Speaking Out, Part One

Speaking Out, Part One October 7, 2011

{I’m away this week. In addition to the delights of being with family & friends, I had the opportunity to speak to a MOPS group in New Jersey. I’m going to share some of the talk with you here. If I get my tech stuff together, I might even go all fancy and post it as a podcast so you can hear my squeaky little voice.}

So, I’ve struggled with how to organize this talk because I feel like there are two sides of me that I bring together in my writing, and each one is the “real me.” The first side is the person who likes to tell stories and to find the humor in things. The second is the geeky side that likes to read and research things and find facts. Sometimes I’m able to strike a balance between the informing and fact finding and the story-telling, sometimes, I lean too far to one side or the other. So I hope that today our time together can have some of that balance.

What I would like to talk about today is food. Specifically, eating together as families. More specifically, how central and shaping and important that can be in your life and your child’s life. I happen to think that how we view food tells us a lot about how we view ourselves. How we relate to our families. Even how we relate to God.

I grew up a Christian, with a pastor for a dad to boot, but my mom is Jewish. And I don’t know how well you might know the Jewish stereotypes, but we are a people that have a notorious love for eating and for worrying. So, you know, the little gatherings of my mom and her best friends (Jews, too, by the way) involved bagels, and cream cheese, and lox, or Danish pastries and coffee, or Chinese food, or whatever, but it’s like, here are all these women, different sizes, different shapes–and they’re enjoying their food, but at the same time, they’re worrying. They’re like, punishing themselves for eating. Like, “this is great, but I shouldn’t be eating it, I’m fat” or “I’ll take JUST A SLIVER of that cheesecake” or eating two different kinds of cake while insisting on Sweet N Low and skim milk for their coffee–not because they like it that way, but because they’re “cutting calories.”

I was quite a thin child. And it wasn’t like I tried to be that way. Actually, I’ve always loved food. And I didn’t think of my body as something that I had “shaped” in anyway, because, you know, kids tend not really to think like that. But always, always, I was aware of one big thing: when you got to be a grownup (or at least, more grownup, you had to punish yourself over the food that you ate. Calories were BAD. Fat was BAD. Even seemingly harmless BREAD and PASTA became BAD. I would eat whatever I wanted, sure, and stayed thin, probably because that’s just how I was. But older women would tell me: “just you WAIT. when you get OLDER you won’t be able to EAT LIKE THAT.”

I began to think that I was something like a self-inflating life jacket. You know, the kind where you pull a valve or something on this flat thingy and slowly but surely it, you know, inflates? I was just kind of waiting for a valve to blow and suddenly I’d have a body that I’d hate, because pretty much all the grown up women I knew hated their bodies, or, at the very least, didn’t like them and beat themselves up over them and did weird things with food and diet. I mean, I even kind of wondered not whether but WHEN I would start going to Weight Watchers meetings myself. (My mom had been a lifetime member.)

What happened next is not that interesting, just because it’s the story of disorder that’s, sadly, more normal than abnormal in our culture. I began to fear food, began to overexercise, just generally developed an obsession. And it had a kind of religious significance, because the Christian diet plans were making their rounds in those days. So I felt like I had to be “Slim for Him,” that there needed to be “More of Jesus, Less of Me,” that I had to “listen for God” to tell me what and whether to eat, and so on. I counted calories and fasted and “did penance” for my indulgences with exercise and, you know, pretty much punished myself for everything I ate. I can remember many days in high school when I’d get by on an apple for breakfast, a banana for lunch, with diet cokes in between, and then only at the end of the day allow myself to eat dinner, and I’d still be anxiously counting calories and figuring out how many sit-ups I still needed to do before bed.

I have to condense the story here, but I want to tell you two things that helped me get to the place I am now, which, admittedly is not perfect, but which is undoubtedly a much, much happier place, a place where I can have the occasional chocolate croissant with a cup of coffee with cream and not feel “dirty” or like I need to go run 6 miles to “get rid of it.”

And for you readers, you’ll just have to return to get the rest of the story…

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