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How I Learned to Think Myself Thin

By Debbie Johnson

This is the story of my struggle with weight gain, then loss, then gain, loss, gain, ad infinitum, until my ultimate success! I gained forty pounds dieting, then lost it all "Thinking Thin" and have kept it off for over twenty-five years. Perhaps you will be able to relate to some of my struggles. If nothing else, you will see that I am in no way more perfect, smarter or more talented than anyone else. If I can do it, so can you.

It All Started in Fourth Grade
I lived with an unusual family. My mother was overweight, and my father was skinny. My brother, who was adopted, like me, was also overweight. Even though I had been adopted at age seven and a very skinny kid, I wondered if I would turn out like my father or mother. Still, I ate all the junk I wanted, preferring to think of myself like my father.

All went well until the fourth grade. My mother was a hairdresser and she loved to cut hair. She loved it so much one day when she was cutting mine, she just kept going and going. I was too afraid to say anything to my overbearing and very critical mother. Later, when I looked at the mirror, I was completely shocked and began to cry. My hair was so short, I looked like a boy! What could I do? My subconscious thought it knew, it would protect me with fat!

I remember seeing my fourth grade picture, it was so different from all the rest of my class photos. I was chubby but happy. I don't think I even realized I was overweight. My mother had started giving me better haircuts after awhile, not as short. Subconsciously I decided that I could now safely lose the weight, because I didn't have to protect myself anymore.

Puberty Hits and Dad Goes Nuts
I was walking home one day with my father walking behind me. I had on my favorite skirt/shorts (skort) dress. It fit me perfectly and I felt very feminine in it. My heart was open and I was happy. But then Dad said these words which I will never forget, "Getting kind of broad across the beam there, aren't you kid?" I was so heartbroken!

I loved my Dad. He was the only one in the family I felt was ever on my side. My brother beat up on me, my mother criticized me relentlessly as well as my Nana, who lived with us. It's no wonder she did, she was the one who raised my mother! That's where my mother picked up the behavior. I only point this out to explain just how devastated I was at Dad's comment.

Okay, so my father started my thinking, I must be getting fat! Not sure what to do I decided to ignore his comment until one day when my pants shrunk in the dryer. Not realizing what had happened, I figured I was really in trouble with my weight. My mother had been to Weight Watchers which seemed to do the trick for her at the time. (An aside here, even though she lost fifty pounds, she gained it all back when my father died. Then lost it all again years later, "Thinking Thin"). Since Weight Watchers worked for her I thought I'd give it a try.

I have to tell you, I hated having to put mustard in my tuna instead of mayonnaise. Two weeks into it my mother's best friend walked in with her famous cheesecake. I decided right then that I didn't need to be on a diet! I HAD to eat Bab's cheesecake. After all, I was young, strong and healthy and everyone kept asking me why I was on a diet. When I saw that cheesecake, I agreed with them all - I was just fine the way I was!

College and Engagement
High school sauntered forward without a hitch. I was in a play and got to wear a wonderfully romantic dress. I felt beautiful and slim and I was in love with a college boy! The very next fall I would be going to the same university he was attending in Boulder, Colorado.

Within a year we were engaged to be married. My father had died of a massive heart attack several months previous and my mother was angry at everything in sight, including us. That sent my fiancee running for the hills. He broke up with me, saying he was too young to be married. However, he married someone very much like me about a year later. After that, I started picking on myself and thought perhaps I was too fat. Without realizing it, I was allowing my mother to cause problems for me again, even though I wasn't even living with her.

Out of College and Dating
Okay, so now I'm supposedly grown-up and mature, but I'm just as heavy. Totally into health foods, that should fix it, right? Wrong! I had become a vegetarian in college and was trying to stick with it but kept feeling that something was missing. I filled the missing piece with cookies. I loved cookies and I love to bake. I didn't binge. At least I didn't think ten small cookies was a binge!

Then came fasting! I was so excited. Everyone I knew was fasting to "cleanse their body." Was I the only one who fasted to lose weight? Of course I didn't ask anyone. I hoped no one knew that I secretly wanted to lose weight, so I'd go on ten day brown rice fasts, or juice fasts, or lemon-juice fasts. They did absolutely no good at all. I gained more weight, once again, after the fast. All told, I gained forty pounds fasting and dieting, over about ten years. What was I to do?

Loving Myself, Finally
I was dating a sculptor. He liked my Rubenesque shape for modeling, so I couldn't understand why he said one day, "You're getting a little tummy here, aren't you?" as he patted my stomach. I freaked out! I jumped up and promptly broke up with him right then and there.

That was my wake-up call. I knew, hearing it from someone else, I did not want to be judged or loved by my weight! I wanted to be loved for who I was, so I started loving myself more. I would look at myself as an artist did. I used to model for professional artists in college. They loved my "hills and valleys" and said they were sick of "Twiggy" models who had nothing for them to draw! I would start to appreciate my Rubenesque shape.

Thinking Thin Once
I accepted myself the way I was, it took very little time for me to realize that I could play a game with myself. I could use all the techniques I used to be successful in sales. I could use my divine gift of imagination!

Since I already accepted myself the way I was, I had nothing to lose but the weight! I immediately started coming up with ideas of how I would "Think myself Thin" and it worked magically. It took me longer than it takes anyone else because I had no idea what I was doing to start with, or if it would even work. All I knew was that I believed it.

I learned that from reading Norman Vincent Peale's book, The Power of Positive Thinking. I had also read Paul Twitchell's book, The Flute of God, and I had tested these ideas on my sales career, with great success. I beat out everyone at work and did it my own way. So now I would apply that success to my weight. It worked!

Eating Whatever I Wanted
Here's the most amazing, surprising part of all; I ate whatever I darn well pleased! I could eat Haagen-Daas at midnight, or my favorite cookies - and as many as I wanted. I hardly wanted very many though. Amazing isn't it? And low-fat? Forget it, I love butter. Bread is simply a platform for butter. That's the way I see it. I love oils of all kinds and lots of salad dressing. Load up my BLT with mayo, that's how I eat.

Exercise? I do what I feel like. Moderate, never overdone. But, I have to get out and move almost every day. My body drives me. Why? Because I'm constantly Thinking Thin. It has become such a habit, I just do it without even realizing it. In fact, while I am writing this, I have been munching on one of my favorites, Cheetos. And guess what, I stopped munching before the tiny bowl was empty! Now I ask you, does that sound like someone who has ever had a weight problem?

Debbie Johnson is best-selling author of 'Think Yourself Thin' and other self-help books including 'Think Yourself Loved' and 'Think Yourself Young.' You can find her at She has been an elementary school teacher, psychologist and organic restaurant owner. Her true love is helping others make their dreams come true.
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