Thursday, August 9, 2012

Before the Biggest Loser

Who doesn’t need extra money every now and then and if you say you don’t you’re just lying to yourself.  I don’t care if you do or you don’t but at least be honest about it.  Some of us we’ll do whatever we have to do to earn a buck short of stripping or whoring, oh wait I’ve done that too.  But pretending to be an expert of diet and nutrition?  Yea, been there done that. 

It was mid 90’s and my husband and I were shacking up.  So while he continued to pay all the expense of his soon to be ex-wife’s home and their 2 kids we had to suck up the slack in our wallets by working random PT jobs on top of our FT jobs just to eat (and drink, alcohol has always been a staple in my life.)  He worked at an electronics store and played the role of annoying sales guy working the floor trying to get you to buy a warranty for a calculator.  I on the other hand took a quite respectable position working nights as receptionist for a weight loss center, Nutri System.  It was the big boom of shit flavored freeze dried foods guaranteed to shed pounds.

My job was to check these people in and out for their appointment – simple right.  I got to know the names and faces quickly so I was friendly and congenial when they walked in.  “Oh, you look good, how was your week.”  Random hopeful, “I hope it was better than last week, I really starved myself this week.” Me in my best academy award winning performance, “Well it shows.”  Excited random hopeful, “Really!?”  No not really.  Food is not always your friend, in many, many cases it is the enemy!  (I know this all too well now and thank Entenmann’s chocolate fudge cake, Little Debbie and whoever came up with Dots!)

Aside from checking the people in for their appointments I had to check them out which meant restocking their weekly menu.  They got to choose their 7 days worth of breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.  Some of them just went for the snacks.  “Can I substitute all my breakfasts for snacks?”   "No, that's not how it works.” I had to wonder, if they don't like the food and they're going to eat what they want anyway, why were they here? Luckily I didn't have to answer that question because my only job was to put the food in the bag, not solve their life problems. 

For the FT counselors this was a stressful job, apparently they had goals to meet.  For me I never paid attention, just answered the phones, filled shopping bags with food and hung out.  Until one day a counselor did not show up for work and it was go time.  The manager asked me if I would be comfortable filling in, since I knew all the clients anyway.   Maybe I did but it never got personal.  I didn’t know what went on behind those closed doors, what they talked about.  Of course I did it anyway.  I was given a 5 second lesson in how to take and read someone’s blood pressure, count the first heart beat and the last – ok.  I also learned how to weigh people on the industrial scale.  I was never a mathematician, numbers, adding and subtracting in my head especially in the 3 digits not my strong point. 

I had to familiarize myself with client charts.  What their history was, how long they had been coming, what their weight loss or gain was week over week and then there were also notes, notes about their feelings, their lives, their weaknesses – what made them eat.  If the numbers had gone up there were questions like, did anything change or happen in your life to make you turn to food for comfort.  What the hell!  I am no therapist.  I’ve got my own issues to deal with; I need a therapist for God’s sake!  Other counselor’s notes read something like, ‘bad work week’, ‘lost job’, ‘kids were sick’, ‘fight with husband’ I never signed up for all this. I was happy just putting the shit in the bag. I had no interest in this level of responsibility. At this point in my life I could barely keep a plant alive let alone be in charge of someone's mental and emotional state.  So when the next thing happened I felt really bad at the time (kind of still do) but took no accountability for it whatsoever.  

I was weighing in one of our larger clients.  You can tell that she didn’t have many friends, she ate alone everyday (this was written in her chart).  No kids or family to speak of.  She was a lonely soul and food was her best friend.  We chatted for a few minutes and I asked her about her week.  When we wrapped up the idle chit chat it was judgment time, belly up to the scale.  I set the scale to the prior week’s weight, or so I thought I did.  By some miracle she had lost 11 pounds – a miracle she found hard to believe in.  I have to say it was a good feeling telling her that and watching her excitement.  I’m two days in on this new responsibility thing of weighing these people in and I had already formed a soft spot for them and I felt good.  I really wanted them to do well, I was now part of the journey and I would get to watch and weigh each week.  Two days in to my new confidence building counselor role and I’m feeling like Dr. Oz.    It wasn’t until after she left and I was finishing her chart that I realized I had put in the wrong starting weight and that she hadn’t actually lost 11 pounds but had gained 4.  Oh crap! That sucks and she was gone, not that I would be the one to tell her of my enormous mistake, she would find out next week when she weighed back in and gained ‘x’ amount.

That’s exactly what happened.  I never told any of the other counselors or manager what I had done.  I knew she would come in to see me next week and I could just pretend that she had a bad week and gained a few, it would all even out in the end – right?  So we chatted, she told me all about her week and how great it was.  She had been on a new high since last week with the amazing weight loss.  So much that she ate in the cafeteria at work at a table with other people.  This woman had gained confidence and I was about to shoot an arrow through her heart.  I did not want to be a fat counselor anymore but she was there, it was my job, I had to do it.  Up on the scale and I can’t believe the number, crap!  She gained 9 lbs.  But really I had told her she lost 11 which was not the case and she gained 9 of those fake 11 lbs back.  But it was too late I couldn’t tell her I had made that mistake.  Holy shit – she was devastated.  Apparently losing 11 lbs in one week when you weren’t really trying gave her the motivation she needed to actually try and it worked.  I mean 2 lbs is still a loss but to her it was a gain because she will never know.  I felt like shit.  I could not believe that I had such an impact on this woman; I just wanted a PT job answering phones God dammit.  The next few weeks she gained and gained, 13 lbs in one week.  After that she stopped coming in; after that I stopped working there. 

Obviously since I’m writing about it it’s something I still think about and wonder what would have happened had I done things differently.  And maybe things did happen differently; maybe she continued on at another weight loss center or hey maybe she is going to be the next ‘Biggest Loser’ – who knows, but I really hope so.

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