As I’ve mentioned before, I spent a major part of my adult life losing fifteen pounds. It wasn’t always the same fifteen pounds. But I did it over and over again, until I probably had lost nearly a cumulative thousand of them. And then when I was already collecting Social Security, which was many decades after the first loss (and re-gain), it began to seem a foolish preoccupation. If every year there was less and less life left to live, why spend so much of it agonizing about how much of me there was or wasn’t, when I could spend more of it actually living?

That was when I invaded my savings to join a non-pretentious, non-judgmental low-profile gym that cost quite a bit of money, which made it clearly counterproductive to comfort myself with chocolate cake when things didn’t go my way. As they used to say in the old country, we grow old too soon, and smart too late.

It began long before, of course, with the well-known “freshman fifteen.” Except in my case, I arrived at college an unnatural fifteen pounds down from the comfortably rounded weight I carried through high school. Once I learned I had won a full scholarship to a prestigious girls’ college my parents could never have afforded on their own, I went into serious training to take complete social advantage of this opportunity, guided by visions of the slender and narrow-boned models who appeared every year in the college issue of Mademoiselle magazine. I myself had peasant bones, but that didn’t keep me from limiting my daily nutritional intake to a spartan 750 calories divided between breakfast and dinner, with a vigorous hour’s walk during lunchtime to speed the fat-burning process.

I arrived on campus successful: I looked properly emaciated, with my hipbones jutting out in my narrow new college clothes. I was also starving, and soon began to eat back the lost pounds – aided by starchy college food, coke and candy machines in every dorm, and a disinclination to get drunk on disappointing dates, preferring food binges by myself in my room when life let me down. The first time the fifteen pounds came back, I panicked. What would my mother say when I got home? (It was she who had invested her household savings in my fashionable new college wardrobe, dreaming no doubt of potential wealthy son-in-laws.) In the three weeks before the end of the college year, I drank unsweetened tea, swallowed amphetamine-laced diet pills from the local drugstore, and savored only two thin slices of roast beef for dinner (250 calories?) until my new clothes fit again.

Coping mechanisms tend to be habit-forming. I also gained and lost a “sophomore fifteen” between September 1949 and June 1950 and gained them back during my junior year. That spring, alas, I had two major papers to write – one on “All’s Well That Ends Well” and the other on the minor novels of Dostoevsky; I needed nourishment right until the end. I came home in June 1951 without a summer job and with my skirt held together by safety pins.

My first college summer I had worked and had a serious boyfriend. The second summer I went to Europe on the money I’d saved to go to college and now didn’t need for that. But this third summer, the boyfriend was gone, my father was working in Texas, my mother was all alone in the apartment, it seemed too late to look for temporary work, and so I decided to make it my full-time job to get rid of those fifteen pounds for good.

It would be my last chance before I had to contend with “Real Life,” a last chance to have the glamorous college year I hadn’t had so far. I therefore embarked on training for this final year as seriously as I had trained for the first, except that then I hadn’t anticipated the possibility of eventual failure. Now, with several dietary defeats already under my belt (I speak metaphorically; the belt itself was in a drawer, pending a smaller waistline), I was not only determined but desperate. I had already learned my worst enemy was me.

[To be continued…..]


  1. I spent most of Freshman year trying to keep the weight on that I worked so hard to reach. It was a very large, walking campus, and I ate 3 full meals at the dorm, plus a nightly snack of hoagies, pizza, etc. and I still was losing lbs. I want to say “those were the days”, but as I’d spent most of my life underweight, it was frustrating. Looking forward to your next installment, Nina. ☺

    Liked by 1 person

    • You, Van, were the sort of classmate I envied! I would have changed places with you in a heartbeat! Next installment(s) are about the craziness of a summer with nothing in it but watching what you eat. I hope it won’t be boring!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Nina, a lot rides on weight in college, to fit in. But, then it’s probably true forever in life. I laugh thinking of weight printed on a driver’s licence. I’ve had a guesstimate for years. Not weighing and go by clothes size. I do remember younger years, the obsession with a tape measure. And the struggle to wear straight skirts! Look forward to your… to be continued… Chryssa

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chryssa, I was truly crazy when young, in just about every way except doing well in school. (I was always aware that keeping that full scholarship depended entirely on me!) In that I still step on a scale every morning, I probably still am pretty crazy, in at least in that way. I’m just more permissive about it. The “to be continued” part will really be only more youthful craziness. As I commented to Van, I hope it won’t be too boring….


  3. Rita Stewart

    You know of course that idea that women’s appearance and size are still the endless topic of conversation among us babes. Sadly we are all victims of this obsession to look like emaciated models. I await the next installment eagerly!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think I stopped talking about it long ago, feeling too vulnerable myself. I do still quietly notice extra pounds on hips though, especially when they’re not my hips. If only we lived in those countries where fat women are prized because they show the world their men have the resources to feed them properly! Next installment(s) are about obsession all right, which may or may not be interesting. I was quite a fruitcake in my time!


    • Thank you, Barbara. But what makes you think I’m relaxing? Fall is coming, with its (now) three book groups resuming their activities, a course in Shakespeare for adult learners, piano lessons (and daily practice!), tutoring a Princeton international student in English conversation, and a feeble vow to begin walking more now that the weather’s cooler. Plus, of course, the blog and its insistent demand for material. Grrrr…..


  4. Now I find out that Dostoevsky also wrote minor novels!?! I’m just now working my way through Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina.” After that, I’m committed to “War And Peace.” I will never get around to the minor novels of any Russian author.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Gambler. Notes from the Underground. Those are just two of more whose names I’ve now forgotten — “minor” in the sense that they are shorter and less comprehensive in their view of life. If you’ve embarked on a course of reading the major novels of the major Russian novelists, you have many many months — if not years — of reading ahead of you. You’re going to be quite busy this winter!


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