For a good long time – and I mean for years – my single greatest fear was that someone would happen to peer inside one of my closets. It’s not that anything classically incriminating would be discovered in there. No literal skeletons were shoved deep into the back corners and anything porn related was always kept in one of my bedroom drawers because, dammit, I am a fucking lady, but my closets did hold some terrible and very unflattering secrets about me and the sheer mound of my gathered shit, from clothing to broken hangers to shoes I hadn’t worn in years to a little wicker basket filled with fucking cassette tapes would, I knew, be a tangible catalogue of my most serious flaws. My mess complicated my life and fucked with my fashion. I could rarely find the skirt I was searching for and, if I did find it, it would be wrinkled beyond recognition so I wouldn’t be able to wear it anyway and maybe that’s why I pretty much wore the same black skirt all the time instead of one of the hundred others I’d spent a small fortune on in vain. My closets became filled with a mess so daunting that I couldn’t fathom how I could even begin tackling one in the first place, so they stayed that way.
They stayed that way for years.
I hid my messiness from the masses. The rest of my home was perhaps a little cluttered, but you would never guess the extent of what was secretly piled in closets by sitting in my living room. I carried that secret inside of me and I stored it like true shame. I didn’t know why or how I had become that way, but I knew I wanted to change and when I eventually moved, I had no choice but to start excavating. I threw shit out left and right. I donated bags of clothing to charity. I sucked down Benadryl by the handful because it turns out that piles of stuff left unattended for so long become dusty. I tossed out the Pink Floyd tapes and the basket they used to live in. I found a dress I’d worn once as a bridesmaid and threw that away too, which I think even the bride in question would have supported, especially since she was already long divorced. I swore to myself that I would never have a closet that looked that way ever again in my entire life, and I have kept that promise. In fact, the last time someone came over, I opened the closet in my bedroom to show him how my tops were organized by freaking color. And yes – there is an entire row of black because some things will never change.
But just because one shame has been defanged and its carcass now only exists in memory, that doesn’t mean I didn’t develop a new shameful habit along the way, one I was terrified someone savvy at hacking skills would potentially uncover. Yes, my friends, I became so freaked out by some new personal behavior that I allowed myself to feel genuinely afraid that someone would use his or her technological genius to uncover my Uber Eats meal history. You can’t really blame me. Our elections and our national security have already been breached, so why wouldn’t I worry about what a hacker might do with his burgeoning boredom?
You know how sometimes you shop online and you spend a good amount of time on one site and you add things to your cart and then you don’t end up buying anything because deep down all you were really interested in doing was browsing? I do that with dresses, bras, and shoes weekly – I also buy dresses, bras, and shoes weekly, but that’s really a confession for another time. In any case, once Uber Eats added a huge selection of restaurants in my delivery zone, I started going appetizer browsing. I’d scroll through menus of places I had never heard of and I’d convince myself that a meal of boneless buffalo wings and mozzarella sticks wouldn’t be terrible because it’s not like I’d be eating a steak too and since I was being oh so conscious by abstaining from the main part of my meal, I’d throw a flourless chocolate cake into my cart as well. What happened – at first anyway – was my finger would hover over the “Go To Checkout” button but I wouldn’t go ahead and press it because two fried appetizers and a slab of cake was, I knew, a very bad idea. But the pretend food ordering was kind of fun at first. I mean, did you know that Burger King has something on its menu called a Twix Pie?!? I haven’t had anything from Burger King in probably a decade, though many moons ago I broke my two-year venture into vegetarianism with a Whopper because I’m a girl who likes to do things right. But a Twix Pie? Who knew!
I broke eventually. I started ordering from a few places through the app. On good days, I’d get sushi wrapped in cucumber. I wasn’t trying to be particularly healthy; I just prefer crunchy and pretty cucumber outside of sushi rolls instead of rice. But there were far more bad days than good, and on those days just as the sun went down I would order things like a cheeseburger, fries, and a cookie or a wrap filled with fried chicken strips and some kind of cheese. Several nights a week, carbohydrate-heavy food laden down with grease and salt arrived at my front door. Several nights a week, I went to sleep with some weird feeling in the back of my throat that I eventually – once I ruled out a stroke – realized was heartburn. Heartburn? I had heartburn like the old men on the commercials? I had heartburn like my father, the one who died at forty-six? I had never felt that kind of weird burning before, so I Googled remedies and I bought myself a tub of Tums. That’s correct: instead of eliminating triggering shit from my diet, I ate circular pieces of chalk instead and let me tell you, claiming those things taste like “tropical fruit” doesn’t make them any less disgusting.
I was still working out during this time, but I’d cut down on my sessions. I just felt so exhausted and I blamed the changing hours of sunlight and the dropping temperatures instead of blaming myself for fueling my body exclusively with garbage. There were many evenings when I would say my version of prayers right before I drifted off and I started to add sentences like “Please give me the strength to get in shape.” Then I’d wake up in the morning and remind myself to stop on the way home from work and pick up a bag of Ruffles, because wouldn’t fistfuls of Ruffles be nice while I watched some Netflix later? I spent the day drinking coffee and maybe had only two full glasses of water. I started recognizing Uber delivery drivers. My kitchen trashcan was filled with takeout boxes and when I started looking for spring clothing, I no longer searched under “body con” or “fit and flare” in the dress section because I knew it would have to be all about the A-line dress if I didn’t do something massive.
What living this way really did was it inhibited me from living spontaneously. I’d be invited to go do something and my first concern was what I’d wear because I didn’t like how most of my clothing was fitting. I was by no means heavy, but I was starting to see a layer of puffiness overtake me. And I’m a grown woman; I’ve already had these moments before in my life when something caused a shift in my diet or my working out increased, but it seemed as though all those prior lessons and realizations had been forgotten and every ounce of my willpower had been doused in fryer grease and then buried in chocolate sauce.
I guess I just felt stuck. And I know I felt bloated.
And then it was a Sunday in the start of June and I had just returned from the farmer’s market, where I had bought iced coffee but no vegetables, and I was going through my closet looking for summer clothes to make sure I knew where everything was and to see if anything needed to go to the dry cleaner or to the dumpster. Hanging off one of the racks in my closet was the denim mini I wear approximately five times a week in the summer when I’m doing easy and casual things like running errands or walking the dog or meeting friends for a manicure. I slowly pulled it from the hanger and held it up to my body. It looked so small. Had I washed it? Thrown it into the dryer? Allowed a seamstress into my house while drugged so it could be taken in massively? Or had I eaten fucking garbage for an entire winter and spring and now my favorite skirt wouldn’t zip? I actually sat down on the floor of my dressing area and cried.
It wasn’t the skirt itself. Of course it wasn’t. It was the loss of total control I’d allowed. It was that I’d let myself continually engage in behavior I knew full well would lead me to distress. It’s that I had allowed myself to become lazy. It’s that, for a few months there, I wasn’t valuing or honoring my health. It’s that I had stopped looking at myself in the mirror when I got out of the shower.
The next morning, I went through my pantry and threw everything resembling a chip away like I had turned into a character in a clichéd comic strip. I filled a kettle bell-sized water bottle and headed off to work. I told myself that I wasn’t going to share the lying-in-a-fetal-position-while-clutching-too-small-denim epiphany I’d just experienced because I wanted to do this change thing on my own, but I also knew when I made that declaration to myself that I was really just worried about failing at something people knew about. So I decided instead to go the other way. I spoke to someone whose exercise and fitness discipline I’ve always admired. I asked about routines and menus. I wandered through my kitchen and opened up cabinets and pantries and refrigerator doors and rattled off foods to him and asked what I could and could not eat on the plan that had worked so well for him. He was remarkably patient when I shouted things like, “I can’t eat pears?!” He told me later it’s because he realized I was asking “buying questions,” that I was serious about it all.
I changed my habits that day and the results became evident almost immediately, first to myself and shortly after to those around me. I cut bread, potatoes, cake, rice, bananas, and sugar from my life. I went out and bought coconut oil and pretend sugar. Avocados became my newest best friend. I started cracking eggs into the center of a hollowed out avocado and sliding the whole thing into the oven to bake for seventeen minutes. I began craving hard-boiled eggs or a piece of cheese late in the evenings instead of ice cream. I signed up for Keto newsletters and started experimenting with their recipes. I had some good luck with recipes for salmon and some terrible fortune with cheese sticks I tried to coat in almond flour to make pretend mozzarella sticks that almost caused my kitchen to catch on fire. I spent half an hour one summer morning churning out mini Keto cheesecakes that left an aftertaste that I can only describe as cloyingly evil. I gave up the Luna bars I used to tote with me everywhere for small bags of almonds or a homemade Keto-approved fat bomb. I usually have a square or two of dark chocolate right before I go to sleep at night and it feels like a hug. I have not cut out the small amount of skim milk I put in my morning iced coffee because I like it so much, and I feel just fine about that, but the rest of the day I down water and I cannot believe that all those claims about how hydration is good for your skin have turned out to be true! During the summer, I worked out five or six days a week and my body began to crave those workouts the way it once craved flour.
Since the second week of June, I have not had a single bite of bread, a wrap, a potato chip, a pretzel, rice, or a french fry. I went to barbeques all summer long and I ate shit without buns. I found out you can order in a cheeseburger wrapped in lettuce and the Uber Eats driver won’t look at you strangely. I learned that if you microwave a piece of cheese on a piece of parchment paper, the cheese turns into a yummy thing that has the consistency of a chip.
I lost the weight my body needed to lose and I wore that denim miniskirt all summer long. I cheated after three and a half weeks with a piece of pastry and my insides swore instant revenge. I have a line straight down my stomach and a few abs have developed and a few more look like they really want to pop through.
I haven’t chewed a Tums in a very long time.
The reaction I eventually got from those used to seeing me is that I look tight, smaller, and strong. The strong part is something I’m really proud of; I know the commitment and the pain that strength took to develop. I know that I set my alarm every single morning during the summer when I didn’t have a job I had to wake up for. I know there were a lot of times I didn’t feel like pulling on socks in a Pilates studio and I know that I went anyway when, just a few months earlier, I would have sat on my couch instead and ordered in something resembling a nacho. I’m proud that I work out in the evenings now that work has started back up again and that I noticed back muscles the other day I’m certain I never had before. I’m fucking thrilled that my Pilates instructor recently asked me advice on how to lose weight in a healthy way and then keep it off.
I wore fitted lace rompers this summer and donated the A-line dresses to charity. I peed on sticks and watched the tips turn Keto-purple, which is somehow an even more delightful color than Millennial-pink. I cook constantly and have perfected a baked salmon that I could charge a fortune for because it’s just that good. I strolled through the farmer’s market just the other day and bought zucchini and asparagus and olives and one linzer tart cookie that I really enjoyed and know I’ll pick up another for myself every few weeks or so because sometimes you just need a fucking cookie. But I also woke up this morning and the very first thing I thought when I opened my eyes was that I was already tired thinking about having to work out later and how, despite my deep-dive into the online world of all things Keto, I cannot for the life of me find a recipe for any baked good that does not eventually taste like chemical misery. But I know that I will work out later despite my exhaustion and I know there may be some looming days ahead when maybe I don’t work out or eat something bad for me. Still, this shift this time feels different. Because this time it’s not only about being a weight I’m actually confident with or feeling comfortable naked or sending my friends pictures of my new stomach – which I have totally done. What this all feels like to me is true wellness. It’s about changing my lifestyle in ways that are sustainable. I look better, but I also actually feel better. I know I’ll never sleep fully soundly because that is just not my lot in life, but I can say that I haven’t had indigestion or a tummy ache in months. I never get headaches anymore. My skin looks super glowy, though part of that may be that I started using that P50 shit and it turns out the skincare mavens are correct about how this exfoliator is a miracle in a bottle and only smells mildly like fairy urine.
My mind feels more settled, more clear. I’m living more spontaneously. The other day at Pilates, my teacher told someone struggling with a pose, “Look at how Nell is doing it,” and the old version of myself, the one who will probably always live in that closet-like darkness inside of me, the one who never exercised and always took the unhealthy way out, couldn’t believe what she was hearing or the pride that swelled up from being known as the healthy strong one in the room.
How do you feel?
The question was asked by the person who gave me the early tips on that one June night, the one who told me to toss out the pears, the one who I don’t think fully believed I’d stick with this plan.
Stronger than I have felt in my entire life, I responded.