I hate groups. Always have. I train at home rather than at a gym, walk on the beach at off-hours, even abstain from writing retreats. Some people call me a snob. Others, anti-social. "Whatever I can't do on my own isn't worth doing," I always counter, "and at 59, I'm not about to change.

One day, over coffee, friends were discussing diet clubs. In a detached sort of way I listened to their tales of weekly weigh-ins, the round of 'true confessions' ('I overate at a wedding', 'the weekend in Eilat killed my diet') and the tips offered by the group leader.

"Sounds like a nightmare," I said, "Sitting with a bunch of airheads discussing calories."

Tall, and well, big, I've always been quite comfortable in my 5'7" frame. I love to shop, but avoid Zara's skinny jeans and tiny tops in favor of Nitsa's black slacks and loose shirts. As for the five kilos that had crept up on me as quietly as my padded life, the 'I'm not about to change' thing suited me just fine.

"A diet group would make a great article," I told my husband over lasagna that night.

"Are you planning to join?"

He's the first person to compliment me and the last to criticize. I couldn't help wondering if his raised eyebrow expressed surprise or hope.

"One meeting," I said. "I'll get material and get out of there."

So it was that I found myself sitting in the back row or Haifa's Ya L'Banim auditorium. Thirty women sat in front of me, some neckless, others with rolls of fat pressing at lycra shirts. Shoshi, founder and leader of "Forever Slim" was standing near the stage, where last-minute stragglers were weighing in on a digital scale.

"I'm Tova," the woman next to me said. Her pudgy hands rested on a paunch.

"I'm an observer," I answered.

"No spectators allowed," Shoshi called out, motioning me forward with an impatient flick of the wrist.

"This is my first meeting." Tova fidgeted with her purse as I maneuvered my way around her legs.

"Mine too." As I reached the aisle, I turned before making my way to the stage. "Don't worry." I felt guilty for not coming clean about my plan. "It's only a scale."

What a crock! I had studiously avoided the damned things for most of my adult life. As I walked up the steps to the stage and approached the stainless steel monster, I realized that all I wanted was to do an about face and run.

"Quickly," Shoshi ordered. "You're holding up the line."

One foot after the other, I stepped on the scale's base. Numbers flashed on the digital panel, then stopped. 81. Impossible! Sure, my clothes had felt tighter lately, but it's common knowledge that today's size 44 is yesterday's 40. Circles of flesh had begun to pucker around my rings, but with the summer heat and all. ..... I'd long ago stopped breathing in a bathing suit and belts were a thing of the past.

Maybe Shoshi's scale was off. Maybe I should have peed beforehand. And my jeans were certainly worth a kilo or two.

"This can't be right," I said. "I've weighed 70 for years."

"Heard it all before." Shoshi was registering the number on a pink card.

One lie followed another. I'm tall, I told her, as though she couldn't see for herself. Then I dragged "big boned" out of the mothballs of my childhood. Each claim was met with a silent nod of Shoshi's head.

"Five kilo," I conceded, That's all I want from you."

She handed me a receipt for a month's meetings.

Every Monday I showed up at Yad L'Banim, removed my shoes and stepped on the scale, hoping that my fastidiousness over carbs and protein would, so to speak, bear fruit. I sat through the ritual of true confessions. Weddings and vacations were a recurring theme, but in life according to Shoshi, going off the wagon is only a springboard to getting back on, a point she made, ad nauseum, in every one of her lectures. With the passion of Elmer Gantry and moral certitude of Dr. Phil, she preached about life change, mind set and positive thinking, all served up in convoluted sentences and dramatic hand gestures, which I suppose were a way of forcing us to listen.

From week to week, my clothes relaxed. I felt lighter on my feet. The swelling in my fingers went down.

The fat was melting away like ice under hot sun.

"You're not going to leave now!" Tova said, a month and five kilos later. "We're in this thing together."

She and I had become good friends. We always sat together in the back of the hall where, like unruly children, I made smart-ass remarks, and she, a proper lady, doubled over in smothered hysterics. We tracked each other's progress, exchanged food tips, and began talking on the phone.

I stayed. Gastronomical self-restraint challenged me. I loved the competition. And I was discovering a whole new side of myself. The slim side. Each week another 700 grams or kilo disappeared. Suddenly I could sit with my legs curled into my chest. My breasts actually fit into my bra. A trip to London, a few days in Eilat, Rosh Hashana - nothing derailed me from the eating plan I had gotten on that first evening. I started breathing in my bathing suit, and bought a belt.

I was becoming the very airhead I had ridiculed. And I was having a ball.

Now, six months and seventeen kilo since I first walked into 'Yad L'Banim', a digital scale sits next to my bed. Low-fat cheese and 'lite' still fill my fridge. I don't miss the weekly ritual of true confessions and Shoshi's tireless lectures. But I am grateful. I learned that I can live a padded life without actually having the padding on me. And the group? I finally get it. There's nothing like a little competition to get the juices going.

It turns out that there are some things in life you can't do on your own. Which is why I've signed up for a writing retreat.

But before I get serious, I'm meeting Tova at the mall. Zara's having a sale. There's a pair of skinny jeans with my name on them. Size 40.

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About the author

Laurie Bisberg-Primes

Laurie Bisberg-Primes was born in the States and raised in Simsbury, Connecticut. She came to live in Israel in 1972 and received her MA in Russian Literature from Hebrew University. After retiring...
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