I've pondered here before the subject of exercise and my effort to understand my motives or more specifically my need to tease apart the dreaded surrender to an "ideal" physical appearance (or vanity) from, I guess, some kind of real or authentic (virtuous?) health consciousness, both of which concepts are highly suspect but that's not exactly what this blog post is about.

C and I have both gained new-boyfriend weight, which I guess is a thing: the last time I gained 20 pounds was in the first year J and I were together. Here's how it works: 1) you snagged a man, you can relax now; staying in shape was all about attracting men, 2) snuggling on the couch is way more compelling than going to the gym, and besides, one of the things that motivated you to go to the gym was that there'd be hot guys working out and getting naked in the locker room, a kind of stimulation you're less interested in now, and 3) maybe this factor is less universal but a man who loves my cooking is license to go crazy with the butter and cream, cheese, casseroles, desserts, biscuits and bacon on Saturday morning.

Last time -- I'm embarrassed to admit -- I did Slim-Fast. I would mix up one of those things in a Thermos and take it to work with me for lunch (I was working as a word processor at a law firm), and every night J and I would have a half chicken breast each with a vegetable. I was rigorous about it. I lost the weight.

So, as we know, C and I bought an elliptical machine so we can work out conveniently at home now. The machine tells you how many calories you're burning, and so far I am spending about 25 minutes 4 days a week burning 250 calories a pop. And we're eating mostly protein and vegetables. Meat and salad, usually. For lunch, I have some fruit and maybe a small piece of cheese. I let myself indulge a bit on weekends. We don't have a scale, but my pants are not quite as tight as they were a few weeks ago. I'm making some progress, but I have a ways to go.

My mother told me once that in order not to gain weight she had to get used to feeling a little hungry all the time. What a great argument against intelligent design that what we want to eat does not correspond to what our bodies need in order to function. We all have that infuriating skinny friend who seems to eat and eat and eat and never gain weight. And some of us have to feel hungry all the time.

But what is even more difficult for me to summon than the strength of will to resist my cravings is the ability or desire to put aside my philosophical objection to the whole idea of deprivation. I don't just enjoy dessert, I believe dessert is important. Pleasure is essential. Especially and more and more as I get older, I have no interest in living a life without the things that bring me pleasure, one of which is food. But I do not want to weigh 300 pounds. It's a paradox I can't solve, and it drives me crazy.

What I do know is that the "healthy choices" rhetoric is mostly bullshit. Yesterday afternoon, C and I were sitting by the pool eating guacamole and chips, and one of the guys here for the weekend (we're on Fire Island, the Pines, where we've had a partial share -- this is something C has done every summer for years, but it's my first time here) walked by and said something about how unhealthy our snack was. Avocados, lime juice, cilantro, corn, vegetable oil, and salt. I don't know what could possibly be more wholesome, more healthy. But this guy has a body worked out to within an inch of its life and a pathological fear of fat and carbohydrates, and his attitude toward exercise and food is the one generally accepted as "healthy." There's nothing like the Fire Island Pines to distill this issue to its unadulterated essence and throw it steaming in your face.

I also reject the rhetoric of moderation. Moderation is not the magical answer, it's just one more way to cast puritanical aspersions on someone else's food and exercise habits. I will not lose weight by some vague notion of "moderation." I will lose weight by keeping a careful eye on what I eat and exercising religiously. By consciously, over and over all day, telling myself "no." No, you can't eat that. Potatoes are perfectly wholesome, healthy, but if you eat them, even a moderate amount of them, you will be fat for the rest of your life. Five days a week, I huff and sweat until my knees are wobbly and I can barely catch my breath, and then I eat a salad for dinner. That's not moderate. It's fanatical.