History of a Rollercoaster

mother’s little helper.

a headache at the age of 12 had me invading my mother’s bathroom in search of aspirin. opening her little white antique cabinet to find boxes of diet pills. little plastic capsules filled with bright yellow, orange and red beads. their silver packages torn at the back, half empty. and the boxes, varying formulas, one after the other, dexatrim natural dexatrim max. extra strength formula. clinically proven. lose weight fast. curb binges. take control of your appetite.

my grandmother on my father’s side died at the age of 60. i remember her as glamorous and perfectly put together in white cashmere sweaters and slacks. gold and pearls. sunbathing in string bikinis to get a tan into her 50’s. she died of lung cancer. she would prepare the family dinner and then sit and smoke a cigarette instead of eating. have a lucky strike instead of a sweet. oldest trick in the book. inhale and let the hunger burn. breathe it out in plumes of smoke.

a mall kiosk selling a new supplement promising a natural solution to all of your diet problems. photos of women in bathing suits. photos of women who “took their lives back.” get results. get control. a nervous boyfriend offering to buy the pills for me. making the exchange with the saleswoman while i pretended to look at basketball sneakers and scented candles. hope in a jar. heart murmurs and insomnia. sweaty palms. snake oil. the bottomless pit of my hunger.

she eats like a horse.

my older brother was an extremely picky eater and my father waged a nightly war at the dinner table. we were all forced to sit there until my brother cleaned his plate. waste not, want not. money doesn’t grow on trees. they are starving in ethiopia. this is the story my brother was told. eat every last bite. as an attempt to shield my brother from scrutiny i took to finishing his food while my father wasn’t looking. once caught i was punished, but it was clear to me that the punishment was not for the deception but for over-eating.

every meal spent measuring how much room was left on my plate, comparing the amount of food on my plate to the others at the table, always keeping a little behind their pace, eating slow and small to avoid comments such as “that was a big bite.” and “geeze, you were hungry!” an open napkin covering my plate and a sigh of relief when my plate was taken away at the end of the meal.

a diet of worms.

a phone call from my father at the age of 9, telling me that my mother had reported that i had gained a lot of weight, and would i promise to do better? the imperial council.

in the third grade a teacher observed me eating a donut in a crowded lunch room and said, “donuts! is that how we get fat, jessica?” a rhetorical vacuum. sucking the color from my round cheeks. i swallowed my tears. sucked in with my stomach.

weekends with my father concluding in a daily survey of what i had consumed from the refrigerator. eating me out of house and home.

a conversation overheard between my mother and my 8 year old niece over a request for a second helping of ice cream. “you don’t want to get fat, do you?”

when my grandmother on my mother’s side found out that i was pregnant she called me and told me that if i gained more than 20 pounds in my pregnancy i was careless and lazy. as a child she would take out her tape measure and check my waist, chest, and hips under the guise of sewing something for me, but the measurements always included a critique of my figure. she once gave me a pack of gum, and encouraged me to try chewing it instead of snacking. just a little tip. between us girls.

on disappearing.

in the seventh grade i convinced my mother to buy me slim fast shakes in cans. i brought them to school with me for lunch. adults complimented my will power. “you’re finally losing some of that baby weight.” my father said. these were the first compliments i had ever received regarding my body. i became an expert dieter.

the grapefruit diet. the zone. atkins. plant based. ketogenic. south beach. macrobiotic. raw foods. the master cleanse. 1 day a week fasting. the hollywood diet. low glycemic. alkaline. paleo. blood type diet. baby food diet. soup diet. juice cleanse. i have tried them all. i have spent my life losing the same 30 pounds over and over. contracting and expanding.

my mother has a room in her house filled with stuff. old photo albums. books. forgotten craft projects. and most notably exercise equipment. the thigh master. the ab blaster. nordic track. pilates machines. a trampoline. ankle weights. exercise vhs tapes. the solution to your body’s size. beaten into submission. no pain, no gain. each one a promise and subsequent failure.

gird your loins.

at a certain point attention for weight loss became sexual. the question of whether the attention for being thin was more risky than the attention for being fat.

youthful promises of love eternal. the notion of unconditional love, a fallacy. a point to prove. you said you would love me no matter what. “you’d have really nice legs if you lost a little weight.”

the anatomy of a binge.

a late night bathroom trip during a stay with my father in my early 30’s lead to a discovery of him sneaking food. i secretly watched as he went to the freezer, the panty, the refrigerator to get more food. he rushed around and opened packages and brought them to the sofa and the warm glow of the television. this after the nightly dinner of salad (and salad alone), which always left me hungry and apparently, him as well. our eternal question: was it my diet or his that he had failed to control?

a woman at a conference for compulsive eaters tells a story of nightly eating once her children and husband had gone to bed. she talks of being overworked, over extended, under appreciated. the food a reward as much as an act of defiance. a middle finger to her criticizing husband and ungrateful children. a line in the sand. this is mine. something swallowed. pride. anger. what women do because it is their duty. taking something after giving, giving, giving.

evidence destroyed. secret jars of peanut butter in my room. little plastic bags of chocolate covered almonds, candies, dried fruit, soft foods consumed quietly when the lights went down. empty containers snuck into trash cans. a little secret for oneself. filling a hole. a disconnection from satiation. once you pop, you can’t stop. and the diet starts tomorrow.

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