Once invisible, Louise Pillai lost 74 pounds and took center stage
Name: Louise Pillai
Current Age: 46
Weight Lost: 74 lb
Accomplishments: Dropped 7 dress sizes, resumed acting in local theater, left a bad marriage
Successful Strategies: Attending a support group for overeaters, removing added sugar from her diet, measuring portions
I used to eat just one meal a day: It began the second I woke up and didn’t stop until I brushed my teeth at night. Until I was 34, I never even tried to stop eating, not for a single day. Giving up food–my best friend–simply wasn’t an option.
My overeating began at a very young age. At school, I was shy to the point of being invisible. At home, my older brother picked on me, while my parents obsessed over my shortcomings. Downing a gallon of ice cream soon became a surefire way to soothe the loneliness that gnawed at my insides.
I remained a loner until my junior year of high school, when I discovered theater. For the first time, other students noticed me, and I loved it. I threw myself into acting for the next year and a half, joining the drama club, performing in plays, and getting accepted at a prestigious arts college inNew York.
Sadly, my triumphs didn’t diminish my need for food. Anxious all the time, I’d often eat my way through half a vending machine. Eventually my ballooning weight cost me my position in the program.
Devastated, I fledNew Yorkto live with a friend inCalifornia. There I married the first guy who took an interest in me. My husband turned out to be an emotional fortress with no way in. Whenever I wanted to talk, he’d say, “Make an appointment.” My marriage soon robbed me of the last bit of self-esteem I had, and sent me backpedaling into my isolated childhood years at warp speed.
Making a Dream Come True
We had three boys, two of them with autism, and my weight steadily increased until I reached 209 pounds and stopped stepping on the scale. My dress size moved beyond a 22, and I could hardly tolerate myself. But at night, in my dreams, I was thin. I took that as a sign that the real me wasn’t fat. Out of curiosity, I went to a 12-step meeting for overeaters. At the end everyone held hands and embraced. It was so uncomfortable. I didn’t want strangers to hug me; I wanted my husband to hug me.
Still, I kept going to weekly meetings. In the beginning, I stayed silent. To me, admitting to being an overeater seemed more humiliating than saying, “I’m an alcoholic.” There’s nothing cool about not being able to give up candy. But listening to everyone’s stories took my mind off myself, and gradually I began to open up. At first, I told them I was so dependent on food that I couldn’t stop overeating for a single day. Later, I confessed that my husband treated me as if I didn’t exist.
Having so many people listen to me was more acknowledgment than I’d ever had. Afterward, they thanked me and told me they’d felt the same way. Their understanding forced me to consider, for the first time, that maybe I wasn’t so different. If they could lose weight, so could I.
A Star Is Born–Again
The group inspired me to start reading books about nutrition and weight loss. At first, all I did was write down everything I put in my mouth–cookies, cakes, ice cream, chocolate milk, chocolate bars, all of it. Once I recognized that I was consuming four times the calories I needed, I adopted a food plan a friend in the group had given me that eliminated my biggest trigger: sugar. I also bought a kitchen scale and started weighing my food. The servings were tiny, but to my amazement, I discovered that one serving is enough–and the pounds started to come off. To satisfy my sugar cravings and my love of baking, I devised healthier recipes, such as fruit bread made with whole wheat flour, ripe bananas, orange juice, and no added sugar.
Most important, I learned how to quiet my anxiety without food. One day at a meeting, a friend said to me, “We have other senses besides taste, you know.” She was right. I’d been neglecting my other four faculties for years, so I made it a point to nurture my sight, hearing, touch, and smell. I stopped looking to my husband for comfort. He hardly noticed that I was losing weight anyway. Instead, I began acting again, planted a garden, took up fiction writing, and signed up for singing lessons. It dawned on me that my greatest escape–food–had actually been the cage that had kept me from enjoying the world for all those years. For the first time in my life, I felt free–and I dropped 60 pounds in 6 months.
Two years ago, after spending more than 18 years in a loveless marriage, I finally gathered the courage to leave my husband. I’m now down to 135 pounds, I have lots of friends, and I just starred in a local musical. Today when I look in the mirror, I’m still surprised to see a trim woman who is finally comfortable in her own skin.