It does not augur well when you must suck in your gut and hold your breath as if you are having multiple X-rays taken simply to zip up your skirt.
When this happened to me, I knew I had two choices: give up my current wardrobe or lose the excess baggage. Since I recently wrote a book on diet and exercise that ended with my buying a new, smaller wardrobe, I decided it would be too embarrassing to blow up like Kirstie Alley. Better that I should return to vigorous exercise and horrid Weight Watcher bars. I perused several fitness magazines I had at home and found an article about walking.
"Brisk walking is one of the best forms of cardiovascular exercise, even for out-of-shape marshmallows like you," the article explained. "It is suitable for all ages and abilities and requires no special equipment beyond a good pair of walking shoes and a commitment not to double-dip into the cookie jar. A simple, affordable pedometer or step counter can help motivate you to a more active lifestyle."
Eureka! I live in a large city where I could walk to many stores and businesses -- this plan could work for me! I jumped in the car and drove to the nearest sporting goods store to buy my pedometer. Why walk there before I knew how many calories I'd be burning in the process? Besides, no sense knocking myself out so early in the day, leaving no energy for a brisk walk later on.
I chose a fitness pedometer that would track my mileage, steps taken and calories burned. I declined the pedometer that barked out peppy rah-rah encouragement, such as "You're doing great!"
How would a pedometer know if I was struggling up a hill or just walking to the freezer to get a bowl of Hagen-Dazs? The article also noted that in today's lazy society, most people walk a measly 2,000 steps on a typical day. My goal should be at least 6,000 steps, but if I wanted to see real results, I had better ramp it up to 10,000.
Not surprisingly, I had trouble figuring out how to operate the device, but after an hour and a half on the phone with a patient customer service representative, I was programmed for fitness!
Ready for action, I clipped the pedometer to my skirt and strode energetically to the front door to see if the mail had come. I took 23 steps and burned three calories. Then I took the dog around the block -- 198 steps taken and nine more calories gone. Borrowing a cup of flour from a friend around the corner tallied another 79 steps and 11 calories. I could see that it was going to be a long way to 10,000 steps.
I refused to let my enthusiasm flag, even as I wondered how to meet my daily walking quota while also completing my regular work. Most of my "must-do" work involves sitting at a computer or tending pots on a stove. I planned to squeeze in as many steps as possible by following other advice from the article: parking my car in a shopping center a half-mile from the one where I intended to shop; taking the stairs, even if I had an appointment on the 23rd floor; going for a lunch hour stroll (the writer made no mention of when I might actually get to eat lunch), and my favorite: marching in place while I'm on the phone.
Then I hustled over to the mall for some new walking shoes -- essential to keep my spirits up. I parked in a far corner on the uppermost level of the parking structure where I had never parked before. I assumed, correctly as it turned out, that I would not be able to locate my car afterward and therefore would log at least another half mile in aimless wandering.
My foray to the mall yielded an impressive 987 steps, 503 of which were spent finding the car. Despite this exertion, my pedometer only claimed a 62-calorie burn.
Donning my new athletic shoes, I took the dog for a megacalorie burning walk. Fitness walking with a dog is a unique form of "interval training." When Ken sees a squirrel or other amusing creature, he runs like a rocket, forcing me to hurtle after him. But his insistence on stopping to sniff every other tree gives my heart a chance to recover from the last squirrel sighting. We returned home and I eagerly checked the pedometer. I had gone 2.5 miles, including hills, but only burned 198 calories! How could this be? My walking article claimed that a vigorous 45-minute walk should burn up to 350 calories!
I realized the pedometer was faulty, and I called the manufacturer to complain.
"There's something wrong with ... your ... pedometers," I huffed. "It's ... not ... (huff huff) showing that ... I ... burned ... enough calories."
"There's nothing wrong with our pedometers," a surly female agent told me. "Besides, if you're that out of breath from making a phone call, it's no wonder you can't walk very far."
"I'm out of ... breath because ... I'm jumping up and down to burn ... more calories! That's what the ... article on ... walking for ... fitness told (huff huff) me to do!"
"Maybe you didn't program your pedometer correctly," she asked. "Is your weight correct?"
"No, my weight is not correct!" I had stopped jumping at this point, worried that I might have an unfortunate cardiac emergency. "It is very, very wrong. It is unjust in the extreme! That's why I bought this blasted pedometer in the first place!"
I realized that I was not advancing my cause by having an emotional breakdown while on the phone with this unsympathetic person. How could she possibly understand? I bet she wore a Size 2.
I got no relief from my conversation, but I persevered. Five days later I had walked 19.97 miles, or 43,637 steps, burning 1,616 calories. This included walking to the bakery, where I slaked my sorrow over my lack of pedometer progress in a large cinnamon bun and coffee.
Despite this, today I did not have to hold my breath until I nearly turned blue to zip my skirt. It was a subtle difference, but a difference nonetheless. Progress was coming, one electronically measured step at a time. But I'm not kidding myself: I've miles to go before I'm sleek.
Judy Gruen is the author of two award-winning humor books and the popular "Off My Noodle" column. Read more of her work on www.judygruen.com.