March 05, 2010

We're Halfway There

Exactly two months after starting my new regime, I've hit the halfway point in my goal towards losing 30 pounds.

Weight has always been a struggle for me, having been cursed with bad genetics from both sides. I was born a big baby, maybe only partially because my mother delivered me three weeks late. For the first couple years of my life, I didn't like to eat anything, and my parents spent all of their time trying to shove food down my throat. For as long as I can remember, though, I had no problem eating pizza, cheese curls, macaroni and cheese, fried fish sticks, peanut butter, bologna, cookies for dessert and birthday cake for breakfast. Although we were only allowed to eat during meals (no snacks - if you were hungry, too bad), as a child I think I was essentially a human garbage can.

It's not that I had that big of an appetite growing up. It's just that I'd get in trouble if I didn't finish the adult-sized portions my mother doled out onto my plate, encouraging second helpings. Never one to fail at a task at hand, I choked down mountains of boiled meats, cabbage and stewed tomatoes in order to get to the buttery mashed potatoes, spaetzel and sticky desserts that made dinnertime - fraught with reports of our misbehavings - somewhat more palatable.

Sure, I grew up in the 70s and 80s, when only hippies cared about organic, natural, and raw foods. But still, I didn't know anyone else who was forced to eat Twinkies for breakfast on Saturday morning.

I'm sure I would have been the envy of all of my friends. Except I always talked about needing to be on a diet.

I don't remember a time when I didn't think I was fat. I was five or six years old when my parents let me and my sister take a dance class, something I was thrilled about. But some physical issues with my sister displaced us into a gymnastics class, a physical activity we both struggled with. In kindergarten, during a brief stint as a cheerleader, one of my nasty female classmates cattily asked me if it was hard to run with my fat stomach in the way. In my fourth grade class picture, I was more bothered by my fat knees, sitting in the front row, than by my clunky plastic glasses or the short, boyish haircut that my mother forced me to wear.

As I got older, I just kept getting bigger. I was by no means obese, but annual visits to the pediatrician always brought lectures about how overweight my sister and I were. Our mother insisted that our plump bodies weren't as a result of fat but rather baby fat, and that we'd grow out of it. But by junior high, when all of our bodies were developing and mine wasn't shaping up as well as my classmates', I found every excuse to get out of swim class.

In fact, into high school, I found every excuse to get out of all physical activity in front of others, which just made me even bigger.

Sometime in my late teens, when I was still living at home, my mother turned on me as she often did, finding one more thing to complain about: "When we eat out at a restaurant, you eat like a truck driver," she lashed out. "But when we're home, you eat like a bird."

She may have been right. After all, I did not love my mother's cooking or the cuisine of my father's heritage. However, it was, by far, the most hurtful thing I'd ever heard my mother say - even worse than all the names, damnations to hell, and accusations of blame that she'd hurled at me and my sister over the years. I gasped, and then walked out of the house.

After a teary call to a friend from a phone booth, it started to rain, and dinnertime approached, so I went back home. Upon my return, I was presently grounded for some ridiculous period of time. I'd gotten accustomed to that kind of punishment by then.

As an adult woman with persistent cravings for pizza and cheese curls and soda and french fries and dip and Cinnamon Toast Crunch, it's easy to say "My mother made me fat." Sure, I lost a lot of weight when I moved out of my parents' house and in with the Ferraras, and when I spent a semester in London with no money for food. But my mother was nowhere to be found when I started gaining weight in New York City, reaching a critical mass in 2003 which  led to my first loss of thirty pounds. And she'd completely disappeared four years later when I started putting it back on.

Even if my mother did contribute to my original plumpness - either through her genetic contribution to me, or through pigout encouragements - in a way, she contributes more to my determination to not be fat now.

My mother has struggled with weight ever since I can remember. When I was in third or fourth grade, she was diagnosed with hypoglycemia, finally something on which she could blame her weight problems and her screaming explosions. She started seeing endocrinologists and nutritionists, and became more obsessed with food than ever. She started eating her meals alone in the kitchen, so increasingly secretively that we weren't allowed to even walk by, for fear that we'd catch a glimpse of her (thereby barring us from visits to the only bathroom in the house, which was accessible only through the kitchen). When the Twinkies went missing, she was the first to defend, "Well, I know I didn't eat them!" None of the rest of the family really knew what she was eating.

But she managed to lose a lot of weight once, by starving herself on a 1000-calorie daily diet, and working out obsessively at Bally's. Not surprisingly, eventually she gained all the weight back, and then some. She found other physical ailments to blame. And as far as I know, she is more stagnant, isolated, and agoraphobic than ever.

So far, I've done a pretty good job not becoming my mother, and it's not just about not weighing 200 pounds. I am social, active, educated, and relatively healthy. I have friends. I am well-respected in my career. And I have not borne children in order to finally be loved, only to raise them in such a way that they cannot help but hate me. My mother's absence of livelihood defines her way more than the size of her body does.

In turn, my joie de vivre defines me way more than do my jeans cutting into the fat around my waist. But losing 15 pounds - or, hopefully, 30 - has lightened my physical load as well as my mental load, and has allowed me to live more.

And who wouldn't want that?

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