Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Fat Writer Walks Into a Bar by Karin Gillespie

Writing, like most professions, comes with its shares of occupational hazards. There’s Amazon-itis, the compulsive checking of one’s Amazon rating—usually most severe in debut novelists but even the old saws can’t always resist a daily peek or two or three… or ten. Also the unhealthy pallor from staring into the blue glow of the cathode ray tube for hours on end. Not to mention the looming risk of carpal tunnel, and nightmares of being forced to write an entire opus with one’s big toe.

But the real bugaboo, the tragic little secret is that, after several years as full-time writers, most of us transform from being thin, neurotic artistic types to… how should I put this delicately?…downright robust artistic types.

In other words, we become chunky monkeys.

I’m speaking from experience. And I know I’m not the only scribe who has far too much junk in the trunk, a bit too much butter on the bean.

Fact is I no longer resemble my author photo--taken in those lean, hungry pre-publication months—and I refuse to replace it with a more true-to-life Jabba the Hut version.

The weight snuck up on me. I kept telling myself I was retaining water, or pre-menstrual or post-menstrual or that my pants had shrunk in the wash. Unfortunately denial finally had a head-on collision with reality and I was forced to go up a couple of sizes.

That’s when I tried to accept my bloat: So what if I’m a little round, I’d rationalize. Life is short! Who wants to give up red wine, chocolate and the occasional Krispy Kreme run? Bring on the BLT.

But in truth I was a fair weather friend of my newly “enhanced” physique. Some days I’d strut around like Jennifer Hudson before she got skinny; most days I felt like the dumpiest woman on the planet.. There were times I didn’t recognize myself in photos. Do my arms really look like twin loafs of sour dough? When did I get that extra chin?

My weight issue started occupying far too much space in my mind. I was constantly touching my belly as a gauge. Am I having a fat day or a thin day? Would I ever lose weight? Where would I get the motivation?

It was an unforgiving hotel mirror that finally prompted me to take action. I had ways of tricking my home mirror (standing in front of it only while wearing head-to-toe black, high heels and Spanx) but this mirror bounced back my image just before I was getting into the shower… Enough said.

So I started a diet. Truth is I’m a pretty healthy eater. I love veggies, salads, fruit and fish. And I’ve always exercised, Most days I run four miles and two times a week I lift weights. But the combination of being in my mid forties, having a sedentary occupation, and coming from a less than svelte gene pool all added up to a couple of Michelin radials around my middle.

I decided to cut out all starches (except for fruit and yogurt in the morning to give me energy for my run) all sugars and… this was the hardest for me by far… all alcohol.

I LOVE red wine—how it smells and tastes—the way it looks in the glass like liquid rubies. I love the curve of the bottle, the wide-mouth goblets, the velvet feel of a Cab, the delicate bouquet of a Pinot and the slap-you-in-face, jammy taste of a Zin.

I thought I’d only last a day.

But here I am nearly THREE WEEKS later, and I’ve already dropped a size. (Not a real size mind you,. I went from a loose size eight to a tight size six. I’m five foot two and very fined-boned so a size eight is big for my body type.)

Do I miss the wine?

Every day when five o’clock rolls around the drum beats start up, growing more insistent with each passing minute; I swear I’m going to race to the liquor store, grab the first bottle I see (a screw top bottle; cork takes too long) and chugalug in the parking lot.

Instead I shush the drums and drink a diet Snapple instead. Eventually Dionysus’s siren song dies down.

I made a vow I’d go without the sauce for six weeks. When those six weeks are up, I’ll be less Chunky Monkey and more Skinny Minnie.

I’m hoping to lose ten pounds, and if I do…well, I will definitely drink to that.

P.S. One of my favorite reds is a Zin called Writer’s Block.

It’s about fifteen bucks and worth every nickel.

(Caution: Object in the box at right is much larger than it appears.)


  1. Ha! Karin, this post had me laughing out loud!! I totally hear you about the author photo! I took mine before I knocked out two babies and I refuse to take another! I promise to take a new one once I've dropped the baby weight. :)

    But giving up wine? You have the strength of a thousand men!!

  2. Oh, Karin, how I'd love to come hang out with you! You crack me up. :-) Perfect timing, as I'm feeling like I've got a double-wide trunk full of junk at the moment with this baby weight adding on. I figure it's the butt balancing out the big belly so I don't tip over. You got me thinking about author photos, too, and how mine was done seven years ago this summer (wow, where did the time go? And my skinny arms?). I'm thinking if I did an author pic while at my pregnant largest, then everyone who met me at signings throughout the next seven years would go, "Hmm, you don't look like your photo at all"--but they'd mean it in a good way this time. ;-) Good luck on your healthy crusade (no starches or sugars? Mama mia!). I hope you update us at some point and let us know what's going on!

  3. Karin
    I was just thinking (and looking at) my expanding girth before I read your post. Ack. The scale, when I step onto it, has a much higher number now than it once did. I have been slacking on the exercise and sneaking on the eating. Who I am fooling I do not know because fat does not lie (except around my hips!). Thanks for the post. Congratulations on your perseverance. Perhaps I will join you in Healthy-ville soon.

  4. You are so funny! And boy--does this hit close to home!! Thanks for the honesty ... and the laughs.

  5. Karin, you're my hero! You always find the humor in every situation. I, too, have fallen into this trap. I really think they should put out a warning to all would-be writers. I keep telling my husband it's the Freshman Fifteen all over again! Thanks for the chuckle!

  6. Teaching tends to do that also, all those hours of grading and planning, and the stress eating . . . I once demanded chocolate after a particularly tough confrontation during hall duty -- and the wise principal went and found me some chocolate! Retirement meant more time to exercise and less reason to eat for comfort. and soon my CSA will be producing veggies!!!

  7. This explains why we don't recognize one another at conferences. I will probably use my head shots until I'm 90, which makes me very glad they're not butt shots.

  8. It's so hard to stay svelte while sitting at a computer all day. However, writers conferences always make me happy, because you realize weight and looks usually have no bearing on the material. It's the book that matters when it comes to writing, so if an author gains a few pounds on the way to producing a great book, she or he is amply rewarded.

  9. Man, I'm five foot two and have never been below a size eight! I'm jealous! Good luck on your journey to better health :-)