Stockholm — I rarely compliment myself, but I must admit I look svelte as I stride up to the podium to accept the Nobel Prize in economics. It’s not every day that a 60-something gal from a tiny New York town gets this award from the King of Sweden. I’m not the least bit nervous after all the interviews I’ve done — a Today show exclusive (with Matt Lauer, not just Ann Curry); People magazine’s cover; a serious chat with NBC Nightly News host Brian Williams; and some girls’ gossip and dance with comedienne Ellen DeGeneres, who thinks it’s hysterical that someone without an economics Ph.D. would snare this prize for discovering a diet that helps to eradicate world obesity affordably. My carefully tested “Wedding Diet” made headlines after word spread that an aging mother (me) dropped 25 pounds in 28 weeks to look great for her daughter’s wedding — and did so without surgery, a royal career turned toxic, or convoluted diet-book instructions. The upshot? Mothers everywhere are begging their kids to marry.
I only wish that my diet plan had garnered such international attention. When my younger daughter announced her engagement, it wasn’t the logistics of planning a wedding for 150 that terrified me. I had 15 months — an eternity for someone who doesn’t overanalyze the merits of asparagus spears wrapped in smoked salmon with caper garnish versus tuna tartare in phyllo with horseradish dabs. But losing 25 pounds — a plump Thanksgiving turkey — at age 62 is tough. My older daughter didn’t sugarcoat the urgency: “Mom, the photos last forever.”
I decide it takes a village — in my case, Rhinebeck — to make this work. I rejoin Weight Watchers to relearn portion control, and stop devouring entire jars of peanut butter after a few intoxicating spoonfuls. I give up foods that pile on pounds, focus on what’s leafy at my farmers’ market, alternate Pilates and cardio at a local studio and gym, and avoid my favorite town temptations: Tuscan fries and a Skizza (with fig jam, mozzarella, pears, and arugula) at Gigi Trattoria.
The first three weeks prove depressing. The scale doesn’t budge. But I resist emotional binging. In fact, I avoid almost everything bad. Lunch with a friend and his grandchildren at my town’s old-style pizza parlor tests my mettle. He and the kids order a pie — dripping with mushrooms, pepperoni, and gooey cheese — and big, fat garlic knots. Unaware that I’m dieting, he suggests I have a garden salad with chicken. Do I look that fat? I ogle his choices but avoid asking for a bite.
Gradually, the digits on the scale move down. My old skinny wardrobe starts to fit better. I get cocky, and decide I might go for 30 pounds, do a triathlon, climb Everest!
Back to reality. After shedding 17 pounds, a sales clerk at a favorite makeup store flatters me, “You’ve lost weight; your face looks thinner.” She thinks she’s tossing me a compliment. But to me that implies looking unhealthy. I wonder if my magic bullet wasn’t exercise and dieting but a rare, undiagnosed illness.
Hope shows up in the form of a friend who hasn’t seen me for weeks. She feeds me the thin-face compliment, then adds, “Your legs look thinner.”
To elicit more flattering remarks, I work my weight loss into every conversation; an easier alternative might be to wear a sign. A server at a restaurant asks if I want bread. “Why would you ask?” I say sweetly. “Can’t you tell I’ve lost 17 pounds?” When a salesman at a department store suggests a dress, I eye the tag and stop myself from screaming, “Haven’t you noticed my thin face and legs?” Instead, I gently explain, “With my coat on, I don’t think you can see that this would be too big. I’ve lost 17 pounds.”
Three months later — and down eight more pounds — my wedding outfit fits perfectly. As I help escort the bride down the aisle, I feel triumphant — but I’m careful to avoid the evening’s temptations. I know how to celebrate. Two days later, I dig into my favorite skinny pizza and fries. And the best reward? I don’t share.
Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and coauthor (with Margaret Crane) of the forthcoming book, Gammy’s Getting Old.