The Weight is Over: No More White, Girl

Caution: This column is a major personal TMI dump. If you’re not in the mood for that today, you may want to skip this one.

I was 9 the first time anyone, let alone my mother, pointed out my weight problem. It was Thanksgiving, and one of only three times my brother – 11 years older – visited us in Redding from his home in Canada.

The table was beautifully set with crystal dishes and delicate gold-rimmed white china. My three sisters and I were joined by our father, mother, and best of all, our only brother, Michael Beardsell. Although we didn’t have the same fathers,  I idolized and adored Michael, based upon happy memories of him in Canada starting when I was 3, ending when I turned 5 and my mother traded Vancouver for Redding so we could join our father after being apart many years. As it turned out, our father miscalculated, and wouldn’t find his way to us in Redding for another two years, when I was 7.

That left my New York-born mother — who didn’t drive — responsible for four children under 5 in a city she loathed and deemed so hot that it was only fit for “mad dogs and Englishmen”; a place where she didn’t know a soul. Plus, she had no money or marketable skills. Perhaps Redding’s old-timers remember her, a beautiful woman in her mid-30s, walking around downtown Redding with four little girls in tow, pulling a Radio Flyer wagon full of wrinkled cotton shirts and dresses she took home to iron for money. Our first rental was that weird little white house on Butte Street next to Corbett’s Restaurant.

michael and twins

Michael Beardsell and sisters Doni and Shelly in Hawaii, before the wheels blew off the family wagon.

I digress.

As a kid who’d always been interested in food, that 1966 Redding Thanksgiving feast blew me away. The food, the glorious food! In retrospect, I suspect my father probably prepared it, because my mother wasn’t into cooking. But I’m pretty sure it was my first mashed-potato event. With butter. Nirvana on a fork. Oh marvelous mashed potatoes, where had you been all my life?

I ate them – more like inhaled them – and asked for more. My mother, who was movie-star gorgeous, said no. “Doni, the last thing you need is more potatoes. You’re too chubby.”

doni chubby at 9

Doni Chamberlain, chubby at 9.

My brother came to my defense. “Mom, come on. She’s just a kid. It’s Thanksgiving.”

Over my mother’s enraged protests, Michael served me up a mound of potatoes, which I never finished, because the meal was hijacked by the massive fight that ensued between my mother and brother, an argument that ended with my brother slamming out of the house and leaving Redding early.

All because I wanted more mashed potatoes. Shame! 

Within three years of that night our father had left us permanently, our mother had killed herself and we were living in a foster home.

During that era we went from abject poverty while living with our increasingly mentally ill mom, combined with the humiliation of stealing food and going hungry; to the foster family’s home where the kitchen counters were loaded with jumbo jars of Oreos, Ding Dongs and Scooter Pies; a place where there was never a shortage of buttered mashed potatoes, or cartons of chocolate milk.

There was no shortage of abuse there, either, but that’s another story.

I remained a chubby kid off and on through my childhood and into adolescence, made more embarrassing because I had a slim identical twin, which prompted people to say things like, “It’s easy to tell you apart. Doni’s the fat twin and Shelly’s the skinny one.”

Doni and Shelly teens

This ink-stained photo shows that one of these twins is not like the other. Doni (left) and Shelly Chamberlain on their 16th birthdays.

The first time I really lost weight was at 15, when I fell in love for the first time. Damn! I always lose weight when I’m in love! It’s as if I don’t need the self-comfort of food when I’m feeling that mutual love with a guy, which is probably all tied up in my life’s chapters of a disappearing brother/father/mother/childhood.

I mention all that personal family drama/trauma because intellectually I know that my eating is rarely about being hungry. Usually it’s tied to emotions: Sad, scared, insecure, lonely, angry, frustrated.

Don’t get mad; get ice cream!

So I acknowledge that my childhood food issues and insecurities play a colossal part in a lifetime of wrongful eating. I know feelings of love and self-worth – or the lack thereof – are tied to my eating, too.

Therapy session over.

I’ve started and stopped countless diets since I was a teenager, even when I didn’t need to. I now look at photos of myself when I was in my teens, 20s and 30s, when I thought I was fat, and I can see with my own eyes that I wasn’t.

doni 15 and thought she was fat

Doni age 15 after first love and first weight-loss, but really, she still thought she was fat.

However, today, although I’m skilled in the art of clothing drapery to accentuate my best features (face, shoulders, forearms, hands, calves and feet), or position myself just right for photos, the truth is that the scale doesn’t lie.

doni artfully draped

The key to good photos is to artfully pose and drape for maximum coverage. It’s also good to stand near large objects, like marble columns, to optimize that dwarfed human perspective.

I know that in addition to the icky risk of only being attractive to chubby-chasers, weighing more than I should sets me up for all kinds of potential health risks, from cancers, diabetes and high blood pressure, to stroke, heart disease and joint problems.

Plus, let’s not forget that when I’m feeling fat I won’t wear cute, form-fitting clothes.

doni on maui beach

Believe it or not, Doni’s wearing a bathing suit for this Maui beach selfie.

It’s funny, sometimes when I have a crush on a guy who doesn’t seem to know I exist, I am tempted to say, “Hey, I know I weigh more than what’s ideal, which might be why you’re not interested, but if you fall as in love with me as I am with you I promise the weight will fall off like crazy.”

doni blond with austin and reagan

This recent photo’s a keeper, even if it’s blurry and the grandkids look goofy, because I’m covered.

It’s kind of like that whole kissed-frog-turning-into-a-prince thing. He first needed someone to love and accept him the way he was before he could turn into a prince. I need someone to love me the way I am before I can be transformed into a super model.

What now? I turn 60 next year, and when that time comes, I want to be a sexy single 60, not a matronly unwanted 60, especially with my new vow to let my hair grow naturally into its own, beyond the brown dye. Naturally silver? OK. Fat and gray? No way.

This won’t be easy. I’m a dieting veteran. I know all the tricks. First, eat all the “bad” foods before the diet officially starts. Second, for the “before” weigh-in, do it at the end of the day, in heavy clothes, so the next weigh-in will register a loss (surely!). Finally, don’t tell anyone I’m trying a new eating plan, so there’s nobody to give me the hairy eyeball if I fall off the wagon one midnight and eat a slab of pumpkin pie with an egg nog shooter.

I say I’m a dieting veteran because I have tried about every diet you can imagine, starting in high school with the Atkins diet. I took Ayds appetite suppressants back before AIDS was even a concept. I’ve worn neck-to-ankle foil sweat suits and I’ve taken Dexatrim and starved myself on Jell-O diets and cabbage diets and fasting diets and low-carb diets and Lean Cuisine and Slim Fast.

I’ve done multiple rounds of Weight Watchers, which reminds me; while I know it’s among the most sensible of weight-loss programs, I absolutely HATE the meetings. There’s something about that part of Weight Watchers’ design that sends me screaming for the exit. They take a room full of rational, smart adults who all want to lose some weight and turn us into children motivated by stickers and silly pep talks. (Good luck, Oprah, with making Weight Watchers more grown-up friendly. Maybe then I’ll come back. Let’s do it together, Oprah. We can be the ebony and ivory dieting sistahs. )

I’m not good at online diets (ironically). And I’m not interested in liquid diets, or diets where you eat their highly-processed prepared foods, like Jenny Craig.

Recently after seeing stalking a Facebook friend’s amazing weight-loss success in her posts, I contacted her and asked how she’d done it. She told about a Redding guy, Matthew Lister, who owns Align Private Training. She said he’s totally inspired her, and she’s lost more than 40 pounds. She raves about this guy.

So come Monday, I will meet with Matthew Lister to start my official journey on the road to getting my body back. I have met once with him already, and I do believe I may have heard him mention something crazy about a ban on white processed sugars and flours, which sort of spun my head around.

Wait. What!? 

In all my years of dieting, that’s the ONE thing – two things – I’ve never given up.

OK. So be it. No more white stuff, girl.

He also mentioned a “bite-for-bite” meal plan. Yikes. I’m terrified excited.

Even so, in the meantime, my twin said something profound: Don’t you know what to do, what to eat and what not to eat? How about if we support each other in doing what we know works?

So, for now, until my Monday Matt meeting, that’s what I’ll do. I’m not calling this a diet, but a change in how I live, because the instant I call it a diet and my body gets a whiff of potential restriction, she goes all rebellious and backslides into defiant eating. No joke. That frozen cookie dough will come out of the freezer and into a preheated, 350-degree oven faster than you can say binging on milk, hot cookies and Doc Martin while wearing a sweatshirt, stretch pants and slippers.

You are welcome to join me. We can have our own weight-loss group here on A News Cafe.com.  No joining fees. No membership. No silly stickers. Most of all, no shame.

You can write notes about your progress in the comments section, or even messages if you’re having a rough time with will power, and you’re on the edge of eating something you shouldn’t. Say so in the comments. Those of us who see the comment can talk you off the cookie ledge and can offer encouragement.

In addition to the support, we can offer tips about foods and their preparations. And I’ll talk with some people who’ve successfully lost weight, and share their stories here, about how they did it.

I will check back here each week with an honest report of how I’ve done. I will tell you if I’ve lost, gained, or stayed the same.

I can’t imagine ever disclosing my starting weight, but let’s see how this goes. I may change my mind later, when I’m a super model.

I’d love to have some company.


Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate. Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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