I’m going to Costa Rica next month. I have done very little planning for this trip, but it has been a long time in the works. A long time ago, I entered a contest to win a trip to Costa Rica. I didn’t in that particular contest, but it started a chain of events that indirectly brought me down a new career path, a new life, and ultimately, winning a different contest to Costa Rica.
The details are a bit hazy. I vaguely remember downing pints of beer and very cheesy pizza at the Charlotte Room with Amy one Wednesday evening in December 2010. We were both working at a travel company that we have both since departed.
“I think I’m going to join Weight Watchers in January,” Amy said, sliding off a bar stool to go to the bathroom. Pizza and beer, remember? When she returned, she dropped the bomb that would set things in motion. “And I think I’ll launch it as a company wide challenge. A biggest loser type of contest. With prizes and everything!”
I filed this conversation in the foggy recesses of my pickled mind, and ate everything in sight over the next few weeks. It was Christmas, and holy hell, I still hate Christmas more than almost everything.
Amy’s email popped into my inbox one cold January day. Delete. I put it out of my mind.
A week went by, and I had resumed my place in the Charlotte Room, inhaling vast quantities of beer and pizza. Amy sipped something small and diet. Rum and diet coke, perhaps? “Well?” she inquired. I was cornered. Denial couldn’t protect me anymore.
The cold, hard reality of my closet sank in. I wore a size 14, but in reality, I would have been a lot more comfortable wearing a size 16. I was fat, and it wasn’t going to get any better.
I bit the bullet. At the very least, the company was going to reimburse our Weight Watchers joining fees if we hit our personal goals. I would either be out $60 with no results, or I’d have something to show for it after 12 weeks.
12 of us met over lunch one day, huddled in semi-secrecy in a boardroom. We needed to discuss a prize. We debated technology toys versus travel. Travel won – we were a travel company, after all. The prize? That same Costa Rica tour from the initial contest, two years ago – land only. Fine.
I gave up cheese for 4 months. I love cheese. I have cheese dreams, a monthly cheese budget, and I would happily be celibate for the rest of my life as long as I could eat lots of smoked gouda and aged cheddar for the rest of my days. I gave up beer, opting for a vodka soda water with a hint of lime when I would go out. I traded my morning toast and peanut butter with a banana for a cup of high protein, low carb cereal with berries and almond milk. I ate pasta sauce on tofu noodles instead of regular noodles. I measured everything. I ate carrots. Oh for the love of flying spaghetti, I ate carrots. I walked. I bought an exercise ball. When the snow melted, I cycled. I religiously recorded every morsel of food that entered my mouth on the Weight Watchers food diary.
The first week, I lost 4 pounds. The second week I lost 3. I was well on track to my short term goal of 15 pounds in 12 weeks.
It continued. I tapered to a healthier rate of 1-2 pounds a week. It became quickly clear from the weekly weight-ins that I was in the lead in terms of number of pounds and in terms of percentage lost.
I didn’t just hit my short term goal of 15 pounds. By the time the contest ended, 12 weeks later, I was down 22 pounds and floating in my clothing. I bought new clothes. I bought new clothes again. I was victorious. I was heading to Costa Rica.
After the contest, some of the participants went back to their old habits. It’s hard to change an entire lifestyle. I renewed my membership to Weight Watchers. I watched my life fall apart before my eyes a few weeks later. I caught myself eating chocolate ice cream out of the container, and disgusted with myself, I threw out the ice cream. I didn’t buy a subway pass all summer, opting to cycle to work every day instead.
I stepped on the scale on my last day at that job. I had lost 38 pounds in 8 months, and I owned single digit pants sizes for the first time in my life.
Things have stabilized now. I understand how to better cook for myself, to make smarter food choices and wiser portion choices. I try to schedule exercise into my life, the same way I make time to do laundry, buy groceries, or paint my nails. Cheese has made a glorious, triumphant return to my life, as has beer. A friend invaded my closet, armed with garbage bags. We purged. She carted off 6 garbage bags worth of “fat” clothes that day, forcing me to commit to myself.
And next month, I will get on a plane to San José, take a little break from my every day life, and go SCUBA diving. It’s all worth it to me, now I don’t have to wear nearly as much lead weight to be neutrally buoyant when I dive. I breathe better, I move better, and I look better.
I went home to Montreal to visit my family over the Christmas holidays. Talk about changing lives – my mother has jumped on the new life bandwagon, and she’s down 30+ pounds too. We went out shopping together, something we never used to do when I lived in Montreal. She rejoiced in her ability to walk around the mall without having to stop and catch her breath. I rejoiced too. I bought jeans that fit. In a size 6.
Vamos à la playa! Thank you, Amy. You changed my life in 2011.