Wednesday, December 8, 2010


A friend told me that the food in India was fantastic and he ate and ate and ate without putting on weight. In fact, he actually lost several pounds. 
Lately, I’ve been looking for meaning in the smallest moment.  For example, as I retrieve a petrified grape from the crevice between Spencer’s bed and the wall I question my instinctive repulsion.  Instead, I wonder, should I not honor this grape (at least I hope it’s a grape) as a symbol of Spencer’s already fading childhood?
The moment with the grape is fleeting and I toss it.  But the point is that, in my present state of spiritual hunger, I should pause when my friend tells me that I can have more and still lose – I mean, that’s a gem, right? Possibly.  But all I really want to think about is limitless food with no poundage – are frigid’ kidding me?  In the words of my ‘tween, that’s awesome. 
            Concern about my weight is relatively new for me. I grew up in Europe, where I didn’t feel any pressure to be model thin.  I have always had a naturally cooperative metabolism which, combined with a diet soda and cigarette addiction, kept me svelte enough through my twenties and thirties.  Besides, I was stacked.  Which meant that I would always be a brick house rather than a grass hut.
            I gained fifteen pounds from giving birth to Spencer and another ten from Murphy’s birth.  Frankly, I didn’t suffer too much over it.  I considered it a natural repercussion of pregnancy. I joined the Y to work out and “get back into shape”.  I was sold on the childwatch program.  One could drop off the baby and take a class – two hours of un-baby-fettered time.  But the aerobics classes were too demanding and the Pilates classes really hurt.  So I’d drop off the baby, get suited up, and walk in the direction of the class until I was out of view of the childwatch attendants.  Then I’d slip out a side-door, get a smoothie, and read the paper.  Needless to say, the pounds didn’t melt off.
            Two years ago, I was writing for a website that was being sponsored by Weight Watchers and they wanted me to include their company in my copy. In order to write about it accurately, I had to go to meetings and try the program.  I had never been interested in Weight Watchers. Counting points seemed punitive.  A friend of mine used to call me at ten in the morning, complaining that she’d already used up all of her points and had to eat lettuce for the rest of the day. What kind of life is that?
            The meetings I attended were run by a thinnish woman named Liz, who never tired of telling us that she lost fifty-seven pounds through Weight Watchers, thirty-two years ago. Liz clearly loved what she did.  Her seminars were a form of food-centric stand-up.
            “Have you ever noticed this thing about potato chips?  There’s like fifty portions in one bag!  If you’re like me – you want one portion!  The whole bag!”          
           Liz would slap her thigh a couple of times, confident that she now had the room’s attention.  Then she would launch into the subject of the day.  Flipping the page of a presentational pad on an easel, she would say, for example,   “OK.  I’m going to talk about something you don’t hear about to often.  What do you think it is?”
            Liz liked to tease her audience. Hands would shoot up. Liz would give a satisfied smile and then start pointing. 
            “Calories?” the mousy girl in the front row would say.
            “Nope,” Liz would answer.
            “Portion control?”
            “Hah. You got me,” Liz would laugh. “No. No. No.  And no. Today, I’m going to let you in on one of the secrets that thin people already know about…”
            She’d let it hang there, building the tension like the seasoned group leader she was.  A couple of people would take out pens and notebooks.  There would be a collective anticipatory rustle…
            “Soup!” she would announce, triumphantly, taking out a magic marker and writing SOUP on her pad. She would then circle the word several times for emphasis.  I would find myself getting caught up in the excitement.  Why hadn’t I thought of soup before?  Of course, it made so much sense. 
In the week that followed my first meeting, I lost eight pounds. I grew to love the meetings.  They were part revival, part twelve step, part group therapy, and part coffee klatch.  There were tears and hugs when someone lost ten pounds and rigorous coaching when someone slipped, “Remember, people, you don’t have to eat the whole thing!”
            The free-flowing generosity in the room was as moving as it was hilarious. A lifetime member would stand and offer, “Here’s what I do when I need a little something. I take an endive leaf, put just a smidge of fat-free sour cream in the center, sprinkle it with a little parmesan, throw a black olive on there, and – bingo – it’s just one point!”
            Huge applause.
            A lady with a baby strapped to her chest would stand, “If I need something that’s a little crunchy, I bake three corn tortilla and break them up into chips.  I eat four of them and then bag the others for later.”
            Applause and a fist pump from the man who lost seventy-three pounds in two years.
            I’m sorry to say that I stopped going to the meetings because they cost time and money.  But I remember them fondly.  After all, it’s not just food we hunger for, it’s fellowship. 
            When I think back on this year, I realize that when the maelstrom hit, I isolated myself. Refused myself fellowship.  I didn’t do it purposely.  But I withdrew, nonetheless.  I needed time to divest myself of shame and guilt. 
And, were I to consider this in light of the comment my friend made about eating in India, I could say that having shed most of that shame and guilt has given me room for more of what I actually need – love, creative fulfillment, and time.  The time, it so happens, that it takes to consider the meaning in a petrified grape.

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