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Finding ItAnd Finally Satisfying My Hunger for Life
By Valerie Bertinelli
Free PressCopyright © 2010 Valerie Bertinelli
All right reserved.
I shouldn't have been offended when my boyfriend Tom walked in on me and commented on my underwear. But I was. Most women would agree—and may even have had the same conversation. I was cleaning out my dresser drawers as I packed for a weekend trip to Laguna Beach for my forty-ninth birthday. Tom came in and began sifting through a pile of t-shirts, bras, and underwear that I put on the bed in a “discard” pile. Without asking what I was doing, he jumped into the middle of the process and came up holding a pair of skin-colored panties as if they were fresh roadkill.
“I hope you aren't going to bring these to the beach,” he said.
“As a matter of fact, no, I wasn't,” I said. “They're being thrown out, along with everything else in that pile.” Still, I was curious what he had against them, a perfectly nice pair of underwear.
“What's wrong with them?” I asked.
“They're granny panties,” he said.
Granny panties? I gave him a look that said, “Oh, really, buster. You think so?” I had just spent nearly two years having lost 40 pounds; actually a little more at this time. I hadn't gone through that effort to cover my rear end in drapes. My underwear drawer included bikini-style panties, sheer panties, white panties, black panties, a couple of pastel-colored panties, panties whose lines weren't visible through pants, panties I wore to business meetings, panties I wore when I worked out, panties I wore on special occasions, and panties that said I was in the mood. I had panties for nearly every occasion. The one thing I didn't have were granny panties.
I grabbed the pair in question from Tom. I studied them for a second or two and decided he had no idea what he was talking about.
“These are bikini-style, but with a wider waistband,” I explained. “If I had them on, you could still see my belly button.”
“V, I'm going to tell you something,” he said. “I hope you don't take offense at hearing it. But you've had some nasty underwear, and these are at the top of the list.”
“Oh. My. God,” I said, tossing the undies back in the throw-out pile. “You don't know what you're talking about.”
“Quite the contrary,” he said. “I'm a guy. I know about women's underwear.”
A dozen different responses came to mind, none of them nice. I chose a response that is rarely part of my repertoire: I bit my tongue and said nothing. I knew Tom's theory about women's underwear was typical of most men. It consisted of grand expectations (my undies were supposed to be chosen for his pleasure, not my convenience or comfort), disappointment (they could never be small enough), and something I'll call “lack-of-string theory”— basically, they increased in size with age until they got so large that women needed the local fire department's hook and ladder brigade to pull them up (not true of mine in any way, shape, or size, thank you very much!).
I have a different take. I think that the slingshot-sized thongs that Tom and most men think of as ideal are thoroughly uncomfortable. After a few men walk around with what is essentially a string of dental floss up their butt all day, I would gladly talk to them about women's underwear. That said, panties are a fairly accurate indicator of the way a woman feels about herself.
As Tom would find out once we got to Laguna, I was feeling pretty good about myself.
In many ways, I was better than ever. Just a month earlier, I had let the world see me in a bikini. I'd shot a commercial and a magazine cover, wearing for the first time what I had not dared put on in almost thirty years. I was a little uncomfortable showing that much skin, but, hey, I'd worked my butt off getting in shape, so why not show off a little?
But getting in a bikini was only part of the story. There was so much more that people couldn't see because the transformation had taken place on the inside, deep down in the gooey center. When I saw myself on the cover of People magazine, I noticed glimpses of it in my eyes. Granted, most people weren't looking there. But I saw a light and an alive-ness and a renewed hunger for life that hadn't been there since I was a kid, back before I'd eaten my way through life's challenges, insecurities, fears, and disappointments.
I was serious when I said, “I can't believe I did it.” But I was talking about more than just fitting into a bikini.
Losing forty pounds was an accomplishment, and getting into a bikini was the exclamation point to all that effort. But anyone who has lost weight—and kept it off—knows that shedding pounds is only the first step in the much bigger and longer project of transformation. But I hadn't known this. Why? I had never kept the weight off.
Over the years, I had gone on more diets than I could count or even remember. Every one of them had worked. I had lost weight. But up till now, I had always failed to keep it off. I'm not alone here. Millions of people know what I'm talking about. Everyone who has gone on a diet knows how to lose weight. All of us are very good at it. The problem is, few of us know how to keep it off. According to the research I found, between 92 and 95 percent of those who lose weight on a diet end up regaining every one of those pounds, and sometimes a few more, within five years. That's insane. It's a problem. And it begs the question, what are we doing wrong?
I thought about this after I reached my weight-loss goal and announced to those following my progress that I was transitioning to maintenance. Then, I woke up that next day and the day after and on days after those and asked myself, What does that mean, maintenance?
One day, I said to myself, “Holy crap! I've been here before and messed up. What had I done wrong? What do I have to do differently this time to keep the weight off?”
Well, as far as I'm concerned, this is the part of weight loss that no one ever talks about: the reality of keeping it off. I think the reason why so many of us have always gained back our weight after months of hard work, self-discipline, and sweat is that we don't know what to do once we hit our goal. We aren't given this crucial information.
I want to change that. Having lost 40 pounds and kept it off for a year, I have figured some things out and acquired some wisdom and insight that I wish I had known as I set out on my weight-loss journey, starting with one fact: Above and beyond all else, losing weight and maintenance are two completely different endeavors.
I had assumed that switching gears from losing weight to maintenance simply meant watching what I ate and exercising daily, but in a more relaxed mode. I was wrong. Maintaining this new, slimmer, healthier version of myself required even more work. Harder work, too.
Talk about a shock!
Talk about a revelation!
When I looked at this new, thinner version of myself, the one who had reached her goal by losing 40 pounds, the one who was supposedly ready to change gears into maintenance, I realized that I wasn't finished. Inside, I didn't feel finished. As it turned out, I wasn't.
I didn't. As I said, on previous diets, I had always lost weight and then regained it plus some extra. I had never been able to keep it off. I would hit my goal, give myself a few days of leniency for good behavior, maybe reward myself with a treat or two and, before I knew it, the weight was piling back on.
This time I vowed not to let that happen to me. However, after losing weight in front of the world, I didn't want to go through the humiliation of regaining it in front of world. I shuddered at the thought of going into the supermarket and seeing the headlines, “Valerie Bertinelli Fat Again.” I didn't want to disappoint myself, either.
That was the real issue. I looked good, I felt great, and most important I was learning to like myself more and more. I didn't want to lose any of that. In fact, as I discovered, I wanted to keep going! I couldn't believe it. Losing weight was an eye-opener—a game-changer, as they say on the sports channels.
Losing weight was merely the beginning of a process, and I needed to get in sync with that reality and act accordingly. In other words, by dieting, I had only fixed one problem, my weight. To maintain it, I had to work on everything else—all the things that had made me get fat in the first place.
For me, maintenance became not an effort to keep my weight the same but a daily effort to continue to evolve and grow and work at becoming my best self. Since I began, I have found it exciting, frustrating, challenging, confusing, and ultimately the most rewarding project I have tackled. It should be. It's my life!
In this book, I talk about some of the busiest, hardest, and best days of my life. My teenage son, Wolfie, fell in love; Tom's four wonderful children became more involved in our life together; my mom battled a serious illness; and on top of everything, I worked my butt off (literally) to get into bikini shape for a new Jenny Craig marketing campaign—as if, at age forty-eight, I needed that additional test.
Without knowing any better until I dived in, I needed it more than I realized. It took me to the next level, and along the way I was able to look at the big issues in my life, including family, career, health, friendship, and faith. Though I wasn't always clear about what I believed, my definition of maintenance came to include a deeper sense of faith, a closer relationship with God, and an attempt to find a sense of peace and comfort.
In many ways, the problems I have had to confront sound like a season's worth of plots on a family sitcom. But I'll take that over the alternatives. As far as I'm concerned, it's better—and healthier—to laugh than overeat. (Laughing also burns calories. How convenient!) These are tough times for all of us. If you don't believe me, turn on the TV, read a newspaper, or just listen to me argue politics with my father.
But there's hope that life will work out. I found hope, and continue to find it, in unlikely places. And I've seen other people find it, too. We have a new president who, agree with him or not, recognizes that hope above all else is what offers light on the darkest of days.
I came to realize (and I hope you will, too) that success isn't measured solely by stepping on the scale. That's part of it. But the way you and I want to feel goes beyond what we weigh every morning. You have to pay attention to the voice you hear in your head (the good one) and the feeling in your heart.
As you read further, you will see that I have tried to tell the kinds of stories that I would have wanted to hear or needed to hear as I switched gears from dieting to maintenance. In a way, it's as if I'm opening up my underwear drawer for the world to look at. You're going to find all styles and colors—except for granny panties—and learn about the stuff that wasn't necessarily visible, the stuff that happened to me on the inside as I continued on this crazy, fun, frustrating, emotional, and joyous journey of trying to create my best and healthiest self.
Two years ago I set out to lose weight. I succeeded, but ended up embarking on a whole other journey to find whatever that elusive thing was that had been missing in my life; the thing that once I found it, would give me peace and make me feel good, as if everything was okay and as it should be; the thing that would satisfy my physical as well as inner hunger.
This is my story of that search.
One more thing: please know that I don't always know what I'm doing, but I know that trying is much better than the alternative. If life has one constant, it's change. Like it or not, all of us experience change. We change diapers, change outfits, change relationships, jobs, dress sizes, ages, opinions? or change the way we look at ourselves and, ultimately, our lives.
I needed to make a change in my life, a big one, and I did. In order to maintain that success, I realized I needed, and in fact wanted, to continue to transform and evolve. And along the way I realized that the constant remolding of our gooey center is the key to enjoying life's desserts—even if we are watching our weight.
© 2009 Tuxedo Ltd.
Excerpted from Finding It by Valerie Bertinelli Copyright © 2010 by Valerie Bertinelli. Excerpted by permission.
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