After her doctor told her she could suffer a stroke, 38-year-old Susan Blech decided to take drastic measures to slim down from 468 pounds. Instead of gastric bypass surgery, Blech opted to relocated to Durham, N.C., and focus solely on shedding the weight and getting in shape. In “Confessions of a Carb Queen,” Blech opens up about her struggle to diet, her history of eating binges, the psychology of overeating and shares helpful advice on how to get healthy. Read an excerpt:
I smoothly convince myself, especially online, that I'm "only a little chubby." Since I rarely meet any of the men I chat with online, it's easy. I make excuses not to meet them. My whole life is conducted invisibly, on the phone.
I spend most of my days working from my apartment, obsessing about a sale or a shipment or trying to collect a payment. I'm supposed to go out on sales calls, but I rarely do. Some days, I barely get dressed. I pull on a T-shirt and a pair of black stretch pants and wrap my uncombed hair up in a ponytail and shuffle from my bedroom to my desk.
The phone rings at 8 a.m. or earlier: "Sue? I need computer paper, Sue." "An order didn't arrive, Sue." "Can I rush — Sue?" I say yes to everybody; that's my job, and I'm exhausted.
I order breakfast. The deli delivers two everything bagels, toasted, with extra vegetable cream cheese, two slices of American cheese on top of the cream cheese, and a fried egg and a tomato. For a snack, I ask them to include a pint of ice cream or a bag of Milano cookies or a pound of macaroni salad. They know me. They know not to screw it up. If the bagel arrives untoasted, I'll get on the phone with them and let them have it.
I order lunch. I start with the pizza place. I order a pasta dish — pasta puttanesca, which is pasta with olives, capers, and anchovies with extra extra Parmesan cheese on the side. When I call the Chinese take-out, they know my address by heart. The guy who always answers the phone stammers in broken English, "Yes, yes — yes, yes — we know." Susan from Long Beach doesn't have to give her phone number or house address. I always order the same thing: chicken wings, steamed vegetable dumplings, General Tso's chicken, fried rice, and egg roll. I leave the downstairs door open and the money on my countertop for each delivery. I don't like to get up in front of deliverymen. I need to order from two places so I'll have enough to nibble on during the afternoon until it's time for dinner.
At 5:30 p.m., I write up my last order of the day, assuring the customer that she'll have her computer supplies ASAP, no problem, and slam the phone down. I have to scramble to make sure that her order will go out, but I make it happen, again — another end-of-day emergency handled.
My head and shoulders and arms ache as if I've been hiking uphill. I've been in my apartment alone all day. I haven't moved except to eat.
But now it's time for dinner. I used to love to cook, but I don't anymore. I don't like to go food shopping anymore; it's too much work. People stare at me. Once, a little girl asked her mother if I was pregnant. Anyway, I don't have time to plan ahead, and I have no one to cook for but myself. I don't have the energy after a full day at work. It's not worth it anymore.
If I can walk down the stairs, I'll go for fast food. If I can't, I'll order from a different Chinese restaurant, the Szechuan one. I don't like ordering in from the same place twice in a day. I don't want them to think that's all I do — order in — that's not normal. The Szechuan place has better chicken wings anyway.
I have to eat. I debate, in or out? Tonight, I can make it to my car.
I don't comb my hair or wash my face. No one is going to see me; it's like the fat camouflages me. No one has to know the real me.
The smell of the ocean is near, but that's not the smell I'm after. My car is parked right in front, and I hurry to it. My mouth is watering even before I sink into the car and go.
I start on the main drag in Long Beach with the BK drive-thru and order a fish sandwich with extra extra tartar sauce and a Hershey pie. They have the best and bigger fish sandwiches. I drive off and eat and debate whether I'll go to McDonald's next because McDonald's is easily accessible on the left-hand side. I don't want to waste time crossing the road. Usually, I'd keep on the right-hand side of the road loop, and I do that tonight.
So, the next stop is Dunkin' Donuts. I finish the BK with gusto. I don't want the order-takers at Dunkin' Donuts to see my BK bags. At Dunkin' Donuts, I order an everything bagel with extra vegetable cream cheese, American cheese, and an egg. I debate whether I should order Dunkin' Donuts chocolate chip cookies or McDonald's (which is now definitely at the end of my loop). Tonight, I don't want to wait and order six chocolate chip cookies. I'm having a great time. I'm high. I'm blasting the radio.
Next stop is Taco Bell/Pizza Hut. How convenient that they are built together. I order a supreme personal pizza and nachos with extra extra cheese and sour cream. I wish that they had desserts there, but all they have are cinnamon twists, and those are just okay. Glad I got the cookies! I'm driving with one hand and eating with the other.
After I'm through with the evidence from each meal, I hide it under the seat. Other cars are hurrying home from the train station. But I'm not ready to go home yet. I'm flying. I'm buzzing.
McDonald's. I order another fish sandwich with extra extra tartar sauce — they have the good sauce — French fries and a McFlurry with extra extra M&Ms and Oreo cookies. Next, at KFC, I order only one thing: a Twister, a wrap of chicken strips with extra extra sauce. I have one more fast-food stop: Wendy's. I order an extra-large French fries — these taste different, more potatoey, and I like them the best — and a simple single with cheese. I'm doing good!
Before going home, I stop for my late-night snack. I pull through the Dairy Barn. There's a very overweight woman who slumps at the cash register.
I ask for my snack: a box of Yodels and a Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie frozen yogurt. The Häagen Dazs Mocha Chip ice cream was what I really wanted, but I didn't want to overdo it.
Her hair is pulled back from her face. She doesn't wear any makeup. It looks like it hurts her fingers — they are so swollen, bitten down, without any nail polish — to be a cashier. She languidly takes my money and, even more slowly, gives me change. I always compare myself with her, and in my mind, I always come out thinner.
Some weeks I spend $300 to $400 a week on fast food and deliveries, but it's worth it. Tonight, I'm in that sultry, full, near comatose state, surrounded by the smell of grease, salt, fish, meat, and sugar, clinging to my skin.
I slump back in my car seat. I don't want to leave. American flags wave on porches. I try not to move at all. It's like I've just spent an evening out with my friends partying at a great party.
And it's like I have a hole in my soul.
The first stars fade into the twilight. I love astronomy. I love really dark nights in the woods. We camped out a lot when we were kids. I want to wish on the first star, and try to form the words, star light, star bright. I let my mind wander over other things I could eat, and I stare out into infinity in a hazy, happy calm.
If I don't want my Chocolate Fudge Brownie frozen yogurt to melt — though I like it when the brownie chunks nestle into the soft, melting cream — it's less effort to eat — I'd better get going. It hurts to move my legs or to bend my stomach and sit straight up. I do it all in slow motion, as if I need to be guided by the stars.
But before I go into the house, I clean out my car. The salt of the sea settles on the street. I manage a deep breath with a little effort. I make sure the top of the garbage can is on tight and secure and drag the can to the curb for pickup.
I lock my car.
I step away from my car.
And with that, all that I have injected into my mouth evaporates. None of what I've eaten counts. Not one bite. That's the rule, if I eat in my car. It's as if the past 2 hours, my entire fast-food loop, didn't happen. I'm empty — that hole in my soul is bigger, not smaller.
Yet my mouth opens and a laugh comes out. Somehow I think I've gotten one over on someone. I carry my Yodels and frozen yogurt upstairs. I'll start my diet on Monday.
Excerpted from “Confessions of a Carb Queen” by Susan Blech. Copyright 2008 Susan Blech. Reprinted with permission from Rodale Books. All rights reserved.
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