Death by Dim Sim is Sarah Vincent’s tale of her battle with her weight, and finally losing 40 kilos. A crash dieter from an early age, when Vincent came to the realisation her lifestyle was killing her, she had completely lost touch with what ‘normal’ eating was. At 118 kilos and already with a lifetime of dieting behind her, she knew it was time for drastic measures. It took a nutritionist with a radical approach to weight-loss to break Vincent out of her old habits and get her on track to a healthy future.
Straight from the pages of Death by Dim Sim, here Vincent describes the moment she pressed send on what would become a life-changing email.
I was forty-seven years old. I’d spent thirty-four years struggling with my weight – thirty-four years of diet shakes and weight-loss books and slimming teas and thousand-dollar programs run by skinny twenty-year-olds with no training who had never had a weight problem in their thin, short lives. Yet I had avoided doing the sensible thing. I’d always gone for the solution that had the words fast or quick or easy (or preferably all three) in the title.
I’d always chased the miracle cure because, secretly, I thought there was something wrong with me and only a miracle would work. I thought about food all the time. All the time. When was I going to get it? How could I get it? Would anyone notice if I had a second helping? A third helping? Was that small tray of cheese the only food at the party? Would my husband find the stash of chocolate under the bed? Would the kids discover I’d eaten all their Easter eggs and replaced them with new ones, again?
I felt panic in situations where I couldn’t control how much food I would get and when I would get it. And yet, with all my eating, the weird thing was that I was never satisfied. Never. No amount of food was actually ever enough. After finishing a big meal I would start thinking, almost immediately, about the next thing I could eat.
Of course this waxed and waned over the years. Sometimes, when I had been particularly happy, food hadn’t been so dominant, such as when I was caught up in a writing project, or falling in love with Russell or on a big family holiday with the kids. But it had been waxing much more then waning in the past few years, with my cancer, then my stressful job, then my husband’s cancer and breakdown.
And some of the so-called miracles had actually worked – for a bit. I had sometimes lost weight and even got down to a size fourteen or even a twelve starving every step of the way. But I had always put it all back on again.
The only time I actually stopped thinking about food was after my own cancer, when I fell apart. I would wake up each morning with one thought in my head: What terrible thing is going to happen today? And I’d ask that one question over and over all day until I went to bed where I would lie awake asking it all night before slipping into a few hours of restless sleep full of dreams where horrible things happened to me and my family and I couldn’t stop them. My cancer had come at the end of a very stressful period in our lives. My father had died, I’d been retrenched from my previous job and I’d been diagnosed with cancer all in the space of eighteen months. Prone to anxiety attacks since my twenties, I was now living with constant dread and terror.
I finally found relief with anti-anxiety medication, counselling and time – good, old-fashioned time. And as few bad situations don’t have the sliver of good, the sliver I took from that experience was that it was actually possible for me to not focus on food every waking minute. I hoped a nutritionist would help me find that happy place again – but without the cancer diagnosis this time.
So, there I was. Done with gimmicks and contacting a nutritionist. Okay, emailing her. Email felt so much less immediate than phoning. I was hoping to put off the alfalfa sprouts as long as I could because I knew it was going to be tough. I knew I was about to lose all my crutches and comforts and coping mechanisms and I had nothing much to replace them with.
I started typing and told the nutritionist I wanted to learn how to eat normally and lose weight. I told her I was very committed. I didn’t tell her I was also terrified.
But the biggest motivation of all wasn’t me. It was our children. I’d watched my mother go on and off diets all her life and had seen how her confidence was totally connected to her weight. With my mother’s encouragement, I had started dieting at the age of thirteen. I didn’t want that for my kids. I wanted them to have a happy relationship with food and to not see it as an enemy that had to be constantly battled and defeated. That it was just, well, food.
I pressed send.
I hadn’t chosen just any nutritionist – one I could dump when it got too hard, one with whom I could cancel appointments and then eventually say, ‘I’m so busy. I’ll call you to make the next appointment when things settle down,’ and never call them again, like I’d done on so many other weight-loss programs. The skinny twenty-year-olds would leave messages about how much they missed me, messages that were easy to ignore. They didn’t miss me. They missed my wallet.
Aprille, the nutritionist, would not be so easy to ignore.
I had chosen her for one big reason: we knew each other. Our kids went to the same primary school. We lived in the same neighbourhood, shopped at the same shops and had friends in common. Our families went to the same parks and markets and festivals; we sat on committees together and would see each other regularly at the school gate.
There would be no blowing Aprille off when it all got too hard.
The other reason I chose Aprille was because she wasn’t a skinny twenty-year-old. Sure, she was skinny. Tiny. I could fit her into one leg of my pants. And she glowed with good health. Literally glowed, like there was a roman candle inside her. But surprisingly, for someone who now ran marathons and went on epic 100 kilometre bike rides, she had been overweight when she was a teenager. When she was a new mum she had got her weight under control and then gone back to uni to study nutrition. She had just graduated and started a business teaching people like me how to manage their food.
And she was no pushover. Aprille has a smile that could light up a Christmas tree but she was also fiercely focused with a wicked sense of humour and a finely honed bullshit detector. She was the one for me.
She responded to my email and suggested that we set up a time to meet at my house. Why? I wondered. So she could look in my cupboard? But I reluctantly agreed. After all, this time I was serious. And besides – all the really bad food was under my bed.