Work in Progress
In A LOT ON MY PLATE, a 12-year-old girl who is starved for approval is challenged by diet culture and the fear of giving in to fit in.
Eden Sterling dreams of winning cooking competitions but when she gains weight, camp friends ditch her for not caring about her looks. Then her bat mitzvah dress must be ordered larger and Mom fumes. Turns out she isn’t just weight-conscious, she has an eating disorder that requires intervention. Eden is relieved Mom will get the help she needs and also relieved to savor her first taste of freedom. She checks out Copper Spoon Culinary only to meet a Chloe, a skinny rival who can sharpen a knife and her tongue. Luckily, Eden also meets Henry and a crush heats up. But when Chloe body-shames Eden in front of Henry she is so humiliated she’s read to ditch cooking and her lucky spoons. That is until Eden and Henry are urged to enter the baking contest Chloe wins every year. But just when Eden and Henry pick the perfect recipe, Chloe sabotages Eden and she must decide. Go for the sweet ending she deserves or let Chloe send her dream up in flames?
Excerpt (Warning: subject matter explores disordered eating)
Girl Power? Is That a Joke?
Have you ever wished for something so badly that your dream came true? Me neither. But the day sleepaway camp ended, at least my nightmare was over. The trick was making it through my bunk’s final friendship circle– the one with all the sobbing and selfies. Love you… I’ll text you every day. Trouble was our cabin’s back porch was too narrow to form a circle, so the girls crossed arms and made a long loop.
Just not long enough to include me.
I sat on the rickety steps and hoped somebody would say, hey Eden, stand next to me. And maybe somebody would have if Ava Zalinski wasn’t giving everyone a nasty side eye. The same side eye she gave me when my belly rolled over the bottom of my bathing suit.
If only there was a way to disappear into the morning mist. To land in a place where everyone was happy even if they didn’t look perfect. But this was real life, so my choices were to A) run for the bus B) cry like everyone else or C) say something.
Pretty much “C” was out because I’d spent the whole summer speaking up and yay, I made more enemies. Then while deciding between “A” and “B” my counselor, Hannah, asked us to sing the Emerald Lake song, “Forever Friendships.” She also asked why I wasn’t in the circle.
“Drama queen,” Ava said.
Me a drama queen?
“How about making room for Eden?” Hannah asked.
Ava coughed. “A lot of room.”
Hannah pulled me into the loop. “Next year will be better,” she whispered.
Seriously? It would probably be worse.
Finally, the song ended, and Hannah stopped swaying. “Let’s share what we’ll miss most… Ava, you start since we know you will anyway.”
I bit my lip instead of laughing.
Ava sniffed. “This was the best, best, best summer. I’ll miss my squad so much.”
Her bestie, Carly, made smoochy lips. “You mean you’ll miss Dylan.”
“No because he’s coming over tomorrow. I will miss the overnight trips, borrowing everyone’s cute outfits… and Eden’s straightening iron.”
The one she broke and never apologized for? “I’ll miss it too,” I blurted.
Ava stuck out her tongue and fifty-two days of hurt feelings crushed me again.
The summer of seventh grade was supposed to amazing. Yes, please to being a junior girl and getting more privileges. Only it wasn’t amazing after my “forever friends” ditched me for not being obsessed with my weight which was ridiculously dumb and sad. Raise your hand if your favorite evening activity is baking cupcakes and squirting cans of whipped cream down our throats. Thought so.
Do you know what else was dumb and sad? Voting on which bunk shirt to wear today and picking the one that said Girl Power. Was that a joke? Girl Power turned out to be a fake way of saying you be you as long as you’re good with being alone. No thanks. I wore a shirt that said BEST DAY EVER.
Oops. Ava glared at the words while I stared at my toasty UGGs and wondered (again) what it was like to be her. To know girls were afraid of me. To know I could say anything I wanted even if it hurt someone’s feelings.
I knew what I wanted to say.
Sorrynotsorry I don’t follow diet influencers or starve myself because I’m twelve. But wait until my cooking video gets a million likes and you want to take selfies with me.
Hannah winked. “Sweet Eden! You’re up.”
“So, what I’ll miss most is… how good the air smells in the morning.”
Before anyone could say it was better than the way I smelled in the morning I grabbed my backpack and ran. And sure, my legs were short but the breeze coming off the lake gave me a good tailwind. Soon I was sprinting up Dead Man’s Curve, behind the dining hall, in front of the main office and past the infirmary with the nice nurses who played Spit with me if I was having a panic attack.
Finally, I found the bus headed to bee-utiful Manhattan and knocked on the door.
Thank you, thank you, thank you I said to the driver who let me board early. And when I spotted Shauna Becker seated in back, I practically skipped down the aisle. She was a senior girl who once told me I was hilarious. “Okay if I sit with you?” I asked.
Shauna twirled her fire red ringlets. “Go for it. Good summer?”
“Worst ever,” I said. “You?”
“This place is dead to me. I’m deleting everyone from my phone.”
I dug through my bag for mine. “Love that.”
At last, the bus rolled down the narrow dirt roads and I could feel my breathing slow. But as soon as we sped past the Pennsylvania mountains my chest caved all the way to my ribs. If I never came back to Emerald Lake, with all my heart I would miss rowing over to Butterfly Cove. Miss the way the berry bushes sparkled after it rained. Miss cooking at Josie’s Kitchen.
I wouldn’t miss feeling like something was wrong with me because other girls said so.
The ride home would take three hours and I planned to spend every minute texting and catching up on my favorite cooking shows. If only the girls in front would stop shrieking because my earbuds couldn’t drown out their annoying voices. Let’s meet at the Starbucks on 79th… who’s going out to the Hamptons… My mom said I could have a sleepover tomorrow night.
Just what I needed. A reminder there were no camp sleepovers in my future but then my anxious brain went full tilt. What if seventh grade was the year my real friends ditched me too? At least now that I had my phone back, I could text my bestie to make sure we were still good.
Faith Feldman was also heading home from camp and with any luck she had cell service. If not, our families would be meeting in a few hours for our annual reunion dinner at Venti Uno. Yum to the crunchiest, gooiest mozzarella sticks in New York City.
EDEN: Did you have fun? Did you miss me???
Yes! The dancing dots appeared.
FAITH: TOTALLY MISSED YOU… camp was a snooze and my parents gave the deposit for next year without asking me
EDEN: hope mine didn’t ‘cause I won’t go back… everyone changed. SOOOO MEAN!
FAITH: Yay!! I didn’t change plus I can’t wait for you and Mrs. Adler to make me cherry popovers. HURRRRRRY
Awww. I missed Mrs. Adler too. She was my down-the-hall neighbor who had been giving me cooking lessons since I could stand on her chair and stir. Now if only the driver would speed it up so I could be back in her kitchen using her lucky spoons… Back to feeling good about myself because she’d say the nicest things. Like that day we were making chicken marsala and she said, “Eden, one day you’ll be a famous chef who writes cookbooks and has a TV show like Rachel Ray.”
At least someone on this planet understood my big dream.
Not like the girls at camp who made fun of me for spending hot days in a hot kitchen. Or Mom who was mad that I didn’t care about being a carb-counting/workout obsessed/super hydrated person like her. Sorry, Mom. I wanted to be like Mrs. Adler who danced while she cooked and talked to the cardinals sitting on her windowsill.
Of course, the minute I mentioned going to Mrs. Adler’s Mom would magically announce I had a dentist appointment at the exact same time. And that would start a fight I’d lose because Lori, the Lawyer, always knew the perfect thing to say while I was still deciding.
Ugh. I was still mad at her for bailing on visiting day (Hello? It’s only the most important day of camp). And sure, Dad came with my older brother, Jayden. It just wasn’t the same as getting mommy daughter time so I could sob in her arms and beg to go home.
But what really hurt was her lame excuse. She claimed to have a bad cold and was afraid of getting me sick except I knew the truth. Not even double pneumonia would have kept her from going to Jayden’s visiting day.
Dear God: Why couldn’t you make ME the favorite child? xoxo Eden
I must have dozed because Shauna elbowed me. “We’re here and someone’s parents showed up in a limo.”
I peeked out at the parking lot and spotted the shiny black stretch. “Gross.”
“Who’s the Richie Rich?” a counselor shouted.
Not me. My parents drove an old minivan that didn’t lock when it rained. But when I looked out again, I couldn’t spot our car or my parents. Seriously? I had to pee, I was starving, and it would be so embarrassing if I was the last kid to get picked up.
They’ll be here, I told myself to stop my foot tapping. Then it hit me that I shouldn’t tell Mom I was mad about visiting day because she had probably planned a special day to make up for it. Maybe we were seeing a Broadway show or going back-to-school shopping in SoHo. My perfect opportunity to get her advice about… everything.
Truth. No matter how much we fought Lori Sterling was my human Alexa. And good news. I heard her voice as soon as I hopped off the bus.
“Eden! Over here, honey.”
I turned and spotted a frail looking woman waving beside the long limousine. A woman I barely recognized. “Mom?”