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By Julia Gumm

I was in a wedding once. The bride was a pushy sort, not exactly a “bridezilla”, but she wanted all the details of her special day to be in order as soon as possible. Among other things, that meant that I had to be fitted for my bridesmaid’s dress about a year before the ceremony. Now, I’m not one of those people who walks the earth taking up the same precise amount of space from season to season, year to year, know what I mean? The bride, knowing this as well as I did, hissed at me between gritted teeth “Now don’t you go losing a bunch of weight or something!”

Well, when the anticipated date arrived, I found that there was a lot more dress to my dress than I had realized. Actually, there was just less of me inside of the dress. Suffice it to say, the bride was exasperated. “WHY did you lose weight?!” She wanted to know, as if I had gone and done it on purpose to screw up the optics of her wedding. “Uh, I don’t know” I stammered, “I didn’t try to…” which was true. I hadn’t! And I had done something else not really on purpose either…it had just kind of happened with each inspiring and exciting experience I embraced building on the last: I got really happy.

Can happiness cause weight loss? I think so. It happened to me. If chronic stress causes weight gain, can’t the reverse be true?

The year that I was quietly dropping dress sizes was spent working full time in a little cafe which specialized in an orgasmic array of homemade desserts…none of which escaped my fork. White chocolate mousse pie, Key Lime pie, bread pudding, chocolate layer cake, homemade ice cream, hot fudge, real whipped cream. I ate it all in excess. We also served sandwiches, and I always ordered mine on a buttery croissant, with extra cheese, please. It was a veritable nightmare to behold for health minded folks everywhere, but I was getting slimmer and more energetic every day. I was pretty surprised by my shrinking waistline, as I was coming out of an adolescence marked by eating disorders and a dubious flirtation with various unsavory and addictive substances.This was the first time in many years that I was sober and eating at will. After an initial period of weight gain, the excess began to melt away as I became happier, healthier and more of a satisfied, confident person.

I adored working at that cafe. I understand that the place waitresses occupy in the hierarchy of societal functions isn’t supposed to be much to get excited over, but I really, truly loved that job. I had a boss who treated me like a valued human being rather than an unfortunate cost of doing business, as so many employers do. This allowed me to put my all into my job instead of withholding my best work out of resent for being unappreciated and unacknowledged, as is so often the case in the workplace.

I believed in the value of what I was doing. If you’re gonna eat, you oughta eat good, and good food was what I was serving up. I believe, with all my soul that people should indulge in wholesome simple pleasures like hot fudge sundaes.  I relished every opportunity to talk unhappy women who were wistfully eyeing the dessert case into just going for it and forgetting about “being good.” Good for what? They looked pretty miserable to me. What I was selling was self-acceptance and the freedom to let yourself go. I was selling it to my customers and I was selling it to myself, too.  And I got paid to do it! Not very much of course, but who cares? I didn’t. It was enough, and I was thoroughly enjoying myself.

I was thinking past my perceived limitations. After a lackluster showing in high school, I decided to push myself and sign up for a college philosophy class. Previously, I was a straight D student with the attention span of a gnat. In this class, I scored an A. Man, did that feel good. It made me think bigger.

I wanted to explore. I asked a co-worker to drive cross-country with me. We took everyone’s unwanted shifts and worked overtime for months, socking away our earnings to blow on the road. I would work endless hours, double shift, round the clock, but I never tired. We’d blare obnoxiously loud music and dance like idiots while sweeping and mopping after we closed. It was an unusually cold winter that year and I swear, I never wore a coat. I was warm all the time and I never got sick. I ate a heaps of beautiful, calorie rich foods, but I also moved more. Not out of desire to lose weight or whip myself into shape, but out of inspired, energetic spontaneity.

The only thing I did to be “health conscious” was take a daily calcium magnesium zinc supplement. Everything else was on auto-pilot for the first time in a long time, including how much cake I ate (a lot) and how much time I spent worrying about getting thinner (a little). I didn’t embrace a new religion. I didn’t find a new dietary dogma to subscribe to. I didn’t do any goddamned yoga. I simply unmoored myself from beliefs, feelings and disciplines that were holding me back. I let myself go, and lo, I went. In the process, I dropped 4 dress sizes. How ‘bout that?  It was oh-so Linda Bacon…

“I am no longer waiting to lose weight before I live my life fully.  Having freed up all the energy and time that I spent on dieting or obsessing about my weight or food and having let go of my shame about these, I have greater depth and fulfillment in my life, including deeper intimacy with others.  I don’t think about my weight, and it stays fairly consistent.  Oddly, after this new eating pattern became firmly rooted, I actually lost about thirty pounds.” 

So that’s how I became ecstatically happy and lost a bunch of weight. I got a low wage job at a sweet cafe, ate a bunch of cake, took a class and worked my ass off to pay for a road trip taken for no other reason than the hell of it. Pretty easy stuff. Now hold on, don’t rush out and get a crappy food service job. This isn’t the panacea, the universal key I stumbled upon that unlocks the secrets of contentedness. Waitressing for peanuts isn’t going to satisfy everyone- hell, it wouldn’t satisfy me at this point.

But it was what I needed, then. People need to identify what they need where they are at and go for it. One size doesn’t fit all, and you yourself will often need different things at different times. I desperately needed to reestablish a healthy relationship with food, and through eating to appetite (and beyond) the appealing, calorie dense foods that surrounded me, I did just that. I was able to repair an overwhelming backlog of psychological and metabolic damage I had incurred through years of over exercise and calorie restriction. Truthfully, it would have done me a lot of good to get my formerly chilly hands on 180D, because what Matt’s talking about is precisely what I needed then, and have needed at other points in my life when I’ve been stressed, depressed, cold, sad, sick, fat- all that fun stuff. I’ve been lucky enough to eventually intuit what my body needed and run with it, but it’s not always so easy to tune out the noise of conventional wisdom on your own.

Beyond my daily dose of dessert, I was just having fun with life. I had goals that I was meeting, was forming lasting friendships, performing a function I was good at and felt good about…simple stuff. Simple stuff, but so often elusive. Study after study shows the health benefits from being happy and that happiness is tied up in having basic needs met, feeling a part of something larger and more meaningful than oneself,  and somewhat surprisingly, cooperation and altruism. It’s no surprise then that our culture of self-promotion, over-work, consumption and forever keeping up with those damned Joneses can leave us feeling less than satisfied. When I was 19 years old, I experienced a moment in my life where I freely shed narrow beliefs about who I should be like, what I should look like and how good I could ever be. I embraced what was around me, ate what was around me, and chased my dreams, however humble they were. I worked in a cooperative environment. I was kinder, more creative, more confident, and by all counts, very very happy. And svelte to boot! Yep, that bridesmaid’s dress was positively swimming on me. Not that I cared. As delighted as I was to wear the thing for the wedding, I had no designs on EVER wearing it again. I mean really, periwinkle? C’mon.