Wednesday, April 2, 2014

In Defense Of Valerie Bertinelli

It's been five years since Valerie Bertinelli -- the bubbly brunette from the classic sitcom of my youth One Day At A Time and current hit Hot in Cleveland -- lost more than forty pounds on the Jenny Craig diet. As the spokeswoman for the plan, she was not only my personal inspiration for my own weight-loss journey but also nearly the same age as me. (She is seventeen months older.)

She made the cover of People wearing a bikini and looking fabulous in it. I cut out a small version of the photo and stuck it to my refrigerator. If Valerie could look like that, I also want to go on JC. And so I did. I lost twenty-five pounds quickly and wore a bikini that summer as well. I didn't look as good as Valerie, of course, yet I was passable.

Well, like me, Valerie has put back some weight. (I've put back all the weight, but that's beside the point. Okay, it's part of the point. Anyway I'll talk about that later.) Like a child with her hand in the cookie jar, she has been caught by the paparazzi looking curvier. Gasp! And now she is taking heat for her more voluptuous figure. So much heat, in fact, that she felt obligated to go on The Talk to, you got it, talk about it. "I think we all need to give each other a break. Especially women -- let's leave each other alone!" she said.

Yes, let's give her a break! She turns fifty-four in three weeks and broke her foot a few months ago. Her doctor told her not to get her heart rate up. She is only recently getting back to the gym.

What kind of a society do we live in that a beautiful actress, wife, and mother has to feel the need to explain her weight gain to the world? It's a twisted society, the kind that has brought us the current round of female-driven fat-shaming. The "What's your excuse?" Maria Kang and the like. If this is the treatment that a beloved TV icon receives, what hope do the rest of us average women have about feeling good about our own bodies?

Not many women want to pack on pounds beyond their regular weight. They don't choose to gain weight. But they do so for many reasons: a medical condition, a personal crisis, age, pregnancy, etc. My weight gain has coincided with my years as a full-time single mother, so you can draw a conclusion from that.

I always had a slim, athletic physique. At the time I got pregnant with my first son, I would call my figure solidly athletic. I was playing #2 singles on my 4.5 USTA league tennis team during the week and entering New England tournaments on weekends. I was ranked in my region in three categories. At nearly forty-one and a half, my metabolism had slowed down somewhat. I was not as slender as I once was, but I was still toned. I liked the way I looked.

That pregnancy I gained twenty-one pounds and twenty-two the next -- not a lot of pregnancy weight! Both times I dropped every single lb. and even a couple of extra within one month of giving birth to each nine-pound boy. If I were a celebrity, People would have written an article about me.

Instead, I am a 24/7 single mother without a built-in support network. The past decade has been very challenging for me for a host of reasons: years of chronic fatigue syndrome due to sleep deprivation, sons who are complete opposites, two moves to different communities, toxic neighborhood experiences, being the only single mother by choice in my entire very small town, disappointing attempts at dating, falling victim to a scam, and more. End result: I gained weight.

Heck, who wouldn't have under those circumstances?!

When my eight year old was a preschooler, I decided to try to lose the unwanted padding. I reached for Slim Fast, as I have in the past. I have found it to be an easy way to shed a handful of lbs. Beyond that, however, it doesn't work so well for me. I get bored with the milkshakes, and they start to give me headaches, frankly.

But with Valerie as my guide, I was able to drop twenty-five pounds on the Jenny Craig plan in a matter of months, making my total weight loss thirty pounds. Thirty pounds. Pretty impressive, if I do say so myself! I looked fabulous. I was ready to get back to dating, so I ordered up a professional photo shoot in June 2010 to showcase my good looks.

Not long after I made these efforts, it all went for naught as life intervened in a cruel way. I was taken in by a Nigerian fraud on who wasted my entire summer. I was off the Jenny plan by this point, so my ability to maintain my desired weight was already tenuous. I certainly didn't need an emotional heartbreak as well!

In hindsight, what happened next was totally predictable: the weight came back on. Argh.

In case you're wondering, it doesn't just materialize all at once. It creeps up on you in such an insidious way that you don't even see it coming. First, the jeans get tight. Next you feel a slight stomach roll when you are sitting. And then you become a bit winded from walking a short distance. You can see the change in photographs and the mirror, so you avoid both. The damage has been done.

Depending on how much importance you place on your physical appearance, gaining the weight back may be a little frustrating or very frustrating. For me, I would say it was the former. I don't pay too much attention to my (and other people's) appearance. I do pay close attention to my (and other people's) character, however.

With lackluster motivation, I rejoined JC. I can't remember if it has been one or two years since signing back on, but my weight has not dropped quickly like it did before. It's hard to muster up the necessary energy to do something difficult once you have blown your success at it. So this recent go-round has been like one of those kiddie caterpillar roller coasters at small town fairs -- gently up and down, not terribly exciting, and not very productive.

I'm sorry to say that this week I recorded my heaviest-ever weight during my weekly JC weigh-in with my consultant. I was .4 (or maybe it was .6) lbs. above my previous high point. Obviously, I'm not proud of that, but I'm not crushed either. Like Valerie, I suffered from my own foot injury. I had plantar fasciitis for five months. What's more, our New England winter was particularly harsh this year, which made it challenging to get out on a regular basis to exercise. Yet the winter is also to blame (or possibly to thank!) for my newfound desire to make myself over weight-wise this spring.

As I work to slim up, you can be sure of one thing, however. I will not be shaming myself. Like Valerie, I will be giving myself a break.