Let me start by saying that it’s impossible to not like my mother-in-law. Anyone who has ever met her would agree. She’s a cheerful, upbeat person with a ton of interests, and everywhere she goes, there are friends stopping to say hello. She runs the food bank, a clothing drive, and a fledgling soup kitchen. She’s back in spin class after her third bout with lymphoma. I can’t even say she’s my role model because she’s so far out of my league. And that’s without being able to offer you a taste of one of her homemade pies, with cherries off her own tree. In short, she’s awesome.
The “Dirty Deeds” to which I refer are a regular activity of her local chapter of the weight loss group, TOPS. (Taking Off Pounds Sensibly). She’s been in the group for over 40 years, having maintained her goal weight about as long as I’ve been alive. We were sitting together once while she folded a basket of laundry, and I saw that her leotard had a couple of small holes in it. I offered to mend it for her, and she said, “Oh no. No, I like it that way.” It turned out she’d been wearing it to weigh in every week for over 35 years, and those tiny holes were a badge of honor.
Back to the Dirty Deeds. The idea is that whoever wins that week’s weigh-in gets to pick a challenge for the other members of the group. There are various challenges that come and go. Dirty Deeds are procrastinated, aversive tasks. (I refer to them as a “secret shame.”) Everyone in the group who takes the challenge shares what the Dirty Deed was, and how they felt when it got done. It might be something like clearing out a closet, making a challenging phone call, or going to a dreaded medical appointment. The Dirty Deed is different for everyone, but everyone understands that feeling of I DON’T WANNA! They can laugh together over how these things have a way of getting to us, and what a sense of relief there is in tackling them at last. The support of the group makes it easier to face the Dirty Deed, and the deadline of the next week’s meeting helps, too.
I asked my MIL about sharing this story, and she said that was fine. I’ll take the opportunity to share more of her advice, something that was incredibly helpful to me. It was right before I took up distance running, when I was still battling my weight. My MIL had noticed that I was obsessed with my new hula hoop. She told me that she had put on some weight after having her two sons, and that when she joined TOPS, she realized that exercise was just like any other chore. You just get it done every day and move on to the next thing. It made such perfect sense to me. She had to have put in some serious thought to know what to say without making me feel defensive or criticized. It’s hard to argue with a cancer survivor who still has a high activity level and a 40-year track record of goal maintenance.
As a side note, TOPS has been around since 1948. The central idea is to learn how to eat sensibly under all conditions, whether at a party, a restaurant, or a backyard barbecue. They have a big binder of strategies, like how to make it through a buffet table and still stay on track. There are no celebrity endorsements or shakes or supplements or packaged meals. Basically, it’s closer to a book club than a weight loss “cash cow.” My MIL’s local chapter is tiny due to lack of advertising, though one would think that 40 years of success would be a compelling testimonial. She’s an Upholder, but it’s an ideal structure for Obligers. If you’re still on a weight loss journey, it’s worth looking into.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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