I guess I was inspired when I walked into the office kitchen and saw a man staring into the blender. He's a big guy, a former Navy man and bullet-dodging war correspondent. A man who can power lunch with the best of them. And there he was, watching his thick, rich, delicious Ultra Slim-Fast shake whir to perfection.
Ah, yet another one of us who had been snared by those six formerly fat NFL coaches shouting in unison from our TV screens: "If we can do it, you can do it."
"It's marketing genius," my colleague explained, pouring his frothy lunch into a glass. "They market to men. Men won't follow women into something, but women will follow men."
My feminist instincts should have reared up at this, but he's probably right. About this same time I was going to war with my gene pool. I had weighed 125 pounds for years, and at 5'7", that wasn't bad. But like magic, my turning 40 pushed some metabolic button. My grandmothers began to turn up in my body. In later life, they were both shaped—not coincidentally—like refrigerators.
October 20, 1991
Then one day I awakened to find that apparently the steam heat had gone berserk during the night and had shrunk all my blue jeans. I stepped on the scale: The number 140 stared back. I heard the six fat coaches lined up in my TV like the Rockettes, calling out, "If we can do it...."
O.K., Art Shell, be with me now, I thought as I zealously bought a can of Ultra Slim-Fast. Instead, when I opened it, Los Angeles Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda fell out of the can, grinning at me from The Slim-Fast Newsletter. He assured me that "It tastes great so you don't feel deprived," and that I could Slim-Fast two or three times a day and still have "a sensible solid-food meal."
Five years ago I wouldn't have guessed that Lasorda, a potbellied, foul-mouthed, three-knockwursts-for-lunch kind of guy, would become the hero of the tofu set. What happened was that during spring training in 1988, Dodgers Orel Hershiser and Kirk Gibson bet Lasorda, who at the time appeared to be about to give birth, that he couldn't lose 30 pounds by the All-Star break. Coincidentally, Lasorda heard about the plight of the Sisters of Mercy in Nashville. Their convent had been condemned, and the nuns needed money for a new home. Lasorda suggested that the winning jackpot go to the sisters, and Hershiser and Gibson agreed. Slim-Fast Foods hooked up with Lasorda, the nuns got a nice home, and Slim-Fast moved on to football's corpulent coaches. "It was really pretty easy," says Slim-Fast manager of sports entertainment Alan Brown. "There were a lot of heavy coaches to choose from."
So in February 1990, Slim-Fast challenged three AFC coaches (Shell of the L.A. Raiders, Dan Henning of the San Diego Chargers and Chuck Knox of the Seattle Seahawks) to take on three of their NFC counterparts (Joe Gibbs of the Washington Redskins, Bill Parcells formerly of the New York Giants and Buddy Ryan formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles) to a weight-losing contest. For each pound shed, the Miami Project, an organization of doctors, medical researchers and physical therapists dedicated to finding a cure for paralysis, would receive $500. "They were all really good boys," says Barri Rafferty, another Slim-Fast spokesperson. "We were a little worried about Chuck Knox at first, he was so big, but he really impressed us. He lost 63 pounds and changed his whole life."
At the coaches' weigh-in six months later, Knox stole the show. He, Shell and Henning led the AFC to victory, losing, a total of 143.4 pounds, or 18% of their total body weight. NFC tubbies Gibbs, Par-cells and Ryan dropped 105.5 pounds, or 13.8% of their body weight. Together, the six coaches lost 248.9 pounds, thus making $124,450 for the Miami Project.
And it didn't stop there. Soon Monday Night Football analyst Dan Dierdorf was showing sports fans the new slim him. Then, says Rafferty, "Kathie Lee Gifford started Slim-Fasting, and so did Frank. What happened is that he'd gained weight while she was pregnant." Oh.
So now, like a chemist I would stand in the office kitchen and measure eight ounces of low-fat milk and a heaping scoopful of powdered stuff into the blender. A few seconds later I would have 12 ounces of thick, rich, delicious shake. That meant four ounces of air, the way I figured it. Hah, take that, stomach—thick, rich, delicious, satisfying air. Occasionally, I felt a strong desire to be rocked and burped.
I bought a high-tech digital scale and plunked it right down on the floor of the ladies' room at my office. Making a public spectacle of my diet, I reasoned, would give me reinforcement. But I ran into trouble. First of all, my chocolate shake, cried out to be accompanied by a Big Mac, a wail I sometimes heeded. Then, I don't know if it was thinking of Lasorda and the ballpark or what, but I found that now that I Slim-Fasted, my feet invariably pivoted on the sidewalk in the direction of the ubiquitous hot-dog trucks that dot my city's streets.
Then there was the time everybody in my office was eating pizza. I righteously stood over my blender while great wads of mozzarella spiked with pepperoni slid down their throats. A young jock in the office felt sorry for me. "Why don't you just do like wrestlers do and use Ex-Lax and speed?" he said. "It's real fast." That night at home, because I felt so morose, my one sensible meal was a half pan of sausage lasagna followed by a hot fudge sundae, which I had lovingly placed on a brownie—a brownie with nuts.
One rainy day a friend watched me weigh in at 142 pounds. "It could be," she said sympathetically, "that some humidity soaked into your clothes on the way in."
"Uh-huh," I said. Then I really started getting mad. Here I was, a grown woman who was going from a size 10 to a size John Madden, and blaming it all on the barometric pressure.
I bought more Ultra Slim-Fast. Some DynaTrim. Some Eat 'N Lose. I got hold of a can of the West Coast rage, California Slim. I did not, however, buy—at $17.95 for 16 ounces—Dick Gregory's Bahamian Diet. I would rather look like John Madden.
People gave me advice as I stood over the blender. "That stuff will make you bitchy," a colleague said. "It'll make you a little crazy," said a friend. I'm usually both those things anyway. I blended away.
Now Lasorda's newsletter suggests that you drink six to eight glasses of water a day with the Slim-Fast plan. It notes, too, that users may experience some intestinal "discomfort." Ho! Just try pouring half a gallon of water down your throat on top of 18 grams of pea fiber, purified cellulose, soy fiber and oat fiber.
I found that my regimen made me much more active. I strapped my little German odometer to my ankle and noted that I was logging an extra half mile a day back and forth to the ladies' room. By the second week I began to experience this peculiar sense of dèjà vu. Where had I seen, smelled, mixed this lumpy powder?
All of a sudden it hit me. Wayne Calfnip! This stuff reminded me of Wayne Calfnip. When I was a kid on a farm in Illinois, we got Calfnip from the feed store in large drums. We mixed this powdered-milk concoction with water and served it up in buckets to the baby calves. Sometimes there was a little for the pigs and goats. The cats loved it, and the dog drank it, too.
On a whim, I called the Wayne Feeds people back in Fort Atkinson, Wis. They faxed me a label. I studied it. Calfnip and Slim-Fast share 11 ingredients.
O.K., they are a little different, and Wayne certainly doesn't recommend that humans drink Calfnip. But at about $32 for a 50-pound bag, it's a lot cheaper than Slim-Fast. What's more, when the barrel is empty you can stuff your little sister in it and roll her down a hill to make her scream.
I don't happen to have a cow in the city, but I began mixing up batches of Slim-Fast, Eat 'N Lose, California Slim and DynaTrim for my urban backyard creatures. One night the cat spent a lot of time—with ears swiveling in uncertainty—dipping his tongue into French vanilla Ultra Slim-Fast. Another time the opossum licked long and hard at mocha California Slim. And almost every night the raccoon was up to his elbows in the DynaTrim. He loved DynaTrim.
It was on one of these nights, as I sat all alone in the wee hours watching a raccoon lick DynaTrim from his feet, that I decided things had gone too far. It had been six weeks. Through all the purified cellulose and soy fiber and oat fiber I had lost 10 pounds. Realistically, that was probably going to be it. It occurred to me that running diet-shake taste tests on the opossum could be a sign of boredom.
Then, somehow, I started thinking about my chubby little grandmothers. They were awfully nice. Had wonderful, soft laps. And they sure could bake. I can remember coffee cakes and èclairs and cherry tortes that were....
Messrs. Lasorda, Gibbs, Shell, et al., thank you very much. Ten pounds are gone. My blender is tired. My raccoon is trim.
Now take me out, Coach. I'm going to go make a cream puff to die for.