Part of the reason I have a weight problem is because my second grade teacher, Sister Ernestine of the Daughters of Charity order (think The Flying Nun and those large winged bonnets), would dig into the trash cans after lunch and find monogrammed paper sacks with the remains of uneaten tuna sandwiches and carrot sticks. She literally would have tears streaming down her face as she lamented our wastefulness and the plight of the starving children in China. Catholic shame is the kissing cousin of Jewish guilt. Oy!
Of course, the starving children in China are only part of the story.
I had been a normal weight kid until second grade—active, even athletic. We skated at breakneck speeds down the hill, road our bikes all over the neighborhood, walked a mile to the dairy for penny candy, jumped for hours on the trampoline in our backyard, and swam whenever we were near water. Although far from perfect, life had been relatively normal.
But that was also the year my mom and stepfather’s marriage began to dissolve and his drinking escalated. My mom went back to work and less-than-motherly babysitters took over. I went from home-cooked meals to foil-covered TV dinners. There were nights that the police were called as my stepdad hurled things at my mother. The combination of a disorderly childhood and the tearful pleas of a nun I revered, were powerful. There was solace in that TV dinner, and I ate to ensure that no one would starve because of the food left on my plate. By third grade I was “chubby” and the neighbor kids started taunting me with hurtful names. All of these things were the perfect recipe for a food disorder. Sigh.
I recently read a blog post by the brilliant blogger/writer Molly Wizenberg (Orangette) wherein she explained her food philosophy as her two-year old daughter develops a discerning palate. The sanity in which she is allowing June to develop her own food preferences—JUDGEMENT AND SHAME FREE—made me rejoice and feel a little sad (for myself, not June). If parents all approached food and child-rearing with this approach, the diet industry would go bankrupt and there would be no bulimics or anorexics. But because I have 60 years of mixed messages about food, love, social responsibility, and comfort, my relationship with food needs couples counseling. My body no longer understands how to process food, so I have embarked on this regimented journey to reclaim my health.
I hope there comes a day when I have decoded all the messages I’ve been “fed” for the past six decades and can just pleasurably eat to satiety and maintain a healthy body and an even healthier outlook. The starving children in China (insert other famine-struck countries here) did not benefit one ounce from my expanding hips. I still remember Sister Ernestine with great love and affection. And my mother. Now, I just have to love myself too, shed the shame even faster than the pounds (15 lbs. lost so far, BTW–DAY 16), and keep from deftly sabotaging myself (one of my many talents). Oy!