My late mother was a lifetime member of Weight Watchers and though at age 90 she had no weight left to lose, was disappointed to learn her assisted living center did not offer weekly meetings. Apparently she took the word “lifetime” seriously and longed for lectures about portion control (“A sliver leads to a slice, a slice leads to a slab and a slab leads to a slob.”). Or maybe she wanted to recall the thrill of hiding Hershey Kisses in the hamper. All I know is that watching a yo-yo dieter as a kid turned me into one as an adult.
You wouldn’t know it to look at me.
For years I have been committed to walking and working out, my pantry and fridge are stocked with healthy choices, I have encyclopedic knowledge about nutrition and a closet filled with skinny jeans. I have sworn off fast food and anything with ingredients I can’t pronounce. I rarely butter my bread. Yet every day is a tug of war between eating to live and living to eat.
Call it the “Saralee” syndrome. I want my cake and eat it too.
But write a novel about this personal struggle? It never occurred to me until the morning I sat at the table eating boring yogurt while dreaming of a toasted cinnamon raisin bagel with lox and cream cheese. I wondered if I would ever be able to shake the “points” mentality and just eat the damn bagel without guilt. Suddenly I grabbed a pen and scribbled some words on a napkin… A LOT ON MY PLATE.
Wait. Was this a book title? Who had a lot on her plate and why?
Over the next month, a story emerged. The book would be about a depressed woman who claimed to have lost 127 pounds. Her mother. Okay. it was a funny concept but more of a punchline than a novel. Over time, the idea morphed into a tale about a hungry mother and the daughter who is starved for her approval. One can’t eat and the other can’t stop. It clicked. But this time instead of writing for adults, I felt a kinetic pull to create a funny and brave story for younger readers.
For girls like me.
Girls who grow up feeling judged and dismissed if they don’t have the cookie-cutter thin body. Girls who know before reaching adulthood that the game is stacked against them if their bellies aren’t flat. Girls who dream of waking up in a body that won’t be subject to merciless teasing.
Somewhere along the way the diet culture became so sick and pervasive, it led to body shaming and the age at which that starts gets younger and younger. A recent study by Pediatric Obesity shows that by age 11, 60% of kids are considered clinically overweight and experience taunting. Taunting so severe it leads to gaining more weight and developing habits detrimental to their health as adults, such as binge eating, severe dieting and eating disorders all of which contribute to low self esteem and an obsession with “fixing” the problem.
Did writing a novel about fat-phobia give me a new perspective? I’m still mindful of my constant tug of war to eat with abandon vs. making healthy choices. But I did achieve a peace of mind thanks to my 12-year-old heroine, Eden Sterling. She reminded me that those who dole out the harshest criticism are the ones who need the most help. And then there is this. Choosing your own path also means having the freedom to choose what’s for breakfast.
I’ll have that bagel now.