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Bridget Jones meets James Frey in Aussie Shauna Reid's "The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl" (Avon A, 405 pages, $13.99 paperback) -- except that Reid's lively memoir of shedding 175 pounds and a world of emotional pain is 100 percent true. Bookstores are fat with diet tales, but Reid's stands out. She's an entertaining, endearing writer -- funny, humble, honest, wise, and best of all, compassionate -- something obese people rarely enjoy from others or show themselves.
In 2001, the 23-year-old, 351-pound Reid watched her knickers billowing on the clothesline outside her home in Australia and decided that to save her life, she had to change it. Obesity was ruining her physical and mental health and making her isolated and miserable.
True, there were reasons -- an unhappy family life, an overcritical mother obsessed with weight and food, a tendency toward shyness and depression. "I hate meeting new people," she writes early in her blog-become-memoir. "I fear that no matter what I say or do, the only first impression I can leave is ... fat!"
Bit by bit, with pained humor, Reid tackled her weight, blogging at www.dietgirl.org. She wrote of:
• Her first visit to Weight Watchers, where the scale wouldn't go as high as her weight. That program got her started (she gives it credit, but also pokes fun at it -- "The Weight Watchers POINTS system really irritates me. Why must the word POINTS always be in uppercase?") and another program helped her after she quit Weight Watchers and promptly regained some weight. But in the end, Reid had to become her own agent of change.
• Weight losses and gains and the agonizing, years-long struggle to find stability: "This whole love-hate relationship with my body is exhausting," she laments. "How do you tame that negative voice?"
• Re-establishing equilibrium after regaining 37 pounds halfway through her odyssey. Like most people who struggle with obesity, Reid was prone to giving up after setbacks. The difference between her and most chronic dieters is that she got back on track. This aspect of the book will be most valuable for those seeking inspiration.
• Meeting the sweet Scotsman who became her husband: "I hadn't been looking for love," she wrote, astounded that a man could fall for a woman who weighed more than 200 pounds: "Surely that sort of thing wouldn't happen until I was a size 12, or a 14 at the earliest?"
Her blog became wildly popular, and deservedly so -- she has a distinctive voice and a rollicking sense of humor. It has been whittled down into this book just in time to feed '09 New Year's resolutions.
Reid has no quick fixes -- it took her five years to get to 175, a weight that the ginger-haired 5-foot-8 writer is content with (and lovely at; the book contains many photos). But what she learned about herself was priceless, and she is generous to share it with those who face this scourge of affluent societies. If you've struggled with weight, "Dietgirl" can be a tool toward understanding, health and healing.
Pamela Miller is a Star Tribune night metro editor.