We grow older, but, thankfully, we also grow wiser. The wisdom we gain transfers to all areas of our life, and, for me, it has finally enabled me to take over control of my food choices and my general health. Of course, it is always a journey, but as I now face retirement years, I find that it’s the perfect time to be the true master of my weight and my physical and mental well-being.
It began when I was 13 years old. My then chubby buddy Sara and I decided to join Weight Watcher’s. We were the youngest in the group at the local meeting at the Main Street Church, but we were faithful to the T, consulting Jean Nidetch’s cookbooks, participating at the meetings like we never did in our classes at school, concocting miserable desserts with skim milk powder and gelatin that we convinced ourselves tasted just like real pudding, weighing and measuring our foods like scientists, and even downing the required five fish meals, and once-a -week chicken livers. I lost 18 pounds and then proceeded to gain them back steadily on all the M&Ms and cookies I could get my hands onto. And that was some challenge, believe me, considering that my mother used to hide goodies from me in the strangest places you can imagine. We had an uncle who traveled to Europe a lot and intermittently sent us boxes of Swiss chocolates, which she went so far as hiding at the back of her sock drawer. Usually, when it came to Keebler cookies or some other store brand, I could sneak to the store and try to replace what I’d eaten before she’d notice, but with those Swiss chocolates, I’d often get busted.
After Weight Watchers, came a lifetime of programs to try and knock off the weight and be normal. There was Diet Center, a truly humiliating experience of meeting with an anorexic, fashion-model counselor in her big, fancy office, who weighed me, looked me up and down, and ordered me to eat dry, leathery baked chicken breasts that I could barely chew. I don’t know how much weight I lost that time, but I know I lost a lot of money and joy. I also began exercising, doing step aerobics, and suffering a lot of pain in my ankles and knees. I continued to prefer M&Ms, and cookies,–and I took on a new hobby of baking breads and cakes. As you can imagine, I grew bigger over time and neither Diet Center nor step aerobics made much of a dent.
Part of the problem was that I grew up with a single mother who was financially strained. My two sisters and I had a consistent diet of rolls with butter, hamburgers, hot dogs, and mostly sweets. When my mother had to leave us to work, or go somewhere on the weekend, she’s use cheap ‘babysitters’: Ring Dings, chocolate-covered cream drops and non-pareils. I don’t blame her; the sweets kept us comforted, happy and certainly energetic. Besides, she sure made pretty arrangements on a big platter for us to grab anytime we felt the need. My middle sister and I would sit on the living room floor in front of our black and white T.V. truly savoring those chocolates to last through whole episodes of ‘Sky King.’
After realizing that summer camp would be a disaster because I couldn’t even fit into size 14 jeans, I began my own regime of eating only white food—cottage cheese, plain yogurt and sometimes, if desperate, vanilla ice-cream. I don’t know why I thought that colorless food might make me thinner, because it only made me appreciate those colorful M&Ms more when I came off my ‘program.’ And, speaking of white, it was at that summer camp, that I discovered white bread and spent the summer downing the generous slices. After all, meat and peas and green beans were foreign to me, and I refused to even take a taste. And so, I returned home with an additional ten pounds that my mother noticed immediately. I can still see the alarm on her face when she looked me up and down as I got off that horrible nauseating bus. As awful as it was, though, I would have gladly hopped back on it rather than to face my mother s disgust at looking at fatter me.