Chapter 1: In Which I Rescind My Self- Respect

The conclusion to the first installment of "The Incredible Shrinking Woman," premiering Saturday in the Wayne Independent.

I’m  26 years old, four feet ten inches tall, and I weigh 158 pounds.

Ok. Look at that sentence. Aside from the amusing and not-entirely-inaccurate mental image of a squishy midget running around in cantilevered Louboutin knockoffs, appreciate the fact that a woman just published her weight in the newspaper. This isn’t exactly an everyday occurrence. Most people know that that aperson’s weight falls in the Here Be Dragons section of a conversational map. You just don’t ask, and moreover, there’s no appropriate response if the information does happen to fall your way.

“No way, you look way skinnier than that”...except, of course, I’m not. “It’s probably all muscle”...oh, so rather than someone who has a seat on permanent reserve at the Country Buffet now I look like a steroid-addled fitness freak from outer Romania? Thanks a bunch. “I think you’re beautiful no matter what”...actually, now that I think about it, that one’s all right.

But anyway, like many women of a certain size (read: Weeble-shaped) I’ve tried a lot of different things to lose weight, although it never hit me as a priority the way it hits a lot of people. But for some reason, this time I wondered.

How difficult is it, actually, to lose weight? What tricks work and what are just a waste of time? What makes you skinny, and what makes you healthy? Are they the same thing? And moreover, was this the body I was going to look back on when I was forty and sagging as ‘the best I ever looked?’ Could I, in fact, do better?

I thought I could. And what better motivator than communally-induced shame? I, Sarah Thomas, am 26 years old, four feet ten inches tall and 158 pounds, and starting today, March 29, 2008 I’m going to lose...


How much weight am I supposed to lose?

Now, like most of the kids these days, I listen to loud music, stay out late planning the revolution and know how to use the Internet, so I figured this should be an easy question to answer. It’s not.

First things first. The BMI, or Body Mass Index. I started there, because it’s where most people would go first if they wanted to know how much weight to lose. Typing ‘BMI Calculator’ into Google brings you to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s standard BMI calculator. Easy to use; you type your height and weight in, it spits back your BMI. Let’s see....4’10”....158...obese?!

Let’s look at my reaction to that. It’s...bad. Really bad. Like existential terror, never going out of the house again bad. Obese is for those people whose skin grafts to the couch upholstery because they can no longer stand up. Obese is for people who can use their upper arms to demonstrate sine waves to confused trigonometry students. Obese shouldn’t mean size 12...should it? God, maybe my self-esteem was comically misplaced. Maybe people have been mimicking harpoon throws behind my back for years. Maybe I should just resign myself to a life spent alone in the company of Sam’s Club sized tubs of margarine and really big spoons. This website has made me feel awful. So I do what any normal person would do.

“Hey guys, wanna calculate your BMI? It’s fun!”

After I’ve ensured the rest of the office feels as rotten as I do (including our sports editor who has the metabolism of a frightened rabbit) I research this BMI thing a little more deeply. Apparently the BMI is another name for the Quetelet Index, a sliding social physics index developed by a Belgian named Adolphe Quatelet between 1830 and 1850.

Okay, so this thing is almost 200 years old? Didn’t medicine back then involve having the barber drill holes in your head to let the humors out? I look a bit at Quetelet’s credentials and it turns out he wasn’t even a doctor.

He was an astronomer.

Great. Some dead Belgian with a telescope and too much time on his hands has made me feel like hanging myself with a length of industrial cable. Thanks, internet. And I still don’t know how much I should weigh.

Incidentally, my height, I find out, disqualifies me from being able to use the BMI as a statistical model. Like all statistical models, it has a 3-5% margin of error, and I’m well below that. But even if I weren’t, it wouldn’t matter. It was already invalidated in my head. I started this whole weight loss thing feeling good about myself, and I’ve already decided that’s the one thing I’m going to hold on to come hell or high water.

Back to the internet. I found out a lot of interesting things; I found out I’m a mesomorph (’medium-boned’ or ‘medium-framed’ in common parlance). I found out I’m a ‘pear,’ not an ‘apple’ body type according to the rubric of a certain unnamed talk-show host with a big mustache. I found out that my waist-hip ratio is .8%, which is only ten percent higher than the ‘correlation with optimal health.’ Take THAT, Adolphe Quetelet. The only thing I didn’t find out was how much I was supposed to weigh. Apparently, a determination like that can only be made by a certified dietician.

Now, let me ask you a question. In America today, obesity is linked strongly to economics; it’s much more prevalent among low-income households. Meaning the very people who need this information are the people least likely to be able to afford a certified dietician. Does this seem fair to you? Me neither. So I’m not going. I’m going to do this on a realistic budget, and prove that people with no special resources are as capable of losing weight as those with money to throw at the problem.

Although, it is getting late. Maybe I’ll use one special resource.

“Mom? Hi, it’s me. Listen, how much weight do you think I should lose? It’s for work.”

“Hmm...I’d say about 25 pounds.”

“Thanks. See you later.”

I, Sarah Thomas, am 26 years old, four feet ten inches tall, and 158 pounds.  Starting today, March 29, 2008, I’m going to lose 25 pounds. I’ll document my experiences, both positive and negative, in this column. And if I fall off the wagon, then my entire constituency has my permission to mock me mercilessly until I get my flabby butt back on the treadmill and finish.

Or, you know, you could just tell me how gorgeous I am and that you’ll love me no matter what. Your call.