One morning in the spring of 2007 I stepped out of the shower and took a long look in the mirror. It was a depressing experience. My stomach, which just a few years earlier had been flat and taught, was now a flabby, rounded mass of hairy flesh that had inched my center of gravity out past my toes. My face was bloated and blotched from gin and salt-laden foods, and my eyes were surrounded by the dark circles that come from long restless nights. I looked like a raccoon with a thyroid problem. I’d reached the point where I’d begun to wear Guayabera shirts and pants with elastic waistbands. I’d even attempted to grow a beard just so I could contour its edges into some sort of trompe l’oeil jawline. I was thirty-eight years old and forty pounds overweight, and I was sick of it. I looked down at my beach ball of a stomach and put it on notice: “In three months you’ll be gone,” I said. “Mark my words, your days are numbered.”

The next day I visited a local gym and took a tour. It was terrifying. The equipment was intimidating and seemed dangerous, and I imagined several different scenarios in which I might injure myself: slipping on a treadmill and then being sucked underneath its base, decapitating myself with a barbell during an overly confident bench press, snapping my crotch like a wishbone on the hip abduction machine—the possibilities for pain and embarrassment were endless. Plus the entire place smelled. Everyone was covered in sweat, and several glistening men grunted and sneered at themselves in a mirror while curling dumbbells the size of tree stumps.

I left the gym and stopped at a sporting goods store where I browsed the fitness department looking for ways to get ripped in the privacy of my own home. I settled on a jump rope, a Swiss ball, and a twenty-five-pound pair of dumbbells, which were the heaviest ones I could manipulate into my shopping cart. Back home I dragged the equipment to the basement and set up my “workout station,” convinced my six-pack abs were just days away from revealing themselves. Three months later I hadn’t lost an ounce. The dumbbells were covered in dust, the Swiss ball was still in the box, and the jump rope had been confiscated by my eleven-year-old son who was using it as a noose to torture his sister’s American Girl dolls.

But a year later I finally lost the extra forty pounds, and I’ve kept them off. I’ve never had a six-pack, but I am able to tuck in my shirts and my jawline is defined by my actual jaw rather than by meticulously trimmed stubble. The change occurred not from grunting or sweating but from realizing that gin and charcuterie are not two of the major food groups. For me losing weight was about moderation. It’s a lesson I have to remind myself of every day.