Alison Hammer on ending the taboo of talking about weight

Alison Hammer on ending the taboo of talking about weight

Zibby Owens: Welcome, Alison. Thanks for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Lose Weight.”

Alison Hammer: Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited. I’m not a mom, but I am an aunt.

Zibby: You do not have to be a mom. I’m delighted to have a non-mom. It’s just because I’m a mom and this is my brand and whatever. Alison, you’ve been part of the community on Moms Don’t Have Time to Lose Weight. You’ve been commenting. You have an interesting story. I would love to hear it. Tell me about your journey.

Alison: Absolutely. I’ve been dealing with needing to lose weight pretty much my whole life. I was talking to my mom this morning trying to remember exactly how old I was when I was in Weight Watchers. It was either eight or ten. I was the youngest member in the meeting. Then we did another program, a medical program. I was the youngest by far. It was all these forty-year-olds and me. At the time, I think I was twelve or thirteen. I went to a weight loss camp when I was a teenager. I’ve done everything. I’ve had a few times in my life where I’ve been successful, but it usually would have a stopping point. I would get back into bad habits. I wasn’t necessarily an emotional eater. I wasn’t necessarily an overeater. I think that I made a lot of bad food choices. I put a lot of pressure on myself. My family, weight has been an issue on both my mom’s side and my dad’s side historically. My grandmother was a lifetime member of Weight Watchers. My mom has done Weight Watchers. She still thinks she needs to lose weight even though she doesn’t. It’s been something that has just been part of my family and part of my life since I can remember. It has been a constant struggle. This past year, it’s been a big year for me. I have a full-time job. I also have a second full-time job. I had my first book come out this year on April 7th.

Zibby: Congratulations.

Alison: Thank you. About two or three weeks into the pandemic, so it’s been a crazy ride. That was a big moment where I thought I might be out there a little bit more. I’m sorry, I’m a mess.

Zibby: There’s no right way. Literally, we’re friends talking. I just want to hear the story. You don’t have to have any pressure. I’m just curious.

Alison: This is the first time I’ve publicly talked about it. This might be interesting. When you’re struggling with weight, it’s something that, it’s visible. Anybody who sees you, they know it. It’s such a taboo topic that it’s not like people really talk about it. I remember one time when I joined Weight Watchers probably my fourth or fifth time, I made a point to tell people because if you tell people, then they’ll help you be accountable. It’s not something that I’ve ever talked publicly about. I’m really excited, but I’m also a little bit nervous.

Zibby: I understand. I totally understand. If it makes you feel any better, I had the same thing. My mother had me, age ten, I was measuring half a cup of orange juice and writing down my calories and looking it all up in a book before I went to fourth grade. I understand the pressure and societal expectations and all the rest. I get it.

Alison: It’s fascinating to me because I think that our mothers, they were doing what they were doing out of love. It’s because of what their mothers did. I think that this generation, it’s different in the way of body positivity and of accepting. The world has changed, I think for the better. The fact that we’re having conversations like this and there’s communities like yours, I think it’s all for the better. I’m very social. I always have a lot of friends. I’m doing a lot of different things, but I feel like I probably kept part of myself hidden. When I look back at photos, I always had to be the one who was in control of the photos because I wanted to be able to protect myself from any unflattering lens. I was always really careful in that situation. I also, looking back at photos, saw that I would always be in the back. I would be kind of hiding and popping my head out. I was just very self-conscious about how I looked in photos. With my book coming out, it was something that was on my mind. If I was doing a reading, back when the world had readings, if I was a bookstore, I couldn’t control that anymore. That was something that I was a little bit worried about. As excited as I was about this new career and this new world I was getting into, I had a little bit of anxiety about it.

About a year before my book came out — it’s such a long process. I sold it in 2018. It didn’t come out until 2020. I had another writer friend who had a health scare. That scared me. I was always like, I’m fine. I’m heavy, but I’m healthy. I also have an issue — I hadn’t been to a doctor for a checkup in a while because it was something, again, with a lot of anxiety. I found a great doctor using the Zocdoc app. Just finding a new doctor can be overwhelming in itself. The app made it really easy to find someone who had availability that week so I didn’t lose my nerve. They had Yelp reviews, so I could find somebody with good bedside manner. I went to the doctor. She suggested that I try Whole30. I was like, “No way. There’s no way I can do it.” I have a ton of friends who do it. I’m very picky. I don’t eat red meat or pork. That was the main thing. It felt to me like something that was so protein heavy. I eat chicken, turkey, and seafood. I love cheese. There’s no way I can do that. She’s like, “Try it.” I was like, “Okay, fine.” I tried it. It wasn’t as hard as I thought. In the first month, I lost twenty-five pounds. It was crazy. I decided to keep going with it. On Whole30, it’s super strict. They want you to break habits. If you always have coffee with cream and you’re like, there’s no way I can do it, break that habit. You might be surprised that you like it. They don’t want you to do a lot of replacements because they want you to break that habit. Because I was making it more of a lifestyle, I decided I’m okay with getting a replacement.

I avoid anything with grains, dairy, or sugar, which sounds like everything. It kind of is, but I’ve found things that I love. I look forward to lunch every day. It’s something that is totally on plan. The other night, I’d had a tough night. Just between work deadlines and book deadlines, I was like, I don’t have time to cook. I ordered from a restaurant down the street. It was wings that were not breaded and crispy potatoes. That’s on plan. I wasn’t cheating. I lost weight the next day. I think that there’s such a thing about good foods and bad foods. What I tell people is that it took me forty years to find out what worked for me. Looking back, it’s that my body doesn’t react well to grains, dairy, and sugar. Even if I just had a little bit or even if I was counting points or even if I was doing all these different things, not every plan is right for every person. I tease, it took me forty years to figure it out. In May, I hit the one-hundred-pound mark. It’s crazy. It’s funny. When I look in the mirror, I don’t always see it. There have been a few times where I’ve seen pictures of me that other people have posted where I can’t find myself in the photo. Then I look and I’m like, oh, that’s me. It’s been an interesting experience. Then I hit a hundred pounds and went into quarantine. My building has a gym. The gym closed. I, again, have two full-time jobs that got really busy. I sit at this little table for fourteen hours a day, it seems.

Zibby: Where are you in the world, by the way? Are you in New York?

Alison: No, I’m in Chicago.

Zibby: Okay. Sorry, go on.

Alison: I live in Chicago. I have a six-hundred-square-foot apartment. There’s not a ton of room. I probably use a lot of excuses. I’m sure I could’ve done a Zoom workout, but where would I have done it? I’m really good at procrastinating. I’m really good at making excuses. I kept up the eating. I commented on one of the posts in the group about this the other day. I take an eighty/twenty approach. If I was going to be good a hundred percent of the time, I would fail. I’m somebody who believes in setting goals that I will achieve. I want to set myself up for success. I end up doing probably ninety-nine to a hundred. Most days, I’m staying in plan. I have a group of writers. We call ourselves Slice of Fiction. We go out for pizza once every couple months. I had a piece of pizza. It was amazing. I didn’t feel guilty about it because it fits into that eighty/twenty. It doesn’t get me off of the rails. I found substitutes. I like salty more than sweet, but I like a bite of sweet. I found a few things that don’t have grains and don’t have sugar but can give me that fix. I don’t feel like I’m suffering.

Zibby: Wait, what are those things? Back up to the secret weapon there.

Alison: There’s two things that I go to. One of them is Catalina Crunch. It’s a cereal. They have a chocolate flavor. They have a graham cracker flavor and a cinnamon toast flavor that I’ve had. I literally just take a little pinch of it. I have just a few of those dry. It feels cookie-like. There’s another thing I just tried last night. Some of my friends posted all of their baking photos. They were quarantine baking, and cookies. I wanted something sweet. I decided to try, I have this Birch Benders pumpkin pancake mix. I asked my critique partner, I’m like, “Do you think I could pour them in a muffin tin and turn it into muffins with a batter?” She’s like, “Why not?” I made muffins with pancake mix. It turned out great. Another thing, I love pasta. I’m Jewish. I feel like Jews and Italians, they have a lot of similar issues and food we love. I found a chickpea pasta which literally tastes exactly the same to me. I put my sauce on it. I have an almond ricotta cheese that I’ll use a little bit of. Really, I don’t suffer. When I go out to restaurants, most places it’s fine to make accommodations. I think just starting was the hard thing. Then once I got used to it — one of my best friends is vegan. When she made that decision to go vegan, she realized that everybody has food issues. When you go to a restaurant with five people, someone’s going to say, that on the side, I don’t want that, I don’t want that.

Rather than be embarrassed about my special needs, I’m proud of, no, I’m doing this for my health. I’m doing this for me. I’ve been okay with it. I am pretty annoying to go out to dinner with, though. Again, once I went into quarantine, it just stopped. As of today, I’m at 104 pounds lost. I reached a hundred in May. I haven’t gotten to 105 yet. I’ve been between 104 and then 98 for the last six months. I’ve just been going up and down, and up and down. It’s been super frustrating. I’ve been really frustrated with myself. I have a lot of friends who are like, “Everybody else in the world is gaining weight during quarantine, so maybe maintaining is okay.” I’m really hard on myself. I know a lot of women are. When I saw you starting that group, I’m like, maybe that accountability is what I need. I use accountability in my writing life. I run a Facebook group for women called The Every Damn Day Writers. I think that having that support and that accountability, it helps me get my writing done, and so maybe it’ll help with this.

Zibby: I hope so. I hope we can help. I think just having the group and knowing anybody out there cares and listens is helpful, for me personally. I’m a member of — what’s that hair club commercial? Do you know what I’m talking about, or am I dating myself here?

Alison: I do. I’m not just a spokesperson, I’m a member too.

Zibby: I’m also a member, right. You can follow a plan, but there’s something intangible that I think the Weight Watchers method originally set out to do, which I think has been lost in the corporatization or whatever. It was sitting around talking to other women in someone’s living room. There are no living rooms, but I was doing that with books. If I could do that with weight loss — women, we could sit and talk for eight hours straight about eating stuff.

Alison: A hundred percent. To me, I loved that part of Weight Watchers. I actually used one of the lines, my Weight Watchers, the leader when I was living in Boston used. She said that if somebody offers you something that you can’t have, say you’re allergic and that you’ll break out in hips. With Weight Watchers, for me, it would always work. Then I would get so comfortable with it that I would eyeball things. I would be like, I don’t have to count because I know. Then just bit by bit, you would get back into bad habits. For me, I realized that, again, it’s what I have to do for myself and that I’m better when it’s stricter. It’s worked. It’s crazy. One funny story. My gym has opened again with mixed hours. I got to a point where I had certain Netflix shows. I watched You on Netflix, but I would only let myself watch it when I was on the treadmill. That was a motivator to go do that. I got into it. I got to a point where I was actually looked forward to it. It had been five months since I had been on the treadmill. I’ve been taking walks, but there’s something different about the ground moving underneath you or not when you’re on a treadmill.

I went back last week. I was very proud of myself for going back, but I made a mistake. I started where I had left off. I was doing this interval program at intermediate level. My first time back in five months, I went at intermediate level. Let me tell you, I should’ve started back at beginner again. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had fallen off the treadmill. It started going so fast. It did show me how far I had come when I was doing it. I do think that it’s that habit and routine. Again, everybody that I talk to — my sister tried Whole30, and it didn’t work for her. I think that a lot of it is trying to see what’s right for you. I spent a lifetime trying things. I’m glad that I finally figured it out. I’d like to lose about forty more pounds. I don’t know if I’ll ever be thin, but I don’t know if that’s my goal. I want to feel good and look good and be healthy and not have to worry too much about hiding from photos and being able to enjoy my life and to not have to worry about not being able to keep up if my friends want to go somewhere. I’m in a walking city, being able to walk everywhere. It’s been a big year. I’m excited about it.

Zibby: First of all, I don’t want this to sound condescending to say I’m proud of you. Maybe that’s the wrong word. I’m really excited for you. I think it’s amazing that you found something that worked, and you stuck to it and you had a huge accomplishment. That just shows such commitment and drive and so many other amazing qualities about you and your focus. I know how frustrating it must feel when you’re close. You’re trying so hard. You didn’t give up trying for six months, even though I see why people want to say, oh, you didn’t gain. I do feel that way too. It could’ve been far worse, but that’s not what you want to hear when you’re trying to go forward.

Alison: It’s interesting. I didn’t think about this until you just said that, but I had my book launch as my goal. I wanted to lose a hundred pounds by April 7th when my book came out. I didn’t make it. I was close. I was at ninety-five or something. I was still happy enough about it.

Zibby: That counts.

Alison: Doing this side by side was great. When I hit a hundred, it was amazing. Then my attitude was like, okay, I hit that goal. I know I want to lose another forty, but I’m not in a rush for it. I was in a rush for it before. I did it healthfully. I lost in a safe amount of time. Maybe I need that goal. Maybe I need to give myself that. My next book’s coming out April 13th, so I maybe I need another .

Zibby: There you go. I think that’s perfect. What is that? Six months away or so?

Alison: Exactly, from tomorrow.

Zibby: Six months, six times four, it’s about twenty-four weeks. Maybe forty’s too much, but if you do a pound a week.

Alison: I think that I should pick a number. Forty’s the final goal. Maybe I can do it. I, again, like goals that I can reach. I want to make sure I can reach it. Giving myself a goal, I think that I became a little bit more relaxed about it. It’s become a part of my life. I do think that I perform better under deadline.

Zibby: There you go. You’ll find a number that feels good to you and that’s achievable. Sometimes at the beginning when I’m trying to gear up to try to stop overeating so much, I’ll be like, oh, my god, but I have to lose twenty pounds or thirty pounds or whatever it is that I’m like, oh, my god. Then I’m like, I actually just really want to lose one pound. If I could just stop the train from being so out of control and just lose one, then the second one’s a lot easier. I feel like one after the next after the next as opposed to being overwhelmed by how much is left, that works.

Alison: It’s interesting. I find a lot of parallels between my writing life and the weight loss. You’re a writer. You know. There’s a massive amount of words. I’m trying to finish my second draft of a book by the end of this month. When I looked at the amount of words, it was overwhelming. I’m like, there’s no way I can do it. Then I divided it by weeks. I divided it by days. I’m like, okay, I have a plan. I know what I have to do. If I miss I day, I know the exact number I need to make up. When we look at something like twenty-five pounds or forty pounds or anything, it just feels like so much. When you do it a little bit at a time — the other thing that I think is that it’s good to mix things up a little bit for your body because your body gets used to things. Sometimes I feel like if I get in a rut, I’ll try something new. Then my body will do well with that. I also tried, about six months ago or maybe a little bit more, I brought intermittent fasting into the mix just because I had stalled. I think it was the ninety-pound mark. Ninety pounds, I was there for over a month. I was so frustrated because I was like, I haven’t changed anything.

My friends were like, “Yeah, you haven’t changed anything, so maybe you need to change something up.” I tried it. It worked. The first week, I saw movement again. I haven’t since, but I’m afraid to stop trying it. I don’t eat after eight thirty. Then I don’t eat breakfast. I don’t eat again until twelve. I’m bad with math. I don’t know how many hours that is of fasting, but it’s doable. It’s easy for me. I feel like I can’t stop. I was recently wondering if I should maybe try two weeks on or two weeks off just to get my body out of the rhythm. I wish there was a guidebook. I think that everybody’s body is different. Our bodies even change and get used to things. It’s just about keeping going. I know a mistake that I used to make was I would make one mistake and I’d be like, then it doesn’t matter what I do. I would kind of give up. Again, the accountability. Thank you for starting the group. I’m really excited. I’ve already picked up some good tips. I’ve been drinking more water. That was my challenge for this week. I think it’s going to be great for women to support each other in this journey that most of us are on, I feel like.

Zibby: Totally. I feel like everybody’s on it in one stage or another because this is part of life. This is all we have. This is our car through life. We only get one. We have to sometimes change the oil or take it into the shop. I think you’re super aware of what’s coming next. I love tying the goal, as long as it doesn’t make you crazy, I love the idea of tying it to your next book and taking a smaller, more achievable goal based on the twenty-four weeks or whatever, count them up, that you have left. Maybe half a pound a week. Maybe it’s twelve pounds, is your goal.

Alison: I do something that everybody says not to do, but I can’t help myself. I get on the scale every day. So much of what I learned from starting Whole30 was about how foods can cause inflammation. I think that part of what I lost in that first month, a lot of it was inflammation because of the different foods not agreeing with my body. Part of it is seeing the daily fluctuation. If I’m up this one day, what did I have that may have caused that? Some days, I’ll be bad. Then the next day, there’s nothing on the scale and I’m so excited. Then two days later it shows up. It’s not an exact science. Again, I think it keeps me accountable. It’s fascinating talking about these things because I’m understanding maybe why I do some things that I do. It’s a lifelong struggle. I was in Florida visiting some family. They were asking me about my diet. I was like, it’s not a diet. I think the word diet has a lot of negative connotation to it. There’s nothing wrong with it. For me, it’s a lifestyle change. It’s not like I can’t have something. It’s that I choose not to. I think that putting myself in control and determining the narrative and using the words I want to use and making the choices makes it not as hard. It gives me more control. In a world where we don’t have control very much at all, it’s nice to be able to just claim this one thing.

Zibby: I think once you get out of your apartment and get back to the gym and find some new things, you’re working out your body in new ways, I have a feeling, if I were a guessing person, a betting person rather, I would bet that that will help shake up things in your body as well because you’re burning more calories than you were before. I know it’s not as simple an equation as that. There’s more output. You’ll be more active. Maybe you’ll get into something fun like kickboxing. Who knows? Mix it up. Try some new things. Feel how great your body feels where it is now. Maybe make something not just the scale. Maybe there’s an amount of weight you want to lift. Maybe there’s some physical, an amount of jumping jacks. I’m just saying maybe the way to get the scale down is not to stare at it, but to do something else just to mix it up. Take up jump roping, spinning. Sometimes I just think, try it. You can write about it. You can put it in your book. Write funny articles. Talk about how it feels. Experiment. Use that new body of yours. Try it out. Take it for a spin.

Alison: If I took up jump roping, I would owe the biggest apology to my downstairs neighbor.

Zibby: Maybe do it at the gym. Okay, fine.

Alison: I’m laughing at the image of that. You’re right. The scale is only one way to measure. I know there’s a thing, NSV, non-scale victories. I do look for those. Back when I would go to the office, I cut my commute time so much because I’m walking faster. My clothes, there were a few sad moments because some of the clothes that I used to love don’t fit anymore in a good way. They just look too baggy on me. The clothing size change, being able to shop in stores that aren’t just plus size, it’s still crazy. It still surprises me sometimes that I can wear a size that I don’t know if I’ve worn since junior high. I do look for those little moments to appreciate how far I’ve come. I try not to be too hard on myself, but I think it’s a little human nature. At least, it is for me. I’m excited about this goal, April 13th. I’ll message in the group. I’ll make that official. I’ll choose my number. I’ll post it in the group.

Zibby: Then we’ll be checking in. I’ll be looking at the comments all the time. I’ll be watching for you and rooting for you. It’ll be interesting to see what ends up moving the needle, so to speak. I really want to see you try some new stuff at the gym. I think that’s going to be really fun for you.

Alison: Thank you so much. It’s been so nice talking to you. Again, thank you for starting this group. I’m really excited about it.

Zibby: Good. I’m really excited you’re a part of it. Take care.

Alison: Bye.

Zibby: Bye, Alison.

Alison Hammer on ending the taboo of talking about weight