My last post featured an appearance by my father, who certainly contributed to my misery as a fat adolescent (or at least as an adolescent who thought she was unforgivably fat). What about my mother? She passed on several years ago (14 years ago this upcoming Wednesday, in fact), and in her own benign way she also contributed as well.
Don’t get me wrong—she was unfailingly supportive and generally kind to me about my weight issues, and she struggled with dieting and feeling unsatisfied about her appearance as well. But that was the hard part for me. I saw her struggle, and I saw the things that she did in order to lose weight, and I came to believe that it was possible only with the greatest of sacrifices. When I was about 14, she went on a diet because we were going on a trip that summer to see my father’s family, just about all of whom lived overseas. She ended up losing quite a bit of weight, but oh, what she had to do to make that happen. She went on two strenuous walks a day and ate ridiculously—an Alba 77 shake (made with ice and only 77 calories—anybody remember them?) for breakfast, an apple for lunch, and a few bites of whatever we were having for dinner. I look back on that now, and I wonder if she was struggling with a thyroid problem or something, or if she was secretly snacking when no one was looking.
That possibility never occurred to me back then, because as far as I knew, I was the only secret snacker in the family. I would eat reasonably at dinner with the family, and then wait till everyone went to bed before I snuck into the kitchen and dove face-first into the Pop-tarts, cereal, ice cream…whatever we had. Thus began the binge-eating-in-secret pattern that I struggle with to this day.
I live alone now, so secret binge-eating is no challenge at all. It’s only a secret in that I would never plow through an entire box of cookies or 4 ice cream bars in front of a friend. A couple of years ago, when I was in a relationship that has since ended and living with my boyfriend, I found myself falling into the pattern of sneaking food when he was not around. I forced myself to at least quit eating in secret—if I wanted a granola bar, I ate it sitting next to him on the couch.
That sneakiness, that private shame, that’s been a part of my eating since those early days of watching Mom struggle with her own weight. I think my behavior was about rebellion back then—I was angry that I had to cope with feeling fat and that I was not accepted by my father for who I was. The only model I had of weight management was my mother’s, which seemed absolutely unworkable for me. So I sent that angry, hungry girl away, but she never stayed away for long. During the daylight hours I ate reasonably and acted rationally, but after hours I became a Twinkie thief by the light of the midnight moon.
My mother eventually found a way to eat that worked well for her, and in the last several years of her life she attained and maintained a healthy weight comfortably. That was the role model I needed all those years ago. But me, I’ve never fully shaken my inner, angry Twinkie thief, and I still carry those resentments around with me…80 lbs of pissed off adolescent girl who won’t be denied. I need to say goodbye to her for good and to say goodbye to those 80 lbs that keep my anger so visible to the world.