track pants whom I’d disappointed over the years. Seeing as I’d known him for all of twenty minutes, though, I decided I could live with the shame of letting him see my true self: unfit, unenthusiastic, and really, really done with this run. All at once, I knew it. I’d hit bottom.
It wasn’t as cinematic as I’d imagined. No interventions or hysterical tears. Just the two of us: a trainer hired for a two-hour workout gig and a twenty-nine-year-old woman having an unplanned epiphany in front of him. I didn’t feel tearful or anxious. I didn’t feel much of anything so much as finished. I’d come to the abrupt end of a story that had defined my entire life thus far. I was so done being the fat girl.
I looked down the trail where Janet, a sixty-two-year-old grandmother of four, sailed confidently toward the end with the rest of our small group. She didn’t even need this beefy baseball-cap of a man to chase after her, demanding she pick up the pace. I was a fucking millennial and had nearly collapsed after four whole minutes of zero-incline jogging. I was definitively out of shape, miserable, and ashamed—a grown woman still failing middle school gym class.
Had I been able to speak, I might have told all that to the trainer, the man who changed my life but whose name I can’t now remember. As it was, I just shook my head and plonked down on the damp ground, heaving for air. That’s how done I was.
Watching him run on ahead to catch up with Janet and the others, I realized something else. I wasn’t just done being the fat girl. I was done with dieting. An alarming discovery, like sitting on the edge of the bathtub and watching a plus sign emerge on the pregnancy test, discovering I’d come to the end of my dieting days left me feeling instantly unmoored. And yet, the plus sign appeared, irrefutable. There was no unseeing it.
I waited until the trainer was out of sight, probably high-fiving Janet and doing a celebratory round of push-ups or whatever it was fitness people did to celebrate. Then I dragged myself up off the ground, both hot and clammy from the early-morning chill, and headed back up to the house, settling into my newfound doneness.
How humiliating. I’d considered myself such a success, what with my healthy relationship and cool-girl career. I was in East Hampton on a Thursday, for God’s sake. I’d finally gotten my shit together, except for the one unfixable thing that seemed to prove just how un-together my shit really was.
All my personal and professional progress seemed faint and ephemeral when compared to the permanent record of stretch marks and cellulite I lived inside. All I knew for certain was that I was fat again, moping around in my yoga pants. I wanted this taken care of and behind me once and for all, so I could quit wasting brainpower weighing the pros and cons of eating a banana.
“How was the run?” Olivia asked as she set coffee mugs out on a marble kitchen island. I gave her a thumbs-up, catching sight of my purpled face in the high-shine surface of the fridge. She was one of our hosts on this small press trip for food and fitness writers (guess which one I was). Getting to head out of town and test kitchen products for the weekend was one of the greatest perks of my job at Refinery29, a popular women’s fashion and lifestyle website.
Olivia was a friendly, whip-thin woman, so small and bouncy that even her voice sounded low fat. She munched on a rice cake lightly smeared with almond butter, which had recently become a thing in the health-food zeitgeist. Like chia seeds and coconut water, almond butter was one of those foods everyone was supposed to like but no one really knew why. It was like the invisible nerd girl who showed up at school with a makeover, and then suddenly everyone claimed to have been friends with almond butter before she was hot.
I poured a sample of flavored Starbucks creamer into my coffee as we talked about bus schedules back to the city. Olivia tilted her head, all sad-to-say-good-bye.
“Well, we just loved having you here.”
“Well, thanks so much for including me. Anytime you need someone to drink coffee creamer in the Hamptons…”
She chirped a laugh.
“I know, right?!” She tilted her head again, somehow differently. Tiltier. “And, can I just say, I think it’s great that someone like you works at a fashion website? I just think it’s so wonderful.”
I blinked into my cup, just a slight pause. If this were the first time I’d heard it, I might have done a spit take, but it was more like the seventh. Though, I still needed to work on my comeback:
It went without saying that “someone like you” meant “fat girl.” And that I was, irrefutably. I was not round or curvy or any of those euphemisms we prefer to use, rather than “clinically obese.” No one wants to shop the “clinically obese” section. As I packed up my overnight bag to head back to New York, the same thought emerged over and over again: Surely, some people manage to have a life, a job, and dinner without gaining fifty pounds, right? Maybe?
I thought of that old book title that kept popping up online during my desperate new-diet searches. If I was truly through with dieting, then maybe it was time to give Intuitive Eating a shot. But I couldn’t just do it myself with a book. Books could be put down. If I didn’t get some real guidance then I’d just end up eating pizza all day, every day. I made the first decision: I’d ask for help.
One of the best things about diets is that you don’t usually need to rely on anyone else. Asking others for help was not my favorite thing, but I knew from experience that damn it, it worked. I’d been in therapy for, oh, ever—so, why not find a food shrink of sorts? New York had every possible kind of therapist imaginable. If there were therapists for traumatized parakeets, I could find one that specialized in this method. I’d reach out to an intuitive eating coach and throw myself upon his or her mercy as a chronic case. A real live person would keep me accountable. And that way there would be someone to dial 911 if I actually did overdose on Domino’s.
An hour later, Olivia dropped me off at the bus stop, a little white bench in front of an actual picket fence, where my picturesque epiphany continued. As I waited for the Hampton Jitney, my bags heavy with painfully symbolic food products and kitchenware, I thought of another element of the plan. It was a plan now.
This wasn’t just about food. I’d spent my life swinging between two distinct phases: obsessive exercise or high-intensity sloth. I’d go through months of morning yoga, evening cardio, and walking miles out of my way just so I could calculate the calories burned. I hated every second of it, but that was the point of exercise, right?
To absolutely no one’s surprise, these spurts of mania always flamed out fast. Sometimes I’d quit because of injury—a sprained back or a torn ligament, all in a day’s workout when you’re a lunatic. Other times, simple boredom brought me to a halt. Thus the lazy phase would begin again and I’d spend a year taking cabs and sleeping in.
The second decision: I would find a trainer. There had to be a way to integrate fitness into my life without letting it take over. I still suspected that a workout didn’t really count unless it bordered on self-harm, but I was willing to be proven wrong. I knew I couldn’t afford a lifetime of personal training, but I also knew I needed someone to set me straight, at least in the beginning. I promised myself I’d go in with no judgment. As long as he or she didn’t make me run or spin or do anything I didn’t want to do, I’d do it. I would find a trainer and be honest with him or her: “Nice to meet you. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.”
There’s nothing quite like a solo bus ride for personal introspection. Put on some old U2 and you’re halfway to a montage; you’re the lead character in a movie about a girl who tries to leave her troubled past behind, but guess what, she can’t. I keep a playlist for just these kinds of road trips, so when the bus arrived, I cued it up and settled into an empty window seat, one of two passengers on the Jitney at 4 p.m. on a Thursday. I looked back at my fellow rider, barking instructions into her phone and hoped she could wrap it up quick. Can’t you see I’m in the middle of an epiphany?
There was a third decision knocking around in my head, though I hesitated to make it. But since the idea first emerged that morning as I sat on a pile of dead leaves, this part was a foregone conclusion. I pulled out my phone and began an e-mail to my editor in chief, the subject line reading: “New column idea.”
I had to write about it. Good, bad, and probably ugly.
I needed to chronicle the journey publicly, and not just because I knew there would be others who could relate to being trapped in their own bodies, waiting for life to begin thirty pounds from now. That was the story I wanted to see each time I opened a magazine or clicked on a website proclaiming to speak to women. Instead, I got “Why Your Diet Failed Again, Asshole” and “30 Ways to Stop Being So Disgusting Starting with Your Upper Arms, Ew!” I wanted to write a big, beautiful fuck-you to those stories while giving people like me something better—or, at least, something different. But while I relished the thought of starting an Internet crusade in the name of the not-skinny, I knew I needed them more than they needed me.
If I was going to write all this down and blast it out into the chattering void, I would need to hear a voice echo back, saying, “Me too.” Two things I knew about myself, for sure: I was a writer and I was a show-off, for better or worse. So, why not make use of the tools I had when I was lacking so many others? If I had an audience available I’d never disappoint those faceless millions, or even faceless dozens.
Maybe it wasn’t the healthiest impulse, but that was another issue for another bus ride. For now, I needed others to be honest with and accountable to. I wasn’t yet able to be accountable to myself alone, and if that made me less than perfect, too bad. Perfect hadn’t worked out so great, thus far.
The Final Pig-Out
The Jitney dropped me off in the middle of Midtown, and I inched the rest of the way home in a rush-hour cab ride, vibrating with anticipation. Flying up the stairs of my building, I plopped down my bags, kicked off my sneakers in a little performance of glee, and dug out my laptop. In just a few weeks the first snow would arrive, sealing the city in a frozen crust, but that evening my bedroom was hot with autumn sun and I shoved a window open. The ice cream truck was parked downstairs playing an off-brand version of “Turkey in the Straw” but for once I didn’t wish for an assault rifle. I had books to order and people to call and then: the Final Pig-Out!
I’d been in Williamsburg for seven years, but not fancy Williamsburg. Not the part historically identified as the source of all insufferableness and mustaches. Considering my yoga-pants-based wardrobe and abiding love of musical theater, I was never in the running for true hipsterdom, nor have I ever lived in one of those luxury buildings that comes with a meditation studio. I shared a long, narrow fourth-floor walk-up with a roommate I met on Craigslist a few years prior. The block was loud, and the living space was small, but the bedrooms were big and airy, and when I woke up in the morning I could lie in bed and watch the J train chug by in the distance, heading over the Williamsburg Bridge. I got a constant, geeky thrill knowing that I lived in the same neighborhood as Francie Nolan, the heroine of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Who cared about its reputation when I got to live in the setting of my favorite childhood book—even if I did have to call 911 to report gunfire every now and then?
Sprawled across the unmade heap of rose print sheets on my bed, I flipped open my laptop and immediately ordered Intuitive Eating, using my boyfriend’s account to exploit his free-shipping perk (all couples do this, yes?). Harry lived in Park Slope, an actual fancy neighborhood in Brooklyn, ten subway stops away from me. We’d been together for over a year, and though most of our coupled friends were somewhere between the moving-in and planning-babies phases, we just weren’t there yet. In fact, I just wasn’t there yet, and Harry, my sweet and patient first love, gave me the space to not be. It was typical of our dynamic, him being boundlessly generous and me requiring boundless generosity. Things weren’t entirely one-sided, but it was pretty clear which one of us was the designated freak-er out-er.
I hit “Confirm” on the order and texted him to send me the confirmation e-mail IMMEDIATELY, please, love you.
Hey there, he replied. Are you back?
Yes! Can you send?
Yeah, forwarding now. How was the trip?
Are you up for dinner or are you beat?
Too beat, need an early night. Call you in a bit?
I was beat, but I was pumped, too. I was up, up, up, with adrenaline and nerves and then worn out by adrenaline and nerves. Plus, I had dinner plans already—and no one was invited.
Along with Harry’s forwarded e-mail, there was another message in my inbox. My editor in chief had approved the column idea with a big, exclamation-pointed “Yes!” It was official. Not only would I change my life, but I would also do it in public. I would name it. It was all new, newer than any new diet because, for once, it was actually new. Adrenaline, nerves, sleepy, adrenaline, nerves, anxiety, panic, thrill, wonder, hope, hope, hope, anticipation, excitement: time for food.
I knew this wasn’t a diet I was starting. I remained firm in my done-ness, and yet the excitement and thrill of the new plan was still there, urging me to go all out. Despite the fact that I wasn’t going to be starting Jenny Craig or CalorieKing tomorrow, there was a “tomorrow” to look forward to. And I wanted to have my night before. I wanted my Final Pig-Out.
- On Sale
- Jan 5, 2016
- Page Count
- 288 pages
- Grand Central Publishing