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The Secret of Dieting

My doctor diagnosed me as being fat

“Bill,” he said, “your ideal weight is 180 pounds. You’re sitting at 220. That means you’re fat.”

“How long have I got?” I asked.

“It’s hard to say,” he replied. “Decades maybe. But the point is you’re fat. I recommend you lose weight at once.”

“Will that involve eating less food?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

Getting this kind of news from a physician can be traumatic to say the least. I was devastated, and briefly considered having myself euthanized. After all, there are two types of people – those who eat so that they may live, and those who live so that they may eat. I’m in the latter category.

I asked about liposuction. But the doctor, rather impatiently, said it was not indicated and threatened to send for the nurse. I backed down. He said I should change my eating habits and eat sensibly. I should reduce my portions.

So I embarked on a journey of self-restraint, which began with a late-night confrontation with a tray of lasagna.

It wasn’t a full tray, thank God. Most of it was gone. All that was left was a corner piece. Normally I would have judged it to be an ample but nevertheless appropriate serving, and I would have consumed it in its entirety. But under my new medical regimen I couldn’t consider eating such a large piece. It would be unconscionable.

So I cut it in half. I realized dieting was partly a matter of geometry.

Somehow the lasagna tasted better than usual. The mere fact that it was a small piece intensified the gastronomic experience. Slow down, I said to myself. Savour the moment. I tried not to forget, as we so often do, to stop and smell the lasagna.

But in the blink of an eye it was over. The fleeting flash of lasagna-based ecstasy gave way to a wretched abyss of desperation and panic. I wanted the dining experience to continue. And yet the lasagna was gone.

I pushed myself away from the table and thought back to what the doctor had said. I was fat.

But I was also still hungry.

I tiptoed back to the kitchen, trying not to wake my wife. I reasoned that if she didn’t know I was snacking, it wouldn’t make me fat. I opened the refrigerator door and assessed the situation.

There wasn’t much lasagna left, I decided. True, the original corner piece had been far too big to consider eating. But now there was only a small piece left. Indeed it was only half the size of the original piece that I had – quite admirably – refused to eat all of.

In fact, the piece of lasagna I was looking at now was piddly by comparison. It was too small to leave there, really. And besides, I deserved to eat it as a reward for the restraint I had shown earlier. I took it.

The experience of eating it was guilt-free. After all, it was only a half-serving. I was proud of what I had accomplished. Under the circumstances, I decided dessert was called for.

I moved toward the cookie tin. There were exactly eight chocolate chip cookies inside. Splendid, I thought to myself. I’ll take three. That’s how many my mother used to give me when I was a child, and she couldn’t have been wrong.

After placing three cookies on a plate, I ate a fourth while at the tin. True, I was only supposed to take three, but I decided that anything eaten in the kitchen or its vicinity doesn’t count.

After I ate the plate of cookies I became stupefied by intense withdrawal symptoms. Chocolate plays tricks on the mind, I remembered reading somewhere. Chocolate produces the same brain chemicals as heroin does. Or was it that chocolate is a form of heroin? I couldn’t remember what I’d read.

Trembling, I staggered back into the kitchen. No court of law would convict me if I ate just one more cookie. It wasn’t even a crime, for God’s sake, although at that moment it felt like one. I felt like I was on the lam.

Four cookies lay in the tin. Splendid, I thought to myself. I’ll take three. That’s how many my mother used to give me when I was a child, and she couldn’t have been wrong.

I took three, leaving behind one lone cookie. That was unacceptable, I realized. It would just make someone angry. It would be as insulting as leaving a quarter-inch of milk in the jug because you can’t see your way clear to putting in a new bag.

So, in a moment of clarity, I took the last cookie.

Then I went to bed, pleased with the discipline I’d shown. After all, I had cut the lasagna in half, hadn’t I? And I’d only allowed myself to take three cookies. Dieting wasn’t going to be so hard after all.

published in Stitches magazine, August, 2000