How A Tall Cappuccino Sparked A New Weigh of Life

Erica W. Jamieson

Do one thing. That was my mantra. Make one small, truly manageable change. I began with coffee.

Coffee had been the scrooge of my existence since I was child. It was something I associated with my father and not in a good way. I was shocked to find that my days had become dictated by the

Had I been on a diet, I would have failed.I wasn’t prepared to try again and fail better.

very coffee habit I hated so much in my father while I was growing up. And I refused to consider that my Starbucks coffee order could have anything to do with my weight problem.

It was the summer of 2005. I was tired of being fat. No one likes to use the word fat. We call it overweight, or pleasantly plump. But it was my body and I was, as the nutritionist I would one day hire told me, big all over! I was a fat forty-something. This is not body shaming. I was embarrassed by my body. And disgusted with myself. Which just made stopping at the corner Starbucks that much sweeter because what better way to wallow in self pity than to do it with a Grande Latte and a blueberry scone?

No one should be known by their coffee order.

Starbucks was ubiquitous that year. There were three within a one-mile radius of my home. I had two elementary aged kids and I lived in my car driving carpool. I tortured my kids with how often I stopped. To school. Home from school. Before and after sports. I had become, like my father before me, the coffee rider. I stopped at Starbucks so frequently I was known in each of these Starbucks by coffee order. If my husband stopped at Starbucks on his way home for me, he would order, “Grand non-fat ½ shot hazelnut latte” and the barista would ask, “Oh, is this for Erica?”

No one should be known by their coffee order.

I had read so much about the calories hidden within the rich foam on my lattes, the added sugar of the hazelnut syrup, the ridiculous amount of milk. I was not a believer. In my hand, that cardboard cup was nothing more than water, coffee, milk and a dab of sweetener. Like my love of pizza, I was blinded by the warm comfort only a food craving can bring. But something clicked that summer. I couldn’t breathe and I was hot even in air conditioning.

Deciding to trust the internet experts, I challenged myself to reduce the calories in my coffee order. I went from a Grande latte to a tall cappuccino, no sweetener, and absolutely no pastry. I didn’t give up the frequency. I maintained my thrice-daily (if not four or five times) habit of stopping. And I expected nothing. I wasn’t on a diet.

Had I been on a diet, I would have failed. I know that because for a good eight years I had failed over and over again. I wasn’t prepared to try again and fail better. The mere numbers of what I needed to lose overwhelmed me. Who could lose that much weight without surgery or falling into a coma? Which is why this small change, so manageable, hardly noticeably in my daily rituals, hit me like bucket of cold water on a hot day in August. I lost ten pounds. Without even noticing.

I was still fat. But I was ten pounds less fat, and I hadn’t done anything other than save some money at Starbucks. 

What if I had held the power to change all along? Coming face to face with the impact just a small change could make put into question all the inept justifications I had lived by for the last decade.

I would like to tell you that this serendipitous weight loss inspired me to great change. It didn’t. It made me more depressed. What if I had held the power to change all along? Coming face to face with the impact just a small change could make put into question all the inept justifications I had lived by for the last decade. What if, instead of making grand sweeping proclamations (which I had been known to do), I will never eat cake ever ever again! I had just said I wouldn’t have more than one piece? Or only on Saturdays? Or only on my birthday, and yours?

Who knew having less coffee would wake me up?

I hired a nutritionist in September. That was twelve years and 80 pounds ago. It was a long journey, sometimes easier than at others. There were moments I resented her hammering away at my food habits and my flimsy excuses. She said things like, if you want fair go to Pomona, that’s where you’ll find the county fair! She was in her nineties and she taught me to look at my life honestly. To live by small changes, and to create a healthier weigh of life (choice of word intentional).


What one small change sparked!

This mantra, do one thing, is it’s own way of life. We are inundated through our 24/7 digital media stream today with all types of diet and nutrition information, self-help gurus, ways to be more present, things we should do for self-actualization. Don’t begin there. Begin by looking at your own habits. What you know, in that deep truthful core of your self-knowledge, that you can change, even with a little tweaking? Because sometimes, the greatest gift we can give ourselves is a little honesty, and a little, — and I mean little —  change, and permission to do just one thing.


The spark of changed coffee order

What you would you do, if you could change just one thing?

Editors note:  Weigh of Life was a phrase coined by Hermien Lee, Nutritionist extraordinaire. who passed away at the age of 92 in 2009. She was a force and a good friend. Every time Erica drops a piece of chocolate or a handful of potato chips on the ground, she is sure Hermien has knocked it from her hands!

Read Erica W. Jamieson’s story, Coffee Riders, (Spittoon, 2013) about finding common ground with her father over their mutual coffee habits. Her first story post weight loss, The Jeans of My Dreams, appeared in Self Magazine 2006.



About Erica W. Jamieson

Born in New York, raised in the suburbs of Detroit, Erica Jamieson now lives in Los Angeles. She is stretching into the open spaces created by her two kids off at college, enjoying clean kitchen counters, far less laundry and the perks of empty nesting with her husband of almost three decades. Erica is a fitness enthusiast (evening walks over Xanax) Loves words, coffee and her family. Not always in that order.

7 thoughts on “How A Tall Cappuccino Sparked A New Weigh of Life”

  1. Babs Shindler says:

    Beautifully written and inspiring
    I have had a similar experience though unwittingly in very miner way at age 86
    20 pounds gone effortlessly
    cousin BAbs

    1. That’s so great, Babs! Thanks for reading my post. It’s so wonderful how nice it feels to make these changes and feel a little lighter!

      1. Pam says:

        Hello Erica: I loved your blog post. I found a vintage copy of Hermien Lee’s “The Spot Reducing Diet” on Amazon and can’t wait to read it. When you lost your first 30 lbs., what did you eat in a typical day? Thank you!

        1. I should pick up her book. I never read it because I had Hermien sitting across the desk from me once a week and that was a handful! She set out a rather regimented food plan that worked incredibly well for me. Hermien had these basic rules: 1. no sugar! that was the hard one, and I did cheat a bit. 2. No carbs without a protein (except before bed, then a piece of fruit or toast was okay alone). 3. Coffee black (I learned to love black coffee and used a short double shot cappuccino as my late afternoon treat each day.) 4. No alcohol. At the time, I wasn’t drinking at all so this was super easy for me.

          She also went through every restaurant type in town and taught me how to order. She was a real advocate of not sequestering yourself simply because you’re dieting. But she did want you to feel armed to go into restaurants and parties.

          Those were the rules. Her diet for me was as follows: 9 oz of protein, 3 carbs (240 cal total for the day), 3 fruits, 3 veggies, 2 tablespoons identifiable fats (oil, butter, dressing), salad whenever I wanted, and I ate a lot of greens! And lots of water. Not more than one diet soda a day. She also had me write down everything I ate.

          I broke it down this way:
          1/2 bagel scooped in the am with peanut butter (1 tbl was counted as a protein), sliced apple or 1/2 sliced banana on the bagel. Or 1/3 cup oatmeal with PB mixed in and fruit as described above. (side note: I can’t eat sugar in my oatmeal now. I find it far too sweet!)
          Lunch was usually 4 oz protein and greens. I love salads so that was easy. I’m a huge fan of sunny side over eggs on arugula, so that was a staple.
          Snack around 4 pm – I need to eat something when my kids came from school, probably the tension of driving carpool and then wanting to hang with them in the kitchen. A piece of toast with butter, a piece of cheese and a fruit (usually strawberries or blueberries because it was hand to mouth like potato chips! Topped off with my beloved cap!
          Dinner was the remaining protein, more greens and lots of veggies. For a while I ate potato skins with dinner, but it didn’t last.
          I always saved a carb and fruit for before bedtime. Usually an orange and slice of toast if I hadn’t had my three breads yet.

          I’m sure Hermien sets it all out in her book. She was amazing at giving very specific directions. Feel free to contact me with any other questions. And let me leave you with something she would say that has stuck with me through the my starting Fiftiness: This is the hardest thing you will ever do. But if you can do this, I promise you, you can do anything! Good Luck!

          1. Pam says:

            Thank you for your quick response! It must have been encouraging to be able to see Hermien in person each week. This resting plan seems very doable…. Were you allowed dressing on your salad?

          2. Hermien was a big proponent of dipping your fork in the dressing rather than pouring the dressing over the salad. I will tell you, I just started skipping the dressing all together. At first I used lemon juice and a little bit of salt. Now I find most dressings too saucy, most sauces too saucy! The way I began was making a really good salad, with lots of juicy veggies (tomatoes, cucumbers) and a good cheese like a salty parm with really flavorful roasted chicken or baked Salmon for my protein, and chopping the salad. If the veggies are fresh, the cheese good, the flavors explode, especially in small bites – then you can save that fat for a slice of bread dipped in olive oil (1 tbl).

            And a non-Hermien note on bread: she recommended 80 calorie whole wheat bread that you find in the bread section of most grocery stores. But I’ve since learned that if you are able to buy well made artisan bread that has no added chemicals or preservatives, and you slice it thin, the flavor is so much more satisfying. That the key – eat well and you stop missing the silly snacks and sweets. It takes time!

          3. Pam says:

            This level of deta is wonderful. Thanks again!

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