The Dieter (1989) by Susan Sussman

“I scanned the booklet which listed foods I could eat the first week. A few of my favourites were missing. Dry white wine. Crisp toasted bialys. Milk chocolate Dove bars. I’d have to make substitutions. The book contained some kind of diabolically complicated food exchange system. I tried to decode it. If two ounces of chicken equalled one protein exchange and I was allowed six protein exchanges a day, how many acrobats could stir a ’59 Buick in May?” (35).

I picked up a copy of The Dieter by Susan Sussman at a used book sale. The plot: Barbara Avers quits smoking after losing a friend to breast cancer. Her weight increases from 105lbs to 190lb during her increasingly desperate attempts at dieting.

What I like about Sussman’s book are her observations about the sometimes absurd things we do to change the size and shape of our bodies – liquid diets, cybex machines and those little machines that jiggle your bum to firm [?] your thighs. This isn’t a simple story of weight gained and then lost. Barbara gains weight, splits from her husband, finds a new lover, gets a better job, and finishes the story at a healthy 150lbs. The book is really hilarious and it captures Barbara’s obsession with counting calories, a process so complex that she (and we?) lose site of the pleasure to be found in good food. By the end of the book Barbara has transformed her outlook on dieting:

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