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Susan Powter is Still My Guru

Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is the original Ninja Writer.

Susan Powter Was my Guru in the 1990s

I had to dance topless for two years to make cash to pay my bills and save some money. But it was very enlightening, by the way. I’m talking about light from the gutter.
 — Susan Powter

I have a confession to make.

In the 1990s, when my life was falling apart and I was still close enough to my athletic past to feel it being smothered under the weight I’d gained after back-to-back pregnancies and a swiftly-tilting marriage that was on the verge of implosion, I was obsessed with Susan Powter.

I read her books. Even though I was desperately poor, I scraped together $79.99 to buy her little kit with the stretchy exercise band and the fat calipers and half a dozen audio and video tapes.

I learned how to do the fat calculation. I was a fucking maniac with the fat calculation.

I put a little piece of tape over that little square hole on an old VCR tape so that I could record her infomercial over a thrift-store copy of a collection of Popeye cartoons.

I watched it over and over. It was like having a really cool aunt who’d already gone through the whole babies-too-young/imploding-marriage thing, and who used to be fat but wasn’t anymore.

My well-worn copy of Stop the Insanity.

My well-worn copy of Stop the Insanity.

Susan Powter Taught Me How to Take Care of Myself

Susan Powter told me what I needed to do and it was brilliantly simple. No cleanses or cutting food groups or micro-measuring quarter teaspoons of anything.

Just three words.

Eat. Move. Breathe.

I got fat anyway. Or fatter. Even a 1990s guru wasn’t enough to bust through the food coma that was my survival mechanism during my 20s. But it was good advice then and, frankly, it’s still good advice. So good that I find myself thinking about it now, a few decades later.

I still love Susan Powter in that weird way that you can love someone who doesn’t know you exist.

Stopping the Insanity is still a good idea.

Stop the Insanity

Susan Powter Taught Women it was OK to Eat

Susan Powter made her name by telling women they could eat a small order of french fries or a dozen potatoes (or something along those lines.) She insisted, loudly, that food wasn’t the enemy.

Because I’ve lost a lot of weight, I find myself sometimes on the receiving end of tales of sorrow. Every now and then, someone will tell me that they can’t lose any weight at all unless they cut back to some ridiculously low number of calories. 1200. 800. Even 500.

Thanks to Susan Powter, I never believed that I needed to cut calories that low. But I would have sworn that I was gaining weight on 1800 calories a day.

Then I went months eating 1200 calories a day. I was 100 percent positive that’s what I was eating. And I couldn’t eat more, because I’d had most of my stomach removed.

It was shockingly little food. Half a bowl of soup here. Three bites of chicken there. And I lost 120 pounds in six months. My hair fell out. My skin got weird.

I promise you that a 600 calorie deficit did not do that. I was eating far, far more than 1800 calories a day before my surgery. The brain is a powerful thing and it will resist your efforts to underfeed your body, and overcompensate by tricking you into eating more.

It’s kind of right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing kind of thing.

Susan Powter Made it OK to be the Crazy Lady in the Back of the Class

In Stop the Insanity, Susan Powter tells a story about joining a gym and being the fat woman in the back of the class doing one quarter of the repetitions her aerobics instructor (this was the 90s, after all) called out.

One leg lift for every four. One arm press for every four.

And she just marched in place when the grapevines started.

Her buzz word was modification, and it remains brilliant. Do what you can, do it with good form, and keep improving.

Susan Powter Reminded Us to Breathe

I can’t even tell you how badly I just needed to breathe in the mid-1990s.

I married my high school sweetheart. I loved him. He saved me, just like Jack saved Rose on the Titanic, in every way a person can be saved. Only, instead of drowning in the freezing cold ocean, he left me for some skinny little slut.

I swear I’m not bitter. I got the best end of that deal all the way around. So, really, I’m not bitter. Now. But, oh man, I was then. I was so hurt that literally everything hurt, all of the time.

Susan Powter believed, I’m sure she still believes, that oxygen is an elixir. She had a whole cellular theory that made sense to me in the moment when I needed it.

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