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I Can See Paradise by the Fridge Door Light

Over the past 30 years, I've probably gained and lost 300 pounds. Down 20 here, up 30 there. Size 22 here, size 10 there. "Damn, can I get the door for you?" here. "Move your fat ass, you're in my way!" there. So, as many women can relate, I've tried every diet on the face of the earth. And a few that are not of this earth. (I speak specifically of the purgatory that is the no-carb craze.) #LoveCarbs


I was about 25 when I decided that I was going to be done with my issues once and for all and do a medically supervised fast. I was probably inspired by Oprah hauling out a wagon full of fat on her program to premier her new stick-thin figure. Granted her head looked far too large for her body and she no longer looked like someone I'd like to have brunch with. But I'll admit; I was jealous.


There was a weight loss clinic a few blocks from my office that I'd been noticing for weeks. Let's call it Acme-fast. Every day I'd pass and see a poster of a gorgeous blond flitting across the beach in a hot pink bikini with an even hotter man.


In my imagination, six months before she had been an overweight, toothless troll with matted gray hair. But completing the fast had magically transformed her entire life. Her studio apartment had morphed into a beachfront palace. The garish scar she had from falling off a horse in 2nd grade had transformed into a Cindy Crawfordesque beauty mark. Her job at Subway was now a management position at a fast paced advertising firm.


The next day I called Acme-fast. Rhonda (the salesperson in sheep's clothing that took my call) was empathetic and supportive. And because she felt such a "connection" to my story she was willing to give me a discount of $400 off the first 6 weeks if I signed up that day. I was quickly booked for an appointment that night with my new best friend.


When I showed up Rhonda greeted me. She wore a lab coat with her name embroidered over the pocket and I was immediately a 12 year-old girl sitting at the popular girls' table for the first time. She was clearly the long, lost mother of hot-pink-bikini-girl. Equally as gorgeous and exuding a degree of class I could only aspire to, she escorted me to her office.

When all was said and done I had spent over $1800 on "phase one" and was prepared to attend my medical pre-screenings the next day.


My tests were rushed through (due to my close, personal relationship with Rhonda, of course) and I was officially on the Acme-fast road to perfection.


The first weigh in and meeting was held at the normal meeting location which was a stark contrast to the office from which Rhonda worked. It was located in an industrial park. As I pulled into the dark parking lot, I saw the fluorescent lights shining out of a small, glass entryway sandwiched in between a series of roll-up metal doors. There was a suite number on the door, but no name to be found.


Convinced that I had to be at the wrong place, I hesitantly poked my head in to ask for directions. Adrian, who looked like a 10 year old in his father's clothes, informed me that I had located the Acme-fast meeting site and invited me to come in. He wore a cheaper version of Rhonda's white lab coat which did not have the luxury of an embroidered name. In its place was a plastic name tag that read "Adrian" on a piece of masking tape that was presumably covering the names of the 5 previous employees who had been given the same tag and subsequently quit to take a better job at Wendy's.


As Adrian checked in each person on his clipboard, he directed them to the weigh-in room where each member's girth was meticulously measured and recorded and photos were taken for future extortion purposes. #FatPics


Once everyone had completed the gauntlet of judgement, they grabbed a metal folding chair and joined the slowly developing circle in the middle of the worn, stained carpet. Nearly half of the chairs were broken, which, for a room full of chubsters is not very smart from an insurance perspective! But I found a working chair with a minimal amount of graffiti and gum and joined my fellow members.


The meeting was conducted by Meredith and two other white-coats whose combined nutritional expertise appeared to have been obtained by way of a drunken conversation with someone who once dated someone whose cousin was a podiatrist. Meredith looked as if she had gone through the Acme-fast program herself and failed miserably.


Now, I know people discriminate against those who are overweight. I've experienced it. It sucks. And I don't condone it. But taking dieting advice

from a woman who looks remarkably like Uncle Buck is a little like taking tips on subtlety and tact from Kanye West. #BadIdea


After being informed of the horrible dragon breath, debilitating exhaustion and homicidal mood swings we would all experience the first few days of the fast, we were excused with a smile and some canned bumper sticker quotes that most likely had been mandated by Rhonda. "Nothing tastes as good as thin feels!" "Today is the first day of the rest of your life!" "The only thing cottage cheese looks good on is a salad bar!" I took my bag of supplies and promised to return in three days for a follow up blood test.


That night before bed, I made sure that my blender was set up and I had plenty of ice and a variety of spices and flavored extracts. We had received some "recipes" to help break up the monotony of the standard chocolate, vanilla and strawberry meal replacement shakes which were required 6 times a day. You couldn't add yogurt or a banana, or even juice. But you were allowed to go wild with cinnamon, instant coffee or rum extract if you chose.



I was restless that night. I had become used to using food as my comfort. Even when I was at a good, healthy weight I would still resort to emotional eating regularly and the thought of losing that coping mechanism was making me anxious. I had set my alarm to go off 30 minutes early so I would have plenty of time to make my breakfast delicious and satisfying.


The packet of powder was remarkably heavy for its size, but I ripped the top off and dumped a chocolate flavored serving into the blender with the proper measurement of water. I figured I would taste the shake plain first so I could decide what add-ins it needed. I threw in a couple of ice cubes and hit blend. The white-coats had suggested using a fancy cup to make our meal replacement special. They said that they had several similar psychological tricks that they would share with us which would make the fast bearable. They lied.

The consistency seemed a bit chunky as I poured the concoction into a fancy glass, so I decided I would forego the ice next time. Without ice, it should come out like chocolate milk, right? I did a quick here-goes-everything toast to the air and took my first sip.


It's hard to explain the taste. I would describe it as dry concrete mixed with kitty litter and pond water with a spoonful of grated baker's chocolate...but worse. Even after mixing it thoroughly in the blender, there were pea-sized lumps of powder that refused to mix with the liquid. They bobbed around the glass like little evil dolphins, poking their heads through the surface and daring me to swallow them.


It wasn't just not good. It was repulsive. I considered adding more water to thin it down, but decided not to since it would take me twice as long to consume. After choking down half of it, I dumped the remainder down the sink. Which probably explains all the plumbing problems experienced in downtown San Diego in the early 90's. I knew that there was no way I could drink six a day and decided that I would try to either go without food or just drink water as much as I could.


The first two days were miserable. I couldn't focus at work, I had headaches and my stomach was growling so loudly, co-workers thought I had a rabid chihuahua beneath my desk. I got home from work at 5:30 and climbed directly into bed. I was cold and depressed and so, so hungry.

I arrived for my tests and subsequent group meeting early. I was cold, hungry and irritable. After telling Adrian exactly what I thought about the meal replacement shakes, I was sternly told that I could not forego meals and must get all of the vitamins and minerals that the shakes provided. I was told that hair loss, fainting, tooth decay and rampant communism could all result from my failing to ingest each and every meal replacement drink. And while it wasn't directly stated, I'm pretty sure Adrian was implying that lack of consuming six shakes a day was the true cause of Chris Farley's death.


I looked white-coat straight in the eye and agreed that I would stick to the plan come hell or high water. I knew I was lying and had no intention of choking down the sludge in the quantities required of me, but at that point I would have abandoned my integrity for less...much less. #Sellout


No amount of spices or flavorings could improve the shakes and I would bet that adding a tablespoon of the dry mix to a 20 gallon vat of Ben & Jerry's would render the ice cream completely inedible. Yes, it was that bad! It was so disgusting that if you left a few drops in a cup in your car, you would come back a few hours later and think you had some decomposing roadkill bits stuck somewhere in your A/C vent. We affectionately dubbed the odor Acme-funk.


I dragged myself back to my small one bedroom apartment and took a hot shower, then crawled into bed under a pile of blankets at 7:00 pm to go to sleep. My life now consisted of alternating states of shivering, crying, excruciating headaches, anger and hunger. It was day three.

At about 1:30 am, my growling stomach and hunger pangs awakened me. I wandered around the apartment willing the rumbling to stop. After a few laps around the family room, bedroom and bathroom, I ended up in the kitchen. I could see my blender and bags of cement meals by the light from the street lamp outside. I leaned my back against the refrigerator and slid to the floor and began to cry. I could never have predicted the physical and psychological toll this experience would take on me.


The white-coats kept saying that the first five days were the hardest, that if I made it through that first stretch, I would succeed! A mixture of rage, hunger, tears and profanity bubbled up and spewed from my body like hot lava. Fuck the white coats! Fuck Rhonda! Fuck pink-bikini girl! And fuck her stupid, hot man who probably cheated on her anyway!


It was then that I had two thoughts. Thought one, "I've got a great personality! I don't need to be skinny." Thought two, "What the hell can I eat?" I started flinging open the cupboards in the dark. I figured if I was going to break my blood-oath commitment to the program, it was better to do it in the dark. I firmly believe that the amount of shame one experiences for a misdeed is compounded in direct proportion to the amount of light in the room at the time.


I flung open another cupboard and the door slammed against the wall chipping the plaster. Paper plates, packets of soy sauce! A stapler? By cupboard three I was livid.

I had meticulously removed all of the food from my apartment in preparation for the fast. And now, when I desperately needed comfort and warmth, there was just cold, dark emptiness. I opened the fridge. Two AA batteries, a jar of crushed garlic, a half empty bottle of hoisin sauce, I started to cry again.


Then, as I was beginning to close the door, the refrigerator light illuminated a previously ignored, small cabinet. With little hope left, I reached above the stove and pulled the cupboard open. A packet of citrus lime marinade mix smacked me in the face like my grandmother the first time I said "dammit".


Through my watery eyes, I could just make out a can of oven cleaner. I stood on my toes to peer into the depth and there it stood, perched precariously among a collection of other cleaning products. In retrospect, it may have been the light from the refrigerator. But at the time, I was quite confident that the jar glowed. Not unlike the contents of the mysterious black briefcase carried by Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction. Still unsure if the jar was real or a hunger induced illusion, I reached up and grabbed it.


I didn't waste time opening a drawer to find a table spoon; I went straight for the mixing spoon hanging on the hook above the stove. I opened the lid and heard the wonderful popping sound of the suction releasing. I stuck the spoon in and scooped. #NoPride

It was cold. It didn't matter. I sunk to the floor again and leaned against the cupboard. By the light of the fridge, I ate the whole jar. And it was delicious. In the blink of an eye it was gone. I looked down and saw that I had dripped on my leg, my shirt, the floor. I was too tired to care.


I don't remember going back to my room or climbing into bed. But I must have because I woke up there when my alarm screamed like a peacock on fire the next morning. I pulled myself out of bed and stumbled into the kitchen, hoping to find that it had all just been a bad dream. Hoping that I could still cling to my self respect, I turned the corner only to be confronted with a scene of horrific carnage.


There, on the floor lay a murdered jar of marinara. It had been decapitated and the lifeless lid lay in a pool of coagulated sauce on the cheap linoleum. The murder weapon spoon was located on the floor a few feet away, clearly strewn there in the assailant's attempt at a hasty retreat. The disarray and heinous nature of the scene indicated a crime of passion.


I turned around and walked back down the hall and got in the shower leaving the horror behind. I would deal with the mess later. I knew I couldn't be late to work. I still had an $1800 credit card bill to pay off. As the warm water flowed over my face washing away any remaining evidence of my crime, I slid a soapy hand across my belly and pinched the roll of fat that had made its home there.


Damn you, Rhonda. Damn you.


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