My mom told me a story the other day about my grandmother (her mother). It came up in the context of Evangeline, as my mother remarked at how astounded her friends were with Evangeline’s eating habits. From the day she was born, I haven’t had to worry about my daughter eating – she nursed so voraciously that more than one nurse mentioned videotaping us to show other new, nursing mothers. At three months, Evangeline tried stealing eggs off of our plates and now, and nineteen months, she gobbles up Greek yogurt, peas, grapefruit and pesto-slathered chicken with joy and gusto. I am prepared and indeed, expecting, a day where she will only eat orange food or noodles and cheese but so far, with the exception of green beans and red meat, Evangeline has shown a deep and abiding appreciation for all the food the world has to offer.
“You definitely want to maintain her enthusiasm,” my mom said. “You don’t want to do what we did to you, or what my mom did to us, and constantly try different things to lose weight. I’ve read that the word diet shouldn’t even be brought up in a house with young children.”
“I didn’t realize grandma worried about her weight,” I said. My maternal grandmother certainly had some curves in her younger years but in all the pictures of her I’ve ever seen she had a beautiful, glamorous figure. I knew her as a great lover of food – rare prime rib dripping with homemade horseradish cream, lemon merengue pie with the merengue piled “a mile” high, chicken wings smothered in blue cheese dressing were just a few of her favorite foods to eat.
“Oh, she constantly worried about it. One time she read in a magazine that banging your hips into the wall as you cooked made you slimmer. She did that for a year before realizing it didn’t work,” my mom said.
Can you imagine? Banging your hips into a WALL, over and over and over again? Really, sometimes there just are no words.
Even though it was said in passing, it helped me to hear my mom recognize the various and sundry diets she and my dad put my brother and me through as kids. Sometimes we were vegetarian, and sometimes not – occasionally my dad had flings with lower-carb diets like Atkins or South Beach. The diet that lasted the longest was the low-fat craze so many people in the eighties grabbed on to when suddenly everyone started worrying about cholesterol. Open my parents’ refrigerator door and you will find evidence of all of these diets – boca burgers, fat-free cheese, sugar-free ice cream, fat-free half and half, salad dressings made up more from chemicals than from actual food. The food of my youth.
I can remember two different times in my life when I haven’t been on a diet, and looking back, I was either at my healthiest or slimmest during those periods of time. The first time was during my junior year in high school when it seemed like all of my friends, including my best friend, were on some sort of extreme, potentially anorexia-inducing diet and I just couldn’t handle any more conversations about weight and waist size, deciding instead to eat whatever I wanted but just until I began to feel full. I hadn’t been heavy to begin with – at the time I was extremely involved in theater and dance – but the weight I lost just from listening to hunger cues was startling. I managed to maintain that particular relationship to food for years, until a period of crippling depression and anxiety, brought on in such a cliched way by the 9/11 attacks and exacerbated by months of unemployment and anti-depressent medication, caused me to turn to food in a way I never, ever had before.
If I start talking about that period in my life it’s possible I will get incredibly off-track so I’ll save our year in West Virginia for another day and time and simply say I lost *much* of the weight I gained during that period but not all of it – a stubborn 15 – 20 pounds have remained despite constantly dieting.
The second (and last) time I wasn’t on a diet was during my pregnancy. I sort of feared pregnancy-induced heartburn since I heard so many wicked stories about it and thus ate very small portions throughout the day. I also followed every single pregnancy food rule you could imagine, from avoiding soft-serve ice cream and lunch meat (listeria!) to eliminating almost all fish (which made me sick, anyway) and the end result was a net gain of 24 pounds over the course of the pregnancy, while feeling like I could eat anything I wanted, really. That weight was easy to lose, but still leaves me between 15 -20 pounds above my ideal weight.
I’ve worked hard at losing this weight, to limited success. I workout regularly, I chase my one and a half year old around the house for hours at a time, I never buy ice cream or make cake or huge lasagna dinners or anything, and yet the extra weight remains. I think this is due to several factors, including a somewhat, although not entirely, sedentary job, obviously not eating the right food all of the time, and the inability, or lack of desire, to make losing this weight my very top priority. There needs to be some ownership here, after all.
In the last couple of weeks, I’ve found myself facing overwhelming diet fatigue. I am tired of exercising in order to gain “activity” points and I’m tired of, on days when I am especially hungry, not having the ability to eat to satisfaction, and I’m tired of worrying about protein to carb ratios and thinking, if I want an apple, that I had better eat a “protein” with it or else it will just disolve into sugar that will throw a party on my pancreas. What I want to do, more than anything else, is eat like a normal person – like my most slender friends do.
The more and more I thought about this, I realized I could stop dieting. I mean, it is well within my power to do so – the only one who cares about my protein to carb ratio is me. I could, instead of berating myself every day for having flabbier abs than I would like, be proud of my body – of its incredible energy, flexibity and capabilities. Instead of cursing genetics for what I haven’t been blessed with, I could thank God for what He has given me. I could begin looking at yoga, swimming and dance classes as things I do because I love them (which is true) and not activity points to be translated into food points. I could…see what happens.
And so – that is what I’ve decided to do. In the interest of full disclosure, I have decided I need to weigh myself every day, in defense against that one year in West Virginia – this is NOT permission to pound pepperoni pizzas and hamburgers and such, like that one year I did just that. Instead, this is an attempt to see if I can break the chain of dieting and weight loss tricks that have been passed down to me through generations of white anglo-saxon women. It’s an attempt to free up some brain space to think less about calories taken in and calories burned and more about reading great books and finally submitting some writing. It’s an attempt to make the next 35 years of my life about something other than how much I weigh or whether I’m a size 8 10 or a size 12.
I make no promises that I am going to be able to achieve giving up dieting. I’ve been conditioned for decades at this point to worry about my weight, and to chronically try to lose some. But I’m going to give this a chance – I’ll let you know how it goes.